Margaret "Peggy" Winkler (also known professionally as M.J. Winkler) was a key figure in silent animation history, having a crucial role to play in the histories of Max and Dave Fleischer, Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer, and Walt Disney. She distributed animated films through her company Winkler Pictures, and heavily promoted short subjects as a medium for film exhibitors.
Winkler began her career as personal secretary of Harry Warner, one of the founders of Warner Bros. Warner was impressed with Winkler's talents, and when Max and Dave Fleischer, owners of Fleischer Studios, came to him with their series Out of the Inkwell, he gave it to Winkler and encouraged her to form her own distribution company on a state's rights basis. At the end of 1922 the Fleischer brothers, flushed with success from Winkler's work, left her to form their own distribution company, Red Seal Pictures.
In 1922, she signed a contract with Pat Sullivan Productions to produce Felix the Cat cartoons. Sullivan and Winkler were constantly fighting, and in 1925, when the renewal of his contract came up, she decided not to renew it.
Winkler was open to viewing a pilot reel submitted by then neophyte animator Walt Disney, called "Alice's Wonderland", which was the first entry in the "Alice Comedies" series. Winkler was intrigued by the idea of a live-action girl in a cartoon world and signed Disney to a year-long contract.
In any case, Disney formed a new studio, the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio on October 16, 1923. Disney was helped by the tutelage of Winkler, who insisted on editing all of the "Alice Comedies" episodes herself. One of her suggestions was the addition of a suspiciously Felix-like character called Julius. This was apparently the "straw that broke the camel's back" for Sullivan, who signed with rival distributor E. W. Hammons of Educational Pictures in 1925.
In November 1923, she married Charles B. Mintz, a film distributor who had been working for her since 1922. Soon after she had her first child Katherine in 1925 and retired from the business, turning her company over to Charles. The couple had two children, Katherine and William.
Margaret W. Mintz died, aged 95, on June 21, 1990, in Mamaroneck, New York.
Margaret's granddaughter, Jeannie Mintz, said the following about her; "My grandmother was Jewish and liked to use Yiddish words to communicate things she was passionate about. By all accounts, she was not well-suited for motherhood. Her scrapbooks reveal a woman who loved her work-life and was very proud of her accomplishments. Nevertheless, she didn't talk with her children or grandchildren about her professional life; it was probably too painful a subject for her. I wish she could have found a way to stay as a producer and distributor of animation instead of relinquishing her role in the field of animation at about age 30. My mother tells me that at one time my grandmother had a really active social life, going to the hottest spots in the NY and LA areas, listening to live jazz performances, and having fun with people who were either wealthy, famous, or both. She never talked with me about any of this. My father used to have player pianos in our house. I remember on occasion her dancing to piano rolls while smiling and having a devilish look in her eye."
- "Diversity Needed says M. J. Winkler" - The Film Daily (9/17/1924)
- "Silent Animated Films at the Library of Congress" (includes the Alice Comedies)
- "In the Courts" - The Film Daily (2/20/1924)
- "Miss Winkler Closes Deals" - The Film Daily (4/20/1924)
- M. J. Winkler Ad in The Film Daily (5/11/1924)
- U.S. Government Census, 1930
- Margaret Winkler obituary, L.A. Times. June 24, 1990
- "Animators' Hall of Fame - Margaret Winkler"
- John Canemaker; Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat; Pantheon Books; ISBN 0-679-40127-X (1991)
- Donald Crafton; Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928; University of Chicago Press; ISBN 0-226-11667-0 (2nd edition, paperback, 1993)
- Denis Gifford; American Animated Films: The Silent Era, 1897-1929; McFarland & Company; ISBN 0-89950-460-4 (library binding, 1990)
- Leonard Maltin; Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons; Penguin Books; ISBN 0-452-25993-2 (1980, 1987)
- Russell Merritt and J. B. Kaufman; Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney; Johns Hopkins University Press; ISBN 0-8018-4907-1 (paperback, 1993)