Biography: Art Babbitt

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Birth/Death

Birth: 8 October 1907 Omaha, Nebraska,

Death: 4 March 1992 Los Angeles, California,

Occupation/Title

Animator, Director, Union Activist, Teacher

Bio Summary

Art was born in Omaha of Russian Jewish ancestry. Soon after High School he took himself to New York where he slummed around doing odd jobs and eating stale food to put himself through Columbia College Pre Med. He tried some jobs drawing cartoons and found he had a knack for them. A lifelong animator, union activist and teacher. He died in his eighties in 1992.

Early Life/Family

Married Three times, First to Marge Belcher, the model for the Blue Fairy in Pinnochio. After divorcing Marge became Marge Champion, the famed dancing partner of Gower Champion
Second wife- Anne-Marie Gottleib, they had two children Laura and Lisa.
Third wife- Barbera Perry, actress.

Education/Training

Art originally studied to be a pre-med student at Columbia College, he fell into drawing and animating to pay bills. He blossomed under Don Graham and the Chouinard courses.

Career Outline

He got a job at Van Beuren Studio then became an animator at Terrytoons. After he saw Disney’s Skeleton Dance he decided that was the place and went out and got a job there. By 1941 he was one of the top artists at the studio. He took the little known character of Dippy Dog and developed him into Goofy, one of the stars of the studio. He animated Geppetto in Pinnochio, the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Stork in Dumbo. He put himself at the head of the union organizing movement at Disneys and led the bitter strike of 1941 there. Walt Disney tried to fire him four times in defiance to Federal Law. Walt and he were enemies thereafter. He was president of the Screen Cartoonists Guild for several terms. Babbitt was a master sergeant in the Marines fighting in the Pacific in World War Two. After the war he returned to Disney’s but the climate was against him, he quit and went to Lou Bunin, then UPA where he was a main animator on the award winning short Rooty Toot Toot and many Mr Magoo shorts. He partnered with MGM animator Mike Lah for a time with their company Quartet, then ran the advertising commercial department of Hanna Barbera. His spots won him many awards. In the 70s he worked with Richard Williams Studio in London until his retirement in 1983.

Comments On Style

Art had a no-frills style that stressed performance. His timing was often even, yet he brought to his work his prodigious study of dance and theater. He studied the acting theories of internalization of Constantin Stanislavsky and Richard Boleslavsky, as any actor of his time would. He took classes in dance and learned to play the piano to make himself a better animator. He taught that an animator should be a student of everything.

Influences

Art said he was inspired to become an animator when he saw Ub Iwerks animation on Skeleton Dance (1930). Don Graham the art instructor was a big influence on him also.

Personality

Flinty, confrontational, indefatigable, honest, straightforward to some, abrasive to others. A warm friend, a tough opponent. He was a slim bantam of a man with a hawk-like squint through thick glasses. ?He did things not because they were politic, but whether they were right or wrong. He had the least reasons of any artist to join the Disney Strike. At that time he was one of the best paid artists in the studio. It just pricked his sense of what was fair.

Anecdotes

For most of his long life Art kept on his desk a team photo of the Disney Snow White crew.?He circled each head and wrote every name he could recall. Under his own head he wrote: ” The TroubleMaker.”

When Bill Hurtz, his assistant on Fantasia, couldn’t take care of his family on what he was making and the studio refused him a raise, Art augmented Bill’s salary out of his own pocket.

When a mobster tried to offer him a bribe to sell out the Disney artists on strike, Babbitt replied:” No thanks. I already make so much damn money, I don’t know what to do with it!”

He had a husband and wife team of housekeepers but was embarrassed to be chauffeured around town. He drove himself to the Hollywood Premiere of Snow White, only allowing the chauffer to take over when close to the theater.

He wore a stopwatch on his wrist.

When Fantasia was released on home video, Roy Disney Jr. sent him a copy with a note thanking him for his contributions to the film. Art told his friends that he considered this kind act to be the end of his hard feelings for the Disneys and the admission of all that he accomplished for them.

Miscellaneous

Art was close friends with animator Bill Tytla and got him hired at Disney. For awhile they shared a house together. They joked about each others East European ethnic origins. Babbitt called Tytla “Wladju” Ukrainian for Walt, Tytla called him “Bones.”

Art Babbitt was one of the great animation teachers. He had the ability to put in to words the processes most animators only knew by instinct. He championed Walt’s drive to continue art training for his animators and for awhile had model drawing sessions at his own house. Art lectured on animation at the USC in 1958, Local 839 union hall in the 1960s and 70s. In 1973 Richard Williams suspended production in his London Studio for two months so his artists could retrain under Art and his Warner Bros. colleague Ken Harris. Anybody who attended those lectures never forgot them. They had a big impact on the London animation renaissance of the 1970s and 80s. The notes from Art’s London lectures became copied and recopied until they became the most widely read, if unpublished animation manual of all time.

Dr Robert Field, who wrote the first history of Disney Animation in 1942, called Art Babbitt “The Greatest Animator Ever!”

Babbitt considered the animation of the bear chasing the dandilion in Grizzly Golfer to be the best scene he ever animated, and he was most proud of developing the character of Goofy in Mickey’s Service Station and Moving Day.

Filmography

Van Beuren:

Hot Tamale (Aesop’s Fable/1930) (Animator)

Terrytoons:

Swiss Cheese (1930) (Animator)
Codfish Balls (1930) (Animator)
Monkey Meat (1930) (Animator)
Chop Suey (1930) (Animator)
French Fried (1930) (Animator)
Salt Water Taffy (1930) (Animator)
Go West, Big Boy (1931) (Animator)
Quack Quack (1931) (Animator)
The Explorer (1931) (Animator)
A Day to Live (1931) (Animator)
By the Sea (1931) (Animator)
Canadian Capers (1931) (Animator)
Jesse and James (1931) (Animator)
The Champ (1931) (Animator)
Around the World (1931) (Animator)
The Lorelei (1931) (Animator)
The Spider Talks (1932) (Animator)

Disney:

The Klondike Kid (Mickey Mouse/1932) (Animator)
The Mad Doctor (Mickey Mouse/1933) (Animator)
Ye Olden Days (Mickey Mouse/1933) (Animator)
Mickey’s Gala Premiere (Mickey Mouse/1933) (Animator)
The Three Little Pigs (Silly Symphonies/1933), (Animator [Big Bad Wolf, Pigs]) (Academy Award Winner)
Lullaby Land (Silly Symphonies/1933 Animator)
The Pied Piper (Silly Symphonies/1933 Animator [Mayor])
The Pet Store (Mickey Mouse/1933) (Animator)
Santa’s Workshop (Silly Symphonies/1933) (Animator)
The China Shop (Silly Symphonies/1934) (Animator)
The Grasshopper and the Ants (Silly Symphonies/1934) (Animator)
Playful Pluto (Mickey Mouse/1934) (Animator [Pluto])
Gulliver Mickey (Mickey Mouse/1934) (Animator)
The Funny Little Bunnies Silly Symphonies/1934)
The Wise Little Hen (Silly Symphonies/1934) (Animator)
Peculiar Penguins (Silly Symphonies/1934) (Animator)
The Goddess of Spring (Silly Symphonies/1934) (Animator)
Two-Gun Mickey (Mickey Mouse/1934 Animator)
Mickey’s Service Station (Mickey Mouse/1935) (Animator [Goofy])
Water Babies (Silly Symphonies/1935) (Animator)
Mickey’s Garden (Mickey Mouse/1935) (Animator)
On Ice (Mickey Mouse/1935) (Animator [Goofy])
Broken Toys (Silly Symphonies/1935 Animator)
Mickey’s Polo Team (Mickey Mouse/1936) (Animator [Celebrity Caricatures])
Moving Day (Mickey Mouse/1936) (Animator [Goofy, Pete])
The Country Cousin (Silly Symphonies/1936) (Animator [Abner Mouse])
Moose Hunters (Mickey Mouse/1937) (Animator [Goofy])
Mickey’s Amateurs (Mickey Mouse/1937) (Animator [Goofy])
Lonesome Ghosts (Mickey Mouse/1937) (Animator [Goofy])
Polar Trappers (Donald and Goofy/1938) (Animator)
The Whalers (Mickey Mouse/1938) (Animator [Goofy])
Ferdinand the Bull (1938) (Animator)
Goofy and Wilbur (Goofy/1939) (Animator [Goofy])
Goofy’s Glider (Goofy/1940) (Animator [Goofy])
Baggage Buster (Goofy/1941) (Animator)
The Art of Self Defense (Goofy/1941) (Animator)
The Flying Jalopy (Donald Duck/1943) (Animator)
How to Play Football (Goofy/1944) (Animator)
Bootle Beetle (Donald Duck/1947) (Animator)
Foul Hunting (Goofy/1947) (Animator [Goofy])
They’re Off (Goofy/1948) (Animator)

Theatrical Features:

Disney:

The Servant’s Entrance (1934) (Animator) (Released by Fox)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) ( Animator [Queen])
Pinocchio (1940) (Animation director Geppetto, Blue Fairy)
Fantasia (1940) (Animation supervisor Mushrooms, Thistle Boys, Orchid Girls, “Nutcracker Suite”; Animation supervisor Zeus, Vulcan, “Pastoral Symphony”)
Dumbo (1940) (Animation director [Stork, Silhouetted Clowns])
Fun and Fancy Free (1947) (Animator “Bongo”)

Lou Bunin:

Alice in Wonderland (1951) (UK) (Animation consultant)

UPA/Columbia:

The Fourposter (1952) (Animator)
Ragtime Bear (Jolly Frolics [Mr. Magoo]/1950) (Animator)
Giddyap (Jolly Frolics/1950) (Director)
The Popcorn Story (Jolly Frolics/1950) (Director)
Family Circus (Jolly Frolics/1951) (Director; animator)
Barefaced Flatfoot (Mr. Magoo/1951) (Animator)
Fuddy Duddy Buddy (Mr. Magoo/1951) (Animator)
Grizzly Golfer (Mr. Magoo/1951) (Animator)
Rooty Toot Toot (Jolly Frolics/1952) (Animator [Honest John, Frankie])

Quartet Films,

many commercials including Chicken of the Sea and Starkist Tuna,

Hanna & Barbera commercial unit:

“John & Marsha” Parkay Margarine (Cleo Winner)

Hubley Studio:’

Of Men and Demons (1969) (Animator)
Television Special: “Everybody Rides the Carousel” (1975)

Warner Bros

The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) (Animator [uncredited])

Richard Williams:

1970- Count Pushkins Vodka-“Siberian Railway” spot designed by Rowland Wilson (Director),
Raggedy Ann and Andy (1977) (Animator, The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees)
The Cobbler and the Thief (aka) the Amazing Nashrudin (aka) Arabian Knight (1994) (Animator The Sultan)

Honors

Annie Award: Winsor McCay Award 1974
MPSC 839 Golden Award

Related Links

Bibliographic References

Art Babbitt interviewed by Karl Stysz in Cartoonists Profiles
John Canemaker The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy, Bobs&Merrill Pub 1977


Art Babbitt’s Character Analysis of Goofy:

It is difficult to classify the characteristics of the Goof into columns of the physical and mental because they interweave, reflect and enhance one another. Therefore, it will probably be best to mention everything all at once. Think of the Goof as a composite of an everlasting optimist, a gullible Good Samaritan, a halfwit and a shiftless, good-natured hick. He is loose-jointed and gangly, but not rubbery.

He can move fast if he has to, but would rather avoid any overexertion, so he takes what seems to be the easiest way. He is a philosopher of the barber shop variety. No matter what happens, he accepts it finally as being for the best or at least amusing. He is willing to help anyone and offers his assistance even when it is not needed and just creates confusion. He very seldom, if ever, reaches an objective or completes what he has started. His brain being rather vapory, it is difficult for him to concentrate on any one subject. Any little distraction can throw him off his train of thought and it is extremely difficult for the Goof to keep to his purpose. Yet the Goof is not the type of halfwit that is to be pitied. He doesn’t dribble, drool or shriek.

He has music in his heart, even though it is the same tune forever and I see him humming to himself while working or thinking. He talks to himself because it is easier for him to know what he is thinking if he hears it first.
His posture is nil. His back arches the wrong way and his little stomach protrudes. His head, stomach and knees lead his body. His neck is quite long and scrawny. His knees sag and his feet are large and flat. He walks on his heels and his toes turn up. His shoulders are narrow and slope rapidly, giving the upper part of his body a thinness and making his arms seem long and heavy, though actually not drawn that way. His hands are very sensitive and expressive and though his gestures are broad, they should reflect the gentleman.

Never think of the Goof as a sausage with rubber hose attachments. Though he is very flexible and floppy, his body still has a solidity and weight. The looseness of his arms and legs should be achieved through a succession of breaks in the joints rather than what seems like the waving of so much rope. He is not muscular, yet has the strength and stamina of a very wiry person.

His clothes are misfits: his trousers are baggy at the knees and the pants legs strive vainly to touch his shoe tops but never do. His pants droop at the seat and stretch tightly across some distance below the crotch. His sweater fits him snugly except for the neck and his vest is much too small. His hat is of a soft material and animates a little bit.

The Goof’s head can be thought of in terms of a caricature of a person with a pointed dome; large, dreamy eyes, buck teeth and a weak chin, a large mouth, a thick lower lip, a fat tongue and a bulbous nose that grows larger on its way out and turns up. His eyes should remain partly closed to help give him a stupid sleepy appearance, as though he were constantly straining to remain awake. But, of course, they can open wide for expressions or accents. He blinks quite a bit.

He is very bashful. Yet when something stupid has befallen him, he mugs the camera like an amateur actor with relatives in the audience, trying to cover up his embarrassment by making faces and signaling to them. He is in close contact with sprites, goblins, fairies and other such fantasia. Each object or piece of mechanism, which to us is lifeless, has a soul and personality in the mind of the Goof.

The improbable becomes real where the Goof is concerned. He has marvelous muscular control of his fanny. He can do numerous little flourishes with it and his fanny should be used whenever there is an opportunity to emphasize a funny position.

Well, this little analysis has covered the Goof from top to toes, and having come to his end, I end.


Contributors To This Listing

Tom Sito, Stephen Worth, Nicolas Martinez

To make additions or corrections to this listing, please click on COMMENTS below…

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