Monday, October 8, 2007
Century Birthday - Art Babbitt
BORN 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
Arthur Harold Babitzky entered the world in the unlikely city of Omaha, Nebraska, at the eastern edge of the state on the Missouri River.
His parents Solomon* and Zelda were married in 1898 in their native Russia. His father first came to the United States in 1903 and his mother arrived in 1906. Solomon worked in the clothing/textile industry, in dying and cleaning.
Arthur was the first of four children to survive beyond infancy. A sister, Louise, born a year after him, also did not live more than a few years. It wasn't long before he was joined by brothers Issie and William. The family home was at 1436 S. 13th Street, just south of downtown Omaha.
In 1913 the family moved a hundred miles up the Missouri River to Sioux City, Iowa. In a short time the family had grown again with the birth of Arthur's sister, Fannie (or Hannah) in 1914. Their first home there was at 705 W. Seventh Street but after a few years they had moved across the street to 822 W. Seventh.
When Art was in his late teens the family relocated once again to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York and Art soon moved out and went to work in the field of animation. In 1929 he went to work for Paul Terry and Frank Moser where he animated on the Aesop's Fables cartoons and later on TerryToons.
Frustrated with the low pay, Babbitt moved west to Hollywood hoping to find work with the Walt Disney Studio. He succeeded and was hired in July of 1932. There he would animate on Mickey Mouse cartoons and Silly Symphonies; notable among them, the award-winning Three Little Pigs.
In the summer of 1934, Art embarked on a trip to New York along with some other studio employees including Frank Churchill, Les Clark and Dick and Juanita Lundy. After sailing on the Santa Elena through the Panama Canal they arrived back in Los Angeles on September 3.
Babbitt was continually trying to convince Vladimir "Bill" Tytla, his friend from Terrytoons, to come west to Disney's and by mid-November 1934 he had started at the studio. Babbitt invited Tytla to move in with him at his home in the Hollywood Hills at 5600 Tuxedo Terrace. In this home they began offering life drawing classes in the evenings after work.
Art grew to become on of the top animators at the studio during the 1930s and is credited with creating the character of Goofy (initally known as "The Goof.") He was a directing animator on the feature films, known for the characters of the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the stork in Dumbo. Perhaps his most well known is the scene of the the dancing mushrooms in the Nutcracker Suite segment of Fantasia.
In 1936 Babbitt and Tytla moved to another home they shared just a short distance away at 5700 Hill Oak Drive. It wasn't long though, before Art had married Marge Belcher, a dancer (and Snow White reference model.) Tytla moved out and soon was married himself.
In May of 1941 Babbitt was the primary figure behind the artists strike of the Disney Studio. This action would help lead to the establishment of what is now The Animation Guild, Local 839. Much more has been written about this incident elsewhere.
Art would go on to work at other studios including UPA and the studio of a former Disney co-worker, Shamus Culhane. He was also a co-founder of Quartet Films where he would be involved in the production of numerous commercials.
With an apparent fondness for homes in the Hollywood Hills, he and his second wife, Annamarie lived in the hills above the Hollywood Bowl at 6902 Los Tilos Road during the 1950s. During this decade they had two daughters, Linda and Karen.
When Art married again in the 1960s to Barbara Perry, they lived in a home just up the road in the same neighborhood. They remained there for many years including the time that Art was animating on the Raggedy Ann and Andy feature for Richard Williams.
Art Babbitt passed away at the age of 84 on March 4, 1992.
During his lifetime Art had been honored with dozens of awards for his work, and this week he will be among those honored by The Walt Disney Company as a Disney Legend.
* Solomon would later change his name to Samuel.