Thursday, April 12, 2007

Century Birthday - Hardie Gramatky


Hardie Gramatky, perhaps best known for his classic childrens book, Little Toot, was born 100 years ago today in Dallas, Texas. He was also a prolific illustrator, watercolorist and, in the early 1930s, an animator at the Disney Studio.

Named for his father, Bernhard August Gramatky, Jr. was the middle of three sons born to Bernhard and Blanche Gramatky. The family's early home on San Jacinto Street in downtown Dallas was at a site now occupied by the J.P. Morgan-Chase Tower. Following the death of his father from tuberculosis, Blanche moved the family in with her sister, Minnie Ott, in Southern California. They lived around the corner from the Paramount Studio at 5433 Romaine Street for a short time before settling in the nearby suburb of San Gabriel.

Hardie gained early recognition for his art in the Junior Times, an insert in Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. Among the many other young artists who had their work published in the Junior Times were future Disney co-workers, Fred Moore and Ed Benedict.

Gramatky moved north to attended Stanford University in the mid 1920s and later enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute back in Los Angeles. At Chouinard he would meet and fall in love with another artist, Dorothea Cooke. They dated while at school and were married in 1932.

He was hired at the Disney Studio in 1929 to work on the Mickey Mouse comics and in short order moved into animation. The smiling and energetic Gramatky can be seen in action throughout the softball game footage released on the DVD set More Silly Symphonies and detailed here in recent posts. He spent six years at Disney and in mid-1936 he and Dorothea moved to New York where he found work with various magazines including Fortune.

Inspired by the tugboats he saw from the window of his studio, he painted and penned the story of Little Toot, published in 1939 by Putnam. A restored classic edition of Little Toot is slated to be published this spring by Penguin Putnam.

Nine years after it was first published, the story of Little Toot was animated by the Disney Studio and included as one of the seven musical segments in the feature Melody Time.

For a couple of years during World War II, Hardie was back in Los Angeles supervising the production of training films for the Army Air Corps. Shortly after their return to the east coast, he and his family settled in Westport, Connecticut. Their home was at 60 Roseville Road, just a short walk from the Boston Post Road, the colonial-era route between New York City and Boston.

Hardie remained a resident of Westport for the remainder of his life. He and Dorothea continued their work for many magazines and Hardie also had several more books published. Beyond what grew to become a series of Little Toot books, he also wrote and illustrated a list of charming childrens literature including Loopy, Sparky, Creeper's Jeep and Hercules.

Hardie Gramatky passed away from cancer at the age of 72 in late April 1979 and although he died too soon, his work continues to be enjoyed by the world.

I encourage you to visit, a website maintained by his daughter, Linda Gramatky Smith. Here you can read many more stories and see dozens of examples of his wonderful artwork. This is a prime example of what so many other artists should have and unfortunately don't!

No comments: