Grim and Betty

As I mentioned in this post, I had a chance to spend some time in the old hometown recently.  It also happens to be the hometown of Grim Natwick, one of the most influential artists you’ve never heard of.

Natwick created “Betty Boop”, who, judging by the number of collectibles and knick-knacks I see adorned with her wide-eyed image, still generates considerable cash flow for somebody. (Not Natwick, by the way – he created the character but the rights are owned by Fleischer Studios).

Grim Natwick’s career spanned the entire history of the Golden Age of Animation.  From the crude animation of the 20’s and Krazy Kat, to creating Betty Boop on through Mickey Mouse and Disney’s Silly Symphonies.  He was lead animator on the first full-length animated film, Disney’s Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.

Always kind of a self-effacing guy, Grim said he “did a little work” on Fantasia and Pinocchio.  A roster of his assistants read like a Who’s Who of animation.  And Grim lived a good long time, too – a full 100 years.  Long enough to see his work become part of our cultural history.

But sadly, he didn’t live long enough to see any recognition from the folks he grew up with.  A historical marker with his accomplishments wasn’t added until about a year ago.  I went to school with some of his shirt-tail relations, but other than myself and these folks nobody knew of him.  All the while Grim was still around, and still creating.

It wasn’t until the recent interest in collecting animation cels and memorabilia that Betty Boop and her creator were unearthed for a new generation.  And as I mentioned in my previous post, my hometown had seen some tough times in recent years.  So a grant was chased down for a “matching fund” for a cultural event to drive tourism and recover some of the economic “Boop-Oop-A-Doop” lost when the local paper mill drastically downsized.

So the “Grim Natwick Film Festival” was born.  Long overdue recognition for a native son that became a pillar in a uniquely American art form.

It’s too bad that Grim never got his due from his creations, fame-wise or financially.  It’s also too bad his hometown never chose to recognize him until they saw a way to turn a buck for themselves by latching onto his memory.

But I think Grim would be OK with it.  At a photo taken at his 100th birthday party, just about every great living animator of the 20th century is there.  I’ve never seen his name mentioned without the speaker commenting on Grim’s modesty and huge contribution to his art form.  And even though he spent his working life far, far away from his roots, Grim is laid to rest in the old hometown that never left his heart.


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