WALT’S WORLD (continued)

by Graham Hill

In creating his vision, Walt Disney had a lot, and I mean a lot, of help.

Good help, like Arthur Harold Babitsky –- better known as Art Babbitt. (above) The man who animated the Wicked Queen in Snow White, Geoppetto in Pinocchio, the mushrooms in Fantasia and the stork in Dumbo.

Art was one of Disney’s highest paid animators who belonged to the studio’s own company union, but he was also a man who cared about his fellow workers who were not so well paid.

Upon joining “Screen Cartoonists Local 852”, the industry union that represented the other Hollywood studio animators, Disney promptly fired him. Babbitt became the lightning rod for the whole strike, as he became a union leader and activist who fought for better pay and conditions.

Even upon moving to a new and state-of-the-art studio in Burbank, a studio that was designed more like a college campus than a factory plant. It still was a factory with an assembly line.

Built from the vast profits of Snow White, workers had expected back-pay and bonuses for having worked so hard and without proper overtime compensation to complete the over-budgeted classic. They too had invested in “Walt’s Folly” as the picture was earlier known in the industry.

With World War II already well under way in Europe, 40 per-cent of the studios revenue was cut off. The newly built studio facility had cost $3 million and had put the company into $4 million worth of debt.

But Walt was not in the mood to listen to those very same artists who made his dreams and fortunes a reality. There were animators like John Hubley, famous for the “Rights of Spring” sequence in Fantasia. Years later, Hubley would become co-creator of the “Mr. Magoo” character at the newly formed UPA animation studio. Kenneth Muse who had worked on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scenes in Fantasia, another “fired” and “disloyal” employee, Muse would go on to animate “Tom & Jerry” at MGM. 

Ironically, a year earlier in 1940, Ub Iwerks returned to the Disney studio having failed to make a go of it on his own.

Iweks who had once been a twenty per-cent partner in the studio and had sold it for just $2,000, was now just someone who worked in the camera department. He perfected the “sodium vapor process or yellow-screen” whereby live action could be combined with animation or other background footage.

Iwerks made films like Song of the South, The Three Caballero’s and Mary Poppins possible. For his efforts in special photographic effects, he would win two Academy Awards. Always a valuable Disney asset, Iwerks was the wizard who helped Alfred Hitchcock out on The Birds.

After the strike and after World War II ended, Walt was never the same.

As the studio became more successful it also became more bureaucratic. The rows with his brother over finances became more intense, but none more so than in the early 1950’s. Having already moved into live-action films, Walt felt — and rightly so — that as the studios main asset and star, he should derive more income for his efforts.

Using the initials of his name, he created WED enterprises. Its job was to act as a licensor of Walt’s name in merchandising and other personal projects, including his development of a theme park he would soon call Disneyland.

Roy Disney felt — and again, rightly so — like the shareholders of Walt Disney Productions, that Walt’s name and reputation were the property of the company. It would go on to become a major source of bitterness between the two families that still continues today. Not that Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney’s ouster from the studio by Walt’s son-in-law Ron Miller didn’t exactly unite them all either.

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