Myron "Grim" Natwick (August 16, 1890 – October 7, 1990) was an American artist, animator and film director. In his early career, he did cover designs for sheet music, initially for a friend who worked at a music publishing company. Natwick found that he was good at this type of work and contacted other publishers in Chicago, eventually illustrating the covers for many song sheets, usually in no more than two colors. Natwick is best known for drawing Fleischer Studios most popular character Betty Boop, under the direction of Max Fleischer. Although legal ownership of the Betty Boop character remained with the studio (as Natwick was an employee), Natwick created the original design of Betty Boop at the behest of studio head Max Fleischer, who requested a girlfriend for his successful creation Bimbo. Although Natwick created her original design, legal ownership of the Betty Boop character remained with the studio, since he was in its employ at the time.
- Grim Natwick: "Among the 16 to 24 age group there are a bunch of Betty Boop maniacs."
Grim Natwick Recalls When He First Created Betty Boop (1974)
It took Grim Natwick less than two minutes to re-create the cartoon character recognized by millions. On a large brown envelope he first drew the round head, followed by the curvy body. The eyes were next, sunk low and looking away. The curly short cropped hair, pug nose and round mouth left no mistake about it. There was Betty Boop singing "Boop-Boop-a-Doop". In the South Wood County Historical Corporation's building at 540 3rd St. S. Natwick, Wisconsin Rapids native, and one of the first animated cartoonists, created Betty Boop in 1930. She was an "Instantaneous hit," he said in an interview earlier this week. Those who managed to catch a Saturday morning or weekday afternoon cartoon show in the late 1950s and early 1960s probably remember Betty Boop. However, movie goers in the pre-television days likely saw a lot more of Betty to base memories on. Grim Natwick based Betty Boop on a "rag time piece of music." He created her while working at the Max Fleischer (don't say you can't remember Popeye) studio in New York. He was given a piece of music sung by Helen Kane, Natwick recalls. She was, "one of these $10,000 a night singers at that time (early 1930s) because of the "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" type singing," said Natwick. In Betty's first cartoon appearance Helen Kane provided the vocals and Miss Boop "did a little dance for two or three minutes," Natwick said. A little story was also woven into it, he added. Natwick said he first designed Betty "as sort of a little round faced dog. Her ears gradually became earrings. She was saying "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" so of course she had to be cute." Betty Boop "wore the first mini-skirt," Natwick said, and "had a cute little garter with a rose in it." She was designed after Helen Kane, said Natwick, who wore "split curls" and was, "kind of a pouty little singer." Natwick animated the first six Betty Boop cartoons which were followed by 94 more. "She was considered to be sexy that Hollywood banned her... locked her up for years," said Natwick. She was "so modest" compared to what is seen on the screen today, he added. After graduation from Lincoln High School in 1910, Natwick went to art school Chicago where a friend got him interested in animation. The drawing interest was there in high school, however. According to things he's thrown out the past week, "I did nothing else," but draw Natwick said. A couple boxes of his old books had sketches in them, he said. Drawing was a "propelling feeling that I couldn't hold back," added Natwick. However, he also found time for football and the track team, he said. While in Wisconsin Rapids, Natwick is staying with his brother Donald and his wife, Helen Natwick, 471 2nd St. S. The house he was born in still stands near what is now 3rd Ave. S. Natwick declined to reveal his age. He's avoided the question, "10,000 times," he said, ever since first going to Hollywood where the studios didn't think people over 30 "were young enough" to do animation work. Animation didn't start until 1914 or 1915, Natwick recalls, and it wasn't until 1918 when he got into it. His art school friend, "induced me into William Randolph Hearst's studio in New York," Natwick explained. "He was insane about cartoons," Natwick said of Hearst. After three years of art study in Vienna, Natwick joined the Fleischer Studio at a time animation was growing. Natwick spent 18 to 20 years living in Hollywood, several under the employ of Walt Disney. At the Disney Studios, between 1934 and 1938 Natwick worked on the first feature length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White was a "very complicated" character to draw and took up to five times as long to finish as others. Like Mickey Mouse, said Natwick. People had the idea Disney drew his own characters but when he got there 200 artists were already working for the studio, Natwick said. Natwick worked on Snow White (released in 1938) a year and eight months. Over the years it remained Disney's favorite picture, he recalls. Natwick also worked on the opening scene of what many consider Disney's most famous animation film, Fantasia. The film was the greatest piece of animation ever," said Natwick, but the audience in the mid-1940s wasn't ready for it. The fantasy of pictures "did not appeal to war-minded citizens," Natwick said. "Too many who might have liked it were in the Army." Fantasia was re-released and has been popular among college age audiences the past few years. The film has a classical music background which Natwick said was "very new to attempt at that time." A 75-piece orchestra provided the musical background, he explained. There are a million and a half drawings in Fantasia which took four years to make, Natwick said. Other famous characters drawn by Natwick include Dumbo and Pinocchio for Disney, Woody Woodpecker and Mr. Magoo for Universal Studios and several TV commercial fixtures for several years including the Enco (now Exxon) tiger and Sinclair (now Arco) dinosaur. He also worked on Gulliver's Travels for Fleischer in the 1940s. A color drawing of Gulliver by Natwick is in the historical corporation museum. He never retired, Natwick said, but "sort of backed out" of animation six years ago. "I wanted to paint," he said. There is more to animation being done today than there ever was, he said, but it's "so highly limited." Comparing animation for film and television is like "playing bean bags versus polo," he said. There are few active parts in TV animation, he said with many shorts focusing on the head, shoulders or eyes. Natwick returned in February from an eight-month instructing job at a London animation studio. He viewed a Betty Boop revival there and expects one in this country shortly. Only this time Betty will be in color. Betty Boop revised in London was "quite successful," Natwick said. Among the 16 to 24 age group there are a bunch of "Betty Boop maniacs," he added. (The Daily Tribune)
In Grim Natwick's Own Words
"In 1930 I created Betty Boop. By brief history is that - uh - I don’t know if you’re interested. I worked for so many studios. I first worked for William Randolph Hearst way back in the 1920s and that was... I went to New York because all the big publishers, the Chicago publishers, many of them, were branches - I really got into this song publishing artwork very deeply. I was doing all these songs but that was during the war and all. Everybody in America wrote a song about how we hated the Kaiser and Hitler and how we were going over and beat him up and wrote it into songs. And I was turning out a song cover a day (laughs) for HS Talbot who printed them up and then I got drafted. That’s what happened - I got drafted into the army myself in World War One. That took me out of the thing for a while and when the war ended I went to New York and - if I don’t finish any sentence you can jump on me. In 1930 I had just got back from studying over in Vienna and still wanting to be an illustrator but earn enough money so that I could afford to get started, I worked for Fleischer’s (and shortly after created Betty Boop). And the offers from Hollywood - gosh - Roy Disney took me out to dinner five nights in a row and came up to my studio and we watched the Rose Bowl game...oh no! We LISTENED to it on the radio - still no television. And he told me all the reasons why I should come out to Walt’s. The main reason was that there was only one other man in the animation business who could draw a girl character, let alone animate her and Walt Disney was already starting to work on Snow White."
The Creation of Betty Boop
Today Natwick calls it a special ability for details that suggest femininity. So when he was assigned to come up with a character to sing a song popularized by actress Helen Kane, Natwick departed from the studio's disposition for animal cartoons. "I started with a dog with long graceful ears and a cute little collar, but I thought 'A dog can't sing this song, Natwick recalled. He turned long dog's ears to earrings and added elements of the real Kane, a flapper actress who later sued Fleischer Studios, complaining that the character had stolen her thunder. Betty Boop was born.
Legal Ownership of Betty Boop - Grim Natwick Sues!
One afternoon, Max Fleischer visited Grim Natwick in his office and asked him to animate a sequence of Betty Boop for "old time’s sake". He explained that Betty had been a great asset to the studio, but the series had run its course, and this was to be the final Betty Boop cartoon. (The cartoon in question was most likely Musical Mountaineers.) Fleischer expressed his appreciation and offered to gift the character to Natwick upon the completion of the film. Not knowing anything about the legalities of transferring ownership of a property, Grim did nothing about it. But years later, he read in the trades that the rights to Betty Boop had been sold by the Fleischers to King Features Syndicate for a great deal of money. Grim sued, but he had nothing in writing and lost the case. Though some writers have tried to belittle Natwick's contribution to the creation of Betty Boop, saying that his part was minimal, history bears out the fact that the character was 100% the creation of Grim Natwick.
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"One day, Dave Fleischer handed Grim a photograph of singer, Helen Kane and asked him to design a caricature. Fleischer had found a sound-alike, and planned to use her in the upcoming Talkartoon, Dizzy Dishes. Grim exaggerated Kane’s wide eyes and rosebud mouth, creating a slightly coarse, but strikingly original design. A few weeks later, Dave asked Grim to design a girlfriend for Bimbo to star as the "fair young maiden" in a cartoon adaptation of the popular song, "Barnacle Bill The Sailor". Grim streamlined and refined his caricature of Kane for the part. But Dave Fleischer objected, insisting that since Bimbo was a dog, his girlfriend should also be a dog. Grim quickly sketched Betty Boop’s head on a four legged canine body. He held up the drawing next to the pretty girl design, and asked, 'Which would you rather have as your girlfriend? A girl? Or a dog?' Dave laughed and agreed that the pretty girl was the right choice."
Grim Natwick's 100th Birthday Party
Grim Natwick's 100th birthday was in August 1990. The party featured John Wilson, George Singer, Ellsworth Barthen, Lee Mishkin, Irv Dressler, Mark Davis, Bill Littlejohn, Art Babbit, Hicks Lokey, Frank Thomas, Rudy Cataldi, Corny Cole, Claire Weeks, Ollie Johnson, John Kimball, Fred Crippen and Dwayne Crowther. Mae Questel also appeared, and performed "Button Up Your Overcoat".
- Grim Natwick died in 1990 of both pneumonia and a heart attack just weeks after his 100th birthday.
- Natwick is given a special credit in The Romance of Betty Boop, which reads: "A special thanks to Grim Natwick who drew Betty first" from animation producer Bill Melendez.
- Natwick created Betty Boop by combining attributes of Helen Kane and a French poodle, according to one of his interviews he had originally wanted the character to be a pretty human girl.
- During the 1970s and 1980s, Natwick used to get requests from fans to draw Betty Boop for them. In most of his works Betty was drawn in the nude.
- He is not to be confused with Myron Waldman, another animator that worked for Fleischer Studios.