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Grim Natwick

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Grim Natwick
Grim

Name

Grim Natwick

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 colours. Natwick is best known for drawing the Fleischer Studio's 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), Grim created the original design of Betty Boop at the request of studio head Max Fleischer, who requested a girlfriend for his successful creation Bimbo. Although Natwick created the original design of Betty Boop, legal ownership of the Betty Boop character remained with the studio, since he was in its employ at the time. 

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."

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 lated sued Fleischer Studios, complaining that the character had stolen her thunder. 

Betty Boop was born. 

Legal Ownership of Betty Boop - Grim Natwick Sue's

One afternoon, Max Fleischer visited Grim 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".) Max expressed his appreciation and offered to make a gift of the character to Grim 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. Although some writers have tried to belittle Grim’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.

 ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive - Museum & Archive (2007)

"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 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, Dwayne Crowther.

Mae Questel also appeared and sung Button Up Your Overcoat.

Death

Grim Natwick died in 1990 of both pnumonia and a heart attack just weeks after having his 100th birthday party.

Trivia

  • Grim is given a special thanks in The Romance of Betty Boop which states "A special thanks to Grim Natwick who drew Betty first".
  • Grim 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 & 1980s Grim Natwick used to get requests from fans to draw Betty Boop for them. 
  • He is not to be confused with Myron Waldman another animator that worked for the Fleischer Studios.

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