An interview by Michael Barrier
Joe Grant, who died last spring at the age of ninety-six, was a remarkable survivor from Disney animation's golden age in the 1930s and early 1940s. Remarkable not just because he lived so long, outlasting almost all of his contemporaries, but because he was still working at the Disney studio when he died. His Disney tenure was not continuous. He left the studio in the late 1940s, going into the greeting-card business, and returned four decades later as a story manand a human good-luck charm for a new generation of animators trying to recapture the old Disney magic.
In his original Disney stint, Grant worked first in story with Bill Cottrell, but his tremendous facility as a draftsman, combined with his energy and ambition, soon recommended him to Walt Disney for larger responsibilities. Grant became head of a newly formed department that was responsible for producing model sheets for the many new characters in Pinocchio. The model department soon became an all-purpose source of ideas, and Grant and Dick Huemer, a veteran animator and director, supervised much of the early work on Fantasia and Dumbo. The photo was taken in Philadelphia in April 1939, during the recording sessions with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra for Fantasia. Grant is standing at right, next to Huemer and Disney.
Grant was esteemed by many of the people who worked for himgifted artists like Martin Provensen, Campbell Grant, and Jim Bodreroand resented by some equally gifted people who did not, like Ward Kimball, Bill Peet, Frank Thomas, and even Dick Huemer. You'll find in this interview traces of both the intelligence and the arrogance that Grant's admirers and detractors variously detected in him.
Milt Gray and I interviewed Joe Grant on a half dozen occasions
in the 1970s and 1980s. The excerpts that follow are from an interview
I recorded on October 14, 1988, in Joe's studio at his home in Glendale,
California. Like some of the other interviews I've posted on this
site, this one was not a comprehensive review of a career. Instead,
I was mostly asking Joe questions that had grown out of earlier
interviews with him, or out of interviews with his former colleagues.
To hear a 90-second audio clip from the interview, in which Joe talks about Walt Disney, click here (MP3 player required).
As the interview began, Joe was talking about some movies in which he acted as a child.
Grant: ...Treasure Island, Mikado, Jack and the Beanstalka whole series. And they were done by Sidney and Chester Franklin. You know who Sidney Franklin was.
Barrier: Sure, he was later a director; in fact, he's the one who had the rights to Bambi.
Grant: In the meeting [on] Bambi, I mentioned his past career as a child director, and he scorned the idea; I don't think he spoke to me for the rest of the evening.
Barrier: These were films that had entire casts of child actors?
Grant: Yes; I have a photo downstairs of Francis Carpenter, who was the star of all of them, a little white-haired kid. On Jack and the Beanstalk, some woman tried to undress me so that she could put the costume on her son. My mother rescued me in the nick of time. All I did was make one somersault, and I think that was my entire contribution to the picture. Most of it was shot out here in Chatsworth, and they had a gianthe must have been seven-foot-five or somethingthat just scared the hell out of all those little kids. It was a terrifying experience.
Barrier: Did you have featured roles in any of these films, or were you always a bit player?
Grant: No, I was always what you call a contract player; it was thirty-five dollars a week whether you worked or not. It was for Fox Films, William Fox.
Barrier: How long were you a contract player?
Grant: It must have been almost a year, I guess, on and off. But I really don't know.
Barrier: You never wanted to pursue an acting career after that?
Grant: Oh, no, God! No talent there.
Barrier: One area I particularly want to talk to you about today is that period after the end of work on Snow White, roughly 1938 through 1940, when there was so much going on. I've recently been going over all the story meeting notes I have on Pinocchio, which go back to late '37 and early '38. You were in most of those meetings and obviously were very heavily involved with the story at that time, in some way. You can help me define what your role was at that point.
Grant: The role was kind of simple. The stuff that was at the meeting was brought in from the model department; there wasn't anything for me to say about it, it was Walt reading the ideas to the group. As you'll notice, he dominates every meeting, and whatever contributions came in. But there was nothing vocal from our standpoint; we had already gone over this thing with him in the model department, and they were brought over into story.
Barrier: These are the actual designs of the characters you're talking about.
Grant: Not only that, but visualizing Jiminy Cricket, and all of the plots, the charactersthey were gags, they were not just models. "Model department" was the wrong name; [Walt] called it his think tank. They were inspirational drawings, they were ideas.
Barrier: These meetings were actually pre-Jiminy Cricket, however. My understanding is, on the history of that film, that the story was pretty well nailed down, and they went into production, and then Walt called a halt because he wasn't happy with the way things were going; Jiminy Cricket was introduced in the story after that. What's striking to me in going over these notes is that there's a lot of confusion, and a basic ambivalence, about whether Pinocchio is to be more a puppet or more a real boy, the ambivalence arising because if you make Pinocchio a real boy, he's more immediately appealing, but then the transformation at the end, when he becomes a real boy instead of puppet, loses a lot of its emotional impact. What's even more striking is how many bad ideas Walt comes up with. Really clichéd or painfully obvious or hackneyed ideas. For example, there was originally to be, after Pinocchio escaped from Pleasure Islandit was called Boobyland at that pointhe runs through all these different little lands where he gets stuck in candy, or whatever, and then he swims through a castor-oil lake, and this makes everything all right. Walt's thinking was very much along these lines.
Grant: If you put that all together, they're not only clichéd, they're crude jokes andhe was a country boy. But out of that would evolve a damned good idea. He could be somewhat of a chameleon; he'd come into a room and assume the posture of everybody around there and go from place to place. There was no particular guidance by somebody who came in with a brilliant idea that he seized. It was something that evolved in discussion. He had to go through all of that silly-ass verbiage of his until he came up with an idea, and it usually was very sharp. He may have had a lot of faults, but that particular talent he had is not to be discounted. Whatever you do, don't mistake him for a total illiterate.
Barrier: The impression I get, though, is that you had to suffer through a lot of pretty bad ideas before the good ones came along.
Grant: Yes, but the funny part is, he'd know they were lousy ideas himself. He'd laugh and kid about it. That doesn't come through on notes, what his attitude was in the meeting. In the meeting, he would guffaw, there'd be a big laugh, and go on to something else.
The most classic example [of how Walt would cut through with a strong idea] is that one in Fantasia, when they had this fabulous storyboard set up of Mickey conducting the ocean, the waves, standing up on the promontory. Walt said, "Yeah, very lovely pictures, but that's pretty dull stuff. Why not have him conduct the universe?" That's the kind of enlargement that he would bring into it. That sneeze of the whale, with the "Gesundheit!" [as spoken by Jiminy Cricket]that just came in at a meeting.
[The conversation turned to Walt's attitudes toward the people who worked for him and how those attitudes were influenced, with particular reference to Ward Kimball's claim to have turned Walt against Joe.]
Grant: One afternoon after another, we'd end up the day, I'd come into [Walt's] office and we'd have a glass of sherry. He'd always talk about people, what their values were. You had to be very careful not to bad-mouth anybody, but to find their virtues. He had a tendency to get a mad on, or a dislike, and it would be followed through. So you had to counter-balance it as much as possible. I didn't play the good fairy with all these things; there were some people that were not too valuable to the department. Another thing: He was very extravagant with people. For instance, the writers, that beginning of bringing in [Frank] Nugent and even [Aldous] Huxley, for that matterthe idea was in that case, which they're doing now at the studio, is to bring in people and not keep them on staff. In other words, to bring them in on assignment. Why have all these people hired forever? In some cases it worked out, but it was pretty hard to satisfy him until he saw the written material in picture form. That had to be translated. At that time, every time we'd hire somebody they were there forever. Money going out and nothing coming in, really, to speak of.
Dick [Huemer], and myself, and Martin [Provensen], and [Jim] Bodrerothese people had read, they were intelligent, they knew music and literature, and they were good conversationaliststhey were universal people, in their knowledge. I would admit that we were great snobs, that we looked upon these guys [the animators] as a hundred percent yokel. There was no changing them. We were roundly hated for it. And another thing: Every time I'd go back east with Walt, alone with him, it was all, what the hell, what is this guy, the what-makes-Sammy-run kind of thing. All I was doing, all I could contributeand was anxious to do thatthese projects to me were just precious. Get them going, I didn't care what the hell they said. But it's sort of a period there of a lot of misunderstanding and jealousy. But that's natural. I've been in many businesses since then, and I know exactly what it means.
Barrier: Kimball's intepretation of Bill Peet's grievance against you, as I recall, was that when Peet was first coming out of in-betweening and getting into story work, you were somehow taking credit for the drawings he was making. He started work in story on Pinocchio.
Grant: He didn't do anything for me on Pinocchio.
Barrier: Then Dumbo, of course...
Grant: It wasn't so much Peet, it was [Aurelius] Battaglia that did the great work on Dumbo. Beautiful drawings. But Peet wasn't in my department at that time.
Barrier: Was he ever actually in your department?
Grant: Never; not in the model department.
[The conversation turned to Walt's heavy cigarette smoking.]
Grant: I used to tell him, "Why don't you stop cigarettes, take a pipe." He tried a pipe for a while, and it burned a hole in his pocket. Then he came up with a great solution: People who smoke pipes are too slow, they don't think fast enough, they're too laid-back. That shook me up quite a bit, because I had a great collection of pipes, and tobaccos of rare quality. He always looked suspiciously at anyone with a pipe after that. Because he burned his tongue, and he had to learn how to use it, you know.
Barrier: I thought Perce Pearce used his pipe a great deal.
Grant: Pipe, and pipe cleaners. I liked Perce. He was ambitious as hell, but you must remember that he was an older man when he came to the studio. He didn't have much time to waste. And I think his contributions to the dwarfs and stuff were very significant. At least what I had seen. Other stories have said that he copped gags from people and so on, but I never...
Barrier: I brought my copies of meeting notes on Fantasia, because among these are breakdowns of the personnel at different times. They seem to reflect changing responsibilities between you and Dick, and I want to get some sense of how things actually were. Here's a memo from December 2, 1938, and there were separate units for each segment of Fantasia as of that time"Clair de Lune" was still in it, for exampleand each unit typically would have a director. For example, for "Dance of the Hours," Jack Caldwell and Earl Hurd answered to Dick, and [James] Bodrero and Lee Blair answered to you.
Grant: That's just garbled stuff. That doesn't mean anything. Because I still had the responsibility. That wouldn't mean anything to me at all. Dick was floating around to go to different units, for instance "Rite of Spring."
Barrier: At this point, there was a guy named Hal Thompson who was director of that unit.
Grant: He was a writer brought in for a time, as I remember. But Dick was brought in to help them coordinate that to the Stravinsky music, and more or less interpret his storyboard that he was working on.
That Oskar Fischinger story: What have you got on that? I wonder if you've got the right material on that. When I had the Fischinger stuff run off for Walt, he didn't like it at all. He didn't see anything in that. As you know, the stuff was handed over towhat was the guy's nameand they went ahead with the "Toccata and Fugue" with a slight abstract quality to it, with a comedic touch. But the people who worked on itthe one guy, I used to call him a eucalyptus oil painter; he would do conservative landscapes and whatnot [Joshua Meador]. It was put in the hands of people that really weren't that qualified to interpret that.
Barrier: In the early phase of Fantasia, particularly, how did you and Dick work together? You had the model department under way by that time...
Grant: Yeah; we were busy doing inspirational sketches. It wasn't really very much writing; it was almost all art. For instance, I came up with the idea of theseI lived sort of in the same situationof the gothic-shaped trees at the end of "Maria." And Dick would come up with something equally as good, if [not] better. We would pass that stuff on into the art department.
Barrier: The art department being your people?
Grant: Yes, our people, which would be Bodrero, Provensen, Campbell Grant, [John] Walbridge, all that group. Then also, we were busy making models of the stuff, three-dimensional things.
Barrier: Of course, there were a lot of people involved in story work on Fantasia who were not in the model department.
Grant: That would be after whatever... I had a lot of people researching music, and we went through God knowsone of the most important things with Dick and myself was making the choices. That was a big thing. We'd illustrate this and illustrate that, and before you know it, we'd say, "This one has possibilities," and then Walt would say either yes or no. Because he had a very keen sense of his ability to interpret music pictorially. So that was really Dick's occupation, and mine. Plus my problem of running it. There were other projects in the works at the time, too; it wasn't just all Fantasia.
Barrier: At the time the boards were going up on Fantasia, there seems not to have been any hard and fast line between your people and the story department. Most of the people on these lists were basically doing story work. For example, this one lists you as director of "Night on Bare Mountain," and Campbell Grant is involved here, but the other guys
Grant: I wasn't on any one thing, I was on all things. And Campbell, he didn't work on that at all. That's Kay Nielsen and Bill Wallet.
Barrier: Yeah, they're both on here.
Grant: They're the principals.
Barrier: Here's a September 1939 list that has for the first and second movements of the "Pastoral," Otto Englander, Webb Smith, Ed Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Joe Sabo, Tony Rivera, Dave Rose, Ernie Terrazas, Lee Blair. For the third, fourth, and fifth movements, Joe Grant, Martin Provensen, Jim Bodrero. So there you have three model department people.
Grant: I don't know what that means. We would have been out of that picture by that time. This would have all been in the hands of the director.
Barrier: The impression I get from this is how fluid the categories were at that time. The model department seems to have been the kind of operation where people were doing story work one day and drawing character models the next, or inspirational sketches another.
Grant: Yes, it was all mixed up. They'd bring them over to get a new conception of something. Whoever put these names down, just because somebody spent a week or a couple of days on it, it does not necessarily indicate anything. The things you're reading off there are just somebody in cost control seeing somebody in the room and saying, "Put his name down." It was a very fluid set-up; people were in and out.
[The conversation turned to Roy Williams, and specifically what Joe said was the hyperbole that surrounded some of Roy's "pranks."]
Grant: When he was working there, he was busy working; and when he wasn't working he was making cartoons of everybody around the place.
Barrier: Did you feel he was really a very talented gag man, or was he more a comic presence than a real contributor in that sense?
Grant: I don't know if it's safe to put your finger on a particular gag and say this is his, but he stimulated everybody else by what he did. You could pluck something out of everything he didnot everything, but most thingsand enlarge it, double-top, triple-top it. No, he was an inspiring character. Walt, I don't think hadyou know, he was so gross, he didn't appeal to Walt. But I liked him very much.
Barrier: I want to go back to Fantasia. Because of the nature of the work on the film, as you've described it, it's hard for me to get a fix on what to ask you about it, but I keep having the feeling that there must be memories you have of working on the film or specific incidents, or things like that, that will give me a clearer sense of how it developed, how you and Dick worked together. I remember I asked you one time about the possible influence of The Goldwyn Follies on "The Dance of the Hours," and you said something to the effect that if that had come into play, it would have been after it left your hands.
Grant: We picked the Ponchielli piece, "Dance of the Hours," and the inspiration for it was Heinrich Kley's drawings, of which I have a very ancient book that belonged to my father, who as you know was an artist. I brought it to the studio, and also made these models you see down here. Those things were the beginning of that; and finding the music for it was not very difficult. "The Dance of the Hours" was silly and sentimental enough to match the grossness of these characters. As far as working with Dick is concerned, I sent you a stat of him on the couch, didn't I? It was an early caricature; Dick was reclining figure there in my office for a while. I used him for his intelligence and ideas, and his ability to type, mainly. It was a wonderful relationship, but I can't tell you what he did and what I did.
Barrier: So, from your standpoint, Dick was being assigned to you and you were taking him under your wing? Would that be a fair statement?
Grant: Yes, exactly. Walt came in and said, "I haven't got anything for him to do. Can you use him?" And I said, "Yes, I can." I hardly knew him at that time. We became fast friends. It was the same way with Bill Cottrell; that was probably one of the most enjoyable times I had.
Barrier: Yes, I wanted to get clear in my own mind which shorts you worked on before you got involved with Snow White.
Grant: The most significant one was Cock Robin. But I worked on Gulliver Mickey; and of course the one I came there for was Mickey's Gala Premiere. And then Water Babies, The Grasshopper and the AntsI would say I played a minor role in these, because I was brand-new. I got busy with characters, and color, and so on. At that time, I was working with Albert Hurter, who was next to me thereor I was next to himand Bob Kuwahara, Webb Smith, Ted Sears. I had a very good baptism.
Barrier: Initially, at least, did you feel valued and useful mainly as somebody who could draw well and could give body to ideas?
Grant: Well, yeah, because I'd take the stuff home, and I'd make elaborate drawings and bring them in--I brought in a big sketch I made at home of Gulliver tied down. I realized then that that's what he needed for inspiration. I made quite a fetish of it after that, all the way through.
Barrier: Specifically, what kinds of sketches did you make after that?
Grant: Mostly in color; pastels were used. It was very soon copied by Harry Reeves and Homer Brightman; they colored up their sketches. Color had come in then, and you were supposed to begin to conceive in color.
Barrier: Before you started doing things in color, color was a rarity in the Disney story sketches?
Grant: Story sketches, yes. They didn't bother. Just little scraps and notes they'd pin up. I'm not the inventor of color, but I was one of the first to use it.
Barrier: So you did an entire board in color?
Grant: Mostly, yes. Or sometimes spot sketches to lighten up the whole board.
Barrier: That would be a lot of extra work.
Grant: Not really. They were just notes with color added to them. Then an occasional finished one. Your whole focus was appealing to Walt to stimulate him. And also to raise yourself in his esteem; after all, I was new. I looked at everything with awe around there; animation to me was the greatest of mysteries, although I never had any desire to do it.
Barrier: I would think the guys you were working with, like Cottrell, would have been delighted to have somebody like you on hand, who could draw well and could stimulate Walt like this.
Grant: Yeah. In Cock Robin, of course that's where I brought in the Mae West stuff and all thatCottrell was very intelligent in his approach to things. I think I've mentioned all this before, his bringing in the Gilbert & Sullivan, and oh, some of his ideas for dissolves from one to the other, where they had the crow policemen beating on the head of the black, and the next thing you saw wasI mean, little touches all through that he was responsible for. We worked well together, because I could picture what he had in mind, and also ideas of my own. He was a great inspiration to me, because we moved right in from that to the witch stuff, and the queen, and so on.
Barrier: Bill said that he really didn't know why the two of you had not made that a completely all-caricature picture. Jenny Wren is obviously Mae West, and there are other characters who look like they should be caricaturesthe black looks like a Stepin Fetchit, but he's not quite there, and the owl is almost like Alexander Woolcott, but he's not quite Alexander Woolcott.
Grant: By bringing her in, and all the rest just being cartoon characters, it was a great surprise. Because the minute she appeared, the audience screamed. If they'd all been caricatures, you would have lost the impact. I don't whether that was accidental or whether that was [intentional].
Barrier: What do you recall about The Wise Little Hen? Obviously, it's a historically important cartoon, as the first Donald Duck cartoon.
Grant: I don't think I worked on it.
Barrier: I thought you and Bill worked on the story.
Grant: Did Bill say we did?
Barrier: Maybe he worked on it before you and he got together.
Grant: I think he did, yes. I don't recall anything from it. I remember the drawings Albert made on it. They were beautiful little sketches.
Barrier: Story sketches?
Barrier: I think you mentioned something about the translation of those drawings into the background paintings.
Grant: They were inspirational, sure. I wish he had done more in full color.
Barrier: These were a rarity then, his doing sketches in color?
Grant: Very seldom, yes. I think somebody asked him in that particular instance. He was right next to me when he was working on that particular picture.
Barrier: Oh, sitting at a desk next to you?
Grant: Yes. There were three of usBob Kuwahara, who had a stub of a cigar in his mouth all day, and Albert, and then myself. They both smoked cigars; it's a wonder I didn't get lung cancer in there.
Barrier: Were they both working on Wise Little Hen and you were working on something else?
Grant: I was probably working on Water Babies or whatever was coming along at that time. I think that was long before.
Barrier: I'm kind of surprised that people working on different stories would be working in the same room.
Grant: Well, people like Ted Sears would be working on a story, and Webb Smith would be out there gagging. Webb Smith was sort of the counterpart of Roy Williams.
Barrier: A roving gag man.
Grant: Yeah. You brought him in to spot-gag. There were never any real stories, there were just little episodes.
Barrier: Water Babies is a strange cartoon; how would the idea of doing such a film originate?
Grant: I think it would come out of Walt in some way, because he'd heard of water babies.
Barrier: The Charles Kingsley stories...
Grant: He would never have read the Kingsley poem, if that's what you mean. But he'd heard the title. That's all he needed; he didn't need the content, never. I couldn't get him to read Pinocchio or any of that stuff.
Barrier: But he would read treatments.
Grant: The only one he really read was the one Dick and I did on Dumbo. That was the turning point of the whole thing. But it never followed through untilI guess now they're doing it. A complete story that is not ready for production but has got all the elements in it, and the continuity.
Barrier: It's quite a remarkable thing, because it's so detailed.
Grant: We had the time to do it, too; he wasn't around at the time. It kind of inspired him. I think it was the time of the Pinocchio opening, or something like that. He went to Arrowhead, and he was really cool toward the whole thing, because he didn't get the response that Snow White did. Pinocchio is a better picture, really, in a sense, technically and everything.
There's a funny drawing Roy Williams had of meWalt going from room to room with Cinderella's slipper, and trying to fit it on different story men. He finally gives it to me, and I think he yells out, "It fits!" And I'm ready to hold my nose. That sort of picture didn't appeal to me at all. I never liked pictures where you knew how it was going to end. We wanted to be as original as we could be, but we were far from always right, believe me.
Barrier: You said something earlier that may be the key to what I want to find out about Fantasia. You said that after your people had done the inspirational work, that other people would be doing the detailing of the boards.
Barrier: Would that be a fair description of how things worked on Fantasia, that your people were doing a lot of the preliminary inspirational work
Barrier: and then other people who were strictly story people would be coming in--
Barrier: and developing the actual boards?
Grant: With, not our supervision, but with our advice and our contributions, after the story wasas you see in some of those notes, where we came into the director's room and would add, or be questioned about something, what we had in mind, and so on. But that was minor. The original inspirational sketches were really the whole thing. In other words, that lit the fire, and the rest of it went through routine. After all, they'd been making directors and stories together for a long time.
Barrier: So you would have had your people in the model department filling boards with, say, sketches inspired by "Rite of Spring"...
Grant: In that photo that I gave you of the whole department, you see around the wall all that stuff. The place was just littered with good-looking stuff.
Barrier: Even so, the impression I have is that things did kind of melt into each other, so you have model department people who would be involved in the story quite late in the process.
Grant: To a certain extent, yes. I don't know what the next assignment was, but we were on other things by that time. That's what Walt wanted. He had to do something for an encore each time, and he wanted a research-and-development situation. The [term] model department is a misnomer. That's why, when [Walt] said, "Artists are a dime a dozen," I moved right in to Dumbo, "Baby Weems," all that stuff. We got busy in a hurry.
Barrier: But of course you did produce a tremendous number of model sheets.
Grant: Oh, yeah, sure. But that becomes routine after a while, once the character's made.
Barrier: Once you'd gotten the character roughly designed in an inspirational sketch
Grant: Sure. And a lot of the model sheets were done by Campbell Grant and Walbridge, who could get down to fine detail. Very few made by Bodreroinspirational sketches, maybe, but not thewell, some of Martin's were in the group, but those two were real yeomen when it came to that sort of thing.
Barrier: I know in some cases, like on Bambi, the ultimate model sheets that were used by the assistant animators as final guidance were actually executed by the animators like Milt Kahl. I assume this was pretty much the pattern throughout.
Grant: We played no role in Bambi at all. We didn't do anything. But in a sense, the animator is the final model sheet. He can only use some of those sheets as inspiration; he'd have to remake a model sheet for his in-betweeners.
Barrier: So you never had any expectation that your model sheets would be the final
Grant: The only one I think was final was that one I did on the witch, and maybe the vultures, or some of that stuff. But we did have rotoscope for that. Fergy's contribution was fantastic. I worked a lot with Fergy on that wonderful picture he did of the Saint Bernard, with the keg; I've forgotten the name of the picture, but Pluto is in it with the Saint Bernard, and they're lost in the snow.
Barrier: Oh, this is Alpine Climbers?
Grant: I worked out the Saint Bernard for Fergy. That marvelous rubbery character he got in his stuffbeautiful. He really wasn't an artist, he was an animator, pure and simple. You have no idea how people just rolled in the aisles, literally, at some of his cartoons. It seems kind of sappy stuff now, but those previews of that stuff, you wouldn't believe it.
Barrier: Was Make Mine Music in any way comparable as an experience to working on Fantasia?
Grant: In a way, except that it was a popular version.
Barrier: But as far as the actual development of the filmobviously, the money involved was much less.
Grant: Very much less, yes. But that got into the hands of the directors; [Jack] Kinney played a big role in that. Walt brought in those things"Two Silhouettes," that type of thing. "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" came from a writer named Graham, a friend of mine. That seemed like a ridiculous project, but it really worked. Walt had some very good contributions in that. Nelson Eddy singinghe doubled the voices, tripled the voices, and gave it that big wonderful resonance. And that resonance carried the whole idea.
Barrier: Was Make Mine Music a project you wanted to be involved in, or were there other projects you would rather have gotten onto?
Grant: Oh, not particularly. Walt was playing around with live action at that time, and his interestyou could feel it flagging. He wasn't too interested in cartoons, really, in a sense. He always wanted to be a live-action producer; that was his secret dream, which was really no secret around the studio. I don't know, I began to feel sour; something was amiss. I never did know what happened to me, in a sense. I didn't feel the enthusiasm for it; I felt this was second-hand stuff, just putting a bunch of shorts together, which he did fairly successfully with the rest of them that came along. I liked it when I could be a piece of one, like with "Baby Weems," and "Little Pedro," or whatever the hell we called it.
Barrier: What about the actual segments of Make Mine Music? You mentioned the "Two Silhouettes," which you said Walt wanted to put into it.
Grant: Yeah; he felt it needed a sentimental piece to slow it down, but it was out of place for me. We had David Lichine and his wife; the ballet was rotoscoped. And then I had Ray Gilbert's music, I think.
Barrier: Were there things you would have liked to do, but couldn't, or things that you had to do that you didn't want to do?
Grant: Well, as [with] all producers there, it's Walt's production, and you had to follow through. We got enough with "The Martins and the Coys" and "All the Cats Join In"; that livened it up. "Peter and the Wolf" and "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" had some quality to them.
Barrier: "Blue Bayou" was the reworked "Clair de Lune"...
Grant: That has completely disappeared in my mind; I have no idea about that any more.
Barrier: That was completed for the original Fantasia...
Grant: "Blue Bayou"?
Barrier: Yes, as "Clair de Lune." They used it on the Disney TV show years ago, with the original soundtrack of "Clair de Lune."
Grant: We did propose another Fantasia, more modern things, and it's been brought up again recently, I understand. Right after it, we talked about it in those terms, but nothing happened. It was after the war, I guess.
Barrier: On Fantasia, say on "Dance of the Hours," when people like Lee Blair were working out the action in detail, would you have been coming in and looking over his work?
Grant: No, we'd be in on the sweatbox.
Barrier: Of the actual animation.
Barrier: But the finishing story work that, say, Lee was doing...
Grant: No. I don't remember; I'm sure [we were] in and out. We weren't remote.
Barrier: For example, Lee and Preston sent me this detailed board for "Dance of the Hours" [showing Joe a Xerox copy].
Grant: These are all Campbell Grant sketches from the model sheet.
Barrier: You mean they copied them from the model sheet.
Grant: Yes. Well, that was their purpose. No, we wouldn't have beenwe'd seen all these boards. We'd usually go in with Walt.
Barrier: Oh, in a story session to go over the boards.
Grant: Yes, to see [if there was] anything we had to suggest. Do you know who did the storyboards on this?
Barrier: Lee Blair was very much involved with them; I don't know how much of these drawings he did; and Bodrero [worked with Blair on the boards].
Grant: These look like his [Lee Blair's].
Barrier: At the time this kind of work was being done, of nailing down all the details of the action, you would have been
Grant: We would have been in on story just to see it; we'd see the board, more or less as a guest, you might say.
Barrier: They filmed quite a bit of live action. Lee said they actually had Hattie McDaniel dancing as the hippo ballerina.
Grant: We used a lot of rotoscope.
Barrier: But you wouldn't have been in on it at that stage.
Grant: No. We chose the music, gave them the inspiration and ideas.
Barrier: Did Dick stay involved in day-to-day supervision longer than you did?
Grant: Sometimes. I think on "Rite of Spring," he was in on that. I'd be on something else; I had a department to run.
Barrier: So he could very well have been involved with the details of story supervision later than you were.
Grant: Dick was never what you'd call a powerhouse. He's not going to get up there and say, "Do this, do that." He would be very easygoing. It would be Walt who made that final decision, whatever it happened to be. But the director would obviously call him over, for ideas and for whether they were doing it right. But Dick was not what you'd call a follow-through man.
Barrier: I noticed in the story meeting notes on Pinocchio that Dick is one of the few people in the meetings who's saying things that are consistently sensible and intelligent, and not the kinds of things where he's playing back what he's heard earlier or what he's seen on the board. They're a reflection of a mature judgment and some critical intelligence that's not that prevalent in the meetings.
Grant: Was it gags, or ideas, or just continuity?
Barrier: It was more a matter of somebody coming up with a really rotten idea and Dick saying, in a not too abrasive way, this is a rotten idea for this reason. Which struck me as a particularly valuable talent at that point, considering what else was being said in those meetings. Would that be a fair statement about him and the kind of work you did?
Grant: I don't know how to answer that. Is that a one-time event or is it throughout everything? I've never been aware of any particular talent for continuity. Sometimes he'd come up with a pretty silly idea himself. He had a lot of kid in him, and also a good sense of humor. He was labeled by his name; when anyone said, "I want you to meet Dick Huemer," they'd laugh. This was always a source of annoyance, to both him and myself.
Barrier: You said he didn't have a gift for continuity...
Grant: I don't think outside of Dumbo that I had much experience with that, but there was lots of Dumbo, on the original script, written over because it wasn't going anywhere.
Barrier: Written over before it went to Walt?
Grant: Yeah, sure. Walt didn't seem to have any great criticism for it. He just said, "Let's get going on it." Then what evolved in the various directors' rooms, and the story men, why, developed the story further. It wasn't that cut and dried. But it was closer than anything had ever been like that.
Barrier: But the continuity you sent to Waltyou say you had to do a lot of work on that before you sent it in Walt.
Grant: Sure; before we sent it in to Walt.
Barrier: Then, after Walt had okayed the continuity, there weren't a lot of changes required.
Grant: Yeah. In other words, when he read it, he gave us the go-ahead with it, and we got up drawings, and went on, but it began to go in to the directors very early, because we had a lot of basic things in it that they could begin to storyboard. So it began to develop right away.
Barrier: The directors were storyboarding it?
Grant: Yeah, sure.
Barrier: So it wasn't a case of your having story men
Grant: Albert made inspirational sketches, I did, we had some preliminary model sheets and things. But they're not the final. When he said, "Get going on it," that was "Begin to move it in." They all had a script, they all knew what it was all about, and they began to build inspirational drawings. They had Bill Peet and all of these very good people.
Barrier: These people like Peet were not working
Grant: With us? No, we had Battaglia working with us most of the time. I told you he did some very good inspirational sketches; in fact, they were good basic models, actually. Albert did a lot of scenic stuff of the circus, and props, and things like that. That wasn't done when we wrote the story, that was later. Because when he said, "Get going on it," I put everybody on it.
Barrier: Everybody in the model department.
Grant: Yeah. But we didn't put it in down in story terms in the model department, at all, except for the original story. We would love to have followed through on that idea with other pictures, but something just went awry.
Barrier: No other films were really developed that way.
Grant: No. If you ask me why, I can't tell you what happened. Something interrupted it; I don't know what the hell it was.
Barrier: Of course, the war came along about that time.
Grant: I would say that that exploded it more than anything else. We had to go on to propaganda films. They broke up the department, too, at that time.
Barrier: Of course, also at that time there were other features in the works that were intended to be low-budget features, Mickey and the Beanstalk and Wind in the Willows. You weren't involved in either one of those, is that right?
Grant: Wind in the Willows, there were some wonderful drawings made by Bodrero on that, inspirational sketches. A thing like that would come in, and it would come to us first sometimes; we'd get a sort of little synopsis on the thing, in sketches, and then it would go on into story.
Barrier: Campbell Grant was involved in it; he wound up being the voice of Badger. I remember he talked about working on the Leica reel.
Grant: I forgot about that. But Bodrero's drawings were the real... As a matter of fact, we sort of had our finger in so many things, I can't remember half the stuff. I can only tell when I see sketches, where this came from.
Barrier: By the time people like Bodrero and Campbell Grant were getting deeply involved in Wind in the Willows, were they in a sense going outside your department to do this?
Grant: Sometimes. Sometimes they'd go in with the director and work on it. They'd be like farmed out. Then again, too, at the time of the war, when Dick and I went into story, the department began to disintegrate.
Barrier: At that point, when you worked on the propaganda films, it was you and Dick as a team, without any other people working with you.
Grant: Whoever they had for an artist, to interpret what we had.
Barrier: But you were doing a lot of your own sketches, too.
Grant: In most cases, yes.
Barrier: Who did the sketches for "Square World" that are in the Surprise Package book?
Grant: Those are my drawings. I have quite a few of them that I did that weren't published. I wish we had made that picture. I told you I have the letters from the legal department that they thought it was too communistic.
[The conversation turned to "The Rite of Spring."]
Barrier: Bill Wallet was the one who primarily did the sketches for "Rite of Spring," is that right?
Grant: Bill? Yes.
Barrier: In your department?
Grant: Yes, he did some in our department. I think he went over to the director with that, too. I'm not sure.
Barrier: Was he actually a member of your department?
Grant: Yes, he worked with Kay [Nielsen] most of the time.
Barrier: And Kay was in your department.
Grant: I have a very cheerful letter from [Kay Nielsen] about how he can't possibly live on the money we were paying him, and telling me how much more he was worth, but in his very sweet way. A two- or three-page letter. Of course, Walt's attitude was [the sound of a throat being cut]"We don't need him any more."
Barrier: So his response was to let him go?
Grant: Yeah. Naturally, I tried to get more money for him. They were very tight with money, but they were in a tight situation most of the time, too. [Walt] had no sense of money, anyhow. He was as extravagant as hell. But a perfectionist; he was never satisfied until it was his concept.
Barrier: It's interesting to me that in some of the Pinocchio material in particular, he will voice cautions occasionally, that something is going to be to expensive to do.
Grant: You mean in the story meetings? Don't pay any attention to that. That was his way of getting out of it if he didn't like it.
Barrier: It didn't reflect any real concern about costs.
Grant: No, no. Unless somebody came up with some ridiculous, enormous scene that it would be obvious that we couldn't afford to do it. No, he had all kinds of little ploysyou know, be nice to somebody and boot their idea by telling them it cost too much. You can't beat that. He'd do that quite frequently. But when he liked the pastel drawings and the color stuff in the model department, he never made such a remark. All he did is call in the ink and paint department and ask them, "Can you get that effect?" John Hench did that in the "Waltz of the Flowers," I think; I think he worked it out for the department, the dry-brush look to it. Of course, it's very simple now, they'd use crayon and Xerox it.
Barrier: Hench wasn't working for you, was he?
Grant: No, no, he was working out of the director's, on special effects. I knew him, [but] I didn't work very closely with him. He was able to visualize a lot of that stuff right through.
Barrier: That wouldn't have been the "Waltz of the Flowers," would it? Do you mean the mushroom dance, or the Russian dance?
Grant: You mean the thistles. That was all dry-brush.
Barrier: That was Hench?
Grant: I think so, yeah. I'm pretty sure. And most of those water effects, and the ice, and all that sort of stuff. In other words, he supervised it. Who actually did it, I don't know.
Barrier: I think George Rowley actually did the fairies skating on the ice, those effects.
Grant: That thing was so remote from us at the time, I wouldn't know.
Barrier: In that case, where Hench was the one who came up with the pastel-on-black look for the Russian dance, what would have gone into him and his directors? I assume your material would have looked considerably different from that.
Grant: I think there'd be a lot of Walt's involvement there. I really don't know.
Barrier: A lot of Walt's involvement?
Grant: Oh, yeah. Walt followed the special effects very closely. You have to remember that he was over the studio in every sense. One of his hobbies was getting new effects, new ideas into what he was doing. Just like his multiplane and all that sort of thing. That's all his. The Sensurround music stuffthat was his idea. I know, because I was there when he brought it up. If it was suggested to him by somebody else earlier, I didn't know that.
Barrier: But in the case of the "Nutcracker Suite," whatever your department had sent in that Hench and the directorI guess Sam Armstrongwere dealing with would not have had this look of the pastel-on-black.
Grant: Not unless they had something first, to go on.
Barrier: There might have been inspirational sketches that looked like that, and Hench developed them further.
Grant: As I said, Walt wanted to get that pastel look.
Barrier: But Walt wouldn't have thought of that on his own, he would have had to see somebody else's sketch.
Grant: The sketches he saw, yeah. A lot of the drawings that we had up there, particularly Bodrero's, you had what would have been an ink line, a pastel line, and that gives it that soft effect. Even in the mushroom dance, that little tinkly stuff that comes out of them, that's all done inI don't know whether they used dry-brush or whether they had a crayon at that time that would stick to the cel. I'm pretty sure it was dry-brush, because it would have been a contact otherwise.
Barrier: So it might have been a case where there was an inspirational sketch that had pastel and black, and that was elaborated at Walt's suggestion, or Hench might have come up with that idea.
Grant: Might have, yeah. I wouldn't even venture to guess at that; I don't know.
Barrier: Do you recall a meeting during the strike, I think it was at Wilfred Jackson's house, Dave Hand was there and a lot of animators and other people...
Grant: Ben Sharpsteen...
Barrier: Probably Ben. And they were talking about starting a new studio. Mel Shaw's interpretation of it was that, essentially, Walt and Roy wanted to pick up and leave the old studio behind, just let it go into bankruptcy or whatever, and start a new studio with the loyal people.
Grant: I think Ben Sharpsteen was the key to that. I remember him telling me about it. I don't think Walt knew about the meeting, did he?
Barrier: Mel Shaw's impression was that he did. Walt wasn't at the meeting, but Mel said it was just his sense from what was being said that it would actually be a new Walt Disney studio.
Grant: Ben mentioned something about that, but it died aborning. I used to get stopped every morning by [Bill] Tytla and [Art] Babbitt, particularly Tytla because I knew him well, and he tried to talk me into going out with them. That strike was so stupid to me, because I had given up a wonderful career on the newspaper to come there, because I love it, and now I'm going to go out on a strike. They couldn't understand it, but I could. It destroyed Walt, in a sense. It destroyed his whole thrust. I mean, what the hell, if he's not going to have loyal people behind him, the hell with it, he doesn't need it. He was always suspicious of people after that.
Barrier: When you were developing Make Mine Music, was that at all analogous, in the way you handled it, to the earlier films like Dumbo and Fantasiathat is, would you just carry through to a certain point and let the director take over on the story?
Grant: Yes, it was pretty much the same, except that the supervising was a little bit closer, because we were building it as we went along.
Barrier: And your role on that, I guess, was really different than it would have been on the earlier films, because you were actually supervisor of the entire production.
Grant: Yeah; in other words, I had to okay everything in back of Walt, and not in front. He was present throughout the whole thing, but...
Barrier: After he'd been in the story meetings, and given his okay, then you had to go forward.
Grant: I don't even know what the notes are like on that picture.
Barrier: I've never seen any.
Grant: It was so damned mixed up, that thing; it was all over the studio. I had to spend a lot of time on close supervision of the whalethe voiceand so did Walt. When we chose Nelson Eddy, he was down on the sound [that is, present for the recording] on that. It was just kind of a roughneck version of Fantasia.
Barrier: So there were parts you had to devote a lot of attention to, and parts you could
Grant: Stuff like "Casey at the Bat," "Cats Join In"stuff that Kinney [directed]. Kinney takes over, and he comes up with a picture, and that's good or bad. The thing is, on a picture like that, if there's something you don't like, you almost had to go in on Walt's coattails and put him in front of you"This is what I don't want done," you know what I mean? There was only one authority in that studio: Walt. That was the final signature on everything.
Barrier: Would you have to bring Walt in in a conflict with a story man or a director?
Grant: You could talk to him about that in the hall, or in the afternoon while we're having a sip of sherry, and he'd go in the next day and fix it up. He'd just say, "Joe, I don't agree with you, I think it's fine the way it is," and that would be it. Just so it wasn't at the point where you were running around snitching on somebody. You had to force your ideas the best way you could.
Barrier: What would you say to him? "Walt, I'm worried about this section of the storyboard and I'm not sure that this is what you're going to like," without saying, "Joe [as in Joe Blow, not Joe Grant] is really screwing up over here and making a mess of the board."
Grant: He wasn't exactly tactful. He'd say, "Joe doesn't think this is right." In the meantime, I can see the director burning.
Barrier: So they would know you sent him in there.
Grant: Yeah. It was very embarrassing sometimes. But the place was really devoid of ego at that timeno, it was beginning to rise, but everybody was beginning to try to find their place, and their space. The character of people would change. They were real sweet guys, everybody, it was all even. Then there was a sort of a little race to get publicity, a race to get your name mentioned. The strike did a lot of that.
Barrier: The feeling I get from what people have said over the years is that while the studio was going up, and the films were getting better, that there wasn't this elbowing for position so much, because everybody was sort of caught up in the trail of this comet. You were part of something that was bigger than yourself.
Grant: You mean in the early days?
Barrier: The late thirties and early forties.
Grant: Oh, yes.
Barrier: And by the time the postwar years came along, the cartoons had settled in kind of middle level, not as exalted as Pinocchio or Bambi. But at that point, because things were not still going up, people started getting more concerned about their own position in this bureaucracy.
Grant: I think that appraisal is right. This jockeying for positionthey began to smell money. They were putting pressure on Walt for more moneydirectors, writers, artists. I think a few of them threatened to quit; some did. It was a continual disruption, is the way I remember it. It's kind of in a semi-dream state to me, this situation. I can't carve out a silhouette here.
The word I was looking for was the omnipresence of Walt, at all times in everything we did. That doesn't detract from your contribution; it's just that he was a ruling voice, and he made the decisions.
Barrier: One other thing I wanted to ask you about...there's a note in the transcript of the last interview we did that Mary Poppins originated with Jennie [Joe's wife].
Grant: She used to read it to the kids. He came over one day, and we mentioned it to him. He wasn't interested in it right away, but that's the first time he heard of it.
Barrier: Did Walt visit here very often?
Grant: Yeah, he used to come quite frequently. He used to bring the kids here.
[Posted December 13, 2005; corrected February 24, 2009]