Will Ryan interviews Barbara Perry Babbitt -- actress, dancer, singer and Mrs. Art Babbitt.
Barbara Perry is known in the world of show biz as a star of Broadway and the West End, where she appeared opposite such legends as Eddie Foy Jr. and England's George Formby. She has also graced stages throughout the world as an actress, dancer and singer. On television she has co-starred with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Danny Thomas and other luminaries. But Ms. Perry also has, as Mrs. Art Babbitt, a long involvement with the corner of show biz called animation.
I talked with Barbara on a patio outside a bookstore in Beverly Hills.
* * *
William Z. Ryan: Did you notice how we both gravitated to the same section in the bookstore?
Barbara Perry Babbitt: Well, I always look for new books on animation to see if Bones gets his proper credit.
WZR: "Bones," of course, being the name Bill Tytla gave your late husband, the great animator Art Babbitt. Any luck on the shelves?
BPB: Disney's has three new books out and he's mentioned in two of them. Quoted in one.
WZR: What was the quote?
BPB: It's something they say he told a reporter once. Actually it was first said in response to a telephone call from [artist] Paul Julian's daughter, who was teaching animation in Berkeley at the time. Her students were very impressed with Fantasia. Times being what they were -- the early Seventies -- her students wanted her to ask Bones if he was on drugs when he worked on Fantasia.
WZR: And of course Art's famous response was -- ?
BPB: "Yes! I was on drugs: Pepto-Bismol and Ex-Lax!"
WZR: Yet despite that revelation, Art managed to marry three beautiful and talented women over the course of his life. Did you find him to be particularly fascinated by Terpsichore?
BPB: Yes, he loved dance. That's why two of his wives, Marge and myself, were dancers.
WZR: Of course you're both still dancing. I seem to recall you stopping the show a year or so ago at the International Tap Dance Festival in Vienna.
BPB: Yes. Then I came home and did a pratfall while tap dancing in Keds. I ended up on crutches for months.
WZR: And I was honored to be present at one of those performances. I won't say which.
BPB: That's awfully discreet of you.
WZR: Discretion is my middle name. But I spell it with a zed.
BPB: This might be a boring interview if you're too discreet.
WZR: All right then, Pickles: Are you still in touch with Art's first wife, Marge Champion?
BPB: Not really. But I did go backstage to say hello to her last year when she was on Broadway in Follies. She was charming and as pretty as ever. She introduced me to everyone with, "This is Barbara Perry. We share a husband."
WZR: That's kind of a shocking thing for the rotoscope model of Pinocchio's Blue Fairy to say.
BPB: But she was also filmed for the "Dance of the Hours" sequence in Fantasia.
I suppose the line is less outrageous emanating from a tutu-ed hippo.
BPB: A supposition universally shared.
WZR: Isn't Marge, like yourself, a second generation Los Angeles dancer?
Yes. My mother ran Perry's Rehearsal Hall, the dance studio on Highland Avenue, and Marge's father was Ernest Belcher, who ran his own studio. He was a very famous ballet teacher and dancer here in Los Angeles and a friend of Pavlova's.
WZR: You were raised in the World of Dance, and now you seem to live in an Animation Neighborhood.
I do. The Outpost has become quite a show business neighborhood. As for animators, let's see... Walter Williams and his wife lived next door until recently.
WZR: ...He of "Mr. Bill" fame. In the house once occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Martyn Green.
BPB: ... He of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. Then down the street is Alex Toth...
WZR: ... The much-admired comic book artist turned animation designer. There was a new collection of his work in the bookstore.
BPB: And up the way is Ernie Pintoff...
...The Oscar-winning animator. And we just saw a couple of books by him on the shelves.
BPB: And for many years Don Selders, the very fine assistant animator, was a neighbor. He used to say to us, "I'd rather be a great assistant animator than a bad animator."
WZR: And what about inside your house?
BPB: Oh, that's right. The spare bedroom has hosted several people from the world of animation over the years, most recently Aleksandra Korejwo, the marvellous animator from Poland. And come to think of it, you helped house-sit while I was in Vienna two years ago.
WZR: Which is how I got to know about your neighbors.
BPB: Really? And all this time I thought Discretion was your middle name!
WZR: Really? With a zed?!
* * *
Barbara Perry Babbitt usually buys animation books which discuss Art Babbitt to collect for his daughters, Karen, Michelle and Laurel, who are very proud of their illustrious parent. Barbara's one-woman show, Passionate Ladies, garnered her two L. A. Drama Critics Circle Awards and two Dramalogue Awards before heading to Broadway. Barbara played Jim Carrey's dingy aunt on The Duck Factory, the only network TV sitcom about an animation studio.
Will Ryan is active in animation as a producer, writer, actor and composer. He would like to recommend that, in order to learn more about Art Babbitt, you visit your local library. Or bookstore.
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