ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.8 - NOVEMBER 1999
Not Just Your Average Joe: Disney Legend Joe Grant
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ML: I also understand that you and Dick gave Walt pages of the script a little at a time, like a chapter serial, to kind of peak his interest.
JG: Yes and I still do that today, even without Dick. You've got to stump for your ideas. You've got to be totally annoying, instead of being rude [laughs]. With little Cri-Kee in Mulan, I went around selling him for a couple of months before they finally realized that it had possibilities.
ML: You first came to the studio in 1933 and it was initially your knack for caricatures that brought you to Disney. Tell me about that.
JG: I was a caricaturist on the L.A. Record at the time. I did a full page of caricatures every Saturday. Walt saw that and decided that he wanted to use caricatures in a cartoon, Mickey's Premiere. That started me off and then one day he asked, "How would you like to work here, full-time?" And, I thought, "This is fantastic. What an opportunity. Music, art, everything in one place." So, I said, "Yes."
ML: On Snow White, your conceptual art of the Queen and her alter ego, the Witch, helped form the basis for the character. Walt wanted the Queen to be a combination of "Lady MacBeth and the Big Bad Wolf," but what inspirations did you call upon for the Witch?
JG: It was actually the woman who lived across the street from me. She had a basket and used to pick persimmons. I changed persimmons to apples. I didn't like to publicize that for years, but fortunately, she's gone now and I don't think there are any existing relatives, so you can print it [laughs].
ML: It was after Snow White that Walt asked you to initiate and take charge of the Character Model Department.
JG: That's right. His problem was: "What do we do for an encore?" When he gave me an opportunity to get a group of artists together, we had sort of a think tank. In doing so, he would visit us two or three times a day. He seemed to be inspired and he inspired us at the same time.
ML: You once called the Character Model Department a "brain trust."
JG: In a way it was. But, Walt was the brain.
ML: I'm sure you're asked this a lot, but, as someone who worked so closely with Walt Disney, what was he like?
JG: One thing about Walt was that he wasn't that difficult to know. He was a man full of ideas. You have to remember that he was an actor. He realized how important the word "casting" was. He knew the capabilities of everybody and he did a wonderful job of casting every picture that we made. Each person was suited to the particular job that they got.
ML: You left the studio in 1949 and came back in the early '90s. What was it like to come back to the studio after so many years?
JG: It was like Rip Van Winkle, except that nothing had changed. It was the same thing. You really do pick it up again. Artists have been referred to as a dime a dozen, but they really don't change much over the years.
ML: Just as a final question, as someone who is so passionate about animation, what has it been like for you to not only have been there at the studio when things first took off into the first Golden Age, but to have come back for this second Golden Age?
JG: Well...I'd like to come back for the third.
Mike Lyons is a Long Island-based freelance writer who has written over 100 articles on film and animation. His work has appeared in Cinefantastique, Animato! and The Disney Magazine.
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