Though he worked and lived a Hollywood life in the 1930s, Art Babbitt would visit New York often. He had lived and worked in New York from the ages of 16 to 24. For a kid whose “higher education” was the working world of free enterprise, Manhattan was his college campus: his learning center and playground.
Besides, his family still lived in Brooklyn, and he still had plenty of friends here as well.
Reuniting with his past must have been triumphant – Art Babbitt had come from poverty and worked his way up to wealth and success at Disney’s. Part of his immense skill came from the study of movement from 16mm movies that he shot himself. In July of 1936, he took his camera with him to New York City.
Cross-country air travel was uncommon – which makes Art’s apparent chartered plane all the more impressive! Ex-Disney animator Hardie Gramatky and wife Dorothea left Hollywood the month prior to build careers as illustrators in New York. Art filmed Hardie and Dorothea in Manhattan that July before taking his 16-day luxury cruise on the Santa Rosa on August 1st, 1936, through the Panama Canal and back to Hollywood.
Hardie was at Disney’s for more than two years when Art joined in 1932, and they were in the same animation room. When Babbitt wanted to bring an art teacher to lead classes at Disney’s, Hardie suggested one of his past instructors from the Chouinard Art Institute, Don Graham. Graham’s contribution to animation would become legendary.
At the time of this footage, Hardie was a struggling illustrator in a new town, but in a couple years he would become a published children’s book author/ illustrator. One of his books, Little Toot, will catch Walt Disney’s attention and in 1947 Walt will bring Hardie back to the studio to develop it into an animated sequence for the film Melody Time.
While watching this original footage through Art’s director’s eye, I have a hard time calling it “home movies.” These vignettes are so cinematic, he’s really telling a story of New York through a camera lens. What he chooses to capture in Depression-era New York says a lot not only about that era, but about Art Babbitt’s creativity. Check out the in-camera double-exposure shots of Times Square! That’s not a Hollywood film crew, that’s just Art Babbitt with a camera.
Art Babbitt filmed his adventures throughout this trip through Latin America, a region he would return to in years to come, but that’s a post for another day.