To give you an idea of the scope of Babbitt’s celebrity while working at the Disney Studios, at age 34 he was invited to Aldous Huxley’s home for New Years. A quote from Babbitt’s journal on Jan 1, 1942:
Rang in the New Year at the home of Aldous Huxley. His son Matthew and his niece – (or adopted daughter) Sophie – threw the party. I like them both very much – – particularly Matthew who is a delightful combination of a gentle pleasant boy and a full grown intelligent man. Evidently the effects of his father’s brilliance darn near smothered the boy – – but he seems to be shaking off his complexes as he grows older.
Huxley, 47, had already published what would be his most famous novel, Brave New World, and although coming from a well-respected family of intellectuals, he was considered one of his generations greatest intellectuals in his own right. He, his wife Maria, and his 21-year-old son Matthew had been living in southern California for about five years while Huxley worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for 1940’s Pride and Prejudice, but what probably speaks truer of the man is the 1937 collection of essays he had published verbosely titled Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization.
This is the kind of company “cartoonist” Art Babbitt kept in 1941. One quotation from Huxley:
So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.
This is certainly not the type of liberal stuff that a patriot like Walt Disney would entertain.
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Sophie is a warm, soft, intelligent girl – very shy, extremely nervous. her eyes betray a fear – – only after a few cocktails did she relax – then she was utterly charming. None of us liked the name “Sophie” – so she has been rechristened “Kathleen” – which all fits her so much better. I’m impatiently awaiting my passport. A very sober + thoughtful New Years day.
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What did turn up is even juicier: Huxley worked for Disney.
According to numerous cited sources, Walt hired Huxley to develop a script for Alice in Wonderland – a film that was in the pipeline as early as the late-30s. Huxley met with Disney storyman (and Dumbo co-creator) Dick Huemer before quitting the project. (Walt apparently “could only understand every third word” of Huxley’s screenplay.)
I think this anecdote underscores the chasm that had grown between Walt Disney and Art Babbitt. Although neither Walt nor Art had any formal education, Walt didn’t keep the company of intellectuals, while Art would. There’s one additional Huxley quotation that struck me, and it’s as follows:
For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.
The meaninglessness in Huxley’s universe could be connected to the death of his mother when he was 14. Art Babbitt’s father became mortally crippled when Art was 16. Walt Disney never suffered such a loss at a young age; this may be the single difference that caused people like Art to challenge the reason and morality of the world around him.