The Goldfish Story

Perhaps the most well-documented Art Babbitt story is that of the goldfish.

In Talking Animals and Other People (pp. 146-7), Disney animator Shamus Culhane wrote:

Talking-Animals-and-Other-People-Culhane-Shamus-9780306808302In the mid-thirties, nobody in his right mind drank Los Angeles tap water.  It was so full of alkali that it looked like milk and tasted like a drugstore mop.  Disney installed five-gallon bottles of mountain spring water in every room.  The bottles rested on large clay ollas equipped with taps.  Art Babbitt once made the mistake of mentioning casually that his doctor had put him on a regimen that included large quantities of water every day.  Nobody knows who the prankster was, but someone put several goldfish in Babbitt’s spring water.  Everyone waited for the inevitable explosion of wrath, for Babbitt could summon up a temper that made the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang sound like a mewling kitten.  We waited for three days because the fish, instead of swimming in plain view in the glass bottle, had decided that the darkness of the clay olla suited them better.  Finally, the fish did emerge into the light, and the expected roar from Babbitt shook the building.  For a long time afterward, in the interest of Art’s personal hygiene, nobody told him that he had shared his drinking water with the fish for three days.

Walt Disney and Other Assorted Characters Jack Kinney Art Babbitt Prank

As Illustrated by Disney artist and director Jack Kinney in WALT DISNEY AND ASSORTED OTHER CHARACTERS

Art chuckled at his own version of the story in 1974:

Art Babbitt 1974The animators with three-year contracts got Sparkletts bottles with water in them. And one day I came back from lunch, and just as I was about to take a drink of water, I noticed there were three goldfish swimming in my Sparkletts bottle.

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As an aside, what is it about these Disney stories that make Chuck Jones, Jack Kinney, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston not wish to identify Babbitt?  He certainly wasn’t the only artist there who was the butt of a joke, mastermind of a prank, or was picked on for poor animation planning.  I can’t help but get the impression that they feel they must still tread carefully with anything Art Babbitt.

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