Myron Grim Natwick, Original Creator of Betty Boop

March 23, 2007

     The by-line may have read Max Fleischer, but that was the propriety ownership, not the creator. The hand that sketched, swirled and brought the round face, curvaceous figure and big eyes of Betty Boop to life was Myron "Grim" Natwick. Creating magic with a pen and brush, Grim Natwick spent his whole life in the animation field. And his wasn't a short life - his life-span was just over 100 years.

     Competing with Disney's new character, a girlfriend for Mickey Mouse named Minnie Mouse, the Fleischer Studios set Grim Natwick to the task in 1930. Known as one of two brilliant artists who could actually draw girls (the other being Hamilton Luske), Natwick came up with a shapely girlfriend for one of the Studio's lead characters, a dog named Pingo. The female cartoon had the body and legs of a woman but the ears and nose of a dog,

     After a few animation appearances, the female cartoon character gradually took on a name, becoming Betty Boop. Her dog-like exterior eventually took on the shape of a voluptuous, slinky young woman and Pingo the dog became her sidekick. Once you've heard the music first sung by 1920's actress Helen Kane, it's hard to forget the soft, high-toned singing in the baby-like voice. Betty Boop not only sounded like Kane, with her "Boop boop a doop", but also looked like her, with a round face and dark curls to match.

     A chirpy fellow, Grim Natwick wrote poetry and created artwork while in high school in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. He left home in 1910 to attend art school at Chicago's Art Institute. Some of his first work projects included the cover for the first Lincoln High School year book and covers for Consolidated News.


     Drafted into the army during WWI, he then went on to train in art in Vienna for three years. His skills lead him to being one of the most talented animators of the human body; while other animators drew limbs as if they had no bones or structure, Grim's were accurate and life-like. Grim Natwick jumped into animation in 1921, working for Hearst Film Service.

     Along with Betty Boop at Fleischer Studios, his work as a premier professional in the art of drawing girls began to attract attention, and Disney Studios came calling. In an interview with David Johnson for Animation Artist in 1988, Grim spoke of the difference in drawing female characters, how the technique is different "Because it isn't even drawing a girl. There's something about the line itself. A feminine line is different than a masculine line, there's different kinds of lines in drawings."

     In 1935, after being wooed for a short time, Grim accepted the offer to work as lead animator for Walt Disney, creating the smooth, flowing movement of Snow White for Disney's first animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (His work is still revered, even in this day and age of computer graphics.) He was one of the oldest animators on site, the others being fresh from school with little experience.


     While at Disney, Grim Natwick worked on a number of unforgettable characters, including the Prince and Princess in the 1939 movie, Gulliver's Travels (which he also directed), Mr. Magoo, Mickey Mouse, Cookie Carnival and other treasured films. His expert participation gave the movies continuity and smooth flow.

     Renowned for his skills, the master animator and cartoonist also worked at other animation studios during his long and prolific career. Ub Iwerks, Walter Lantz, Richard Williams Studio and UPA. Not one to stay only with cartooning, Grim also was a fine artist, creating watercolour paintings. He must have loved his work - he worked in arts and animation until he was in his 80s.

     Betty Boop's career seems to have an unusual longevity itself. From a long series of movies, comic strips in the 1930s and again in the 1980s, posters, stamps (USPS honoured the comic in a .32 cent stamp), merchandise galore and so much more, Betty Boop has become a darling of the world. Her charm and popularity continues to grow and shine.

     Born on August 16, 1890 in Wisconsin, he was from a large family of 6 boys and two girls. Myron Grim Natwick died at the grand old age of 100 of a heart attack and pneumonia on October 7, 1990. His was a life well-lived that brought joy to many.

An interview with Grim Natwick by David Johnson of Animation Artist, when Grim was in his late 90s. Grim was a bit wandering in his discussion, but still chock full of spirit and joy for cartooning:

The South Wood County Historical Museum in Wisconsin with a Betty Boop Exhibit:

A large Betty Boop fan site:

© Susanna McLeod 2007