Monday, August 28, 2006

A Disney non-rejection letter

Light-years away from this one, but interesting nevertheless.

January 3rd, 1931.

Mr. Grimm [sic] Natwick c/o Ted Sears Room 56, 160 W. 45th St. New York, N. Y. Dear Grimm:           Walt finally caught up with one of your pictures, and after our talking it over together, he has asked me to write to you.           Frankly, Walt feels that your work, as he saw it, would not justify us in paying you the money that you seemed to feel you should have, when we talked in New York. However, he also feels that you have the makings and the background of a top-notch animator, and feels that if you are willing to co-operate to us to an extent, he would be very glad to have you come out. We would be willing to give you a contract for one year, at $150.00 per week for the first six months, and $175.00 per week for the last six months; we to have an option on your services for the following year at $200.00 per week.           If you feel willing to accept this proposition, we will be glad to have ytou come out as soon as you can. Your reply to this letter can let this serve as a memorandum of agreement between us, and a contract can be dran up upon your arrival out here. We will of course pay your transportation out here.           There is another angle to the work in connection with our studio, which you might consider, since, while it is nothing specific or concrete in the way of a definite amount, nevertheless, it will amount to a very considerable sum ...

This letter (or the first page of it, anyway) comes from the collection of ex-TAG Prez Tom Sito, who writes: "The legend is that in the early 1930s, when Walt Disney was watching other cartoons, he already had the planning of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" on his mind. He needed animators who could draw realistic women convincingly. "Walt saw a Betty Boop cartoon, and when Natwick's handling of the character passed before his eyes, he stood up in the theater and said 'We gotta get that guy!'" Which they did. A few years after this letter. (When Mr. Sito returns from his overseas mission, we will try to lay our hands on the second page of the above. Right now we have only page one -- which gives us most but not all of the pertinent info. But we post it here anyway.) Addendum: Be sure to read the comments for the context of this letter, and go to the ASIFA Animation Archive Blog to see the full letter (and tons of other fantastic stuff).


Stephen Worth said...


I own that particular letter. Grim spoke of it often, laughing about how he turned down $200 a week. It was written to Grim after Roy took a trip to New York looking for animators. Ub Iwerks had just left the studio, and Disney was looking for a replacement. Grim and Roy spent the day together listening to a ball game on the radio and relaxing.

Grim didn't really want to go to Disney but he didn't want to say that, so just as Roy was leaving, he asked for an absurdly high salary. I think it was something like $400 a week. Roy said he had to talk to Walt about it and a few days later responded with this letter offering $175 to $200 a week- a princely sum in the height of the depression. I doubt anyone at Disney without the Disney surname was making more than that at the studio at that time.

In any case, Grim was impressed by the offer and talked to his friends in the business on the West coast. They all told him that Walt was just a businessman- Iwerks was the real creative spark behind Mickey Mouse. So Grim contacted Iwerks at his studio on Santa Monica Blvd in West LA and ended up going to work for him for half what Disney had offered.

As soon as Grim arrived, Iwerks pretty much handed the studio over to him and went off to his tinkering and inventing. Grim ended up leaving Iwerks to join Disney a few years later... for less than the terms of the 1931 offer.

I have the original to this letter at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. I'll post it on Thursday. The second page outlines various perks and possibility for renegotiation at a later date. I have Dick Huemer's contract with Disney post-strike as well. I'll post that too.

See ya

Anonymous said...

Great info, Steve, as always. I look forward to seeing the rest of the letter, and the Huemer contract, too.


Jenny Lerew said...

I was going to say before Steve beat me to it(what was going on with those comments, anyway? My original never appeared) that far from a diss, this was a huge amount of money to be offered for working at Dsiney in the early 30s(as Steve says, the absolute depths of the depression); the star animators such as Moore and Babbitt made not much more than this amount in the late 30s, and were happy to get it!

Steve Hulett said...

Aark! Aack! The comments button got turned off on Blogger's control panel (our fault) but now is operating again.

Having the whole letter would have prevented me from being an idiot about the commentary (clearly wrong...). Glad it was corrected.

Some interesting points about entertainment salaries in the 1930s:

Carole Lombard was the highest paid actor in the late thirties, making $100,000 to $150,00 per film. Her husband Clark Gable was earning somewhere around four grand a week. (He got a large signing bonus for doing "Gone With the Wind.")

Errol Flynn was Warner Bros. top star, making $6,000 per week in 1939.

John Ford got a special, one-time salary of $165,000 for directing "How Green Was My Valley," Best picture for 1941 and which copped J.F. his third "Best Director" Oscar. (The picture was completed in eight weeks, after which Ford went on active duty with the Navy where he made a LOT less money.)

Babbit, I believe, was making $350 per week at the time of the Disney strike.

Kevin Koch said...

As Steve Worth promised, he's posted scans of the full Disney letter to Natwick (page two is here) at the ASIFA Animation Archive blog. He's also put up Dick Huemer's 1945 Disney contract and a letter from Charles Mintz to Virginia Davis. Definitely worth a read.

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