Moment in Time: Wisconsin Rapids’ Disney Roots
By Joe Bachman
Snow White, Mickey Mouse, Popeye, and Betty Boop — legendary animated characters that have their roots in none other than a Wisconsin Rapids native.
Born on Oct. 16, 1890 in Wisconsin Rapids, Myron “Grim” Natwick would go on to help lay the foundation for not just Disney, but American animation as we know it. Born to James and Henrietta Lyon, (daughter of Wis. Rapids pioneer Reuben Lyon) he would attend the Art Institute of Chicago and soon put his skills to great use by creating sheet music covers for Chicago publishers.
While Natwick worked for various studios in his career, he is best known for his work at Fleischer’s Studio, who was a major producer for animation productions at the time. Under the direction of Max Fleischer, Natwick created Betty Boop in 1930, likely based off of singer/actress Helen Kane. Natwick would eventually depart from Fleischer’s and head over to Walt Disney Studios.
At Disney, Natwick became a lead animator for the well-known classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and also had his literal hands on the animation for the 1939 classic Fantasia. Natwick would once again work for Fleischer’s and helped animate famous cartoons such as Felix the Cat, Mr. Magoo, Woody Woodpecker, and Gulliver’s Travels.
Natwick’s fingerprints are on nearly 100 animated films, shorts, and TV series’, and can be considered one of the pioneers of early animation. Later in life, it is alleged that Natwick even contributed to the creation of Cocoa Puffs mascot “Sonny”.
Natwick died on Oct. 7, 1990 at the age of 100 in Los Angeles. However, his spirit lives on through his many drawings, which can be seen at almost any time here in town. The South Wood County Historical Museum has a room dedicated to the works of Natwick, which is worth the travel back in animated time.
So the next time you catch a new or old Disney flick, know that just a little bit of that Disney magic was born right here in Wisconsin Rapids.