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Toon Tuesday: The curious case of Elizabeth Case

Toon Tuesday: The curious case of Elizabeth Case

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We called her "Big Liz" because she was tall. Animation artist Rolly Crump even featured her in a series of black & white posters that he designed back in the 1950s. The wonderful stylized poster featured Elizabeth Case Zwicker giving poetry readings at a local Beatnik hangout.


That's right, kids. Back in the 1950s, we were known as the "Beat Generation." Think Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Liz Case was part of that whole scene. But we'll get to that later.

I’ve long since lost the original poster by Rolly Crump.
But here’s a rough sketch of the wonderful 1950s-style black & white poster
drawn from memory. Sorry, Rolly.

Elizabeth Case was the daughter of famed radio announcer Nelson Case, and she always wanted to be an artist. Back in 1956, Liz had just been divorced and was looking for work. Oddly enough, she answered a newspaper ad in the Los Angeles Times. The Walt Disney Studio was looking for artists. Liz quickly put a portfolio together and headed for the Disney studio.


In a remarkable moment of honesty, the Disney people asked Liz if she had another source of income because -- as they put it -- "We don't pay very much." Liz assured Disney she had child support, so they quickly hired her.


I had begun my apprenticeship with Disney a few months earlier, so all of us young kids became fast friends. The Disney old timers often scolded us for being loud and unruly in the animation wings. Liz and madcap artist Rolly Crump were often the instigators of the mischief that took place daily. Yes, we were unruly kids at Disney. Nice to know some things never change.


While women were not allowed to animate back in the 1950s, don't get the idea they kept a low profile. These were strong women who could easily hold their own with their often privileged male counterparts. As you can imagine, Liz Case didn't take guff from any man on the Disney staff.

The brunette standing is artist Bea Tomargo,
and Elizabeth Case is seated.
This great drawing was done in the 1950s by animator John Sparey.

Elizabeth Case found that her fine art training served her well on "Sleeping Beauty." She knew that Disney wanted skilled draftsmen on the feature, not just people who could draw cartoons. You have to know the human figure and how to interpret human movement.


Liz found herself doing a lot of the birds in "Sleeping Beauty." She studied birds in the Disney research library, and quickly developed a bird consciousness. Once Sequence 8 was completed, she moved on to other characters in the film. Liz seems to enjoy the challenge each character presented and had truly found a home at Disney animation.


All that came to an end when "Sleeping Beauty" was finally completed. The Disney animation staff, which had ramped up to produce the movie, was severely downsized, and hundreds of talented artists were shown the door.


Elizabeth was offered work in other departments, but she refused. She couldn't imagine life without animation, and didn't want any other work. Not even for more money. Sadly, after polishing her skills on a classic Disney feature motion picture, Elizabeth Case walked away from Disney and never returned to the cartoon business.


 This is a fairly recent photo of Elizabeth Case. She passed away in 2006.


But, as is often said, there is life after Disney. Elizabeth Case went on to lead a fascinating life post-Disney. She became a poet, painter, and children's book illustrator. Liz even painted a mural in the New Jersey public library.


Knowing how feisty Liz could be, I was not surprised to hear that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had her thrown out of his City Lights bookstore because he didn't care for her "women's poetry." Undaunted, Elizabeth Case continued with the San Francisco beat movement. And in 1958, Liz was the only one doing poetry readings as coffee houses replaced night clubs. Soon, Liz became known as the "Mother of the Beat Generation."


Elizabeth Case Zwicker passed away in the year 2006 at the age of seventy-six. Though many years have passed, I can still see her in her cape, sandals and dark eye makeup, imploring us to embrace a sense of social responsibility.


Women animation artists are all too often forgotten when it comes to writing animation history. This is a woman you should know -- and remember.


Wasn’t that a great look back at one of the forgotten women of Disney Feature Animation? And speaking of forgetting … Don’t forget that Floyd Norman now has his very own blog, Mr. Fun’s Blog. Where you can enjoy even more of this Disney Legend’s musings.


Or if you’d prefer your Floyd fix on paper … Well, you can purchase one or more of the books that Mr. Fun now has on the market. Which each take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman has spent toiling in Toontown.


These volumes include Floyd’s original collection of cartoons & stories – “Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation” (Which is available for sale over at John Cawley’s cataroo.com) as well as Norman’s two follow-ups to that paperbook, “Son of Faster, Cheaper” and “How the Grinch Stole Disney.” Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.
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  • A wonderful piece, as usual. Floyd, I really enjoy your personal blog too. I visit it every day. I wonder if you've ever considered doing a series of lectures, particularly at the Comic Cons that are blooming all over the place? There is a new generation of up-and-coming animators who, sadly, have grown up watching bad cartoons on TV, which will probably result in more bad cartoons (Fairly Odd Parents) because these young artists don't know any better. Sure, they won't have the resources you did in the Disney days, but I bet you could teach them a few things on how important character development is to entice viewers  to keep watching, and on how to animate humor effectively. Just a thought. Thanks again for a great read.

  • Thanks for the compliments. It's always fun to share my experiences at Disney.

    I'll be speaking at a few cons this year. Next month in Pittsburgh, and of course, the San Diego ComicCon in July. I'll be speaking on one of the Disney cruise ships in September.

    As the ranks of animation old timers begin to thin, it's important to pass on what I learned from the "Old Man."

  • Floyd,

    I was just performing a random search on Elizabeth. I was honored to know her through two of her children, Sue and Pat. They are extremely talented in their own rights. Pat is a talented musician and Sue owns her own bakery and designs fantastic cakes (visually and edibly).  Elizabeth was a remarkable woman.  I spent several days getting to know her when she hired me to work with her to go through the murals that were stored in the bowels of the Intrepid Museum. It was the dead of winter and cold down there, but she kept me warm and laughing the whole time.  I miss her very much.  Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories as well, some of which I didn't know.  All the best,


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