In Remembrance: Joe Grant

     Joe Grant, the legendary Walt Disney Studios artist and story man whose career ranged from the 1933 short Mickey’s Gala Premier to 2004’s Academy Award nominated short Lorenzo, has passed away in Glendale, California on Friday, May 11, 2005. He was 96.

     Born on May 15, 1908 in New York City, Grant’s father was an art director for William Randolph Hurst’s newspapers. Although discouraged by some family members, Grant decided to pursue a career in art, attending the Chouinard Art Institute. After graduation, he went to work at the Los Angeles Record as a caricaturist. It was here where Walt Disney saw his work and approached him about doing freelance design for the movie star caricatures for the cartoon Mickey’s Gala Premier. Grant completed a few more freelance assignments for Disney before being invited to join the studio full time. Although his newspaper work was now being syndicated through the Chicago Tribune, he accepted the offer, excited by the possibilities of working in animation.

     One of Grant’s first assignments was Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), the studio’s first feature film. Grant designed the Queen and the Wicked Witch. During production on Snow White, Grant was approached by Walt Disney for ideas for the studio’s next feature length cartoon. Their discussion lead to the creation of the studio’s Character Model Department, which Grant was put in charge of. The department was charged with developing the stories and character designs for several of Disney’s classic films including Pinocchio (1940) and Dumbo (1941), which Garner co-wrote with his creative partner Dick Huemer. Grant teamed with his wife Jennie to develop the original story of Lady And The Tramp (1955).

     Grant helped chose the classic compositions used in Fantasia (1940), as well as helped develop the storylines for each segment.

     Grant left the studio in 1949, following the dissolution of the Character Model Department to pursue other business opportunities including founding the ceramics studio Opechee Design and the greeting card company Castle Ltd. He returned to the Disney Studios when the Feature Animation Department invited him to work on 1991’s Beauty And The Beast. Working with a new, young generation of artists seemed to have rejuvenate Grant, who would contribute ideas and designing characters for Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995) and  Hercules (1997). For Fantasia 2000, Grant invented the idea of yo-yo playing flamingos. In 2004, Grant saw the release of the animated short Lorenzo, a story that he had first begun developing in 1949.

     In 1992, Grant was named a Disney Legend by the studio. He received the Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 1996 and a special award for career achievement from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 2002.