In 1986 Dick Williams sent me to LA to work with Art Babbitt in preparation for ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’ I was 23 years old then and felt like the luckiest guy in the world. When I first met Art at the little studio he was working in at that time, the reception was a bit frosty to say the least. A few days went past and I decided to approach the grumpy great man to ask him what the problem was. Art was very frank with me and said that he just didn’t like the fact that I was German. He continued to tell me about his ex-wife, who survived Auschwitz only because Mengele used her artistic skills to document his sick experiments. I don’t know how to describe the way this made me feel. I was born way after the Nazi regime disappeared, but still, the history of the country I was born in kept (and still keeps) haunting me. I tried to explain to Art that the Germans of my generation are fully aware of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and that we are all trying to live a normal life in love and peace, just like everybody else.
Art told me that one of his daughters was at that time an opera singer in Vienna, Austria. He had a real problem with that too, Austria being the birth-place of that Chaplin-moustached mad-man. He was fearing for her well-being, and when I told him there was no need for that, he didn’t really buy it. A few more weeks went past and Art and me became good friends in a mentor-student kind of way. When the 3 months learning from the great, old man were over, I bought him a little good-bye present, which he was visibly moved by. He asked me to stay in touch and the same time said that I should not be surprised if he didn’t answer. The last time I saw him was when he was driving off in this big old, white car and all that was visible was the top of his head and those bony hands on the steering wheel.
I will never forget that precious time with Art and I owe him forever for teaching me and giving me a first hand inside look of an era long gone.
Cheerio and double cheers to Art Babbitt.
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