Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 2

Of all the great contributions to the world of art and animation, we can say Bakersfield has produced at least one outstanding legend. While bumbling around on the Internet a week back I stumbled on a little blip - "Marc Davis, born in Bakersfield, California, was the son of Harry and Mildred Davis." Aye Ca rumba! Could it be? More poking around uncovered this amazing truth. Yes, Marc Davis was in fact born in Bakersfield, California where he lived a brief, nay, fleeting, portion of his life. It wasn't much. But it was something.

More digging on the Internet produced nothing of value. I had but three facts: Marc was born in Bakersfield, his parent's names were Harry and Mildred, and his birthday, March 30, 1913, indicated at least one year in which the Davis Family lived in Bakersfield. Ultimately I wanted to find out how long the Davis' lived there, their reason for moving to Bakersfield, and where exactly they lived so maybe a photo could be generated for this post.

Referring to my book, Nine Old Men (which by the way is a must have for anyone interested in animation and Disney's legendary animators), shed some light on the first two questions. Author John Canemaker says this about Marc's father, Harry:

"(He) had... permanently itchy feet; the hope of making a fortune in oil fueled (so to speak) his wanderlust. It led him (and subsequently Marc and his mother) to constant travel throughout the United States to mining towns and oil fields. Wherever Harry went he supported himself as a jeweler, watchmaker, and, occasionally, a mind-reading magician."

According to Canemaker, Marc was "born in Bakersfield, California (another oil boomtown) and named after Marcus Lichtenstein, the owner of a jewelry shop where Harry was working," It seems, however, that by 1915 the Davis family had moved on to San Francisco or somewhere near the Bay Area to do some sort of act in the World's Fair. Not surprisingly, Marc referred to his father later as a "rainbow chaser" whose constant flitting from one town to the next left Marc with a very unsettled childhood.

Finding answers to the third part of my search has proved to be far more difficult. Inquiries at numerous sources, including the Kern County Records Department and online U.S. Census Statistics, finally led me to contact the Kern County Library. The Local History section of the library has something like city directories, or phonebooks, dating back to 1900. With a little help (Thanks Pop!), I discovered that the only listing for a Harry Davis in Bakersfield was from the year 1913, and gives only the title "watchmaker" for Wikersham Jewelers as an occupational reference and cites a location (residency?) on D Street.

The best I can contribute are some photos (above) of Bakersfield's Standard Oil and Union Oil facilities dating back to 1910. These panoramic shots are courtesy of the HelloBakersfield.com website's history section. In 1910 Bakersfield's population was "booming" at 13,000 people and many of these people were miners or in the oil business coming in on the Santa Fe Railroad. It's hard to believe that the Davis family was in Bakersfield so long ago, 20 years before the "dust bowl" even brought thousands of settlers from Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Marc, of course, is a Disney Legend. Being primarily self-taught, Marc spent hours a day at the local zoos sketching animals and observing people. He took some drawing classes at Otis Art Institute, and after high school worked in a sign-painting shop while going to school at the California School of Fine Arts. Davis also grew up with knowledge of the theater. His father occasionally performed magic shows and Marc himself loved to entertain. This proved to be invaluable in later years when Walt Disney snatched up Marc from the Animation Department to provide leadership on WED Imagineering projects when Disneyland went into production. Marc was the only one of the Nine Old Men whose talents, Walt decided, deserved to be moved to 3-D media.

Marc is primarily known for his work on many of Disney's leading ladies such as Sleeping Beauty, Tinkerbell, Cruella DeVil, and Maleficent. His drawings express a thorough understanding of human anatomy and, more importantly, the individual nuances and personalities of unique characters. There is no question that Marc's talent for storytelling and attention to detail were crucial to the development Disney's best films and later to Disneyland and EPCOT. Who would have thought that such a great artist had humble roots in Colonel Baker's little field?

Aside: For those of you who haven't seen it, there is a fantastic three-part Walt Disney Family series on Marc Davis available for viewing on YouTube. The links are available by clicking appropriately on Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.


Jenny said...

Beautiful post and beautiful blog!

I'm just about to put up a Marc Davis something I bought at ComicCon-look for it!

Biblioadonis aka George said...


The whole time I am reading this, I am thinking, "Go to the Library!"

I'm glad you mentioned the library in your post. We don't get a lot of love in the online community (darn google!).

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