We called her “Big Liz” because she was an attractive, statuesque blonde. Animation artist Rolly Crump even featured her in a series of black & white “Beat Posters” that he designed back in the 1950s. One wonderful stylized poster featured a cool Elizabeth Case Zwicker giving poetry readings at a local Beatnik hangout. That's right, back in the 1950s we were known as the “Beat Generation.” Think Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Liz Case was part of that whole counter culture scene, but we'll get to that later.
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 animation artists. Liz quickly put a portfolio together and headed for Burbank and the Walt 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 hallways and disturbing the old veterans who were trying to work. Liz and madcap artist Rolly Crump were often the instigators of the studio mischief that took place daily. Yes, we were unruly kids at Disney back in the day. Nice to know some things never change. While women were not allowed to become animators 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.
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 seemed 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 animated motion picture, was severely downsized and hundreds of talented artists were shown the door.
Elizabeth Case was offered work in other studio 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. 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. Because of her passion for politics and women’s rights it was not surprising that Elizabeth would eventually make her way to San Francisco. 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, and the fifties counter culture movement is a thing of the past, I can still see her in her cool cape, sandals and dark eye makeup. No doubt Liz would be imploring us to embrace a sense of social responsibility.
With all due respect, Ms Streep, the women in animation are all too often forgotten when it comes to writing Disney history. Elizabeth Case Zwicker contributed to the Disney legacy and did so decades ago. She is a woman you should know - and remember.