February 29, 2016 posted by

Chatting with Grace Godino and Betty Ann Guenther

Grace Godino-signature-600

Today’s interviews from the 1987 Golden Awards Banquet feature two more women from Disney’s Ink and Paint Department, Grace Bianca Godino and Betty Anne Guenther, who both began there in 1937 during the final rush to finish Snow White.

Grace-Godino-600Godino had been an art major in college before she was hired, initially inking and then also painting, and working in the Shadow Department with Wilma Baker on special effects animation. Most of her animation career was at Disney, but she did brief stints elsewhere, working for Walter Lantz, Hanna-Barbera, Ron Campbell Films, Marvel and UPA, as well as being a color modeler on the very un-Disney The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat.

Like some other inkers and painters, she had interests outside of animation. For instance, she had something of an acting career and worked with future movie star Glenn Ford at a production at Miles Playhouse, in Santa Monica, during the 1930s; her friendship with Ford led her to become a stand-in for superstar Rita Hayworth in her most iconic film, Gilda (1946), as well as The Loves of Carmen (1948). She did some voiceover work and was a model for the character of Madame Adelaide Bonfamille in The Aristocats. After retiring from animation, she became a watercolorist and had her own studio, called appropriately enough “The Mouse Trap”.

One of her most exciting animation memories was her “first look at Snow White in the rough. We were called over to the soundstage; there was no seating arrangement, we sat on the floor, and there was just a big screen at one end of the soundstage. And the feeling of that picture we got when we saw it as a whole, as an entirety—part of it was in color and part seeing original animation—the feeling that it was going to be great. And walking out there, as young people, you know, we were all in our early 20s, and it was the most exciting thing that I ever experienced in the animation industry. Humming the songs when we went out and knowing we were a small part of it.”

There are two oral history interviews with Godino in local L.A. libraries: one done for Women in Animation at UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research and one at the Santa Monica History Museum’s Research Library.

Betty Ann Guenther-signature600

Guenther came to Disney after attending Pasadena Junior College, starting out as an inker. “That was the highest you could go,” she noted, “because Walt figured that all the women were going to get married.” She remembered the several months spent as an unpaid trainee—three, three-hour night classes a week. In Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, she is quoted as saying that, “Every Friday was Elimination Day, and we all shook in our boots, for fear that we would be let go. Everyone was so scared and worried they could hardly relax enough to do their work.” This was, after all, still the time of the Great Depression, when people, especially artists, were lucky to get a job.

After Snow White, she was involved in an early effort to do cel setups before going back to inking. On Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, she remembers, “I had tracebacks of the egg, which was the bottom of W.C. Fields [Humpty Dumpty], and a big round circle; a gal, I really liked her, said, ‘Well, you aren’t doing so well.’ And I said, ‘No.’ And she said, ‘Well, why aren’t you doing something about it?’ And I was really crushed. She didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but I was, you know, when you’re young, you’re sort of sensitive.”

After six years, Guenther became an inking supervisor, where she had her own “inking corridor.” When cel xerography was introduced, using “those big, specially-built [machines] of Ub Iwerks’ design,” and continued in a supervisory role. She “enjoyed [it] the most…because I got around, I did a lot of traffic work; it was fun to go around and deliver it to people and see what they were doing, because, in the beginning, the animators were in the Animation Building, [and] the ladies were in what we called The Hen House.”

Next week: Leo Salkin.


  • are these women still alive?

    • Unfortunately, no. Guenther died in 2010 at 93, while Godino passed in 2011 at 96.

      • My Auntie Gracie was born in 2015 and passed away at 95 years old.

  • Wonderful to give voice to these women. Would be nice to see their own artwork as well sometime. A question though: Betty Anne Gunther says, of the Ink and Paint Dept, “WE called it the Hen House.” I’d like to know though, where the term originated. Times have changed, but I still doubt it was with her “we”…

    • This is the first time I’d heard the ink and paint building referred to as “the hen house,” though I’ve read several accounts of animators nicknaming it “the nunnery,” as it was generally off-limits to male employees. Walt Disney’s wife’s sister was, I believe, in charge of the department; and the only man who seemed to have full access to the place was Walt’s brother Raymond Disney, an insurance agent who had sold policies to most of the staff there!

  • What I want to know is:
    Are\were BETTY ANNE GUENTHER and ANN GUENTHER related?

    • No they were not related. Ann Guenther was my neighbor and she just passed away in January of this year.

  • I forget what Leo Salkin did. His name sounds familiar.

    • Without being too much of a spoiler, he worked for almost everyone at one time or another and did some great stuff. I’m looking forward to next week!

  • Fritz was Grace Godinos only screen credit(It was the only screen credits for many inkers and painters of the golden age). Other credited women include Bernie Bonnickson(Who worked on Sleeping Beauty), and Vera McKinney(Her other credits are on Formats Alvin and Popeye series)

  • My wife and I acquired 5 water colors painted by Mrs. Godino at an estate sale, are they of any value; they are very pretty!

    • We inherited one of her paintings from my wife’s grandfather, who lived in Santa Monica. The painting is watercolor and depicts windmills. Love it.

      • She was my aunt and she was an amazing watercolor artist. I treasure the paintings, Christmas cards etc I have she has given me over the years. She called me her little apple blossom and painted me a picture of one.

    • That aren’t of any value monetarily but very treasured by the one’s who loved her. I had no idea there was an “ estate sale” of any of her things or paintings. As I am her niece and helped take care of her in her final years.

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