Celebrity voice performs Sunday

Animation: The woman behind Bart Simpson will appear at an Ellicott City gallery.

November 01, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Nancy Cartwright's name and face are not familiar. She doesn't get mobbed in public or pursued by the paparazzi, even though she's been a big television star for more than a decade.

But almost everyone knows her voice - the one that made "cowabunga!" and "don't have a cow" part of American pop culture.

Cartwright, who portrays the notorious cartoon character Bart Simpson, will perform Sunday at the Margaret Smith Gallery in Ellicott City and sign paintings used in the production of the cartoon.

Cartwright marvels that The Simpsons - which will start its 13th season on Fox this month - is one of the last hand-painted cartoons, using about 22,000 cels per show. Cartwright calls such animation "a dying art form."

"I do feel that once The Simpsons is over, this will be it," she said. "With the 21st century upon us right now, we've moved on to higher technology, and it's kind of sad."

Computer animation was used in only one episode of The Simpsons, Cartwright said, and she immediately noticed the difference - the picture looked "kind of flat, it just doesn't have the pop."

"We already established a very successful show," she said. "I don't think it's right to change it."

Cartwright said she feels responsible for helping to keep hand-painted animation alive and is a collector of the painted cels - she has a number of cels from The Simpsons, some from the introduction of I Dream of Jeannie, and some she received from her mentor, Daws Butler, the voice of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.

Margaret Spurlock, the Ellicott City gallery's former owner, has been trying to get Cartwright to perform there since they met more than a year ago in the Los Angeles area, where Cartwright lives with her 10-year-old son, 11-year-old daughter, husband, two dogs, three cats and four birds.

Cartwright's book, My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy, will be given as a gift with the purchase of a hand-painted cel at the gallery, which has a collection of several pieces of animation art.

"The hand-painted cels, some of them are gorgeous. To see the original art that was used to make a cartoon is just fascinating," Spurlock said.

For more than a decade, Cartwright has been portraying the 10-year-old boy who never grows up on the Emmy award-winning show.

In 1987, Cartwright was the only one to audition for the part of Bart and was offered the job on the spot. In her book, Cartwright explained that she had originally planned to read for Lisa but wasn't attracted to the character's dull description as an 8-year-old "middle child."

Bart, described as "devious, underachieving, school-hating, irreverent, clever," was much more to her liking. The idea of playing the "bad boy" was more appealing to her.

"It's just more fun to be bad," she said. "He gets away with the things that we wish we could get away with it."

She quickly came up with Bart's voice and immediately impressed creator Matt Groening.

Sometimes, Cartwright explained in her book, she tries to use her celebrity to her advantage - like using Bart's voice to get out of a speeding ticket while driving her bright pink Miata with the license plate DNTHVCW (don't have a cow) or to get a parking space for the Rose Bowl parade. She ended up getting the ticket and the parking space.

However, she now rarely volunteers in public that she is the woman behind Bart. She said that revealing her identity usually results in her getting interviewed by fans, and she gets "bored of talking about myself all the time."

But there's more to Cartwright than being the voice of Bart. Her light workload for The Simpsons - she dedicates about six hours a week to the show - allows her the freedom to work on other projects.

She is the founder of Sports- Blast, an animation and multimedia development and production company that created The Kellys, a Web animation series about professional stock car racing on NASCAR.com. The show held its debut Sept. 26, attracting more than 100,000 downloads within the first 10 days.

Through Homeland Productions, a company she founded that develops animation projects for film and television, Cartwright is also working on an animated film with Debbie Allen about transporting slaves from Africa.

The film's script, written by Peter Kjenaas, is quite a departure from Cartwright's usual work on The Simpsons. It contains elements of violence that Cartwright expects to lead to a PG-13 or R rating. She said she hopes the film will help change the perception that animation is only for children.

"I see this film kind of breaking through barriers in terms of race," she said. "There will be lots of violence in this movie. ... I don't feel like kids should go see this unless they understand what prejudice means or what racism is."

As for The Simpsons, Cartwright said she thinks the show is "good for at least one more season" and will continue to be successful as long as Groening and Fox are satisfied with the integrity of the show.

"It's the best job on the planet," she said.

The Margaret Smith Gallery is at 8090 Main St. in Ellicott City. Nancy Cartwright will be at the gallery from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are preferred but not required. Information: 410-461-0870.

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