A Typical Teenager?

by Susie Hodgson

He was an average student, fairly introverted, who preferred to hang out at the nearby cemetery over hanging out with classmates. He thought his parents were pathetic, he didn’t care much about his brother and he found other relatives “terrifying.” He was very close to his dog and he thought that maybe his art teacher ­­“got” him. But he flat out said he felt like an outcast: “tortured” and “probably clinically depressed.” He lived in Burbank.. and that cemetery? Valhalla.

Sound like a typical teenager to you? Maybe you have one? Maybe you’ve been one? The type whose eyes roll so often you think one day his eyes might stay backwards?

You’d be wrong. This was no average teenager. In fact, he’d grow up to be one of the most acclaimed film directors in the world.

He is Tim Burton. Yes, that Tim Burton. The one who made Edward Scissorhands, which he said was based on being raised in Burbank. And Big Fish, which was inspired by his parents. ...and Frankenweenie, about a dog just like his own beloved Pepe.

He also made PeeWee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sweeney Todd, Big Eyes, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and many more.

Tim Burton grew up on Evergreen Street, which just so happens to be the same street a young Debbie Reynolds lived on. His mother was a “frustrated housewife” (in Burton’s words) who seemed to have had the artistic streak he inherited. Burton’s Mom later opened a cat-themed gift store in Burbank, a concept some might think of as “fun” but Burton labelled “horrific.” Burton’s father was a one-time professional baseball player who had to quit early due to an injury. He ended up working in the City of Burbank’s Parks & Rec department. Clearly, to Tim, they were “losers.”

At Burbank High, Tim tried to play baseball, but never did too well. He was also on the water polo team, but the only class where he truly excelled was Art. Tim was a prolific artist who could be found quietly drawing all the time. He later said he felt “completely alone,” but he was and is a talented artist. His work has since been displayed at New York’s famed Museum of Modern Art as well as our own L.A. County Museum of Art.

After high school, Burton attended Cal Arts, where his work was discovered by Disney. Upon graduation, Disney hired Tim Burton as an animator. Interestingly, Disney also allowed Burton the freedom to develop his own short films, which he did. But when Disney saw one of the short films Burton created – an early version of Frankenweenie about a dog who rises from the dead – Disney declared the film frightening and summarily fired Burton.

But while still at Disney, Burton also made a short film called Vincent, based on a horror hero of Burton’s, Vincent Price. Somehow he even got Price to narrate it. A certain stand-up comedian saw that treasured little movie and decided to hire its creator to direct his first cinematic step into stardom. The comic turned out to be a guy named Paul Reubens. You probably know him as PeeWee Herman. The movie they made together in 1985 –PeeWee’s Big Adventure – went on to make millions of dollars. That’s where Tim Burton got his start – and he hasn’t stopped since.

Today Burton is the father of two children and, no, his outlook hasn’t changed much. (His kids’ mother is actress Helena Bonham Carter, but Burton and Carter are no longer a couple.) Burton tends to dress all in black, is close friends with Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman, he watches MasterChef and says it makes him cry (?!) But, sorry folks, his view of Burbank remains dim.

He still doesn’t say much of anything positive about his upbringing or his parents. But the truth is, he owes them a lot. One year his mother made him a Halloween costume of a skeleton. It was a very distinctive skeleton. And funny thing! It looks EXACTY like Jack Skellington.

So if you’ve got an ingrate teenager in your life, or if you’ve been that bratty kid yourself, don’t despair. That kid – or, who knows, maybe YOU – could be the next Tim Burton! Just don’t remake Dark Shadows -- please!

Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site: www.burbankhistoricalsoc.org
Email: ghowardmuseum@sbcglobal.net

Return to Burbankia