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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

 

 

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (March 4, 1932April 4, 2001) was an artist and cartoonist who created the hot-rod icon Rat Fink and other extreme characters. As a custom car builder, Roth was a key figure in Southern California's "Kustom Kulture"/Hot-rod movement of the 1960s. He grew up in Bell, California, attending Bell High School, where his classes unsurprisingly included auto shop and art.

Roth is best known for his grotesque caricatures — typified by Rat Fink — depicting imaginative, out-sized monstrosities driving representations of the hot rods that he and his contemporaries built. Although Detroit native Stanley Mouse (Miller) is credited with creating the so-called "Monster Hot Rod" art form, Roth is certainly the individual who popularized it. Roth is less well known for his innovative work in turning hot rodding from crude backyard engineering, where performance was the bottom line, into a refined art form where aesthetics were equally important, breaking new ground with fiberglass bodywork.

In the 1960s, plastic models of many of Roth's cars, as well as models of Rat Fink and other whimsical creatures created by Roth, were marketed by the Revell model company.

Numerous artists were associated with Roth, including painter Robert Williams, Rat Fink Comix artist R.K. Sloane and Steve Fiorilla, who illustrated Roth's catalogs.

Roth was active in the field of counterculture art and hot-rodding his entire adult life. At the time of his death in 2001, he was working on an innovative hot-rod project involving a compact car planned as a radical departure from the dominant "tuner" performance modification style. In his later years, Roth's telephone number was listed in the directory, and he encouraged fans to contact him: he was always generous with his time and enthusiasm.

A Roth custom feared lost for many years was the subject of a number of articles in automotive enthusiast magazines in the summer of 2008. The Orbitron, built in 1964, was discovered in Mexico in late 2007. The car, in dilapidated, inoperative condition, had been parked for quite some time in front of an adult bookstore in Ciudad Juárez. The owners of the shop were also the owners of the car. It was purchased by Michael Lightbourn, an American auto restorer who did extensive business in Mexico and who in turn repatriated the car to the United States. The Orbitron has since been restored to its original condition by present owner Beau Boeckmann.

Ed Roth was member of the Drag Wagons car club of Maywood, California.

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Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos

Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos was a 1960s novelty group led by Roth, who himself was known as Mr. Gasser. Formed in the early 1960s, they released a few bizarre surf rock albums, most notably 1963's Hot Rod Hootenanny. One Way Records released a 2CD-set (S22-18319) which contains the 3 LPs and the original artwork.

Personal life

Ed Roth was reportedly married three times. His third wife, Ilene, lives in Manti, Utah, where Ed Roth spent the final years of his life. Roth joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in 1974.

Since his death, an annual “Big Daddy Roth” Open House has been held in Manti around the anniversary of his death. The museum that Ilene Roth created to honor her late husband includes displays of Ed's art work and other memorabilia. It is open to the public during the open house and year-round by appointment.

Ed Roth: the Car Customization King of the 1960s

The 1960s (or, if you prefer, The Sixties) were known for a lot of things, but they were mainly famous for the start of the “sex, drugs and rock'n'roll” period. It was an era of reckless excess and flashiness, the emergence of libertine and “free” attitudes, as well as counter-culture. Of course, many people still think of The Sixties as of an era full o depravation and drug abuse. Proof of this are Paul Kantner's (from Jefferson Airplane) words: “If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there.”

Well, apart from this, the sixth decade of the twentieth century also meant the rise of the Kustom Kulture and Hot-rod movement in Southern California. Among the people responsible for making what some people might actually call a form of art were Kenneth Graeme Howard (better known as Von Dutch or J.L. Bachs) and the colorful Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, who was a larger-than-life car cult figure. Roth was born in 1932, in Beverly Hills, but he really surfaced on the hot-rodding scene after the Second World War.

He became a true celebrity, mostly known for his nonconformist goatee and his off-beat manifestations whenever he found himself in front of a camera. He (along with his contemporaries, Von Dutch and the Barris bros) was especially noted for being one of the first people who understood the marketing potential of the Kustom Kulture, therefore making it available for people of all classes, but mostly teenagers.

During the mid-1950s, Roth established his reputation as a successful pinstripe artist who had a very close connection with the hot-rodding scene, also doing flames or similar paint jobs for customized cars. After he opened a custom paint shop called the “Crazy Painters” together with fellow pinstriping artists Tom Kelly and “Baron” Crozier, he soon realized that what he shouldn't be reserved for cars only. Therefore, he also began airbrushing and selling what he called “weirdo shirts”. These shirts began to be advertised in magazines like Car Craft and Rod and Custom and his business really began to flourish.

The special feature about his style of drawing were the way he embedded both the cute and the grotesque in the same project. At the end of the fifties he left the “Crazy Painters” and opened his own “Roth Studios” in Maywood, a suburb of the “city of angels”. With his own business on the roll, he spent the next decade transforming the way car customization happened, partly thanks to the development of fiberglass, which had the great feature of being easily molded into the most extreme shapes. So it happened that Roth, together with other talented artists like Robert Williams, Dave Mann and of course Von Dutch became the greatest promoters of Kustom Kulture in the 1960s.

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth's grotesque caricatures were typified by the “Rat Fink” character, which depicted a monstrous-looking rat with bulgy bloodshot eyes and a very depraved overall look. Roth had created this character out of his hatred for Disney's “Mickey Mouse”, and didn't realize at first that his drawing would eventually become a symbol for the entire hot-rodding movement of the 1960s. Also, many historians are crediting him for popularizing the printed T-shirt, even though after the number of silk-screened shirt today many people don't realize that there was a time before Roth when almost all t-shirts were plain.

Realizing the amount of success the Rat Fink character had gathered in a very short time, Roth asked his own studio artists to create dozens of similar creatures, which eventually became an army of gruesome monsters rendered on chopped-up hot-rods and other customized cars. Of all the creations he conjured over the years, Rat Fink remained as the archetypal Roth monster, mostly because it also had a special significance for him: “Whenever I looked at that drawing, I felt I was looking, for the first time, at reality—my reality. The world that my parents, teachers, and responsible type people all around me belonged to wasn’t my world. Why did I have to be like them, live like them? I didn’t. And Rat Fink helped me realize that.”

Becoming his main line of business, the t-shirt company was actually only used to finance his first true passion, which still consisted of his now famous weird-shaped cars. He based a lot of his skills by laying the somewhat newly discovered fiberglass over hand-carved plaster forms, thus sculpting the unique custom bodies in almost any shape possible. One of his greatest four-wheeled creations was revealed in 1959, when he created a car almost entirely from the ground up. His fame also reached big companies like Revell, who started producing miniature kit replicas of Roth custom vehicles, for which he also licensed his name. When the guys at Revell suggested that he needed a catchier name, he added the “Big Daddy” nickname to his moniker.

When the sixties came to an end, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was also touched by the decline in people's search of customized cars, which eventually led to a decrease in sales. The end of the “kustom kulture” golden era found him switching to more fuel-efficient cars powered by Volkswagen or Honda engines and also a small number of custom trikes. After numerous arguments with members of the “Hell's Angels” motorcycle gang, Roth decided to leave the business that he had founded, selling all of his assets and returning to custom painting alongside Von Dutch.

This soon ended and 1974 found him trying to seek new meaning in his life, so he converted to Mormonism. He also started to regret the 1960s, when he was making money by selling Rat Fink t-shirts, endorsing illegal street racing and having confrontations with biker thugs. He never regretted the cars he had built and continued to manufacture custom hot-rods and trikes until his death, which happened in 2001. His legacy remains behind and many of his creations can now be found in various private collections and automotive museums around the world, keeping his spirit alive.

Retrieved from; autoevolution 10th of December 2008 Alex Oagana

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