With the success of the True-Life Adventures series, photographers around the country inundated Walt Disney with endless reels of wildlife film footage. But it was the striking images by N. Paul Kenworthy of insect life on the great American desert that caught Walt’s eye. He was so impressed with Paul’s unusual film sequences that he hired the college student to return to the desert and gather more footage.
Roy O. Disney later recalled that Paul “practically lived down in the desert, like a desert rat, many months, in his little hut with cameras all set up, photographing tarantulas and lizards and desert flowers blooming. And we got the most wonderful batch of material… ”
Paul’s footage was subsequently assembled with other freelance material to create the Studio’s first feature-length True-Life Adventure, The Living Desert, which garnered an Academy Award® for best documentary in 1953.
The film featured breathtaking sequences such as a pepsis wasp battling a tarantula, and a king snake pursuing baby kangaroo rats underground; it also led to more assignments for the fledgling filmmaker.
Born Norman Paul Kenworthy, Jr. on February 14, 1925, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Paul received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He followed this with a master’s degree in motion pictures from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1953.
After the initial success of The Living Desert, his masterful photography of prairie dogs and other animals appeared in Disney’s The Vanishing Prairie in 1954. It, too, won an Academy Award for best documentary. Paul then went on to co-direct Perri, the story of a female squirrel’s life cycle, with Ralph Wright. In his book The Disney Films, critic Leonard Maltin called the True-Life Fantasy, which featured live-action and animated sequences, “a truly dazzling accomplishment.”
Paul directed “Rusty and the Falcon,” the story of a boy who finds an injured falcon and tries to train him, for the Walt Disney Presents television series in 1958. He also developed a story about the first ascent of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, which became the 1959 live-action feature Third Man on the Mountain, starring James MacArthur.
Paul then returned to Pennsylvania to care for his family’s wool business, but, by 1962, he returned to the film industry, shooting television commercials in New York and Los Angeles.
His interest in motion picture camera work led him to help develop what became known as the Kenworthy/Nettmann Snorkel Camera, a remote-controlled periscope system originally developed to film architectural models, for which he received an Academy Technical Award in 1977.
Paul passed away on October 15, 2010, in Ventura, California.