Manti's 10th Rat Fink reunion marks 50 years for wild-eyed, green mouse

Fans celebrate legacy of Ed Roth: counter-culture innovator, Mormon convert

By Ladd Brubaker

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 2 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Then, somewhere from the depths of his brain emerged a world teeming with his frenetic caricatures. Roth created Rat Fink during an early '60s stint in the Air Force, and others quickly emerged as well.

Roth intentionally created the rabid-looking mouse as an alter-ego/evil twin to Disney’s Mickey Mouse, which especially saturated Southern California culture at the time.

Mickey Mouse was just too clean-cut, too proper, Trixie Roth said. Ed loved Rat Fink — the rodent represented cutting loose, being whatever he wanted to be, doing whatever he wanted to do — which was to create crazy-looking rods and drive them fast.

Perhaps best of all for Roth, Rat Fink lived in a junkyard with his equally scruffy and like-minded friends. It’s a hot-rodder’s dream — free access to all the spare parts they could possibly need for their stuck-together creations.

The Big Daddy loved people and they loved him back, Trixie Roth said. “He was the most enjoyable person I’ve ever been around.”           

Roth also happens to be the Sanpete County auditor.

She married Ed when he was 65 with a 20-year gap between them. Even so, “Ed was so much younger at heart than me,” she said. “Ed was such a kid at heart.”

But in Southern California too many people were always dropping in to talk, meet or hang out with Roth. It took him away too much from his main passions: cars and caricatures. He realized he needed to leave the Golden State, find a place off the beaten path.

In 1974, due to the influence of a neighbor, Roth was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1987, he set his sights on Utah, specifically Manti. It fit the bill: away from big cities, with an LDS temple, and a small, quiet peaceful place — perfect for concentrating on his work.

Becoming a Mormon not only affected Ed Roth, but the Weirdos as well.

“He’d gone from one walk of life to the next,” Trixie said. “He said he had to make a few changes. He used to run with the Hell’s Angels, and he did a total change. He was very dedicated to the church.”

The gang of caricatures made their own adjustments. Wild Child, for example, gave up his brass knuckles for an ice cream cone. In one drawing, Rat Fink is discouraging smoking.

Still, it was a long way from Mickey Mouse. And a long way from Manti — a conservative, rural Utah town still deeply imprinted with its pioneer heritage. But Roth loved people so much, he fit right in, Trixie said. He could talk to anybody about anything and still be respectful of their point of view.

His deep commonality with his LDS neighbors was his community spirit. Roth loved to help people, she said. He was known to spot hitchhikers on the road, flip his car around, talk to them for awhile, and if they seemed to be genuinely in need, he might give them a sleeping bag and empty out his wallet for them.

“Ed could read people extremely well,” Trixie Roth said. They would sit around at car shows and Ed would point to someone and say, "That guy’s a cop, or he’s dentist, or that guy’s a lawyer," and when they would come up, the Roths would ask them and sure enough, she said, “Ed would be right on.”

And he loved and supported the Boy Scouts.

Growing up outside the LDS faith, he hadn’t been one himself, but he would tell the bishop of his Manti ward that whatever the Scouts lacked in fundraising for the year, he would make up the difference.

“He knew that’s how you end up with good kids,” Trixie said. “You teach them everything they need to know to be good people.”

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