My Disney Scrapbook

Back in the old days before computers, ipads and iphones became the popular storage medium, young kids like myself had scrapbooks. You could pick one up at at the local five and dime and build your own memories and dreams in the privacy of your bedroom. Animation had become my passion and as a young middle schooler I searched high and low for any scrap of information about the cartoon business. Amazingly enough, I found these published treasures in the most unlikely of places. Articles about the Walt Disney Studios appeared in a number of magazines back in the fifties and those magazines were usually in the dentist or doctor’s reception rooms. I flipped through movie fanzines and weekly periodicals looking for anything on animation. Thankfully, the magazines were so darn old, I actually found a Life Magazine article featuring the hot new Walt Disney animation feature film entitled, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Can you begin to imagine how long that magazine had been in the doctors office? Yikes! The film was released in the thirties, for heavens sake.

No matter. These newspaper and magazine articles were printed treasures for a kid like myself. After all, there were precious few places a young artist could find information about the animated cartoon business. Many of our elders considered animation a special kind of magic created by a man named, Disney. Most never gave a thought that these magical motion pictures were actually created by talented, young (most were back then) men and women. Working in animation was hardly considered a real job and most older people thought it wise that I focus my attention on a vocation that would pay the rent. Undeterred, I continued my search for animated articles and any scrap of information I could dig up about the wonderful world of animation.

In the photograph below you’ll see a page from my ancient scrapbook that features an article from a Hollywood fan magazine. This is only one of the many acticles I dug up back in the early fifties that took us inside the magical facility known as the Walt Disney Studios. Naturally, the Hollywood Studios used such excursions to the Disney Studios as a device to build a media profile for their budding young actors and actresses. In this particular case, we see a young Farley Granger and Phyllis Kirk as they tour the various departments of Walt’s magic factory. In the black & white photos we see a young Eric Larson as he explains the animation process. In another shot, director, Hamilton Luske stands on a stool as he explains Disney’s story development techniques. Naturally, these visits often included cute photo moments as the attractive young actors try their hand at painting a cartoon animation cel. It may have simply been a job for the young Hollywood couple, but it provided special acess for a kid who had never seen the inside of a cartoon studio. That’s why these articles were pasted in my special cartoon scrapbook so I could view them over and over again.

If you’re as old as I am, you may very well have had a scrapbook of your own. A kid’s scrapbook was the special repository of his or her dreams and aspirations, and they helped us continually focus on our ultimate goals. I still have my scrapbook today and it remains a treasure. Naturally, I still flip through the pages and remember what it was like being a twelve year old kid with lofty dreams. Dreams that I knew would one day be realized.

An attractive young Hollywood couple tour the Walt Disney Studios in the fifties. Thankfully, it provided an inside tour for me as well.

An attractive young Hollywood couple tour the Walt Disney Studios in the fifties. Thankfully, it provided an inside tour for me as well.

Man's World

What were we doing back in 1957? We were hard at work crafting Walt Disney’s most ambitous animated motion picture, “Sleeping Beauty” and reading Playboy magazine. Has Playboy been around that long, you ask? I guess it has. As I recall, there were copies all over the studio back then. Hardly a concern for Human Resources because there was no Human Resources back in the fifties. What would be considered a “hostile work place” today was simply taken in stride. It was the era that slightly preceeded the years that the television show, “Mad Men” would one day examine. Smoking, drinking and other office hanky-panky would be considered quite normal in the fifties. It was truly another time and another world.

I’ve often spoken about the number of young women working in animation back in the fifties. Today, we continue to hear the same names over and over again. Certainly, the amazing talents of Mary Blair, Retta Scott and others should not be ignored. However, there were scores of women artists working in the Animation Building back in the fifties. And, not just in animation, although animation could boast the largest number. I would venture to guess women would have probably played a larger role in Disney animation had it not been for the Sleeping Beauty layoffs. When the massive Sleeping Beauty staff was decimated in late 1959, many men and women left Walt Disney Productions never to return. Had things been different, I would wager many of these talented young women would have eventually climbed the ladder to more important positions. We’ll never know, of course. The late fifties layoffs put an abrupt end to the artistic growth at the Disney Studio. Growth, in terms of staff in any case. It would be at least another two decades before we would see female artists return to the Walt Disney Studio in significent numbers.

Back in 1957 the chances were pretty good you could be having your Sleeping Beauty drawings checked by a woman. As I said, there were a fair number of female assistant animators assigned to the film. It would appear that women, along with their ability to focus on intricate detail were perfect for a motion picture as complex as “Sleeping Beauty.” Male artists frustrated with drawings where the weight of an eyelash was considered important often deferred to the skill and patience of their female colleagues. After all, “Sleeping Beauty” had been the most intricate and detailed film we had ever done. It was an animated motion picture perfectly suited to the unique sensibilities inherent in most women artists. I hope this is not coming off as sounding sexist. The woman were just darn good at doing this job, and Directing Animator, Marc Davis was grateful to have women such as, Mary Anderson, Fran Marr and Doris Collins following him as he animated Briar Rose.

As I said, it was another world at the Walt Disney Studio back in 1957. While many might say it was a “Man’s World” back then, I might quickly add that it was a man’s world where women played a very important role.

Young Rick Gonzales and Floyd take a break from their chores on Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Young Rick Gonzales and Floyd take a break from their chores on Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Floyd and the Fiat

Okay, in case you're wondering why I haven't been posting lately it's because I've been trying to solve an issue with our new Fiat 500. I'm not complaining, mind you. It's just that solving auto problems (and that includes most vehicles) tends to be a rather daunting task. And, it often tends to take up most of ones day. Anyway, please excuse my recent absence. I'll be back posting again soon.

In the meantime, I'll let you know I've nothing against the little Italian "clown car." In many ways it's a lot of fun to drive and you can darn near park it anywhere. Heck, I can fit into a motorcycle space. A few weeks ago, I zipped into a tiny parking spot at our local farmers market in Pasadena and had a gentleman shout at me, "Your cars too small!" While it doesn't have the power and pep of a high performance car, I can still manage to get out of the way of California's Road Warriors who make the drive from Pasadena to Glendale each day.

Anyway, it's not over yet. I'll be heading back to the dealership tomorrow in the hope of resolving my current problem. I'll finish with one last funny story. While looking for the Fiat dealership this morning I mistakenly made a wrong turn into a Mercedes Benz dealership. I quickly realized my mistake as I gawked at the "service garage." It looked like the lobby of an elegant Las Vegas hotel. I wouldn't have been surprised if the mechanics had been dressed in tuxedos. Anyway, I made my exit with zeal and alacrity. After all, driving into a Mercedes dealership in a Fiat is the kind of thing that could land one in jail.

Floyd in the Fiat 500. And, he's not even Italian.

Floyd in the Fiat 500. And, he's not even Italian.

Ralph McQuarrie

It was my first day at Art Center College of Design and I dumped my armload of art supplies at an empty drawing seat in the middle of the large classroom. This was a Life Drawing class and I had never sketched a nude model before. Plus, I was naturally intimidated by all the superior drawing talent surrounding me. I was just a dumb kid out of high school, while many of my fellow students were a good deal older having recently returned from military service. The shy young man seated next to me was very helpful and encouraging as I tried to navigate my way around art school that first day. Quiet and mild mannered, he was also one hell of an artist. Why was he even in school, I wondered? He was already so damn talented. 

George Lucas invented the Star Wars universe, but illustrator, Ralph McQuarrie visualized the world for the young writer-directer. Of course, McQuarrie did it for the rest of us as well. When I first saw Ralph’s inspired production paintings and color comps back in 1996 I was totally blown away. Like many of my fellow Art Center students, I had followed Ralph McQuarrie’s career after he left school. Initially, Ralph found work doing technical illustration for aircraft companies because he excelled at doing beautiful paintings of air craft and futuristic vehicles. However, McQuarrie had a rich imagination and was capable of doing far more than the usual technical assignments. When his path crossed with writer-director, George Lucas in the early development of “Star Wars,” it was a match made in heaven. Or, at least - in deep space.

Today, the images from the mind of Ralph McQuarrie have become iconic, and what Star Wars geeks hasn’t marveled at his magnificent work. Obi Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, the awesome Star Ships and the Death Star all emanated from Ralph’s brilliant illustrations and were later realized on film by the George Lucas special effects team. However, it all began with Ralph Macquarrie. Sadly, my old pal, Ralph McQuarrie has since left us. I’ll always be grateful I was able to send him a final video greeting before his passing. I was well aware he was battling heath issues and I wished him the best. I also told him how proud I was to be a fellow student and a friend. So much of the Star Wars universe is Ralph McQuarrie's creation. It’s good to know it will continue to be enjoyed by generations of Star Wars fans in the years to come.

Illustrator, Ralph Macquarrie hard at work creating the Star Wars universe.

Illustrator, Ralph Macquarrie hard at work creating the Star Wars universe.