I was lucky enough to be around when many of animation's old timers were still working or attending social occasions. Whenever possible I took the opportunity to sit and talk about the good old days with these industry veterans. We chatted about the early years when life in the cartoon business was simple. Of course, it wasn't always simple even in the good old days. However, there was a free spirit to the cartoon business and most of the artists and filmmakers were young men and women. Back then, creating animated cartoons was hardly considered a real job, and you had to be totally dedicated and perhaps even a little bit crazy to see a future in cartoon making.
These old animation veterans had pretty much seen it all and done it all. Thankfully, they enjoyed sharing their stories with me and my colleagues. I remember many a party where I was privileged to sit with a Disney, Warners or MGM veteran and talk about years past. I found their stories fascinating and wondered why so few of them ever took the time to author a book. Apparently, creating a book is a daunting task. Most would simply reply, “Well, I thought about it, but it never went any further than that.” Sadly, most left this mortal coil without ever putting pen to paper.
Back then, I strolled the streets of Pasadena with a silver haired Disney veteran who was getting on in years. He was a writer and story artist who had been with Walt since the Hyperion days over in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. He often joked about Disney's “barnyard humor” and he remembered Walt's offering him a glass of booze to celebrate the premiere of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” I spoke with another talented director who had to endure a “family feud” during the famous Disney labor action in the nineteen forties. He stood his ground with the Disney strikers while his wife crossed the picket lines to help Disney complete the feature animated film, “Dumbo.” His spouse was loyal to Walt even as her husband picketed outside the studio gates. How his marriage managed to survive that stressful ordeal I'll never know. These incredible stories and more are the fascinating part of this quirky business. Just being able to talk with the men and women who created our animation history has provided enormous insight for this animation old timer.
I guess that's why I consider it a shame that so few of these wonderful stories were ever written down. Of course, we have a fair number of books provided for us over the years that include everything from Robert Field's “Art of Walt Disney” to Bob Thomas' “ Art of Animation.” The later book was written during the production of “Sleeping Beauty” and I watched much of the book take form since art and editorial was created in the animation department offices on the Walt Disney studio lot. On a lighter note there's always Jack Kinney's anecdotal but very funny tome on the early days of Disney and the more comprehensive book on the mouse house by Christopher Finch. Disney’s story master, Bill Peet also authored a book on his Disney days from the Hyperion Studio to his final days working on The Jungle Book. Written and illustrated by Peet, the book is oddly dark considering it was written by a guy who gave audiences so much fun and laughter over the years. Finally, we were blessed with several books authored by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston once the two veterans retired from animation. However, with a renewed interest in animation in recent years, we’ve seen a whole new series of books emerge. Everything from Didier Ghez insightful, “Walt's People” series to Mindy Johnson’s marvelous’ book, “Ink&Paint, the Women of Animation.”
However, we've only scratched the surface. There are so many wonderful stories to tell and I wish more of these talented veterans had taken time to write them down. I think that's what motivated me to write my book on my time at the Walt Disney Studios. No way I'm competing with the books that preceded mine. This is not a competition, after all. The animation business has a rich and varied history and the more we know about it the better. Let’s hope that future authors continue to document this wild and wacky occupation and its rich and funny history.