Jiminy Crickets!

“Jiminy Cricket” must have been a popular expression back in the thirties. Did you know that one of the Seven Dwarfs actually says, “jiminy cricket!” in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?” This was years before the Disney Studio completed “Pinocchio.

I found this hand inked and painted cel in a box in my garage. But before you get excited, let me explain that it’s not from Walt Disney’s classic animated film, “Pinocchio.” You see, we did a lot of crickets over the years. Much of the animation was for television. That’s a dead giveaway if you look closely at this cel. Even though the cel is beautifully hand inked and painted it’s no match for one of the original crickets from the Walt Disney feature film which had a more delicate ink line and a softer choice of colors. This is clearly art for a commercial or a segment of The Mickey Mouse Club. By the way, did you know that Cliff Edwards was still voicing the famous cricket as late as the fifties? Though getting on in years, the original voice of Jiminy was as energetic as ever. For some reason, Edwards like to hang around the Animation Building, and we would often see him in the hallways. Maybe the old guy just felt at home at the Disney Studio, and Walt didn’t seem to mind.

Speaking of “Pinocchio,” I was fortunate enough to spend time with another famous voice actor from the Walt Disney movie. Of course, I’m speaking of Pinocchio’s voice, Dick Jones. Sadly, Mr. Jones passed away recently, but I’ll never forget what he told us about working for Walt Disney and doing the voice of the little wooded boy. Decades later, Dick Jones remembers tearing up with each release of the Disney classic. He considered it such a wonderful thing to have been a part of this extraordinary motion picture that continued to bring joy to so many people. To the best of my knowledge, Dick Jones never voiced another cartoon character for the Disney Studio. However, the Disney Legend will always be remembered for “Pinocchio.”

Finally, this animation cel is in pretty good condition considering it was painted many years ago. Of course, by then we were using cel vinyl paint which was more long lasting and resilient than the old Disney water based paint. In any case, it’s pretty cool to see actual artwork you can hold in your hand. It’s a totally different experience from todays cartoon filmmaking where everything is virtual and never truly exists.

Jiminy Cricket makes an appearance in a Disney television commercial. Actually we did quite a few with the famous little guy back in the fifties, sixties and beyond.

Jiminy Cricket makes an appearance in a Disney television commercial. Actually we did quite a few with the famous little guy back in the fifties, sixties and beyond.

It's Been Sixty Years!

Sixty years ago the amazing new medium of television introduced a magical new weekly series called Disneyland. Even better, the show was hosted by the man who started it all. If you’re an animation geek like myself, you’ll remember the off camera television announcer say the magic words, “…and now your host, Walt Disney.” Wednesday night would never be the same.

And, so began an exciting journey inside Walt Disney’s magic factory where the Old Maestro himself would share his special secrets with the television audience. Of course, it was a network television show watched by millions, but all of us felt we were getting the inside scoop from Walt Disney himself as he took us on a private tour of his studio and the exciting projects that were yet to come. Perhaps this might seem strange, but back in the fifties not every family had a television set. I was lucky enough to have a neighbor who did, and they graciously invited me into their living room to watch the Disney show. Remember, I was just a kid in school and this was many years ago. Disneyland had not yet opened its gates and Walt Disney was eager to introduce us to this bold, innovative new theme park. It would be an attraction like no other. Plus, Walt had a slate of new movies and television shows, and he gave us a peek at those as well. In many ways, Walt Disney was the ultimate pitchman as he sold us on his bold new ideas. No matter. It may have been a sales pitch but it was also entertaining as heck and we couldn’t get enough of it.

Like most young people with stars in their eyes I couldn’t wait to finish school and apply for a job at the Walt Disney Studios. However, a Disney career was still a long way away as I returned home to complete my homework assignments. Thinking back on that time, I realize the only time I watched television was on Wednesday nights back in the fifties. I sat in my neighbor’s living room and watched Disneyland in glorious black and white. The weekly ABC series was my portal into the land of my dreams. Once a week, I could garner a peek inside the Walt Disney Studio and even have the Old Maestro himself as my guide. As you can imagine, this pilgrimage to my neighbor’s home was the highlight of my week and I never missed a single show. It’s difficult to believe this has been sixty years ago. Since that time, the Disney shows have moved to full color, high resolution and stereo sound. Plus, there are even greater things to come. However, for this Disney veteran, all of this stuff will never surpass the magic of those early black and white days with its analog television images and crummy reception. We were simply a group of dazzled kids with stars in our eyes and the dream of one day working for the most incredible, magical company on planet earth.

Walt Disney hosts his television show, Disneyland. It's been sixty years since the show hit the air.

Walt Disney hosts his television show, Disneyland. It's been sixty years since the show hit the air.

Designing the Future

This is animator, director Ward Kimball. The Disney artist has put aside his zany demeanor to adopt a more serious persona as he begins a lecture on space exploration. Kimball’s “office” is actually on a sound stage on the Walt Disney Studio lot and this is the first season of the ABC television program Disneyland. As you can imagine, I was in geek heaven back then. I was able to indulge two of my passions. Disney filmmaking and space exploration. For this Disney geek it doesn’t get much better than this.

You might be surprise to know how much the Walt Disney Studio was into space travel back in the fifties. Long before NASA, Walt Disney decided to set up a unit that would deal with space travel and extraterrestrial life. Walt also knew that the quirky artist, Ward Kimball would be uniquely qualified to helm the unit. This is the multi-stage rocket ship that was featured in Walt Disney’s first science television show, “Man in Space.” The show was such a success that other space epics would follow. The shows would utilize both animation and live-action and some of the most advanced special effects for its day. In fact, visual effects expert, Con Pederson would later leave to work for Stanley Kubrick on "2001."  If you were lucky enough to score a visit to the second floor Space Unit in the Animation Building you were in for a surprise. Ward Kimball’s unit had more the appearance of a top government scientific development facility than a cartoon studio. Storyboards, graphs and scientific schematics filled the hallways and even the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower requested a viewing of Disney’s film.

It’s not difficult to notice how close Walt Disney was to the creation of what we now know as the Space Shuttle Program. As always, Walt Disney was out there ahead of everyone else, and that even includes the government of the United States. Had Walt Disney not been taken from us in 1966 one can only imagine what the Old Maestro might have accomplished.

Disney animator, Ward Kimball prepares to give his lecture on space exploration on the ABC television program Disneyland.

Disney animator, Ward Kimball prepares to give his lecture on space exploration on the ABC television program Disneyland.