This is my view as I’m sitting on a park bench outside the Animation Building at the Walt Disney Studio. The year is 2014, but the years long past are still in my head. I shared this bench with a number of Disney friends and colleagues over the years and the first name that comes to mind is famed Disney composer, Oliver Wallace. Ollie and I would sit on this bench at break time and enjoy a pleasant conversation. If you don’t know who Ollie Wallace is I’ll give you a hint. The composer scored dozens of Disney animated short cartoons and feature films. Ollie had a full head of assertive white hair much like the famous orchestra conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Well into his eighties, Ollie Wallace was always a joy to speak with. I also sat on this bench with Kay Silva. Kay was one of the many women working at Disney back in the fifties and one of the many female artists you’ll never read about. As I’ve often said, few people realize how many women worked here and the important role they played in the making of animated films. Kay had a great sense of humor and we would sit and joke as people walked past. Kay was due for open heart surgery back then and she took it all in stride. Sadly, she never survived the operation, but my memories of her remain fresh and clear as if it were yesterday.
As I sit here I suddenly realize behind me is the window of my very first Disney office. Back in February of 1956 a group of young artists were taking their first shot at becoming Disney animators. We would have a month of training before the decision was made to keep us or let us go. The seven young hopefuls were put in a large office in B-Wing, the very same office directly behind me. Of course, there were many Disney artists who occupied 1B-1 over the years. Back in the sixties, Blaine Gibson and Jack Fergis sculpted mermaids for Disneyland in the very same space. In the seventies, the office was the home of Disney Animation Scene Planning and was run by Ruthie Thompson and Bob Ferguson. 102 years of age, Ruthie Thompson is still with us today.
My memories of Disney past is a long time ago and yet it still seems like yesterday. I can even remember the names of my pals and colleagues and the large office we shared. Tom Yakutis, Tom Dagenais, Rick Gonzales, David Michener, Jack Foster, Bob Ray and Stan Chin were my seven comrades hoping for a job at Disney. Luckily, we all made the cut and most of our group stayed in animation the remainder of our careers. Bob Ray didn’t stay at Disney for long and Stan Chin later left for an advertising career in New York. The rest of us managed to do okay. Rick Gonzales became a top character designer at Ruby-Spears and Dave Michener became a story artist, animator and director. Tom Dagenais kept his word and left the drawing board for a writing gig. Tom heard that writers were being paid more than the artists. The very funny, Tom Yakutis even became a professor at a Midwestern university before returning to cartoon world and wrapping up his career at the Walt Disney Studios in the nineties.
As I sit on this park bench I realize much has changed over the past fifty years and the Walt Disney Studio is hardly the same company it was back in 1956. Although animation’s future has never looked more promising, it’s hardly the same business I entered back in the fifties when cartoon making was considered an odd, quirky and unstable profession. However, in 2014 animation has become big time and big business and Disney’s recent movie has already netted over a billion dollars. That’s a good thing, I suppose but somehow I just can’t seem to get excited. I keep remembering the nineteen fifties, Walt Disney and a business that used to be filled with magic instead of money.