One afternoon our fearless leader called us into his office for a big deal meeting. It seemed the big boss, Michael Eisner was eager to make the move into television. Saturday Morning Television, to be exact. However, Disney had no television unit to make cartoons for the small screen. We were given an assignment none of us wanted. In addition to our regular assignments we were asked to develop two new television shows for the mouse house. The show choices had already been made and someone was needed to develop the hot new projects. I still remember our boss, Don McLoughlin saying, “we can’t pay you for this work. Perhaps we’ll give you a pocket radio or something.” No joke. Those were the actual words of the Disney executive.
And, that’s how we began development on “The Wuzzles” and the “Gummi Bears.” Apparently, deals were already in place with toy companies and the like. We created and designed the characters, the environments and even wrote several scripts to kick things off. In time, Disney needed someone to helm the new TV unit so they interviewed a number of guys we knew from the television cartoon business. Gerald Baldwin and George Singer were contenders. However, Disney eventually settled on our old pal, Michael Webster to run the new group. I joked that Michael was perfect for the job. He was tall, blonde and had a strong chin. It was almost as if he had been designed by Disney animator, Milt Kahl. I knew Michael had the job. He totally fit the Disney image. Suddenly, The Walt Disney Company had a brand new television unit and it would go on to become very successful generating millions of dollars in revenues. However, the “comics guys” who developed these shows were not given even a mention. It was as though we never existed. Disney’s Comic book department was the launching pad for Disney’s Television Group but you’ll never read about it in what has since become Disney’s revisionist history.
One day, we received notice that we would be moving off the Walt Disney Studio lot to a Burbank high rise. This was grim news for most of us. The Disney campus had been our home for decades. creating Disney art in a high rise just felt wrong. Office buildings were for lawyers, accountants and people of that ilk. Hardly the place to create Disney magic. Reluctantly, we packed up our stuff and relocated to the 28th floor of the Tower Building in Burbank. There was one bright note, however. A tall, gaunt bearded man occupied the floor below and he invited us down to his office for a visit and a tour. Honestly, he was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met and his unexpected passing took a little more joy out of our lives. I’m sure you know the Muppet creator. His name was, Jim Henson.
More to come.