Somebody brought up the name of character actor, Karl Swenson the other day. I immediately knew the name sounded familiar. Who was Karl Swenson? He was the voice of the wizard, Merlin in Walt Disney's “The Sword in the Stone.”
The early sixties was an interesting time. We had just made it through another painful downsizing of the animation department, and since we were in-between features I had been working on shorts. One morning my boss, Andy Engman called me into his office. “We're moving you to D-Wing,” Andy smiled. “You're gonna be working with Milt on "Sword in the Stone.” Naturally, a chill suddenly went up my spine. Clearly, Andy was referring to the Master Animator and “Dragon of D-Wing,” Milt Kahl. They must have gotten rid of all the good assistants, I thought to myself.
The image below is one of the early scenes I cleaned up for Kahl. Actually, we called it, “touch up.” We were going through a change at Disney Animation and the animators actually favored it. No longer would assistant animators use a clean sheet of paper over the animator's rough. Now, you would draw on the animator's drawing itself. That means I would actually be “touching up” over Milt Kahl's originals. Just the thought of touching Milt Kahl's drawings struck fear in my heart.
Okay, maybe I didn't suck as much as I thought. Milt Kahl never called me on the carpet for screwing up his scenes and our relationship throughout the film was better than I could ever have imagined. The grumpy Directing Animator turned out to be a good pal and even included my name on his private mailing list. I still remember Milt Kahl waving at me from his jazzy sports car as he tooled past me in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles where the animator had his first home.
Looking back on this scene of Wart, Archimedes and Merlin brings back wonderful memories. Once again things felt good at the studio and Walt Disney still walked the halls of his Animation Building. Upstairs on the second floor, Walt Peregoy was practically painting the entire film by himself as he turned out background after background with amazing speed. Ahead of us were future projects that included “Mary Poppins” and “The Jungle Book.” What would Walt Disney be planning next, we wondered? Honestly, it was a very good time to be at the Walt Disney Studios and we never wanted it to end.