The cool thing about living a long life is not having to make up stories. All the stories I share here actually happened. Sometimes the stories are wacky and zany such as animator, Amby Paliwoda sawing his animation desk into pieces in order to fashion a wooden bass violin. Other stories can border on tragedy, but those are the tales I’d prefer not to tell. After all is said and done, I prefer to focus on events that brought a smile to my face even though the people involved were hardly smiling.
One such event took place in the early sixties when one of Walt Disney’s veteran story men had been given an assignment to develop a feature length animated film. Since we were dealing with cost constraints back then, the Old Maestro instructed his story guy to find a way to tell the story and keep his budget in mind. The story veteran worked in a large office on the second floor of the Animation Building. If you know your Disney history, you might remember this was the wing usually known as “Ham’s Wing.” It was the music room of veteran Disney director, Hamilton Luske. However, this was not one of Ham’s projects, and the story man simply had taken up office space nearby. I often paid an early morning visit to check out the storyboards and the progress of the propose feature length animated film. Office doors were seldom locked in the old Disney days, and one was free to wander about in the early morning hours. The veteran storyteller worked away for several months and eventually the large story room was filled with multiple storyboards all waiting the approval of the Old Maestro, Walt Disney.
If you’ve ever attended a story pitch with Walt Disney you’ll know it’s hardly a day eagerly anticipated. This goes double if you’re the guy on the hot spot and you can’t help feel your entire career hinges on this one meeting. Walt Disney was usually prompt and seldom kept his staffers waiting. He announced his arrival with his characteristic loud cough as he moved down the A-Wing hallway. I wasn’t in the meeting, in case you’re wondering. I was simply in a room nearby because I wanted to know if there was any chance of this project becoming our next animated feature film. The meeting wasn’t long. Only an hour had passed before the door slammed open, and a rather disgruntled Walt Disney stomped out into the hallway and back to his office. Since nobody dared carry a camera in those days, I captured this moment with a cartoon sketch which you can see below. Clearly, the meeting had not gone well, and the feature film idea pitched that morning was given a thumbs down. That’s one of the good things about a Walt Disney meeting. Decisions were always clear cut, and there was seldom any doubt how things had gone. This was an animated motion picture that wouldn’t be moving into production anytime soon.
Was this a career ender for the story man, you might ask? As much as we joke about a bad story meeting ending a storyteller’s career - that seldom happened. The veteran story man (who shall remain nameless) was given a reprieve and moved on to work on another assignment. He continued on at the Walt Disney Studio before announcing his retirement sometime in the seventies. However, I still remember the day Walt Disney stormed out of the storyroom with a sour look on his face. While it’s true it was hardly a good day for the guy giving the pitch, at least it provided me with a funny drawing and a day I doubt I’ll ever forget.