Looking Back

It’s often easy to think of the Walt Disney Studio as nirvana. The Disney Company was not perfect, but it was surprisingly free of racial problems. The prejudice that’s often found in society was absent at Disney where people were more concern about one’s creative ability than the color of their skin. The artists were diverse. They were White, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern, Asian and Jewish. What mattered to Walt Disney was their artistic ability, and I get really steamed when I hear Walt Disney labeled a racist or anti-semite by clueless critics. I was lucky enough to find myself in Disney’s coveted story department in 1966 because Walt wanted a revamp of the screen story on “The Jungle Book.” Suddenly, I found myself in meetings with the grand old man himself. This was pretty heady stuff for a young kid. I was still in my twenties at the time and the move to writing was totally unexpected. In the future, I would find myself less of an artist, and more of a writer.

After the passing of Walt Disney in 1966, it was time for another career move. I joined my partners, Norman Edlen, Richard Allen and Leo Sullivan to form a motion picture production company. The company was, “Vignette Films, Inc.,” and we produced educational movies on African American History along with other subjects. Even though this was the sixties, I confess I was often annoyed by being referred to as, “the black studio.” My pal, Bill Melendez had a studio but it was never called the Latino company. Victor Haboush had a studio, but nobody called it the Lebanese company, and Filmation was never given the title of Jewish cartoon studio. Finally, I wondered why we were called black when the majority of our employees were white?

I’ve been given many awards during my career, and while I graciously accept the honors, the awards have never meant much to me. They’re just trophies and trinkets on a shelf. What’s truly important is the work you do with talented people and the product you create. Hopefully, a product that will stand the test of time. My advice to young people has always been, do what you love. I know it sounds simple - but it’s very important to choose your path wisely. I’m sad when I see people who have wasted their lives, settled for dead end jobs or appear to have no ambition. Our time on this planet is limited, and one has only so much time to accomplish. At age 79, I’m still scrambling to do a number of things because there is still so much left to do. Finally, I would tell young people to follow their dreams. I followed mine and have no regrets. I insist that kids have a goal, a path and a dream. You can’t move forward without it.

Some of the amazing people I've worked with during my long career in the cartoon business.

Some of the amazing people I've worked with during my long career in the cartoon business.