We paid a visit to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank this afternoon. The weather was sunny and mild on this late December day. Employees and their guests scurried about and the Disney Store was swamped with customers. All this activity prompted a few thoughts about another Disney December. Another holiday time many years ago.
You see, things were rather low key back in the sixties. The Walt Disney Studio had already undergone two massive layoffs after the completion of Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians. Disney’s animation staff had once numbered in the hundreds. Now, it felt as though we were a handful of stragglers left over from a massive battle. The battle of course, was the effort to keep animation alive at the Walt Disney Studio. It would appear that economics would play a critical role in that important decision and we continually struggled to prove that animation could be viable. It was a year of hard work cranking out the reams of footage required for the new Walt Disney animated feature.
Now, it was holiday time and the residents of D-wing gathered in the hallway to exchange gifts, laughs and a generous dose of holiday cheer. Key Assistant Animator, Dale Oliver as always, made his holiday glogg. It was a Scandinavian winter drink that mixes wine, port and spices like clove, cardamom and cinnamon to make for a brew that smells divine and tastes even better. However, those who take too many sips of Dale’s holiday brew may find themselves sound asleep in their Kem Webber lounge chairs for the remainder of the afternoon. As the old veterans laughed and joked in the hallway, I couldn’t help count myself as one very lucky guy. Somehow I had managed to survive the layoffs and score a primo job assisting Milt Kahl. As I looked up and down the hallway of D-wing I couldn’t believe the company I was in. These guys were the best Disney had to offer. Milt Kahl, Eric Larson, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery gathered along with assistants, Stan Green, John Roth, Leroy Cross, Burny Mattinson, Al Stetter and many others. Upstairs, the old maestro, Walt Disney roamed the hallways sharing the spirit of the season. On occasion, Walt would stop in at D-wing because of the Nine Old Men. Would he pay a visit this morning, I wondered? Walt had a way of suddenly turning up unexpectedly. In any case, I counted myself lucky this 1960’s Christmas season. If you’re celebrating the holidays, I can’t think of a better place than the Walt Disney Studio.