Working in the Soup Kitchen

I worked on Walt Disney’s masterful first animated motion picture, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” No kidding. I really did. As you probably know, Walt Disney began developing the film back in 1935 and I hadn’t even been born yet. So, how does a guy my age work on a movie that was produced back in the thirties? Hold on, and I’ll tell you how.

It was the fifties and Walt Disney Productions had already launched a weekly television show on ABC. The Old Maestro and his creative staff were busily looking for projects they could exploit. Walt knew his audience delighted in seeing behind the scenes stuff and what goes on in the making of an animated film. Disney’s writers came up with a brilliant idea. Since so much energy and imagination go into the making of an animated film what if we allowed the Disneyland audience to see material that never made it into the finished motion picture? A good example would be “Snow White.” Animator, Ward Kimball had put a good deal of effort into two sequences that never made it into the completed film. One sequence featured the seven dwarfs building Snow White’s bed. However, the material Walt decided to show was the famous soup eating sequence. There was even a delightful song written by composer, Frank Churchill. It was entitled, “The Rhythm in Your Soup.” Even better, the song recorded back in the nineteen thirties was still in the Disney’s vault. Television audiences would finally see an entertaining sequence that had been “hidden” for years.

However, once the unseen footage was pulled from the archive, the Old Maestro had a major concern. The animation was fun and entertaining, but the sketches were clearly loose and rough. Perhaps a little too rough for television audiences not used to viewing rough animation. Walt Disney made the decision to clean up the footage. He wanted the drawings a little tighter, yet not so much as to lose the energy and vitality of the animator’s original drawings. A crew was needed to get the soup eating sequence ready for prime time.

The year was 1956, and a group of young animation apprentices had just been hired. Having completed their thirty days of training, the young animation trainees were moved into a large room in 1-F, on the first floor of the Animation Building. I was one of those young trainees and our first assignment was to clean-up the rough sketches in Ward Kimball’s soup eating sequence. You can imagine how surprised we were when given the original animated scenes from Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” If was if we were suddenly touching history. These were drawings made before some of us were even born, and now it was our responsibility to prepare these amazing scenes for their debut on network television. Perhaps some of you have seen the program where Walt Disney introduces the famous sequence and presents the unseen material for the first time. As you can imagine, it was an assignment we’ll never forget. Especially because we were just getting our feet wet as young Disney artists beginning our careers in the cartoon business. And that, boys and girls is how I ended up working on Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Ward Kimball's famous soup eating sequence cut from Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I worked on this sequence back in the fifties - not in the thirties. I'm old, but not that old.

Ward Kimball's famous soup eating sequence cut from Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I worked on this sequence back in the fifties - not in the thirties. I'm old, but not that old.