If you had visited Walt Disney Productions back in the fifties you would have noticed special development units up on the second and third floors devoted to creating projects for television. Now that the Old Maestro had a weekly television show on ABC there was a constant need for fresh material. The old feature film veterans Wilfred Jackson, Les Clark and Gerry Geronimi were headed for retirement but Walt decided to find other things to keep his directors busy.
Among the television units upstairs was the group in 2-D headed by Ward Kimball. Kimball had recently completed a successful series on space travel and an hour long special devoted to highways of the future. What might be next on Kimball’s agenda you might have wondered? Well, I decided to sneak upstairs and get a peek at the possible upcoming projects. First on the list was a fascinating little examination of wardrobe entitled, “Clothes Make the Man.” I’ll admit the idea sounded intriguing. After all, how men and women have covered their bodies and adorned themselves over the centuries can reveal a lot. Plus, given Ward Kimball’s remarkable ability to fold humor into his storytelling made this sound like a perfect fit for the iconoclastic animator turned writer-director. Speaking of clothing, we might pause to remember how people dressed back in the fifties and sixties. If you’ve been watching retro television shows such as, “Mad Men” you already know that men and women of decades past attired themselves differently from our fashion style today. Women came to work wearing hose and heels. Dresses and skirts were required and jeans would never be considered in the workplace. Unlike today, where animators slouch into work in T-shirts and jeans, Disney animators could easily be mistaken for bankers. It was not unusual to see a senior animator smartly dressed in a three piece suit. Perhaps this explains why Ward Kimball adopted his own very special dress code. By the fifties, Kimball often wore large owlish glasses. His shirt, jacket and trousers were a conflicting pattern of plaid and stripes. It was as though Kimball was thumbing his nose at his well dressed colleagues by adopting the most outrageous wardrobe one could imagine. Walt Disney’s selection of Ward Kimball to do a television special on clothing was clearly an inspired choice.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. “Clothes Make the Man” along with several other exciting new projects were set aside. Ward Kimball’s new motion picture would continue the Space/ Science series and examine the amazing new rocket being developing by America’s space program. It was called “Project Vanguard” and even as Kimball’s team prepared the new motion picture, the Vanguard rocket was being prepared for launch. Keep in mind, we’re talking about the space race here and the Soviets had already launched “Sputnik.” Now, it was our turn to show how it’s done. If you know your history you already know what happened next. The Vanguard rocket exploded into flames on the launchpad and director, Ward Kimball hung a black wreath on the Vanguard storyboards. It was now the sixties, and Ward Kimball and crew prepared another project much larger in scope. It would be a Walt Disney live-action musical motion picture and Ward Kimball was set to direct. However, there was another setback for the second floor creative unit when Walt Disney replaced Kimball as director. The film continued, but the Ward Kimball unit was dismantled. That meant the amazing slate of upcoming Kimball projects would never be realized.
Finally, the “Babes in Toyland” debacle is a whole story in itself. Why Ward Kimball and his amazing team were removed from that Walt Disney project is another whole story in itself. We’ll talk about that remarkable story another day.