The Departure of Ward Kimball

While we're waiting for the Ward Kimball biography to happen let's take a moment to talk about my favorite Disney Legend. I remember a conversation with Ward's son, John not long ago. We spoke about the amazing diary his dad kept and the stories it contained. I can imagine many of these insights were going to be revealed in the Kimball biography. Regretfully, that book has been delayed and now it's anyone's guess how long it will be before we'll have the opportunity to read this long awaited book. I still remember the day I learned of Ward Kimball's retirement from the Walt Disney Studio. The word hit like a ton of bricks. Somehow, it just didn't seem right that Kimball would leave the Disney Company. Sadly, since that time I've gotten used to several Disney icons suddenly departing the studio. However, back then we rushed upstairs for an explanation. The answer was simple. Kimball said the job just wasn’t fun anymore and he had made up his mind. You would have thought the studio would have begged him to stay, but such was not the case. It would appear that before long all the legendary artists and animators would be gone. And, the fact they’d given their talent and energy to the studio over the years hardly seemed to matter. However, I digress.

Back in the seventies, Ward Kimball had moved his unit to A-wing on the second floor of the Animation Building. There, innovation and creativity continued and Kimball's team generated projects that still crackled with fun and imagination. While the rest of the studio grew old and stodgy working on retreads like The Black Cauldron, the Ward Kimball unit still showed signs of creative life. A visit to the second floor was like a breath of fresh air and clever storyboards filled the hallway. Sadly, Ward walked out the door leaving brilliant film ideas behind. Ideas that would languish and eventually die. Once Ward Kimball retired from Disney in 1973 he continued to enjoy and develop his interest in trains. Ward collected trains since he was a boy and he shared the interest with his father and uncle. In 1938, Ward and his wife Betty bought their first, second-hand, full sized steam locomotive from the abandoned Nevada Central Railroad. Among Kimball's collection of full-size trains were a Baldwin coal-burning 2-6-0 (1881), a plantation wood-fired Baldwin 0-4-2T (1883), and a passenger coach. Kimball's railroad hobby was a break from work at the studio, and over time Ward's hobby grew into the Grizzly Flats Railroad. Believe it not the engine house was located right behind his home in San Gabriel.

Though I've enjoyed a love of trains myself, I really wanted to talk about animation when I had Ward Kimball to myself on weekend visits to his daughter, Kelly's Highland Park home. This was back in the sixties and our conversation included everything from animating the crows in Dumbo to Kimball's upcoming stint as a live-action director on Walt Disney's “Babes in Toyland” where Ward would be at the helm of both the live and animated portions of the motion picture. Of course, you Disney buffs know this major role for “Walt's genius” hit a major snag and Ward Kimball was removed as director. That's a pretty big story all by itself and it's a story I'll save for another day.

Disney Legend, Ward Kimball was probably the most fun guy I ever worked for.

Disney Legend, Ward Kimball was probably the most fun guy I ever worked for.