He was my friend, mentor and personal hero. That’s Vance Gerry standing causually in front of his storyboards. I have no idea when this photograph was taken. Seventies, eighties or nineties? It really didn’t matter because Vance always looked pretty much the same whatever decade we were in. Vance had his own personal style. The sweater occasionly worn preppie style and the brown and white saddle shoes. I guess you could say Vance Gerry was pretty much his own man. Those of us who were lucky to know and work with him should be considered pretty darn lucky.
I don’t remember the first time I met Vance. By the time I moved upstairs to work on The Jungle Book, Vance was already a fixture in Woolie’s unit. Although he wasn’t truly one of the old timers, it almost seemed he had been there forever. If I remember correctly, Vance had originally joined Woolie’s unit as a layout man but his abiltiy to tell a story was quickly noticed. Vance soon became a story artist and began developing sequences for the film. He had the unique ability to capture the essense of a sequence and his ideas developed quickly. I loved his storytelling style because he didn’t fuss and fret over a sequence. Vance would put down his ideas in a way that was direct and simple. He seemed the perfect imbodiment of Disney visual storytelling.
In early 1966, I found myself sharing an office with Mr. Gerry. We knew each other but we had never worked together before. To be more precise, I had never done Disney story work before either. I consider myself a very lucky guy to have been partnered with Vance Gerry because he was my first story mentor and set the stage for my view of story throughout the remainder of my career. I honestly believe I gained much of my storytelling style from Vance. He taught me how to approach storytelling. The importance of a clear vision and the importance of “dreaming into a scene.” Most of all, Vance Gerry taught me that storytelling was not rocket science. In a very true sense he taught me to relax and enjoy the work. It’s no big deal, really. It’s only a movie. Being the senior member of our team, it was Vance who had to pitch our boards to Walt Disney. In this case, I was delighted to defer to Mr. Gerry. Clearly, there was nothing more terrifying than pitching to the Old Maestro himself. I had been in my share of story meetings and watched Walt Disney focus his steely glare on the story artist as he made his pitch. Pitching to Walt was not for the faint of heart, but as usual, Vance Gerry took the whole thing in stride. As I said before. Nothing - not even Walt Disney seemed to rattle Vance Gerry.
My storytelling career began back in early 1966 on Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book. I had never done the job before and I honestly have no idea why anyone thought I was qualified to work in Walt Disney’s coveted story department. In any case, Mr. Gerry was there to welcome me that amazing Monday morning when we would begin the rewrite on The Jungle Book. Vance Gerry is gone now. But, I was blessed to have him to guide me through those early terrifying days up in 2-C. I was lucky to have this delightful, talented gentleman as my friend and teacher. Thank you, Vance. Thank you for everything.