Working for the Women

My dear friend, Ramona tells this cute story about her mom and dad at mid-century Walt Disney Studios. Back in the fifties we were all a group of young animation apprentices learning our way in the cartoon world. Having passed our intitial test and training, all of us young artists were moved into a large office in 1F-1. This would be our home as we provided inbetweens for Walt Disney’s animation department. The boys were considered an animation “secretarial pool” and we made ourselves available to any of the animation units that had need of our services. Naturally, we never knew what the next assignment would be. It might be drawing Jiminy Cricket for the Mickey Mouse Club, or an animated segment for the TV show, “Disneyland.” Since Disney was still doing cartoon shorts at the time, our assignment might be inbetweening Donald Duck drawings or the little chipmunks, Chip and Dale. On rare occasions (and it was rare indeed) we might even be loaned out to work on the feature film currently in production. It is on this particular Disney animated feature film is where our story begins.

A young man named, Ruben was sent to D-Wing to pick up animated drawings that needed inbetweening on “Sleeping Beauty.” After completing what seemed like a rather routine assignment, the young artist returned to D-Wing and presented his finished drawings to the attractive young animation artist who would be checking his work. The young woman carefully examined each drawing and when she had finished this task, she took the entire handful of drawings and tossed them into the trash. Picking up her pencil, she proceeded to lecture young Ruben on how to do a proper animation inbetween. Naturally, this Disney story has a happy ending. In time, Ruben learned how to do a respectable inbetween and the two young Disney artists learned they had more in common than merely “Sleeping Beauty” drawings. They fell in love and eventually married. You’ve probably already guessed the young couple was Ramona’s parents, Ruben and Doris. Two of my dearest friends in the animation business.

However, Ruben wasn’t the only Disney animation artist who experienced the wrath of these talented young women toiling away on Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” I’ll have you know I was dressed down myself on any number of occasions for doing less than spectacular work. As you can imagine, the standards on the animated feature film was even higher than the rest of the cartoon work being done at Disney back in the mid-fifites. You had to be good to work on the Disney cartoons, to be sure. Yet, the work on the feature film was even more demanding. It’s interesting that the Walt Disney Studio has often been pictured as a man’s world back in the fifties with women relegated to a minor role in the animation department. If you belived that, you’d be wrong. More often than not, we young animation artists took the heat from many of the talented young women who maintained the high standards of Disney animation.

It’s been over fifty years since I reluctantly knocked on the door of 1D-2 and handed my meager animation drawings to three talented young women and hoped for their approval. I still remember Marc Davis working in the room next door, and the irracible Milt Kahl a few doors down the hall. Master animator, Ollie Johnston occupied the corner office to the right and Frank Thomas was down the hall from Ollie. It was the hallowed halls of D-wing, and you couldn’t help but feel you had entered a very special space. A space where Disney magic was being created on a daily basis by some of the most talented artists in the business. And, even if your less than perfect drawings ended up in the trash, you could still feel grateful that you were receiving the finest animation art instruction in the world.

It's  mid-century Disney, and we animation artists were eagerly seeking approval from these talented young women while working on "Sleeping Beauty."

It's  mid-century Disney, and we animation artists were eagerly seeking approval from these talented young women while working on "Sleeping Beauty."