The Kimball Unit

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 dedicated to creating projects for television. Now that the Old Maestro had a weekly television show on ABC there was a continual need for fresh material. Walt’s feature film veterans Wilfred Jackson, Les Clark and Gerry Geronimi were headed for retirement but Disney decided to find other projects to keep his directors busy.

Among the creative 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 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 eventually set aside. Ward Kimball’s next project 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 rocket was being prepared for launch. Keep in mind, we’re talking about the Cold War and what was known as the Space Race. The Soviets had already launched “Sputnik” and garnered the attention of the world. Now, the eyes of the world were focused intently on the American Space Program. Instead of soaring to the stars, our space vehicle bit the dust. The Vanguard rocket exploded into flames on the launchpad and the USA was humiliated. Director, Ward Kimball hung a black wreath on the Vanguard storyboards and the Disney space film was given a sad and somber burial.

The new decade of the sixties had begun and Ward Kimball and crew began work on another movie 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 suddenly replaced Kimball as director. The film continued, but the 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 story. A fascinating story we’ll have to discuss another day.

Disney Legend, Ward Kimball back in the sixties. The talented animator eventually slimmed down and never put on that much weight again. Talent wise, he remains a heavyweight.

Disney Legend, Ward Kimball back in the sixties. The talented animator eventually slimmed down and never put on that much weight again. Talent wise, he remains a heavyweight.