No, he wasn’t the President but he did share the same first and last name of our nineteen sixties Commander in Chief. John Kennedy is probably a Disney animator you’ve never even heard of. However, if you check the screen credits of the Walt Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, you’ll see his name listed along with the character animators. As you can imagine, scoring a credit on this very important Walt Disney film was hardly small potatoes. Today, animators still lament about being snubbed on the credit list of the prestigious Walt Disney animated feature film.
However, Sleeping Beauty was yesterday’s news as we worked away on a new animated feature. Directing animator, Ward Kimball had moved upstairs to 2-C so John Kennedy moved into Ward’s vacated office in prestigious D-Wing. I was a relative newcomer to the wing that was the home of Walt’s finest, and most of us kids were extremely respectful of the artists who inhabited the already legendary office space. Actually, I think we feared the old guys. After all, they were the masters who created the movies we saw as kids. Because of their stature, we were reluctant to engage in conversation with the likes of Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas or Eric Larson. However, one of the old animators in the wing didn’t mind hanging out with the kids. Clearly, we were surprised when the silver haired veteran began joining us for coffee. John Kennedy had animated on Sleeping Beauty and that alone made him a very special person in our eyes. Surprisingly, Kennedy seemed to downplay his contribution to the Disney classic and his unexpected humility impressed all of us. While the animation master appreciated his job at the Walt Disney Studio he never saw it as the end all and be all of artistic life. For many, the role of Disney animator was a hard won, crowning achievment. Kennedy simply saw it as it as another art job that provided a pretty good living. For a period lasting two years or more, the aging animation veteran spoke with us on a daily basis. Of course the topics of conversation included art, music, history and philsophy. Naturally, being at the Walt Disney Studio meant we often spoke of old Hollywood and the stars of years past. Old films were difficult to come by in those days and kids like us knew little of silent film making and Hollywood of the twenties and thirties. John Kennedy was a true movie buff and he provided a wealth of knowledge of a Hollywood we never knew. He invited us to learn about stars such as Mabel Normand and Francis X. Bushman, whose grandson, Bruce was working down the hall from us in E-Wing. Such were the fun topics of discussion in those days.
I regret that todays kids don’t have “old timers” to chat with. Most companies are more than eager to move out the old and make room for the new. Guys like John Kennedy were more than just animation mentors. They taught us about life, living and what it means to grow older. I doubt you’ll gain such insights from people your own age. It takes a few years of living before you actually know a thing or two. John Kennedy often spoke of retirement and a move south of the border. He knew his retirement dollars would stretch a good deal farther in Mexico. Having visited some years earlier he looked forward to finally returning and settling down in his own hacienda. I would like to think that John Kennedy realized his dream. I can see him sitting now with a cool drink in his hand. Young school children gather round as he regales them with stories of movies, magic and the special place he worked called the Walt Disney Studio.