If I were writing a bio, I’d probably be telling stories like this. Stories about my early life growing up in Santa Barbara. I’ve always believed in hard work. I learned my work ethic from my grandparents, John and Emma Davis. They were amazingly resilient and resourceful especially considering the social conditions in America at the time. Once they arrived in Santa Barbara in the twenties they set about doing whatever they could to earn a living and better their lives. My grandparents began by cleaning the homes of the wealthy townsfolk. It didn’t take long before they were able to purchase property and build their own home. Later, they opened the Davis Hand Laundry and took in washing in the rear of their home. In time, my enterprising grandparents opened a restaurant called The Deluxe Southern Kitchen. They worked, they saved, and they invested. In so doing, they taught me the value of work and I’ve never forgotten it.
I’m amazed at todays young people who have absolutely no idea what they plan to do with their lives. I’ve always known what I wanted out of life. Plus, there were so many things that fascinated me I could have chosen any number of careers. Of course, number one was always art. I knew I wanted to be an artist. When I was a young kid I remember lying on the floor in my grandmother’s living room looking at a magazine. I was too young to read so I asked my grandmother to tell me the name of the familiar signature next to the artwork. I’ll never forget hearing the name Walt Disney. A name that would have a profound affect on the rest of my life. Once in middle school I had a choice of going to study hall or the library. It was an easy choice. The library was a treasure trove. A space filled with books. Could I possibly make another choice? The quiet spring afternoons in our middle school library helped shape my life. I learned so many things and I fell in love with many of them. One day, I happened across a book on motion pictures. It told how movies were made and it detailed the entire filmmaking process. I found it fascinating. I had been a moviegoer all my young life but now something clicked inside my head and I realized I wanted to make movies. In truth, I became totally obsessed with the idea of telling stories using the medium of film. It was a passion I would never lose. Of course, I would need a movie camera and I couldn’t afford to buy one. I knew my parents didn’t have the money to waste on such foolishness, so, I went to my grandmother with a plan. Emma Davis was an amazing woman in many ways, but she also displayed incredible vision. It was as though she saw my future even before I did. My grandmother made it possible for me to buy my first 16mm movie camera (the film resolution was better than the crappy 8mm) and even helped me build my animation camera stand to photograph my cartoon art frame by frame. Who would have thought that a Mississippi grandmother would understand the quirky business of cartoon making and help me launch my career in animated film production?
My film making ventures continued into Santa Barbara high school where I suggested our class make a documentary film as part of our civics course. Of course, it was my scheme to get the school to finance our movie. Our short student film had a very long title. “An Exchange Student in an American High School” and it detailed the arrival of European students visiting America for the first time. The motion picture was completed on budget and on schedule. All the students involved in the making of the film had a grand time working as script writers, set designers, photographers and editors. Once I graduated from Santa Barbara High School there was little doubt I would be headed for Hollywood where I would one day produce my own documentaries. Much time has passed since my youthful days in Santa Barbara. I’ve spent a career making films for Walt Disney Studios and others. A good many films were developed in our own company, Vignette Films, Inc. Every job proved to be a learning experience and in my book there’s nothing better than that.
Today, I’m on the road sharing my own documentary and intently wondering if our little film will be shortlisted for the Academy Awards. Of course, we’re the under dogs and our chances are slim when you consider we’re playing against the “big boys.” But, in Hollywood you just never know. In any case, it’s been a fun ride and it’s nice to have a motion picture celebrate my life. Because, after all…it was a celebration that lasted 81 years and you can’t do better than that.