I probably know these lovely ladies better than most. I spent nearly two and a half years drawing Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. I had the privilege and pleasure of working with the best in the animation business, and our directing animators were the legendary, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. The directing animators rode herd over a talented team of veteran Disney animators that included guys such as Hal Ambro, Hank Tanous and Hal King. Our team, led by animator, Freddy Hellmich consisted of Chuck Williams, Jim Fletcher, Bob Reese and myself. We were tasked to clean-up the scenes delivered to us by the Good Fairy animators. Freddy went over our scenes drawing by drawing before they were handed to Frank and Ollie who did pretty much the same. Were they tough, you ask? You better believe it. They were damn tough, and I do not exaggerate when I say we often did our scenes at least three times before they were finally approved.
Walt Disney found his finest voice actors often came from radio. Unlike a film star, the only tool a radio actor has is his or her voice. That means actors trained in radio were exceptionally talented when it came to creating a character using only their vocal talents. That’s why Walt Disney choose the famed radio actress, Verna Felton to voice the character of Flora who often took the role as the lead fairy. Verna Felton was a radio veteran who radio listeners knew from the “Red Skelton” radio show and the Fanny Brice show, “Baby Snooks.” She was an amazing actor who could deliver a scary performance as the Queen of Hearts to the warm and delightful Fairy Godmother in Disney’s “Cinderella.” Another talented radio actor was, Barbara Jo Allen who provided the voice of Fauna. Miss Allen had the knack of often playing “ditzy” characters on radio and Walt knew she would be perfect as the often scattered, Fauna. Finally, the voice of cute little Merryweather was performed by Barbara Luddy, who was also a radio veteran. Luddy had a cute, delightful little voice, but she could also be spunky and determined when needed.
While the voice actors did their job, ours was keeping our nose to the grindstone or in this case, the drawing board. As the “Sleeping Beauty” deadline loomed, our teams began to put in overtime hours. The Walt Disney Commissary instituted a night shift to feed the hungry animation staff and keep us working full steam ahead. In spite of all this, our boss, Walt Disney did something exceptional. The Old Maestro set a limit on how late the artists could work. Walt Disney did not want his staff spending all night at the studio. The boss stated that his staffers needed to get home and spend time with their families. They should not work all night at the Walt Disney Studio and be an absent mother or father. Honestly, can you imagine anything like that happening today? Can you imagine the Disney top managers stating their staffers need to spend more time with their family? The world has changed, hasn’t it? And, our priorities have changed as well. This Disney old timer has to confess that we’re all the worse for it.
As a young Disney animation artist, I cut my teeth on this first feature film assignment. Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” was my first animated motion picture and though the work was rigorous, it was never a grind. We put in long hours and we sketched our scenes over and over again until we pleased our bosses and that included the big boss, Walt Disney. It may sound a bit naive, but I’ll confess as I look back on this time with fond memories and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it.