Monday, January 20, 1958 was a pretty exciting day. That’s the morning I received this inter-office communication slip inviting me to a screening of our latest Walt Disney feature animated film, “Sleeping Beauty.” Please take note. This wasn’t an email I received. It was an inter-office communication slip delivered by hand by a young man or woman who worked in, “traffic.” They were our messengers. They were our “email” back in 1958 when the world was a simpler, less stressful place. There would be a knock on your office door (yes, we had private offices back then) and a young man or woman would hand you an envelope. The message in this particular envelope was an invitation to studio screening of our latest film still in production. Remember, not everyone was invited to the screening, and getting this personal message was always a pretty big deal.
You’ll note the screening is for the very next day. Tuesday, January 21st 1958. Many of those invited will be getting their first time look at Walt Disney’s latest animated motion picture. An animated film still in the early stages of production. As you can imagine, the studio buzz was off the charts and most of us animation newbies were giddy with anticipation. What would we see on Tuesday morning? How much of the film had moved into animation and would there be any scenes in color? Had you been an employee of Walt Disney’s animation department back in 1958 I can only described this as a Disney version of Christmas Eve, and I do not exaggerate when I say many of us would have difficulty sleeping that night.
Why wouldn’t the screening be early the next morning, you might ask? Well, there was an early morning screening of “Sleeping Beauty” but that particular screening was for Walt Disney and many of the key people working on the film. Present for that screening would be the art directors, Ken Anderson, Eyvind Earle, Don Dagradi, Tom Oreb and a handful of others. The directing animators were in attendance. Marc Davis, Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbury would be there. If you notice a few missing names, it’s because guys like Ward Kimball were busy working on other projects. Supervising director, Gerry Geronimi and his directing team consisting of Eric Larson, Les Clark and Woolie Reitherman were at the helm. Naturally, we wondered about the 3rd floor post mortem. Was Walt happy with the film? Did he feel the money and time lavished on the movie was worth it? None of us “lower level” employees would be privy to such information, and we couldn’t help but wonder what a meeting with Walt Disney would be like.
Finally, it was almost 2:00 p.m. and a sizable group of mostly young men and women made their way to the third floor of the Animation Building and the screening room designated, 3E-11. It was a large screening room with theater seats and ample leg room. We knew that Walt Disney and “the boys” had met earlier in 3E-12, a screening room a few steps down the hall. That room had KEM Weber lounge chairs and ash trays. Clearly, it was a room for “big shots”only. We knew there was little chance we would ever sit with Walt Disney in that special screening room. Finally, our supervisor, Ken Peterson stepped forward to give a few remarks about the motion picture we eagerly anticipated. There was still a great deal of work to be done on “Sleeping Beauty,” and it would be our job to rise to the task of getting this massive animated enterprise through production. Ken reminded us it was going to be hard work and would require long hours. However, at the end it would all be worth it because this particular Walt Disney animated motion picture was going to be a masterpiece and each and every one of us would one day have the pleasure of bragging we worked on this movie. With his remarks ended, Peterson stepped toward the back of the room. The lights in screening room began to dim, and a hush settled over the crowded room. We could hear the faint whirr of the 70mm projector as the film began to move through the gate. The familiar sight of Academy Leader appeared onscreen and the count down began. Seven, six, five, four, three, two…Sync pop!
The screen began to glow and the first image of Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” magically appeared. At that moment we knew our lives would never be the same.