What’s this vintage black & white photograph on my desktop? And, who are these two guys sharing sunflower seeds during break time at the Walt Disney Studios? I took this photograph in the summer of 1960 after we had completed the latest Walt Disney feature animated film, “101 Dalmatians.” It was hardly my intention to document history this day. Mainly, I was testing my new Nikon 35mm camera that I had purchased on a recent trip to Japan. Break time at the Walt Disney Studios seemed a good a time as any.
So, what was life like back in the nineteen sixties? And what was the mood of the Walt Disney Studios after the completion of the latest animated film and another painful employee downsizing? Those of us who had managed to dodge a bullet and once again escape another round of layoffs could thank our lucky stars. This recent cutback sent a number of Walt Disney Studio veterans packing, and I couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt that I had somehow survived. Many of the talented gentlemen were friends and all had contributed to the Disney classics. Now, because of economic issues in the industry and belt-tightening at the studio they were without a job.
The gentleman on the left is Art Stevens, a talented animator and a veteran of many Disney motion pictures. That’s his assistant on the right dipping into the bag of sunflower seeds. His name is Chuck Williams. All of us had recently wrapped up our chores on the latest animated feature, and were busy at work completing a short animated cartoon before moving on to our next feature assignment. I had been working over in 1-A where I shared an office with my pal, Burny Mattinson. Chuck had already moved to 1-B where he would begin his new assignment in a few weeks. It was a quiet weekday morning, and Art and Chuck pondered the future as they munched sunflower seeds and enjoyed the fifteen minute break.
We didn’t have email in those days, so we waited patiently for the telephone to ring. The expected call would more than likely be our boss, Andy Engman who would inform us concerning our next Disney assignment. Not long after this picture was taken I received my call and my next assignment. Hardly a surprise, I learned the next motion picture would be the Bill Peet adaptation of T.H. White’s novel, “The Sword in the Stone.” However, the following bit of information was unexpected. Andy Engman said I would be moving to D-wing where I would be assisting the legendary directing animator, Milt Kahl. Apparently, Andy didn’t anticipate the silence on the other end of the line and he thought the connection had been lost. That was not the reason, however. You see, after learning that I would now be assisting one of Disney’s “scariest animators,” I was speechless. In time, I mumbled a few words, hung up the phone and began to pack up my office. It was the summer of 1960 and a new adventure was about to begin.