Photographs evoke memories of days long past. In this case it’s the Walt Disney Studios in the nineteen sixties. The sixties were a time of transition and uncertainty. And, although we didn’t know it at the time, the Walt Disney Studios was moving toward the end of an era. The old guard was growing older and Walt’s interest in animation seemed to be waining. Yet, life and work continued during this uneasy time. The animation staff was just a shadow of its former self and young animation hopefuls like myself eyed with apprehension, an uncertain future.
Here’s a couple of black&white photographs taken during that interesting time. Perhaps these casual photos give a hint of what the studio was like during those quiet days. The gentleman in the picture below is John Ewing. John was one of the new guys like myself who dreamed of a career in animation. Although animation slots were rare, John would eventually score an animation assignment on the forthcoming production “The Jungle Book.” Mentored by master animator, John Lounsbery, Mr. Ewing showed great promise and we were all delighted by his promotion to, animator. Surprisingly, John Ewing abruptly ended his career at the Walt Disney Studio and moved to New Zealand were he ran his own animation company. Years later, his son, Sam Ewing would follow in his dad’s footsteps and land an animation job at Disney’s Florida animation facility. I still remember John Ewing’s sudden departure from the Burbank mouse house. I drew a funny goodbye card that everyone in the animation department signed. There was added icing on the cake. The card wishing John goodbye was even signed by Walt Disney himself.
There are interesting stories behind the talented young men in the above photograph as well. The guy at the top is Paul “Buzz” Fortney. Everyone has a different path to Disney’s animation department, and Paul Fortney was a monorail driver before making the move from Anaheim to Burbank. Tall, with dark good looks, Paul personified the typical sixties heartthrob. Plus, having the nickname, “Buzz,” guaranteed he was a pretty cool dude. The young lad at the drawing board is Marshall Horton. Marshall’s dad worked in Disney’s insurance department back in the sixties and young Marshall eagerly sought a job in the animation department. We welcomed Marshall into our little coffee group where some of the older guys like animator, John Kennedy would regale us with tales of early Hollywood. Being the youngest in our group, Kennedy even gave Marshall a nickname that stuck. He became known as, “The Kid.” However, being the youngest didn’t Bother Marshall and he always seemed eager to learn about the past. Kennedy’s stories seemed to motivate him to read more history whether it was Hollywood film lore or the rise of nationalism in pre World War2 Germany. We enjoyed lunch on Wednesdays at a local Burbank Mexican restaurant and our conversations were always fun and enlightening.
Military conscription was still active in the nineteen sixties and young Marshall Horton knew he would soon be facing a draft into the military. Rather being drafted, he opted for a four year stint in the United States Air Force. Marshall felt he would have greater opportunities even though it meant a longer military obligation. We hated to see him go, but we wished him well. After a year or so had passed, we were surprised to learn that young Marshall would be returning home. It appeared his years of service had been cut short because of illness. He would be given a full honorable discharge and allowed to return to civilian life. One might consider this a blessing until we learned the illness that caused his early retirement was Leukemia. However, medical science had made some headway in fighting the decease and Marshall’s health problems were being held in check. Undaunted, young Marshall decided to get on with his life and using his GI Bill, he enrolled at Art Center College of Design. Rather than return to Disney, Marshall decided on a career as an illustrator. Eager to move on, he even married a lovely young woman and made Glendale his home. All seemed to be going well until the cancer suddenly returned. While being treated at the Veteran’s Hospital, all the Disney guys paid regular visits, and we often joked about the fun times we had when we were all together at the studio.
One Friday evening while cleaning out my bedroom closet, the darnedest thing happened. I distinctly heard Marshall’s voice informing me he was leaving. I immediately told my wife what had just happened and decided to head for Veteran’s Hospital in the West Valley. However, it was already late and my wife thought it best I wait until morning. The next morning I received a phone call from my Disney pal, Jack Foster. Before Jack could even give me the sad news, I said, “Yes, I already know.”
Every now and then I think about that Friday evening many years ago when a friend said goodbye in a most unexpected way. I think about the Disney chats at coffee break in D-Wing and the Lunches at the local Mexican eatery. I think about my Disney pals, John Kennedy, Jack Foster, Marshall Horton and the many others since departed. Of course, this is simply life. Life captured in a few faded black&white photographs on my drawing room wall.