Making Magic in 1966

So, here’s how it works. I’m sitting in my 2nd floor office in the Animation Building back in 1966. My partner and colleague, Vance Gerry is sitting across from me reading the morning paper. I’m at my desk rearranging pencils and notepads pretending to be a Disney story artist. In truth, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. Just days ago, the plum job of story artist had been dropped into my lap. Knowing the decision to give me this shot came from on high, I was determined not to squander this opportunity. However, I must confess, I wasn’t completely sure how to do the job. A few days ago, I was downstairs in the Animation Department completely confident in the job I knew so well. After all, I had been in animation nearly a decade. I managed to survive Milt Kahl while working on, “The Sword in the Stone,” so I was feeling pretty confident. 

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I find myself upstairs in 2C, now a part of Woolie Reitherman’s team. The Old Man had once again chosen Woolie to be the director on the show after helming the previous feature film by himself. Usually, Disney feature films had multiple directors. Each director would be given a sequence in the movie. It was a method that seemed efficient. As far as I could tell, Wolfgang Reitherman was the first Disney director to “fly solo.”

2-C was pretty much Woolie’s domain and perhaps I should give you a view of the story department. Vance Gerry and I occupied the large story room to the south, while Eric Cleworth and Dick Lucas were in the room to the north. Should you enter the office space from the hallway you would enter Betty Gossin’s space. Betty was Woolie’s secretary or personal assistant. South of Betty’s office was the directors space that included a large desk, a Movilola (editing machine) and several lounge chairs. The Walt Disney Studio of years past operated with incredible efficiency. Today, you would have to make an appointment to see your director. Back in the day, you would only need to walk next door to get a decision. Past the director’s office was the Layout Department headed up by Disney veteran, Don Griffith. Don occupied a space near the window facing the Ink&Paint Department. It would appear Don had been in this space for decades.

Our quiet morning was suddenly interrupted by Larry Clemmons entering the room. Larry was the writer on the movie which was evidenced by the typewriter on his desk. He would type rough story outlines and bring them to us to “flesh out.” Keep in mind, these were not script pages, rather simple outlines providing just enough information to send us on our way story wise. Larry passed out his latest pages to Vance and myself. Then he settled back in one of the Kem Webber lounge chairs to fill us in. “Sher Kahn enters the scene looking for the man cub,” smiled Larry. “He begins to question Kaa the Python about the whereabouts of the boy. However, the sneaky snake has already captured Mowgli. He’s holding the sleeping boy high in the tree out of sight of the fierce tiger. “What happens next,” we asked? “Oh, a lot of funny stuff happens,” said Larry. “Walt’s gonna love this!” And, with that, Larry Clemmons got up and left the room.

Vance Gerry put down his newspaper and I reached for my stack of grease pencils. Something really cool was about to happen.

Larry Clemmon's pages kicked things off. Eventually, animator, Milt Kahl created something truly masterful. It was awesome to share in the process.

Larry Clemmon's pages kicked things off. Eventually, animator, Milt Kahl created something truly masterful. It was awesome to share in the process.