June 26, 1909 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Director, and Disney Legend Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman is Born
“I just felt [animation] was a twentieth century art form, probably the most unique of anything that had appeared on the art horizon for decades since perspective. I was just fascinated because you could move those things. You can’t move a painting.”
On June 26, 1909, Wolfgang Reitherman was born in Munich, Germany. His family moved to California when Reitherman was an infant. Fascinated with airplanes from a young age, he attended the Pasadena Junior College to study aircraft engineering, and later got a job at Douglas Aircraft as a draftsman. Reitherman changed his career path in 1931 to study his other passion of art, enrolling in the Chouinard Art Institute, studying watercolor. As fate would have it, Reitherman met an instructor who taught at the Disney Studios, and in 1933, Reitherman joined the company in the animation department. When World War II began, Reitherman served in the Air Force, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services in Africa, China, India, and the South Pacific. He returned to the studio after the war, and contributed to more than 30 Disney short films throughout his career, including Water Babies and Donald in Mathmagic Land. Reitherman also contributed to several feature animated films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Reitherman’s first foray into directing came with the animated feature film Sleeping Beauty. In 1961, Reitherman was named co-director of the film One Hundred and One Dalmatians alongside Hamilton Luske and Clyde Geronimi. In 1963, Reitherman was named the director of the film The Sword in the Stone, a first for an animator in the studio’s history. He would continue to serve as an animator of Disney features, which include The Jungle Book, The Arisocats, Robin Hood, and the cartoon feature Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. A trademark in Reitherman’s films was the reuse of animation, as evidenced in Robin Hood’s “Phoney King of England” scene, which borrowed heavily from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1981, Reitherman retired from the Disney Studios, having dedicated nearly 50 years of his life. Unfortunately, Reitherman died in a car accident on May 22, 1985, in Burbank, California. As a tribute to his life and his work at Disney, he was honored as a Disney Legend in 1989.