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Tag Archives: Nine Old Men

January 22

January 22, 1995 – The Documentary Film Frank and Ollie Previews at Sundance

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“In film after film, some of the most sublime performances ever to flow from a pencil were created by two star members of Disney’s original team, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Their contributions to the legacy of these films is the focus of this fascinating and entertaining portrait.”

On January 22, 1995, the documentary feature film Frank and Ollie had a special preview at the Sundance Film Festival. This was the debut of the film, which would go on to premiere at other national festivals, winning the audience favorite award several times. The film chronicles the careers of and friendship between Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, prolific animators and members of the Nine Old Men of the Walt Disney Studios, and was written and directed by Frank’s son Theodore.

July 27

July 27, 1962 – The Firehouse Five Plus Two Records at the Golden Horseshoe

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“The happiest band I have heard in a long time.”

On July 27, 1962, the Dixieland jazz band Firehouse Five Plus Two recorded their performance at the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland. The band was made up of several Disney employees, including leader Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Harper Goff, Danny Alguire, Clarke Mallery, Monte Mountjoy, and Ed Penner. This would be the first of two performances recorded and later released on albums through the Good Time Jazz Records label.

June 26

June 26, 1909 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Director, and Disney Legend Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman is Born

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“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.

May 8

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May 8, 2009 – The Forest Lawn Museum Presents “The Art of Marc Davis” Exhibit

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“I only wish Marc could be here to see it.” – Disney Legend and Wife of Marc Davis, Alice Davis

On May 8, 2009, the Forest Lawn Museum, located in Glendale, California, hosted an exhibit called “The Art of Marc Davis,” featuring the works of Disney Legend and member of the Nine Old Men, Marc Davis. The exhibit featured work Davis did outside of Disney, mainly comprised of Greek mythology, ships, and harlequins. The exhibit was a long time dream for Davis’ wife Alice, as many people were unaware of the body of work Davis had outside of the studio, which he worked on in the evenings as he watched television. The show was held until July 26, 2009.

March 22

March 22, 1909 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and Disney Legend Milt Kahl is Born

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“I don’t think it’s possible to be a top notch animator without being a very excellent draftsman. You have to be able to draw these characters in order to move them around and articulate them. There’s no way of doing it unless you draw very well.”

On March 22, 1909, animator Milton Erwin Kahl was born in San Francisco, California. At the age of 16, Kahl dropped out of high school to help provide for his family, and was hired by the Oakland Post Enquirer in the art department. After three years there, Kahl then got a job at the San Francisco bulletin, but was laid off when the Great Depression hit. He was able to find some work as a commercial artist and began to take art classes to improve his work. In late 1933, as he was struggling once again to find work in commercial art, a friend from the Oakland Post Enquirer, future Disney Legend Ham Luske, recommended that he apply to work at the Disney studios. Kahl was hired on June 25, 1934. with his first important animation assignment being the 1936 Mickey Mouse short film Mickey’s Circus. He was then assigned to animate the animals in the full-length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, along with Eric Larson among others.

Kahl’s talents shone in the next film, Pinocchio, when the staff of the studio were having problems trying to create the title character in terms of personality and overall design. “They were thinking in terms of a puppet all the time, naturally, because he was a puppet,” Kahl said. “And I was very critical of what they had. So I did a test scene where Pinocchio had donkey ears and a tail and was down on the sea bottom…and I handled it not thinking of so much as a puppet, as just a little boy. Walt liked it, so that became the model.” This way of thinking helped reshape the character and restart production, and Kahl was given the plumb role of directing animator on Pinocchio once he comes to life. This role also established Kahl as one of the top animators at the studio.

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Kahl’s role grew, as he was considered one of the best draftsmen in the studio. Although his skills were being recognized before the outbreak of World War II, some of his best work was during the wartime period, including the film Saludos Amigos and the short films Education for Death and Tiger Trouble. After the war, Kahl was responsible for the final design of characters, and was given the task of animating non-comic characters, including Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Wendy from Peter Pan, and the princes in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, with John Canemaker, author and film historian, noting that Kahl was “always stuck with the princes.” Although Kahl would complain of being “saddled” with these characters, he was secretly proud of his ability to bring these characters to life. Other highlights of Kahl’s career were the animation of character interactions in The Sword in the Stone (which Kahl considered “one hell of a picture”) and the character of Sher Kahn in The Jungle Book. His last work for the studio was animating Medusa and Snoops for the film The Rescuers, and left on April 30, 1970, although he did do a few character designs for The Black Cauldron. On April 19, 1987, Kahl passed away of pancreatic cancer. He was inducted into the Disney Legends in 1989. In 2009, the Academy of Motion Pictures held a panel to celebrate the centennial of Kahl’s life where animators Brad Bird, Andreas Deja, Ron Clements, John Musker, and Floyd Norman, as well as voice actress Kathryn Beaumont, celebrated his style and influence in the shaping of many Disney classics.

March 9

March 9, 1911 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and Disney Legend John Lounsbery is Born

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“…very quiet, gentle guy, and what was surprising is the person seemed so reserved and very encouraging in his comments about my drawings, and then I’d look at his drawings, and they were bold! Powerful! I mean, this guy drew with such conviction…” – Animator Glen Keane

On March 9, 1911, John Lounsbery was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. When he was five, his family moved to Colorado. Lounsbery’s talent for animation was evident at an early age, and he was well known in high school for his caricatures and cartoons.  After attending the Art Institute of Denver, Lounsbery attended the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles. An instructor there sent him to interview with Walt Disney. Lounsbery was hired on July 2, 1935, to serve as an assistant animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was paired as an assistant to animator Norm Ferguson, who became his mentor and great inspiration. The team would be assigned to the plum role of the Witch in Snow White. After this, Lounsbery animated Honest John and Gideon as part of Ferguson’s team. Lounsbery’s skills flourished under the next animated feature, Fantasia, where he animated the “Dance of the Hours” sequence; his work is particularly noticeable on the animation of Ben Ali, the main alligator. Lounsbery was then named as one of six animation directors on Dumbo, where his focus was on the interaction scenes between Dumbo and Timothy Mouse. During World War II, Lounsbery stayed at the studio and animated feature films including Victory Through Air Power and The Three Caballeros, and once again served as an animating director on the animated sequences of Song of the South.

In the 1950s, Lounsbery continued to serve as an animation director on animated feature films, including Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. He also animated several memorable characters in these films, including the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, and George Darling in Peter Pan. His work on the partnership of Honest John and Gideon in Pinocchio would be seen again in Lady and the Tramp with his work on the characters Tony and Joe. “John Lounsbery was a brilliant draftsman. In Lady and the Tramp he did Tony and Joe and brought these guys completely to life,” animation director John Musker said in an interview. Truly, Lounsbery was considered a wonderful draftsman who could do justice to any scene that was considered “slapstick,” such as the “Scrumps” scene in Sleeping Beauty, where the minstrel gets drunk on the celebratory wine. “[He] simply had a way of drawing that was as sophisticated as a New Yorker cartoon, and yet he loved slapstick,” said animator Will Finn. “He’s an unsung animator in some ways because people don’t hear his name mentioned as often, but his work on the jester [in Sleeping Beauty] is really one of the highlights of the film for me.” In 1970, Lounsbery was promoted to director for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, and then co-directed The Rescuers with Wolfgang Reitherman and Art Stevens. Unfortunately, Lounsbery died before the films’ release of heart failure during heart surgery. He was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

November 17

November 17, 1907 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and Disney Legend Les Clark is Born

“I remember, I was in the Annie Awards ceremony with Les Clark’s widow, and there was a picture of Walt up there with a drawing of Mickey…and she was like [whispering], ‘Les did that drawing.’”- Animation Director John Musker

On November 17, 1907, Les Clark was born in Ogden, Utah. His family moved to Los Angeles, where he graduated high school. During high school, Clark worked a summer job near the Disney Brothers Studio at a lunch counter that Walt and Roy Disney frequented. When Clark asked Walt for a job one day, Walt asked him to bring in his drawings. “He said I had a good line and why don’t I come to work on Monday,” Clark recalled. “I graduated on a Thursday and went to work [the following] Monday.” In 1927, Clark joined the studio, with Disney warning him that it might be just a temporary position. The temporary position began a lifelong career at Disney, and Clark became one of the first members of the Nine Old Men, Disney’s affectionate name for his top animators.

Clark was adept at drawing Mickey Mouse, able to draw a scene in the debut Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie. One of his notable segments in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the scene where the dwarves dance with Snow White. Clark was also responsible for animating and directing on nearly 20 animated features, including Pinocchio, Dumbo, Saludos Amigos, So Dear to My Heart, 101 Dalmatians, Song of the South, Fun and Fancy Free, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp. Clark also contributed to more than 100 shorts. After being the sequence director for Sleeping Beauty, Clark moved to directing television specials and educational films, which included Donald in Mathmagic Land and Donald and the Wheel. Clark retired from the Disney Studios in 1976, and passed away in 1979. He was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

October 31

October 31, 1912 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and Disney Legend Ollie Johnston is Born

“I remember one morning I was lying in bed in our boardinghouse. Frank [Thomas] was shaving, and I was waiting till he finished with the razor…he turns around and says, ‘Oh, by the way, they want you to take a tryout at Disney’s.’ I thought, ‘Gee whiz. Here I am going to art school. My dad just paid my tuition. Oh, well, I’ll try it. I’ll go out there and see if I can’t make some money and pay my own way, go back to art school.’ So I went out and took the tryout. Somehow I made it. After I had been there another two weeks after that, I found out this is the only place I would ever want to be.” – Ollie Johnston

On October 31, 1912, Oliver Martin Johnston, Jr., was born in Palo Alto, California. His father was a professor of romance languages at Stanford University; it was in the Stanford art department that Johnston met Frank Thomas, who became his lifelong friend and co-animator. In his senior year, Johnston transferred to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1935, he joined the Walt Disney Studios as an inbetweener on Mickey Mouse cartoons, and worked on early shorts that included Mickey’s Garden and The Tortoise and the Hare. Johnston worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an assistant animator. His animation roles soon grew and he got the plum role of directing animator of Bambi and Thumper in Bambi, the evil stepsisters in Cinderella, Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, and the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty, among others. He retired in 1978, with his last film being The Rescuers, in which he was caricatured as Rufus the cat.

With Frank Thomas, Johnston published the book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, which discussed the 12 principles of animation. This book has become a staple in the study of the techniques of animation. Johnston was also known for his love of model trains. He built  his first backyard railroad in 1949, and inspired Walt Disney to become involved in the hobby himself. Johnston was named a Disney Legend in 1989; as the last surviving member of the Nine Old Men, Johnston was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2005. He passed away on April 14, 2008.

September 3

September 3, 1905 – Eric Larson, Disney Legend and Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, is Born

“No one was more concerned with passing on the Disney legacy than Eric.” – Animator Andreas Deja

On September 3, 1905, animator Eric Larson was born in Cleveland, Utah. After graduating with a journalism major from the University of Utah, he traveled to Los Angeles in 1933, and worked on a radio program called “The Trail of the Viking.” At the same time, he sent some sketches to the Walt Disney Studios, and was soon hired as an assistant animator. He worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the “Whistle While You Work” segment), Pinocchio (Figaro), Fantasia (“The Pastoral Symphony”), Dumbo, Bambi (the title character), Cinderella (Cinderella and Prince Charming), Alice in Wonderland (Alice, Dinah, The Cheshire Cat, The Caterpillar, The Queen of Hearts, and the Flamingo), Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp (Peg and the pound puppies), Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians (Pongo, Perdita, Colonel, and Tibbs), and The Jungle Book (the Vultures), as well as several shorts, including The Three Little Pigs.

In the 1970s, Larson helped start a recruitment training program to teach a new generation of animators the Disney style of animation. Many famous names went through this program, including Brad Bird, Don Bluth, Tim Burton, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Burny Mattinson, and Joe Ranft. This program came at a crucial time when the older animators were retiring, and new blood was needed to help revive the studios. Larson continued to contribute to projects at the studio during the 1980s, and retired in 1986, after working for Disney for 52 years. Larson passed away on October 25, 1988, and was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1989.

March 4

March 4, 1914 – Birth of Disney Legend Ward Kimball, One of the Nine Old Men

“I checked out a scene of Ward Kimball’s animation on Cinderella, and it had some of his rough notes on the scene. He had done the mice in the scene, and Cinderella was also in the scene, but the note to his assistants was, ‘The stooge enters here,’ and the stooge was Cinderella. I think [Kimball] had a certain attitude toward the straighter characters…he lived for the comedy and the counterpoint to the [straight character.]” – Animation Director John Musker.

Ward Walrath Kimball, known as one of Disney’s famed Nine Old Men, was born on March 4, 1914, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended the Santa Barbara School of Art in California, with an ambition of becoming a magazine illustrator. But after catching a screening of Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs, Kimball quickly put together a portfolio and headed straight to Disney Studios, which he joined in 1934.

Kimball’s animation style, with his focus on comedy, and the emotion he was able to infuse in his drawings was quickly noticed in the studio, One of the most well-known characters he developed was Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, which was a bit of a gift from Walt after one of Kimball’s scenes was cut from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Kimball remarked on this: “I spent eight months on it. It was all cleaned up and ready to be inked and painted. Walt sensed it stalled the plot at that point. So he called me to his office and said, ‘Ward, I hate to say this, but I’m going to have to take out this soup sequence.’ Of course, I was crestfallen, but right away he came in and said, ‘But I’ve got a little character in our next picture and we’re going to call him Jiminy Cricket. I’d like to have you be the animation supervisor on this.’ My first impression of him was, ‘This ugly insect.’ I said, ‘How can that guy carry the picture?’ My only answer to this is I’ve got to make him look funny. Walt didn’t really want a clown-looking cricket. As he put it, ‘Make him cute, Kimball.’”

Kimball (R) in a scene from The Reluctant Dragon, showing Robert Benchley how animated characters move

Along with many of the Nine Old Men that created the rules of modern animation, he continued to learn throughout his entire career. “An artist always goes back to the source,” he said wisely. “If he’s drawing animals, he looks at the giraffes and the lions; he caricatures them, but he starts out drawing realistically. Like on Bambi, the guys used to go down at the zoo and see how the animals acted.”

Kimball also animated Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Alice in Wonderland, and Lucifer in Cinderella, as well as the Academy Award-winning shorts Tootle, Whistle, Plunk and Boom – the first Cinemascope cartoon – and It’s Tough to Be a Bird. Kimball branched out of animation for the Disneyland show, producing and directing three episodes about space: Man in Space (which discusses the history of rockets), Man and the Moon (about man’s fascination with the moon), and Mars and Beyond (narrated by Paul Frees and discusses the possibility of life on other planets). Kimball also expanded into the story division, and helped write the script for the live-action film, Babes in Toyland.

Kimball brought his unique sense of humor to every aspect of his life, including performing with the famous Firehouse Five Plus Two

Kimball had many interests beyond animation. A railroad buff, his enthusiasm for his hobby spurred Walt to set up a backyard railroad of his own. Kimball was also a fantastic trombone player, and played in the famous group, “Firehouse Five Plus Two,” most notably with Frank Thomas, another member of the Nine Old Men. He was awarded as a Disney Legend at the ceremony in 1989, and his plaque honors his sense of humor by adding an extra finger to the hand holding the wand. Ward Kimball passed away on July 8, 2002, in Los Angeles, California.