Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Got Any Good Art Riley Stories?"

Actually, yes. I have a dandy Art Riley story, one told to me by Disney story dynamo Vance Gerry, and which I re-told at the Animation Guild's memorial for Art and other deceased members a few years back.

But before I recount it here, allow me to answer the question: "Who is Art Riley?"

Mr. Riley was one of the tyro Disney background artists who was at the studio for decades and decades. He painted backgrounds for Snow White, Jungle Book, and every animated feature in between.

Art lived frugally, lived with his mother, drove the same old Cadillac for years and years. And Vance told me the following story:

One day Art was asked to drive a studio colleague to work and back, and Art was happy to oblige. On the way home, the guy asked him to stop at a supermarket so he could pick up some milk and egg. Again Art was happy to oblige.

He walked with the man into the store. Once inside, Art stared in wonder at the long rows of shelves and refrigerated cabinets, at the fluorescent lights and polished tile floors.

"This is amazing," Art said. "What do they call this place?"

Mr. Riley, you see, led kind of an eccentric, sheltered life. He had never been in a supermarket before.

Art left the studio in the mid-sixties, and moved to the central California coast. He'd invested in blue-chip stocks for years, had Disney stock options, and lived in comfortable retirement until his death in December, 1998. He was 87.


Floyd Norman said...

I wish I had some stories, but Art Riley was such a quiet man, there's not a whole lot to say about him except he was an incredible artist.

I used to visited his office on a regular basis when Walt had him doing concept work on the "Oz" movie we never made. Art did paint backgrounds on our movie, The Jungle Book. He was an amazing painter.

Carla Fallberg said...

Apparently from the looks of that watercolor Art Riley was no "tyro" any more than your dad was, Steve! I heard he was quite a draftsman.
Julia Wright, the widow of storyman Ralph Wright (and voice of "Eeyore") told me one of her Art Riley stories:
Art was a talented, timid and miserly individual from a very wealthy family. He would gather errant golf balls from the nearby links at Griffith Park and pay the Studio "Traffic Boys" to wash the dirt off of them. He would then resell the golfballs at a profit. Art was also of undetermined sexual predilection. On a road trip with Julia, Ralph wondered outloud:
"Gee, I wonder why Art never married?" To which Julia replied:
"Maybe he ran out of balls to sell so he had to sell his own."
Ralph laughed so hard she thought he was going to drive the car off the road.

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