Monday, December 21, 2009

Remembering Dale Oliver

A Disney lunch in the Penthouse restaurant, circa 1971. Dale Oliver at the left front; Ollie Johnston on the right.

A commenter writes:

I went to a funeral for a dear friend today at Forest Lawn. His name was Jack Scroggins, a bomber pilot for the Air Force in the early 60s.

While standing graveside during the service I noticed he had a "neighbor" named "Dale Oliver." I couldn't help but notice that Dale's marker said simply "Animator" and "WWII Glider Pilot."

It is great for my friend Jack to be next to Dale. Jack loved Disney animation and collected them in every format known - from cards to magazines to VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD, Jack had it all. Mickey sat on his desk at all times.

I haven't thought of Dale in a while, but I used to think of him often. He taught classes at TAG's animation school for years, and came into the office all the time to chit chat ...

Dale was a longtime Disney assistant animator (he joined the company in 1947), and worked closely with Frank Thomas for decades. Dale was promoted to full animator in the early eighties, but his career ended a short time later when he and his fiancee were involved in a horrific car accident that left the fiancee dead and Dale so badly injured that he never worked in the animation industry again.

Even with all the adversity, I knew Dale as a buoyant, upbeat guy. It wasn't until after his accident that I learned Dale had been a glider pilot during World War II, participating in the D-day airborne landings, the allied push into Holland, and the Rhine River crossing. I once asked him about his long night in Normandy; he told me:

We landed in the dark. I brought the glider down, everybody got out, and then I stood around for three days until they shipped me back to England ...

Dale understated just a little. He joined the Army in 1942, volunteered for glider service that summer, and participated in three major campaigns. The casualties for glider pilots during the invasion of Europe were incredibly high; if a pilot hit a post or barrier when landing (and hundreds did), the glider broke into small pieces, and occupants along with it.

Mr. Oliver's version of his corner of the war -- June 6, 1944 (click on it to enlarge.)

Dale was always self-effacing about his military career; the only reason he brought up his D-day experiences with me at all was because I asked him. He was one of the unsung heroes of World War II, in the same way he was one of the many unsung artists who turned out Disney animated features year in and year out.

Dale passed away six years ago at the age of 84, but he deserves to be remembered not only for his time at Disney, but for the service he rendered the country behind the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

8 comments:

Floyd Norman said...

An extremely modest man, Dale preferred not to talk about his exploits in World War II, but I found that period of history fascinating, and I encouraged him to tell the stories.

A talented animation artist, Dale assisted Frank Thomas for years, and their standards were high. I know that from personal experience.

Michael Polvani said...

I took Dale's class many years ago at the union. It was fun. He made it fun. I always remembered that about him. He was kind, gentle.....and talented.

Jenny Lerew said...

I took his class too-he had his accident during the semester(Tom Ferriter took over for him). A horrible thing to happen to an incredibly kind, funny, warm(and tall) person...he was in intensive care for weeks and I remember worrying about how he could possibly absorb the news that his fiance had been killed. I never saw him afterwards--though I do think he worked back at the Studio some time later(this according to Steve Hickner).

He told hilarious stories about working with Milt Kahl that were a revelation(I don't think anything had been written yet about the animator's various personalities at that time). And he introduced us to the work of artists like Cliff Nordberg, bringing in animation Cliff had done and showing us how expert and funny his unsung colleague was; he made a point of explaining that there were many super animators who were uniquely wonderful at Disney even if they weren't one of the nine old men. He was extremely modest while still fiercely proud of his own work. Just a great gentleman. I can still see and hear him clearly in my mind's eye after 28 years.

Todd Jacobsen said...

I've said it many times before, and I'll say it here again...I owe every success I've had in this business to Dale Oliver. He taught me things when I was starting out that I never could have learned anywhere else.

My only regret is that I didn't ask him more questions about his own professional or personal history. I was too much the "student" to even think about approaching him in this manner.

He's truly one of the masters of this medium. I consider myself incredibly honored to have studied under him.

Floyd Norman said...

Oddly enough, most of our conversations were not even about animation. Social issues and politics usually dominated.

When we did talk animation, it was the same gripe Milt Kahl had about many of the young artists at the studio. They never learned how to draw.

Tom said...

I was Googling Dale Oliver for additional material for a website I maintain for the National WWII Glider Pilots association and came across this site. Dale and my Dad, both Glider Pilots, remained good friends from the time they met until Dale's death in 2003. Dale visited my folks often and they got together each year at the annual National WWII Glider Pilots Association reunions, held at various places around the country, and in 1984, and again in 1994, in Holland, at the sites of the huge Allied airborne assault that the book and movie, "A Bridge Too Far" were about.

Dale was a gentle giant, and a very generous and giving guy. We took our children to Holland in 1994 to join my folks and the GP's at the 50th anniversary of "Operation Market Garden" commemoration ceremonies.

My kids were fascinated with Dale's work in Disney animation since Disney feature-length animated films were among their favorites and Dale gave generously of his time to explain to them what animation is all about.

Some of Dale's sketches of WWII Glider Operations can be found at the website I maintain here:
http://www.pointvista.com/WW2GliderPilots/daleoliver.htm

Dale also painted many depictions of glider assaults and gave them to museums here in the US and in Europe. I haven't visited this museum yet, but I am pretty sure some of Dale's work hangs in it:
The Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, TX, which was home to a large Glider Pilot training center in WWII:
http://www.silentwingsmuseum.com/

Mom and Dad last saw Dale when he visited them, arriving in a VW camper in which he was apparently camping as he toured the west.

My memories of him are of a kindly giant and a modest man. His description of his time in action as an assault Glider Pilot are far too modest. He saw some horrifically difficult action in those airborne assaults.

My Dad also said that Dale was something of a Yo-Yo expert, giving demonstrations of his prowess at Yo-Yo events around the country, but I cannot be sure. There is another Dale Oliver who appears online but he is not the same Dale we knew - perhaps his son or a relative?

Tom Brennan

Tom said...

PS: A picture of Dale can be found on this page on the "Tribute to the American Glider Pilots of WWII" website:
http://www.pointvista.com/WW2GliderPilots/memorialpage2.htm

Scroll down near the bottom of the page and look for the thumbnail of the WWII GP vets in formation just prior to a parade through the streets of Nijmegen, Holland in the September 1994, 50th anniversary commemoration of "Operation Market Garden."

You cannot miss Dale. He is the very tall fellow in the front rank.

Mike S. said...

I had the pleasure of making Mr. Oliver's aquaintance due to my interest in the Laurenburg/Maxton Army Air Corps Glider Training Base. While doing some online research I stumbled across Mr. Oliver's name and the fact that he was an artist and a sculptor. I was able to find his telephone number and I called him out of the blue. This was the year 2000 or 2001. He was very gracious to a complete stranger and talked a little about his WWII exploits and his career at Disney. It was then that I learned he created a series of water color illustrations that depicted WWII Glider operations. He said he had painted them around the end of the war and finally had several printed in the early 1970's. I arranged to purchase one each of his prints and he threw in copies of his cartoon illustrations of WWII Glider pilot situations. I was amazed at the quality of the work he had done. I wanted to purchase some more copies from Mr. Oliver and I contacted him about a year later. By this time his mental capacities were diminishing and he had difficulty remembering me or my original purchase. He agreed to sell me more copies but said he had to find them. I called back two or three more times, but each time it became increasingly evident that his memory was fading fast. It was very sad. After Mr. Oliver's passing, I contacted his son to inquire about purchasing more of his fathers prints, but he didn't seem interested in my offer.

Needless to say, I am grateful to have met Mr. Oliver, even if it was from a distance. He was truely an American Hero.

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