Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Wilfred!

At the Disney commissary, January 4, 1956, from left to right: Gerry Geronimi, Walt Disney, Ben Sharpsteen, Ted Sears, Max Fleischer, Dick Huemer, George Stalling, Dick Fleischer, Andy Engman, and Wilfred Jackson at the right front. (They were not celebrating Mr. Jackson's 50th birthday.)

Wilfred Jackson was born 104 years ago yesterday, and I would be remiss if I didn't note his anniversary here.

Jaxon, as he signed model sheets at the Disney Hyperion and Burbank studios, was one of Disney's earliest staff members, claiming long afterwards that he was never actually hired, but just showed up and started running errands and washing cels, and after awhile got a paycheck ...

Mr. Jackson helped engineer the synchronization of sound and image in SteamBoat Willie, soon became a director, and went on from there. He was at the helm of almost every Disney animated feature from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Lady and the Tramp. As animators Johnston and Thomas recalled in The Illusion of Life:

"Wilfred Jackson ... taught us thoroughness and the importance of detail. He had an immensely creative grasp of his whole picture and what he wanted it to do, but his big strength was in the astounding attention he gave to every last detail. Every frame of each scene was carefully considered and made into something valuable; the animator was never at a loss to know what should be done in the footage he had been handed. If you had a better idea, Jaxon was all for it, but until you did he provided you with some very good material to animate. Jaxon was easily the most creative of the directors, but he was also the most "picky" and took a lot of kidding about his thoroughness ..."

Wilfred Jackson lived on a large piece of land in La Tuna Canyon (near Sunland, California), where he and his wife raised two daughters; he also had a small house on Balboa Island, but ostentatious he was not. "Friendly and down to earth" is the way my mother recalled him. In an interview now three decades old, he remembered the way it was in the early days of the Disney studio with characteristic humility:

"Walt was a better story man than any of the storymen he could hire, he was a better director than any of the directors he could hire, but he wasn't a better animator than any of the animators he could hire. At that point ("Snow White" and "Pinocchio") the direction was very largely a matter of trying hard to get on the screen what you understood Walt to want on the screen ..."

Wilfred stepped down from directing features after Lady and the Tramp due to a heart condition, but he remained with the company for some years afterward, working in television. He died in 1988, at the age of 82.


Chicken cooper said...

My belated happy Birthday wishes to Wilfred.

Floyd Norman said...

Jaxon was one tough cookie, but what a sweet and gentle man he could be. I still remember his warm smile.

Jaxon learned the business on the fly. No film school, no art school, he simply jumped in and started doing the job. That's why the old guys were so great.

Charles McCarthy said...

I wonder how many drawings on napkins happened at this little lunch.

Anonymous said...

There's Geronimi. The most hated guy at the studio.

He was apparently vulgar, profane, and a real piece of work, from the various stories I've heard.

The animators hated him so much they refused to work with him. Ultimately Walt had to let him go, I believe.

Floyd Norman said...

Gerry had been a top dog at Disney for years. Sadly, many of the stories about him were unfortunately true, and Walt eventually gave him the boot.

I met Geronomi some years later. He was retired, and seemed very mellow compared to the demon he had been at the studio. Age does that, I guess.

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