Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sito's Animation History

President Emeritus Sito on Norm Ferguson:

One thing Homer Brightman's memoir Life in the Mouse House finally cleared up was what may have happened between Walt Disney and Norm Ferguson to get Norm fired. Everyone since has always been very oblique about what happened. For years Fergie was one of Disney's top animators, the man who gave Pluto his personality. Shamus Culhane called him the greatest pantomime actor in animation. But by the mid 1940s, Fergusons older animation style was considered behind the times to the more sophisticated draughtsmanship of the Nine Old Men. By then many of his generation like Ham Luske and Wilfred Jackson had moved into supervisory roles.

Ferguson was directing and supervising on Three Caballeros. Brightman explains (Page 80) during the completing of Caballeros, Walt and Ferguson had a argument over the cost overruns. " After Walt left the meeting, D (Fergie) said he could have finished the picture a lot sooner and cheaper if Walt had stayed out of it. It was something someone says in anger. One of Walt's lackeys reported the comment to Walt, and he cornered D(Fergie) in the hallway with the story. Ferguson faced up to it and admitted he said it. Walt never forgave him."

Brightman says Walt gave Ferguson his own short to write, direct and animate, knowing it was beyond his abilities without a good support team. He was an animator's animator, rather than a writer or story guy. Ferguson slaved away, but the final result got a thumbs down. Norm Ferguson was unceremoniously terminated. When Guild President Bill Melendez went to Walt to ask Fergie be re-instated, Walt waved him off. "Dead wood," he said.

Norm Ferguson had said he'd stay at Disney until he couldn't draw any more, then work in the parking lot if he had to. Now he was through. He bounced around the studios, drinking heavily, even though he was a diabetic, until a heart attack killed him at age 55.

If anybody has heard otherwise or another version, I'd love to know. I'm very curious.

What happens to the Great Men of history is that after they're dead, they too often become marble saints. Their genius gets buffed to a high gleam, but the darker corners of complex human personalities are forgotten or ignored.

Walt could be petty. Walt could be petulant, impatient, short-tempered. My old man told me stories of Walt's gruff put-downs and dismissals. So did Ward Kimball and Don Lusk. It takes nothing away from his gifts for story-telling or building new art forms, it simply makes him a fully dimensional human being.

Owning a full, human portrait of people we admire is a hell of a lot more interesting than having a marble saint.


Floyd Norman said...

What happened to Fergie and more than a few others was sad indeed. Yet, the young, feisty Walt was known to have his shortcomings. I think he had learned a thing or two by the time he was in his sixties and I often wondered if he regretted his earlier behavior. I guess we'll never know.

I found him fairly easy to work for. Of course, by then he was, "Old Walt" and a good deal more mellow.

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