Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ask the Biz Rep

A commenter asks down below:

Give us some tales of your father working at Disney ...

Padre went to work at Disney Hyperion as a summer intern in '37, doing a little publicity art for the released Snow White. He returned to Chouinard's for his last year of study, then came to the studio full time in '38. He worked in effects doing air brush, but had his eye on the background department, since he was an avid painter of watercolors and oils (and had been since he was eleven or twelve years old).

Although he made little money, he stayed inside working during the '41 Disney strike because management had given him money to visit his ill father back in Illinois the year before. He told me years later that the strikers hassled him when he drove in through the gate, and he was forever after ticked off about it. (I occasionally wonder what he'd think of his oldest son doing this job.) ...

He was away from the studio for part of a year after the strike settled, then returned and found his way into the b.g. department. His first credited work as a b.g. artist was a Mickey-Pluto short -- Pluto and the Armadillo -- in 1943.

He worked on all the Disney features from Fun and Fancy Free to Robin Hood. He was extremely fast at production work because he painted all the freaking time -- nights, weekends, during vacations. He would ordinarily finish his week's quota of backgrounds in three or four days, and work on Christmas cards or something else the balance of the workweek.

He always enjoyed the work and studio camaraderie, but his heart was elsewhere. He was a prolific landscape artist and showed his work in galleries up and down the state, also in New York. He also self-financed educational films and painted Christmas cards for a couple of decades.

When he died, he was doing visual design work on The Rescuers ... and still painting landscapes.

I can't tell you his happiest moment, but I can say a frustration he related -- and it was the only time he ever talked about studio work at home -- was that The Jungle Book was keyed with light backgrounds. He always thought the characters should exist in a jungle with shafts of sunlight, but he was overruled by director Woolie Reitherman.

When I visited the lot as a small kid, I was always impressed with the easy-going, laid back atmosphere. There were ball fields then, the commissary was relaxed and friendly (I met Cliff Edwards there) and the whole joint was way less ... I donno ... corporate than it is now. But it was the middle fifties and a whole different world that no longer exists.

And then the question:

Also, how 'bout some tales of your own there [at Disney]?.

I've sprinkled them throughout the blog (that's what search engines for -- to go find them), but here's a few things I remember:

Brit actor Barry Ingham doing 200 takes of a line and doing each one of them differently.

Listening to Mickey Rooney hold forth at lunch and wondering: "Does he ever take a breath?"

Having Pearl Bailey tell a joke, laugh, then grab my head and mash my face into her chest.

Flying to Mexico City with Pete Young to work on a Spanish-Mexican animated feature. Getting a whirlwind tour of the city. Getting my camera stolen.

Working on script pages with Woolie Reitherman, Larry Clemmons, Mel Shaw, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas around Woolie's big desk. Having the sense to know this was probably one of the high points of my life.

Picking voice takes in Woolie's office with fifteen other people, voting on the one we liked best. Realizing this wasn't one of the high points of my existence.

Watching Woolie edit a storyboard. Watching the board artist's face fall.

Etcetera, etcetera.


Anonymous said...

That's great stuff, Steve-thanks.
I didn't get onto the lot until 1981, but it still felt like the mid-fifties. ; )

Flash forward about 17 years. Same buildings less some of the lovely backlot sets-and that atmosphere was dead and gone forever.

Floyd Norman said...

Great stuff, Steve.

I shared many similar moments with Woolie, Larry Clemmons, Frank & Ollie, ect.

Never had the "face stuffing," though. I'd like to try that.

Floyd Norman said...

One other thought, Steve.

Sounds like your dad agreed with Walt Pergoy on "The Jungle Book" backgrounds. Peregoy was eventually replaced by veteran background artist, Al Dempster.

I saw Walt Peregoy's "Jungle Book" keys. They were brilliant. However, Woolie and Walt Disney didn't agree.

Steve Hulett said...

QWoolie and Walt (apparently) wanted the backgrounds light and the characters dark. Which they are.

Peregoy and my dad thought it should be the reverse. I saw several keys my father painted that were striking ... but dark, and so didn't make the cut.

Only time I heard Mr. Hulett complain. He thought the director and head of the company were wrong on the subject, but he lost the argument.

Dempster was a crackerjack artist, and did a good job. Ralph H. ultimately painted the backgrounds the way Woolie wanted. He had a job to do and he did it.

But he wasn't happy about it.

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