Friday, May 22, 2015

Remembering Woolie

On this date thirty years ago, Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman was killed in a car accident on Olive Avenue, on his way home from a Burbank restaurant. He was a month shy of his 76th birthday.

Woolie in a scene from "The Reluctant Dragon" (1941), one of Disney's early "compilation features", containing live-action and cartoon shorts.

Woolie was a tireless workhorse, straight into his seventies. As a director, he would have all-day story meetings with the story crew, and long sessions at the Moviola with animators. He was tenacious about building a feature sequence by sequence, drawing by drawing. He kept at it until sequences were in color, and sometimes beyond that. Vance Gerry once joked: "Woolie would keep changing and improving things until the film was being packed into shipping boxes for the trip to movie theaters."

In earlier days, he was equally tenacious with his own animation. Ward Kimball related:

... Woolie was a good animator, but I think he suffered with a little inferiority complex. He didn't think he was a good artist, even though he was. Basically I think underneath, he compared himself to Fred (Moore) or some of the others, which made him work harder.

But yet, because of this extra drive Woolie had, it reminds me of Pete Rose, the drive Pete had playing baseball. The guy, who is probably older than the others, but he's a student, and wants to be better and consequently he is. Woolie's stuff in "The Rite of Spring" in Fantasia [the battle of the dinosaurs] has a great monumental weight to it, because Woolie in his own way just kept after it. ...

The last time I saw Woolie, he was enjoying himself at an Animation Guild affair at the Castaways Restaurant, high in the Verdugo Hills above Burbank. We sat talking at his table a long time.

I would have talked to him even longer, had I known that a month later he would be gone.


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