The Walt's People series is an oral history of all things Disney, as told by the artists, animators, designers, engineers, and executives who made it happen, from the 1920s through the present.
Walt's People: Volume 5 features appearances by Hugh Harman, Nadine Missakian, Ward Kimball, Erwin Verity, James Algar, Winston Hibler, Bill Anderson, Bill Walsh, George Bruns, Buddy Baker, Fess Parker, Walt Stanchfield, Marc Davis, Alice Davis, T. Hee, Maurice Noble, Al Dempster, Walt Peregoy, Floyd Norman, Bill Evans, Jack Bradbury, Lynn Karp, Dave Michener, Vance Gerry, John Musker, and Ron Clements.
The entertaining, informative stories in every volume of Walt's People will please both Disney scholars and eager fans alike.
Hugh Harman by Michael Barrier
Nadine Missakian by Dave Smith
Ward Kimballby Rick Shale
Erwin Verityby Rick Shale and Dave Smith
James Algarby Richard Hubler
Winston Hiblerby Richard Hubler
Bill Andersonby Richard Hubler
Bill Walshby Richard Hubler
Bill Walshby Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz
George Brunsby Richard Hubler
Buddy Bakerby Jon Burlingame
Buddy Bakerby Jérémie Noyer
Fess Parkerby Michael Barrier
Walt Stanchfieldby Christian Renaut
Marc Davisby Richard Hubler
Alice Davisby David Oneal
T. Heeby Richard Hubler
Maurice Nobleby Harry McCracken
Al Dempsterby Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz
Walt Peregoyby Bob Miller
The Saga of Windwagon Smithby Floyd Norman
The Making of The Jungle Bookby Floyd Norman
Bill Evansby Jim Korkis
Jack Bradburyby Alberto Becattini
Lynn Karpby Alberto Becattini
Dave Michenerby Didier Ghez
In Memory of Vance Gerryby John Musker
Vance Gerryby Charles Solomon
Vance Gerryby Christian Renaut
John Musker and Ron Clementsby Clay Kaytis
About the Authors
When a company starts producing quality work, it starts attracting quality people. The best want to work only with the best. Why should they settle for less? Creative people aren’t just interested in trading their skills for a paycheck. They’re burning with enthusiasm to do something interesting, and opportunities for that are rarer than they ought to be.
So the people who worked for Walt Disney throughout the studio’s history were there for a reason: they could count on Walt to do something new and exciting that would provide them with an experience they couldn’t get elsewhere. In exchange, they gave their considerable talents to Disney’s service, allowing him to realize his dreams. We, the audience, were the beneficiaries.
And we’re greedy, aren’t we? We’ve watched the films and TV shows, traveled to the theme parks, read the comics, listened to the music, played with the toys, and we still want more. Not just more films, etc. We want to understand how and why these things entertained us and why they still have such a hold on us. We want to get inside the things we love by learning about the people who made them.
Didier Ghez and the interviewers have given us this opportunity. Some of us are looking for the behind-the-scenes anecdotes that add an amusing bit of background. Some of us are fascinated by Disney history and love the mix of personalities and events that determined how the studio developed. Some of us are professional artists, designers, and filmmakers looking for insight into how Walt Disney and his crew managed to create to such a high standard. None of us will be disappointed in this volume.
While Walt Disney was the magnet that drew these people together, they’re still fascinating as individuals. They have different backgrounds, different personalities, and different talents, but all are fully engaged with their creations and happy to share their experiences. They’re proud of their work, and why shouldn’t they be?
Didier Ghez has now collected five volumes of these interviews, every one a gem. But I suspect as we plow through this volume, no matter how much we learn, no matter how much we enjoy it, we’ll be wondering what will turn up in volume six.
‘Cause we’re greedy, aren’t we?
“Pay dirt!” Those were my first thoughts when I managed to contact Jane Hubler through her son-in-law Louis Bremer. Jane Hubler was in her 90s and the widow of journalist and author Richard Hubler. She was therefore the holder of the copyrights of Richard Hubler’s research. Among this research were some Disney historical treasures: the interviews that Hubler conducted in the late ‘60s for his aborted biography of Walt Disney. Jane Hubler accepted my offer to grant me those copyrights for Walt’s People.
Richard Hubler had started his work on Walt’s biography less than a year after Walt’s death. Aside from Diane Disney Miller’s biography of her father, which had appeared in 1957 and was, in reality, the work of Pete Martin based on a series of interviews with Walt, no other biography of Walt had ever been released by that time. It was only natural, therefore, that Roy O. Disney encouraged such a project after the death of his brother. By 1968, when Hubler’s research was in full swing, Richard Schickel released his own interpretation of Walt’s life, The Disney Version, which was perceived by the Disney family as highly critical and therefore increased the importance of publishing an official and approved biography of the “Mousetro”.
Unfortunately, Richard Hubler approached the project to a great extent lacking the necessary historical perspective. His interviews with the Disney artists and Disney family members therefore lacked the sharpness and precision of later works by Christopher Finch, Michael Barrier, John Canemaker, Bob Thomas, and others. This probably explains why his attempted biography was never released and why audiences had to wait until 1976 to read the first official biography of Walt, which remains the approved “bible” to this day: Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas.
These considerations aside, however, Hubler’s interviews retain great historical value for one key reason: Hubler conducted them at a time when many of the interviewees still had very sharp memories of the events they discussed. This allowed Hubler to stumble upon fascinating stories that no other Disney historians would be able to gather after him. But because the field of Disney history was mostly virgin in the late ‘60s, Hubler’s interviews also contained a lot of information and questions that any of us today would consider as basic, almost childish.
In today’s speech, the “sound versus noise” ratio was quite low. So whereas in earlier volumes of the Walt’s People series I tried to deliver the interviews as uncut and uncensored as possible, I decided to follow a different route in this volume, offering you only the “meat” of Hubler’s interviews: the stories, information, and anecdotes that you are unlikely to have read elsewhere or that are presented from such a different point of view that you will still enjoy reading them.
Previous volumes explored the interactions and creative processes of Disney artists. Since Richard Hubler’s series of interviews was intended as the basis for his biography of Walt, it tries to answer a different question, the most puzzling question of them all for most of us: “Who was Walt?”
And so we are once more expanding our scope: Dave Smith’s interview of Nadine Missakian, Walt’s secretary at the time of his Laugh-O-grams venture is our first foray in the field of interviews with Walt’s “family and friends” that will be at the core of Volume 6, thanks to Richard Hubler. In addition, meeting James Algar, Winston Hibler, Bill Anderson, Bill Walsh, and Fess Parker allows us to scratch the surface of the wonderful world of Disney television and live-action productions, another key theme that has been barely explored until now.
But there is more. I realized that Disney music, backgrounds, and overall design had not been discussed either. Volume 5 attempts to slowly fill these gaps, thanks to interviews with composers George Bruns and Buddy Baker, and rare testimonies by T. Hee, Maurice Noble, Walt Peregoy, and Al Dempster.
All those artistic fields, which have contributed significantly to the success of Disney movies while often being overlooked, will be explored again in future volumes. This is particularly true of the world of Disney music, since historian David Tietyen, author of The Musical World of Walt Disney (Harry N. Abrams, 1990), recently allowed us to get access to all of his research.
Which takes us to this volume’s new contributors, starting with Rick Shale, the most famous specialist of the history of Disney during WWII along with David Lesjak, whose interviews allow us to dig deeper in a field which Dave Smith introduced in Volume 4 through his interview with Lou Debney.
To our delight, two other “heavyweights” have also decided to help the Walt’s People project: Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz, a couple famous for having authored one of the “bibles” owned by every self-respecting Disney historian: The Art of Walt Disney (Harry N. Abrams, 1973).
And since the world of Disney research is more alive than it has ever been in years, thanks to the internet (see the introduction to Walt’s People: Volume 4), new researchers are also joining the field. We are lucky to welcome three of them in Volume 5: music expert Jérémie Noyer, AnimationPodcast.com founder Clay Kaytis, and Dave Oneal.
Speaking of the internet, some of you may know that I launched The Disney History Blog (disneybooks.blogspot.com) in August 2006. Checking the blog is the best way to get a preview of the progress of the Walt’s People project, to see photos that I cannot include in the series, or to read entertaining anecdotes about Disney history.
But despite this flow of exciting news, thankfully some things do stay the same volume after volume, and I like to start each new book with a look at the early days of Walt’s career.
So, without further ado, let’s pick up our story where we left it at the end of the very first interview of the very first volume of the series: let’s meet one of Walt’s very first artists, and let’s find out how Walt himself decided to subcontract the production of a Silly Symphony…
Didier Ghez has conducted Disney research since he was a teenager in the mid-1980s. His articles about the Disney parks, Disney animation, and vintage international Disneyana, as well as his many interviews with Disney artists, have appeared in Animation Journal, Animation Magazine, Disney Twenty-Three, Persistence of Vision, StoryboarD, and Tomart’s Disneyana Update. He is the co-author of Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality, runs the Disney History blog, the Disney Books Network, and serves as managing editor of the Walt’s People book series.
If you have a question for Didier that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
About The Walt's People Series
GHEZ: The Walt’s People project was born out of an email conversation I conducted with Disney historian Jim Korkis in 2004. The Disney history magazine Persistence of Vision had not been published for years, The “E” Ticket magazine’s future was uncertain, and, of course, the grandfather of them all, Funnyworld, had passed away 20 years ago. As a result, access to serious Disney history was becoming harder that it had ever been.
The most frustrating part of this situation was that both Jim and I knew huge amounts of amazing material was sleeping in the cabinets of serious Disney historians, unavailable to others because no one would publish it. Some would surface from time to time in a book released by Disney Editions, some in a fanzine or on a website, but this seemed to happen less and less often. And what did surface was only the tip of the iceberg: Paul F. Anderson alone conducted more than 250 interviews over the years with Disney artists, most of whom are no longer with us today.
Jim had conceived the idea of a book originally called Talking Disney that would collect his best interviews with Disney artists. He suggested this to several publishers, but they all turned him down. They thought the potential market too small.
Jim’s idea, however, awakened long forgotten dreams, dreams that I had of becoming a publisher of Disney history books. By doing some research on the web I realized that new "print-on-demand" technology now allowed these dreams to become reality. This is how the project started.
Twelve volumes of Walt's People later, I decided to switch from print-on-demand to an established publisher, Theme Park Press, and am happy to say that Theme Park Press will soon re-release the earlier volumes, removing the few typos that they contain and improving the overall layout of the series.
To locate them, I usually check carefully the footnotes as well as the acknowledgments in other Disney history books, then get in touch with their authors. Also, I stay in touch with a network of Disney historians and researchers, and so I become aware of newly found documents, such as lost autobiographies, correspondence with Disney artists, and so forth, as soon as they've been discovered.
Yes, some interviews and autobiographical documents are extremely difficult to obtain. Many are only available on tapes and have to be transcribed (thanks to a network of volunteers without whom Walt’s People would not exist), which is a long and painstaking process. Some, like the seminal interview with Disney comic artist Paul Murry, took me years to obtain because even person who had originally conducted the interview could not find the tapes. But I am patient and persistent, and if there is a way to get the interview, I will try to get it, even if it takes years to do so.
One funny anecdote involves the autobiography of the Head of Disney’s Character Merchandising from the '40s to the '70s, O.B. Johnston. Nobody knew that his autobiography existed until I found a reference to an article Johnston had written for a Japanese magazine. The article was in Japanese. I managed to get a copy (which I could not read, of course) but by following the thread, I realized that it was an extract from Johnston’s autobiography, which had been written in English and was preserved by UCLA as part of the Walter Lantz Collection. (Later in his career Johnston had worked with Woody Woodpecker’s creator.) Unfortunately, UCLA did not allow anyone to make copies of the manuscript. By posting a note on the Disney History blog a few weeks later, I was lucky enough to be contacted by a friend of Johnston's family, who lives in England and who had a copy of the manuscript. This document will be included in a book, Roy's People, that will focus on the people who worked for Walt's brother Roy.
That is a tough question. The more volumes I release, the more I find outstanding interviews that should be made public, not to mention the interviews that I and a few others continue to conduct on an ongoing basis. I will need at least another 15 to 17 volumes to get most of the interviews in print.
About Disney's Grand Tour
DIDIER: The research took me close to 25 years. The actual writing took two-and-a-half years.
The official history of Disney in Europe seemed to start after World War II. We all knew about the various Disney magazines which existed in the Old World in the '30s, and we knew about the highly-prized, pre-World War II collectibles. That was about it. The rest of the story was not even sketchy: it remained a complete mystery. For a Disney historian born and raised in Paris this was highly unsatisfactory. I wanted to understand much more: How did it all start? Who were the men and women who helped establish and grow Disney's presence in Europe? How many were they? Were there any talented artists among them? And so forth.
I managed to chip away at the brick wall, by learning about the existence of Disney's first representative in Europe, William Banks Levy; by learning the name George Kamen; and by piecing together the story of some of the early Disney licensees. This was still highly unsatisfactory. We had never seen a photo of Bill Levy, there was little that we knew about George Kamen's career, and the overall picture simply was not there.
Then, in July 2011, Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's daughter, asked me a seemingly simple question: "Do you know if any photos were taken during the 'League of Nations' event that my father attended during his trip to Paris in 1935?" And the solution to the great Disney European mystery started to unravel. This "simple" question from Diane proved to be anything but. It also allowed me to focus on an event, Walt's visit to Europe in 1935, which gave me the key to the mysteries I had been investigating for twenty-three years. Remarkably, in just two years most of the answers were found.
DIDIER: Yes, I believe that casual readers, not just Disney historians, will find it a fun read. The book is heavily illustrated. We travel with Walt and his family. We see what they see and enjoy what they enjoy. And the book is full of quotes from the people who were there: Roy and Edna Disney, of course, but also many of the celebrities and interesting individuals that the Disneys met during the trip. And on top of all of this, there is the historical detective work, that I believe is quite fun: the mysteries explored in the book unravel step by step, and it is often like reading a historical novel mixed with a detective story, although the book is strict non-fiction.
DIDIER: Those books provided massive new sources of inspiration to the Story Department. "Some of those little books which I brought back with me from Europe," Walt remarked in a memo dated December 23, 1935, "have very fascinating illustrations of little peoples, bees, and small insects who live in mushrooms, pumpkins, etc. This quaint atmosphere fascinates me."
DIDIER: There are still a million events in Walt's life and career which need to be explored in detail. To name a few:
The list goes on almost forever.
Didier Ghez has edited:
Fess Parker speculates as to why Walt Disney refused to let him take what might have been the biggest role of his career.
MICHAEL BARRIER: You were, as I recall, the first adult actor that Walt Disney signed to a long-term contract, so you have a particular significance in his work in live action. I want to get some sense from you of what it was like to work for Walt Disney in his role as a live-action filmmaker. One thing that really intrigued me was what you mentioned in a Los Angeles Times interview in 2002, that you left Disney because he turned down the opportunity for you to be lent out to John Ford for The Searchers , with John Wayne. I was kind of shocked by that, because I thought it would have been a perfect matchup. Why did he turn down that loan?
FESS PARKER: Actually, it was what happened after that [that led to Parker’s leaving Disney]. I was signed for 350 dollars a week, and by the time I was in my second year I may have been [up to] 500 dollars, I don’t know. But I was still modestly paid. They had sent me all over the world and exploited me in every way possible, and I’d done everything I could for the opportunity. I wasn’t consulted about The Searchers. I was en route with Jeffrey Hunter, who played the role [of Martin Pawley in The Searchers], and Walt Disney, on the way to Clayton, Georgia, for our locations for The Great Locomotive Chase . The conversation turned to Jeff’s greatest experience of his life, which he described as [working in] The Searchers. Walt Disney turned to me—we were sitting in the back seat—and he said, “They wanted you for that.” I was a newcomer, but I realized even then that you don’t get too many shots, and I’d already been heavily exposed in one dimension. Then the movie that I was cast in, The Great Locomotive Chase—there was more tender loving care of the locomotives than of their live asset.
To put it simply, Walt Disney was unconcerned; he had so many things on his plate. I have no complaints. He always gave me opportunities to talk to him. But that one went by the board, and then the next one that came up was Bus Stop . I have a book that I went out and bought: the play Bus Stop. I took it to his office and I said, “I’d like to work in this picture.” In the book I have his inter-office memo, with brown, crumbling edges—Walt Disney Productions, Inter-Office Communications, February 23, 1956. To Fess Parker from Walt Disney. “I am returning your copy of Bus Stop. Personally, I do not think that this is a good part for you, and what with present commitments that will carry you into September, I do not believe you ought to consider any outside things until after that time.” And Don Murray, a friend of mine who lives out here in Santa Barbara—the idea that it was not a good opportunity is really kind of weird, because Don was able to do it so well [playing opposite Marilyn Monroe] that he got an Academy Award nomination. I don’t know if I would have been able to have an equal amount of success, but I sure would have liked to try it.
MB: Were you under contract to Walt personally in the beginning? I know there were such arrangements back in those days.
FP: Yes, the first two years of the contract I was under personal contract to him. Then I changed agents, and my agent negotiated a new contract for me, and Walt didn’t want to pay it. So he put me with the studio, a new seven-year contract. Two years into that contract, I’m being cast as sort of an auxiliary character, second billed. In Old Yeller , I’m at the beginning and the end. The next thing, they introduced [James MacArthur, in The Light in the Forest, 1958], so I’m still in doldrums there. Basically, I just don’t think they understood that if they wanted to extract the maximum value out of me, they had to do a little thinking about it, and they weren’t thinking.
Then they cast me in a picture called Tonka . I’ve never [even] seen it advertised. Sal Mineo was in it. I said, “Who’s Sal Mineo?” “Well, he’s a young actor.” “OK, let me see the script.” I still remember this, I was so shocked. “My name is Captain James Keogh, and this is the story of my horse Tonka.” Over the titles. On the back end, page 95, five pages, I’m killed. I went to Walt and I said, “Are you going to star me in this picture?” “Oh, yes.” I said, “I think that’s dishonest. I haven’t got anything to work with. So I disagree.”
If I’d been the only thing on his mind, or if he’d paid more attention to the circumstance—but by this time, he had people doing work that he didn’t want to do. So we disagreed. I said, “I’m not going to do this picture,” so they put me on suspension. There was more talk between my agent and the studio, and I believed, when I went back, that I was not going to be required to do that picture. But nothing had changed. So I said, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to do the picture.” Any other studio, if it mattered, they would just put you on suspension until they were ready to use you again. But in this case, I never said to the studio, “I have no interest in the five years left on my contract.” It was just sort of understood, and I left, and that was the end of it.
MB: Do you think they had run out of ideas for how they wanted to use you, and they were content to let you go? Of course, you wanted to leave—
FP: No, I wasn’t intent on leaving at all. I had five years to go on a contract. I’m sure, from their side, they thought they were paying me a lot of money, but considering the work I’d done for them in the beginning—not just the film opportunities they gave me, because that was my obligation, but I went all over the world for that company and worked like a dog because I thought I had a vested interest in the merchandise and it was worth working for.
MB: So when you turned down Tonka and went on suspension and then came back, you expected that they would offer you another role, and you wanted them to.
FP: Yes, and I can’t understand it, even to this day. I talked to someone who’d seen Tonka—I’ve never seen it—and I [would have] had a brief message over the title and four or five pages [of the script].
MB: It’s not a big part [Keogh is played in the film by Philip Carey]. You would have been in support of Sal Mineo. But this is what I want to get clear: it sounds as if it was more Disney’s preference than yours that you leave the studio.
FP: I had an agent who was representing me, and I don’t really know what the conversation was. It kind of got down to not a suspension, but “do it or else”. I felt that I was right and that I had to do what I thought was right. I didn’t want to go back to where I’d been.
MB: Walt treasured his great animators, who were in effect the actors in his animated films. It’s baffling to me that he wouldn’t have had some of the same feeling about the most important actors in his live-action films, particularly people who had shown they could deliver for him the way you had. I don’t get it.
FP: I don’t, either. I didn’t understand it. I’d only been in films for three years, so I wasn’t a past master of understanding where I was, but I did understand that without the part, you’ve got no place to go.
After Disney, I went directly to Paramount, and I was there for four years, from ’58 to ’62. Then, in ’63, I did thirty episodes of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Daniel Boone show took me to ’70. I turned down a television series at Universal [McCloud] that Dennis Weaver did a great job with; I would never have pulled it off like he did. I still had ideas that maybe somewhere I’d get another shot [at feature films]. Plus, my family was growing up—[doing another TV series] just wasn’t attractive to me.
I went to Warner Bros. the last three years that I received a paycheck from the industry. I did a pilot film; that was the only thing I did in three years. It wasn’t because I was turning things down; it was just that nothing happened. I don’t even know why they had me there. I had a big dressing room, a secretary, a limo any time I wanted it. I lived in Santa Barbara, so when I had business in L.A. it was nice to have the limo meet me at the airport. But it didn’t make any sense.
MB: This Searchers thing is so intriguing—I think of you playing against John Wayne, and I think of the two of you being generally the same sort of actor. You use aspects of your own personalities to make the characters you’re playing more real.
FP: Absolutely. I’m also the first to say that accolades for the finest actors in films are all the same. Some guys change their clothes, but it’s still Marlon Brando. Paul Newman is Paul Newman. The force of these individual personalities is what the business is about. How many great actors are there, in film? You may laugh when I say this, but I think Gary Cooper was one of the greatest actors ever in films. Look at the range of things that he did.
MB: I was going through the directors’ credits on the films you appeared in at Disney, like Norman Foster on the Davy Crockett series and the various people who directed the feature films—
FP: I want to tell you, there was not one of them on an A list.
Norman Foster, frankly, tried to get rid of me [during the filming of the first Davy Crockett show]. We didn’t have any dailies to look at, and I wasn’t privy to that, anyway. They simply couldn’t get them back from Hollywood to where we were. Finally, they did. Foster invited the whole company to look at them, and on the way out of the theater, he said, “You’re coming along.” I said, “Well, thank you, Norman.” Then it was a little better. But he had been placed in an awkward position. He went off to Mexico to cast for Zorro and to find locations, only to come back and find, oh no, we’re not doing Zorro, we’re doing Davy Crockett, and here’s your boy. He felt a little out of the loop.
MB: Why do you think Walt never hired strong directors?
FP: He wanted the last word. He didn’t want anybody to challenge him. When we did Great Locomotive Chase, he put a producer in place who had never produced, Larry Watkin [a screenwriter for such Disney features as Treasure Island and The Story of Robin Hood]. The director was a man who had been an Academy Award[-winning] film editor, [Francis D.] Lyon was his name. He had put together The Cult of the Cobra  at Universal and pasted together the newsreels of Bob Mathias to make The Bob Mathias Story , and those were his credits coming into making this picture at a distant location, with some extremely difficult logistics, and with a screenplay—when I had a chance, I said to Walt, “This screenplay just doesn’t feel quite right.” Historically, the character [the Union spy James J. Andrews, played by Parker] was significant, but from a storytelling point, everybody had to root for Jeff Hunter [who played a Confederate railroad conductor pursuing his stolen train] to catch us, because there wasn’t any story otherwise. So, every move turned out to be somewhat less than it might have. The industry was waiting to see if I could produce another reasonably successful picture, and I didn’t do much.
Continued in "Walt's People: Volume 5"!
T. Hee recalls getting hired by Walt Disney in 1938, and his first story meeting with the boss.
RICHARD HUBLER: When did you first meet Walt?
T. HEE: I met him for the first time when I came to the Hyperion studio after Frenchy de Trémaudan had presented my drawings to him.
RH: When was that?
TH: That was 1936, on George Washington’s birthday. I was 24 and that makes Walt eleven years older than I was. I think I was about the youngest fellow in the studio at that time—I’m pretty sure I was.
RH: What had you been doing previous to that?
TH: I had been writing cartoon stories for Warner Brothers—Merrie Melodies—and had been designing their characters and drawing their backgrounds.
RH: Why did you come to Walt?
TH: Well, I wanted to come to Walt before I ever came here. I even submitted samples, but I wasn’t good enough. Working for Walt Disney had been my desire since I had seen some of the animated films.
RH: Did he interview personnel?
TH: No, he didn’t. They had a fellow here named George Drake. George Drake interviewed me, and Don Graham was with him at the time. When I was waiting out in the reception room a young fellow came out and he said, “ARE YOU TEE HEE?” I said, “YES.” I thought perhaps he was hard of hearing, and so he said, “FOLLOW ME,” and I said, “Certainly”. So we started walking along and he said, “You’re not really deaf, are you?” I said, “No, I’m not.” He says, “Damn that George, he told me you were hard of hearing and I’d have to shout.” So, I said, “Thank you very much.” We went into George’s office and George was sitting there with his feet up on the desk and Don Graham was sitting there running his fingers through his hair—my first introduction to both of these gentlemen—and George got up and said, “Tee Hee?” and I said, “HUH?” and he said, “YOU’RE TEE HEE?” and I said, “Yes, but you don’t have to shout.” Don Graham practically fell through the floor because he had been in on this and George turned about fifteen different colors and the young boy was still standing there at the doorway. I looked around at him and he was grinning and chuckling because this had turned on George.
I presented my samples then and they said there wasn’t anything at that moment and he’d take my name and to check back in now and then. But I couldn’t wait, so I went out to MGM and Hal Roach and started doing caricatures of movie stars, and I subsisted that way for a couple of years. And then about the third year I went to work for Warner Brothers.
RH: When did you come to Walt and how? How did you get in?
TH: This was through these caricatures again. Thank goodness they were the entrée because my drawings were not good enough and Walt liked the caricatures. He thought they were great and he said, “I think we can use him on Mother Goose Goes Hollywood,” the film that they had not been progressing very far with.
RH: How had he seen the caricatures?
TH: An animator named Gilles de Trémaudan had a sister who lived in an apartment house where we lived, and she saw them and said, “Boy, these are great! I’ll bet Walt would like to see those.” She said, “I’ll get my brother Frenchy to take them over there if you like.” I said, “Would I like? That’s great.” So he took my armful of caricatures of the stars to the studio and showed them to Walt, and Walt was the one who hired me.
RH: Do you remember the first conference that you had with Walt?
TH: Yes, I do. I must preface this by saying that in those days I was a rather nifty dresser because I was rather poor and I wore burlap pants which my wife had made me, and burlap shirts, but I wore very fancy Mexican huaraches and brilliantly colored neckerchiefs.
RH: You were a hippie before there were any hippies.
TH: I apparently was one of the early hippies. I had long black hair, and I weighed about 240 pounds at the time. I finally got to 260, which amused Walt.
Anyway, here I was with this burlap and I looked like a big sack of potatoes I imagine, and wrinkled. Walt knew that I was there and he knew I was working on this story. I was working with a fellow named Ed Penner, who also was somewhat of a character, in that he would wear mustard-colored pants and he wore Indian moccasins. Not the American Indian, but the East Indian moccasins—the pointed toes that curved up—and he wore strange-colored shirts and so forth. I guess we were matched pretty well. And I was very calm and he was very nervous. We worked together on this storyboard, and when we heard that we were going to have this story meeting I was particularly clean that day. I was not dirty, ever, but I had my wife press the burlap pants, and when Walt came in he said, “Well, good morning, fellas.” He looked around and he said, “You Tee?” and I said, “Yes, I am,” and he shook hands and said, “Well, let’s see what we’ve got here.”
When we started going through it, I had enough ham in me that when it came to the parts of the characters, I would enact them, standing up in front of the people—there were about twelve or thirteen people there, including Walt. I did Katharine Hepburn saying, “I’ve lost my sheep, really I have,” Edward G. Robinson…
RH: At 250 pounds.
TH: Yeah. I was doing my flitting around, you know, like they would do. And I think Walt was entranced. He laughed, and all the other guys laughed, too.
RH: A second later…
TH: …a second later. And there were quite a few people who weren’t sure that this was going to be accepted at all. But Ed Penner and I, we had the conviction that Walt would like it, and while I’d never met him, I just felt this was what he would like. So when it was all over with he said, “Well, I think it’s great. What do you guys think?” And they all said it was great. So I knew I had a friend.
RH: I love these instinctive modern executives who kowtow to the top man.
TH: That’s just exactly right. Now there were a few fellows who were on our side, but there were some others who were very reticent about saying we had what he wanted, because even at that time in 1936 there were those who felt that certain things should be done and certain things should not be done. Walt was not one of those. Walt believed in progressing and doing things differently. I think about that time they were trying to get him to do another Three Little Pigs and he said, “No”—he was already off into Snow White when I came there.
RH: What was your starting salary?
TH: I was making $50.00 a week, which was a lot of money for me. I had been making $22.50 at the other studio. I started at $16.00, worked up to $18.00, finally up to $22.50, and that was over a period of about a year and a half, so $50.00 looked like a lot of money. And I went out immediately after I had a few checks and bought a little red sports car. It was only one of four in the United States, called a British Nippy. And this big me in that little car—I could just sit down like this and strike a match—and Walt was intrigued by this, too. He just couldn’t get over it. When March of Time came out to do a film on Disney’s, he said, “Be sure and get Tee getting in and out of that car.” So they shot some film on that. I have it somewhere. It’s a 35mm clip.
RH: Well, at this point, my sympathy goes out to your wife. Is she an artist, too?
TH: No, she’s not. She was an artist of a different kind. She had been a singer with bands—orchestras—and she wanted to get away from that, so she was happy then. She liked me. She thought I was kind of amusing: cute, heavy. Forgive me, but she would embarrass me by saying, “Isn’t he pretty?” But I knew I wasn’t.
RH: What was your next encounter with Walt?
TH: Well, the next encounter was that after this film had gone into animation, he said, “I want you to go with [Wilfred] Jackson”—who was the director on that picture—“I want you to be up there with Jackson when he’s planning all these characters, so that they look like what you have here.”
Continued in "Walt's People: Volume 5"!