An Interview by Michael Barrier
[Click here for a one-minute (954KB) audio
excerpt from my June 6, 1969, interview with Kimball, in which
he talks about his conflict with Ben Sharpsteen, Dumbo's
supervising director, over how the crows should be animated (MP3
Ward Kimball, one of the most famous and distinctive of Walt Disney's
great animatorsand the most personally eccentricdied
in 2002 at the age of 88. With his passing still a fresh memoryand
with his "Tomorrowland" entries from the "Disneyland"
TV shows of the fifties due to be released as a "Walt Disney
Treasures" set of DVDs in the fall of 2003it seems appropriate
to revisit one of my interviews with Kimball.
I interviewed Kimball on December 12, 1986, it had been ten years
since we last sat down with a tape recorder between us. He was one
of the first people in animation I interviewed, on my first trip
to Los Angeles in 1969, and we did another long interview in 1976.
By 1986, I had talked with many people who crossed paths with Kimball,
at the Disney studio and elsewhere, and I had accumulated a long
list of statements I wanted to check with him. The 1986 interview
was in that respect typical of many of my later interviewsnot
tell-me-about-your-career retrospectives, but much more focused.
Such interviews don't lend themselves to publication in totoparts
of them are usually incomprehensible without a lot of background
informationbut extended excerpts can convey the flavor of
the person and his work, and such excerpts are what I've reproduced
These excerpts deal mostly with Kimball's work in the fifties;
I've organized them more or less chronologically. The fullest and
most accurate recounting of Kimball's whole Disney career is in
John Canemaker's recent book, Walt
Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. You'll find
in Kimball's remarks here, however, a considerably franker and more
detailed account of his disastrous run-in with Walt Disney over
Babes in Toyland (1961) than the one in Canemaker's book.
Kimball was at one point in line to direct that live-action musical
comedy, but it wound up instead in the hands of Jack Donahue, and
Kimball's career remained in eclipse for the rest of Walt Disney's
The excerpts conclude with discussion of the undying subject of
Walt Disney's supposed anti-Semitism (and related prejudices). Kimball
identifies Gunther Lessing, the Disney's studio's longtime attorney
and Walt's ferociously anti-union ally during the 1941 strike, as
being Jewishwhich, if true, would certainly complicate the
efforts of the many people who want to paint Walt and Roy Disney
as anti-Semites. Unfortunately, Lessing's Jewish identity, if it
existed, was as thoroughly submerged as Art Babbitt's. (Babbitt,
the animator who was a leader of the strike, was of Russian Jewish
descent, but he turned away questions about whether he regarded
himself as Jewish.)
I had planned to offer an audio excerpt from this interview, but
the sound quality of those tapes (I accidentally used Type II cassettes,
rather than Type I) is too poor, so I'm offering a clip
from my 1969 interview instead. The excerpts from the 1986 interview
followthe first excerpt quite typical, as I tested Kimball's
memories about Sleeping Beauty against those of Eyvind Earle,
that film's designer and background painter.
BARRIER: Eyvind Earle talked about your involvement in Sleeping
Beauty, when Chuck Jones was there and the two of you were working
together. I don't have a clear sense of what was going on when you
were involved in Sleeping Beauty, but this is the way it
looked to Eyvind Earle: "Ward at this point was all for a big
revolution at Disney'sa new direction. And Walt gave him a
chance, on Sleeping Beauty. Ward got Chuck Jones in from
Warner Bros., or somewhere, and the two of them got a room right
above meI was on the second floor, where the background department
was. Right upstairs, on the third floor, were Chuck Jones and Ward
Kimball, getting ready to do this fantastic new something that had
never been done before. I was knocking out these first paintingsI
even remember clearly the day I brought this painting [reproduced
in one of a group of stills that I had brought to the interview]
up there, because the original looked quite impressive. I remember
saying `How come you two aren't doing anything?' Weeks and months
went by, and every time I'd come up there, they're sitting there
talkingno sketches on the wall, nothing anywhere. I said to
Ward, 'How come you're not doing anything?' He said, 'You don't
know Walt like we do.' I don't know what he meant by that, because
I didn't know Walt."
Later in the interview, Eyvind said, "The only one who did
nothing was Kimball." I asked him, "Was he supposed to
be working on story, too, at that time?" and Eyvind said, "I
don't know. I don't know what he was supposed to be doing, except
that he was supposed to be originating something brand-new that
had never been done before. And, of course, many were telling me
to be more modern, and I knew that for Walt, that wasn't it. So
I didn't listen to anybody; I just did them the way I thought it
KIMBALL: First of all, we weren't trying to do anything new and
different, because I recognized I was filling inI don't know
what year that was
BARRIER: If you were with Chuck, it would have been '53, because
Warner Bros. was closed the last half of that year.
KIMBALL: '53 . . . that's before I went to work on television.
I was between animation assignments, so Walt said, "Why don't
you go up and work on that sequence about the fairies changing colors,"
and so forth. It was a fill-in. That happened a lot. I could leave
the animation department and go and work on things of that sort,
as a story man. I guess he had a little confidence in me. Bill Peet
got off on something else at that point; he should have been working
on it. We weren't trying to do anything different. You have to understand
Eyvind Earle. He works in a certain style, and I must give Walt
credit for experimenting on Sleeping Beauty and going
along with an Eyvind Earle look. And I pushed that at meetings;
I said, "Why do we always have to paint these things the same
way? Can't we do this story more or less like the Renaissance art,
the distorted perspective, and those great illuminations where the
people are too big for the castle?" That sort of thing; and
Eyvind Earle agreed with that, and it fit his style of over-designing.
So, I'll admit, I was pushing it. He had worked with me on Toot
Whistle Plunk and Boom, and we had done Melody and were
cutting out old valentines and were gluing them to the backgroundall
of those things, because I had discovered Graphis magazine,
and it opened my eyes to some other way of doing things. Here, on
those two musical thingswhich were destined, I thought, for
the schools, why not do it a cheaper and easier way, and use other
things? Well, they went into the theaters. That's when I met Eyvind
Earle; he came to work, and I grabbed him because they wouldn't
give me anybody else.
So we used his style, and Walt liked it, so Walt went out on a
limb and used him on Sleeping Beauty. But I think
later Walt and other people came to the conclusion that Sleeping
Beauty, because of that style, was a little cold; and it's cold
because in comparison to the regular "Disney style," it
was designy. But Walt let it go through, and that's the way it is
today. There is just as much incompatibility with the characters
the way the animators drew them and the background style as there
ever was on any of our pictures. An incompatibility the way the
animation is flat and outlined, and the backgrounds are fully rendered.
But we were going to do something differentno, that wasn't
it. I think he's confused with my making the pitch on the overall
Sleeping Beauty"Let's do something different"and
that's why it came down on Eyvind's shoulders. But story sketches,
no; you just do those the way you would, for the business.
BARRIER: So when you were working on Sleeping Beauty, you
knew you weren't going to be on that very long.
KIMBALL: Yeah. Chuck wanted to know if there was any chance of
his coming over, and probably sent a letter to Walt. Walt was not
excited about it, but he said, "Well, let's give it a chance."
I always felt double-crossed, because that gave him a little paycheck
while he was navigating the dry spell at Warner Bros. I always felt
I'd been had.
BARRIER: So the two of you were sitting up there in that room
KIMBALL: All we did was sit around; there was a lot of it. I think
every time Eyvind came up there, Joe Rinaldi, he, myself, and Chuck
Jones would get into these gabfests; and as I explained [in an earlier
interview], Chuck had just discovered one-upsmanship, and he ran
into his nemesis with Bill Peet, because Bill Peet wouldn't say
much, but he was funny, and he could cut you to the quick. I started
enjoying it, because I knew Chuck always wants to dominate the conversation,
and Peet would cut his legs out from under him. Maybe that's one
reason he didn't want to work there.
BARRIER: So as far as you were concerned, the whole episode was
marking time until the next animation assignment.
KIMBALL: Yes, yes. Let's see . . . '53 we won the Academy Award
for Toot Whistle, '54, '55, I was on television, the whole
space [series]. That's why I was so glad to get off of Sleeping
BARRIER: Was Jack Kinney originally supposed to do those space
KIMBALL: We first came in, and we didn't know really what to do.
Walt was opening up Tomorrowland, he had to have something, and
we were going to have something with Daws Butlervery amateurish
ideas, everything was being thrown out, and Jack was going to work
on it also. But Jack was not necessarily interested in the fact
that we were going out into space, and I was always a UFO fan anyway.
So when I went to Walt with the Collier's [article on space
exploration] and he said, "Hey, this is the way we should go,"
it was sort of mutual agreement, I think. Jack realized that this
was the sort of thing that wasn't his bag. I was probably the most
enthusiastic one, and I was going to take it very scientifically;
it wasn't going to be a comedy hour. I think Walt sensed that, and
gave Jack something else to do.
BARRIER: I've seen [Norman] Ferguson's last animation for Disney,
a cartoon called Social Lion [directed by Kinney]
that he did all the animation for, and it's really sad.
Well, that wasn't Ferguson's fault. That was in the fifties? We
had just finished Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, and before
that the Melody picture, and to everybody's surprise, Walt
accepted it and liked it, and one won an Academy Award. Walt was
surprised; they were better than he expected. John Hench had put
us down for doing it"Walt's gonna fire your ass when
he gets back." But we came through; call it luck or whatever.
So the word got around, "Walt likes that modern stuff."
Ferguson might have done this in the old days. [Kimball drew a lion
in an older cartoon stylesee the accompanying illustration,
with Kimball's tongue-in-cheek notation that it won the "10-cent
Hershey Bar Prize" at the Doran School in Glendale] Ferguson
would have drawn it this way, because he didn't draw any other way.
To make it modern, Jack KinneyI think he was the directornot
understanding what we were doing, they would [Kimball went over
the "Ferguson" drawing and squared off the round corners].
It looked like these things where you follow the dots. I couldn't
believe it. We looked at it, Marc Davis and me, after working on
those other thingshow stupid can you be? That was their idea
of modernism. You can see where this would throw Ferguson. We would
design the whole face so it wasn't the regular comic line. On our
Melody, and more on Toot Whistle, I set up a style,
with Tom Oreb, who was good at it, and X. Atencio was in charge
of cleaning up. We had animators on Toot Whistle that
did this way, but when they were cleaned upthe owl, and so
forthX. Atencio did it, and he did a good job of designing
and keeping the movement.
BARRIER: I've heard a couple of stories about the original version
of the Siamese-cat animation in Lady and the Tramp. One was
that the original version was thrown out by Walt as being "too
good" for the rest of the picture; and the other was that the
cat sequence was done in what Cliff Nordberg called "two-dimensional
animation" and had to be redone for that reason. Which one
is closer to the truth? Or are both of them correct?
KIMBALL: Who said it was two-dimensional?
BARRIER: That's what Cliff Nordberg told an animation class at
KIMBALL: I never heard that. I went off on another picture. I
started that—what was the date when we were starting to animate
on Lady and the Tramp?
BARRIER: The picture came out in '55, so it probably would have
been early '54.
KIMBALL: Well, see, I was on television. I got off of Sleeping
Beautymaybe I was waiting for Lady and the Trampand
Walt needed somebody to do the Tomorrowland shows. "Too good
for the picture" or whatever the thing was, he really needed
me on [the TV show]. This was important to him, this park, and he
had no Tomorrowland stuff. Rather than dwell on whether it was two-dimensional
or too goodthey're sort of [at] cross-purposes, those commentsoverriding
all of that was that he wanted me to develop the television show.
BARRIER: But the cat animation in the picture is still largely
your work, isn't it?
KIMBALL: No, I animated some sceneswho ended up doing it?
[Bob Carlson, Bill Justice, and John Sibley are credited in the
Disney's studio's draft, the scene-by-scene record of who animated
what. Kimball is not credited for any animation.] I did some scenes,
and they might have kept one or two scenes. As you get along, they
keep changing the character, and they might have gone back and changed
the proportions. I remember "it's too good for the picture,"
[but I don't remember in] what context that was said. Too real,
or something. Those things happen. You see, you're developing something,
and you have to go back; [you] do that all the time. You learn things,
and you redo all of it, to bring it up to what you like.
BARRIER: You mentioned [off the tape] Walt's being in Europe in
early '53; of course, he was in Europe a lot in the early '50s
KIMBALL: He was gathering material for Disneyland.
BARRIER: And before that, he was in England periodically for the
shooting of the first live-action features. He was away from the
studio for six months at a time. How did this affect you and the
KIMBALL: Once he got this bug about the park, it was an obsession.
That's all he thought about. I was in on the very beginning of that,
because he started with his interest in the railroad, his inch-and-a-half-scale
steam. He began to meet people that were connected with his scale
of railroads; I think the nurse and his doctor said he needed a
hobby. Even though the shop built the locomotive, Walt's baby was
building that inch-and-a-half-scale caboose. He was proud of it;
he liked it. He'd come down Saturday and Sunday, to the studio,
and work on this. In those days, his idea was to have the "Disneyland"
across Riverside Drive, where the scene dock eventually ended up.
Then we took trips up north to see a guy who had possession of all
the railroad equipment that had been used in the San Francisco Exposition
in 1916. It was in San Francisco proper, where they had the Palace
of the Legion of Honor and all that fake classical architecture
that they made out of stucco and two-by-fours. Walt's first conception
on Disneyland [was] that you get about on a small railroad, twelve-inch
gauge, like the old Venice, California, engines that we had out
here in the early twenties. You could ride all over the city of
Venice, like streetcars. But Walt's ideas changed, on the size of
the railroad, I think really after he came out here one night and
we steamed up the three-foot gauge and he got to pull the throttle.
He got away from the miniature, and ended up with a three-foot gauge
railroad in Disneyland. In Walt Disney World, it's still three-foot
gauge, but those locomotives, instead of being slightly scaled down,
in reference to the track, are full size; they got them from Central
But this was his new baby; that's all he could talk about. That's
why he left me alone on the space series. That never would have
happened; those pictures never would have come outthat way
or at allbecause he would have been there checking on me every
week, and I knew there were things on the board that if he saw before
we put them in production, he wouldn't approve of. After he saw
them, like the Mars picture, he sat there with his mouth open. So
that was pure luck, and coincidence. We were protected by his zeal
and enthusiasm about a park where people could come and have fun.
BARRIER: But most people seem to have regarded his absences as
a problem rather than an opportunitysomething they had to
KIMBALL: That's right, and I was a different type of person. I
looked at it as, here's a chance. And I interpreted it as giving
me the responsibilitywhich he had never done before. The other
guys, maybe he didn't say, "Hey, do this while I'm gone,"
and so they were lost without his coming up there and having a story
session once or twice a week. In our case, like that story where
he takes a piece of folded blank paper and hands it to me the day
he decided to do these things based on the Collier's article--it's
like here, write your own ticket. That was written up in Dave Smith's
article in Future magazine [in 1978]. Guys never got over
that, around the studio, when that got around, that Walt had handed
me a blank piece of paper, with a pencil, and said, "Write
your own script. Do anything you want."
BARRIER: I would think his attitude toward the features would
have been different, though.
KIMBALL: That's true. He felt that I was on the right track, and
I was not totally knowledgeable but that I would do a job that he
would approve of. And we did check with him. It was a hard job getting
him to come in, when we had the thing all up on the boards, [but]
he made good suggestions, and he met [Wernher] Von Braun, and as
soon as he started talking to Von Braun, he got really enthusiastic.
He knew that I was working with Von Braun, and that Kimball couldn't
get too far off the subject with our leading space expert looking
over his shoulder. So it was a unique circumstance, and I would
say it was a hell of a lot of luck. I don't think, when I look back
on it, that we let him down on it, even though, when he was trying
to put me down and he thought I was getting too big for my britches,
he said, "Goddammit, Kimball, you know that space stuff you're
doing, my wife saw the first show and it bored the shit out of her."
BARRIER: [In that connection] Lew Keller was talking about the
Babes in Toyland episode.
KIMBALL: Yeah, that was kind of a low period. Unfortunately, his
gofers and yes-men, like [Bill] Anderson and the rest of them, didn't
like my taking responsibility while Walt was away. I had the sets
designed, we decided on Ray Bolger, things like that, and those
were the province of Walt. I stepped over, but I had learned this
from the space pictures. I should have analyzed it; maybe we're
getting into a different territory. So, it was bad, and he was going
to teach me a lesson, and I was a naughty boy, I suppose, but it
wasn't my fault. This publicity guy, who knew that our rights to
Babes in Toyland were about to expire in a year or so, didn't
want any other studio starting the project, so he took this ad in
the Variety and Hollywood Reporter: "Congratulations,
Ward Kimball assigned to direct Babes in Toyland." I
was embarrassed; I opened it and I called him: "What the hell
did you do this for, what's Walt going to say?" "Well,
we had to, it's for our own protection." Walt heard about itof
course, Anderson and the rest showed him"We've got to
do something about Kimball here." Walt thought that I put that
in, and that was bad, and I don't think that I ever convinced him
that I didn't.
BARRIER: Did the publicity guy confess that he had done it?
KIMBALL: They got rid of him. No, he never went to Walt.
BARRIER: Lew Keller saidand I don't think this is something
that you mentionedthat another pretext Walt used for giving
you a hard time was that you had been away from the studio for a
few days with the Firehouse Five; you were absent for six days,
or something like this, playing in Reno.
KIMBALL: Well, no. Basically, it's what I'm relatingI took
too much initiative in a territory that was Walt's prerogative.
I should have waited; I should have presented it to him"This
is a set we've been working on, we were considering Ray Bolger"we
hadn't hired him, he just did a try-out; it was an experimental
scene. Had not the ad appeared, it would have been all right. But
those were two unfortunate-so it's not always been luck with
me. I just felt really shot down by circumstances. Along with thatit
all added up, because when Walt got back, he was backing Nixon [for
President]. Somebody talked Walt into contributing to Nixon, and
talking to us about the dire circumstances of the movie industry
if we didn't have Nixon, all that crap that had been given to us
by Gunther Lessing
. When they came up to me, I said, "Hell,
no, I'm not going to contribute to this. Walt shouldn't be doing
it. What if the trade papers get hold of this thing, that Walt is
putting the pressure on his supervisors to contribute to Nixon?
That's bad. Even if I was a Republican, that would be bad. I wouldn't
run this risk." So the stories got back to Walt that Kimball
wasn't cooperating. What saved me from his full wrath was when they
got to Milt Kahl, who was a rock-ribbed conservative. He got mad
about being pressured, and he jumped up and down and raised hell.
At least he had two of his favorite animators, with divergent opinions
[but] both agreeing that Walt shouldn't collectand that changed
in a week or two to "the candidate of your choice." [But]
that was thrown in the hopper.
BARRIER: This business about your going to Reno to play with the
bandwas that also something that was thrown in?
KIMBALL: He was so proud of that band for years that he went to
all our openings at the Mocambo; he got up there on the stage, I
remember, at the Mocambo, a place he'd never go. He said "my
boys" and made speeches in front of all the rest of the stars.
But when these things all got added up, the band got thrown in the
hopper, too. I remember he was having a picnic out at the Golden
Oak Rancha barbecue, an all-day thing. We were playing baseball,
and everything else. Walt had already talked to me about the Babes
in Toyland thing. This was on a Saturday, and I went to the
picnic at 10 o'clock in the morning, and it was going to go through
until the evening, with Japanese lanterns and everything else. But
I had to leave and drive to San Diego to play at the Hotel Coronado
with the band, like we did on the weekends; we never let it interfere
with the studioit was Saturday or Sunday, or Friday night.
I wanted something to eat, I smelled this barbecue cooking, but
I had to leave at, say, 2 o'clock, so I went over and asked them
if I could have a plate of food earlier. We'd had the games, and
I remember Walt didn't think it was funny earlier in the day because
I was playing catcher at the time, and Keenan Wynn was into motorcycles,
and he kept roaring out there. Somebody was going to bat for him,
and he would go around the bases on this motorcycle. Walt walked
over and saw Keenan going around, and I said, "Heh, heh, Keenan's
got this idea, he's going to run the bases." Walt scowled,
like "what the hell's this all about?"which didn't
do me any good; he thought it was my idea. So he walks up, while
I'm sitting all by myself, with Betty [Kimball's wife], and I'm
eating, and he says to Betty, "Don't you feed him at home?"
I said, "Gee, Walt, I have to go and play a job in San Diego."
He made some sarcastic remark: "Don't we pay you enough?"
You see, this fed the way he was feeling. That's what Lew is probably
talking about. Walt couldn't understand why I would leave a Disney
party that he planned, desert it at 3 in the afternoon, and go to
San Diego and play with the band. Betty came in and said, "Well,
Ward likes the applause"some silly remark. So I think
that's the real story behind it.
BARRIER: Once his inclinations had changed
KIMBALL: Yes, once you'd been pegged
BARRIER: then everything feeds that, whereas before, your
going to San Diego to play with the band might have been a plus.
KIMBALL: Greed, money"Don't we pay you enough?"
And it was a dull party.
BARRIER: Something I've never been clear on is the extent to which
the Nine Old Men, in the postwar years, played a formal role, as
a committee, in deciding who got screen credit and recommending
people for raises, and that sort of thing. The implications of what
people say are that you performed a sort of review function, but
it's never stated that clearly.
KIMBALL: Well, here is my perspective on it. From the very moment
I started animating, doing crowd scenes in the early days, and the
late '30s, and coming over to the new studio, we were isolated all
the more; we all had our separate rooms. On Hyperion, there were
two animators to a room, and two assistants; that's four guys in
a little narrow room. We got to Burbank, we had carpetsthe
animators got carpets and the assistants got hard linoleum. We were
isolated, and I kept questioning: Why aren't we animators in on
these story meetings? We are the ones that eventually put it on
the screen; why shouldn't we be familiar with it? Why don't they
ask for our input? And I realized there was sort of a wall between
the story department and the animators. That's one of the things
I brought up on my trip back to Chicago with Walt [in 1948], the
lack of animators' participating in the story. I could see that
he realized that that was a good idea, but he never told you if
you had a good idea. So I fought for that. And the strike brought
everything to a head as far as screen credit was concerned, because
we never got it on the shorts; Walt, through his own choice, put
our names on the features. The strike, and the agreement with the
Guild, worked out the problem of credit on the shorts, and that
became industry-wide, that the animators and story men got credit,
which was a good thing. We always had somebody who was a front for
the animation department. First it was Hal Adelquist, but he was
more or less chosen by us.
BARRIER: Really? You chose Hal Adelquist?
KIMBALL: I mean, he had our backing. If we didn't think it was
a good idea, I don't know whether he would have said anything, but
he worked with us, he represented us. Then, when he left, they had
to get another representative; that's when we all got together,
as a groupnot with Hal sitting thereand tried to think
of somebody who would be expendable, who had the least amount of
talent as far as the animation, or even in-between or clean-up.
We chose Ken Peterson, because he seemed to be articulate at meetings,
and he was a little power-hungry. And we didn't need him. So he
went in, really, with our blessing. That meant we had control of
things; and we let him know that when we had gripes, we want meetings
called. At that time, we were going through financial problems,
too, and we had to let people go, so who would they let go first?
That was a tough thing. We had to vote on it; who else would have
BARRIER: But who was in there doing the voting? Was it just the
Nine Old Men?
KIMBALL: Yes, the supervising animators. The guys who stayed in
the place during the strike. They were the animation committee.
And, of course, we knew about a guy's work more than anybody. How
was anybody to know in the personnel department? How are they to
know in the story department? It was a fair way of dealing with
it. We hated to do it. They would agree that they had to get rid
of two people and who they would be. Then, in good times, we needed
animators, and we would discuss the people on the outside who could
come in and work in the Disney style. So it was very helpful. But
at the same time, we began censuring the directors we didn't like,
especially Gerry Geronimi, and it got so none of us would work with
him any more. The final blow came when [John] Lounsbery, who was
on the committee also, refused to pick up work. So we exerted a
little power. But it was to make ourselves known and make sure we
got things like being invited to meetings. This was a thing I always,
from the very beginning, thought was screwy about the place. When
I was Ham's assistant: "You just picked this up from the director;
you haven't heard how they arrived at this idea. You're the one
who puts it on the screen; why didn't they call you?" It's
always been a stormy-petrel attitude I have.
BARRIER: In the fifties, some of you started going out of animationMarc
Davis going into WED, and you going into the TV show and live-action
features. Did you remain a member of the committee?
KIMBALL: More or less, yes. I became a director.
BARRIER: But the committee was loose enough
KIMBALL: Yes, yes. We never took it that seriously. I'd sit there
and doodle and draw. I think Frank [Thomas] and Ollie [Johnston]
saved one of my drawingsall of us sitting around, holding
hatchets, and Peterson says, "We've got to cut down."
Then [in another drawing] we're all holding pillowsyou know,
the opposite. We hated to be part of it, so we made fun of it, made
fun of ourselves, and kept it very light. But it was fair. And the
only guy who really got mad was Geronimi.
BARRIER: How long did the committee continue to function as such?
KIMBALL: It sort of petered out.
BARRIER: As people started retiring
KIMBALL: Well, Walt died. The beginning of the end of Geronimi
was Lounsbery going to Walt; and then we backed him up.
know [Walt] enjoyed the conflict; he knew that this was good for
the place, one guy fighting the other.
BARRIER: An interesting thing came up when I was up in Palo Alto
and dropped by to visit Art Davis, who was a director and animator
at Mintz and then Warner Bros. He had talked with Walt in the early
thirties about going to work for Disney's then, and Walt had offered
him a job. He decided, I guess it was shortly after the strike,
that he was going to make a move. He was very close friends with
Norm Ferguson at the time, and he said that he talked to Norm about
coming over to Disney's, and talked to Walt, and was assured this
would be no problem, and just to wait for things to take their course.
Nothing ever happened, and he was never able to find out from Norm
Ferguson what the problem was. He did hear later that the problem
was that he was Jewish. Obviously, it's difficult to substantiate
any individual case, and I've never heard any convincing evidence
that Walt himself was anti-Semitic
KIMBALL: Well, the climate of the times was a little more pronounced.
Somebody brought up the fact about the crows, and I said, "Well,
you've got to put yourself back there." When we did Dumbo,
that was approved, to have a Jim Crow, and "yowsah, boss,"
and all that [sort of] thing. I said, "Don't forget, we had
blacks, with great glee, doing the soundtrack." There were
ethnic jokes everywhere you went, and all of a sudden it was a no-no.
For years, Dumbo couldn't be shown because of the crows.
It finally broke out of the cage of censorship when it was run in
Montreal, at the Expo [in 1967]; everybody realized this shouldn't
Sometimes that [the presence of anti-Semitism at the studio] would
be easy to say, and I can see from the point [of view] of a person
being Jewish they might say that, or [be] inclined to be that way,
but we had Otto Englander, Joe Grant--you can name a lot of guys
that were there working for Walt, that he depended onGunther
Lessing . . .
BARRIER: Gunther Lessing was Jewish?
KIMBALL: Yeah, right. Walt was prone to remarks about Jews, I
guess like everyone else. We had a story meeting on the part of
Pinocchio where he's telling a lie, and his nose gets longer
and longer and longer. For a gag, I think Joe Grant did a caricature
of [himself] and Dick Huemer, who were working in the same department
then, drawing the "Grant-Hume bird." So when the bird
appeared on the end of Pinocchio's final stretch of the nose, that
was the topper, even with a nest. To top that, he had baby birdsthat's
how he did it, he had a Joe Grant bird and a Dick Huemer bird, kind
of an in-house [joke], and Walt says, "Well, jeez, if you're
gonna do that, why don't you have a little Ward Kimball Irish bird
in between them." So, I would say in an indirect way that was
one time I heard him [make an ethnic joke]; but everybody was doing
it. The comedians.
BARRIER: Dave Hilberman [a leader of the Disney strike] was both
Jewish and Communist
KIMBALL: How bad can you be?
BARRIER: and he said that at the time, the equation of Jew
and Commie was quite common.
KIMBALL: Yeah, they were one and the same [to] people like Walt;
he would love things like that
BARRIER: Somebody said to me that Art Babbitt was Jewish. That
had never crossed my mind.
KIMBALL: Oh, yes. But, see, Walthe talked with me once,
he said, "Jesus, Ward, I know you're kind of a socialist yourself.
For Christ's sake, I'm on your side; my father was a socialist."
My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister . . .
BARRIER: It does seem that after the strike, people like Berny
Wolf got laid off . . .
KIMBALL: Yeah, but the goys were laid off, too. But you see, Babbitt
and [Bill] Tytla had the temerity to go out on strike. He didn't
care about the lesser lights.
BARRIER: It seems that after the strike, the people with strong
flavoring, ethnic flavoring of various kinds, tended to disappear,
and the people who remained prominent, as animators at least, were
more in the California, Protestant, middle-class mold.
KIMBALL: The guys like Thomas, and so on? Don't forget, the New
York guys were the old guys that were animating before Walt even
came to California. And they were older; and Walt, somewhere in
his thinking, said, "They're tied down to old styles and work
habits. They're not trained as artists." So you can't forget
that. It wasn't necessarily that he was against the ethnics.
BARRIER: I don't think it was necessarily a conscious thing at
all. I just wonder if, given his own personality and his own background,
he would not have felt more comfortable with people like you, Frank,
Ollie . . .
KIMBALL: That's because he saw us come up from nothing. We were
his guys. Whereas the other people were imported. That's the difference.
BARRIER: They had a separate identity before they came to Disney's.
KIMBALL: We were trained and fed and nursed and weaned under his
BARRIER: So it was more or less incidental
KIMBALL: Yes. With this wave of artists who came there in the
mid-thirties, we were the preponderance of the people he leaned
on, the Nine Old Men. People are liable to read too much meaning;
there are other conditions and influences on all of these things.
The fact that Babbitt was the ringleaderWalt never forgave
him. Like I said, he felt that he took you on, gave you a job when
there were no jobs, paid you a salary, so he had a right to your
loyalty, and you shouldn't cross him. That's a common syndrome among
bosses with talent and bosses without talent.
BARRIER: They don't ever think they're getting something in return
that is equal in value to what they pay you.
KIMBALL: That's right. And Walt had all of that.
[Posted August 2003]