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Wednesdays with Wade: What really happened to Freddy Moore

Wednesdays with Wade: What really happened to Freddy Moore

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When a friend couldn't make a scheduled appointment to interview with Walt Disney because of a toothache, 19-year-old Fred Moore seized the opportunity and went in his place with sketches done on shirt cardboard. With no formal art training except for a few night classes he earned in exchange for janitorial work at Chouinard Art Institute, Moore was a natural animator and was hired immediately.

His influence on Disney animation and the creation of characters with "appeal" cannot be over-estimated. Ward Kimball was one of his friends and strongest supporters and the two are caricatured as a vaudeville act in the short Nifty Nineties." (The character of Lampwick in Pinocchio" is Moore's self-caricature of himself.)

Born Robert Fred Moore on September 7, 1911, he attended Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles. Moore is one of the Disney animators credited with creating "personality animation" evident in his work on "The Three Little Pigs" as well as the dwarfs in "Snow White" and perhaps most memorably in his re-design of Mickey Mouse. He gave Mickey the pear-shaped body, jowls and more that allowed the character to really convey emotion and be more flexible in his movements.

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However, for most students of Disney artwork, one of Moore's greatest claims to fame was his ability to draw wonderfully innocent yet highly sexual women of all ages. This ability is reflected a bit in his work on the centaurettes in "Fantasia" and the teenyboppers in "All The Cats Join In" but is best showcased in his casual "cheesecake" drawings that were collected with fervor by his fellow Disney animators.

Unfortunately, while he was a natural animator, he also had a reputation as an alcoholic. In Moore's day alcoholism was regarded as a character flaw, not a disease, as it is generally regarded today. For instance, Walter Lantz had no problem with Moore's drinking, and even joked about it, while Frank Thomas didn't speak to Fred for many years because of what he regarded as a sign of Moore's degeneracy. There was certainly plenty of physical evidence to showcase Moore's drinking problem. In fact, despite his talent, he was let go from the Disney Studios in 1946 as a "wake up call." Moore spent some time doing work at the Walter Lantz Studio but was re-hired by Disney in 1948.

Fred Moore died in Los Angeles on November 25, 1952 according to the official "Disney Legends" page. (That date is wrong, by the way.) And that incident has always been a source of some controversy with usually the story revolving around Moore being drunk and it somehow being a factor in his death. There have been stories that while drunk, he stumbled and bumped his head on a car and it caused internal bleeding that led to his death. Another story insists that Moore was driving drunk and swerved and hit his head on the steering wheel. Over the years, bizarre legends have sprung up surrounding Moore's unfortunate and untimely death.

Gus Jeckyl was Moore's assistant at Disney. According to him, Moore was getting out of his parked car and a drunk driver sideswiped him. (Moore was sober at the time.) He was taken to the hospital, but he had no insurance or money to pay for the treatment. The doctors told him that they wanted to do more tests, but that would cost money. They would give him the day to try to line up cash, but if he couldn't find any, they would have to discharge him the next morning. Moore and Jeckyl got on the phone and called all of Fred's old friends at Disney to ask to borrow money to help pay for his treatment, but everyone turned their back on him. Jeckyl said that one after another of Freddie's friends told him "Freddie just wants the money to get drunk again ..." The hospital finally discharged Moore when it became clear he had no way to pay his bills. He was sent home in a taxi, and died on his front doorstep with his house key in his hand from internal bleeding.

The next day, one major animator who had refused to give Freddie a dime for his hospital bill moaned and cried loudly over the "great loss". In between sobs, he made a point of whispering to everyone, "You know of course that Freddie was drunk when he got in the accident ..." It was a lie designed to make the whole thing Freddie's fault, and deflect any responsibility from Freddie's "old friends" for turning their back on him.

Certainly, this is a tragic story and one carrying an aura of validity because of Jeckyl's association with Moore. Unfortunately, like the dozens of other stories about Moore's demise, it isn't true.

Joe Campana ferreted out the actual truth through public records and according to those records Fred Moore actually died on Sunday, November 23, 1952 at 4:15 pm, at St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank (the same hospital where Walt would pass away in 1966), as a result of a head injury from a vehicle-on-vehicle collision the previous evening at Big Tujunga Canyon near the Angeles National Forest. Moore, 41 at the time of his death, was not at the wheel at the time of the accident; his wife Virginia who was 35 was driving and sustained minor injuries that were treated at St. Joseph's. Apparently, the couple had two daughters, Linda and Melissa.

The Moores were returning from a visit to Disney animation director Jack Kinney's house to watch a college football game. (Jack Kinney had directed the "All The Cats Join In" sequence in "Make Mine Music" on which Moore had animated.) In fact, Joe confirmed that the USC-UCLA game had been played that day. The time of the accident and the location of the accident also seem to support this story. It is apparent that the Moores got disoriented while driving home and when they attempted to turn around to head in the opposite direction, the collision occurred.

The driver of the other car, Roy Sowles, died many years ago, and attempts to locate the other passenger, Jesse Sowles (probably Sowles' son), who sustained minor injuries have not been successful.

The original accident report does not appear to have survived, either, but Joe located a contemporary newspaper account of the accident as well as Moore's death certificate listing the cause as "cerebral hemorrhage" and that an autopsy was performed and you can see them here.

Fred Moore was inducted as an official "Disney Legend" in 1995. And if you are interested in lively discussion about animation, cartooning, illustration and such, you should drop over to the "Cartoon Retro" discussion group where the true information about Fred Moore's death was first revealed and where there are several pages of Moore drawings to admire.

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