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Wednesdays with Wade: Walt's People, Volume II

Wednesdays with Wade: Walt's People, Volume II

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Christmas has come and gone and I am thankful that Santa didn't leave me a lump of coal. He did leave me some extra pounds thanks to the season of eggnog, fruitcake and other holiday treats. Actually, I thought I had been pretty good this year and it would have been nice to find a real-life, full sized Belle or Ariel in my stocking.

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However, Santa did decide to leave me some Disney oriented books. This has been an outstanding year for Disney books from the catalog from the Henry Ford Museum to David Gerstein's "Mickey and the Gang" to a very special surprise that was published just in time for Christmas: "Walt's People -- Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him -- Volume II."

"Volume II" (Which is a greatly expanded sequel to last year's outstanding "Volume I") is the second in a series of books designed to preserve the vision of Walt Disney through interviews with the people who actually interacted with Walt on projects. Edited by Didier Ghez, "Walt's People" features contributions by noted Disney historians like Robin Allan, Paul F. Anderson, Michael Barrier, J.B. Kaufman, Jim Korkis, Mike Lyons, John Province, Thorkil Rasmussen, Arn Saba, Klaus Strzyz and many more.

These key Disney experts have opened up their archives to share these unedited and complete interviews, many of which are being published for the first time in their entirety. Among the Disney Legends that are being interviewed in "Volume II" are Frank Thomas, Woolie Reitherman, Eric Larson, Herb Ryman and Ward Kimball.

Speaking of Mr. Kimball ... As a special sneak preview of what can be found in "Walt's People -- Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew him -- Volume II," Didier has sent along this excerpt of Jim Korkis' interview with Ward. Here are some stories that I'm sure that you won't find in any authorized Disney histories:

KORKIS: I don't think many people know you briefly experimented with drugs.

KIMBALL: In the Sixties, I experimented with mescaline and peyote and was involved with a study being run by UCLA at that time on the effects of those drugs. I started to get sick when I was taking them so I also took sea sickness medicine to combat those effects. One time, I had this very bad trip where I thought I was falling and couldn't grab hold of anything. All I really remember about it is that I think I was close to dying and I kept telling my wife NOT to call a doctor.

KORKIS: It seems to me that the biggest problem for the early Disney animators was not drug abuse but alcohol abuse like Fred Moore.

KIMBALL: He'd start drinking around noon and by two o'clock he was fairly drunk and would swagger into a room asking, "Who would like a punch in the nose?" He also had the habit of taking off his coat and tossing it onto a coat rack. One day, I stole a saw and sawed the coat rack in three places and put it back together with transparent tape. The next time he tossed his coat, the entire pole fell apart. Somebody complained that he was getting so drunk he couldn't finish his animation on "The Reluctant Dragon" so
I'd come back in the evenings and finish up some scenes for him.

KORKIS: Didn't one of Walt's brothers have a little drinking problem?

KIMBALL: You're probably thinking of Ray. He drank fairly heavily but I still bought insurance from him. He was an insurance salesman. Ray would visit the studio and the story department wouldn't let him come in with his big cigar. So he would leave it on the sill of a window. While he was inside, one of the story guys would snip the cigar in half or down to a little stub. Ray would come out and be puzzled about what happened to his cigar. This happened all the time and he never seem to catch wise.

One day, I went over to get a copy of my insurance policy and he wouldn't let me into his apartment. I had to plead that I had an appointment and just wanted a copy of my policy. He finally opened the door and it was pitch black inside. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw that all around the place were those horseshoe flower wreaths that people put on graves. Apparently, he thought they were pretty and was going up to Forest Lawn and stealing them to use as decorations. On one wall was a bulletin board with yellowed newspaper clippings saying: "Walt Disney does this...." and "Walt Disney announces that..." etc. But I got the feeling they were there not because he was proud of his brother but jealous of Walt.

KORKIS: Wasn't there an incident involving you and a gorilla suit at Christmas?

KIMBALL: I used to dress up as Santa for my kids and Christmas. We made quite a ceremony out of it where someone on the roof would pound on the roof and yell, "Now Dancer, Now Prancer..." and all the kids would storm into the living room just in time to see me at the chimney with my back turned toward them. I would then turn around dressed as Santa and hand out presents.

This got to be such a big deal that other neighborhood moms started coming by and pretty soon there was a whole gang of kids and parents. So one way I put a stop to this was by giving out condoms to the men one Christmas as presents.

Years later when my daughter Chloe was old enough, Betty complained that it was a shame that Chloe had missed out on all this. So under duress,
I agreed to do it one more time. But I always liked twists so this time instead of a Santa costume, I rented a gorilla outfit and drove home wearing it.

Bill Peet, the storyman, told the other animators that he was going to phone the police and tell them he was a local animal handler and that a gorilla had escaped and was in the vicinity of my home. But Peet on the way home apparently got roaring drunk and forgot all about it and when he did get home, his wife turned on the sprinklers to try and sober him up before he came into the house.

Well, at the Kimball home, there was the sound of reindeer on the roof. The kids rushed in and I turned around in the gorilla costume with arms raised and growling. It scared Chloe and even today she doesn't like me to tell the story. The dog got upset at me too and chased me out of the house and there I am panting and sweating in a neighbor's house where I peel off the costume.

"Walt's People -- Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him -- Volume II" is filled with page after page after page with wonderful, never before told stories like these in the Kimball interview. If you've already got Volume I, then you know what a treasure it is. And Volume 2 is even better.

More to the point, whether the "Walt's People" series survives for future volumes depends upon all of us who are seriously interested in Disney history picking up a copy. So give yourself a belated Christmas present if Santa didn't bring you a copy and order this great paperback from Xlibris.com (It will be available on Amazon.com this month. But ordering on Xlibris funnels more money to the publication of future volumes.)

Didier has already sent out the rough manuscript for Volume 3 this week for review by contributors to ready it for a Spring publication. Volume 3 will include interviews with Lee Blair, Jack Bradbury, Andreas Deja, James Algar, Bill Justice, Art Babbitt, Joe Grant and many, many more! I got a sneak peek and I am already starting to save up for that volume.

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