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Hollywood name-dropping, Disney style

Hollywood name-dropping, Disney style

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Whenever I'm taking a group of out of town visitors around Hollywood it's inevitable this question is asked. "Ever meet any famous movie stars?" Giving it a moment's thought, I reply, "Yeah, a few," and leave it at that. Name-dropping is a popular past time in Hollywood and I've always hated people who try to impress you with all the big shots they know. First off, I can honestly confess that I am not on a first name basis with any big time celebrity, so let's be clear on that. Surprisingly, many of the famous people I've met over the years were gracious, charming, and very generous with their time. Having said all that, let's get started playing this crazy Hollywood game of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

The first big star that comes to mind was the great Gregory Peck. I'll never forget the day I saw Mr. Peck walk into the animation building on the Disney lot. He was with a friend who was directing a film at the studio. Actually, I was almost too much in awe of the man to even approach him. Yet, just being in the same room with the distinguished actor was enough to give me goose bumps.

A few days later, I strolled over to stage one at the Disney studio to watch the filming. This day, the actor on set was Edward G. Robinson. The director walked over to me and said, "Come on up and meet Eddie Robinson." Again, afraid that I would appear to be a star struck Geek, I said, "Oh, that's okay. I'll meet him later." By the way, the director of photography on the shoot was Floyd Crosby. Floyd's oldest son, Chip and I played in the same band. Chip Crosby's younger brother, David also had a band, but unlike us they had a good deal more success. That band became Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Working at Disney provided opportunities to meet and work with many great actors and comedians. That list includes Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Ed Wynn, Ray Bolger, and the wonderful voice actor, Sterling Holloway. During the sixties, I would often see movie actors walking down the hallway of D-wing, where I worked as a young animation artist. At times, Brian Keith would come into my office, plop down in one of those swell Kim Webber chairs and talk about movies. The talented *** Van *** would talk with us on the back lot where he rehearsed for "Mary Poppins," and I found Julie Andrews even more attractive in person than on the big screen. There was a special interaction between actors and animators back then I simply don't see anymore.

This is more than just being star struck. Many people I met were those whose work I truly admired and respected. Some were well known to the public, and some were not. But all, I greatly admired. I talked film music with composers, Oliver Wallace and Paul Smith, who wrote the scores for many Disney movies. I spoke with Irwin Kostal, the musical director of "Mary Poppins," and I chatted with Quincy Jones in the Disney parking lot. A recent visitor to my office at Disney was the late Douglas Adams. The British author, a rather tall gentleman, stretched out in one of my office chairs to talk about my home of Santa Barbara where he was planning to live. I found it hard to believe I was actually having a private chat with one of my favorite authors.

Other celebrities seem to like my hometown of Santa Barbara as well. I've seen Lena Horne shopping in Von's Market, and Bo Derek strolling in the mall. One cool weekend evening as I stood gazing out at the seashore, I notice that the woman standing next to me was none other than Barbra Streisand.

Recording sessions can sometimes be fun, unless you're faced with a very grumpy Muhammad Ali when he's having a bad day. While working on "Toy Story2" we had a long session with Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Jodi Benson on stage B at Disney. Tom Hanks was a real gentleman, and actually looked younger in person. Jodi Benson insisted on standing throughout the session even though she was seven months pregnant. We wasted half hour trying to teach Jodi to say, "Please remain seated while the vehicle is in motion," in Spanish. The line still gets a laugh, so I guess it was worth it.

While working on a show some years ago, I arrived on stage early one morning. As I was pouring myself a cup of coffee, I heard a voice behind me ask, "Is that coffee for all of us?" "Of course," I said as I turned to see the actor/director, Leonard Nimoy. I'm still amazed that the famous and talented gentleman would ask if he could have a cup of coffee.

This next encounter is one of my favorites. While on the phone late one afternoon, I noticed someone standing in the doorway of my office. Not wanting to keep the person waiting, I quickly concluded my call. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I turned to see Rod Serling, complete with cigarette in hand, standing in my office doorway. I thought I had been transported into an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

On a sad note, I think one of the nicest gentlemen I've ever met was Muppet creator Jim Henson. He was with us a brief time before his untimely passing. He invited us to visit his office on the floor below us in the Tower Building, and we watched him direct his last film, the Muppet 3-D Movie over on Stage Three at Disney. A generous and gracious man, who knows what wonderful things he would have created for Disney.

The stories could go on. I've chatted in the elevator with Richard Dreyfuss. Watched home movies with Steve Allen, and even knelt before the wonderful and talented Carol Burnett. Yes, we were indeed on our knees before our "Queen of Comedy." For the most part, all the talented and celebrated people I've met were extremely gracious and charming, and didn't feel it was an imposition to share their time. I consider myself a lucky guy to have met so many people I respect and admire.

Hollywood is all about name-dropping, and the list of big shots I met while working for Disney is a considerable one. I can't honestly say I truly knew any of the people I've described, but it sure was fun to bask, if only for a moment in the glow of show business celebrity.

Did you enjoy Floyd's cautionary tale today? well, if so, please be aware that there are three great collections of Norman's writings & cartoons currently on the market: his original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's excellent www.cataroo.com web site) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to the Afrokids.com website.

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