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Toon Tuesday : Home for the Holidays

Toon Tuesday : Home for the Holidays

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It's a standard thing this time of year. Travelers loaded with gifts are trying to make their way home to spend the holidays with family and friends. This scenario is often played out in movies where our hero finally makes his or her way home just in time to spend Christmas with the family. After all, who wants to be alone during this time of the year? Being with family and friends is what the holiday is all about.

Ever wonder what Christmas was like back in the fifties? Our animation staff numbered around 600 as we labored to complete "Sleeping Beauty." Disneyland had already been open for at least two years, and the ABC television program was a resounding success. For all of us young kids beginning our careers at Walt Disney Studios, this was the best time of our lives.

There were no big studio holiday parties back in 1957, but the Disney Studios was not lacking in holiday cheer. Grumpy animators who gave you grief a few days earlier were now suddenly all smiles. Directing animator Milt Kahl stomped down the hallway of D-Wing wearing a cheery Christmas scarf. The often-fearsome animator shouted, "Merry Christmas" to all us lowly assistants as we huddled over our drawing boards. Like Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," the artists were encouraged to put down their pencils, and join the "big shots" in their offices.

 Fernando Arce and Chuck Williams enjoy a break from "Sleeping Beauty"

The holiday decorating frenzy had not yet taken place at the studio, so only a few took the time to build elaborate displays. Most simply hung a string of lights over their drawing boards or pasted Christmas cards on their doors. As expected, nearly every wing in the Animation Building had a spread of holiday treats. Delicious cakes and cookies were always homemade.

If you received a Christmas card back in the fifties, the artist himself usually designed it. As a matter of fact, a fair number of Disney artists supplemented their incomes by designing and illustrating holiday cards. There were beautiful cards painted by guys such as Eyvind Earle and Ralph Hulett. Of course, there were also the "funny cards" by some of Disney's best gag artists as well.

I didn't know what the rules were back in those days when it came to imbibing on the job. I can say that it was not unusual for some of the older guys to have a little "holiday cheer" in their desk drawer. Frank Thomas' key assistant, Dale Oliver would be in his office passing out his holiday Glogg. If I remember correctly, it was a warm mulled wine that truly had a kick. If you drink enough of Dale's Glogg, I doubt you'd be able to make it back to your desk.

Silent Night, Holy Night.
Disney Animation Artists John Leslie takes a much needed break

Across the way in the Ink and Paint Building, the ladies were having their own special festivities that included food and drink. During this special time the usual prohibition regarding visiting was put on hold. So guys could walk the hallways of Ink and Paint without incurring the wrath of department boss Grace Bailey.

Of course, there was no shortage of good food back in those days. The Disney Commissary always served a Holiday dinner that included roast turkey, dressing, and the works. And, as you might expect, there was no charge for this special fare.

One rainy noon hour in December as we made our way back to the Animation Building after a delicious lunch, it began to sprinkle. Of course, Dale Oliver was the only one of us wise enough to bring an umbrella. However, a surprise awaited us as we headed up the stairs to get out of the rain. There was our boss, Walt Disney standing at the door looking up at the rainy sky. I can only imagine that the Old Maestro was deciding whether or not lunch was worth getting soaked on his way to the commissary. Without missing a beat, Dale handed the boss his umbrella, and said "Here, Walt. Take this." As a smiling Walt Disney headed out the door, we concluded that Dale's employment at the Disney studio was probably secure from then on.

The Walt Disney Studios circa 1957. It was a simpler and happier time.
Especially around the holidays

Christmas 1957 was a very special time for this Disney old timer. Perhaps because it would be my last for a while. It's because my very next Christmas would be spent on a mountaintop near the border of North and South Korea. As a member of the Army's First Calvary Division, I would be patrolling near the DMZ, carrying a rifle - - instead of a pencil. I missed my family that Christmas to be sure. However, there was another group of people I also missed. They were my friends and colleagues back in Burbank, California. My special family at the Walt Disney Studios.

Did you enjoy this holiday tale? Well, just so you know, Floyd Norman currently has three books on the market. Each of which feature this Disney Legend's infamous cartoons that take an affectionate look back at his time in Toontown.

These volumes include Floyd's original collection of cartoons & stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as Norman's two follow-ups to that popular paperback, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

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  • PingBack from http://kliquee.adoption23.info/1969/12/31/toon-tuesday-home-for-the-holidays/

  • Being lucky enough to currently have an office in the "Old" Animation Building, I can't tell how great it is to hear these stories. As you know Floyd, the building still has a lot of character. I'm on the 3rd floor, not far from Walt's office...the memories reverberate through the halls like music. I'll be making the trip to the commissary tomorrow, making sure to bring my umbrella!  Happy Holidays, Bob.

  • Great story...Keep em' coming

  • Thanks so much, Floyd, for sharing with us.  

    It's so neat to get such a window into such a special time and place so few were able to experience.  

    Merry Christmas!

  • Short, but enjoyable, as always.

  • Thanks Floyd for the article.  It brings back many memories as back in 1956 I was the first college graduate that the Studio haired into the Traffic Department.  I was most grateful to be assigned to the Animatikon Bldg. and had a space on the second floor where mail would be delivered by dumb waiter to me to distribute throughout the building.  This included Walt, Roy, all the legends of that time, perhaps I delivered to you Floyd, the animators, and W.E.D. which was locationed in 1E, as I remember.  How honored I was to have had that experience before moving on into Publicity and then through Van France on to Disneyland.  Floyd, I have been trying to solve a mystery for some time and perhaps you can help me.  While I was in the Traffic Department I noticed that people had their own coffee cups.  At the time I thought it would be great to have one with a cartoon of me on it.  One of the animators agreed to do it and came up with a great one of me.  I have kept that cup over the years and the initials E.C. are at the bottom and I can't put a name to it.  Wondered if those initials rang a bell with you?  If so, perhaps you could respond at this site or at [email protected]  Thanks again for sharing.

  • Thanks, Floye for the article.  It brought back many memories of that period.

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