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Toon Tuesday: Jim Fletcher, Disney Artist and the Ultimate Hollywood Fan

Toon Tuesday: Jim Fletcher, Disney Artist and the Ultimate Hollywood Fan

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I hope that you’ll allow me to indulge myself here with a new series that I’m going to call “The Disney Artists You Never Knew.” Only this time, it’s personal. Because I’m now going to write about my old pal & colleague, Jim Fletcher.

James Lawrence Fletcher was born in Des Plains, Illinois, and attended the Chicago institute of Art. His father, Edgar was a successful businessman who ran his own company. Naturally, it was expected that Jim would one day run the family business. But Fletcher (as we always called him) had his eye on Hollywood, movie stars, and the Walt Disney Studios in particular.

There were always those in Tinsel town who claim to be on a first name basis with Hollywood big shots, and could get these stars on the phone if need be. But Jim Fletcher could actually do this, and did so on many occasions. And I should know. Because I was there.

One morning while working in my B-Wing office, I looked out of my window to see Jim Fletcher walking down Mickey Avenue with Gregory Peck. For Fletcher, this was nothing unusual. Over time, he would introduce me to a number of Hollywood icons such as Edward G. Robinson, Ed Wynn, Edgar Bergen and many others.

I first met Jim Fletcher in A-Wing back in the 1950s. He had just returned from a stint in the military, and was anxious to return to the drawing board. The two of us ended up on Freddy Hellmich’s “Fairy Crew” for “Sleeping Beauty,” and we worked together for over two years.

Jim Fletcher
Jim Fletcher worked on the Three Good Fairies in Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty."
He later worked with Ward Kimball on Disney's special science unit

Because of our interest in film, we became fast friends, and had a ritual of going to the movies every Friday evening. Because of Fletcher’s movie contacts, we visited every studio lot in Hollywood, and even hung out backstage at CBS were they shot “The Jack Benny Show.“ And, of course, Fletcher knew Jack Benny.

After the completion of “Sleeping Beauty,” Jim Fletcher managed to score a coveted position in Ward Kimball’s production unit. At the time, Kimball was the talk of the studio, and everybody wanted to work with the “Disney genius.”

In the 1960s, the community was trying to get a long-planned museum that would chronicle & celebrate and chronicle the history of Hollywood. And Jim Fletcher was chosen to produce & direct the motion picture that would serve as a preview and fundraiser for his industry project. Walt Disney himself made sure that Jim Fletcher and his film unit was given production space on the second floor of the Animation Building. The Old Maestro also offered the services of his top production personnel including the Studio’s very best animators.

As work on this preview picture progressed, Fletcher recruited top talent to appear on screen and/or narrate this fundraising film. And among the stars that appears in Jim’s movie were Nat King Cole, Doris Day and Bing Crosby. Fletcher even persuaded Bing’s old buddy, Bob Hope, to appear in this preview. And when Fletcher went to record Hope, I joined him for the short drive over to Bob’s Toluca Lake estate. Which was just up the road from Walt Disney Studios.

Fletcher continued to work into the 1970s at a number of animation studios such as Hanna-Barbera, UPA, Format, and Hyperion Studios. Jim truly loved the business, and always wanted to stay busy. He even illustrated a number of children’s books in his own distinctive style. I never felt Fletcher had a need to work.Given that he purchased loads of Disney stock in the 1950s, the man was financially well-off. But like most artists, he simply loved to draw.

Jim Fletcher
Jim Fletcher attended the Chicago Art Institute before coming to Disney.
He left the drawing board for a time to produce & direct movies

A confirmed old bachelor, Jim Fletcher never married. He did have a bachelor pad in the Hollywood Hills that would make Hugh Hefner proud. When the Disney artist ran out of space for his many books and paintings, he bought a large home in nearby Encino. Oddly enough, his neighbor was no less than the “King of Pop” himself. That’s correct. Just down the street was another kid who loved Disney stuff. The gloved one, Michael Jackson.

I guess it’s not unusual for Disney artists to date movie actresses. Writer/producer Bill Walsh married Ruth Roman, and animation legend Art Babbit married Margie Belcher, the model for Snow White and soon to be dancing partner of Gower Champion. Jim Fletcher dated actress Linda Darnell, and hung out with Debbie Reynolds & Margaret O’Brian. Even into the 1990s, I would often see Fletcher at the Walt Disney Studio commissary having lunch with actresses Jane Withers or Charlotte Rae.

While it’s true Jim Fletcher knew a fair share of Hollywood big shots, he always said his favorite moments were those with Walt Disney. While working on his movie, Fletcher often worked late at the Studios.  And it was well known that the “Old Maestro” had a habit of prowling the halls at night to see what his artists were working on. Seeing Fletcher slaving away at his desk at night, Walt Disney would stop in and chat with Jim for hours.

James Lawrence Fletcher passed away four years ago. Like most Disney artists who worked at the Studios in years past, few people even know his name today. But Jim was a talented animation & layout artist. More importantly, a guy who truly loved the movie business. His two sisters, Phyllis and Jeanette, survive him. Fletcher also has a host of nieces & nephews who can honestly say that their Uncle Jim was a Hollywood big shot.

Did you enjoy Floyd Norman's profile of his old pal, Jim Fletcher? Well, keep in kind that this is just one of the many entertaining & insightful tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at all the years that Mr. Norman has spent working in the entertainment industry.

These include Floyd's 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 cataroo) 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 Afrokids.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

 

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