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Remembering Ollie Johnston (1912 - 2008)

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Remembering Ollie Johnston (1912 - 2008)

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" ... and then there were none."

For over three decades now, animation fans have been quietly counting down. As first John Lounsbury, and then Les Clark slipped away. Followed by Woolie Reitherman, Milt Kahl and Eric Larsen. Then Marc Davis, Ward Kimball and Frank Thomas. And today word came out of Sequim, WA. that Ollie Johnston -- the last of Walt's Nine Old Men -- had passed away.

Which is why -- over the next few days -- you're going to be reading lots of stories loaded with language like " ... this is the end of an era." Or -- worse than that -- "Well, at least now Frank 'n' Ollie are back together again."

Which (I think, anyway) does a real disservice to Johnston's friends & family. I mean, there they are -- mourning the passing of this man not because he was a member of a group or some team. But -- rather -- because Ollie was an individual that they genuinely loved.

And yet here the rest of us are, rushing as we try & turn Johnston's death into this truly significant moment in animation history. We don't stop & actually take a moment to acknowledge that this gentle, sweet old guy is no longer with us. We're all far too busy trying to lump Ollie in with the Nine Old Men and/or reducing his artistic legacy to " ... half of the Frank 'n' Ollie team."

Ollie Johnston deserves better than that. An artist of his calibre, a guy who went out of his way to help create a series of books -- "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life," "Too Funny For Word: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags," "Walt Disney's Bambi: The Story and the Film" & "The Disney Villain" -- that animators & film historians still consult today ... They shouldn't automatically be lumped in with any one group and/or just be dismissed as a member of some team. A man like that deserves his moment in the sun. Where he's then recognized as being an individual who'll be sorely missed.

Oh, sure. Over the past 30 years or so, Ollie did recieve a fair amount of recognition. Which -- given the high quality character animation that this man & his assistants cranked out for film after film -- Johnston richly deserved.

But if you can look past all of those awards & accolades that he received, those animation events where Ollie was feted by both Disneyana fans as well as those who worked in the industry ... What you'd discover is that Johnston was something of a homebody. Given his druthers, Ollie would have taken a pass on attending yet another international film festival. Preferring instead to stay home, fire up the miniature train that Johnston had had built in his backyard back in the late 1940s and then taking the kids from the neighborhood out for another ride around the track.

Okay. I know. Ollie Johnston's passing really is the end of an era. At least as far as animation buffs and/or film historians are concerned.

But before we all start yammering about the historical significance of Disney's Nine Old Men and/or Frank 'n' Ollie, let's remember that this is Marie's husband, Ken & Rick's Dad that we're talking about here. And to them ... This is a really-for-real person that they just lost. Not some piece of Hollywood history. And for these folks, Ollie Johnston was a flesh-and-blood man who -- even though he was 95 years-old and had been in poor health for quite a while now -- is still going to be dearly missed.

Not because he was one of Disney's Nine Old Men. Not because he was part of the Frank 'n' Ollie team. But because Ollie Johnston was a remarkable individual. Who -- all by himself, for what he did over the course of his 50+ year career, more importantly for the type of person that he was -- deserves a moment alone in the spotlight.

The entire JHM staff wishes to extend its heartfelt condolences to the friends & family of Ollie Johnston during their time of sorrow.

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  • You know, Jim, you could've spent more time talking about this great man instead of dissing all the opinions you think maybe someone perhaps will mention at some point.

    That being said, I'm sure Ollie's family won't be cruising websites looking for kind words about their husband/father/grandfather/friend. So here's to a one-of a kind man that fate decided should get together with other one-of-a-kind men and share his genius with the world. Thanks for the hard work, Ollie. Hope you have fun with the gang up there.

  • On the other hand, I thought it a nice reminder of who he was; father, husband, grandfather- so many of the Disney folk have been relegated to legendary status and because of that the stories told about them are mainly fluff. It seems to me that that status actually minimizes who they were OUTSIDE of Disney. Ollie was a really good guy, as well as a seriously talented artist, and his employment at the Disney Studios shouldn't define him as a person.

    He will be missed.

  • This is sad news for Ollie's family as well as his fans.

    I will always smile when I see his cameo in "The Incredibles".

  • I believe that some of Ollie's scale model railroad equipment is being installed at Walt's barn and will be dedicated next month at Griffith Park.

  • Jim, what do you think you're doing?

    You seem to be second guessing how people are going to respond to Ollie's passing, and that takes up all of the article?  And you repeat the same point over and over and over!

    For those of us that don't know as much as you, why don't you tell us a little more about this man?  I found this article very insensitive.

  • There's no school like the old school.

  • Thank you Ollie! You, Ward and Walt played a huge role in turning me into a Rail Fan. Though we never met, I am sure you are having a great time driving that train up in the sky!

  • This is possibly one of the strangest articles I've ever read ... and not just here (home to many, many strange articles) but ANYWHERE! And that INCLUDES CNN (home of more made-up news than any other news outlet).

    Seriously? I mean you chastise people for only talking about how this is the end of an era and ignoring the fact that this is a real man, with real family mourning his loss, but then you spend half the article talking about how it's the end of an era!

    Honestly, I find this to be a very tacky goodbye to someone of Ollie's stature and really not at all what I would have hoped to see. How you could have such a negative tone to an article that is supposed to be a celebration of such a special life, I have NO clue.

    Bad call, Jim. Really, REALLY bad call. This is worse than the endless Pixar articles ...

    Anyway, RIP Ollie. Thanks for the memories.

  • Jim, Jim, Jim.  I'm sure you meant well.  But why point out what SOME other people might be thinking? Why not just devote a column to Ollie the man and leave it at that?

    I met Ollie only once. He was kind, sincere and just a lovely human being. I shared with him my own love of trains and how my Grandfather had worked the B&O. His eyes sparkled as we briefly chatted about some of the railroad memorabilia I still had.  I have always loved his animation. And I have always thought of him as just Ollie. Sure, he was part of FRANK and OLLIE, and the NINE OLD MEN. But his defining trait was just being himself.  My deepest sympathies to his entire family.  I know how much this sweet man will be missed.

  • Good-bye Ollie. Thanx for the memories, and more: For the pantheon of characters you helped create, the dignity in which you lived your life and the lessons you passed on.

    "Draw from the heart!"

  • Why would someone write an article about how people might react before they even have a chance to say anything?  It's like an article written to smother the flames when there isn't even a fire to begin with.  It's very insensitive to both Ollie and the readers.

    Just a couple weeks ago I watched the entire special edition dvd of Frank and Ollie.  It's sad that I just recently felt like I got to know a little bit about his style and personality and then he passes away.  He is appreciated by many who knew him, knew of him, and who never heard of him but love his work.

  • Goodbye, Ollie. Thank you for making our lives a little richer.

  • This article should not have been called "Remembering Ollie Johnston."  It talks very little about the life and career of an extraordiary animator, and more of how others MIGHT remember him.  I was looking forward to reading what JHM had to say, but was sadly disappointed.

    Having seen the Frank & Ollie DVD many times, I was really moved to hear of the passing of Ollie Johnston.  His work has really inspired me.  As an animation student, I am grateful he passed along the secrets of his craft through his books.  In the documentary, Frank said Ollie has a sign on his desk saying: "What is the character thinking?  Why does he feel this way?"  Frank went on to say that if you can answer those two questions, you're on your way to becoming a great animator.  I have those questions taped to my monitor to always remind me to keep plussing my animation whenever possible.  

    Thank you, Mr. Johnston.  Thank you for all you've done.

  • I'm afraid that I have to agree that the actual content of this article feels kind of off.  I don't see how it is less respectful to eulogize Ollie as half of Frank and Ollie or the last of the Nine Old Men than it is to spend so much of your article talking about what a bad job so many other people are supposedly doing of eulogizing the man.  You would have done much better to simply write the kind of tribute you wanted to see for a deservedly legendary animator and exceptional human being and left it at that.  Instead, you used this opportunity to critique other people's tributes to Ollie while not really doing a particularly noteworthy or exceptional tribute yourself.  I'm sorry, but I think I'd rather read a tribute that may be mourning the death of the Last of the Nine Old Man or the remaining half of Frank and Ollie, but gave more time to giving readers a picture of the man and his work and all of the reasons why this is such a great loss.

  • he did some wonderful work in his lifetime i have always enjoyed "The Illusion of Life" . However someone wants to remember him at least he will be remembered.

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