The Masters of Disney, Part 1by Sheila Hagen, staff writer
In the inaugural articles of a new series featuring those who helped to create the Disney entertainment empire, we look at five men who passed away in 2002, whose legacies live on in cartoons and movies that still delight audiences young and old.
William Tex Henson, David Swift, Chuck Jones, Buddy Baker, and Ward Kimball all worked at the Disney studios at some time in their careers. Short stay or lifelong association, however, all five left their indelible marks. This week we look at those first four, and next week we'll focus on Ward Kimball.
William Tex Henson
Chip 'n Dale from 1951's "Chicken in the Rough". Image ©Disney
William Tex Henson joined the Disney studios in the early 1940s after graduating from high school. His first credits include Song of the South, Pecos Bill, and Peter and the Wolf. In 1947, the cartoon characters Chip n Dale were introduced in a Donald Duck cartoon, and Henson helped lead the campaign to have the chipmunk duo become regular characters.
Henson left Disney to go onto other projects, including working on the Casper, The Friendly Ghost cartoons and eventually joined Jay Ward Productions. He was responsible for supervising approximately 180 animators that quickly turned out classics such as Rocky & Bullwinkle, Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and the Trix Rabbit. At the time, no one knew those cartoons would become classics that would live on in syndication. Henson recounts his career in an article at CNN.com:
There wasnt much expected from those cartoons, Henson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in an interview about 10 years ago. We were hackin em out on the cheap, getting the job done, he said, adding that most of his employees did not speak English or understand the humor of their work. But we made em as funny-looking as we could under the circumstances and I guess something clicked between the writing and the cartooning, he told the paper.
Henson eventually moved to Dallas, Texas where he taught animation classes. His life ended tragically at the age of 78 in an auto accident on December 2, 2002.
David Swift. Image ©Disney
David Swift started his long career in entertainment by working as an office boy, then animator and assistant to Ward Kimball in the 1930s. Leaving Disney in the 1940s to strike out on his own, he quickly established himself as a writer, especially in the emerging television industry. Writing numerous episodes of the Philco Television Playhouse, Studio One and Fireside Theatre, he also branched out as a director of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series.
During this time, he renewed his association with Walt Disney by working as an animator on Peter Pan, The Reluctant Dragon, Fantasia, and Pinocchio.
In the late 1950s, he went on to write and direct for The Rifleman and the Playhouse 90 television series, then began to concentrate on film-directing in the 1960s. Pollyanna, which he both wrote and directed, put him on the map.
Known as a gentle and patient man, Swift was able to bring out skilled performances from Hayley Mills and the other young actors in the Disney movies he directed.
Swift in a cameo role as an elevator operator with Michele Lee in How to Succeed in Business. Image ©MGM
Swift went on to write and/or direct such classics as The Parent Trap, Under The Yum Yum Tree, Good Neighbor Sam, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Candleshoe. His career came full circle when he wrote the screenplay for the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap.
Swift continued to direct television shows in the 1970s and 80s but to most fans, he will always be identified as the writer and director of some of Disneys most beloved films. When Swift died of heart failure on New Years Eve, 2001, left a lifetime of achievements as his legacy.
Like Swift and Henson, Chuck Jones also started his career in animation. Although his association with the Disney studios was short-lived, the influence he cast on future animators both at Disney and elsewhere was legendary. Jones was known for his mentoring and encouragement of many young artists through his life.
Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng; Image ©Associated Press
Jones first animation job was with former Disney animator Ub Iwerks in 1931. A few short years later, Jones was hired by the legendary Friz Freleng at the Leon Schlesinger Studios. Working with veteran cartoonists Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, they created what is now known as the Golden Age of Warner Bros. animation. He co-created Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig, but is the sole creator of the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin Martian, Pepe Le Pew, Michigan J. Frog, and many others. He summed up his work philosophy in this interview with the Academy of Achievement:
You have no right to diminish an audiences expectations. You have to give them everything that you have. And with children, with anything thats supposedly being done for children, the requirement becomes much more stringent. Youve got to do the best you can. You have no right to pull back. You have no right to write for children. You do the best thing that you can do. And the audiencesfor childrenall the more so, because youre building a childs expectation of what is good and what is bad.
When the Warner Bros. animation studio closed down for a short hiatus in 1955, Jones worked at the Disney Studios on Sleeping Beauty for four months, but returned to Warner Bros. when they reopened. However, once Warner Bros. animation shut down permanently in 1962, Jones moved to MGM, animating numerous Tom & Jerry cartoons and other projects. He also worked on Dr. Seusss How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Phantom Tollbooth and the short film, The Dot and The Line, which garnered him an Academy Award.
From 1962 until he passed away in February 2002, he also founded and ran his own entertainment company, Chuck Jones Enterprises, and went on to create television commercials (Charlie Tuna) and many shows, such as The Cricket in Times Square, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and A Connecticut Rabbit in King Arthurs Court. He also directed animation segments for the films Stay Tuned and Mrs. Doubtfire.
Chuck Jones was a prodigious talent who made more than 300 animated films and won three Oscars as director. In 1996, he received an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, earning him a permanent spot as a true legend of animation and entertainment.
For more information about Jones animation accomplishments, please read Al Lutzs Home Theatre review of the Chuck Jones retrospective DVD, Chuck Jones: Extremes And In-Betweens, A Life In Animation.
Buddy Baker, musician and prolific composer, wrote almost 200 musical scores in a wide range of styles, including big band, radio shows, and Disney films, television and theme park attractions.
Baker conducting at a recording session; Image ©Disney
Born in Springfield, Illinois, Baker trained on piano and trumpet, and studied music at Southwest Baptist University. Moving to Los Angeles in 1938, he quickly made a name for himself writing arrangements for big band names like Harry James and Stan Kenton, and writing and scoring radio shows for celebrities like Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor and others. During this time, he taught at Los Angeles City College (where one of his students was Jerry Goldsmith, who would go on to become a noted music composer in his own right).
In time, former student George Bruns, asked him to help out on the music for the Davy Crockett series. Soon, Baker was promoted to musical director for The Mickey Mouse Club and thus began his 28-year association with the Walt Disney Company.
His first feature film assignment was Toby Tyler in 1960, followed by the three Winnie the Pooh featurettes, the Cannes award-winning featurette Donald in Mathmagicland, Napolean, and Samantha (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Shaggy D.A., various True-Life Adventures, and other well-known titles (almost 50 in all).
In 1964, Baker was called upon to provide the music for the New York Worlds Fair for Walt Disneys new attractions Carousel of Progress, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and its a small world.
In spite of such a prodigious output, he found the time to serve as Composer/Musical Director for WED Enterprises, where he scored music for the various Disney theme parks and for the Disneyland television series. Some of his music can be heard at:
- Disneyland Innoventions (scoring for Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow), the Haunted Mansion (co-writing the song Grim Grinning Ghosts)
- Walt Disney World Impressions de France (Epcot), Mexico Pavilion (Epcot), The American Adventure (Epcot), Winnie the Pooh (Magic Kingdom)
- Tokyo DisneySea The Seven Voyages of Sinbad
After retiring from Disney in 1983, Baker went on to a teaching career at the University of Southern California, coming out of retirement to provide music for new attractions at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Tokyo DisneySea. He died of natural causes on July 26, 2002 at the age of 84.