Farewell Carol Svendsen

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Over the decades, there have been hundreds of thousands of people who have worked for the Disney Company and many of them have interesting stories and insights to share. Unfortunately, many of those who actually had an opportunity to interact with Walt Disney are no longer with us and those who remain have reached that age where their time to share those memories is limited.

Carol Svendsen passed away on Friday, March 23, 2007 at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in California at the age of 78. Her name and Disney history may be unfamiliar to many Disney fans even to those who know she is the mother of Imagineer Julie Svendsen, who was recently involved in the updating of the Haunted Mansion attraction.

Carol Joyner was born on March 4, 1929, in Greeley, Colorado. She moved to Los Angeles in 1947, and began working at Disney Studios in 1948 as a Disney Studio tour guide, and later in the ink and paint department and finally in the Disney Archives.

Two years after joining the Disney Studios she married one of her co-workers, a Norwegian-born illustrator named Julius Svendsen. The name of Julius Svendsen may also be unknown to many Disney fans despite his artistic contributions to many of their favorite Disney cartoons.

Julius Svendsen was born in Norway in 1919. He began working at Disney starting in 1940, although he left the Studio for a brief stint in the U.S. Army from 1942-1945.

He animated on several of Ward Kimball's projects, including "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," "Man and the Moon, Mars and Beyond," and "Man in Space." He also provided animation for "Scrooge McDuck and Money," "Saga of Windwagon Smith," 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks among many other credits.

He occasionally did some story work, primarily on Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, Robin Hood, and The Aristocats.

Like several Disney artists including Mary Blair, John Hench and Bill Justice, Julius also freelanced doing illustration work on several Disney-related story books for Simon and Schuster/Golden Books, including The Seven Dwarfs Find a House, Mickey Mouse Club Stamp Book, Mickey Mouse Flies the Christmas Mail, Mickey Mouse and the Missing Mouseketeers and three children's books devoted to Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

In addition, he worked briefly on the Mickey Mouse daily strip in the 1960s and the Disney Treasury of Classic Tales comic strip in the late 1950s (on episodes like "The Seven Dwarfs and the Witch Queen"). Apparently, he did some comic book work featuring Disney characters as well for Dell/Western in the late 1940s.

Julius passed away in August 1971 but I first discovered his name when I purchased a children's book that he illustrated that was written by his wife, Carol, but wasn't published until three years later.

Hulda was published in 1974 by Houghton Mifflin. It is 28 pages long with the story verse written by Carol Svendsen and the artwork done by Julius.

The story takes place in the land of the Vikings although that setting is not important other than it allows the introduction of giant trolls and taps into Julius's Norwegian heritage.

Hulda is a delightful, pleasant and attractive young girl. Her manners are charming. You would probably say that Hulda was a sweet as an angel and she was just as long as she got her own way.

If she didn't, she would throw a terrible tantrum with such horribly loud screaming that even the bold and hardy Vikings had to give in to whatever she wanted. Hulda was completely spoiled.

That situation changed one day when she went blueberry picking in her favorite grove. Everyone in the village warned her not to go because they had found a giant footprint in the village and feared for her safety. She yelled and screamed so loudly that they reluctantly let her go.

When she had picked almost a full basket of blueberries, she encountered an angry bear and a very young troll. They were no match for Hulda's screaming. The young troll went home and brought his mother back but she was quickly convinced by the ear-splitting, spine-chilling screams to let Hulda have her own way.

Finally the father troll shows up and thanks to a clever trick that he never reveals to anyone but the reader, Hulda is sent home where the clever father troll comes up with a rather surprising gift that guarantees that Hulda will never trouble the troll family, or anyone else, ever again.

Although brief, it is a cute, clever story and the artwork is very reminiscent of the work of Disney legend Bill Peet. I always wondered how this book came to be published several years after Julius Svendsen's death. There were no other children's books by the couple that were published.

Recently, Disney Historian Didier Ghez had been interviewing Carol by e-mail and she shared the previously unknown anecdote about the hidden history of this book.

"My husband and I developed Hulda in the mid '60s when he was house-bound for a number of weeks recovering from spinal surgery. It was a project intended to keep him from being bored as he could not even ride in a car for nine weeks. But then he recovered ... returned to work ... and Hulda was tossed into a cupboard and forgotten. Poor thing. It was not until after his death that I ran across the manuscript and gorgeous illustrations... reworked the story... spoke to Bill Peet and George Sherman (head of the Publication Dept at the Studio) and then relying on their very good advice popped the manuscript off to Houghton Mifflin and lo and behold... it was accepted first crack out of the box. But I do not kid myself one whit... It was Sven's illustrations that sold that little book... and now, though I have this other nonsensical piece of trashery that no one seems to be interested and so I am sort of lying fallow at the moment though very often in the middle of the night as I sleep I do compose a lot of nonsense... but quite usable nonsense... in my brain...

"As to any plans I have to write a book telling of my experiences at the studio... that would not be my cup of tea at all. Though I confess I do enjoy writing and I do have a completed manuscript (once again... a children's book) and another in the process of "becoming." I just enjoy writing in verse and I do enjoy writing nonsense. If it's nonsense... I GET IT... when no one else seems to... especially the editors of today who want moral undertones and a message that the characters are somewhat better or have 'learned their lessons' as an appropriate end to the story."

Besides writing, Carol also loved to play Scrabble, working in her garden and collecting sea glass. She lived in the Granada Hills, California home she had shared for so many years with her husband and children until her death.

She is survived by her daughters Jan McAllister and Julie Svendsen; twin sons John and Fred Svendsen; and three grandchildren. Even more tragic than Carol's passing is the fact that she never got to share all the wonderful Disney stories she knew because she was an articulate, humorous, opinionated and passionate storyteller. She will be missed.

Here is her impression as a teenager of Walt Disney: "As a new-hire at the Studio in 1948 I saw Walt each and every day wandering around the Studio. He was not a dandy and dressed in a manner which in today's world would seem "dowdy". He often had a multiple day's growth of beard and usually looked grumpy and tired. He was happiest when he was working on his train in the machine shop and often when he was needed on the set to do the voice of Mickey that is where he could be found. Most everyone referred to him as 'Uncle Walt'."