I wrote about legendary Disney animator Ollie Johnston back in April of this year at the time of his passing. Though Ollie lived to a ripe old age, as well as outliving all of his fellow members of "The Nine Old Men", it was still a very sad occasion for me. Even though I had only met with both Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas on less than a dozen occasions, these two wonderful artists had kept in touch with me through the exchange of Christmas cards each year. I actually ended up on Ollie's list several years earlier than Frank's, so my cards from he and his wife Marie date back to the year 1985, just a year after I had started my own Disney career up here in the Canadian office before later relocating down to Florida's Walt Disney World.
These earlier ones in my collection are my favourites. (Click on them to see them MUCH bigger!) Ollie was in his 70's and there's still a real vitality in his drawings, similar to his rough animation in his years at Disney. There's also a running gag in these about poor Marie having to wear the mouse ears. I've only included some of the cards which feature Ollie's sketches by the way, as there are several later on where he instead printed humourous photos of he and Marie, where Marie still had to pose in the mouse ears! There are two (of three) cards here that show Ollie transforming into a deer while he and Frank were putting a great deal of labour into writing their book on "Bambi".
The 1993 card shows Ollie as he and Frank were working on their next book about "The Disney Villains", which is an overview of all of the villains that were developed for the films, not all of which Frank or Ollie had necessarily worked on so it's not as in-depth as their previous books. This also was their final publication, as they had now both hit 80 and were starting to feel their age. Ollie in particular was suffering from arthritic hands and therefore finding drawing a more painful task too, and you can see that his line is a little less sure than it had been, yet there still remains that vitality and feeling of inner life in these little sketches. 1995 marked the debut of Gypsy and Frisky, the two beloved dogs that Ollie and Marie had welcomed into their home. These two characters remained a fixture throughout most of Ollie's later Christmas cards.
The photo of Ollie at the top of this post is from his 2005 card - the year that he received the National Medal of Arts for his long artistic career, presented to him by President Bush at a ceremony at the White House in November. As you can imagine, this collection of Christmas cards from Ollie and Marie I cherish very much, especially now that this wonderful man has left us to be reunited with his beloved Marie. Ollie Johnston was one of my biggest artistic heroes and was extremely generous to me back when I was just a kid with a dream of working for Disney one day. I am grateful for the tremendous legacy he has left us, and my personal memories of having been fortunate enough to have known him as a friend.
Merry Christmas to you all, and thanks for continuing to drop by The Cave!