Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have An Ollie Jolly Christmas!

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!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"All the Noise, Noise, Noise, NOISE!!"

Yes, sad to say, but I tend to get a little Grinchy this time of year. Mostly it's due to the drudgery of Christmas shopping. It's not that I don't want to buy gifts for family and friends, mind you, it's just that I end up having a tough time trying to find stuff that I think they will like. In fact, it always seems that I see all sorts of books, CD's and DVD's that I'D like instead! So it does feel like I'm trekking through many a store over and over before I settle on the right gifts to buy for others.

But my main complaint about Christmas shopping is making my way through the overcrowded malls and having my ears assaulted by all of the crappy contemporary Christmas songs! I'm afraid that my tastes in music have always been a lot closer to my parents' generation than that of my own, and in fact as a teen I always preferred the records my Dad played around the house far more than what my peers were listening to at the time. As such, I never did develop a taste for the rock music of the day, although a lot of the pop/rock on the radio back then certainly was a lot more tuneful than what's on nowadays. Which brings me to my complaint.

Why do all of the untalented, similar sounding, young pop/rockers of today feel that they need to release their crap versions of Christmas songs? They all seem to sound the same, as their trilling crap voices meander around the notes without ever really hitting their target, adding in a lot of inane "Yeaaahhh"s to fill in any pauses between the lyrics. And then there are the mindless rappers who have cut melody out of the equation altogether, trying to force in ten times as many words (most of them unintelligible) than the original composers had written in the first place. And all of this tuneless, appalling crap is being blasted at high volume out of every clothing and electronics store that I am forced to pass by.

Now to be fair, there are a few stores and restaurants where I can hear old chestnuts from glorious Christmases past sung by the likes of Bing, Frank, Dino, Sammy, Ella, Peggy, and Nat, but even then there still seems to be a few contemporary crap songs thrown into the mix just to rankle my nerves. Incidentally, why is it only at Christmas that the great singers of the past are allowed to be heard in public at all before being placed in the box of mothballs again for another year? If one didn't know better, one might assume that Bing Crosby had recorded "White Christmas" and nothing else during his entire career!

So there you have it - the reasons for my annual Grinchy demeanor. Please let it be Sinatra singing as I sit down to a plate of roast beast...(sigh)

And speaking of Frank and Dino, here's some fun Christmas music by the all time kings of cool - a surefire remedy for curing Grinchiness:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Leonard!

Here's a salute to my favourite film reviewer and historian, Leonard Maltin. I was lucky enough to meet Leonard way back in 1982 when he was one of the attendees at The Ottawa International Animation Festival. He'd only recently started appearing on the newly created "Entertainment Tonight" (which was so much better in those days), so not many people were as familiar with him as they are today. However, I knew of Leonard Maltin primarily as a noted authority on animated films, through his two books, "The Disney Films" and "Of Mice and Magic". Anyway, I wasn't going to be shy about saying hi, so I went up and started chatting with him. He was such an affable fellow that, since he was going to be around the festival all week, I took the opportunity to do a caricature of him and presented it to him a few days later. He seemed quite genuinely delighted with it and was happy to sign my copies of his two books in return. He also extended an invitation to come visit him if I ever found myself in NYC, which I ended up taking him up on about a year later.

At that time, Leonard and his wife Alice were still living in Manhattan, even though Leonard was having to fly to LA for all of his Entertainment Tonight film reviews. Some time later they would relocate to LA in order to make that task more practical. When I saw him in New York he was in the middle of obtaining a second apartment in his building to set up as an office, as his film and cartoon collection had gotten too big for the one apartment they lived in. He and Alice were very gracious to me and Leonard took great delight in showing me his extensive collection of cartoon memorabilia. After an enjoyable visit, they strolled with me back to where I needed to catch a bus back to my hotel.

What I love best about Leonard is his obvious enthusiasm for movies and, even when he does offer up some criticism he is never mean spirited with it, always balancing out the bad with some good. Back when he wrote "The Disney Films" in 1973, it was long before it was fashionable to write about Disney and there were very few textbooks available on the subject. I think that the only two books on Disney I personally had at that time were his and "The Art of Walt Disney" by Christopher Finch. I found myself referring to his book often, as those were still the years of "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday night TV, and I would read up on any of the live action Disney films that were about to show up on there for extra background on their production. What I didn't know at the time was that Leonard would have been only a young fellow of 23 when that incredible reference book was published!

In recent years, longtime Disney fans have Leonard Maltin to thank for his efforts in launching the "Walt Disney Treasures" series of boxed DVD sets devoted to vintage Disney animation, early television productions and Walt Disney, the man himself. Leonard also hosts these DVDs, providing a lot of historical background and supplemental interviews with legendary artists and performers. I have pretty much all of these sets, and find myself returning to them often to indulge in the warm nostalgia of that wonderful era of real entertainment.

Leonard currently has a website called "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy" as well as a quarterly publication that showcases vintage films of the early days of Hollywood, his real passion. And since Leonard has been such a loyal friend to animation and Disney over his many years as a film historian, I thought I'd give this new caricature of him an appropriate Disney cartoon-style, sunburst backdrop. By the way, I see from my list of celebrity birthdays that Leonard shares his birthday with Steven Spielberg, which I'm certain makes him happy. But he also shares his birthday with screen legend, Betty Grable, and I'll wager that makes him even happier! Happy Birthday Leonard!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Walt's People" Volume 7

Here's a shameless plug for a book series I've been connected with since the beginning, having illustrated all of the covers with my Disney caricatures. Didier Ghez, who runs the very informative blog, Disney History, now has the latest volume of "Walt's People" available for purchase. With Christmas coming up fast, you folks may want to buy a whole bunch of these wonderful compilations of historical Disney interviews for the Disney enthusiast in your family. Head on over to Amazon to purchase as many as you can possibly afford!!

Below are the caricatures that adorn the cover of Walt's People Volume 7: Clarence "Ducky" Nash, the voice of Donald Duck; X. Atencio, the Imagineer; and Jim Macdonald, the head of the Sound Effects dept.