Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dave Smith!

I just found out yesterday that today is the birthday of Dave Smith, the originator and longtime curator of the Disney Archives, who recently retired from that post after having been with Disney for 40 years. Before Dave came along, Disney did not have an archives to protect and record their studio history. But Dave, who had originally approached the company to compile a bibliography on Walt Disney, was pretty much able to write his own job ticket and proceeded to create The Disney Archives from the ground up, building it over the years into an integral part of The Disney Company.

I was lucky enough to meet Dave back in 1980, several years before I started my own Disney career in Disney's Canadian merchandising division. My friend, Russell Schroeder, whom I'd known for a number of years from when he worked as a character artist at Walt Disney World, had put me in touch with Dave when I had planned my first trip to L.A. so I could see the Disney studio. Dave was a gracious host, showing me and my buddy, Chris, around not only the Archives, but taking us on a tour of the studio backlot and the Animation Building, which was then still the REAL Animation Building before it got booted off the main lot. It was also on this first visit that I presented as a thank you gift to Dave, the painted caricature that you see at the top of this post. From what I gather, Dave has had it up on his office wall ever since then, so I am very honoured by that. I was also rather flattered that the image of just Dave with the Donald Duck doll was used to accompany a regular column called Ask Dave in the long-running Disney Magazine.

I'd visited a number of times with Dave over the years, but my favourite memory was when I went out to see him on a subsequent trip and he told me he'd phoned Ollie Johnston, whom I'd first met on my initial visit to the studio and had corresponded with since, to let him know I was in town. Well, Ollie said he'd be happy to drop by to see me, so I got a wonderful surprise when Ollie showed up and Dave was gracious enough to let us have his office for awhile so we could visit and chat for about a half hour or so. I always thought that was so kind of Dave to do that, and that visit remains my most cherished Disney memory.

Once I started working at Walt Disney World's Marketing Art department in 1990, I got to see Dave several more times in his visits out to Florida and my visits to L.A. Unfortunately, I haven't been out there in the 16 years that have passed since I left Disney, but I sure would enjoy seeing ol' Dave again. So, Happy Birthday, Dave - and I hope you're enjoying your well deserved retirement after serving Disney, its fans, and all who utilized the Disney Archives over those many years since you first established it!

Here's a great interview where Dave explains how the Archives first came about:


Eric Scales said...

Wow I had no idea that you did that caricature of Dave, Pete! That's awesome! Yes it's been used for years in various Disney publications and online now at for the Ask Dave column. I was at Dave's retirement party drawing character sketches this past Friday and while I didn't see the painting, there was a sculpted version of Dave with the Donald doll. I'd be interested to know how many of those were made.

Steven M. said...


Anonymous said...

Sweet, Pete! Dave Smith sounds like a swell guy who really cares about classic Disney animation. Great caricature as well.

"the Animation Building, which was then still the REAL Animation Building before it got booted off the main lot."

Why was it booted off the main lot in the first place anyway? Just reading that makes me feel very sad.

Pete Emslie said...

Roberto: Michael Eisner, in his infinite wisdom, decided soon after taking over as CEO in 1984 that his cronies from the live action studios that were newly appointed execs now at Disney needed prestigious office space. And so those pesky animators had to be booted out to a warehouse in Glendale in order to free up what Eisner considered to be prime real estate on the Disney lot.

Though many years later Eisner decided to bring the animation crew back to the main studio by constructing the Sorcerer's Hat building across the street, it was too little too late - things would never be the same as they once were back in Disney's Golden Age, when the animation department occupied the Animation Building that Walt had custom built specifically for their needs.

Martin Juneau said...

The caricature of Dave is just awesome and touching. Happy birthday to him.

Anonymous said...


I forgot Dave's Birthday!

First met this real gentleman in 1974; we even played miniature golf somewhere in L.A.!

Met Russell in 1977; he also then worked in the park as a cast member ...

I remember meeting you way back then when you worked in the Sun Bank building with Russell and Don "Ducky" Williams ... in 1990.

You were listening to kd Lang too!

Ah memories!
Do they light the corners of my mind?

Oh, the story about the moving of the Animation staff to Gendale is detailed in the faboo film "Waking Sleeping Beauty" btw!

Cheers from Paris, France!

kurtwil said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Dave while working for WED years ago. He was very helpful in my quest for CINDERELLA and other Disney animation trivia. He took preserving Disney materials very seriously!

Hopefully, "Waking Sleeping Beauty" will make it to DVD so more of us can see it!


Dave doesn't know this but i almost stole one of the 20000 Leagues Under the Sea helmets out of the archives one day....