Four Masters, a Museum, and Memories

I feel bad that it took me this long to mark Ollie Johnston’s passing. But when I heard that we’d lost the last of the Nine Old Men, what sprung to mind was a visit I paid to Philadelphia in October, 1990. (Dave Mackey was there, too, and I’m sure he remembers it at least as well as I do.)

The trip was spurred by an exhibit of Disney art at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and it turned out to be pretty good. But what was really exciting was the book signing that was held at the show: It was for Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s Walt Disney’s Bambi, and we’d been told that Thomas, Johnston, Marc Davis, and Ward Kimball would all be there.

Kimball didn’t show, and I remember being disappointed. But Thomas, Johnston, and Davis were all present, giving Dave and me the chance to meet one-third of the Nine Old Men. True, our encounter was brief–eighteen years later, in fact, I can’t remember any words that we exchanged.

But…

Maurice Noble, who dismissed the two years he spent working on Bambi (“my contributions were probably more indirect”) was also present. He had the misfortune to not have been one of the Nine Old Men, and while anyone who loved Chuck Jones cartoons knew who he was, he hadn’t yet entered the renaissance he’d eventually enjoy. So while Frank, Ollie, and Marc were mobbed with fans, Maurice was sitting off by himself. Dave and I hung out with him and thoroughly enjoyed the experience; it led to me interviewing Maurice for Animato . We became good friends.

So meeting Maurice was unquestionably the highlight of that Philly trip. But I enjoyed the whole experience. And any time I want to start the memories flooding back, I just need to pull my copy of Walt Disney’s Bambioff the shelf:

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2 thoughts on “Four Masters, a Museum, and Memories”

  1. I remember meeting Pam and the late Mike Scoville in New York (at the time, the Scovilles ran the Animation Art Guild, which Pam still operates from her suburban New Jersey home), and all going down on the Metroliner together down to Philly. As I remember, Mike and Pam owned a car, but they did not have easy access to it. I think TishTash may have been with us that day as well.

    It was delightful to hear the reminisces of three of the four surviving Old Men and having Maurice Noble – who DEFINITELY deserved to be in their company – along for the ride was a bonus. (Would have loved to have met Ward Kimball and I know I could have talked to him for hours about trains and trombone playing.) I still have the signed books somewhere in my animation-related holdings.

    It was a fine day, and as I’ve said elsewhere, such clandestine meetings are now pretty much a thing of the past as our true animation pioneers are dying off.

  2. I’m glad you had a chance to meet them. I think the world of the nine old men. Frank and Ollie are my favorite not only because of their mastery of the animation craft, but also because they seemed so genuine and caring. That’s why I also am a huge Eric Goldberg fan. I was a kid during the early ’90s Disney era and he’s a modern legend in the industry for me along with Andreas Deja and Will Finn.

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