Iwao Takamoto Iwao Takamoto

Four Unconventional Disney Artist Memoirs

We’ve entered a new era of Disney-related memoirs–books written by artists who worked at the tail end of animation’s Golden Age or memoirs written by friends and relatives of the artists. Below is a look at four such books. At least a couple of them are self-published. And while some of them may be short on Disney or animation-related content, they should be worth a look for those who are interested in the lives of animation artists.

Warp and Weft: Life Canvas of Herbert Ryman is a memoir/bio of Herb Ryman by his longtime friend John Stanley Donaldson. Ryman worked as an art director on a number of early Disney features, including Dumbo, Fantasia and The Three Caballeros. He was selected by Walt Disney as one of the artists to accompany him on the famous 1941 South America trip, and he later spent many years working as an Imagineer, where he famously drew the first comprehensive map of Disneyland in 1953.

Warp and Weft has garned more than its share of controversy: this review of the book alludes to the author’s personal squabbles with the Ryman family and rhyming ‘beat poetry’ writing style. Historian Didier Ghez, who is an authority on Disney literature, warned on his blog that, “This book is highly problematic and should be read with an extremely critical mind.” If you’re adventurous enough to try it, it’s available for $20 on the author’s website.

Disney veteran Floyd Norman has put together Animated Life: A Lifetime of Tips, Tricks, Techniques and Stories from an Animation Legend, which looks to be part-memoir and part-tips & technique. Floyd, who began working at Disney in the 1950s, never shies away from sharing an honest opinion, as evidenced by the multiple gag drawing books he’s published, so this book promises to be a valuable record of his thoughts. The book will be out in June from Focal Press and can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $21.44. Some of the interior pages can be previewed on the publisher’s website.

Hanna-Barbera designer (and Milt Kahl’s clean-up man) Iwao Takamoto wrote his autobiography before passing away in 2007, and there’s plenty of good stuff in it. Now, his step-daughter, Leslie J. Stern, has written a memoir that will be released in September. Living with a Legend will tell “the story of her step-father’s emotional influence on her and never before told humorous anecdotes of her youth.” The book will include personal drawings by Iwao, family photographs, and holiday cards drawn by Iwao and other animators.

A limited edition numbered hardbound can be pre-ordered on Leslie’s website for $79.95. I hope a less expensive edition will be made available, too.

It’s Kind of a Cute Story is a memoir by Rolly Crump, written in collaboration with Jeff Heimbuch. Crump started working in Disney’s animation department in 1952, but made his greatest contributions to the company as an Imagineer, where he worked on classic rides and shows like the Haunted Mansion, Enchanted Tiki Room, and It’s A Small World. Crump was a pretty chill dude, and I’m looking forward to learning more about him. There’s no official release date for the book yet.

  • Since my review for “Warp and Weft” is linked, I should point out that overall my review was a positive one. The style is unconventional, true, but there’s a lot of excellent information about Ryman *and* Walt Disney that I’d never seen anywhere else. What’s better is that it’s footnoted within an inch of its life so you can see where everything came from. There are some “contentious” elements, mostly involving Ryman’s sister Lucille, but many tales in the book I’ve had corroborated (unsolicited, too) by multiple other parties since I reviewed the book.

    So, just a caveat. If you’re a Ryman fan you should check it out.

    • When Michael says “many tales in the book I’ve had corroborated (unsolicited, too) by multiple other parties,” it would be good to have some examples. And how does such “corroboration” square with his statement that the book is “footnoted within an inch of its life so you can see where everything came from”? If we can “see where everything came from”–that is, if Donaldson’s sources are fully documented and manifestly reliable–why is such external corroboration needed?

      I read Donaldson’s book and checked the sources cited in dozens of his notes (buying access to ProQuest for a lot of L.A. Times items, for example, and going through microfilm of the Times for the month of May 1928). I concluded that the book is wildly unreliable and the notes are a red herring. They do nothing to support implausible stories like those about Plane Crazy and Gus Eyssell but are simply a platform for speculation. Caveat emptor indeed.

      • In the interest of brevity, I might have been imprecise in my language. Naturally there are things in the book that were not footnoted; as it was partially a memoir there are first- or second-hand tales that cannot be cited. I was assuming that any contention over the book would be related to these parts, especially the elements involving Ryman’s sister (of whom some speak very highly and some less so). I haven’t provided examples as:

        – Those aren’t my stories to tell,

        – They did not come up in the process of my researching/discussing anything about this particular book, and in the course of unrelated research that just happened to involve Ryman himself.

        So, I was speaking about the more memoir-focused sections of the book. The more biographical elements – those involving Ryman’s early life and Walt – are supported by the extensive footnotes so I suppose it’s up to the reader to investigate any claims they find suspect, which you obviously did. My point was that they were there if someone chose to do so, which they are.

  • Now I’d like to see someone write a book about John Hench.

  • Gerry

    These volumes are welcome literary endeavors but the real animation book would be the memoirs of Harry Love!

  • eeteed

    i can’t wait to get a copy of the floyd norman book!

  • I agree to that book about John Hench.