Disney Artists Write Home During WWII

Drawing by David Swift

During World War II, dozens of Disney artists were drafted into the US military. Today I’m sharing letters written by three of those artists who served in uniform—Berk Anthony, Carl Fallberg and David Swift. The letters were all addressed to Ward Kimball, who continued working at Disney’s Burbank studio during the war. Not only are the contents of the letters fascinating but also the artists’ writing styles which exhibit a surprising level of literary sophistication. I’ve annotated the letters with some information about the artists as well as references they make in their writing. Please add your own notes if you know any more about what is described in these letters. Click on each image to see the full page.

Berk AnthonyThis first letter dated August 18 (presumably 1941) is written by Berkeley “Berk” Anthony. He is a mysterious figure in animation history and I haven’t been able to turn up much about his life and career. He began working at Disney in the mid-1930s. He was Ward Kimball’s assistant for a period of time before David Swift and Tom Oreb took over the assistant spots. I have no records on what he assisted on, but I’m guessing he helped Kimball with Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio and Bacchus in Fantasia. Anthony also worked in story on The Reluctant Dragon. He was drafted while still working at Disney. I know only two random facts about his post-military career: he designed the Arizona State mascot Sparky the Sun Devil in 1946, and according to a late-’90s interview with Ward Kimball, he committed suicide.

Page 1:
Berk Anthony Letter

Page 2:
Berk Anthony Letter

Notes about Berk Anthony’s letter: In the 1st paragraph, Anthony makes reference to Walt Disney’s trip to South America, which was happening during the time this was written. In the 2nd paragraph, Anthony mentions Carl Nater, who was the production coordinator for military films at Disney. (Nater later became the director of Disney’s 16mm film division and tried to suppress the release of Kimball’s Mars and Beyond to schools because he felt it “promoted evolution”.) In the same paragraph, Anthony also mentions his college background. If it’s not evident from his writing, he had an intellectual bent, and having seen a photo of the library in his home, it is also safe to assume that he was well read. In the 3rd paragraph, I interpreted one of his sentences to mean that he appeared in the live-action portions of Reluctant Dragon. I don’t have time to check the entire film right now but should anybody wish to search for him, I’ve included a photo of Anthony above from January 1939, dressed up for a costume party. In the 8th paragraph, he references Hardie Gramatky, the former Disney artist who became a well-known fine artist and author of the Little Toot series.

The next letter, dated November 23, 1942, is from Carl Fallberg who was stationed in Quantico, Virginia as part of the Marine Corps film unit:

Page 1:
Carl Fallberg Letter

Page 2:
Carl Fallberg Letter

The unit housed an impressive group of people including not only the animators that Fallberg mentions in his letter but also actor Tyrone Powers, director Richard Brooks and the future Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Diebenkorn. In the 1st paragraph, Fallberg thanks Kimball for the shot of #2, in reference to the train that Kimball was restoring at his home. In the 2nd paragraph, Fallberg references a live-action feature that he had made with fellow Disney animator Lars Calonius. The one hour and fifteen minute Western parody was partly shot at Kimball’s home using his #2 train, the Emma Nevada. In the 4th paragraph, Fallberg lists the Disney artists at Quantico at the time of the letter, who were Ralph Chadwick, Keith Robinson, Walt Smith, Charles McElmurry, Art Babbitt, Nicholas J. George, Don Lusk and Jack Whitaker.

In the 5th paragraph, he says that Frank Thomas was being considered for the unit; Thomas eventually ended up directing animation in the First Motion Picture Unit of the Air Force stationed in Culver City, California. As Fallberg states in this paragraph, Disney layout artist Tom Codrick would become the head of the animation unit in Quantico. In the 6th paragraph, he thanks Ward for giving animation pointers to his sister Elinor Fallberg. In the 9th paragraph, he writes about visiting his live-action filmmaking partner, Lars Calonius, who was in the Army’s Signal Corps film unit further north on the East Coast. (Calonius stayed in New York after the war and ran a successful TV commercial studio for many years.) In the 12th paragraph, he references G.F.R.R.–the Grizzly Flats Railroad–which was the official name of Kimball’s backyard.

The final letter is from December 28, 1945 from David “Bud” Swift, who was Kimball’s top assistant on Dumbo, The Reluctant Dragon and Education for Death among other projects.

David Swift Letter

Swift’s letter, written from England, is addressed to Fred [Moore] and Tom [Oreb] as well as Ward. Unlike Anthony and Fallberg who were working in film divisions during World War II, Swift was flying a B-17 Flying Fortress in the Air Force. In fact, he flew thirty-four bombing missions into Germany in 1945; the Germans had already surrendered by the time he wrote this letter. In the 1st paragraph, Swift’s mention of “Hal” refers to Hal Adelquist, the head of Disney studio personnel. In the 3rd paragraph, he writes that he wished he were back in the States, where women didn’t “carry pro kits.” A description of pro-kits can be found in this book excerpt on Google Book Search. Swift has a way with words, and after the war, he became a writer at Warner Bros. Later, he created the TV series Mr. Peepers and directed features like The Parent Trap and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.

Here is a photo of Swift (standing) and Kimball during the production of The Reluctant Dragon.

Swift and Kimball


  • http://www.toonsatwar.blogspot.com David

    Outstanding Amid!

    I have a copy of a V-Mail sent by Lt. Bill Williams addressed to “The Mad Marvels of I-D.” The salutation reads, “Dear Fred, Ward, Tom, Fed [again] Paul, etc.” I’ll transcribe and post the contents here later today. The letter was written in September 1942 and he speaks mainly about his flight training and how he had to make an emergency landing his “first day up.”

    For those interested in the Disney Studio’s involvement in the war, please stop by my blog.

    More later.

    David

  • http://mayersononanimation.blogspot.com Mark Mayerson

    So we get a little closer to knowing what your Ward Kimball project is, but we’re still in the dark. When are you going to spill the beans?

  • Angry Anim

    Absolutely amazing!! Thanks so much for taking the time to share… I love stuff like this!

  • Scott Harpel

    Its crazy just how much Ward was the ring leader of the whole Animation department.

  • uncle wayne

    oh my GOD! Jerry & Amid….your site is priceless! Thank YOO!

    (and is it “just me”…or does the drawing look almost exactly like Snafu….by coincidence?)

  • http://www.blendfilms.com Patrick Smith

    Really great post Amid, Thanks so much.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    Excellent. Thanks for sharing :-)

    Makes you wonder how the rest of the conscripts reacted once they knew these guys worked a the ‘Mickey Mouse studio’. Would they have asked for a pinup drawing perhaps?

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    Wow! I’d never seen that photo of Ward Kimball and David Swift. By the time Bud returned to Disney in the sixties, he didn’t have any hair at all.

    I confess I was on stage every day Bud was shooting “The Parent Trap” on the Disney lot. Sometimes, animators are better filmmakers than their live-action counterparts.

  • Stan

    And when the very same David Swift took a meeting at Disney a few years ago, when they were about to do their cheesy remake of his “The Parent Trap” and he pitched them some fresh ideas, he was told in so many words that he was too old. Probably by a suit who drank beer that tasted like a wet dream.

  • Jesse Haskell

    I found “Berk”‘s appearance in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON; he shows up in the first 15 minutes, walking out of the ‘Art Class’ building to light up a cigarette and exchange a few words with Robert Benchley before sauntering on his own way.

  • amid

    David: That’d be interesting to see. I hope you’ll share when you have a chance. It’s amazing how nearly seventy years later, we’re learning about their lives and work through these personal fragments left behind.

    Mark: Soon I’ll let everybody know.

    Jesse: Awesome! Thanks for taking the time to find him. I’m going to pull out my copy and take a look.

    Everybody else, thanks for the comments. Glad these letters were enjoyed.

  • http://www.toonsatwar.blogspot.com David

    As promised Amid, here is the transcript of a V-mail letter sent to the Studio by artist Alfred O. “Bill” Williams.

    The letter sold on eBay awhile back…I made a copy of the image for my own reference files. I was going to use the letter on my own blog and possibly include same in a revised edition of my book “Toons At War,” which I am currently working on.

    (Besides the Disney WW II blog, I also run the Vintage Disney blog that had the Carolyn Shafer piece you recently highlighted).

    The 15th Fighter Group Williams was part of was tasked with defending the Hawaiian Islands, as well as instructing new pilots. In 1944 pilots in the 15th received training on the P-51.

    The 15th saw action in the South Pacific at Iwo Jima and they provided long range escort for B-29 bombers on missions against targets on the Japanese Home Islands.

    The content of the V-mail isn’t as exciting as the other letters you posted, but the letter is still interesting nonetheless. Postwar Williams enjoyed a career in the comic industry.

    Enjoy,

    David

    “September 23, 1942

    Lt. A.O. Williams
    45th Fighter Squadron
    15th Fighter Group

    The Mad Marvels of 1.D.
    Walt Disney Studios
    Burbank, California

    Dear Fred, Ward, Tom, Mack, Fred, Paul, etc.

    I think about you guys a lot and how swell it would be to be with you again. As you might have guessed, this is no picnic, for, although there is no action to speak of, we undergo actual combat conditions.

    It’s pretty swell, though, when we go ‘unavailable.’ Swimming, fishing, etc. Oh yes! I can tell you I’m on the island of OAHU. It’s still pretty swell, in spite of the damage the japs did. We’re flying [censored] now, really “hot rockets, however I can’t say exactly what type. We’re mostly [censored], having lots of [censored]. You’d get a kick out of seeing the old boy now – with ever present gas mask, and 45 automatic.

    The very first day up I had a ‘runaway prop,’ and almost burned up one of Uncle Sam’s [censored] dollar wonders. I made an emergency landing – laying down a smoke screen all over the place. These unkind [censored] still kid me about being a ‘sky writer.’

    So long for now – ‘aloha’ from Oahu – and write soon.

    Very sincerely,

    Bill”