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This Disney Artist Received The Most Amazing Gift When He Left the Studio in 1937

How colleagues treat a departing employee is one measure of a company’s culture, and the Disney Animation culture during the 1930s was tough to beat.

When Italian-American artist Joe Magro left the studio in 1937 following the production of Snow White, his Disney colleagues presented him with a “good luck” book filled with gag drawings. The drawings from that book were auctioned by Heritage Auctions, and include pieces by a who’s who of animation legends including Fred Moore, Ward Kimball, Bill Tytla, Grim Natwick and Marc Davis, among others.

Magro had been hired a year earlier during the studio’s rapid expansion to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He was working as a commercial art instructor at Rochester, New York’s Benjamin Franklin High School when he was discovered by Disney. A newspaper story from May 1936 explains how he got the job:

Magro, a Mechanics Institute [now Rochester Institute of Technology] graduate, was notified yesterday of his selection. There were nearly 5,000 applications for 50 animating jobs. He has been granted a year’s leave of absence and will leave for Hollywood at the close of the present school term.

The young Rochesterian, whose works have been shown in Memorial Art Gallery and in the Art Center where he lives, stumbled into the opportunity to work for Disney through Herbert M. Stern, Rochester architect. Stern met two Disney representatives on a train coming from California, listened while they described their trouble in finding competent draftsmen, and steered Magro to them for a tryout during Easter week in New York.

After working 18 months at Disney, Magro returned to Rochester to resume his job as a high school art teacher. During World War II, he served in the Army’s animation unit, the Signal Corps, including a stint in India.

Joe Magro serving during World War II, 1945. Top row, second from left.
Joe Magro serving during World War II, 1945. Top row, second from left.

After the war ended, he launched a short-lived animation studio in New York, Minitoons, with former Disney colleagues Bob Leffingwell and Wilbur Streech. It is unclear if he worked in animation beyond the 1940s, but Magro did continue a career in the arts.

In 1953, Magro moved to Italy as the European representative for the d’Arcy Advertising Company. He was managing the Coca-Cola account at the time, and lived in Italy throughout the 1950s. Magro had a bit of a history with Coca-Cola. One of the projects he had worked on at his own studio, Minitoons, had been a 90-second commercial featuring Coke’s mascot at the time, Sprite Boy. While the animation has been lost to time, here is a model sheet from the project:

Model sheet for Coca-Cola project by Magro's studio Minitoons, ca. 1946.
Model sheet for Coca-Cola project by Magro’s studio Minitoons, ca. 1946.

Below is the entire collection of the Magro caricatures drawn by his Disney co-workers. [Note: This post was updated on April 17, 2017, to include new information discovered about Magro.]

Drawing by Charles "Nick" Nichols
Drawing by Charles “Nick” Nichols
Drawing by Dave Rose
Drawing by Dave Rose
Drawing by Grim Natwick
Drawing by Grim Natwick
Drawing by Fred Moore
Drawing by Fred Moore
Les Novros drawing
Les Novros drawing
Drawing by Ward Kimball
Drawing by Ward Kimball
Drawing by Dick Lundy
Drawing by Dick Lundy
Drawing by Woolie Reitherman
Drawing by Woolie Reitherman
Drawing by Bob Wickersham
Drawing by Bob Wickersham
Drawing by Bill Tytla
Drawing by Bill Tytla
Drawing by Bob Leffingwell
Drawing by Bob Leffingwell
Drawing by Jack Larsen
Drawing by Jack Larsen
Drawing by Ward Kimball and Claude Smith
Drawing by Ward Kimball and Claude Smith
Drawing by Hugh Hennesy
Drawing by Hugh Hennesy
Drawing by Clyde Geronimi
Drawing by Clyde Geronimi
Drawing by Marc Davis and Charles "Nick" Nichols
Drawing by Marc Davis and Charles “Nick” Nichols
Drawing by Marc Davis
Drawing by Marc Davis
Drawing by Chuck (?)
Drawing by Chuck (?)
Thor Putnam drawing
Thor Putnam drawing
Drawing by Josh Meador
Drawing by Josh Meador
Ray Patin drawing
Ray Patin drawing
Unidentified artist drawing
Unidentified artist drawing
"Murray" (?) drawing
“Murray” (?) drawing
Bob Leffingwell drawing
Bob Leffingwell drawing
Drawing by Marc Davis
Drawing by Marc Davis
Ward Kimball drawing
Ward Kimball drawing
Ward Kimball (?) drawing
Ward Kimball (?) drawing
Drawing by "Jacques"
Drawing by “Jacques”
Drawing by "Jacques"
Drawing by “Jacques”
Drawing by Hal D. (?)
Drawing by Hal D. (?)
Frenchy de Tremaudan drawing
Frenchy de Tremaudan drawing
Drawing by Marc Davis
Drawing by Marc Davis

(Thanks, Mark Mayerson)

  • What a find! Great to see the command of anatomy all these artists had at the Snow White period. While the inking style betrays their backgrounds in illustration and newspaper strip cartooning.
    I guess he and his family hung onto that book all these years-shame to split it up. You’ll be pleased to know artists at the feature studios still make ‘gag books’ like these for special persons.
    Any idea what became of Joe when he moved back East?

    • No idea what happened after he moved back East. Would love to find out. According to the family member who inherited these, Magro kept his Disney drawings in a safe deposit box. He obviously valued the time he spent at Disney.

      • Helen Gibson

        see the reply I sent to Matt Jones regarding my Uncle Joe after his time with Disney

    • Helen Gibson

      Yes, when my uncle came back East he was in the Army during the war. He spent time in Italy during the 1950s working with Coca-Cola accounts. He ended up spending the balance of his career as a civilian with the Air Force in Ohio, Ca., and Fl. He did graphic art while working for the Air Force. He and my aunt retired to Fl. where he did silk screening.He was a great man, with great talent and many interesting stories . i felt his art and the Disney history associated with him should be shared and that is why i decided to work with Heritage.

      • AmidAmidi

        Helen, Thank you so much for sharing more information about Joe’s life. Those of us interested in animation history enjoy finding out about artists like your uncle whose names aren’t as well known but who made valuable contributions to the development of this art form.

        • Helen Gibson

          Amid, if you go to Heritage site, the auction coming Feb. 22 -23 has some of my uncle”s Disney works that have been entered .I have enjoyed reading the notes that have been put on this site.

  • I guess i understand why he left studios only after one year!!
    Probably it wasn’t easy to stay everyday with people who have fun of your big-nose-big-mustache-appearence. Probably he left America and went to Japan to work for Nintendo as Super Mario :D ?

  • For gag drawings these are incredible.

  • Fantastic drawings, and some sexy ones too! A great discovery!

  • Nik

    Beautiful stuff! Thanks for collecting the images into one gallery.

  • All beautiful drawings aside, “By Ward K. age 12” was my favorite gag.

  • I love how Ward signed his with “Age 12” haha

  • Andy Prinsey

    I did not know this Joe Magro, but these drawings by the young “grand old men” are a bit ‘racist. In 1937, Italy did not pass a good time (Mussolini was in power), and could be that Disney’s artists make fun Joe the Italian! Maybe Joe did not take it well so he has gone away! This is just a guess, but the caricatures are sometimes a bit ‘heavy stereotypes etc. It would be nice to know the true story of Joe Magro!

    • I seriously doubt any negativity was intended beyond casual ribbing based on physical characteristics, which is the core principle of caricature. The drawings don’t strike me as being very different from the average studio gag drawing of the period, except they were done with more care because it was a going-away present for Magro. In fact, caricatures of Ward Kimball — like this one — were far more extreme than the ones of Magro, and Ward was as white as they come.

      Also, Clyde Geronimi, whose drawing makes the most explicit reference to Magro’s Italian heritage, was Italian-American himself.

  • HOLY DRAWING ALIVE ! ! ! – Amid, man, I can smell the graphite (and the flavor of that man’s character)! … I really wish cartoonists/animators were still taught patience – could still draw like those cats. Today animators are told over and over that drawing from photos isn’t a good idea, and that a 1 minute pose is a long one (and granted, it CAN be considered so). Well what if pictures were worth MORE than a thousand words, like at least DOUBLE that? would we all spend more time drawing into and over a single image? I bet we would. would it be more likely that those drawings make it into a frame and up on the wall? – or might it become the kernel of an idea for say a whole STORY ? Disney was the best… come to think of it, they still are with Wreck it Ralph ! :)

    THIS POST IS AWESOME ! ! ! GOLD ! ! !

    • Great comment, Miles! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Am I the only one who briefly wondered why so many Disney artists were paying tribute to Frank Zappa?

  • Jen

    I love that little gems like this are still being discovered today.

  • Hank

    Because they were as brilliant as Zappa!

  • Lightbox

    Wonderful drawing by artists whose styles and talents have all but disappeared from the industry. Sickens me how many CG animators at large animation houses these days proudly proclaim how they ‘can’t draw’. It shows on the screen.

  • Wonderful drawings!

  • This is really cool! Thanks for sharing these. Nice way to wake up and enjoy my coffee.

  • Ken Layton

    Wow, these are a fantastic find! i love these drawings! Thanks for posting. :)

  • There needs to be an art book with gag drawings from every studio(providing if there are other ones that exist out there) I’d own this book in a heartbeat. This is a great discovery.

    You can tell the artists had a lot of fun doing these. That makes it even better. I was going to say that the first one was done by Chuck Jones except Chuck didn’t work for Disney. Aside from that, these are great gag drawings. :)

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Looks as though he left to become a teacher.

    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      Maybe a teacher in Rochester (Nick Nichols’ drawing).
      Hugh Hennesy has him holding a grade three book; Tytla has him teaching a class.

    • Helen Gibson

      He had already graduated from RIT and was teaching in Rochester when his professor suggested he contact Disney.

  • Magro possibly ended up working in advertising on the East Coast. I found a reference for a Joe Magro who went to Italy in 1953 as the European representative for the d’Arcy Advertising Co. He was managing the Coca-Cola account at the time. I can’t be sure it’s the same person, but it’s a reasonable guess.

    • Helen Gibson

      Yes this was my uncle they were in Italy for approximately eight years

  • Jeff

    That first one definitely looks like it’s by Chuck Jones – even though he didn’t work at Disney is it possible he knew Magro? The signature and even the life drawing style match Jones who would have been about 25 years old at the time.

    • Vince

      It might be possible that it is by Jones. The “CHUCK” looks right. Jones was 25 and the thing that would link him to Disney would be his time at Cal Arts with Don Graham. A few of these guys went to a Graham class at night.

    • Eric

      I though the exact same thing concerned the “Chuck” drawing. Has all the hallmarks of a Jones piece. Jones did actually work at Disney for a short stint, but it was later. But Jones worked as a cell washer for Ub Iwerks in the early 30’s and then Ub moved over to Schlesingers studio right around the time Snow White was being produced at Disney. Clearly we know that Ub and Disney had a relationship so I could see where it would have been very possible for Ub to go visit Disney to see how Snow White was moving along and taking a young Jones along with him. So he could have crossed paths and befriended Magro. All theoretical of course, no hard evidence just yet. 

  • Wow! This find is no less than fantastic! Great to see Snow White in a bathing suit, for example.

  • Warren

    Love the signature by Ward Kimball age 12. That’s a an absolute riot! I wish I had met the man.

  • Dave

    To see all of this collected in one book is staggering–and these were just jotted-off gag drawings!

  • About the best set of gag drawings that I’ve ever seen. Wow! Amazing how much work went in to some of these.

  • Richard J.NascaM.D.

    Very proud of my very talented cousin Joe Magro.

  • mick

    That’s right, I prefer the drawings which ignore his appearance and lampoon his filing system…. particularly ‘oh boy look at that filing system’ by disney worker 09335

  • khan8282

    I can’t draw :|