Believe it or not, one of the best online sources for animation history buffs is YouTube. Amazing and rare materials, often digitized from private film collections, are posted regularly on the streaming site. You just have to know where to look.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has been contributing rare material of its own in recent months. Among the highlights is the following excerpt from the 1954 Academy Awards ceremony in which Walt Disney accepted the award for Ward Kimball’s short Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom. In Walt’s acceptance speech, he’s confused about which award he’s accepting and thanks the “naturalist photographers who have played such a great part in making the nature films.”
A few moments later, in the same video, Disney wins again for Bear Country. That was his fourth win that evening, which is why the presenters were giggling as they read the list of nominees.
Ward Kimball, the director of Toot Whistle Plunk & Boom, was in attendance at the ceremony, but during that era, producers (and not directors) accepted the animated short Oscar. It must have been disappointing for Ward to not only be unable to accept the Oscar (which he shared with co-director Charles Nichols), but to also be unacknowledged during the acceptance speech. Disney did make up it to him after the ceremony though. A few weeks after the ceremony, Disney promoted Kimball to the position of producer/director/writer, and for the next five years, he gave Ward more creative control than any director had ever had at the studio. Not a bad trade-off.
The Academy also recently posted Kimball’s second Oscar win in 1970 for the featurette It’s Tough to Be a Bird.
Because Walt Disney died in 1966, Ward got to accept and keep the Oscar the second time around. The film had a strong conservation/environmental theme, and Ward continued that in his acceptance speech when he said, “I also want to extend my condolences to the unfortunate seagulls in Santa Barbara.” Those comments referred to a 1969 oil spill off the coast of California, which at the time was the largest oil spill in the history of the United States.
Ward’s comments caused an uproar at Disney since Gulf Oil Corporation, which had been among the parties responsible for the spill, was a major corporate sponsor of the Disney Company. Ultimately, Ward’s comment had no impact on the relationship between Disney and Gulf, but his willingness to speak his mind reflects his independent spirit even after working at the studio for 36 years.
A few days ago, Ward’s grandson-in-law Geefwee Boedoe posted a photo of the It’s Tough to Be a Bird Oscar complete with custom-made “Ward glasses.”