Disney historian Jim Korkis follows up on my post about the SNOW WHITE wrap party and sends in this excerpt from an interview he did with Disney animator/director Bill Justice. The entire Justice interview can be found in the third volume of WALT’S PEOPLE.
Jim Korkis: Tell me a little about the “Snow White Orgy” at the Norconian.
Bill Justice: In 1938, “Snow White” was a huge hit. You can’t believe how big it was. Walt and Roy announced that they were going to throw this huge, incredible “thank-you” party for everyone who worked for them. Wives, husbands, children, friends…all of them were invited to a weekend at the NORCONIAN HOTEL on Lake Norco (a desert resort near Palm Springs where Walt would later have his Smoke Tree Ranch hideaway).
All costs from the rooms to food and drink and in fact whatever we wanted to order would be taken care of by Walt. You know at the Studio, there was a strict dress code in those days for employees. Men came to work in jackets and ties although they were allowed to take them off when they sat down at their drawing boards. Women were not allowed to wear pants, and sober-colored skirts and blouses weren’t very appealing. The ink and paint girls were separated from the animators. The Disney Brothers had sent out a memo that if you were in animation you weren’t supposed “to dip your pen in the company’s ink and paint” which was their way of saying, “behave yourself with the ink and paint girls.” If you told a dirty joke within earshot of Walt, you might get fired. He didn’t put up with any of that stuff.
So, anyway for two years, all of us had been under terrible pressure, working long hours day and night to finish “Snow White.” When I came on at the end of production, I still felt that stress. When we arrived at the Norconian Hotel there were pools to swim in, tennis courts, a golf course, music, and plenty of food and alcohol and something just snapped.
An animator picked up an ink and paint girl and dumped her into the pool fully clothed. Followed by others jumping in and all hell broke loose pretty quickly.
Swimsuits flew out the windows. There were naked swim parties, people got drunk and were often surprised what room they were in and who they were sleeping next to when they awoke the next morning.
Freddie Moore walked off one of the upper floor balconies thinking he was on the ground floor and ended up in a tree fortunately. You know, he was one of my idols. I never saw Freddie Moore do a bad drawing. As my wedding gift from my wife, Kim, I got a sketch of a woman’s head wearing a hat done by Freddie.
Walt was horrified at the shenanigans. He and his wife drove home that next morning. He never referred to that party again and in fact if you wanted to keep your job, you didn’t mention it either when you were working at the studio. We never had a party like that again.