Jeff Lenburg’s new book WHO’S WHO IN ANIMATED CARTOONS apparently continues to perpetuate one of the big lies of animation history: that master animator Fred Moore died while driving drunk. It’s bad enough that Lenburg apparently has published this information in his book, but he’s also been receiving publicity for this “discovery.” Contact Music recently published an article as if this was news, and other media outlets have been picking up the story as well.
Lenburg is quoted in the article as saying, “Beset by drinking and personal issues, [Moore] died a few months later, unemployed and with no health insurance, after striking his head in his car while driving drunk. I thought it was pretty tragic, but he’s part of the Disney story.” Of course, newspaper accounts of the time tell us that Moore wasn’t even driving the car; his wife was driving. Perhaps Lenburg can share the new evidence he’s uncovered that says Moore was driving drunk at the time. The biggest irony here is that, according to Jeff Lenburg’s website, he recently wrote a book that teaches good research skills for writers.
Animator David Nethery, who pointed out this article to me, wrote a nice summation of why misinformation like this is unacceptable:
My understanding is that, yes, Fred had a definite problem with drinking too much alcohol, and was certainly “disciplined” by the Disney Studio on one or more occasions by being let go, but it seems that the stories about “Freddy the poor, washed-up drunk” have been greatly exaggerated over the years by a.) those who had a vested interest in downplaying Fred Moore’s giant contribution to the development of Disney character animation and b.) parroting of studio gossip from those within the animation industry and animation fandom who only had, at best, second or third hand knowledge of the events surrounding Fred Moore’s last years and his death. For this story to be spun again, in 2006, as something new, a “revelation” or an “expose” by Jeff Lenburg or anyone else seems to me to be an unnecessary tarnishing of a great talent’s legacy.
UPDATE #1: Jenny Lerew has more information about Moore’s death on her always excellent blog Blackwing Diaries.
UPDATE #2: Jim Korkis, one of the preeminent Disney historians of our time, sent in the following information about Moore’s death. I’d love to see Lenburg’s response to this. Korkis writes:
I am a big Fred Moore fan and it bothers me that the old canard of him dying as a result of being drunk is still being bandied about…especially in print. Here is the Truth About Freddy Moore’s Death:
Joe Campana ferreted out the actual truth through public records and according to those records Fred Moore actually died on Sunday, November 23, 1952 at 4:15 pm, at St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank (the same hospital where Walt would pass away in 1966), as a result of a head injury from a vehicle-on-vehicle collision the previous evening at Big Tujunga Canyon near the Angeles National Forest. Moore, 41 at the time of his death, was not at the wheel at the time of the accident; his wife Virginia who was 35 was driving and sustained minor injuries that were treated at St. Joseph’s. The couple had two daughters, Linda and Melissa.
The Moores were returning from a visit to Disney animation director Jack Kinney’s house to watch a college football game. (Jack Kinney had directed the “All The Cats Join In” sequence in “Make Mine Music” on which Moore had animated.) In fact, Joe confirmed that the USC-UCLA game had been played that day. The time of the accident and the location of the accident also seem to support this story. It is apparent that the Moores got disoriented while driving home and when they attempted to turn around to head in the opposite direction, the collision occurred.
The driver of the other car, Roy Sowles, died many years ago, and attempts to locate the other passenger, Jesse Sowles (probably Sowles’ son), who sustained minor injuries have not been successful. The original accident report does not appear to have survived, either, but Joe located a contemporary newspaper account of the accident as well as Moore’s death certificate listing the cause as “cerebral hemorrhage” and that an autopsy was performed and you linked to those documents in your comments.
UPDATE #3: Jenny Lerew has a slight correction to the information above. She writes:
Moore’s wife Virginia (driving the car in the accident) was his second wife (also named, as was his first, Virginia–strange but true). This Virginia #2 was NOT the mother of Fred’s two daughters, whose names were Melinda and Suzanne, not “Linda and Melissa”.