ClassicDisneyWard Kimball

The Average Workday At Disney Was A Lot Different Seventy Years Ago

No matter how many books one reads about classic Disney animation, it’s difficult to imagine the day-to-day life of artists during the studio’s Golden Age. Obviously, we know the artists worked on films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia and Bambi. And by most accounts, they had a pretty good time doing it. But what was the work environment like on any given day?

While I was writing my upcoming biography of Disney animator and director Ward Kimball (pictured up top), I was granted access to the personal journals that Ward kept during the 1940s. His writings provided a unique and unprecedented look into the day-to-day life at the Disney studio through the eyes of one of the studio’s most creative and gifted artists.

The journal entry reprinted below is from exactly seventy years ago today–August 7, 1942. There was a World War raging at the time and the studio’s regular output had been interrupted by the urgent demand for military training films and other war-themed shorts, like Education for Death, which Kimball was animating at the time. Here is Ward’s record of that warm August day in Burbank, California:

Friday, August 7, 1942
At the studio a kid — Kenny Walker– brought in 2 quarts of whiskey to celebrate his joining the Navy. We said, “Let’s wait til this afternoon.” “No,” says Fred [Moore], “now!” I mixed a big one with Coke at 11am. Got nice and glowy for our noon hour jam session. Tom [Oreb] really beat it out.

I hit every note made for the trombone–My! My! We knocked the pants off of “Jingle Bells,” etc. At 1:00 the boys were really hitting it up–no work–at 2:00 we played records with everyone in the unit beating on something! I blew my trombone–[Jack] Whitaker his bass! People came from the far corners of the studio to hear us. What a din.

The 2 qts were gone–I counted 6 empties in the hallway. Bill Berg–separated from his wife 6 mo. was going out on his 1st date tonight–”Going to get some” he said–but, alas! He had too much–passed out cold–the nurse had to give him shots–then carried him to his car. Wow! Just like old times–wine, song, no women.

The moral of the story: if you run an animation studio, always have a nurse on staff.

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