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.
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:
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.]