Of all the real-life characters in Disney history, Ward Kimball (b. 3/4/14) is one of the most fascinating. Among the “Nine Old Men” of Disney animation, i.e. the company loyalists, Kimball was the only one who unequivocally felt that the Disney Strike was a good thing – so much so that Babbitt almost convinced him to stay outside. Kimball was also the only one of them who Walt Disney himself dubbed a true genius. He had joined the studio on April 2, 1934 and remained a company man, as well as a liberal, throughout his life..
Walt Kelly (b. 8/25/13) first started working for Disney on January 6, 1936, in the animated shorts’ story department working on storyboards. He requested to transfer to the animation department, and at the end of 1939 found himself in Freddy Moore’s unit, a junior animator under Kimball. When the Disney Strike erupted on May 28, 1941, during which time Kelly was supporting his family of three on $85 a week, he found himself with friends on either side of the picket line. Instead of choosing, he took leave to visit his sick sister back East. He never returned to Disney, but instead became a legendary comic strip artist, crafting the funny-animal genre into political and social satire with “Pogo”.
The quirky friendship between Kimball and Kelly is one of my personal favorite bits of Disney history, if only for their stories of hijacking the bathroom to play old-timey American standards on the tin-whistle, harmonica and waste-paper basket. To me, this is what Golden Age of animation is all about. But read it for yourself in Kimball’s own words, as prefaced in Eclipse Books’ Pogo and Albert #4.
Also note Kelly’s lyrical last words as the Disney Strike dawned.
- Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men by John Canemaker
- Walt’s People Volume 3, edited by Didier Ghez
- Pogo Volume 3 by Walt Kelly, Fantagraphics Books, introduction by R. C. Harvey
- Disney Studios Employee Evaluation, ca. 1941