Back in the eighties, two remarkable people came together to launch an animation studio here in the southland. One was an Orange County businessman and the other was one of the most gifted artist and designers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. Our initial office was located on Ventura Blvd in Studio City and this is where these photographs were taken. It’s interesting to note that many of our young employees or interns would later move into high profile positions in the animation industry. Heck, I would even be employed by some of the very same people I hired. These rare photographs capture that remarkable time and serves as a warning to always treat the people you hire with respect. They could very well be your boss one day.

The studio would one day grow in size and would occupy a much larger facility in an industrial park near the Hollywood Burbank Airport. Our staff consisted of industry veterans as well as a number of young animation artists just out of school. It was a very exciting time as we busily developed a number of projects that never went anywhere. Actually, there was one exception. A cute little cartoon bear with the cutesy name, “Kissyfur” actually became a television series on NBC. I still find it funny that a number of people considered the name, “Kissyfur” somewhat risqué. Actually, it had nothing to do with sex. Rather, it was the way a young child pronounce the name, “Christopher.”

That’s story man, Pat Ventura along with animator, Glenn Chaika in the photograph on the upper left. The artists work away on storyboards in the picture on the right, and down below we see industry veteran, Dave Hanan and background artist, Michael Humphries setting up animation desks. Also in the photograph are Pat Ventura and Gary Trousdale who would one day be a top feature film director for Walt Disney Feature Animation. However, this is what things were like back in the eighties when a group of young kids began their long journey in the strange, crazy business known as animation.

The early days of the amazing studio launched by businessman, Tom Carter and animation genius Phil Mendez.

The early days of the amazing studio launched by businessman, Tom Carter and animation genius Phil Mendez.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman

I love Disney history and recently I came across a letter written back in 1956 regarding a comic story that ran in the newspapers. Back in the nineteen fifties, comics were still widely read, especially if the particular story was based on a popular Disney character or motion picture. It’s interesting to note that the subject of Native American history was still a hot topic long before Walt Disney Feature Animation took on the task of producing the animated motion picture, “Pocahontas.”

A gentleman named Frank Reilly was the boss of Disney’s Comic Book Division at the time, and he’s a whole subject by himself. For the moment we’re dealing with an angry letter written by Pawnee Billy Howell who was a representative of the Pawnee nation. Mr. Howell took great offense at how the Native Americans were portrayed in the Disney Treasury of Classic Tales, and demanded an apology. The gentleman asserted the Pawnee tribe members were described as howling heathens by the author and further stated that the Pawnee Indians were Patriotic warriors and engaged in no such barbarous activity as described in the story. Further, the comic story was considered an affront along with being another example of western propaganda. As you can imagine, a studio executive immediately dispatched orders to Frank Reilly and Joe Reddy to quickly pen an apology to the Pawnee representative from Oklahoma and clarify that no offense was intended.

It’s interesting that all this took place at Walt Disney Productions over fifty years ago. I’m not sure how these documents came into my procession, however I did spend a fair number of years in Disney’s comic strip department. I may even have the particular western tale in my files and I suspect the author of the Disney story may even be a colleague of mine. Of course, the writer of this Classic Tales story passed away some years ago. It’s also interesting that the angry letter by Mr. Howell is dated December 4, 1956. I remember that Walt Disney still had a number of western properties in development and production at the time. I doubt the Old Maestro ever saw this letter by the Pawnee representative. I can’t help but wonder what Walt would have said had he known.

This is the actual letter sent to Walt Disney Productions back in 1956. Why I happen to have it I'll never know. In any case, this document is a real piece of Disney history.

This is the actual letter sent to Walt Disney Productions back in 1956. Why I happen to have it I'll never know. In any case, this document is a real piece of Disney history.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman

I'm sitting here at the new commissary at DCP's new Glendale Campus. That's Disney Consumer Products in case you didn't get the acronym. As I'm enjoying my lunch, memories of the Burbank Commissary began streaming back into my head. I don't know if this new Glendale campus  commissary will one day generate as many fond memories as Walt's studio lot. Then again, Disney's studio was unique after all.

Back in the eighties comedian, Mel Brooks was producing a television series on the Disney studio lot. I can't remember all their names, but Mel had hired a fair share of his zany pals to star in the series. Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman were two of the names I remember. Brooks seemed to enjoy his brief stay at Disney and he made himself right at home.

One of the things Mel Brooks did was choose a favorite table on the patio of the Walt Disney Studio Commissary. The table was not labeled or marked in any way, yet everybody seemed to know it was Mel's special table. Brooks and his writers would even take over a portion of the patio for their afternoon coffee break and if you were lucky enough to sit at the table next to him it was like having your own private show.

I remember one day a young Disney employee exited the commissary with his lunch tray in hand. It was a busy noon hour and all tables were occupied except one. Naturally, the young newbie put his tray down and began to enjoy his lunch. That is, until Mel Brooks suddenly appeared. The young man looked up to see Mel Brooks glaring at him, but no words were spoken. I would imagine none were needed. The young Disney employee quickly scooped up his lunch and scampered off. Brooks and his cronies sat down and "performed" their lunch.

On another occasion, my pal, Jim Fletcher stopped in to visit his friend, Cloris Leachman. We headed back to Stage Three but there was no one around with the exception of a somewhat grumpy Harvey Korman. "Where's Cloris?" Fletcher inquired. "I think she's out to lunch," snapped Korman. Making an effort to be funny, Fletcher replied, "that figures. Cloris is always out to lunch." Either distracted, or not getting the joke, Harvey Korman grumbled and moved on. However, at least we got to "play a scene with one of the funniest guys on television.

Mel Brooks and his team continued their lunches and breaks on the Studio commissary patio until word came down that their show wasn't being picked up by ABC. The large set on Stage Three was struck and Mel Brooks and his team moved off the Walt Disney studio lot never to return. But, what the heck. It was fun while it lasted.

The poor kid made the mistake of sitting at Mel's special table. Brooks never said a word... but the kid got the message.

The poor kid made the mistake of sitting at Mel's special table. Brooks never said a word... but the kid got the message.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman
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