Monday, April 14, 2008

Ollie Johnston

An era has now officially closed.

Once upon a time, we were deeply involved in the world of Disney. We collected, we attended conventions, we wrote a monthly newsletter for Disney collectors, I wrote articles for magazines and we made many, many good friends in the community.

Now a bit of history is in order here.

Back in the very early days, I'm talking the 1930s here, there were people who worked with Walt Disney who spent their time creating a legacy and fulfilling a vision. They worked hard and produced magic and made history in a field that, prior to their efforts had not existed. They flourished for years and left us with works of art that entertained and affected millions of people.

They changed the world.

Among these many talented people were a group known as Walt's Nine Old Men, a play on words that referred to FDRs Supreme Court.

Two of these Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston always shared a special bond.

They met in college and formed a lifelong friendship that is like a fairy tale. The worked together, met their wives around the same time, bought property and built homes next door to each other and maintained a close working relationship and a friendship that was a model for us all for some 70 years.

After retirement, they begin a whole new career, authoring books that became known as the official bibles of animation. Starting with Disney Animation, the Illusion of Life, they explained, in words and pictures how it all worked, written so that we can all see a bit deeper into the process that created so much magic for all of us.

Both Frank and Ollie were honored around the world for their unique place in the art world. They were also commemorated in a fine film called simply Frank and Ollie, directed and written by Frank's son Ted. If you are at all interested in this unique pair, I really suggest you get your hands on this film for a glimpse into their story.

But for me, they were much more than this.

We had the honor of meeting them in the late 1980s and became friends. They enriched our lives in so many ways and I always felt special when I got the chance to spend any time with them. These two men, along with their lovely wives were models of how we all would like to be. Talented, funny, creative, kind, warm and wonderful, they were different than most of the people we met. Not only were they supremely talented but, to a fault, these were Ladies and Gentlemen whose likes we aren't going to see again.

And why am I writing this now? Well, my heart was really sad when Frank passed away in December of 2004, and just today I learned that Ollie Johnston, the very last of Walt's Nine Old Men, left us today.

And the world is a poorer place for it.

So the next time you pop a Disney film in a DVD player, remember that these characters were created by real people. When you see Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, you're looking at Frank and Ollie. And when you see Bambi, or the Dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or Lady and the Tramp or any one of a dozen or more classic films, you're looking at Frank and Ollie.

And now they are both gone from us.

And tonight I am really sad.


photowannabe said...

Me, too. This is a lovely tribute Kate. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Kevin Kidney said...

One of the best of many tributes I've read this week. Ollie was a treasure. Thanks Kate.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your friend with us. I'm sending you hugs and this one reminder. "Every time, you see Lady and the tramp,Snow white, you are seeing Frank and Ollie"
Sweetie, they will ALWAYS be with you!