Ward Walrath Kimball was born on March 14, 1914 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1934, he joined the Disney Studios staff as an in-betweener and quickly rose in the ranks to become a full-fledged animator.
Ward Kimball visited Walt Disney World property in April 1996 with Michael Broggie (author of Walt Disney’s Railroad Story) to make arrangements for the abandoned trains of the no longer operating Fort Wilderness Railroad to go to private collections where they could be restored.
Unknown to Ward, the real reason for his arranged visit was the dedication of a Walt Disney World Railroad train to be named after him. On April 24, 1996 several select Disney cast members including myself gathered at the roundhouse behind The Magic Kingdom. Kimball temporarily exchanged his Opening Crew EPCOT baseball cap for a railroad cap and climbed into the cab of the engine for some publicity photos. Then we boarded the train and Michael Broggie and Ward switched off as engineer for an inaugural run around the Magic Kingdom.
That night, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ward at Seasons restaurant at the Disney Institute in Florida and ask him to share a few stories that despite his many interviews he had never before revealed. Despite the years, Ward still resembled a prankish pixie and retained his mischievous attitude with no hesitation to speak his mind. Only the lateness of the hour prevented him from sharing even more stories over drinks and dessert.
Jim Korkis: I have heard of the story about the gag you did with the bathroom stalls at the Disney Studio.
Ward Kimball: When we moved into the new Burbank studio, there were very few bathroom stalls that were operating. We had a main hallway in the building and these units teeing off from it and in each hallway was a man’s “can” (as we called it) but only two stalls. So I got this idea. There was always a traffic jam in the morning due to not enough restroom stalls.
So one day, I went down to a Salvation Army thrift store and bought twelve pair of shoes and some second-hand pants and took some wooden doweling to support the pants and shoes. I got to the studio very early one morning before anyone had come to work. I rigged up all of these in the stalls…even the women’s stalls… with these shoes on the floor and the wood supporting these pants that I had pulled down and set on all these thrones and locked the stall doors.
Then I went to sleep at my desk where an hour or two later I was awakened by people pounding on the stall doors and yelling. All hell broke loose. “Give me a chance. What are you doing? What’s taking so long?” Apparently, they looked under the stalls and saw the shoes and pants rumpled up but it never occurred to any of them to look over the top. They’d all look down under. Eventually the gag was discovered.
KORKIS: Another version I heard involved the use of cels.
KIMBALL: That was another time. We took some cel material. Remember it was transparent. And we covered the top of the toilet bowl with it and then put down the lid. The women never suspected when they sat down to use the facilities until it was too late.
KORKIS: Let’s just say that your practical jokes were legendary, Ward, like at Sharpsteen’s wedding and the wrap party for “Snow White”.
KIMBALL: Not everyone cared for Ben Sharpsteen. A lot of the guys felt he was Walt’s “hatchet man” and he could be pretty hard, you know. So I knew they’d get a laugh at him getting back a little of his own if you know what I mean. So for Sharpsteen’s wedding, I hired a life drawing model to walk down the aisle completely naked except for a wedding veil and holding a baby to disrupt the ceremony.
At one of the wrap parties for “Snow White”, I hired a guy to dress up as a policeman and come in to the party and harass Walt that the party was too noisy and he would have to take them all in to jail. Well, by the time the guy finally showed up, Walt was so drunk himself that he kept arguing with the policeman and telling him he was going to have his badge.
KORKIS: And these types of pranks continued even at home, right?
KIMBALL: You mean the one about our neighbors across the street who were very strict Southern Baptists? One day, they got all dressed up in their finery to come over and visit. They were even bringing over a cake. I spotted them and told my whole family to strip. So when I opened the door, the entire Ward family is standing there stark naked.
KORKIS: Wasn’t there an incident involving a gorilla suit at Christmas?
KIMBALL: I used to dress up as Santa for my kids and Christmas. We made quite a ceremony out of it where someone on the roof would pound on the roof and yell, “Now Dancer, Now Prancer…” and all the kids would storm into the living room just in time to see me at the chimney with my back turned toward them. I would then turn around dressed as Santa and hand out presents.
This got to be such a big deal that other neighborhood moms started coming by and pretty soon there was a whole gang of kids and parents. So one way I put a stop to this was by giving out condoms to the men one Christmas as presents.
Years later when my daughter Chloe was old enough, Betty complained that it was a shame that Chloe had missed out on all this. So under duress, I agreed to do it one more time. But I always liked twists so this time instead of a Santa costume, I rented a gorilla outfit and drove home wearing it.
Bill Peet, the storyman, told the other animators that he was going to phone the police and tell them he was a local animal handler and that a gorilla had escaped and was in the vicinity of my home. But Peet on the way home apparently got roaring drunk and forgot all about it and when he did get home, his wife turned on the sprinklers to try and sober him up before he came into the house.
Well, at the Kimball home, there was the sound of reindeer on the roof. The kids rushed in and I turned around in the gorilla costume with arms raised and growling. It scared Chloe and even today she doesn’t like me to tell the story. The dog got upset at me too and chased me out of the house and there I am panting and sweating in a neighbor’s house where I peel off the costume.