Up next in our series of video interviews from the 1987 Golden Awards Banquet are two Disney stalwarts, Jay J[oseph?] Gould and Wilma June McAllister Baker. While Baker is something of a familiar figure in the industry, Gould’s career was often peripheral, as far as animation was concerned.
Gould says he started at the Fleischer Studios around 1933-34 while studying art at Cooper Union and the Arts Students League; he then went to the theater, including a stint at New York’s fabled Roxy Theater, the world’s largest movie palace until Radio City Music Hall came along, apparently working on its elaborate stage shows. He moved to the West Coast and worked briefly for Leon Schlesinger and around 1936 began his 43-year stint at the Mouse House. He joined the picket line during the 1941 Disney strike, at which time he was working as an inbetweener making $22.50 a week. He did not lose his job in the large-scale layoffs that followed the walkout, but his career seems to have often drifted away from animation, noting he was involved with live action, TV entertainment, commercials, cartoon characters, and as a “special artist.” His credits are hard to track down, but he is listed on several episodes of the Disneyland TV series: the five-part miniseries, Davy Crockett (Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier) (1954-55) (for which he painted background artwork), The Story of the Animated Drawing (animation artwork) and Cavalcade of Songs (special artwork).
Baker, who is still among us and approaching her centenary, is one of Disney’s legendary ink and paint girls. Unlike East Coast studios, where both men and women started as painters, Disney and others West Coast shops usually relegated women to ink and paint, with little opportunity for promotion. (Disney did employ women as story artists; for example, Dorothy Ann Blank is given a story credit on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Retta Scott was a writer on Bambi before becoming the studio’s first woman animator.) However, Disney inkers and painters created a standard of excellence whose aura carried over into the age of cel xerography and digital ink and paint; thus, Richard Williams hired Nancy Massie, former assistant head inker to teach his staff how to do brush inking in preparation for the production of The Thief and the Cobbler.
Baker was hired by Disney in 1937 as part of the final push to finish Snow White. As was standard procedure at the time, she entered the unpaid evening training program and was eventually judged good enough to be hired at $16.00 a week as a painter. In my interview she talks about the type of painting she was doing, including the use of transparent paint. She retired from Disney as head of Final Checking Department in 1983—she gets credit as a final checker on The Black Cauldron, which was released in 1985.
However, as the Animation Renaissance gained steam, she returned to animation, and is listed as a final checker on several major films, including FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Cool World, as well as doing paint markup on The Hunchback of Notre Dame back at Disney. She appeared at last year’s D23 convention along with Ginny Mack, in conversation with Mindy Johnson, author of the forthcoming book Ink & Paint—The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, and was a talking head on Behind the Magic: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the documentary recently shown on ABC. (If you can’t wait for Johnson’s book, I do recommend Patricia Zohn’s article in Vanity Fair, “Coloring the Kingdom” for a good overview of Disney’s ink and paint ladies, though it fails to mention Baker.)
Next: Grace Godino and Betty Ann Guenther.