SUSPENDED ANIMATION #240
Marc Davis was called by Walt his “Renaissance Man” because of his contributions in so many areas from animation to Imagineering. He joined the Disney Studios in 1935 as an assistant to Grim Natwick on Snow White.
The last time I saw him was in September 1998 when he and his wife Alice came out to Walt Disney World for an official Disneyana convention.
They also dropped by the Disney Institute where I was working as an animation instructor. In one of the small classrooms, Marc squeezed behind one of the animation desks and turned to page twelve in the book I had given him to autograph.
The book was Chanticleer and the Fox: A Chaucerian Tale published by Disney Press in 1991 and featuring concept art by Marc Davis for the unproduced animated feature.
“You know what’s wrong with this picture?” he asked, and I froze because I was looking at the page that featured his character concept sketch of Reynard the fox and could only see the brilliant work.
Marc took a pen and sketched in a cigarette and a cigarette holder in the outstretched hand of the fox.
“They left that out. Politically incorrect, I guess,” he said and then autographed the book to me.
Surrounded by a half dozen other animation instructors from the Disney Institute, I began to informally ask Marc some questions. I previously shared an excerpt from the interview here at Cartoon Research.
Jim Korkis: I’d like to talk with you a little about some of the people you worked with in animation and unfortunately most people know very little about them.Marc Davis: I think we are all inclined to think only about our own contribution to a project. I know I get asked about things I worked on at the Studio all the time and it starts to sound a little bit like that old cliché “And then I wrote….”
I was thinking about this a while ago when I did a little talk and was asked about Cinderella. An awful lot of people went together to make this whole thing. I got to thinking about them and I got sentimental over them. Some of these people who came and made a huge contribution to something that is there forever.
JK: Are there any memories you have of the animation storymen who worked at the Disney Studios?
MD: One of my personal favorites is a man named Bill Peet. He put together 101 Dalmatians. It was such an interesting film. It is a film that doesn’t have a bad scene in it or a scene that doesn’t belong in it. Animation wise there are some things I’d like to have another pass at but the story is solid.
Walt had a great story crew. Ted Sears, Webb Smith, Bill Cottrell, Roy Williams. Roy Williams was primarily a gag man. Roy was the type of guy you would bring in to get some gags to punch up a scene. He was very volatile. You probably remember him from The Mickey Mouse Club television show.
He had been quite a high school football star. He had a scholarship lined up for USC as a fullback. He came out during the summer. He liked doing funny drawings. He got hooked and couldn’t leave. Roy was an incredible character.
Here’s one of my favorite Roy Williams stories. He came home one day. His wife wasn’t there. So he goes to the mail box. Looks at the mail and here’s a thing from Forest Lawn cemeteries addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Roy Williams”. He opens it up and it turns out his wife had purchased two crypts for them. Roy was appalled and practically shook the house apart. Then he got a sly feeling. He calls up Forest Lawn:
“Hello, my name is Roy Williams. I am a diabetic and they are going to amputate my right leg. When they amputate the leg, I want the leg put in that crypt because when I die completely I want to be all together.”
You can imagine the effect it had on them. He left them shaking for about a month. He never delivered the leg and they kind of breathed a sigh of relief I guess.
I must have a stack of Roy Williams’ drawings that must be this thick. (indicates several inches high with his thumb and forefinger) He always drew me with long eyes that came out so far you could knit socks and all kinds of things. Any of us who worked with Roy could tell Roy Williams stories for three to four hours each and never repeat a story.
JK: What about T. Hee?
MD: T. Hee was a great caricaturist. I asked him, “Why are you here at Disney? Why aren’t you out doing caricatures for Vanity Fair and such?” He said the truth is, and this is something Walt knew as well, that there is no money in satire. To satirize somebody is a very difficult kind of entertainment to do because you make enemies. Walt did not care for that. Walt saw and liked something being real and this is what caricaturists didn’t do.
I never saw anybody who could sit down and come up with a likeness of an individual so quickly. But they are not easy things to sell.
MD: Larry Clemmons was a marvelous storyman. There was a group that went up to Walt’s office after work and Walt was pouring a glass of Scotch for everybody. Larry Landsburgh was there as well and he had been someplace and had bought a watch. It was waterproof.
Somebody said, “They can’t make a watch that is waterproof.” So Landsburgh pulled the watch off his wrist and dropped it in his drink. Walt heard all this commotion and came over and looked at the watch in the glass and said, “Whose watch is that?”
Somebody said, “That’s Larry’s.” Walt thought it was Larry Clemmons and poor Larry got a hard time after that from Walt and finally left the Studio for a few years. He wrote for Bing Crosby for quite a number of years very successfully. He came back to the Studio again and everything was fine. I guess the moral to the story was don’t stand next to someone who has the same first name as yours.
JK: I know you and your wife were good friends with Mary Blair.
MD: Mary Blair whose work you probably see best in the two South American films that were done. She did a tremendous job of design. She was such a magnificent designer and colorist. She personally, and very few people ever did this, effected Walt and his judgment and his taste. With her work, she changed Walt’s taste and brought an awareness that there was some other kind of art than things that just looked like things.
Mary I don’t think we ever understood until probably she had long left what her real contribution was. She tended to be a rather flat designer. How the rest of us would interpret what she did was a very critical thing. We were always going through a learning process together.