August 15, 2015 posted by

In His Own Words: Ward Kimball’s Autobiography

Editor’s Note: With the D23 fan event going on this weekend in Anaheim, we thought it appropriate to double up with an additional Jim Korkis “Animation Anecdote” today. Here, from Jim’s personal files, is an obscure item on one of Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men’, the great Ward Kimball. – Jerry Beck

bulletin-wardTo keep employees up-to-date on what was happening, the Disney Studio when it was located on Hyperion produced “The Bulletin” which was the Disney Studio inter-office studio employee newsletter.

It was one-sided 8.5-inches by 14-inches mimeographed sheets stapled at the upper left with usually two to four sheets for each weekly issue. These old issues are a treasure trove of insight into the personalities and the workings of the early Disney Studios.

The first issue of The Bulletin was printed January 6, 1939, and the last issue was printed April 4, 1941.

Like any office newsletter, it was filled with classified ads, birth and wedding announcements, information about upcoming events, things that were changing like people being promoted or moving to another office, inter-office sports news, brief personality profiles, announcements from Walt or Roy Disney and more.

And, like any other office newsletter, there were only enough copies for the small staff and it was quickly discarded because the news went out-of-date.

In the Vol. 1, No. 22 issue dated March 21, 1939, the editor had Disney Legend in training Ward Kimball write his own brief autobiography knowing it would entertain the readers since Ward already had the reputation of being a jokester.

Ward Kimball’s Personal History

1914: I was born March 4, 10 p.m. in Minneapolis, Minn., Mercy Hospital.
1915: Any other baby would have looked the same.
1916: Baby carriage plus W.K. and teddy bear broke loose on steep Nicolet Avenue—overturned and dumped W.K. under a lawn sprinkler—pneumonia
1917: Uneventful
1918: Mother told me that my Uncle Pierre was “Fighting the Battle of Paris.”
1919: Muskogee, Oklahoma – A shed rat bit the little finger on my left hand.
1920: Grandmother Walrath took me back with her to Minneapolis. Here I entered the newspaper game—publishing the little Minneapolis Journal. The little Journal was hand-printed on Hotel Hastings’ stationery and boasted a subscription list of three persons. An editorial, funny cartoons, and ad section to edit was no lazy man’s task.
1921: Same as 1920.
1922: In Loring Park one day, a roughneck kid hit me in the back of the head with a rock-filled snowball. I still don’t like snow.
1923: We moved to Ocean Park, California. I slept all the way west in an upper berth with my little brother and sister.
1924: An auto tire I was rolling gathered too much momentum and crashed into a “T” Ford, overturning it and scattering Ford parts all along beach speedway. (They still don’t know who started the tire.)
1925: I flunked the fifth grade and got the measles.
1926: With an 8 ½ foot kite, Ward Kimball won first prize in a Glendale kite contest. Also a first place for the best decorated bicycle…a red, white and blue affair called “Spirit of Glendale.” This was a year of artistic achievement.
1927: Uneventful.
1928: I made $1 an hour smudging orange groves.
1929: Saw me finishing up my W.L. Evans correspondence in Cartooning. I graduated with full honors and a gold sealed diploma. (When things are going tough for me in sweatbox, I need only to produce this document to restore law and order.)
1930: My mother dyed my bell-bottom corduroy pants two tones of purple.
1931: I learned to play the trombone the world’s most beautiful musical instrument.
1932: I fell in love with a Santa Barbara millionaire’s daughter named Helen Mufflefogg. Her name was stronger than her love, so a broken heart resulted.
1933: The Santa Barbara Police watched me for two weeks on suspicion of peddling dope. I found out later that I had been observed passing very close to a known dope fiend who used to hang around the art school. My pasty complexion and black turtle-necked sweater didn’t help matters any.
1934: April 1st—I started to work at the Walt Disney studio. I wore a green eye shade and carried double thermos lunch box.
1935: They told me I could still work here if I would throw away the eyeshade.
1936: Ham Luske met Betty L. of the Ink and Paint Department and introduced her to me. After that was over, I married her.
1937: Found me still married and still working for W.D.P.
1938: Same
1939: We purchased a lens cap, an electric clock and a locomotive

Ward learned that the Nevada Central Railroad has a vintage 1881 Baldwin 2-6-0 steam locomotive engine for sale and, of course, bought it for his backyard.

Friends and family helped restore the purchase and it was renamed the “Emma Nevada” after a famous opera star of the late 1880s. Adding track and a restored coach car from the same time period, the layout in the backyard was dubbed the “Grizzly Flats Railroad” and was first fired up in 1942.

Mary Elizabeth Lawyer (known as “Betty”) was born on October 14, 1912.

Betty was hired at the Disney Studio as a cel painter, but was soon assigned to also choosing colors and creating color models to guide the work of other painters. She developed a dry-brush technique to be used on cels.

She also provided live-action reference modeling for the title character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) when the primary live-action model, Marjorie Belcher, was unavailable.

On August 18, 1936, she married Ward, and their marriage lasted 66 years until his death on July 8, 2002, at the age of 88 of natural causes. She had retired from the Disney Studios in mid-1939 to raise a family but always supported Kimball in all his endeavors, including forming a jazz band and buying a full sized locomotive engine for their backyard.



  • Totally off topic, but I couldn’t resist:

    “1914: I was born March 4, 10 p.m. in Minneapolis, Minn., Mercy Hospital.”

    Somebody needs to add him to the popular astrology website under celebrities with a K last name:

    For those into such stuff, he is a sun sign Pisces, moon sign Gemini with Libra rising. Most interesting for astrology buffs: he is pretty much all “water” and “air” with only asteroid (not planet) positions in “fire” and “earth”. Like Kurt Cobain (another Pisces who was pretty much all “water” and “earth” and not much else), he beat to his own drum.

  • So this was the stuff Amid Amidi threw a sh**-fit about over his cancalled Ward biography.

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