Monday, June 18, 2007

A letter from Ward Kimball




Here's a treasured possesion of mine: a reply from the incomparable Ward Kimball to a long-winded fan letter I sent him at the age of 15, in 1973. (Click to enlarge) I can't remember where I got ahold of the Disney Studio address but I do recall scribbling a five-page missive of high praise and holy ambition to become an animator to the man who was my number one hero at the time and remains one of them still . I also recall not expecting much in return; fan letters to Charles Schulz always ended in a pleasant but disappointingly generic form letter from "Snoopy." (sigh)

There wasn't much out on animation those days but I knew Kimball was the "screwball" animator and director who had won Oscars and Emmys for projects like MARS & BEYOND, TOOT/WHISTLE... and TOUGH TO BE A BIRD. There was also a short-lived syndicated show on TV back then called THE MOUSE FACTORY that he produced and directed. It was uneven attempt to make Disney seem "cool" to kids with different stars like Johnathan Winters and Jo Anne Worley guest hosting each week to cover a general topic using Disney clips. I knew that he had also animated a lot of the mice and pretty much all of the cat in CINDERELLA, was largely responsible for Jimminy Crikcet and had done my favorite sequences in ALICE. And that Walt himself had gone out of his way to hail him as a "genius" in the Pete Martin biography I had read at the library.

So you can imagine the excitement at 236 East Genesee St. when this came, a full personalized letter from the man himself, complete with sage advice and ecclectic rubber stamps (note the R. Crumb one on the back envelope!). I must have read it a million times and I'd like to say it sunk in immediately, but it took a great while longer. It did encourage me to open up to Ralph Bakshi's work, which at the time I did with a vengeance.

He also passed my screed on to colleagues like Ken Anderson and Don Duckwall, who responded in equally generous kind with brochures, model sheets (and in Ken Anderson's case an original drawing!) which showed up in the weeks following this. I was in heaven. I continued to write back, but I think they all felt they had done their due, (they certainly had!) and I wasn't crushed that the correspondence ended there.

One thing that really struck me later was how he reacted to my deep scorn for the Hanna-Barbera products of the time (SCOOBY-DOO etc). He was highly realistic and grounded toward their dillema of producing animation in an era where the economics reduced things to the same exigencies one would encounter "selling washing machines." That mature view resonates more deeply now than ever and was solidly driven home in 1985 when I found myself "reduced" to working at Filmation, something as far from Disney as anyone could imagine. Still, at that point in time I took the intiative to contact Mr. Kimball again and although he didn't recall our previous correspondence, (thank goodness), he invited me over to his house for a chat and I ultimately spent a few hours on a very cold but sunny Saturday afternoon in February, talking with him about all things Kimball and all things animation.

What made his optimism and charitable outlook in that old letter feel even more poignant that afternoon was learning that he must have written it during (or just after) a time of such acrimony between him and leadership at the studio that events led to him choosing to go into semi-retirement and essentially close the Disney Animation chapter of his life. That's a story I don't feel is mine to publish, but I will cover some of our conversation from that day in a later post.

34 comments:

Dustin said...

For some reason I couldn't open the jpeg. Anyone else have this problem? And what's with the giant BULLSHIT stamp on the top left? So funny!

Ninja Dodo said...

Hi Will,

I've been following your blog with great interest so far - the post about Iago was especially cool. I'm just starting out in the industry so these sorts of stories are very interesting to hear.

The images of the letter on this post don't seem to load for me though... thought I'd mention it since nobody else has commented so far.

John S. said...

Hey Will! I remember hearing this story first hand but I've never seen the letter! That is sooo Cool!!! With a capital "C"!
Thank you for posting the actual letter.
I always love hearing about Kimball's reaction to your hatred of all things Hanna Barbera.

JohnK said...

Hey Will great site!

I liked your drawings in the earlier post.

Wanna animate something for me on a comercial?

You can get my number from Steve.

Your old pal,
John

David Nethery said...

It's like a Holy Relic of Animation from Kimball still dispensing wisdom from that far off time (1973!). That letter is an education in Animation boiled down to one page.

He wrote like he spoke. I can hear Ward's voice when I'm reading it .

This was a great way to start my morning. Thank you for sharing it, Will.

Will Finn said...

Thanks folks,--i guess the jpegs read now.

John K--i just started a new job and have limited phone/email access right now but YOWP!--i'll call you this week...thanks!

gemini82 said...

I'm so glad I found this site. Right now i'm thanking the gods for this whole blog explosion,learning so much form various blogs.

A tip of the hat to Mr. Finn and all other bloggers.

Floyd Norman said...

"Bullshit!" That's pretty much how Ward saw a lot of things.

Hey, he was my hero as well, and I treasure the times we got to hang out together, Play god awful in his band, and even clean up his scenes.

I still resent the way the Disney studio treated him near the end of his brilliant career. Ward Kimball in many ways was Disney. Walt was no fool when he called him a genius.

Michael J. Ruocco said...

Wow, what a treasure!

That letter has got to be one of your most prized possessions. You should frame it & the envelope & put it somewhere safe where it won't get destroyed (or hang it on your wall, whichever's best).

Did you ever meet Ward in person? I met him once a couple of years before he died. He was an all-around fantastic guy with unsurpassable talent!

perkypickle said...

wow!

Thad K said...

Awesome letter! Thanks for sharing!

Clio said...

That is such an amazing letter, thank you for sharing! I'm going to make my dad read it. I like how there are so many exclamation marks!!

Will Finn said...

michael--i did meet him a couple of times and that one unforgettable day he invited me over for a few hours is something i'll post about soon.
we never got to be chums or anything tho. i got to work with his wonderful daughter Kelly for a while and really got along great with her.

floyd--yeah, those last years must have been pretty anti-climactic. i don't mean to imply anything juicy by not going into details, but since he never went public with it, i'll honor that. sounded like your basic office politics in the post-Walt era. at least he continued to consult with WED where he had lots of friends and seemed to enjoy himself...

Ward Jenkins said...

Oh, man -- this is fantastic. Thank you, Will, for sharing this treasure with us! Kimball was one of my favorites of the Disney guys. Man, he told it like it is, didn't he?

I'd love to hear more stories about him and Disney, but you're right -- if he didn't make it public, then it probably was meant to be private. (But I'd love to hear about 'em anyways!)

Thanks again, Will. I would've read that letter over and over again if I was in your shoes as well.

Boris Hiestand said...

what an amazing letter indeed!!! reminds me of a similar letter I got from Ollie Johnston when I was 15, though his language was quite a bit softer! the 'bullshit' stamp cracked me up..
when you're that age, all you want to do is animate, so you only take on board half of the advice- then you read it again and again when you're a little older, and realise what you've got in your hands.
a real treasure.

Paul Naas said...

VERY cool post Will. Thanks for sharing.

I was fortunate to have dinner with Ward twice. Those evenings are among my favorite memories.

Michael said...

Thank you Mr Finn!
What a superb document. I'd like to hand it out to all the first years students at the college where I occasionally teach, just so that they can grasp what they need to study from day one!

Joel Brinkerhoff said...

This actually brought a tear to my eye. Somewhere there is a taped interview of Ward telling me almost the same things. He inspired so many people its unreal.

Max Ward said...

I know how you must have felt when you got this letter in the mail. That's how I feel that I get to talk to guys like you and John K via internet.

Hey Will, would you ever be interested in doing special lectures at AIP?

RFarmiloe said...

Cool, Will! You told me about this a long time ago....along with a lot of other things I've totally forgotten.......It seems in those days the veterans in the cartoon biz were only too happy to respond to letters from young animation hopefuls. I have a few letters too. I guess animation was more of a cult profession than it is now. A kind word of encouragement from a legend can really get the fires going. I have a few letters from one of my heroes, Bob Clampett...who also became a friend. I'll cherish those forever!! Thanks for sharing!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! A very interesting letter!~ Thanks for putting it up!

Brent Tilton said...

Thanks for sharing!

Will Finn said...

Max--thanks, but i think Kimball and John K are in a whole other league than me... that ain't just false modesty talkin' neither--i've been around a while but haven't contributed a fraction of the innovation & originality they have. i can't play music either...

i don't get to go back east much but maybe a video conference? i am interested to hear about AIP--someone told me it's in a nice new faciliity. when i went it was in a slightly-run down old office building, which i loved!!!

Whit said...

The one time I met Kimball, in 1977, he seemed uninterested in talking about cartoons as he'd spent quite a while discussing animation that day. So I asked him how long he had been into trains and he lit up. Ward happily talked about steam engines for about ten straight minutes, until he had to leave. That was very cool. Ward Kimball never really left the industry. The industry left him.

Haroldo said...

Hi Will,

I thought it was very nice to see this letter.I remember during my Calarts years we called Ward up and went to visit him in his San Gabriel home.He was kind enough to show his full size locomotives and I told him how much I appreciated his work specially on 3 Caballeros.
I was impressed by his watermelon "bug"painting too.To me he was(is) one of the best.I am not sure if you remember me, I worked at WDFA during Oliver and Mermaid and now I run my studio in Brazil www.hgn.com.br
Best.

Haroldo.

Will Finn said...

Haroldo!
HOLA! Of course i remember you! I still have the amazing xeroxes you let me make from your book: 'ECHOLE!' It seems like last month we were working togehter, but it has been a lot longer! Do you know Sandro Cleuzo, the outstanding animator or so many great scenes in GROOVE? A great friend and an amazing talent, I think he has his own studio there somewhere...

Clinton said...

Thank you for sharing your letter, Will! Very nice! I wish Disney sent me a letter as good as this one when I was a kid. All I got was mickey mouse's autograph..

Jeff Harter said...

Hey Wil,
What a great letter and site!

And... East Genesee Street? Talked to you about that back when I was at Disney Feature...I grew up on the East side of Auburn (down the road from ACC, or CCC, or CCCCCCCC.... whatever they call that college now. I actually lived on West Genesee street for a short time, near West middle school. Auburn, that hub of the Universe!!!

Stephen Worth said...

I just posted an article from a girlie magazine from the late fifties on Kimball on the ASIFA Archive site. Enjoy!

Ward Kimball: Escapader Cum Laude

See ya
Steve

Marcelo Vignali said...

Thanks for posting the letter. Wow, what a great amount of good advice and genuine sincerity. A real treasure from a bygone era.

Chris Battle said...

Wow! Awesome for him to break it down to you like that.(Realism w/o being dream-crushingly bitter) I still treasure all the meetings with and letters from all the "real" artists I ever came in contact with as a kid.

Thanks for the link!

uiyui said...

Youth is not wow gold a time of life;world of warcraft gold it is a state of mind; cheap wow gold it is not a Maple Story Accounts matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees;mesos it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination,wow gold kaufen a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness wow geld of the deep springs of life.maple story mesos Youth means a tempera-mental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of 60 more than a boy of 20.wow gold farmen Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.maple story money We grow old by deserting our ideals.ms mesos Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spring back to dust. Whether 60 or 16, there is in every human being’wow powerleveling s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing childlike appetite of what’s maple story money next and the joy of the game of living.powerlevel In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station: so long as it receives messages maplestory powerleveling of beauty, hope, cheer,world of warcraft power leveling courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young. When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at 20, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at 80!

Ronnie said...

WOW! Thanks for this gem of a post, Will. I can almost hear you telling this story--cigar in hand.

All the best,

Ronnie

Vincent said...

Thanks for posting this. Don't know how I missed this before, just noticed it from a link by Sherm Cohen. Great letter though with great advice. This letter should be passed out in art schools.