Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Tribute to Ward Kimball

"We thought we were always going to be 21 years old. We thought we would always be putting goldfish in the bottled drinking water, balancing cups of water on the light fixtures, changing the labels on cans of sauerkraut juice. We were 21 years old, Walt was 30, leading the pack. Working there was more fun than any job I could ever imagine."
-Ward Kimball

Well it is my pleasure to wish a slightly belated happy birthday to Ward Kimball born on March 4, 1914 and would have turned ninety-seven this year had he lived that long. Ward Kimball is one my heroes among Disney’s Nine Old Men, mostly for managing to cram so much living into the eighty-eight years that he was here.

During his day job Kimball created such immortal characters as Jiminy Cricket, and brought the Cheshire cat, the crows from Dumbo, Lucifer and the mice in Cinderella, Pecos Bill, and many others to life on the screen. He also went on to direct several projects for the Disney Company including It’s Tough to be a Bird and Dad Can I Borrow the Car?

(Work that bird watching outfit Ward!)

The most work he did was on three educational shows for the Disneyland TV show Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. Where he worked not only as the director of the shows, but was also a co-writer, producer, and host for them. These shows deal with an interesting subject detailing man and his fascination with space, including clips from George Melies’ 1902 movie A Trip to the Moon, and the developing space program at that time. They includes lectures on rocket history and design, with some stereotypes of the Chinese in there this was 50’s era Disney after all. Nice animation effects on that section though. Also its provides…a flash forward I guess it would be for me as a trekkie because the emergency sound they use in one scene is the same one Star Trek will use for the red alert system. It’s also interesting to see how they thought they might deal with the problems of man going into space and what we eventually got.

During the 40’s Ward and several other Disney artists, including Frank Thomas, took up a night job as a Dixieland jazz band called the Firehouse Five Plus Two. What started as a friendly lunchtime pastime became a worldwide phenomenon as the group, with Ward as the fire chief and trombonist, released eleven records, played at weddings, parties, in movies, and the Mickey Mouse Club television show.

The band travelled around in a vintage fire truck that Ward kept in his backyard next to his full scale railroad.

Oh, yes unlike Walt Disney and Ollie Johnston (although Ollie would follow in Ward’s path eventually) both of whom built large setups for their model railroads at home Ward decided that a scale model railroad was not hardcore enough for this railroad enthusiast.

You know I’d ask why the Disney Family Album hasn’t had a DVD/blu-ray release yet. But I’m pretty sure I know why, because many of those shows contain several clips from a film Disney likes to pretend it never made. Something about a song in the south; anyways back to the Grizzly Flats Railroad. He had two big engines: a coal burning Baldwin, which has his art school figure drawing style on either side of the head lamp, and a wood burning Baldwin engine, and two parlour cars. He also had an 1880’s windmill; that was quite a chore to acquire, an engine shed of course, and a depot built from a set let over from the Disney production So Dear to my Heart. Also at his house was a room filled with old toys and next to that a room filled with toy trains and an awesome layout.

He was also the only one of the Nine Old Men to release an independent film. Escalation is a 1968 short commenting on the war in Vietnam.

Warning this video should not be viewed by anyone under thirteen years old the man is not subtle in his imagery.

In addition to all of that he also found the time to be married for over sixty years and had three children who are quite creative in their own rights. His son John Kimball has been a director on several Disney projects and Kelly Kimball works with costuming in the entertainment industry including Michael Jackson’s thriller video. Also his grandson is the film composer Chris Lord.

Truly this man knew how to work and play harder. Who seemed to want to squeeze ever fun and funny moment out of life that he could. For living life to the fullest and leaving a great legacy for the rest of us to enjoy I salute you, sir!

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