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Coming in November: "Full Steam Ahead!: The Life and Art of Ward Kimball", by Amid Amidi

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This is pretty tangential to Furrydom, but on November 21st Chronicle Books will publish a biography of Ward Kimball (1914-2002), the animator responsible for many of Disney’s most anthropomorphic cartoon characters from the 1930s until his retirement in the 1970s.

"Ward's the one man who works for me I call a genius," Walt Disney once noted. Ward Kimball's career as an animator and Academy Award-winning director at Disney between the 1930s and the 1970s is legendary, but the work he created outside of the animation studio was equally fascinating, including building a functioning locomotive in his backyard and founding an award-winning Dixieland band. With unprecedented access to his personal archives, celebrated animation historian Amid Amidi unearthed hundreds of never-before-seen drawings, paintings, comics, letters, and photos, including concept art and stories from his occasionally turbulent career at Disney. Featuring interviews with dozens of Ward's colleagues, relatives, students, and friends, Amidi paints a complex portrait of one of animation's most irreverent and influential artists in this definitive must-have biography. (publisher’s blurb)

One of Kimball’s favorite stories, which he told many times, was how Disney assigned him to create Jiminy Cricket for Pinocchio. To paraphrase,

Walt told me to design a cricket, and to keep it cute. I sweated for weeks on that design! Do you know how ugly a real cricket is?
Finally I said to Hell with it, and just drew a bug that didn’t look anything like a cricket, but it sure was cute! Walt was happy.

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A fun coincidence; I watched part of Pinocchio this weekend, and I was struck by how much Jiminy didn't look like a cricket. (Also, by how dim-witted Geppetto was depicted to be.)

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Wikipedia is wrong that Geppetto is an Italian nickname for Guiseppe. It is the Italian version of the Biblical Jabez or Japeth (like Jabez Stone in "The Devil and Daniel Webster".

One of the reasons that Walt Disney is popularly supposed to be a Nazi-lover was that he hired Christian Rub to be the live-action model for Geppetto in "Pinocchio". The "sweet Bavarian character actor" was notorious throughout Hollywood for his open anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi prejudices. That didn't keep many Hollywood studios from hiring him when they wanted somebody to play a kindly grandfather with a thick German accent.

Fred Patten

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics