12 new honorees were inducted into the Walt Disney Company Legends program yesterday. These included
- ABC News anchor Peter Jennings;
- Disney and Pixar animation story artist Joe Ranft;
- Voice actor Paul Frees (Haunted Mansion, Ludwig Von Drake);
- Renowned singer and songwriter Sir Elton John;
- Actors Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran (Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, Mickey Mouse Club);
- Actors Tim Considine and David Stollery (The Adventures of Spin and Marty);
- Actress Ginny Tyler (Mickey Mouse Club)
- Disney Imagineer Don Edgren (Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain);
- Animation background artist Al Dempster;
- Founder of Walt Disney Records, Jimmy Johnson
Congratulations to all members of the 2006 class. Full bios are below the cut
2006 DISNEY LEGENDS
TIM CONSIDINE * Television & Film
Tim Considine was born in Los Angeles in 1940 into a theatrical lineage: he is the son of British-born film producer John W. Considine and theater-chain heiress Carmen Pantages. Tim’s brother John is also an actor and writer, and his uncle was King Features newspaper columnist Bob Considine.
Tim began his acting career at age 11, playing Red Skelton’s son in The Clown (1953, a remake of the 1933 Wallace Beery/Jackie Cooper film The Champ), a performance Leonard Maltin called “so good he overcomes some of the hokiness of the script.” This was followed by a role in Executive Suite with William Holden and June Allyson, and the Greer Garson boarding school story Her Twelve Men (1954), where he met his future co-star and friend David Stollery.
Tim played Spin Evans in “The Adventures of Spin and Marty” series on the “Mickey Mouse Club” (1955), with Stollery, followed by two “Spin and Marty” sequel serials. He remembers those days on the “Triple-R Ranch” as especially carefree. “We shot on a ranch about forty miles away from the Burbank studio. But it might as well have been a thousand. In truth, the work and play were often indistinguishable.”
He went on to play Frank Hardy (opposite Tommy Kirk as Joe Hardy) in two “Hardy Boys” serials, and guest starred in the “Annette” serial, all for the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show.
Tim had a starring role opposite Fred MacMurray in The Shaggy Dog (1959). “I’ve always thought that was one of the worst performances I ever gave,” Tim confesses, “It was a very critical time as a teenager, and I was more interested in being a cool guy than being an actor.” Tim also played James Roosevelt opposite Ralph Bellamy in Sunrise at Campobello (1960), and guest starred in the TV series “Cheyenne,” “Johnny Ringo” and “The Untouchables.”
In 1960 he began working a five-year stint on the classic TV comedy “My Three Sons,” starring Fred MacMurray and co-starring Disney contemporary Don Grady, a former Mouseketeer. He played the role of “Mike Douglas,” and eventually wrote and directed several episodes of the series.
In 1970 Tim played his most famous — but perhaps most brief — screen role: the bedridden soldier slapped by George C. Scott as Patton (1970).
He has made some TV guest appearances and a few films since, but for the most part has spent the ensuing decades combining his loves of writing, photography, sports, and cars.
Tim is the author of The Photographic Dictionary of Soccer (1979), The Language of Sport (1982), and American Grand Prix Racing: A Century of Drivers and Cars (1997), which was serialized in Sports Car International magazine. He occasionally substituted for William Safire in the “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine.
Of a childhood in the public eye, Considine says, “It was generally a pretty good experience for me. What I missed, I’m sure I missed, but I’m not too unhappy about what I did. I’ve had the opportunity to screw up all kinds of things, and not just in that one career!”
KEVIN CORCORAN * Television & Film
One of seven children of MGM studio policeman Bill Corcoran, Kevin Corcoran was born in 1949 in Santa Monica, California, and began acting when he was two. During his onscreen career, he would come to embody an “American Everykid.”
“The Mouseketeers were entertainers and role models, and Tommy Kirk and Kurt Russell were teen faves,” says film writer Donald Liebenson. “But kids in the audience related more to Corcoran, who created a character who was part All-American boy and part hellion.”
Corcoran’s first film appearance was as the kid version of Tyrone Power’s character in Henry Kings’ adventure film Untamed (1955), after which he and sisters, Noreen and Donna, played Quaker farmer Ernest Borgnine’s children in Violent Saturday.
In 1956, Kevin auditioned for a serialized segment of the “Mickey Mouse Club” called “Adventures in Dairyland.” He won the role of a character whose name was “Moochie,” a nickname that seemed to suit his rambunctious personality. Walt Disney was so impressed with Kevin’s Disney debut that he had a special role written for “Moochie” in another “Mickey Mouse Club” serial, “The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty.”
Kevin went on to co-star in the Disney theatrical features Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), Pollyanna, Swiss Family Robinson, and played the title role in Toby Tyler (1960). He also appeared in Babes in Toyland (1961), Bon Voyage!, The Mooncussers (1962) Savage Sam (1963), and A Tiger Walks (1964). Kevin was top-billed in the Disney TV projects “Moochie of the Little League” (1959), “Moochie of Pop Warner Football” (1961), and “Johnny Shiloh” (1963).
Kevin quit acting after a minor role in Blue (1968), “When the film industry got very strange,” he says. “I decided to retire from acting because I felt I knew more about the business than the people who were interviewing me for the parts.”
After graduating from Cal State Northridge with a degree in Theatre Arts, Kevin returned to Disney, working behind the camera on such films as Superdad (1973), Island at the Top of the World (1974) and Pete’s Dragon (1977) and television programs like “The New Mickey Mouse Club” (1977) and “The Kids Who New Too Much.” (1980)
Kevin was associate producer of Return from Witch Mountain (1978) and The North Avenue Irregulars (1979), co-produced Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), and was the producer of Disney’s 1983 comedy series “Zorro and Son.”
He has been first assistant director on many TV series, including “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” “Baywatch,” “Quantum Leap,” “Profiler,” and “Karen Sisco.” For the beloved Angela Lansbury series “Murder, She Wrote,” Kevin variously served as first assistant director, assistant producer, and director.
Kevin has avoided the disappointment and scandal of many child stars — he has maintained a successful and stable career, and has been married to the same woman for 33 years. He credits his family’s down-to-earth sensibility about the business for his ability to avoid its pitfalls. “Some people’s families are in the delicatessen business,” Kevin says simply. “My family was in the picture business.”
He also credits Walt Disney for being a caring father figure. Kevin remembers going to Walt’s office after one contract negotiation. “He called me up there and said, ‘This is between you and me. I want to know if you feel you’re being treated fairly.’ I know darn well if I had said I was unhappy, he would have done something about it.”
AL DEMPSTER * Animation
It is only in recent years, with the increased study of the animation art form, that the skill of the background artist has been celebrated. Far more than a simple backdrop for character action, the creation of a good background involves the combination of several talents — staging, color styling, and lighting — while maintaining a “visual anonymity” with the viewing audience. Disney has had several superstar background artists: Sam Armstrong, Maurice Noble, Claude Coats, Walt Peregoy, Ralph Hulett, Thelma Witmer, Eyvind Earle, Frank Armitage — and Al Dempster.
Albert Taylor Dempster was born in 1911 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He studied for four and a half years at the Art Center School in downtown Los Angeles, shortly after that institution’s founding. Al joined the staff of the Disney Studio on Hyperion Avenue as a Layout Trainee in March 1939, and within a few months transferred to the Background Department.
It was here over the next several years that Al contributed his art to the creation of the Disney animated features Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Saludos Amigos (1943), Victory Through Air Power (1943), The Three Caballeros (1945), Make Mine Music and Song of the South (1946).
Al left the Studio in 1945, but by 1952 had returned to work on Peter Pan (1953), and continued to bring his artistry to the features Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Robin Hood (1973), The Rescuers (1977), as well as all the Winnie the Pooh featurettes (1966-1977).
Al left perhaps an even more intimate and enduring legacy in his work on the design and illustration of more than a dozen Disney Golden Books. Always concerned with controlling the quality of Disney art, Walt would often assign the illustration of books to Studio staff between their other projects. The illustration work of the likes of Mary Blair, Bill Justice, and John Hench, is immortalized in many perennially published Disney storybooks.
“Walt insisted that some of the studio artists get involved in these book illustrations and he particularly enjoyed seeing the various interpretive approaches that these artists would take,” comments Ken Shue, vice president Art & Design, Disney Publishing Worldwide. “In the spirit of every new assignment that Walt gave, he told them to approach storybook illustration in a way that only The Walt Disney Studios would approach it. In other words, given that they were already the world’s greatest storytellers on screen, what would they bring to books that would be innovative, defining, but especially quality in terms of artwork and storytelling?”
Al’s illustrations for Santa’s Toy Shop, Walt Disney’s Mother Goose, and Walt Disney’s Uncle Remus Stories are especially fondly remembered, as are his pictures for the Golden Book editions of Three Little Pigs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland.
“His painting for the cover of the Alice in Wonderland Little Golden Book is considered by many to be the Mona Lisa of Disney storybook illustration,” Shue says. “Al loved illustrating books, and that these were done at a time when the studio atmosphere was much like a school, where invention and new ways of tackling any visual storytelling format was exciting and fun. And, boy, it sure shows in the work!”
In 1966, at Walt’s personal request, Al donated his time and talent to the creation of the “Queen of the World” shrine at the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Red Bluff, California. Working from Al’s detailed drawings, Italian sculptor Pasquini Enzo sculpted the central figure of Mary, Mother of God.
Al was the father of five and grandfather of 14. He retired to Los Osos, California in July of 1973, where he died on June 28, 2001 at the age of eighty-nine.
DON EDGREN * Imagineering
Walt Disney once said, “At WED, we call it imagineering — the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.” The contribution of the “imagine” part of the process is celebrated. Less so is the solid engineering skill that makes dreams real.
Don Edgren, a professional engineer licensed in the states of California, Florida, and Hawaii, worked for Wheeler & Gray, Structural Engineers, at The Walt Disney Studios on the structural design/detail of Disneyland from late 1954 until the Park opened on July 17, 1955. “He was the original chief engineer ‘in the field’ — on the construction sites.” Marty Sklar, The Walt Disney Company’s international ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering recalls.
Don then coordinated structural design/detail from the Wheeler & Gray office on Disneyland expansion until June of 1961. “After his ‘engineering baptism’ at Disneyland in the early days,” Marty says, “he was invited to join the staff of WED Enterprises in Glendale.”
Don worked as a project engineer on the Ford Motor Company exhibit for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, and lived in New York during the construction of the Ford facility and the installation of the “Magic Skyway” show and ride, from March, 1963 to April, 1964.
Don led the Imagineering engineering team for New Orleans Square and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, while also participating in the initial master planning for Walt Disney World in Florida. Don was promoted to vice president, engineering/Florida in 1969, and relocated there in August of that year as head of the field engineering efforts there.
Don returned to WED in Glendale in April of 1972 as vice president of engineering. He led the Imagineering engineers on the first Space Mountain (Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, December 1974), after which he left Disney briefly.
Returning to WED in May 1979 as director of engineering for Tokyo Disneyland, Don coordinated all engineering design activities, relocating to Japan in September of 1979. He returned stateside to WED in May 1983, where he was responsible for the direction and supervision of all project engineers.
Don retired from The Walt Disney Company in 1987.
“Through the years, Imagineering had what I would respect as two ‘quintessential engineering captains’ — Don Edgren and a protege of his, John Zovich (chief engineer for Epcot),” Marty Sklar says. “They were constantly challenged by Walt, and the creative teams that followed (including me!), to do things that sometimes defied ‘engineering logic’ — and, of course, tried and true methods.
“Because, as Walt said, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!'”
PAUL FREES * Television, Film & Parks
During his lengthy career, “the voice of actor Paul Frees was not so much ubiquitous as inescapable,” says film historian Hal Erickson. “It was literally impossible during the 1960s and most of the 1970s to turn on the TV on any given night and not hear the ineluctable Mr. Frees.”
Born Solomon Hersh Frees in Chicago, he began his acting career in 1942, and remained active for over forty years. During this time, he was involved in more than 250 films, cartoons, and TV appearances; like many voice actors, his appearances were often uncredited.
Gifted with an amazing ear and versatile voice from an early age, Frees’ early radio career was cut short when he was drafted during World War II. He was wounded in action at Normandy on D-Day and returned to the U.S. for a year of recuperation. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute under the G.I. Bill, but his first wife’s failing health forced him to drop out and return to radio work.
He was the star of The Player, a syndicated anthology series in which he played all the roles. He appeared frequently on such Hollywood radio series as Escape, Suspense, Gunsmoke, Crime Classics and The Green Lama.
Frees began working in films in 1948, sometimes as an on-screen actor, but most often utilizing his chameleonic voice acting ability. When Chill Wills was unavailable to provide the talking mule’s voice for Francis in the Haunted House (1956), Frees replaced him, recreating Wills’s drawl; when Tony Curtis’s “Josephine” in Some Like It Hot required a more melodious falsetto, Frees was able to supply it.
Frees was often called upon in the 1950s and 1960s to “loop” the dialogue of other actors, often to correct for foreign accents, lack of English proficiency, or poor line readings by non-professionals. These dubs extended from a few lines to entire roles. Whenever Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune appeared in an English-language film like Grand Prix (1966) or Midway (1976), he would insist that his heavily-accented voice be “looped” by Frees — Mifune claimed that Frees “sounds more like me than I do.”
He was a regular presence in Jay Ward cartoons, providing the voices of Boris Badenov, and Inspector Fenwick (in Dudley Do-Right), among many others. He spent major parts of his career working with at least nine of the major animation production companies of the 20th century: The Walt Disney Studios, Walter Lantz Studio, UPA, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, MGM, DePatie-Freleng, Jay Ward, and Rankin-Bass Productions.
Frees began working for Disney dubbing voices for television and features, including narration for the “Man in Space” series (1954), “From Aesop to Hans Christian Andersen” (1955), the “Boys of the Western Sea” serial (1956-57), “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” (1958), Tonka (1958), “Tales of Texas John Slaughter” (1958), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), “Moochie of Pop Warner Football” (1960), The Ballad of Hector, the Stowaway Dog (1964), and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965). For The Ugly Dachshund (1966) he looped the voice of “Eddie” entirely, since actor Richard Wessel had passed away after the completion of principal photography.
Most famously, Frees comic Germanic accent and free-wheeling improvisational ability brought personality and popularity to Donald Duck’s nutty Uncle, Professor Ludwig Von Drake, who was introduced on “An Adventure in Color” (1961) and subsequently became a frequent host of the Sunday night television institution, as well as a star of Disneyland Records.
For the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, Frees was the sonorous narrator of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln pre-show at the Illinois Pavilion. For Disneyland, he provided the dramatic “you are there” narration for Adventure Thru Inner Space. Some of his most memorable voice performances are still playing today at Disney Parks: Frees is the “Ghost Host” in the Haunted Mansion, and many of the varied Pirates of the Caribbean.
Frees was active until his death from heart failure on November 2, 1986, in Tiburon, California. He was 66 years old.
PETER JENNINGS * Television
As one of America’s most distinguished journalists, Peter Jennings reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world.
He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and in the 1990s when it came down.
He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in the United States in 1965, and on the other side of the world when black South Africans voted for the first time.
He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland’s communist leaders were forced from power.
And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise.
Born in 1938 in Toronto, Canada, Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings was the son of Charles Jennings, the first news anchor and head of the news department at the CBC. Although he attended Lisgar Collegiate Institute and Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario, he never graduated from high school or college.
He got his start in broadcasting at the age of nine, hosting a weekly half-hour CBC Radio kids’ show called “Peter’s People,” and by age 23, Canada’s first private TV network, CTV (a competitor of his father’s network) hired Jennings to co-anchor its late-night national news.
Jennings joined ABC News on August 3, 1964. He served as the anchor of Peter Jennings with the News from 1965 to 1967.
He established the first American television news bureau in the Arab world in 1968 when he served as ABC News’ bureau chief for Beirut, Lebanon, a position he held for seven years. He helped put ABC News on the map in 1972 with his coverage of the Summer Olympics in Munich, when Arab terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage.
In 1975, Jennings moved to Washington to become the news anchor of ABC’s morning program A.M. America. After a short stint in the mornings, Jennings returned overseas to Rome where he stayed before moving to London to become ABC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent. In 1978 he was named the foreign desk anchor for World News Tonight. He co-anchored the program with Frank Reynolds in Washington, D.C., and Max Robinson in Chicago until 1983.
Jennings was named anchor and senior editor of World News Tonight in 1983, a position he would hold for more than 20 years. Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather recalled, “Peter took his work very seriously. But he did not take himself seriously. And he was a little uncomfortable — very uncomfortable — with the word “star,” and a little uncomfortable with the word “anchor” because he really did think about himself as a reporter.”
He reported from all 50 states and locations around the globe. His extensive domestic and overseas reporting experience was evident in the World News Tonight coverage of major crises. The series also tackled important domestic issues such as gun control policy, the politics of abortion, the crisis in funding for the arts and a highly praised chronicle of the accused bombers of Oklahoma City.
Jennings also led ABC’s coverage of the September 11 attacks and America’s subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network’s longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised. TV Guide called him “the center of gravity,” while The Washington Post wrote, “Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage.” That coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.
In fact, he was honored with almost every major award given to television journalists, including 16 Emmys, two George Foster Peabody Awards, several Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and several Overseas Press Club Awards and two consecutive Edward R. Murrow awards for best newscast.
Peter Jennings died of lung cancer on August 7, 2005 at his home in New York City. He was 67.
ELTON JOHN * Music
The monumental career of international singer/songwriter and performer Elton John has spanned more than three decades. He is one of the top-selling solo artists of all time, with more than 200 million records sold worldwide. Elton has won a wide array of industry awards including Grammys, Tonys, and an Oscar®, and continues to add innovative work to his personal repertoire of 35 gold and 25 platinum albums.
A prolific songwriter and a flamboyant performer, Elton had 30 different hits on the top 40 charts between 1970 and 1982. His theatrical stage appearances, with John changing into a succession of elaborate costumes and outlandish spectacles, helped make him a pop megastar. His hit tunes included “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,” “Your Song,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and “Rocket Man.” All were written with his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin.
In the early 1990s, John embarked on songwriting collaborations with lyricist Tim Rice, resulting in the soundtrack to the Walt Disney Pictures animated feature The Lion King.
At first, though, Elton wasn’t too sure of success. “I sat there with a line of lyrics that began, ‘When I was a young warthog,” John said in 1995, “and I thought, ‘Has it come to this?'”
This uneasiness proved unfounded, and the resulting work earned three Academy Award® nominations (“Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata,” and the winner, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”), and the film soundtrack album produced two top-selling, award-winning singles for John: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Circle of Life.”
It also introduced Elton John to a whole new generation of fans — the children who approach him in public and tell him that they love The Lion King. The lad who grew up loving the score to Disney’s The Jungle Book says, “That’s exactly what I wrote it for. I wanted to write melodies that kids would like.”
In 1997, The Lion King debuted on Broadway, receiving six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and in 1998, a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. In March 2000, the Tony Award-winning Aida opened on Broadway and John was honored with another Grammy for the Best Musical Show Album.
The smash-hit stage production of Billy Elliot, for which John composed the music, is currently running in London and garnered John a top-five hit in the UK with the song “Electricity.” Billy Elliot was nominated for a record 9 Olivier Awards, winning Best Musical, among others. Elton John’s fourth musical Lestat opened on Broadway April 25, 2006.
Elton is currently working on his new album, The Captain and The Kid, which will be released to coincide with his 60th birthday. This is the sequel to his triple platinum album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with an expanded deluxe edition.
He also continues to perform his critically acclaimed Red Piano show exclusively at Caesars Palace.
A great humanitarian, John’s commitment to the fight against AIDS led to the inception of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (U.S. and London) has raised over $90 million to date making the Elton John AIDS Foundation one of the largest public non-profit organizations in the AIDS arena.
In December of 2004, Elton received the Kennedy Center Honor for his lifetime contributions to American culture and excellence through the performing arts. In 1998, he was knighted by the Queen of England, who honored him with the title Sir Elton John, CBE.
JIMMY JOHNSON * Music
Jimmy Johnson devoted his entire career to the Disney organization, and profoundly influenced the Disney approach to both publishing and consumer audio recordings — an influence felt by generations of kids who know “it’s time to turn the page when Tinker Bell rings her little bells, like this,” on vinyl discs where you “SEE the pictures, HEAR the record, READ the book.”
“It was Jimmy’s dedication and drive that really created the Walt Disney Records we know today,” says songwriter and Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman. “Tutti Camarata’s creative vision combined with Jimmy’s ingenious ideas about marketing and how to utilize the Disney catalog really made the Disney record label a one-of-a-kind success story.”
James Alexander Johnson, Jr. joined The Walt Disney Studios fresh out of Journalism School as an assistant in the Publicity Department in September of 1938. He was excited by the creative environment at Disney and thrilled by its bright future. “Publicity had a management change, and Johnson faced termination,” it is reported in the recent book, Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, “but he had been bitten by the Disney bug and searched for any job that would enable him to stay with the Company.”
Johnson wound up in Traffic, delivering mail on the Studio lot, including the Animation Story Department, where he had hoped to end up. Instead, he was inexplicably transferred to Accounting, and shortly after was drafted into the Army.
Upon his return from service, Jimmy returned to the Studio as Assistant to the Corporate Secretary, a position to which he was elected in December 1950.
Roy O. Disney split Disney Publications and merchandising that year, and asked Johnson to head the new publishing unit, as well as business affairs for the new Walt Disney Music Company, which Fred Raphael had established late in 1949. Jimmy handled the Disney Publications division worldwide until 1962, and was the editor of the Walt Disney magazine from 1956 through 1958.
Realizing that competing with the established Hollywood music concerns was both foolish and unnecessary, Johnson had a vision for the Music Company that focused on its core business — the Disney stories, characters, and properties. He also shared Walt and Roy’s growing desire for ownership and control of the creative and business assets of the division, realizing that strict supervision of those areas was vital to both the maintenance and growth of the Disney name and reputation. Jimmy helped turn the Music Company profitable in 1954.
(Also in 1954, Jimmy was impressed by a composer and performer who submitted “The Pencil Song” for a proposed “Disneyland” TV episode. He was so pleased with the tune and its writer, Johnson brought Jimmie Dodd on staff.)
Jimmy became General Manager of the Walt Disney Music Company in December 1958, and played a key role in the evolution of all Walt Disney music and record activities. He was vital in the establishment of the Buena Vista and Disneyland record labels, the Wonderland Music Company (BMI), and all related music publishing activities. He served as President of the Walt Disney Music Company from September 1970 until his retirement in March of 1975.
Jimmy passed away January of 1976, survived by his wife, Ann, and three children, Glenys, Gennifer, and Grey.
TOMMY KIRK * Television & Film
Tommy Kirk became a juvenile hero as well as ideal mischief-maker in many Walt Disney film and television projects, but was also undoubtedly the finest child actor to emerge from Disney. “I always had the greatest respect for him as an actor,” says Tom’s “Hardy Boys” brother Tim Considine. “I always thought he was a monster talent.”
Thomas Lee Kirk was born in 1941 in Louisville, Kentucky and raised in Los Angeles. He was just 13 years old when discovered in Will Rogers, Jr.’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! at the Pasadena Playhouse. The All-American boy was brought to the attention of Walt Disney, who cast the teenager as half of “The Hardy Boys” on the popular serial seen on the “Mickey Mouse Club.”
Tommy appeared in more television programs including “Frontier,” “Gunsmoke,” and “The Loretta Young Show,” before returning to Disney to film a serial sequel to the first “Hardy Boys” adventure.
Larger, varied, and more significant Disney roles followed, among them a brilliant performance as Arliss Coates in Old Yeller (1957), a comic turn in The Shaggy Dog (1959), romance and adventure in Swiss Family Robinson (1960), more comedy in The Absent-Minded Professor, and musical comedy in Babes in Toyland (1961). He guest-starred in Moon Pilot (1962) and the sequels Son of Flubber and Savage Sam (1963) and the TV films “The Horsemasters” (1961) and “Escapade in Florence” (1962).
Personal problems caused Tom some difficulties during the early 1960s. On the set of Disney’s Bon Voyage (1962), star Fred MacMurray gave Tom “the biggest dressing-down of my life” for his behavior, and Tom confesses that he fully deserved the scolding. Tom’s last two films for the Studio featured him as the teenage genius, Merlin Jones, in The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) and The Monkey’s Uncle (1965).
Tom’s career slumped as he reached adulthood. He experienced many of the same troubles other former child and teen stars did when they matured, and was left to take less and less challenging roles in 1960s “Beach Party” films and teen movies such as Pajama Party (1964), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and Village of the Giants (1965).
But fortunately, Tommy Kirk discovered that there was life after movies. “Finally, I said, to hell with the whole thing, to hell with show business. I’m gonna make a new life for myself, and I got off drugs, completely kicked all that stuff. I went out and started my own business. I’ve done it for years and I live well. I have a nice business, a nice pension, and friends.” Though his filmmaking days are behind him, Tom has continued to act occasionally, and has more than 30 feature films roles to his credit. And most importantly, he has made peace with his past.
“I want to be remembered for my Disney work, like Swiss Family Robinson and Old Yeller,” Tom says. He fondly remembers Walt Disney, and recalls once bumping into him at a Beverly Hills hotel. “He was with Hedda Hopper, the legendary columnist… he put his arm around me, and he said, ‘This is my good-luck piece here,’ to Hedda Hopper. I never forgot that. That’s the nicest compliment he ever gave me.”
JOE RANFT * Animation
Telling stories in one form or another was Joe Ranft’s lifelong passion. Born in 1960 in Pasadena, he grew up in Whittier, where his early interests included movies, drawing, performing in school plays, and doing sleight-of- hand magic.
Joe was widely respected as one of the top story artists in the animation industry. He was one of seven writers nominated for an Academy Award® for best original screenplay for Toy Story, but Ranft spent most of his time drawing storyboards for animated films.
“I don’t know if people really understand what I do,” Joe said in a 1998 interview. “When I say that I do story for animation, they say, ‘Oh, you’re a writer!’ If I tell them I’m kind of a writer, but I draw, they get this puzzled look. But when I say, ‘I’m the voice of Heimlich,’ the light bulb goes on and they say, ‘Oh, great!'”
(Ranft got the role as Heimlich in A Bug’s Life after John Lasseter noticed that his wife, Nancy, laughed harder at Ranft’s temporary dialogue during production than she did at the actor hired to voice the caterpillar.)
Ranft entered the character animation program at California Institute of the Arts in the fall of 1978. As a student, he was inspired by Bill Peet’s storyboards from the 1946 Disney feature Song of the South.
Joe left CalArts for The Walt Disney Studios in 1980, where he quickly established a reputation as an exceptional story artist, contributing to Oliver & Company (1988), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994) and Fantasia/2000. He oversaw the story on The Rescuers Down Under (1990). While at Disney, he had become friends with John Lasseter, who became the top creative executive at Pixar Animation Studios.
Ranft moved to Pixar to serve as story supervisor on Lasseter’s Toy Story, the first computer-animated feature. His understanding of story structure and his talent for creating emotionally complex characters that audiences cared about won him a place in the core group of artists at Pixar.
“Joe was really a major part of Pixar’s soul,” says Pete Docter, director of Monsters, Inc. “He was one of the key players who made all the films what they are.”
Ranft served as story supervisor on Toy Story 2 (1999) and provided the voice for Wheezy the asthmatic penguin. He was credited with additional story material for Monsters, Inc. (2001) and oversaw the story on Lasseter’s Cars (2006).
Joe Ranft was killed in an automobile accident on August 16, 2005. A longtime resident of Marin County, he is survived by his wife, Su, their children, Jordan and Sophia — and a legendary storytelling legacy.
“Joe had a great passion for telling stories, and he told them better than anyone,” John Lasseter says. “He was funny, poignant, original, and he had an infallible sense for how to structure a story.”
“He created stories and lived his life by two philosophies, one of which hung on his office door: THE JOURNEY IS THE REWARD. The other was: TRUST THE PROCESS,” recalls fellow story artist Brenda Chapman. “He was so passionate, so in love with storytelling.”
Ranft himself humbly reflected, “I have this notion that there’s a story there that wants to be told, and you’re just trying to find out what it is. And you go from trying to lead it to listening and letting it lead you.”
DAVID STOLLERY * Television & Film
David Stollery was born in Los Angeles in 1941, into a theatrical family. His mother, the former Mitzi Lamarr, had been a radio star for many years in Portland, Oregon. David’s father, after whom he was named, was a radio announcer. At the age of seven, David had done Medea on Broadway with Judith Anderson, and was voted Child Actor of the Year for the Broadway production of On Borrowed Time starring Victor Moore.
He began appearing in juvenile roles Hollywood features, beginning with the Bing Crosby classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949). He followed this with several feature appearances including Where Danger Lives (1950) with Robert Mitchum, and Her Twelve Men (1954) with Greer Garson; he also appeared in television episodes of “I Love Lucy,” “Dragnet,” “My Friend Irma,” and “The Red Skelton Show.”
However, it was at the Disney Studio that he really made his mark.
Walt Disney happened to see David playing a young genius in an episode of The Ray Milland Show (aka Meet Mr. McNulty) titled “The Prodigy.”
Based on this performance, Walt was convinced that he had found Marty Markham, the spoiled rich boy, for “The Adventures of Spin and Marty” series being developed for the “Mickey Mouse Club” (1955). David was quickly signed to a contract to star in the serial, followed by two “Spin and Marty” sequel serials, as well as the “Annette” serial, all for the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show.
“I liked David right away,” co-star Tim Considine remembers, “because, although very conscientious about his work, he wasn’t loud or at all show-offy.”
David also appeared in the Disney feature films Ten Who Dared (1960) and Westward Ho the Wagons! (1956).
“Security and success are the main things for me,” David said at the time, “You don’t gamble with your life. Acting is a hard business, and an easy business. It’s easy when the money rolls in, but what happens when the money only rolls in twice a year?” So, while many of his acting contemporaries uneasily made their move into adult roles — or rock, teen, or exploitation pictures — after five years at Disney, David decided to leave Hollywood to pursue his education in Industrial Design.
“I need something steady that I can depend on,” David said, “and there’s nothing steadier than work in a technical field.”
“He already knew he wasn’t going to act much longer,” Considine recalls, “I used to ramble on about driving and racing cars. But what David wanted even then was design his own.”
After completing his education at Art Center College of Design, David spent seven years in Detroit as a designer for General Motors. He was hired by Toyota Motors in 1973 to establish and manage California’s first automotive design group, Calty Design research. There, he was responsible for the design of the 1978 Toyota Celica. “I wonder how many Celica-driving ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ fans ever knew that ‘Marty’ designed their car?” Tim Considine laughs. In all, David directed the design of more than 22 models for the Japanese firm.
David has most recently established his own manufacturing company, making a patented fiberglass lifeguard tower — the only of its type made in the United States.
As for the glamour and romance of his acting career, apart from an occasional appearance at a Disneyana Convention or Park reunion event, David has steered clear of the “nostalgia notoriety” limelight of his Disney days.
He claims not to miss Hollywood or the fame one bit.
GINNY TYLER * Television & Film
For some, their chosen profession is a family legacy. Such is the case with the original Disneyland Records “Disneyland Storyteller,” Ginny Tyler.
While Tyler was growing up in a Native American family near Seattle, Washington, her family passed along the storytelling craft, as well as the imitation of animal sounds and birdcalls. Tyler’s flair with these talents first put her before the radio microphone in the 1940s, and by 1951 she was hosting her own daily children’s show on KOMO-TV, “Magic Island.” She was also getting more and more work off-screen for her vocal talents, and in 1957 Mother Goose flew south to Hollywood.
One of her first jobs after landing was playing Olive Oyl on a Spike Jones recording of “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,” and work on more novelty records quickly followed. By the early 1960s, she had joined the Disneyland Records stock company, narrating beloved vinyl recordings of Bambi, Babes in Toyland, Hans Brinker, and More Mother Goose.
When the original “Mickey Mouse Club” was re-edited and repackaged for syndication in 1962, Tyler was appointed Head Mouseketeer, live from Disneyland. A Mickey Mouse Club Headquarters was constructed inside the Main Street Opera House (later home to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln), where Ginny hosted a live 15-minute daily segment of the program. Children could also register as “Official Mouseketeers,” complete with membership card, and Ginny, often in the company of Roy Williams or Jimmie Dodd, was on hand for greetings and autographs.
Ginny’s vocal work gradually moved from just narration to character voices for Disney: she played two amorous female squirrels in The Sword in the Stone (1963), and sang for several of the barnyard animals in the “Jolly Holiday” sequence of Mary Poppins (1964).
For other studios, Ginny was Casper, the Friendly Ghost in his 1963 TV series, space-damsel Jan and the Black Widow in Space Ghost, Sue Richards in Fantastic Four, Flirtacia the Lilliputian in The Adventures of Gulliver, and all the female characters in the first thirteen episodes of Davey and Goliath.
Ginny provided the voice of Polynesia the parrot, who taught the good doctor how to talk to the animals in Doctor Dolittle (1967). Along with frequent Disneyland Records co-star Dallas McKennon, she provided most of the other animal voices for that musical spectacular. (Her parrot patois was also heard on “The Jack Benny Show” and “The Lucy Show.”)
Ginny is retired and has returned to her hometown of Seattle, but still occasionally records a voice here and there for local productions.
Her Disney days remain “the most awesome part of my life, and truly a ‘dream come true’!” Ginny says. She remembers a day at Disneyland where she was waxing effusive about the many beautiful aspects of the Park with Walt. “And I was raving away to Walt how wonderful Disneyland was, he said, ‘And that goes for my Disneyland Storyteller, too.’ I have never felt prouder in my entire life.”