Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oliver "Ollie" Martin Johnston, Jr. (1912-2008)

The last of Disney's Nine Old Men, Ollie Johnston passed away on Monday, April 14, 2008.

Oliver Martin Johnston, Jr. was a pioneer in the field of motion picture animation. He was a directing animator at Walt Disney Studios from 1935-1978. He contributed to many films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi and Pinocchio. His last full work for Disney came with The Rescuers, which was the last film of the second golden age of Disney animation that had begun in 1950 with Cinderella. In The Rescuers, hew was caricatured as one of the film's characters, the cat Rufus.

Animator Ollie Johnston infused an unusual level of warmth and heartfelt emotion into his Disney characters. As lifelong friend and fellow animator Frank Thomas recalled, "Ollie was the only one of the Studio animators who was sensitive to character relationships and how they affected story," explained Frank -- "Back then cartoon characters seldom touched unless they hit each other. But one day Ollie said, 'You know, the act of two people holding hands communicates in a powerful way.' And he was right. His warmth made a difference in so many of our characters."

Indeed, Ollie animated such memorable friendships as that of Baloo and Mowgli in The Jungle Book and the sycophantic relationship shared by Sir Hiss and Prince John in Robin Hood. And he valued his own relationship with the characters he animated, including Thumper in Bambi, Mr. Smee in Peter Pan and the trio of fanciful fairies in Sleeping Beauty. Ollie says, "They were all good friends, whom I remember fondly."

Born in Palo Alto, California, on October 31, 1912, Ollie attended grammar school on the campus of Stanford University, where his father served as professor of romance languages. After graduating from Palo Alto High School, he returned to Stanford and spent his last year of study at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.

On January 21, 1935, Ollie joined The Walt Disney Studios as an apprentice animator, working on such early Disney shorts as Mickey's Garden and The Tortoise and the Hare, which won an Academy Award® for Best Cartoon. He went on to work as animator and directing animator on more than 24 feature films including, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Song of the South, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty, among others.

Ollie married a fellow Disney employee, Ink and Paint artist Marie Worthey, in 1943. Marie Johnston died May 20, 2005. An avid train enthusiast, in his spare time, Ollie created a backyard railroad at his home and was instrumental in helping stir Walt Disney's own personal interest in trains.

After 43 years with the Studio, Ollie retired in 1978. He went on to co-author four books with Frank Thomas beginning with the definitive Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, followed by Too Funny For Words, Walt Disney's Bambi: The Story and the Film, and The Disney Villain. He and Frank were also the subjects of the 1995 documentary Frank and Ollie, which chronicles their unique friendship, which began at Stanford, and creative relationship at Disney. That same year, Disney artists also paid tribute to the legendary elder-animators in the Mickey Mouse featurette Runaway Brain, by creating a villain whimsically named Dr. Frankenollie. Visit Frank & Ollie's Official Website.

Below are three (3) clips courtesy of YouTube.com honoring the works of Ollie Johnston. Rest in Peace Ollie! We thank you for the legacy you leave us. You will be greatly missed!

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:


Magic Mirror said...

I am sure they will both now be animating in Heaven. True greats from a golden age we may never see the likes of again.

BJ said...


He was a great man, and I'll certainly be watching Snow White in his honor in the coming days.


Babette said...

Thanks for the info Don. I had not seen any news story that he had passed. The end of an era for sure.

Duckman said...

Tony, BJ and Babs-The end of an era. Very sad but what a rich legacy to leave behind.

Was stunned when I read the news on the Disney Blog yesterday morning. Took time yesterday to watch the YouTube clips. Was a nice tribute to Ollie and nice to hear his thoughts on each character he animated.

I thoroughly enjoy The Disney Villain book and plan to pick up The Illusion of Life while down at WDW.

cuatrecess said...

What a legend he was, and he will be sorely missed!!!!