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A Day in the Life: Disney, 1931

By Michael Barrier

Here, courtesy of David Johnson, are a couple of group portraits of the key members of the Disney animation staff, taken on the same day somewhere around the middle of 1931 in the "music rooms" where the directors (Burt Gillett, Wilfred Jackson) and musicians (Bert Lewis, Frank Churchill) worked. Note the portraits on the walls: of Victor Herbert in the top photo, and of Franz Schubert in the bottom, both painted by the background painter Emil Flohri (and also note the spittoon in the bottom photo). To see a much larger version of each photo, click on it.

Music Room photo No. 1

Standing from left: Edmond Seward, Frank Churchill, Otto Englander, Ben Sharpsteen, Bert Lewis, Gilles "Frenchy" de Tremaudan, Les Clark, Rudy Zamora, Wilfred Jackson, Jack King, Tom Palmer, Jack Cutting (behind Palmer), Johnny Cannon, Norm Ferguson, Webb Smith. Seated, from left: David Hand, Ted Sears, Dick Lundy, Burt Gillett, Walt Disney.

Music Room photo No. 2

Standing, from left, Webb Smith, Edmond Seward, Otto Englander, Rudy Zamora, David Hand, Tom Palmer, Jack Cutting, Walt Disney, Frank Churchill, Johnny Cannon, Ben Sharpsteen. Seated, from left: Jack King, Dick Lundy, Ted Sears, Norm Ferguson, Gilles "Frenchy" de Tremaudan, Wilfred Jackson, Les Clark, Burt Gillett, Bert Lewis.

Music Rooms

The music rooms were in what was then a new addition to the Disney studio, built in the spring of 1931. The music rooms were behind the bay at the center of the photo above; Walt Disney's office was behind the balcony at the right. The sound stage is at far right.

The top photo is of Gillett's music room, which was on the second floor; the bottom photo is of Jackson's, which was on the ground floor. I have a damaged copy of the top photo, and I remember showing it to Jackson many years ago, but at the time I was most concerned with identifying everyone in it; I didn't ask him to identify the room. But as David Johnson points out, the shape of the windows on the two floors was different, and since there are no arches visible in the top photo, it must have been taken on the second floor.

The one person Jackson couldn't identify at that time was Edmond Seward, whose name is likely to be familiar, if at all, as one of the writers for the Fleischers' 1939 feature Gulliver's Travels. After his Fleischer stint, he worked at Columbia's Screen Gems studio in the early 1940s and then wrote for the low-budget live-action Bowery Boys features. But Seward did indeed work for Disney, briefly, in the early 1930s, and that association was apparently important to him. When he died in 1954, at the early age of 47, his obituary in the Los Angeles Times summed up his career this way: "Mr. Seward was a graduate of Northwestern University, a foreign correspondent in Australia and formerly was employed as cartoonist for Walt Disney Studio."

There's a story lurking in that brief biography—for one thing, Seward as a college graduate was a great rarity in the early Hollywood animation studios, and for another, he was a screenwriter for a couple of Australian-made features in the mid-'30s—but I suspect that Seward's story, like so many others, is now largely irretrievable.

Posted March 5, 2009; revised March 18, 2009 and February 16, 2010]