MichaelBarrier.com - Exploring the World of Animated Films and Comic Art - banner by Michael Sporn
Home  |  Capsules  |  Commentary  |  Essays  |  Funnyworld Revisited  |  Interviews  |  Books  |  Links  |  Bio  |  Feedback
   
MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

INTERVIEWS

African Diary

Jack Kinney listens to a performance by Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy, in front of a storyboard for African Diary (1945).

Jack Kinney and Jane Kinney (1976)

An interview by Michael Barrier and Milton Gray

From MB: This was my second full-dress interview with the Disney director Jack Kinney. He was joined on this occasion by his second wife, the former Eva Jane Sinclair, who had been his secretary and assistant director at the Disney studio. I recorded the interview on November 3, 1976, at the Kinneys' home in Sunland, California, a suburb north of Los Angeles.

As the taping began, we were discussing the 1941 Disney strike. Jane Kinney mentioned that she had worked as a secretary in the Bambi unit, in an office between Dave Hand, Bambi's supervising director, and Dave Hilberman, a layout artist, just before the strike, and so had a good look at both sides.

On this as on other occasions Jane was much more reluctant than Jack to expand on such intriguing remarks on tape, but ten years later, over dinner at a Sunland restaurant (and with no recorder present), she said that Hilberman, soon to be a strike leader, had on some pretext been moved to a conference room adjacent to her office.The real reason for the move was so that Jane—who was in 1986 still vocally anti-union—could monitor his phone conversations; she had access at her desk to the phones in Hand's office and in the conference room. The idea was that she would gather evidence that Hilberman was organizing for the union on company time, so that his firing could be justified. Hilberman himself remembered no such episode, but Jane said that was not surprising, since he was assigned to the conference room only briefly.

Jane came to Los Angeles from Omaha. According to Becky Cline, the Disney archivist, she joined the Disney staff in story research on June 19, 1939, and resigned on August 18, 1950, probably around the time she and Jack married. Jane was also married for a few years in the early 1940s to the Disney background artist Ralph Hulett.

After the 1976 interview, as with the 1973 Kinney interview, I sent a transcript to Jack for his review, and, in this case, Jane's review also. The transcript as published here incorporates Jack's changes, except for those that were too fragmentary or unclear to make that practicable. I've also left in the transcript a section that Jane wanted removed, for reasons that seem to have been a mystery to Jack as well as to me. Since both Kinneys are now long deceased (Jane died in 2005, at age 90), I can see no compelling reason to excise that material, but I've indented it to set it apart from the rest of the interview.

As with the 1973 interview, I haven't made any special effort to line up Jack's remarks here with his 1988 memoir, Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters, but there is of course some overlap, as with the Ken Darby anecdote.

At the beginning of the 1976 interview, talk of the strike led Jack to speak of Gunther Lessing's role as the studio's attorney.

Jack Kinney: They had the strike, and all of these nice guys went out. A lot of them were working for me—[Jim] Carmichael...Phil Duncan...Murray McClellan, so many of those nice guys. Vip Partch didn't know whether to come in or go out, and he kept coming in and going out. They'd never been up against something like this; they were just kids. About 4:30 in the afternoon, I got a call to come up to Walt's office. He brought in all the guys who had been around—the Les Clarks, Fergy [Norm Ferguson], Fred Moore...

Jane Kinney: The penthouse gang.

Jack Kinney: Yeah. So we were sitting up there, and Walt broke out a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream, which I'd never tasted before. It was gorgeous, and everybody wanted a drink. Walt had these big pictures, blown up, of the guys who were in the strike. When we first came up there, he had them stacked all around his office, and he was going through them. He'd say, "I never thought that son of a bitch would do that to me...and this guy turned against me..."  He was putting the finger on all of these guys.

Jane Kinney: Some of the men, who were not politically minded, just stayed home completely. They neither struck nor did they come in.

Jack Kinney: Like Bill Tytla, and Marc Davis.

Jane Kinney: Marc wasn't out; he just didn't show one way or the other. He didn't strike, but he didn't pass the picket line.

Jack Kinney: A lot of them didn't; they played it cool. Anyway, we were looking at these pictures, and we hadn't realized that they had a great photographic unit at the studio that could blow these things up. He was pointing these guys out, and he was putting these things in his mind. This went on for a little while, until  he broke out the bottle. A little later, brother Roy and Gunther Lessing came up. Gunther Lessing was a cock-of-the-walk kind of guy; we used to call him the red-headed bastard. Walt looked at Gunther and he said, "What do you think, Gunther?" Gunther said, "It'll be over in three days." Everybody started to drink then; it was great, beautiful. He was never so wrong; it went on and on.

[We talked about the outcome of the strike, and how it led to the creation of UPA.]

[John] Hubley's a very talented guy, but Hubley couldn't draw his ass, so he designed a very nice style to cover up his lack of draftsmanship. He worked with me on Pinocchio (1940); and Dave Rose and Bruce Bushman and all those nice guys. Art Heinemann was a hell of a draftsman, and he liked Hubley very much and let him finish his layouts. Hubley worked with me on the first cartoon I did [Bone Trouble, 1940, evidently, although the "story sketch book" for that cartoon credits Don Griffith for layout]. Hubley knew about camera angles, and he loved to do things, and he's done it. Of course, he and [John] McLeish lived together.

Michael Barrier: I associate McLeish with the narration.

Jack Kinney: He was a hell of a draftsman, and a damned fine artist, but a crazy son of a bitch.

Barrier: Now, was his real name or Ployardt or McLeish?

Jack Kinney: I guess Ployardt to begin with, and when he made up with his old man, he picked up Ployardt again.

Barrier: So he used the McLeish name while he was estranged from his father.

Jack Kinney: Then he became Ployardt again.

Howard Swift was a hell of a guy; he came in, and he didn't understand that animation was a hard thing to do. He went to work in Fergy's unit. Fergy trained more guys than I can think of—John Lounsbery, Hugh Fraser, Howard Swift, Nick George, Nick Nichols, Art Stevens, Julius Svendsen... Fergy was really the father of modern animation. He wasn't a good artist, but he knew action. Walt said, "You've got to be loose, like Fergy." Jack King couldn't do that; they were drawing Mickeys, and they used to take a nickel, dime, quarter for the head, and a dollar for closeups—if you could borrow it from someone—and trace it. King was a very meticulous guy, and Roy Williams was working for him, as an assistant. These guys were so dissimilar you couldn't believe it. Jack King had a very funny high voice, Southern and New Yorkese, and he said, "Roy, you take this thing and screw it up for me, will you? Put some rough lines around it." And that's what Roy did. Walt said, "Jack, you're catching on." But underneath it was still that hard, stiff drawing.

Roy was so damned neat; he was meticulous, all of his pencils were laid out this way, and that way. On Hyperion, when they first built the new wing on the place, they had four desks in each room, and the animator sat at the desk next to the window. The first assistant had the second desk in [from the window], the second assistant was next to him, and the inbetweener was the fourth guy. Roy would come in, and if they happened to clean up the room, or something, and they happened to push one of these desks aside, Roy would meticulously take all of these desks and line them up perfectly. We used to drive him crazy by going in during the noon hour and pulling desks out. Roy could take a desk and move it around any place. And he moves very fast.

Roy bought this beautiful LaSalle—a very nice automobile in those days. He always wanted to buy the best thing he could buy, and he went out to buy this fifty-gallon wheelbarrow with a rubber tire, at Sears. To get it into this car, he had to put it in through the front, and turn it over on its side, and put it down in the backseat, which had very nice upholstery in it. He was taking everybody over to look at his wheelbarrow—it was painted green, it's got red handles on it, and he was taking everybody over from the story department to look at this keen wheelbarrow. Harry Reeves and I went over and got a hose, and we filled that damned thing up, clear to the top. Then we watched Roy taking his next contingent over to see this thing. He opens the door, and here's this thing filled with fifty gallons of water, right up to the top. Roy very carefully reached in with his hands, trying to get the water out of the wheelbarrow, but he started to drip, because your hands don't hold water very well. He did it a few times, getting a little faster and a little faster, and finally he exploded and grabbed the thing, and the fifty gallons of water went all over the car's nice upholstery. At that point, we went back to work.

When he got fired from Disney's—this was the first time, and the only time, really—Joe Grant and Dick Huemer and I felt very sorry for him. After leaving high school, he worked at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, doing piecework—I did, too—and then he went to work for Disney's. I went to work digging ditches for the Department of Water and Power, then I went to work for the Times, and the Examiner, and a few other places; Sears, a collection agency. It was a tough time. In the late forties, Walt fired him. Roy was digging a swimming pool, and we'd see him—he was working in the same unit I was at that time—we'd be in the back room, Don DaGradi and Lance Nolley and Art Riley and Al Zinnen and Charlie Philippi and a few other guys, drinking our morning coffee, and we'd see Roy's Model A Ford pickup truck driving down the street toward the studio gate. He'd go behind the restaurant, and he'd come in, and we'd say, "Here comes Roy." Then, "There goes Roy." He had to come in and punch the clock, see, and go home to check out what was happening with the swimming pool. Just about ten minutes after Roy had gone to his home, which wasn't too far from the studio, the phone rang. It was Hal Adelquist, and he said, "Is Roy around? Walt wants him for a story meeting." I said, "He's supposed to be around here someplace, Hal, I'll find him." I quickly got on the phone and called his wife, Ethel, and he came back. That was the way we used to cover up for people.

Anyway, this finally caught up with Roy, and he was bounced, and it "killed" him. The rug was pulled out from under him. In the meantime, he'd gotten an unlisted number, so if anybody wanted to call him for a job, there was no way to reach him. He'd gone to work for Lockheed or somebody, doing piecework, and God, he felt low. This was around Christmas time, and I felt real sorry about the whole thing, having known the guy for so long. Joe Grant and Dick Huemer and I and a few of the guys got together, and we passed the hat, and collected two hundred dollars. We put it in a box and we went over to Roy's place; this was about two days before Christmas. He was doing a Camille act; the lights were off, and Ethel had gone down to her mother's. He couldn't pay for his gas, there wasn't any heat. It was a cold, rainy day. He put on this beautiful act. He said, "Can I get you fellows a drink?  I don't have very much." He went to the kitchen, and he brought three jelly glasses with the labels on them. He put them down with shaking hands, in front of each of us, and he very carefully showed us this cooking sherry, which cost 39 cents. He said, "I 'm sorry, fellows, this is the best I can do." We dumped this two hundred bucks and left; we said, "You've got to take it," and we left.

Roy Williams

Roy Williams, on the Disney Hyperion lot in 1931, with a vehicle considerably less elegant than the LaSalle he owned later and that was the subject of a practical joke Jack Kinney describes. The sound stage is under construction in the background. Photo by and courtesy of Dick Hall.

Barrier: Tell us about Ben Sharpsteen, and your relationship with him.

Jack Kinney: Ben was a hard-nosed guy, but a very fair guy. He would stick up for his guys, but he was a very opinionated guy, too. He tried to make the guys learn how to draw . He was not the world's greatest animator, but he was not bad. They used to give him all of Minnie Mouse playing the piano; he was very good with the hands.

Jane Kinney: In the later years, you used to get a kick out of Ben's little black book.

Jack Kinney: I got to know Ben quite well.  Bill Herwig happened to die; he was a crazy layout guy, and a Hawaiian beachcomber type of guy—a free spirit, like Hubley and McLeish and several others. I'd just heard about this, and Ben asked me to come up to his office. We were doing Casey Jones [The Brave Engineer (1950)] or whatever it was. I said, "Ben, did you hear that Bill Herwig died?" He said, "Is that right?" and he had this very strange look in his eye. He reached in his desk, and he took out this picture that was taken in 1936, or whenever it was—it was a big blowup. He didn't realize I was looking at him, and he took a red pencil and put a big X over it. He kept track of all the people as they passed away.

Ben knew how to play Walt, where Dave [Hand] would try to fight Walt, on occasion. Ben had a real good [sense] of where things needed cutting.  He would take a sequence and say, "This doesn't move, " and throw out two hundred feet. Most of the time, he was very right. Of course, he was the guy who was really responsible for [James] Algar's success on the True-Life Adventures. They didn't know what to do with Algar.

Jane Kinney: He had these government things for South America, on sanitation. Then the war was over, and the government contracts stopped, and everybody was coming back from the war, and you always had to take someone who was drafted; that was the law. Instead of having more units, there was less, and Algar's unit was dissolved, and he went up to do the True-Life Adventures, along with [Winston Hibler].

Jack Kinney: They brought in all this beautiful footage that the Milottes had shot, on the seal island, and they had thousands of feet of film.  They put Algar with a Moviola, saying, "See what you can make of this." Ben was more or less overseeing the thing, and checking it out.

Jane Kinney: Algar had always worked with Dave Hand. I was with that unit, and that's when I went to work for you, when that unit was dissolved.

Jack Kinney: The first time I really met Dave, to know him as a person, was on Victory Through Air Power (1943), which [Jane] brought to the studio.

Barrier: How did that happen?

Jane Kinney: That was one of those things that never came out and was unimportant, but Dave at that time was getting done with Bambi, and naturally wanted something else to do. Victory Through Air Power happened to be a Book of the Month selection during the war, and I brought it to Dave and said, "Would this be a possibility?" He was wanting to give something to Walt, so he looked at it, and liked the idea, and wrote a pink memo on the thing for Walt. He sent it up, and [Walt] liked the idea and got in touch with [Alexander P. de] Seversky [the author of the book], and it was available. That was a fun picture; I mean it was fun to be on, because Seversky was an interesting man.

Jack Kinney: He was an extrovert, like crazy, but a very pleasant guy. I think Victory Through Air Power was the forerunner of really good cheap effects animation. I did the opening sequence on the history of aviation. I also did the bombing of Tokyo. We had the best animators in the business on the thing.  We were recording this thing, and we were trying to get the damned thing out; you were there, Jane. This went far into the night. Ollie Wallace had written the music, and he was doing the bombing of Tokyo, and the bombs were coming down. He and Sam Slyfield were fighting like crazy. Sam was a pretty good-sized guy—he was about six-two—and Ollie was a little short guy, and volatile. He could be so obnoxious! He would say, "Raise the music!"  Sam said, "I can't get any more music on this because it'll overload."  "Horseshit!" Ollie said loudly. Sam got tired of this, and he started walking up the aisle, and Ollie started walking down the aisle, toward the iron pencil. As they got closer together, Sam got bigger, and by the time they got together, they'd made up.

We finally finished the thing about ten or eleven o'clock. Dave said, "I 've got a bottle in the room, let's go up and have a drink." We all needed it at that point, after four or five hours of this damned noise. We went up there, and Ollie got obnoxious again. We didn't say anything, we just let him rant and rave. Ollie said, "The hell with you big sons of bitches [meaning Jack and Dave], I'm getting out of here." They had these coat closets that were about six feet high; as a gag, he opened this closet and went in, and Dave and I, without any coaching, decided to close the thing. We picked it up, with Ollie inside, and carried it to the elevator, to go from the third floor to the basement. Then we turned it upside down, with Ollie inside, so that he couldn't get out. Ollie was screaming to high heaven. When we got down to the basement, we turned it over so that Ollie could get out, and he was fit to be tied. So we all went back to have another drink.

[The following exchange may be a little confusing, in that it may suggest that wartime restrictions prevented Kinney from leaving Disney for MGM. Probably that was not the case. Kinney was riding high at Disney in the mid-1940s, thanks to the success of his Goofy cartoons, and Walt Disney could quite plausibly have wanted to avoid losing him to a competitor whose aggressively comic cartoons, by Tex Avery and Hanna and Barbera, would have been natural stablemates for a new Kinney series. Thus Walt's resistance to letting Kinney break his contract, and his offer to let Kinney produce a feature, Peter Pan. As noted below, Kinney's treatment for that cartoon is dated March 26, 1946, long after the end of World War II.]

Jack Kinney: I had a chance to go to MGM, and I went over to talk to [Fred] Quimby, and he offered me twice or three times as much as I was getting at Disney's. At Disney's, there was a set pattern, minus 15 per cent that they'd been taking out of your check for many years.

Jane Kinney: Things were frozen; this was during the war.

Jack Kinney: Right: except that we were supposed to get that money back, which we never did. Anyway, I went over and talked to Quimby. Tex Avery had said, "Come over and talk to the old man." I went over and talked to him, on a Saturday, and he said, "We'll give you $350 a week to start, and in a year we'll give you $500 a week."  That was pretty good dough in those days. The following Monday morning I called Walt and said I wanted to talk with him in his office. I said, "Walt, I'm going to quit. I've got an offer from Quimby at MGM."  He said, "How much did he offer you?" I said, "$350"; I was making $200 at Disney's, that was the tops for directors at that time. I really wasn't unhappy, but what the hell. He said, "I won't let you go. You've got a contract." Any time anybody wanted to leave over there, they could always break the contract. He said, "But I'll meet the price," and I said okay, and I took it. This was after the war. He said, "I'll make you a producer," and he was going to take Peter Pan off the shelf.

He set me up with a double unit, and I had all the best story guys in town; I even had Bud Swift, David Swift. He wanted to get in the story department, and I'd sneak him in at night. We'd all work two nights a week, and we 'd write this thing. Every day, the guys would get together, and Jane would take the notes down, sequence by sequence. The next morning, we'd go to see Walt, and he'd read the thing, and he'd say, "Okay, go ahead with this," and then we'd move to the next sequence and go ahead with it, until we got the whole thing set, the way Walt wanted it. Then he said, "Okay, go ahead."  We had a big group of real good guys on the thing, and we'd gotten in touch with Jean Arthur: she wanted to do Peter Pan. We got her over, she loved it, and she wanted to do it. We had Elliot Daniel writing the music. We had great storyboards, by Tom Oreb, Don DaGradi, Lance Nolley, and some of the other guys who were all real good; there were about twenty guys in the thing.   I'd see Walt in the hall and he'd say, "How's it going?" I'd say, "Wouldn't you like to come in and see what we're doing?" He said, "No, it's entirely up to you. Take it."

Jane Kinney: He was seeing it every night .

Jack Kinney: He said, "I don't want to see it until you've got it all up on the board, according to the script." I said, "There are a few things we ought to change in the script. When you start putting it up on the storyboard, there are things you want to develop." Anyway, we had damned good music, and I thought it was a better story than the one they finally turned out. We had this meeting, and whoever Walt wanted there, was there. We had thirty-nine storyboards, and these were big storyboards, four by eight, and I had to tell the story from start to finish.   There wasn't a sound; everybody was listening. There were about twenty guys in the room. We walked around the room—it was a big room—and by the time I finished up, I was leaning on the last board, completely bushed. This was about 12:30, and we'd been there since 9:30, or something.  And [making the sound of Walt's fingers drumming on the arm of a chair] nobody says anything. Walt does this, and I'm just puffing, pooped, I'm through, leaning on the last storyboard, wondering what the hell he's going to say. He says, "You know, I've been thinking about Cinderella." Everybody says, "Yeah, Walt, Cinderella," and I said, "Oh, for Christ's sake." I just walked out of the room and went over to Alphonse's, and met Ted Sears and a couple of the guys over there, and had a couple of belts. I knew that from that point on, I was through. They shelved it, for two or three years, until they brought it back again and made it. But I was washed out. That's the way the guy operated. He'd throw out stuff like that.

[Kinney is listed as co-author (with John Lagen, Jack's brother Dick Kinney, MacDonald MacPherson, and Ted Sears) of an 87-page "Final Treatment of Peter Pan," dated March 26, 1946, that was housed in the Disney Archives in 1995. The action described in the treatment is generally similar to what wound up in the finished film more than six years later, but the treatment would have had the film open not at the Darlings' home but in Neverland, with the Indians' capture of the Lost Boys. That odd organization probably doomed it.]

Jane Kinney: That was not the first time out for Peter Pan; Ham Luske had played with it before.

Jack Kinney: So had Perce Pearce, and a lot of other people.

Jane Kinney: I remember Wind in the Willows (1949), that was one that you really took over, and pulled into shape.

Jack Kinney: I was a garbage can, really. I was a garbage can on Bongo [in Fun and Fancy Free (1947)]; they'd bought the story from Sinclair Lewis, and nobody could do anything with it.  We tried to do as much as we could with it, but there was no place to go; it was a short story, for heaven' s sake. Not like Dumbo (1941), which was a short story, too, and which he only paid 750 bucks for. Also, Dumbo was produced when Walt was in South America, and we finished the picture up before Walt got back. We brought that picture in for about $675,000, the lowest price for any picture that's ever been made at Disney's [officially, the negative cost was just under $800,000]. Walt hated it, for a long time, because he was away from it.

Jane Kinney: Your sports pictures were the first time there was any sort of limited animation at Disney's, although they didn't call it that. In How to Ride a Horse [in The Reluctant Dragon (1941)], you started that routine about the flipping of the book page; that took care of a lot of feet, but it was effective footage. I don't recall anyone else doing that at the studio. Then you got into things like  How to Play Football (1944), using those little dots instead of mob scenes. This was a way to cut costs. As I recall, the overhead at Disney's was 90 to 150 per cent at that time; it was very out of balance, and it was important to get these things in [at a reasonable cost]. Disney's got top-heavy on non-productive people, and that louses up your overhead like crazy.

Jack Kinney: They had more unit managers running around that didn't know what the hell they were doing. They would say, "How are you doing?" and they'd write down these little figures. You could give them anything and they'd believe you; they didn't know what the hell was happening.

Jane Kinney: That was one of the things that people felt was a problem from the time of the new studio. There were the artistic people, the people on the first floor and the second floor, and they could care less about management; in fact, they were turned off by that sort of thing. The third floor at that time was primarily management, and management never could understand the artists' routine. So then they got the bright idea of unit managers, which was supposed to be the happy medium between both. Ha ha and ho ho. It was always a running battle between the creative people and the business people.

Barrier: Dave Hand talked to me about himself as the guy who was supposed to be...

Jane Kinney: Right, he was supposed to be the bridge, and when I worked for him we were the bridge . You got to see both sides.and it was very helpful when I started working with the creative people.in a director's unit.

Barrier: You were on the third floor with Dave, I guess.

Jane Kinney: Yes. Later on, it branched out all over, but at one period, that was the over-simplified routine: animation on first floor, directors on second.

Barrier: Joe Grant was on the third floor, wasn't he?

Jane Kinney: Yes, he was in 3A.

Jack Kinney: Joe and Dick and those guys that were up there...Bill Peet...Ted Sears...

Barrier: Story people like Bill Peet were on the third floor?

Jane Kinney: The thing started on the third floor and drifted down to the first floor, which was animation. I will say, however, that 2E was always Roy Disney's, just like 3E was always Walt and his group.

Jack Kinney: Ham was on the third floor, too.

Jane Kinney: That was later, yes.

Milton Gray: So Walt made it a point to put Roy under him, literally.

Jack Kinney: That 's right.

[In conversation about The Reluctant Dragon, Jack mentioned that Jack Miller drew the "Baby Weems" sketches used in the film.]

Barrier: We've been hearing repeatedly that Walt would deliberately play people against one another, that he thought this kind of friction was creative.

Jack Kinney: That was one of his ploys. He'd tear out walls and cut new doors and things like that, to move people around. He kept everybody off balance.

Barrier: He kept them dependent on him, I guess.

Jack Kinney: I think that had a lot to do with it.

[After a tape change, we were talking about a story about Rudy Zamora, in the early days at Disney's: that he had kept putting off showing a scene to Walt, because he had done no work on it, and Walt finally forced him to bring the scene—a stack of blank paper with a few drawings on top—to Walt's office, where Walt exposed the deception by turning the sheets one by one, like the pages in a book. Jack said the story sounded plausible.]

Jack Kinney: That could be Rudy, sure. He would have done that. Same situation with Earl Duvall, a story guy who looked like the Prince of Wales . He was always with the boys at Leslie's, at noon—Ted Sears and Webb Smith and Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, Fergy, all those guys. Walt would come in and ask, ''How's the story going?" "Oh, it's fine, Walt, I'm going to have a meeting with you next week." This went on for three or four months. (Earl had already been fired, once before, and had come back.) Earl could care less; he was out playing. He drove a big Auburn convertible, and he didn't care. He was a pretty bright guy, and he could have done it, if he wanted to.

He was going down and charging hard-boiled eggs to Mary Flanagan, and buying cigars on the cuff, so when he left, he had a big tote with Mary Flanagan. She used to sell cigarettes and hard-boiled eggs and cigars and whatnot; she was at the entrance to the studio. And she also ran book. Earl was always going down there; he'd get three or four or five eggs a day, and get four or five cigars from Mary, and say, "Put it on, I'll get you after payday." Anyway, this went on for a while. Walt was a very nice man at that time, and he'd say, "When are we going to have the thing?" He had [Ferdinand Huszti] "Hootsie" Horvath, who was a Hungarian count, sit there in a dark room and make all of these story sketches. Hootsie Horvath was of the nobility, and he could draw like hell; he was like Albert Hurter, a very good draftsman. He was sitting in a dark room, and Earl was supposed to have the storyboards up there. Finally, Walt pinned Earl down; this was on a Friday.  Earl said, "Walt, I've got it all ready for you." I knew, and Ted Sears and Webb Smith knew, that he hadn't touched the thing, and we thought, how's he going to get out of this? He didn't; he just quit. Walt came in at 9 o'clock on Monday—"Where' s Earl?" "He's not here." Hootsie was sitting over in a dark corner, and the storyboards were blank, there wasn't anything up there. That was the last that Earl worked at the studio.

Jane Kinney: Did Ward Kimball ever say anything about a similar situation on The Three Caballeros (1945)? Gerry Geronimi had that particular sequence, and Ward had about forty feet to do, and Ward wants things right; he doesn't want to see a half-done thing. He wasn't ready for it; I don't know why, but he wasn't.  I used to have to go down every day and see how much footage he was doing, and he wasn't doing it. When it came time in the theater to show the rougb reel, this forty feet came on, and he had a sign made:  "This will be forty feet of very funny stuff. " Walt didn't like it too well. But Ward didn't have time to do the whole forty feet, and he didn't want to show any of it until all of it was done. It backfired.

Jack Kinney: Oh, it backfired like hell. Everybody else died; they thought it was very funny.

[We turned to Jack's work in the story department, before he became a director.J

Jack Kinney: I remember very distinctly when I first got into the story department, I worked on all of them with Ben Sharpsteen; he was directing at that time. I think Moving Day (1936) was one of the first. Moving Day was broken into sequences, and we had a Duck sequence, where he got the plumber's friend on his fanny—I'll digress on that for a moment. Dr. Morkovin was sent in to teach us how to put a story together, and all the story guys were in an apartment house, which was a miserable place to work—but it was nice on Friday, because we'd go out the front window and watch John Marshall play football, and then come back in, until the day the principal turned the water on us. He'd warned us three or four times, "If you fellows want to see the game, come in and pay the 25 cents." He turned the water on us one day, and we came back soaked. Of course, as soon as that happened Walt wanted to have a story meeting.

Anyway, Dr. Boris V. Morkovin was a cinematographer who was teaching at USC. At that time, they were bringing in guys like Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Wolcott, to tell us what humor was about, and give us lectures. Some of them were very good. Morkovin was Austrian, or Czech [actually, he was Russian]; he had a very thick accent, and he looked like a Russian-type character. I was supposed to tell the story on Moving Day, and I went through the thing, and he was taking notes. there were just the two of us in the room. Finally, I got through the story, and he said, "I have one question: what is this new character, the plumber's friend?"

We had definitely worked that sequence out with the Goof chasing the piano, and all that sort of thing. We had even bought an old piano, and broken it up for sound effects. We used to work out our stories very tightly; the business had to be there, period. We couldn't just throw something up and wait for the animators to take cae of it, because they'd goof it.

Art Babbitt had a very strange approach; he would have to shoot everything in 16mm. He was a camera buff at that time, and he would have Dick Lundy go through every action that was supposed to take place. Babbitt would take that, and put it on his desk—and he did that on another picture, called Baggage Buster (1941), which is another story. I hate to work with him, because he drew the Goof with wide shoulders, and Dick Lundy's body, with a Goof's head, and he insisted on five fingers on the Goof. Anyway, I was there when he shot the live action, and I said, Christ, why does he have to do this? The material was laid out and all spotted for him [on Moving Day], except that the Goof had wide shoulders and a human body. The Goof had no shoulders; he was a pear shape, and he had long arms and big feet. To have Babbitt take bows for the Goof, as against guys like Bill Roberts and particularly [John] Sibley, later—there was no comparison. Babbitt's stuff was stiff. It had to be, because he was following live action. He was a craftsman, and he worked the stuff out very carefully, but he was a miserable guy to work with, because he insisted on doing it his way.  Then you'd cut it later, because it wasn't moving: you'd pull stuff out. You'd clip frames, and whatnot.

They had a thing in sweatbox, a blackboard that would flip over on the screen, so that we could still see the pencil test and take a piece of chalk and say, "Exaggerate this, or that," or whatnot.  Lou Debney was working at that time as my assistant, and when Babbitt would come in we knew we were in for a bad scene. We got together, and we decided to throw it a little bit out of focus. Babbitt would get up and say, "I don't quite agree with that." He'd get up there and say, "I can't really see it." In the meantime, Debney was turning the focus down so that it starts almost to disappear, but comes in and out. When Babbitt got up to the screen, there was nothing there for him to see. He never did catch on to that.

Jane Kinney: I was thinking that you can always tell your stuff on the screen because, for one thing, you're always on 16s. Everything he times, he times on 16s.

Jack Kinney: That 's easier for the animator, easier for everybody. You can get a beat in 16—I don't mind a free beat that's pre-scored, but these other guys, like Burt Gillett, with his metronome—12's a bad beat for the in-betweener. Sometimes you have to put in 4's and stuff for the in-betweener, and the poor bastard's going crazy. But a 16 is a very flexible thing. You can break it down any way. I didn't see any reason for getting tricky with beats.

Jane Kinney: Another thing that you used to like to do a lot on your stuff was to have narration-over whenever possible

Jack Kinney: You can tell more story that way.

[The conversation turned to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), with Jack mentioning that he had directed the first half of the Ichabod segment, up to the dance, with Geronimi directing the second half.]

Jack Kinney: I never liked Ichabod, and I didn't like it right from the start, because I was working with Kahl, and Frank Thomas.

Jane Kinney: And Crosby.

Jack Kinney: I didn't mind Crosby; he did a nice job.  But the animators on the thing—

Jane Kinney: You handled Crosby beautifully at the recording, because Crosby does not like to be directed, and yet he doesn't know anything about animation. He just likes to get up and sing once.

Jack Kinney: One take, and get out.

Jane Kinney: And when you're doing things to animation, it is a little different. Jack was very clever with Crosby. He did more than one take for you, and you got what you wanted.

Jack Kinney: Anyway, I always felt that Crane should have been a loose goose, and instead of that, he came out with the most beautiful walks and stuff—and it wasn't funny, period. He had no character: he was just a guy who moved beautifully. And then when I took some of Frank Thomas's and Milt Kahl's stuff, and cut the hell out of it to make it move, these guys fell in love with every one of their damned drawings. You couldn 't let these guys go, because they would pad. Kahl had Brom Bones coming in and leaping over the horse; he did a magnificent job, but I said, "For Christ's sake, Kahl, you've got thirty-five feet of beautiful animation, and it should be done in ten."

Jane Kinney: That's why you have directors and why you have animators.

Jack Kinney: We did a pose test, from start to finish, of the extremes: but we used the extremes, we wouldn't throw them out, unless the extremes were wrong. You'd strengthen a pose here and there. We'd see it in continuity and say, okay, it needs tightening here, it needs a better gag here. We weren't throwing a lot of money out the window. I made a lot of money, on the budget bit, because we did everything in pose tests, and then said, put the in-betweens in. And it worked. I did that on Sir Puss in Boots [an 82-minute feature Kinney made after leaving Disney, and that has apparently never been released], and we did the whole damned picture with only two animators. If you don't have a good pose, you can forget it; you can put in 20 million in-betweens, and it's never going to come off; but if you've got a  good pose, it's going to come off. Art Babbitt insisted on doing everything, because he was a perfectionist; he wanted to see every drawing, and he'd scrutinize his in-betweeners; Bill Hurtz worked for him at the time.

Jane Kinney: They all worked differently.  I can think of one animator who didn't do a single pose test; mathematically, he would figure it out, and it would all be laid out on sheets, and go straight through.

Jack Kinney: I still think the pose test is the way to go, because I think animation should be a free and easy thing, you should have fun out of animation.

Jane Kinney: Jack has been lucky enough to always enjoy what he's been doing for work. If he enjoys doing a picture, it comes out, you can see it, it 's great; if he doesn't enjoy it...

Jack Kinney: I hated those last few [Goofys, in the '50s]. Walt at that time had probably read a book about psychology, and he was shot in the ass with this type of thinking, at that time. I said, "I don't know why we don 't put a human's face on  Goofy," and he said, "Well, try that." That lasted for an hour, then he called and said, "No, wait a minute..."    So I was stuck with these things, and I hated every one of them. Then I had to get into some of those chipmunk things. That was [Jack] Hannah's cup of tea; I didn't want to step on his toes, and I know damned well he didn't want me to.

Jane Kinney: Wasn't that about the time when the powers that be felt that from a merchandising standpoint, the Goof wasn't going to be good, and they were phasing out the Goof as a short subject, and concentrating on those characters like the chipmunks?  It turned out that merchandising on the Goof held up; it's very good right now.

Jack Kinney: Earlier I was stuck with trying to do some pictures on Mickey Mouse. That was Walt's favorite, really. The first one I did , as a story guy, all on my own, was The Brave Little Tailor (1938).  It went through Burt Gillett first, and he blew it like crazy, and then Bill Roberts; that was his first direction. That was the first picture I ever did on my own. Walt wouldn't ever look at a storyboard [as the story man was telling it]; he would always be down here when he should be up here. So I took the storyboard and had them shoot it frame-by-frame, as the first Leica reel. Our story meetings were always at night, on our own time; they'd get all of the people in the sweatboxes, and go through the story. For a cue I'd snap my fingers and Earl Hurd [would turn to another frame on the projector]. It went over like a house afire.

The following indented passage was deleted on the copy of the transcript returned by Jack Kinney, with this note: "This cut is Jane's not mine," and no further explanation.

Jack Kinney: Everybody got on that bandwagon, and then Perce Pearce got on it, with Wind in the Willows, I think, or Bambi. He was going to do a real class job, and he had pre-scored piano, and lots of sound effects, and the presentation on that picture—I happened to be there, when they ran this thing in the sweatbox—they had several assistant directors trying to synch this thing together, and they got out of synch, of course.

Jane Kinney: They did not; I was doing it [laughing].

Jack Kinney: Anyway, he spent $250,000 on the presentation, and that's what killed that.

Gray: How was it possible, in those days, to spend $250,000 on a presentation?

Jack Kinney: Very easily. They could spend so much time developing these things, and every sketch was beautifully done, and rendered like it was a fine etching.

Gray: Yes, but that's one third the entire budget of a Dumbo.

Jack Kinney: Sure. But at that point, it didn't mean a thing, because they were riding high.

Jane Kinney: The figure is flexible; what you're saying is that it was terribly expensive.

Jack Kinney: It was over $200,000, I know. And it was done well, except that the story hadn't been worked out.

Barrier: Eric Larson mentioned the work that had been done on The Wind in the Willows before the war, and how he was a sequence director for a week, and then they pulled him down and made him an animator under, I think, [Wilfred] Jackson,

Jack Kinney: Jackson handled it, and Algar handled it, and Perce Pearce was in on it, and I finally finished it. We had to cut it down.

Barrier: Why was it necessary to cut it down? What was the story problem?

Jane Kinney: The man you need to ask is no longer around, and that's Walt. Walt was a tremendous salesman, and he seemed to have a built-in sense of what was saleable, at that time. And for some reason, Wind in the Willows just didn't seem to hit for him.

Barrier: It has always seemed to me that Walt was uneasy with stories like Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland, stories by English authors.

Jack Kinney: I missed Alice, and thank God I did; that was a terrible fiasco. Ken Darby was there when they first started the thing, and he happened to [have migraine headaches] , and he said that Lewis Carroll had migraine headaches, and this story always appealed to the migraine people, they understood it. Ken Darby has written some beautiful pieces of music. On "Johnny Appleseed" [in Melody Time (1948)] he worked with Jackson, and he had written [ "The Lord Is Good to Me"J, and he played it for all the guys, and we all thought it was great. Walt had a tin ear; he couldn't even carry a beat. But he would fake it. Anyway, we had a story meeting on "Johnny Appleseed," and this was the theme that was going to go through it. He played it, and it's fine music, and when he got through, everybody looked at Walt and expected him to say that it was great—which it was. He said, "You know, that sounds to me like New Deal music. " He hated Roosevelt. When Dewey lost to Truman, oh, God, he fell apart on that one. Ken Darby got to his feet—he was a tall, lean guy—and he said, "That happens to be a cross-section of one man' s opinion," and walked out. The story meeting was over. Ken was still under contract, but he never wrote another piece of music for Disney.

Barrier: Talking back to Walt was really risky, wasn't it? Kimball was talking yesterday about all the ways you had to play Walt to get him to come around to your point of view. He said that if you had an idea you really wanted to get into a story, you kind of put it over to one side, and disparaged it, and then Walt would say, "What's wrong with that idea? Let's put it in."

Jack Kinney: He did the same thing with me, on "All the Cats Join In" [in Make Mine Music (1946)] or one of those things. I think it was that, but it could have been something else. We did some very rough sketches—scratches, like storyboards now. We put them up for staging, and the business. He came in, and we went through the story, and he says, "This needs tightening up. Tighten it up, and call me in." So we tightened it up. We got Tom Oreb, and he took the same drawings, and put them underneath his drawing board [and made more polished versions of the same sketches]. This time we put two or three pushpins in each drawing. Walt came in and he said, "Yeah, yeah, that's fine."

Jane Kinney: The negative approach worked very well with Walt.

Jack Kinney: He could be a charming man, he could be a son of a bitch.  You never knew which way he was going to be.

Barrier: The one guy I've heard mentioned as someone who would talk back to him is Bill Peet.

Jack Kinney: He got kicked out, too. Bill was a very stubborn guy.

Jane Kinney:I can't think of one person who talked back to him and survived, truly. I can think of a lot of people who stayed around the studio because they yessed him a lot, even though they didn't have much talent.

Jack Kinney: Oh, there were a lot of those. I think Joe Grant stood up to him a lot. There were a few guys, but no, they didn't last. Dave Hand would stand up for himself. Dave was put in a position where he was, actually, second in command. Dave was an outspoken guy, and he could speak very well in front of people. They used to have these seminars at night, and the guys who had been there would teach the younger guys how to cut scenes, and so forth. Dave made one big mistake—and this was all transcribed, and everybody got a copy of this—he was trying to push everybody, he was like a football coach. In this speech, he said, "Every one of you guys has a chance to make it up the ladder—"

Jane Kinney: Was this about the bonus? Wasn't that the important thing?

Jack Kinney: No, this was before that.

Jane Kinney: Wasn't that the important turning point?

Jack Kinney: You might know that more than I would. But this particular time, he said, " I"m going up that ladder, and you can push me up that ladder, but I'm going to be one step ahead of you all the time."

Barrier: Didn't he say something like, "You should be trying to get my job, just like I'm trying to get Walt' s job "?

Jack Kinney: That's it; that's really a better quote.

Jane Kinney: I wasn't at the main studio at the time he was at the zenith of his power; I was over at the Vine Street branch [where, as Didier Ghez has reminded me, John Rose's story research department was housed during most of 1939]. But even there, it filtered down to me. I may be completely wrong, but at one point there, he was supposed to help get things in on budget and on time, and there was a bonus situation in which he promised people things would happen, and he felt very sincere about it, and when the time came that there was to be a payoff, either the studio was not in a position to honor it, or there had been a change of plans from upstairs—in any event, he had egg on his face.  Either he had promised it without Walt's knowledge, or without Walt understanding, or in some way there was a goof-up. I was miles away, in research, and it only filtered down to us, but I got the impression that was the beginning of the misunderstanding—and he stood up for it, because he felt strongly about it, because he had promised. That might have been the turning point, when he was eased out of the No. 2 spot back into production supervisor, which he was also good at, but it was a comedown to his way of thinking.

Jack Kinney: I think you're right. It was one of the things that contributed.

Kinney Bongo Unit

The Kinney unit during work on the Bongo section of Fun and Fancy Free (1947). From left, Don DaGradi, layout; John Lagen, story; Jane Sinclair (later Jane Kinney), secretary and assistant director; Jack Kinney; John Niendorff, layout; Dick Kinney, story; Lance Nolley, layout; Art Riley, background artist; Ted Selden, assistant director and film editor. Courtesy of Jack Kinney.

[Posted February 11, 2016]

Home  |  Capsules  |  Commentary  |  Essays  |  Funnyworld Revisited  |  Interviews  |  Books  |  Links  |  Bio  |  Feedback