A year and a half ago, I had a handful of sidewalk conversations with one of the most interesting women the Marigny has to offer: Eva Schneider. In halting English — weirdly broken for someone who’s lived in the U.S. for most of her life — she told me about the years she spent working at Disney Studios.
Shortly thereafter, I began receiving little missives in my mail slot: short letters offering more details of her career as a professional animator. They were sometimes hard to follow, so I skimmed them and filed them away, hoping to transcribe them at some point.
Apparently, I’ve reached “some point”. I recently sat down with Eva’s letters and started to type, keeping her curious capitalizations, spellings, and punctuation intact.
In the end, I’m sorry to say, there’s not a lot of new information about her or about Disney & Co. In fact, sometimes, she repeats herself, occasionally on the same page. And her story follows a predictable path: that of an artist working in a medium that’s changed by emerging technology — technology that she finds cold and inferior. She dismisses the computer-animated Disney films of today, and it would be easy to write her off as yet another person who’d rather bash technology than adapt and use it.
Unfortunately, Eva talks very little about her experience as one of the few women working in a field dominated by men, or about her impressions of Walt Disney’s political/world views. But even though I didn’t get what I was hoping for, the act of writing seems to have been cathartic for her. And so, I kept transcribing. Because I know that when I’m her age (90, I’m guessing), I’d want the chance to be heard.
I haven’t seen Eva on the street in months — maybe a year. I don’t know if she’s still alive, but I can’t find an obit for her. Perhaps she was taken in by her relatives. Or maybe, knowing her, she’s taken them in. She’s kind of spunky.
If you’re interested in what she had to say, the transcriptions are after the jump.
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Letter #1 (with attachments)
Hereby a complete, timely News Paper observation (I WON’T NEED IT BACK). Do read it very carefully, as it sums up the rapid CULTURAL CHANGE (due to the ever increasing modern technology). WORLDWIDE, not just the U.S.A.
FASTER & FASTER, encompassing MORE & MORE with LESS & LESS individual attention. Impressions coming on fast and getting crowded out fast by ever new fast impressions.
Initial Disney styles…SAME FATE. GONE, and therefore not missed by the unacquainted new generations.
Trying to go back to initially meticulous old styles would be way too slow, and therefor [sic] way too expensive. Life rushes on and on, impressions being glimpsed at and soon forgotten due to onrushing further & new styles. Good or bad – the new generations do not know, not care what had been & what won’t come back. CANNOT COME BACK.
Walt Disney must have reused this in the 1950s. I was a steady employee at the Walk Disney Studio from March 3, 1950 till March 1968 – 18 years. So I left Disney’s some 41 years ago.
I knew everyone by sight (HIGH-UP, or WALT…) by walking by out in the halls or outdoors… (do not greet, just walk by minding your own business – else reprimanded by your own boss, or fired.) And one knew all the Artists & Workers & Laborers, as colleagues. STUDIO GOSSIPS and RUMORS…good people, bad people, and not so bad people, and fakes, and destroyers of colleagues. One had to be careful. Also WALT & UPPER ESCHELON STRONGLY REPUBLICAN (employees NOT to speak up against Vietnam War!). Also they patriotically did hire a whole group of talented young Vietnam War Veterans, graduated from a G.I. Bill at Los Angeles Art School into the Disney Cartoon Department. Our Vietnam War colleagues.
Dave Kehr, “Masters of Animation, Old and Old School”, New York Times
Brooks Barnes, “Disney Posts Strong Profit Despite Weakness in Films”, New York Times
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By then, the Vietnam War had started. And young protesters were coming out everywhere in demonstrating masses. Walt Disney & the Executives saw to it, that all ensuing HIPPY CULTURES strictly were forbidden on the Disney Studio lot.
No hippy clothing, no long hair, no beards, no anti-talks [?] or anti-shouts. Walt wanted his enterprise to be strictly conservative. And also because there were GUIDED DISNEY STUDIO TOURS, showing around every work-day for visitors by special appointment from the U.S.A., and people from all around the world. Mostly in relatively small appointed groups, & Disney employed explayning [sic] steady tour-guides. All in all, the Disney Studio and Disney business enterprise had a honorably steady reputation, compareably [sic] with other bad Hollywood Studios, or Some of all of them.
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Being a new PENCIL DRAWING animation employee at Disney’s in 1950, (“PETER PAN”) was already in the middle of production. And also the very foundation of an overall SCREEN CARTOONISTS UNION with raised salaries for every employee: INKER, PAINTER, ANIMATOR, ASSISTANT ANIMATOR, PENCIL INBETWEENER….making them work even HARDER & FASTER (increased production) else their work output cost them too much.
Therefore SHORT-CUTS in PRODUCTION…no more each individual pencil drawing formerly hand-inked (inked by hand) on too a numbered cellophane sheet. THE INKING DEPARTMENT (all woman) therefore got CLOSED for good. Faster, simpler production for studio PROFITS, please!
And it showed awefully [sic], starting with BAD “The Lady & the Tramp) after “Peter Pan”, and from then on. With SOME EXCEPTION (maybe) “JUNGLE BOOK” (Africa & its Musik [sic]). They even had a great song with the huge Chief of the Apes in it. “OOH BE DOOH”, “OOH BE DOOH”, “I WANNA BE LIKE YOOH”. Terrific colors & beat. They especially flew in LOUIS PRIMA from New Orleans for the RECORDING. I did see him on the studio lot. TERRIFFIC!! THAT BEAT & VOICE! NOW L. PRIMA IS LONG DEAD.
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Brothers originally from KANSAS City, MISSOURY [sic]
He could not really draw. But it was said, that he was an amazingly to the point DIRECTOR of all Disney Cartoon Films. With a quick eye, he approved or disapproved, or changed lengths and details in every film presentation. And he just about NEVER then changed his mind afterwards. It just SAT successfully, and therefore proved him to be right.
ROY O. DISNEY
Mr. Roy had NOTHING to do with Disney film & entertainment production. Nothing else than the OVERALL FINANCES. Which turned into a fantastically wide field of all the DISNEY ENTERPRISES.
Walt had some years long given the impression of an ageing ailing man. He did not want to be disturbed by employees greeting him. He once (towards his end) did speak to me in the hall, when I worked evening-overtime. And when I walked back to my work-room he still stood in the hall, waiting for the elevator. And HE WAVED TO ME (!) when I walked by. And I just silently smiled & walked on. HAS ANYONE EVER BEEN WAVED TO BY WALT DISNEY?!!! I had not provoced [sic] it, looking straight ahead and walking along.
One day at mid-morning a sudden rumor exploded. Someone had just heard on the radio WALT DISNEY had died at the hospital. LUNG CANCER. One hour later a message from management: EVERYONE GO HOME, WORK-DAY is OVER. It was 11 A.M. The following day was an ordinary work-day (8 A.M. – 5 P.M.) again.
And a vast lay-off of worker’s departments (not artists) started immediately. No public funeral. It already had been attended to privately by the small & immediate family.
Lay-offs in the Animation Department also, I could stay on a little, 1 ¼ year longer, then had to work for FILMATION STUDIO (BILL COSBY T.V. SERIES etc. etc.). I think DISNEY merged with PIXAR by now. And the once beautiful cartoon movies are gone for good, not to return. I certainly would NOT like to work there again. I had been LUCKY with old.
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DISNEY CARTOON SHORTS PICTURES (Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, etc. etc.) got eliminated from the Disney Productions, starting around 1951, before & around MID 1950s.
From then on JUST FULL LENGHS [sic] FEATURE LENGTHS PICTURES, each taking a year, or years for full-staff to work on. “SNOW WHITE (1930s) had been Disney’s very first full-length feature in full animation. A world-wide NOVELTY & huge success (great fame, praise, & financial profits). I saw it in ZURICH (SWITZERLAND) when I was about 10 years old. Everyone just knew & started to talk about the name WALT DISNEY!
In March 1950 I started to work at the large Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, Calif. The room I started to work in happened to be only some doors from the old animator FRED MOORE’s work room down our hall-way. He was the designer & sole animator of the SEVEN DWARFS [sic] in “SNOW WHITE”. He kept his door mostly shut while working, so no one saw him only mainly when he came down the hall to the little fountain at its end, where he rinsed & washed his coffee cup.
A short old little man, unfailingly always softly well-meaning & gracious to everyone. That was FREDDY MOORE. Known as an Alcoholic. As such he would have long been terminated at the studio. But I guess for all that fantastic work (design and animation on “Snow White’s Dwarfs”) Walt kept him on and on at the Studio, as long as Fred wanted to.
One morning, only a few weeks after I had started to work in that nearby room, there were sudden startling new around: FRED MOORE had DIED LAST NIGHT!! We then went to his funeral, it was the day before THANKSGIVING 1950. Walk did not attend his funeral, only Bill Anderson (one of his top Studio executives) in honor of FRED MOORE. – Those 7 DWARFS on “SNOW WHITE” were brilliantly designed in individual Looks & individual PERSONALITIES. Of course the STORY DEPARTMENT of a few members had created the DIALOGUE & DEEDS & LOOKS, and then FRED MOORE designed & illustrated to their further approval. It was (IS) MASTERFUL, and cannot be matched, I think.
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ADDITION TO “SNOW WHITE”
All MOVIE THEATRES in the CITY of ZURICH (SWITZERLAND) in the 1930s had only 2 shows each day (7 days a week). 3 P.M. and again 8 P.M. Show: (1) GENERAL REPORT, on “WEEK IN REVIEW”. (LIFE ACTION.) (2) Then a “Donald Duck” or “Goofy” short movie of Disney’s. (3) And then THE FULL FEATURE OF THE PRESENT PROGRAM, “SNOW WHITE” this time.
This time (1930s) it was the sensationally brand-new Walt Disney full-length CARTOON FEATURE “SNOW WHITE”. EVERYBODY WENT TO SEE IT. In unusually social light conversation… Everybody asked Everybody “HAVE YOU SEEN SNOW WHITE?” The picture was running at the “CAPITOL” theatre in Zurich. All positive, admiring responses.
But…then right away: Mothers phoned “CAPITOL” theatre: their children cannot sleep & are afraid of the dark, after having watched THAT HORRIBLY MEAN Witch. And to TOTALLY CUT OFF THAT FRIGHTENING SCENE WITH THE WITCH IN THAT 3PM show, when children attend.
Therefore the “CAPITOL” THEATRE decided right away, to exclusefly [sic] run that very part at ONLY THEIR 8 P.M. SHOW when children were in bed & sleeping. Showing it only after 8 P.M.
I now remember another instance while working at the studio: A work man, doing repairs out in the hall near my room, talking with me in a casual way, said to me: “The Disney Cartoon Movies are good & O.K. Exept [sic]…but they in part are so FRIGHTENING (Snow White) etc. and so VERY SAD (Bambi) etc. for CHILDREN (and grown ups)! A work-man’s observation & experience. And I admit: SO TRUE.
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Yesterday Sunday, I had meant to close this entire report of my memories. But while cleaning out Today Monday, I happened to come upon hereby enclosed earlier sheet that I had assumed I long had dropped off to you. I am still enclosing it hereby for you.
It really also had been refreshing to myself, digging up from my mind some long almost forgotten memories once more, and in retrospect now even more clear for me to understand!
Looking back I retired at 63 in California, and moved to New Orleans in 1966 to retire for good at 68. That was 43 years ago, never regretting the moving to here.
I had met quite a few great talents at the studios, and so are even famous with screen credits, and had even worked with (under) them. So many interesting & great aqueintences [sic] with people.
But (in closing this report now)…the envies, the intriegues [sic] & backbiting amongst collegues [sic] & other people from other departments one is not even acquainted with. Overall, not just to me. At Filmation Studio in the end I worked with (amongst others) old VIRGIL ROSS (AGE ALMOST LATE 70s, the inventor & animator of BUGS BUNNY at Warner Bros. Cartoons Inc. He told me: he really never cared, he just kept on working in peace, did not react to it & let it roll down his back. (Best advice anyone could get).
But one did see it happen: some less achieved & less conspicuous good workers got squeezed out that way, & got laid off!
Time ago in Europe, when I was young, the program at the movie theatres was
(1) FILMED “WEEK IN REVIEW.”
(2) AMERICAN SHORT CARTOON MOVIE (DISNEY: “DONALD DUCK, GOOFY, PLUTO…” OR: WARNER BROS, “BUGS BUNNY”.” OR: METRO GOLDWYN MAYER [M.G.M.] TOM & JERRY (GREAT STUFF of many decades ago. NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN…DONALD DUCK (DISNEY) & GOOFY, BUGS BUNNY (WARNER BROS.) TOM & JERRY (METRO GOLDWYN MAYER M.G.M.)
(3) MAIN FULL-LENGTH ADVERTISED FILM.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer M.G.M. always ended their little Cartoon Pic. with letters on screen: “THAT’S ALL, FOLKS”.
Therefore I’m going to say here the very same things on my numerous Disney Reports: “THAT’S ALL FOLKS”.