Disney’s Nine Old Men & Me

Me with Ken Lounsbery, center, and Ted Thomas. In 1989, their fathers were both honored as Disney Legends, making their families very proud.

Me with Ken Lounsbery, center, and Ted Thomas. In 1989, their fathers were both honored as Disney Legends, making their families very proud.


Anyone who’s a Baby Boomer or older, remembers. We remember what it was like to grow up with Walt Disney in our lives. I’m not referring to the studio or any of the theme parks, but the man. Mr. Walt Disney himself.

We watched “The Mickey Mouse Club” and I wanted to be Annette. I learned to spell my very first words by watching this series every afternoon.

M-i-c-k-e-y M-o-u-s-e.

Remember the catchy tune?

Sunday nights meant “The Wonderful World of Disney.” As soon as we saw Tinkerbell flutter across the TV screen and heard the words,  “The world is a carousel of color,” our hearts would soar with anticipation.

Walt Disney would introduce the episode and the anticipation and exhilaration of watching was immense. My favorite episodes were the animated ones.

If you visited the 1964 New York World’s Fair, as I did many times, you got to see Walt’s vision for the future. “It’s a Small World After All” made its debut there. So did the GE World of Tomorrow, which was designed by Disney. It was all simply magical.

Disney aficionados have at least one animated film that is near and dear to their hearts. Maybe even two or three. For me it was “Sleeping Beauty” and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.”

Disney's Nine Old Men

Disney’s Nine Old Men

Walt Disney knew how to capture our imaginations (and night terrors). We fell in love with his world, but how many of us knew about the Nine Old Men that helped bring that world to life through their artistic talent?

They were dubbed Nine Old Men by Disney himself, because that’s what FDR called the nine Supreme Court Justices.

Collectively, Disney’s Nine were responsible for animating everything from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “The Rescuers” in 1977.  They were pioneers, visionaries and ground-breakers. They were passionate about their work and helped make dreams come true for boys and girls all over the world.

Last week, the California Center for the Arts invited me to again serve as moderator for a panel on animation, and when I heard the topic would be Disney animation I nearly passed out.

In case you don’t remember the last time I moderated a panel and suddenly became an expert on comic strips, or maybe you weren’t reading my blog back then, check out my post, Excuse Me–is My Comfort Zone Showing?

But what I was asked to do it this time, I didn’t hesitate. For I am a diehard Disney fan.

Disney is part of who I am, for better or worse. As a child, I was traumatized when Bambi’s mother was killed. I was shocked by Cruela De Vil’s unfathomable desire to make a fur coat out of puppies. Maleficent made a very menacing dragon and Cinderella’s Stepmother, well, I wouldn’t wish her on anyone, except maybe the Isis terrorists.

Some Disney films I never liked. I’m talking to you, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Fantasia.” If you ask me, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was the original crazy clone artist and Alice’s world was just too topsy-turvy for my tastes. I’m convinced that the White Rabbit must’ve worked for Bernie Madoff on Wall Street.

But Disney taught me to believe in happily ever-after’s, although where that got me I’ll never know. I learned, too, that lying makes your nose grow long, and true love can only be capped by sharing a bowl of spaghetti. Finally, it instilled in me a desire to stay young at heart and never grow old.

Walt, with his comforting smile and American spirit, was the uncle I wished I had. Through his shows, he’d talk directly to us, never “down” to us, and there was something honest and appealing about him. Maybe it was his slow, measured, no-nonsense way of chatting.

The panel that I moderated consisted of the following guests:

Before the discussion, we watched a documentary that Ted Thomas, had produced, titled “Growing Up with Nine Old Men.” Then, I took the podium and asked these men a slew of questions before opening it to Q&A. It sure was exciting to hear their memories of their dads and what it was like visiting the Disney Studio, where Walt knew each of them by name, and didn’t seem to mind when he was hit by one of their slingshots.

But of all the things we talked about—from how Disney films were made back then and synced to the voice tracks, to the kind of birthday parties these kids enjoyed (train rides on a locomotive track set up around one of their homes as well as private screenings of Disney movies for their friends) I kept hearing one refrain over and over:

Charmed life.

That’s what their fathers gave them. A charmed life.

And to the rest of us, they gave us so much more.

16 thoughts on “Disney’s Nine Old Men & Me

    • Oh Kim, and those Siamese Cats were so naughty, weren’t they? Another film I really enjoyed, came out when I was older, maybe even a teen, was Aristocats. Remember that one? I loved it so much. I think one of the main voices was Zsa Zsa Gabor. What a treat that film was. Made me want to see Paris!

  1. Like you I loved those shows growing up. They were staples in my house and we gathered around the television to watch. The first Disneyland was also a staple for us, every year we made the trip from my grandparents house in San Clemente up to Anaheim for the weekend, all through the 60’s, missing only the years we were in Europe.

    Monica, I am so envious of your charmed life. What a treat this must have been for you!

    • Lucky you for being close enough to visit Disneyland with your grandparents. My first visit wasn’t until my daughter was born. She was but a baby and my son was six. I went and practically cried the entire time because seeing all the characters brought back so many wonderful childhood memories. I started taking them every year, slowing down as they got older, but like me, they never completely lost interest. They still love going once in a while, but lately it’s so expensive it’s hard to justify. Sigh.

  2. Bambi’s mother dying was the first tragedy in cartoons I ever saw. Most other characters come back to life, which is what I expected then. By the way, I’m glad you didn’t pass out, being that you needed to share this with us. Good write-up.

    • Me, too, Totsy! Man, I cried and cried for Bambi. It was wrong on so many levels to let that poor deer cry. Didn’t you leave the theater hating “Man”? In the film, they always referred to humans as Man.

  3. What a privilege and honor for you to moderate a discussion on such a legend we all share in our memory bank. My dad worked for GE for many years and I remember his excitement back in 1964. It also, coincided with the strides his company was making in the space industry. We certainly were living the World of Tomorrow. One thing about viewing a Disney animation, you walk away with a new favorite. How can one pick a favorite? I agree One Hundred One Dalmatians was delightful. Cinderella was unforgettable when I got to see it at age seven. And Beauty and the Beast with the computerized 3D was breathtaking. Congratulations to you for being invited to facilitate conversation and discussion with those who lived so close to the creators. You had to have been floating higher than Prince Ali’s flying carpet.

    • Georgette, do you have any ideas how many times I went in to see the GE World of Tomorrow? About 100. I was fortunate enough to live really close to the World’s Fair. We went just about every weekend and that was my number one place to stop at. Wow, it was so COOL! My second favorite place was It’s a Small World pavilion. That was the best World’s Fair ever!

  4. Things have a way of coming full circle: my mother loved watching ‘Lady and the Tramp’ (my all time fave Disney animated film) with me; I have memories of watching ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Aladdin’ more than once with Sara when she was young, and I would still watch them. DVDs have revolutionized our lives, haven’t they? Just the other night I watched ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ a surprisingly delightful film that brought back memories of ‘Mary Poppins’ (and also filled me in on some details about the life of P.L. Travers). He was an icon, for sure, and I can readily see how moderating this particular panel would have its charm. Lucky you, Monica.

    • They sure do. I remember when The Little Mermaid was released. My son was little and my daughter not yet born. He and I went to see it and loved it. He fell for Sebastian and I loved the music. I remember thinking at the time, this sounds like it could be a Broadway musical. So, no surprise when it actually became one! Beauty and the Beast, too. These are my new favorites. I love “Up” as well. Oh my goodness, can’t watch it without getting all ver klempt. 😉 Ditto for Toy Story 3. The Disney (and Pixar) magic does it again!

  5. That’s incredible Monica. So proud of you. What an immense thrill. Loved this post.

    I grew up with Walt Disney myself. Not having t.v. until I was 10, in the late 70s I remember going to my cousin’s house to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I don’t know if that began my love affair with Tinkerbelle, or if it is just seeing Walt in Black and White… I am a die hard Disney enthusiast. I still tear up when I watch the parade at the parks with my kids, watching them, watch their favorite characters and knowing exactly what that joy means.
    Cinderella’s step-mother is perfect for Isis, she should teach them a thing or two. I think Maleficient always traumatized me a bit. Although when I saw the film recently, I loved how they interpreted her.
    Before I go, I wanted to tell you… My girls have read a series of books called The Kingdom Keepers. They are a group of children selected by a friend of Walt’s, to keep the parks safe from the Overtakers or Disney Villains who come to life and want to get rid of the happy from the happiest place on earth. I read the books myself and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed learning about sound stages etc.

    • MM, Tinkerbell is my favorite!! Though I never liked that she was mean to Wendy, I do like her spunk. She’s feisty and has lots of moxie. Glad you agree about Cinderella’s step-mother. Boy is she sinister! Never heard of the Kingdom Keepers but now I may need to look into them. Wish the series was around when I was a kid. Sigh.

  6. How lucky you are, Monica, to have served as moderator of such an interesting panel discussion! Disney has been creating fantasy worlds all of our lives, so it’s only natural we’d think of him as “Uncle Walt.” Visiting DisneyWorld and sitting through countless movies of his really brings back a slew of memories, most of them good (though you’re right, those witches and stepmommies were frightening!). Thanks for a stroll into the past!

  7. I loved both tv shows and especially Sunday night when The Wonderful World of Disney came on, I think at 7pm. I didn’t get to go to any of those wonderful movies as a kid but I bought them all for my children when they were little and the VCR made it possible. I didn’t know about the nine old men until this blog. I recently rented Saving Mr. banks and saw the lengths Walt Disney went through to bring Mary Poppins to the screen. Disneyland is still my favorite place and my kids who are 21 and 24. This was a great way to wake up this morning! Thank you!

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