Our consulting historians Paula Sigman-Lowery and Jeff Kurtti teamed up to provide this remembrance of another of Walt’s great collaborators.
A frequent analogy used in describing the creative collaboration of Walt Disney and his staff is that of a great conductor supervising and guiding every nuance of an artistically brilliant and technically outstanding symphony orchestra.
“Walt was an extraordinary man,” legendary animator and Imagineer Marc Davis said, “He looked at us not so much like we were employees, but we were people to create with—like a certain type of pencil.”
But Walt did not simply categorize his talents and use them in that single capacity, instead he looked well beyond their obvious gifts, seeing skills and aptitudes they frequently didn’t even know they possessed.
“He always asked you to do something that was far beyond what you thought you were capable of doing,” Disney Legend Alice Davis recalls, “and he always made you surprise yourself by reaching that goal.”
Disney matte artist Peter Ellenshaw agreed. “This was the essence of Walt. He made you feel that you could do it.”
Bill Justice, who passed away last week at the age of 97, had a lengthy and personal experience with Walt Disney’s team building, as well as his flexibility in identifying the talents of his team.
“He had a great facility to know what you’d like to do,” Bill said. “I refer to him as the greatest casting director. He would assign people to what they liked to do, and consequently got the best work out of them.”
Bill was quick to point out that this wasn’t limited to just artists, but extended to everyone, and to a variety of traits beyond artistic talents. “Walt’s casting eye included everyone at the Studio, not just the creative people,” Bill explained. “He tried to know everyone’s likes and dislikes.”