Jan 29, 2007

The Ropes at Disney's

Thre's a great piece of animation history posted this morning over on Cartoon Brew--the pamplet for new hires of 1943 "The Ropes at Disney's". The copy scanned is courtesy of the wonderful folks at the Van Eaton gallery.
Jerry Beck writes of the info presented in the book with a wry suggestion that working at Disney's in the early 40s wasn't necessarily "the happiest place on earth"--but I have to disagree. While he points out the draconian statement that the Studio makes employees pay for personal phone calls, I'm reminded of my first job at fairly liberal Warner Bros--where some artists used the phone so much that the long distance bills went sky-high and a couple of guys were at least confronted with those bills. And that was when we had our own phones--that only took about 3 years. Until then there were, I kid you not, wall phones for our use--about one for every 20 artists or so, and if a call came in for you from your mother, girlfriend or doctor, etc. it had to go to the main switchboard as there were no extensions. The receptionist would get on the PA system to let the entire studio know about it so you could find a wall phone to regale your colleagues with your business, personal or otherwise. I got to hear a lot of guys fileding job offers from Ralph Bakshi(then working on staffing "Cool World") or chatting with John K about the Ren & Stimpy pilot they'd been working on every few minutes.
Anyway, the simple fact that the workers at Disney's had any access to their own lines had to be exceptional--another reason it was the Tiffany's of studios. I'm pretty sure WB of the war years had, well--the WB setup of 1990.

All in all, reading through the pamplet just makes me wish--again--that I had been able to work at Disney's in 1943. Also that if I'd lived back then that I'd been male, as the other glaring thing is the presentation of the cute illustrations throughout: a goofy everyman animator gets down to business, while his female counterpart--an ersatz Fred Moore type--does little but innocently strike various alluring attitudes, the better to be ogled. She does make use of the studio library, so we know she's a serious girl--when she's not penning personal letters to the goofy guy(given as an example of a timewasting no-no).
It's all wonderful stuff and in good fun(there's actually a pretty arch sense of humor for this kind of guide--another proof that this was a different kind of sweatshop).

Some other interesting tidbits: artists were paid every two weeks; Disney's boyhood buddy Walt Pfeiffer was the got-to man for admission into the storied, males-only Penthouse Club; women got 10 days paid sick leave--men only 5(girls and boys, can you guess why that was? A rare example of reverse bias in the workplace!); employees paid "a minimal cost" towards their health insurance, and overtime nights for production were as well organized(and no doubt frequent) an occurance as to be planned for Tuesday and Thurday nights--I call that civilized!

It's tremedous fun to read through it--I almost paid 20 bucks for a xeroxed copy on Ebay a year ago--thanks to Mike Van Eaton and Jerry Beck, now I don't have to, and neither do you. Take a walk down nostalgia lane, then, and see how much--and how little--has changed in 60 years.

images from Cartoon Brew, courtesy of Mike Van Eaton


Max Ward said...

I just got done reading the CartoonBrew post, and I agree with you. Working at the wartime Disney studios seems alot happier and human than working at the HR-tyranny plagued studios of today.

My two cents on the reverse bias: Men should be able to fight off illness faster than women was the mind frame of that time.

MrFun said...

Hey, it was sweet at the Disney studio even in the fifties. Many of us had private offices, everyone had their own phone, and lunch at the commissary could be had for under a dollar.

Though an old boy's club, being male did not get you into the Penthouse Club. It required a lot more than that. Still, I used to sneak upstairs if only to get a look at Freddie Moore's wonderful mural. Totally un-PC by today's standards, his cute girls were wonderful.

Having said that, the biggest thing missing in animation today is the fun. It's sadly lacking in every studio, and if you think I'm wrong -- then you don't know what fun is.

Ward Jenkins said...

I nominate Mr. Fun to officially start his own blog. It's been a long time coming, Floyd!

Hans Perk said...

mrfun - you are RIGHT! The business is permeated with the search for the quick buck, the "We'll do it in India cheaper" mentality, and animation as such is no more than an extension for executives pushing cheap tv series! I started in the bizz BECAUSE it was fun. I saw it become a chore. I only fear that WE are the only ones that can turn that around: we need to get the INTEREST back into the medium. Get folks interested in what makes things move. Get to the basics of Thought Processes, and why movement starts in the brain. As such, CG isn't different from any other puppet animation - any animation, period. In the end, quality WILL out!

That said, I remember a sign over our pay-phone at the studio when I came to Denmark in 1984: "Now YOU pay yourselves: last month's bill was $3000!"

Jenny said...

Yes, Floyd--I heartily second that idea pf Ward's!
There's no one like you blogging on the scene--except Steve Hulett--but you go back to Walt's day(and Steve's father's time)--and are still at it! It'd be great. Please think about it.

MrFun said...

Hey, thanks all of you for your support but, I'm sure you know what a commitment a blog can be. I've got my hands full just doing something once a month for Jim Hill Media. Although, it's always nice to hear from those who enjoy reading my ramblings.

When I was a kid at Disney, I could spend hours listening to the old guys tell stories about Walt and the studio. Those stories were priceless -- yet few of those old timers ever wrote anything down. That was a real shame, because their stories are lost forever.

I'll keep writing as much as I can. I'm working on another gag book about Walt even now. I want people to remember Disney as a real person -- not some company icon.

And yes -- we had a lot of fun in those days.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Oh my! I like those drawings! Checking out the gluteus maximus (sp?)!

David said...

These same illustrations were also reprinted in a 1945 booklet produced for civilian employees at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The booklet's cover featured the station's Donald Duck insignia. I'll be posting a copy of the employee booklet soon on my blog.