Yoo Hoo, Gang!
My favorite Disney character did something this past year that Disney heros almost never do: he died.
Ward Kimball qualified as a character in so many ways, even to appearing in a Mickey Mouse cartoon as himself (The Nifty Ninties).
Known best for his animation of such characters as Jiminy Crickey, Casey Jr., and the Cheshire Cat, Ward's wacky style was possibly the least "Disney" and most "Warner Brothers" of the Nine Old Men.
Honored with Academy Awards for the innovative "Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom" and the instructive "It's Tough to Be a Bird," Ward went on to produce and direct shorts and episodes of the "Disneyland" TV show. His three pivotal episodes on "Man in Space" served as the catalyst for the American space program, with President Eisenhauer ordering copies to be shown to government officials at the White House.
Possibly one of the biggest influences on Disney parks came from Ward's travel to the Chicago Railroad Fair with Walt. Infecting his boss with his love of trains on this trip, Ward inspired and encouraged Walt's backyard railroad -- the direct predecessor to the Disneyland RR and the WDW RR where I'm now a conductor.
Ward left behind a huge collection of trains, both miniature and full size, in the competent hands of the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, CA; a number of jazz recordings by the "Firehouse Five Plus Two" band he helped organize from Studio artists; and a long streak of irreverant and sassy humor that brightened park attractions from Mr. Toad to the World of Motion.
Also some very appreciative -- if sad -- fans like me.
Co-host of "Iago & Zazu's Attraction of the Week"
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