Friday, February 11, 2011

Bill Justice: " . . . with a page here and there"

Bill Justice literally did almost everything at the Walt Disney Studio.  Animation, television production, stop motion and special effects, theme park design and character costuming are especially notable among the many disciplines he pursued during his four decades with the company.  He passed away on February 10 at the age of 97, leaving behind a legacy that is near impossible to do justice to in the few paragraphs I will here provide. Justice was known for his outgoing, friendly personality and I believe he would have quite enjoyed my wholly unintentional pun of the previous sentence.

A veteran of the Hyperion studio, Justice spent 28 years in the Animation Department.  He remembered being in the Disney Annex across the street from the main studio buildings, shortly after starting with the company in 1937.  He worked as an in-betweener on scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs before moving onto regular animation under the tutelage of Woolie Reitherman sometime after becoming Reitherman's in-betweener in 1938.
Bill Justice (left) with X Atencio and T. Hee
His name is associated with classics such as Fantasia, Saludos Amigos, Three Caballeros, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.  With X Atencio and T. Hee, he pioneered stop-motion animation and special effects techniques for films such as Symposium of Popular Songs, Babes in Toyland and Mary Poppins, and the opening credit sequences for The Parent Trap, The Shaggy Dog, Bon Voyage and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.  He is not given nearly enough credit for his prolific and impressive tenure as an animator on the Donald Duck shorts throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.  His contributions to the development of Chip and Dale are especially notable.  He participated in a publicity tour to celebrate Donald Duck's 50th Birthday in 1984.  "The Disney Company had a plane to go to fourteen cities in four days so they packed up me and Clarence 'Ducky" Nash to fly to all these events," Justice  remembered.  "But they didn't make any plans for food on board, so we lived on Ding Dongs, Twinkies, apples and peanuts."

Justice worked extensively on the proposed animated feature Gremlins based on a story and ideas by Roald Dahl.  Although the film was never made, many of Justice's pencil illustrations were included in a Gremlins storybook, published by Random House in 1943 and recently reprinted by Dark Horse Books.  Justice recalled, "It was the first book I'd ever illustrated.  I loved those characters."

But perhaps his most famous piece of animation was the opening sequence of the Mickey Mouse Club.  He once noted, "I am proud of that opening animation.  It is the most used piece of animation at the Studio."  Also relating to the Mickey Mouse Club, Justice was very good friends with Jimmie Dodd and recruited him to write the theme song for the program.  Dodd was ultimately selected to be one of the show's two adult Mouseketeers.

In the mid-1960s, Justice was recruited by Walt to join WED Enterprises, and he worked extensively with audio-animatronics, contributing to such high profile attractions as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Hall of Presidents and the Mickey Mouse Revue.  He was especially adept at designing floats and creating costuming for parades; he was responsible for the early Disneyland Christmas parades and did concept work on the Main Street Electrical Parade.  He was one the primary creative forces behind the Disney on Parade stage productions that toured cities across the country beginning in the late 1960s.  Justice's work on Disney on Parade helped significantly advance character costume design in the theme parks.  In 1970, he noted,  "In our amusement park they act as hosts for the guests and are not required to move with the same mobility as the characters in Disney On Parade. For this reason, we had to re-fashion every one of the characters, of which there are more than 100. The total number of costumes, including all the dancers and supporting performers, numbers some 565, and requires three large vans to transport."

Justice's engaging sense of humor was especially evident when he told this particular story in an interview with Disney historian Jim Korkis:
"I did a mural for Walt Disney World for the Walt Disney World Story.  It was twenty-four feet long and eight feet high and had about one hundred and eighty Disney characters in it.  It's beautiful.  I think it is great even though I did it.  Anyway, some guy complained that the Cheshire Cat wasn't in it and that was his favorite character.  So I told them to tell him that the Cheshire Cat is invisible.  The only time you can see him is in the upper right corner of the painting at 2:00 am on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays when the park is closed."
In the same interview, Justice observed, "Walt Disney and the people I worked with at the Studio wrote the book on quality animation.  I'd like to think I helped with a page here and there."

More than a page here and there, the legacy of Bill Justice speaks volumes.


Anonymous said...

Bill will be missed

Tony said...

What a career! He was really able to do it all.