Carolwood Pacific Historical Society Ward Kimball Tribute
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CPHS Ward Kimball Tribute at
July 28, 2002
Carolwood Historical Society members and the public gathered at Walts Barn in Griffith Park on July 28, 2002, to share stories and remembrances of one of animations great masters: Ward Kimball. The Barn was filled with Ward Kimball memorabilia, from signed posters, to trains he once owned, to a Firehouse Five Plus Two CD, to pictures from his house and railroad collection-- Wards passions in life were well represented.
Michael Broggie served as the Master of Ceremonies for the one hour tribute. He welcomed everyone to "today the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disneys Carolwood Barn." Michaels first story was about an early trip he took to Wards house, a place he described as "the first Disneyland." Michael explained the significance of Wards San Gabriel home as the place where Walt Disney rediscovered and reconnected with his love of railroading that dated back to his childhood in Marceline. Ward and Betty Kimball were the first private citizens to collect and operate full-size trains on their own property.
Michael informed the crowd that the day was a celebration of Ward, and that Ward would not want people to be "mopey." Michael characterized Ward as the picture accompanying a good definition of the word "Renaissance," as he was an accomplished animator, fine artist, musician, railroader, magician, hobby train collector, and full-size and miniature steam collector. Ward was a two-time Academy Award winner: in 1953 for Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom; and in 1969 for It's Tough To Be A Bird.
Michael segued from Wards "respectable" pursuits to explore his puckish, scoundrel side. He recounted that Ward lived to pull pranks on his colleagues. At the studio, Ward paid close attention to everyones habits and tendencies so he always had fodder for his gags. At one point, he noticed that many people drank a cup of coffee when they arrived at 8 AM, and they "disposed" of it around 10 AM. So, he came in early one day with a bunch of pants, shoes and newspapers. He stuffed the pants and sat them on the toilets in the stalls and placed the shoes so that it looked like the stalls were in use. The Studio buildings had been built to be convertible into hospital buildings, so all of the restrooms (mens and womens) only had stalls. In this manner, Ward tied up all of the bathroom facilities in the Animation Building for an hour-and-a-half, until someone finally notice that the shoes never moved. When they opened the stall, they found a note that said, "Surprise-A Little Gift from Ward."
Michael continued with another story that illustrated how Ward could cause trouble due to his natural curiosity and his ability to complete his work faster than his fellow animators. Ward was wandering around the lot one day while Disneyland was still under construction when he came across the cattle cars for the Disneyland Railroad. He mentioned to the worker that the slats were too close for the guests to see through. The worker told Ward that it was Walts cattle car, and the spacing of the slats had been picked by Walt personally, so thats how the car was going to be. During the discussion that followed, Ward must have made quite an impression on the worker, as he followed Wards suggestion and began positioning the slats at a wider pitch.
Word made its way back to Walt, who called Ward that same day. The discussion that followed was "not a G-Rated conversation" as Walt tore into Ward, asking him how he dared instruct the workers to alter Walts cars. (Walt personally owned the Disneyland Railroad at that time through Retlaw, so the cars were actually his personal property.) After Walt finished his tongue lashing, he quickly called Roger Broggie and told him to incorporate Wards "suggestion," and "for Gods sakes, dont tell Ward!"
As mentioned before, Ward was always looking for ways to use peoples peccadilloes against them. There was an animator that Ward worked with that had two characteristics that made him quite a target: 1) he was a strict dieter (he ate Del Monte canned green beans for lunch everyday); and 2) he was a big fan of Robert Ripleys "Believe It or Not" comic strip. Ward went to the store and bought a bunch of Del Monte canned vegetables-green beans, corns, succotash, etc. and relabeled these other vegetables with the green bean labels. He then snuck into the guys office each day and switched cans. After a few days, the guy was quite frustrated and went to the store and complained about the mixed-up vegetables. The store gave him new ones, but Ward "fixed" them as well. At this point, the animator was sure he was witnessing some otherworldly phenomena. He wrote a letter to Robert Ripley explaining the unbelievable events, and received his reply in a Ripley-esque manner. Shortly thereafter, he opened a can of green beans and found a note written on animation celluloid floating on top, which said, "I dont believe it. Signed, Robert Ripley." At that point, he knew that Ward had struck again.
Walt Disney himself was not immune to Wards pranks. Ward had a trick that he played on Walt every time he called. When Walt would call, he would start by saying, "This is Walt" then move on to the conversation. Ward always stopped him with, "Walt who? I know a lot of guys named Walt." "This is Walt Disney." "Oh, okay Walt, what do you want?" Ward claimed he fell for this gag every time.