Film Historian and Disney Author Russell Merritt Passed Away at Age 82

The cinephile community is mourning the loss of Russell Merritt, a film historian who, among his many areas of focus, was a source of immense knowledge on early Disney animation. The news of Merritt’s passing was shared by his friend and colleague J.B. Kauffman, who co-authored two books with Russell Merritt – Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney and Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Walt Disney Cartoon Series. Our hearts go our to Russell’s family, friends, and fans during this difficult time.

(Johns Hopkins University Press/Russell Merritt/Disney Editions)

(Johns Hopkins University Press/Russell Merritt/Disney Editions)

Russell Merritt was born in 1941 and raised in New Jersey and Connecticut, discovering his love of movies at a young age, which became a gateway to his other artistic interests. These included literature, painting, theater, symphony, and opera. He followed his passions to Harvard where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D., giving his dissertation on “the father of film,” D.W. Griffith. He spent his career gifting his passion of film to students, first at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two decades before moving to California in 1986 to teach at the University of California-Berkeley.

In addition to teaching and writing, Russell Merritt produced and directed a 90-minute recreation of a turn-of-the-century precursor to the modern motion picture titled The Great Nickelodeon Show, which was presented at film festivals beginning in 2000 at Film 50 and continuing on with presentations at Telluride Film Festival, Il Giornate del Cinema Muto, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the TCM Film Festival. He also co-wrote and was a senior historical advisor for the Emmy-nominated series D.W. Griffith: Father of Film.

Russell Merritt is survived by his wife, Karen, who is retired from the President’s Office at UC Berkeley. While they didn’t have children of their own, Russell considered himself to have had thousands of children through the many students he taught throughout his career.

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