In the last few weeks, the movie business has lost some of its brightest stars. Charlton Heston, Anthony Minghella, Richard Widmark, all these great names have passed away leaving us with many memories. Today another joins their number. Ollie Johnston, the last surviving member of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men” passed away last night at age 93.
Though perhaps the name may not be familiar, the work certainly is. He, along with a group of animators – comprised of John Lounsbury, Les Clark, Woolie Reitherman, Milt Kahl, Eric Larsen, Marc Davis, Ward Kimball and Frank Thomas, brought to life Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty and many other well remembered classics. Johnston himself is responsible for many memorable characters, including Baloo from The Jungle Book, Thumper from Bambi and the Ugly Stepsisters from Cinderella. The volume of animated pictures on which he worked is amazing, with the internet movie database (IMDB) paying silent testament to his many years of creation and inspiration.
Although retired from animation, Johnston did return to work twice more before he died, voicing characters in two of Brad Bird’s pictures, The Iron Giant (where he played a train engineer) and The Incredibles (where he appeared as himself). With Disney’s current animated efforts (independent of Pixar) sorely lacking the spark of the early classics, the loss of the final living link to those days is even sadder.
Below, Ollie Johnston and long-time friend Frank Thomas: