End of the Line


I was reading the Pennysaver (a local adzine) on Weds. and noticed an ad: “Estate Sale: Residence of Ollie J., Disney animator…” It was almost as if the organizers of the sale were trying to keep it a secret! Poor Ollie, I thought, he must have decided to sell everything and go to assisted living. As it turned out, Ollie has gone to Oregon to live with his family, as Don Hahn, Disney producer, (pictured above gesturing toward a chair) told me. (Don is working on a documentary about his friend, Joe Grant.)  I went to the estate sale both Friday and Saturday (May 18th and 19th). I didn’t see too many people I knew besides Don. All the household effects, dishes (see above), clothing, tools, garden equipment, books were all for sale. I took my wife to see the house on Saturday, and she suggested I buy one of Ollie’s hats and a plaid shirt to remember him by. I’m glad I did (see above of me relaxing in Ollie’s back yard wearing one of his hats). There was a bit of Disney memorabilia of course, mostly research material that Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston assembled for their books. Piles of photocopies of Disney animation drawings and story sketches, some loose, some mounted on illustration board. There was a whole box full of large photostats of Disney drawings, mostly storyboards. The stats must have been done recently, as they would combine Jungle Book Bill Peet story sketches with drawings from Donald Duck shorts like “Donald’s Gold Mine”, for instance. Probably material assembled for the book “Too Funny for Words”. At any rate, they were priced at $100.00 apiece (see above)! Ollie’s signed copy of Mike Barrier’s “Hollywood Cartoons” book was available for $60.00, as were things like some drawings that Nancy Beiman sent to him (there were a lot of things like that in the sale). Some of Ollie’s engineer caps were available from his live steamer train days at $75.00 a throw, including a photo of Ollie on board his engine. They all sold. Ollie collected Bing Crosby 78s, I bought one for $3.00 that had Bing on one side and Russ Columbo (his rival), on the other side! There was a whole box of scripts and story conference notes from the Disney films (photocopies). They wanted $10.00 a page for them, but that turned out to be negotiable. I found some notes from the Soup sequence from Snow White, as well as “Night on Bear (sic) Mountain” from Fantasia, mostly Walt, Dave Hand and Perce Pearce trading ideas, fun stuff to read. Ollie had a lot of books, some of which are pictured above. The prices for most of the hard backs were between $60.00 and $150.00. In a room covered with train wallpaper was an antique engineer’s lamp made over into a ceiling fixture, price: $2000.00! On Saturday, a very nice lady was getting quite emotional over that lamp. All of Ollie’s miniature trains were either sold or donated to the live steamers exhibit in Griffith Park. If there was any original art, most of it was not at the sale. I found one watercolor that was very nice, but not by Ollie.

It was a sad occasion, yet happy too (for me). The neighborhood Ollie lived in (La Canada) was and is absolutely beautiful. Both Ollie and Frank Thomas bought a lot of land to build their respective rambling ranch style homes on, probably in the late 1930s. The oak, eucalyptus and sycamore trees on the properties are stately and in prime condition. It was fun to see the remains of Ollie’s famous backyard railroad (see above). The little yellow train barn was charming and Ollie’s trestle in front of the house was a miniature masterpiece of construction. As you can see by my expression sitting in Ollie’s back yard, I finally came to the party! It felt so good just to BE there! I always wanted to visit the famous pair of animators at their homes, but never was invited. This was the last chance for me (heck, the last chance for ANYBODY). It’s interesting that Peter Schneider, who used to be the president of the animation division at Disney, owns the Tudor style mansion right next to Ollie’s house! Ollie was very nice to me on at least one occasion, when I put together a film tribute to Fred Moore at ASIFA Hollywood a few years ago. As feeble as he was, Ollie took time to answer letters about Fred Moore’s family, and talked by telephone with me about Fred’s auto accident and other things. Evidently, Mrs. Thomas is still living in the house next door to Ollie’s. Cathy and I walked around the neighborhood on Saturday and looked at the Thomas home from the outside, it too is beautiful, very big ranch style home with teal green trim and on a big lot surrounded by California oaks. The documentary, FRANK AND OLLIE, doesn’t begin to convey just how impressive these homes were. The neighborhood is now filling up with mansions, one was under construction. Cathy and I noticed that one of the homes across the street had a miniature train trestle in it’s front yard, but the tracks had been removed. Evidently, Ollie’s train inspired the sincerest form of flattery from some of the neighbors as well. Imagine what that area was like when Frank and Ollie bought the land. Probably an oak grove that had to be cleared for ground breaking. La Canada is the essence of old California ambiance. What a great couple of days at Ollie’s house!

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