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The Life and Times of Ward Kimball - Maverick of Disney Animation

The Life and Times of Ward Kimball

Maverick of Disney Animation

By Todd James Pierce
Hardcover : 9781496820969, 312 pages, January 2019

The first major biography of the influential, visionary Disney animator


Besides Walt Disney, no one seemed more key to the development of animation at the Disney Studios than Ward Kimball (1914–2002). Kimball was Disney’s friend and confidant.

In this engaging, cradle-to-grave biography, award-winning author Todd James Pierce explores the life of Ward Kimball, a lead Disney animator who worked on characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Jiminy Cricket, the Cheshire Cat, and the Mad Hatter. Through unpublished excerpts from Kimball’s personal writing, material from unpublished interviews, and new information based on interviews conducted by the author, Pierce defines the life of perhaps the most influential animator of the twentieth century.

As well as contributing to classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Kimball established a highly graphic, idiosyncratic approach to animation alongside the studio’s more recognizable storybook realism. In effect, Ward Kimball became the only animator to run his own in-studio production team largely outside of Walt Disney’s direction. In the 1950s and 1960s, he emerged as a director and producer of his own animation, while remaining inside Disney’s studio.

Through Kimball, the studio developed a series of nonfiction animation programs in the 1950s that members of Congress pointed to as paving the way for NASA. The studio also allowed Kimball’s work to abandon some ties to conventional animation, looking instead to high art and graphic design as a means of creating new animated forms, which resulted in films that received multiple Academy Award nominations and two awards.

Throughout his life, Kimball was a maverick animator, an artist who helped define the field of American animation, and a visionary who sought to expand the influence of animated films.


"I’ve never read a better, more detailed account of the tensions and day-to-day reality of the bitter studio strike of 1941. Ward tried to rise above it, while his pal Walt Kelly simply stopped showing up for work rather than deal with it. This is a superb biography, essential reading for anyone who values Disney history. "


"Any Disney fan will have a truer understanding of Walt's world after experiencing this book. "


"In straightforward, objective prose, Pierce reconstructs the emergent America in which Kimball was born, grew up, and, through unsurpassed mastery of his pencil yoked to a delicate balance of subservience and friendship, ascended to a position of influence with one of the 20th century’s most powerful influencers. While he documents Kimball’s life and times panoramically, Pierce shows keen appreciation of Kimball’s very complex art, generally focusing on the development of creative solutions to technical and aesthetic problems. "

- James Earp, Witness

"The Life and Times of Ward Kimball is an immensely readable biography, packed with detailed information and displaying obvious passion for its subject. Pierce's passion for Kimball and his work is palpable, and yet he never falls into the trap of presenting Kimball as a maligned auteur. Instead, he takes pains to show how Disney worked as a studio, with a productive tension between the management and the artists, and a focus on collaborative work. "

- John A. Riley, Fantasy/Animation

"This is an excellent read for any aspiring artist attempting to maintain their authenticity within a larger organization. . . . Thanks to Pierce’s account, Ward Kimball’s legacy finds the spotlight once again. "

- Josh Funk, California History, Vol. 97, No. 2, May (Summer) 2020

"The Life and Times of Ward Kimball is the most in-depth biography ever written about any Disney artist. Despite the tremendous amount of details (most of which are new even to me) the material is presented in such a compelling way that one cannot stop reading and going from discovery to discovery."

- Didier Ghez, author of Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality; Disney’s Grand Tour: Walt and Roy’s European Vacation, Summer 1935; and of the They Drew as They Pleased book series

"The Life and Times of Ward Kimball is a valuable and groundbreaking book. It deals comprehensively with aspects of Ward Kimball’s long and varied life that have not been examined with any thoroughness before, specifically his roles as a popular jazz musician and a celebrated connoisseur of vintage railroad rolling stock. That Kimball was able to pursue such interests while cementing his reputation as one of Walt Disney’s most skilled and creative animators and directors is truly remarkable."

- Michael Barrier, author of The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney and Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age