LOS ANGELES – Ollie Johnston, the last of the “Nine Old Men” who animated “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Fantasia,” “Bambi” and other classic Walt Disney films, has died. He was 95.
Johnston died of natural causes Monday at a long-term care facility in Sequim, Wash., Walt Disney Studios Vice President Howard E. Green said Tuesday.
“Ollie was part of an amazing generation of artists, one of the real pioneers of our art, one of the major participants in the blossoming of animation into the art form we know today,” Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney and director emeritus of the Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.
Walt Disney lightheartedly dubbed his team of crack animators his “Nine Old Men,” borrowing the phrase from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s description of the U.S. Supreme Court’s members. Perhaps the two most accomplished of the nine were Johnston and his close friend Frank Thomas, who died in 2004 at age 92. The pair, who met as art students at Stanford University in the 1930s, were hired by Disney for $17 a week at a time when he was expanding the studio to produce full-length feature films. Both worked on the first of those features, 1937’s “Snow White.”
Johnston was especially proud of his work on “Bambi” and its classic scenes, including one depicting the heartbreaking death of Bambi’s mother at the hands of a hunter. “(People) know his work. They know his characters. They’ve seen him act without realizing it,” said film historian Leonard Maltin. “He was one of the pillars, one of the key contributors to the golden age of Disney animation.”