Ollie Johnston

For those of a similar name, see Ollie Johnson (disambiguation).
Ollie Johnston

Born Oliver Martin Johnston, Jr.
(1912-10-31)October 31, 1912
Palo Alto, California, U.S.
Died April 14, 2008(2008-04-14) (aged 95)
Sequim, Washington, U.S.
Cause of death Natural causes
Nationality American
Other names Oliver M. Johnston, Jr.
Oliver M. Johnston
Oliver Johnston
Alma mater Stanford University
University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Animator
Years active 1935–1978
Known for One of Disney's Nine Old Men
Spouse(s) Marie E. Johnston
(m. 1943; d. 2005)
Children 2

Oliver Martin "Ollie" Johnston, Jr. (October 31, 1912 April 14, 2008) was an American motion picture animator. He was one of Disney's Nine Old Men, and the last surviving at the time of his death from natural causes.[1][2][3][4] He was recognized by The Walt Disney Company with its Disney Legend Award in 1989. His work was recognized with the National Medal of Arts in 2005.


Johnston was an animator at Walt Disney Studios from 1935 to 1978, and became a directing animator beginning with Pinocchio, released in 1940. He contributed to most Disney animated features, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia and Bambi. His last full work for Disney came with The Rescuers, in which he was caricatured as one of the film's characters, the cat Rufus. The very last film he worked on was The Fox and the Hound.

Johnston co-authored, with Frank Thomas, the reference book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, which contained the 12 basic principles of animation. This book helped preserve the knowledge of the techniques that were developed at the studio. The partnership of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston is fondly presented in the documentary Frank and Ollie, produced by Thomas' son Theodore, who in 2012 also produced another documentary, Growing up with Nine Old Men, included in the Diamond edition of the Peter Pan DVD.

Personal life

Ollie Johnston on his backyard railroad in 1993.
President George W. Bush stands with recipients of the 2005 National Medal of Arts on November 9, 2005, in the Oval Office. Among those recognized for their outstanding contributions to the arts were, from left: Leonard Garment, Louis Auchincloss, Paquito D'Rivera, James De Preist, Tina Ramirez, Robert Duvall, and Ollie Johnston.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Johnston attended Stanford University, where he worked on the campus humor magazine Stanford Chaparral with fellow future animator Frank Thomas, then transferred to the Chouinard Art Institute in his senior year.[5] Ollie married a fellow Disney employee, ink and paint artist Marie Worthey, in 1943. Marie Johnston died May 20, 2005 at the age of 87.[6]

Ollie's lifelong hobby was live steam trains. Starting in 1949, he built the 4 34 in (121 mm) gauge[7] La Canada Valley Railroad, a miniature backyard railroad with three 1/12 scale locomotives at his home in Flintridge, California.[8] The locomotives are now owned by his sons. This railroad was one of the inspirations for Walt Disney to build his own backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, which again inspired the building of the railroad in Disneyland. Ollie was a founding Governor of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society along with his fellow Disney animator and railfan, Ward Kimball. The 1/4 scale Victorian depot from Ollie's backyard was moved and restored to a location near Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn at the area of the Los Angeles Live Steamers club in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.[9]

In the 1960s, Ollie acquired and restored a full-size, 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Porter steam locomotive originally built in 1901, which he named the Marie E. He also built the one-mile-long Deer Lake Park & Julian Railroad on his 40-acre vacation estate in Julian, California in order to run the locomotive with a small gondola and caboose pulled behind it.[10] This engine and its consist were sold to John Lasseter (of Pixar Studios fame) around 2002. On May 10, 2005, it ran on the Disneyland Railroad during a private early morning event organized by Lasseter to honor Johnston, who was able to take the throttle of the Marie E. one last time. To date, it is the only time The Walt Disney Company has permitted outside railroad equipment to run at any Disney Resort. The engine is still fully operational and presently runs on the Justi Creek Railway, located within the vineyards of Lasseter Family Winery, also owned by Lasseter.

Brad Bird paid a tribute to Ollie Johnston with an animated cameo of Johnston in the 2004 Pixar film The Incredibles , as well as a cameo in his 1999 film The Iron Giant, where he played a train engineer .

On November 10, 2005, Ollie Johnston was among the recipients of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, presented by President George W. Bush in an Oval Office ceremony.

Books by Johnston

See also


  1. "Legendary Disney animator dies at 95". Associated Press in CNN. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  2. "'Golden age' Disney animator dies". BBC. 2008-04-16. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  3. "Ollie Johnston, last of Disney's elite animators, died on April 14th, aged 95.". The Economist. April 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
  4. "Disney Animator Ollie Johnston Dies at 95". ARTINFO. April 18, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
  5. Disney.com Network. "Ollie Johnston (Animation)". The Walt Disney Company.
  6. Wife of Ollie Johnston dies at Age 87
  7. Southern California Live Steamers Archived March 25, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Laughingplace.com - A Visit to Ollie's Railroad
  9. Broggie, Michael, Walt Disney's Railroad Story, 2nd ed., pp. 14-15, 95, 100-4, 112, 143, The Donning Company Publishers, Virginia Beach, VA, 2006.
  10. Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association - The Last Disney Legend Passes
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