Ollie by Christian Renaut
[Although we were a bit prepared for it, given Ollie’s age, it doesn’t allay the grief. I am but one among many who, at one time or another, had the opportunity to meet Ollie several times, whether it was in France or in the USA. When I first met him, I could see no one but the Disney animator who had done so much to delight me with his drawings. But pretty soon, I got to know the man, and I simply came to appreciate a human being and not only a talented hand. Of all the Disney artists I have come across, he surely was the one I had the closest connection with, along with Frank, but in a different way, and I have here an opportunity to tell the story I never referred to in my books, which is probably one of the greatest days in my life.
Thanks to my friend Philippe Videcoq, who did so much for me to introduce me to the Disney company and more, I was lucky enough to meet the two animators and their wives, plus Doug, that is Frank’s youngest son, in Paris. I could hardly utter something interesting as I was so amazed to meet such legends, and I thought that the less I said, the more I could listen to them. It was across the square from Notre Dame, before it would be the setting of a future Disney feature, since the year was 1987.
Suddenly, Frank says they were going to stay a bit more in Paris with their son who was a student there, and Ollie said they would go to Brittany, that is, the Western part of France I live in, to visit some places, including the well-known Mont St Michel. I couldn’t avoid saying I was from that area and inquired how they would travel there. Most of the trip had been planned and their train would carry them to a hotel in the Pirate city of St Malo, then they would get a taxi or something. Ollie already had difficulties to walk and I could imagine how hard all this would be for him. Would I be bold enough to propose to drive them around since I was available that next day? Wouldn’t I be a bit too audacious and even a drag? Yes, French people are not as direct and simple as Americans. Eventually, I made up my mind and suggested I would make it easier if they would accept my help by driving them around, adding I knew the place quite well. I could even show them round in places that are not always mentioned in guide books such as Medieval towns that would “ remind them of Pinocchio cottages”. I was ready for any answer except one, that it might be a nuisance for me and take too much of my time! They were so humble that they couldn’t fancy I would be the privileged one!
After a few more details were settled, we decide on an appointment the following day.
And that following day has remained to this day, one of the highlights of my life: I spent a whole day with Marie and Ollie, talking Disney, arts, architecture, anything. We had lunch, they invited me for dinner. I could even hear Ollie, almost in tears, telling Walt’s last day at the Studio and his own reaction at the sad news of his death. The time came to part, after I had driven a sleepy Ollie bending over on me, his head almost laying on my shoulder, which would make Marie laugh about for years then.
Later, once I visited them at Flintridge in their home, Ollie had organized a party and ran his train so I could meet more people from Disney, including the true gentleman that Howard Green is. And that evening, I was again invited for dinner at their home with Glen Keane and his wife! I had to pinch myself to really believe I was witnessing two generations of Disney animators talking together with me!
These are but a few memories from my time with Ollie and I’m happy that we have kept in touch for so long, just the way I do now with Jeannette Thomas.
The preface they wrote for my first book remains one of the greatest gifts I have received, but in my mind, that special day near my hometown will for ever be in my heart.
May Ollie rest in peace and be thanked for his contribution to animation, but, most of all, for being who he was.