Ollie Johnston

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Ollie Johnston
Johnston in 1989
Oliver Martin Johnston Jr.

(1912-10-31)October 31, 1912
DiedApril 14, 2008(2008-04-14) (aged 95)
Other namesOliver M. Johnston, Jr.
Oliver M. Johnston
Oliver Johnston
Alma mater
Years active1935–1981 (at Disney)
1982–1993 (book author)
Known forOne of Disney's Nine Old Men
Marie E. Johnston
m. 1943; died 2005)

Oliver Martin Johnston Jr. (October 31, 1912 – April 14, 2008), nicknamed "Ollie", 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] 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 1934 to 1978, and became a directing animator beginning with Pinocchio, released in 1940. He contributed to most Disney animated features, including 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. His work includes Mr. Smee (in Peter Pan), the Stepsisters (in Cinderella), the District Attorney (in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad), and Prince John (in Robin Hood). According to the book The Disney Villain, written by Johnston and Frank Thomas, Johnston also partnered with Thomas on creating characters such as Ichabod Crane (in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad), Sir Hiss (in Robin Hood), and story consultant in Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.

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[edit]

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 DePreist, Tina Ramirez, Robert Duvall, and Ollie Johnston.

Born in Palo Alto, California to Oliver, a Stanford professor, and Florence Johnston, Johnston had two older sisters, Winifred and Florence.[4] Johnston attended Palo Alto High School[5] and 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.[6] 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.[7]

Ollie's lifelong hobby was live steam trains. Starting in 1949, he built the 4 34 in (121 mm) gauge[8] La Cañada Valley Railroad, a miniature backyard railroad with three 1:12-scale locomotives at his home in Flintridge, California.[9] 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 inspired the building of the railroad in Disneyland in Anaheim, California. 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 restored and moved to a location near Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn within the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.[10]

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 Deer Lake Park & Julian Railroad (DLP&J) at his vacation estate in Julian, California in order to run the locomotive with a small gondola and caboose pulled behind it.[11][12] The Marie E. first ran on the DLP&J in 1968.[13] the DLP&J was 0.5 miles (0.80 km) long and utilized the railroad ties from the defunct Viewliner Train of Tomorrow attraction in Disneyland.[13][14] Johnston sold the vacation estate and the narrow gauge train in 1993.[13] The engine and its consist were later 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.[15] This was the first time that the Walt Disney Company permitted outside railroad equipment to run at any Disney Resort.[15] 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.[15]

In the 1980s and 90s, Johnston served on the advisory board of the National Student Film Institute and often was a presenter at the annual film festival's award ceremonies.[16][17] 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 Johnston played a train engineer.[18]

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.

The last surviving member of Disney's Nine Old Men, Ollie Johnston died of natural causes on April 14, 2008, at the age of 95.


Year Title Credits Characters Notes
1940 Pinocchio Animator Credited as Oliver M. Johnston
Fantasia Animation Supervisor - Segment "The Pastoral Symphony" Credited as Oliver M. Johnston Jr.
1942 Bambi Supervising Animator Credited as Oliver M. Johnston Jr.
1943 Victory Through Air Power (Documentary) Animator Credited as Oliver M. Johnston Jr.
1945 The Three Caballeros Animator
1946 Make Mine Music Animator
Song of the South Directing Animator
1948 Melody Time Directing Animator
1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Directing Animator
1950 Cinderella Directing Animator
1951 Alice in Wonderland Directing Animator
1952 Susie the Little Blue Coupe (Short) Animator
1953 Peter Pan Directing Animator
Ben and Me (Short) Animator
1955 Lady and the Tramp Directing Animator
1959 Sleeping Beauty Directing Animator
1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians Directing Animator
1963 The Sword in the Stone Directing Animator
1964 Mary Poppins Animator
1967 The Jungle Book Directing Animator
1968 Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (Short) Directing Animator
1970 The Aristocats Directing Animator
1973 Robin Hood Directing Animator
1974 Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (Short) Directing Animator
1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Animator
The Rescuers Directing Animator
1981 The Fox and the Hound Supervising Animator
1987 The Chipmunk Adventure Special Thanks
1992 Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland Story Consultant Credited as Oliver Johnston
1995 Frank and Ollie (Documentary) Himself
1999 The Iron Giant Additional Voices / Special Thanks
2004 The Incredibles Additional Voices / Special Thanks

Books by Johnston[edit]

  • Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life
  • Too Funny for Words: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags (ISBN 0-89659-747-4)
  • Walt Disney's Bambi—the Story and the Film (ISBN 1-55670-160-8)
  • The Disney Villain (ISBN 1-56282-792-8)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Saperstein, Pat (April 15, 2008). "Animator Ollie Johnston dies at 95". Variety. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  2. ^ "'Golden age' Disney animator dies". BBC. April 16, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  3. ^ "Ollie Johnston, last of Disney's elite animators, died on April 14th, aged 95". The Economist. April 24, 2008. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  4. ^ 1920 United States Federal Censys
  5. ^ Palo Alto Union High School Madrono Yearbook, 1931
  6. ^ "Ollie Johnston". D23. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  7. ^ Ziebarth, Christian (May 31, 2005). "Marie Johnston, Wife of Legendary Disney Animator Ollie Johnston, Dies at Age 87". Animated Views. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  8. ^ Hiney, Harlan. "Early Years 8 - Early Member Oliver M. Johnston Jr". Southern California Live Streamers. Archived from the original on March 25, 2014 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Mastanich, Richard (May 11, 2000). "A Visit to Ollie's Railroad". The Laughing Place.
  10. ^ Eades, Mark (August 20, 2015). "Memories of Walt Disney's steam train from his daughter". Orange County Register. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  11. ^ "Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association - The Last Disney Legend Passes". Archived from the original on October 13, 2011. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  12. ^ "4433 Deer Lake Park Rd". Trulia. Archived from the original on August 6, 2017. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Amendola (2015), p. 124.
  14. ^ Broggie (2014), p. 103.
  15. ^ a b c Amendola (2015), pp. 131–133.
  16. ^ Editor (June 10, 1994). National Student Film Institute/L.A: The Sixteenth Annual Los Angeles Student Film Festival. The Directors Guild Theatre. pp. 10–11.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Editor (June 7, 1991). Los Angeles Student Film Institute: 13th Annual Student Film Festival. The Directors Guild Theatre. p. 3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  18. ^ "Brad Bird on Ollie Johnston". Cartoon Brew. April 15, 2008.


External links[edit]