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Get to Know Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men"

Franklin D. Roosevelt called his Supreme Court Justices his “Nine Old Men,” wondering if the older court was out of touch with the times. Walt Disney lovingly borrowed the term to refer to some of his animators, but they were anything but out of touch. Disney’s Nine Old Men were at the forefront of the industry, developing new techniques and innovations with every film they worked on.

You may not know them by name, but the collective works of these animators probably defined your childhood—and your parents’ childhoods. Meet Disney’s Nine Old Men:

1. LES CLARK

There’s no doubt that Les Clark’s talent landed him a job at Disney Studios, but his courage played a pretty big role as well. As a high school student, Clark worked at a lunch counter where Walt and Roy Disney frequently dined. While he was waiting on them one day, Clark asked Walt for a job; Disney was surprisingly game, asking to see some of his work. “So, I copied some cartoons and showed them to Walt. He said I had a good line, and why don’t I come to work on Monday,” Clark recalled. Clark graduated that Thursday, then went to work for Walt Disney four days later. He helped animator Ub Iwerks on the first Mickey Mouse shorts, Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie.

Characters he worked on: Pinocchio, Snow White’s dwarfs, Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Alice, Peter Pan, Sorcerer Mickey, Cinderella.

You also know him for: The scene in The Skeleton Dance where one skeleton plays another skeleton’s ribs like a xylophone (starts around 3:45):

2. MARC DAVIS

In 1935, Marc Davis was looking for a job as a newspaper cartoonist when he happened to notice that Disney Studios was hiring. Though he had no background in animation, Disney was impressed with his sketches of animal anatomy and movement and hired Davis as an apprentice animator for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Characters he worked on: Snow White, Bambi, Tinker Bell, Princess Aurora, Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Mr. Toad, Brer Rabbit from Song of the South

You also know him for: Animatronic character design from the parks. Davis’ many ride contributions include the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Enchanted Tiki Room, and the Country Bear Jamboree.

3. OLLIE JOHNSTON

Joining Marc Davis as a Disney Studios newbie in 1935 was Ollie Johnston, who was also hired as an apprentice animator. One of his earliest projects was a Silly Symphonies short called The Tortoise and the Hare, which won an Oscar for Best Short Subject.

Characters he worked on: Sir Hiss and Prince John from Robin Hood, Mr. Smee from Peter Pan, the three good fairies from Sleeping Beauty, Thumper from Bambi.

You also know him for: Getting Walt Disney interested in trains. Disney was well known as a backyard train hobbyist, and he caught the bug thanks to Johnston. Johnston had just begun work on his own backyard steam engine in 1946 when Walt caught wind of the project and asked to see it; several months later, he started building his own.

4. MILT KAHL

Like Marc Davis, Milt Kahl had hoped to find work as a cartoonist. He dropped out of high school to work at the Oakland Post-Enquirer and the San Francisco Bulletin, but after Kahl saw Disney’s Three Little Pigs short at a local movie theater, he decided to try his hand at animation. He was hired at Disney in 1934 as an assistant animator for shorts like Lonesome Ghosts and The Ugly Duckling.

Characters he worked on: Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, the hounds and fox in Mary Poppins, Pongo and Perdita in 101 Dalmatians, Ludwig von Drake, most of the characters in The Jungle Book and Robin Hood, Madame Medusa from The Rescuers.

You also know him for: You’re probably also pretty familiar with the work of Kahl’s protégé, Brad Bird. Bird (who has won Oscars for The Incredibles and Ratatouille) was just 13 years old when he sent his first animated film to Disney for review—it was a remake of The Tortoise and the Hare, with the race culminating in a five-way tie. Bird’s parents advised him to send the film to the biggest name he could find, and that happened to be Milt Kahl. Impressed, Kahl mentored Bird from then on.

5. WARD KIMBALL

Ward Kimball may have been at the same matinee Milt Kahl attended, because he was also inspired to switch from magazine illustration to animation after seeing Disney’s Three Little Pigs short. After graduating from the Santa Barbara School of Art, he found a job with Disney Studios in 1934 and worked on most of their animated films until his retirement in 1972.

Characters he worked on: Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, Jiminy Cricket, the Three Caballeros. He also helped write the story and script for Babes in Toyland.

You also know him for: Kimball was famous for his sense of humor—for example, he gave himself extra fingers during his Disney Legend handprint ceremony. He also got a kick out of perpetuating the rumor that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen: “I always tell people that if anyone was going to be cryogenically frozen, doesn’t it seem like something Walt would be interested in? Knowing Walt, he was always interested in experiments, always interested in science. He was always interested in the 'new' thing. He was that type of personality. Was he frozen? I wouldn’t put it past him and that’s my answer. I like to keep it floating out there."

Kimball also had a second career as the trombonist in a Dixieland jazz band called The Firehouse Five Plus Two, which included several other Disney Studios employees. They recorded 13 albums and occasionally performed with big names such as Bing Crosby and Teresa Brewer.

6. WOLFGANG REITHERMAN

Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman had been intent on a career as an aircraft engineer when he suddenly became enthralled with watercolors. He switched from Pasadena Junior College to the Chouinard Art Institute in L.A., and met an instructor who also happened to teach classes at the Walt Disney Studio. Reitherman got a job there in 1933.

Characters he worked on: The crocodile in Peter Pan, the dinosaurs in Fantasia, the Headless Horseman, the Magic Mirror in Snow White, the whale chase scene in Pinocchio.

You also know him for: Reitherman earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for serving in the Air Force during WWII, flying missions in India, China, Africa, and the South Pacific.

7. FRANK THOMAS

When Frank Thomas was just nine years old, he asked his father how he could make money drawing pictures. Whether he was career-oriented at a young age, or just strangely prophetic, Thomas graduated from Stanford and then went on to study at Chouinard. A fellow student told Thomas that Disney was hiring, and on September 24, 1934, he started work on a short called Mickey’s Elephant.

Characters he worked on: Cinderella’s stepmother, scenes in Brave Little Tailor, the famous spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp, King Louie from The Jungle Book, the dancing penguins in Mary Poppins, and Captain Hook.

You also know him for: Co-authoring, along with Ollie Johnston, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, which is widely regarded as “the bible” for character animators. You can see cameos by Thomas and Johnston in Bird’s movie The Incredibles:

8. ERIC LARSON

Eric Larson attended the University of Utah for journalism, and as he became more involved in the campus magazine, he found himself interested in sketching as well. After freelancing for a year post-graduation, Larson decided to send some of his sketches to Disney on the advice of a friend. When he retired in 1986, he had one of the longest tenures in the company's history under his belt—52 years.

Characters he worked on: Lady, Tramp, Wart and Merlin from The Sword in the Stone, Roquefort and Scat Cat from The Aristocats, Pegasus and Centaurs from Fantasia, Kanga and Roo from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

You also know him for: His recruitment training program. His Disney recruits include John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Don Bluth, Tim Burton, Glen Keane, Henry Selick, Andreas Deja, and Ron Clements, among many, many others.

9. JOHN LOUNSBERY

John Lounsbery’s story is a lot like his fellow Old Men: he graduated from an art institute (Denver) and then headed to L.A. to seek work. While he was attending some illustration courses at the Art Center School of Design, an instructor there thought he would be well-suited to Disney and pointed him toward the hiring studio. Lounsbery joined in 1935, specializing in Pluto shorts.

Characters he worked on: Willie the Giant, Jasper and Horace from 101 Dalmatians, the hippos and the alligator from Fantasia, Dumbo and Timothy Mouse from Dumbo, the flowers from Alice in Wonderland, King Leonidas and the soccer players from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

You also know him for: You probably don’t. Lounsbery was the quietest of the Old Men and kept a very low profile. “I wasn’t very articulate in story meetings,” he once said. “Walt and I had an agreement: He judged me on what I produced and didn’t expect me to be a talker.”

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

A display of tools.
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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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