John Basmajian | The Basmajian Animation Art Collection

Biography - Animation Preservation

Johnny’s wife Edna remembers the day he first came home with a stack of cels from the studio. He seemed very upset that day. He told her, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! They are going through the morgue and throwing out everything it seems! They are going to wash off the old cels [opaque water color] and use them over when they can. It is really heartbreaking, Edna, all that beautiful material is going to be destroyed.” He went on to say, “Also, it seems they need more space since the government took over the studio.” Continuing, he said, “Johnny Bond came in with handfuls of stuff they were getting rid of today and asked if anybody wanted some. He told us if we wanted more to go down to the morgue and get some before it was all tossed.”

As it turned out many of the cels were already starting to warp and wrinkle because of their earlier poor storage under less than ideal conditions. Washing only salvaged a minimum of them; maybe one in a hundred could be re-used, because they were no longer flat enough to be used in production filming. The attempt to save cels for re-use was because there was a shortage of materials required in their manufacture by Eastman Kodak due to war needs. Nitrate was an important component needed to make cels (celluloid nitrate) at that time. But more important, it was needed in making gun powder for explosives. Since storage space at the studio was a problem, because of the government take over, they got rid of old material they couldn’t re-use.

In the days that followed, Johnny brought home more of the discards. Being war time, tight security prevailed at the studio. To take anything from the studio, a signed permit was required. All personnel had to have government identification badges with their pictures. Johnny Bond gave him the permits without question whenever Johnny had something the morgue saved for him. Ben Mosely was in charge of the morgue and he would put things aside for Johnny as the files were cleared. Even the ink and paint girls, as they were washing the cels, would save some material for him that could not be re-used.

One day Johnny was very infuriated when he observed some of his fellow workers throw cels on the floor and skate on them in celebration after the completion of a production.

Often at night, when he came home, he would carefully separate the artwork, powdering the back of each cel with fine talc. He hoped it would prevent the cels from sticking together. He would count out so many cels and put them in a manila folder with tissue paper between sheets as well. Then he filed them carefully in cardboard boxes in the garage.

When they first started cleaning out the studio morgue, Johnny went to personnel and asked if Walt and they were aware of what was going on. “I told them this stuff is too good to be destroyed, but they didn’t really seem very interested,” Johnny said. However, later he gave cels to some of the secretaries in personnel that wanted some as well as to some of the attorneys in the legal department. But no one seemed to realize that cartoon history was being tossed on the ash heap. They saw it as a nice little something to hang in their child’s room or in their den. No one appeared to recognize the work as a form of art.

But Johnny did recognize the historical value of it. Animation art had no monetary value at that time.

Johnny simply could not believe that this was happening. “Even Walt Disney did not appear too overly concerned when I mentioned the matter to him. He just shrugged, saying “We’ve got too much of everything stashed away we are not going to use anymore. We need space and we are going to have a better filing system from now on.”

“So, no one made a concerted effort to save anything. They pulled no punches about it at all. Other employees took stuff. I don’t know how many, but I don’t think they felt about the pictures as I did. I hated seeing them destroyed so I saved what I could. I don’t believe the other people who took stuff ever did much about trying to preserve it.”

Next: Later Years