Friday, January 11, 2019

Godspeed Don Lusk

A young Don Lusk working on Pinocchio
Don Lusk, the last living Disney animator from the Golden Age of Animation, died on December 30 2018 at the age of 105.

Don Lusk was born on October 28 1913 in Burbank, California. He was hired by Walt Disney Productions in 1933 as an in-betweener. He was 20 years old at the time. His first work as an animator for Disney was on the short "Mickey's Polo Team" in 1936. Among other animated shorts on which he worked was "Ferdinand the Bull" (1938), which won the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoons. He went onto work on the feature films Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1944), and Bambi (1942). Mr. Lusk was one of the 334 Disney employees who went on strike in 1941. Unlike many of those who walked out on strike, he would go onto have a long career at Disney, although he admitted that after the strike his opportunities for advancement at the company were limited.

During World War II Don Lusk was drafted into the United States Marine Corps. He served in the training film unit in Quantico, Virginia. He returned to Disney following the war and worked on such  features as Song of the South (1946), The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1953), Sleeping Beauty 1959), and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), as well as several animated shorts.

Don Lusk left Disney in 1960. Afterwards he worked on several animated shorts for Walter Lantz. In the Sixties he worked on features for various companies: Gay Pur-ee (1962) for UPA, Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964) and The Man Called Flintstone (1966) for Hanna-Barbera, The Man from Button Willow (1965) for United Screen Arts, and A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) for Lee Mendelson Films. In the Seventies he worked on Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977).  His last feature film work was on The Thief and the Cobbler (1993) for animator Richard Williams.

Mr. Lusk also did a good deal of work on television. He did a good deal of work for Hanna-Barbera, serving as an animator on The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He directed several episodes of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, Challenge of the Gobots, the 1986 version of Jonny Quest, Smurfs, The Pirates of the Dark Water, and various other shows for the company. He directed several Peanuts specials for Lee Mendelson Films.  He retired from the animation industry in 1993 when he turned 80.

To say the death of Don Lusk marks the end of an era would not be an exaggeration. He started working at Disney four years before the company would release its first animated feature (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937). His career spanned the Golden Age of Animation, during which he worked on feature films and theatrical shorts. He made the transition to television just as animated cartoons started to dominate Saturday morning. Mr. Lusk may not have enjoyed the name recognition or prestige of Disney's Nine Old Men, but in many ways he was a pioneer in animation, working in the industry from early in the Sound Era into the Nineties. That he had a career that lasted so long and spanned decades is proof that he was a man of considerable talent.

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