Robert: Interesting guy, Ward Kimball. I first met his daughter, Chloe, when I worked at American Greeting Cards. She was a friend of somebody who worked there and she started coming around during her travels. She was one of the first real hippie girls I ever met, Chloe Kimball. And then when I lived in San Francisco, Ward Kimball came to visit me, in the fall of 1968. I have these photos someone took of me and Ward Kimball in the little improvised studio space I had in my house in San Francisco at the time. I had Jessie, who was like six months old, on my lap. And Kimball came to see me because he liked my work, he liked what I was doing. He liked Zap Comics, which is amazing because here's a guy who started working at Disney Studios in the 1920s! He was of a much older generation, I think in his 60s at the time. But probably younger than I am now (laughs). But a hip, sophisticated older guy, which was rare. I rarely ever met sophisticated older people. So it was very interesting to meet a guy much older than me who had been through some intellectual and artistic development. But Kimball was a company man. He was really a Disney man. He was like one of the "nine old men" of Disney Studios at that time. He had become somewhat — how would you say it? — corporate in his thinking. Where he really devoted himself and indulged in were his hobbies, because he made a lot of money. When you went to visit him, he was very eager to show you his toy train and other collections. He had the most magnificent toy collection I had ever seen. I went to visit him in L.A. and he had this big house. Actually my friend Robert Armstrong had known him before I did. He had some kind of connection with him in Pasadena — I can't exactly remember what their connection was — but a lot of people I know went through Kimball's place. These guys I knew from American Greetings who were writers were also involved with Kimball through their mutual interest in dixieland jazz. He had a band called The Firehouse Five Plus Two. They made records in the early '50s. Somebody recently just sent me a whole bunch of letters that went back and forth between Ward Kimball and this guy I used to know at American Greetings in the '60s, John Gibbons, and it's kind of funny because they talk about me in these letters. So Kimball knew about me for years before he actually met me.
Alex: So when he met you in San Francisco, did he talk about your artwork?
Robert: Yeah, we talked about my artwork and Kimball said it harkened back to what he called the ‘balloon tire style’ of cartooning that was popular in the 1920s. The balloon tire style! (laughs).
Alex: What did Ward Kimball specialize in at Disney Studios?
Robert: I think he started out as a script writer and then kind of moved up to a director of the cartoons. He had a big influence on the scripts during the '40s. He was an idea man — you know, sit around the conference room and hash this stuff out. He had some interesting stories about Disney and Kelly. He said if you wanted to make Disney laugh, you had to make scatological jokes. He said if you look at Pinocchio, there's a butt joke every two minutes in that film. And if you watch Pinocchio, wow — it's true — there's a butt joke every two minutes.
In the early '70s, when I got involved with Armstrong and The Cheap Suit Serenaders, we would go over to Kimball's and play music and sit around and talk. He was a very congenial host and he liked us. He was not just an old fogie. He had a lively mind and he was interested in what was going on in the world, with the hippies and all that. His daughter was a total hippie. He just died a few years ago, and they sold off his toy collection. I got this catalog of his toys they were selling, but they were too expensive for me; too pricey for me. Actually, the two that I coveted the most I ended up getting examples of elsewhere, one through trading for artwork. It was this tin toy of the Toonerville Trolley that was made in the '20s. It's a great toy, a wonderful toy. And the other was the Andy Gump cast iron car (laughs). Those were the two things that Kimball had that I coveted and I was able to, later, get examples of myself. But, he had the most magnificent toy train collection. He had these Lionel trains from the '20s. Those Lionel train cars from the '20s were much bigger than the later toy trains. Those early electric trains were really incredible. He had this whole big train layout in a huge room in the back of his house. That was his main love in life — his hobbies. He loved trains and the whole railroad thing. He would dress up as an old time railroad engineer, with the striped overalls and hat. He even had an old steam locomotive in his backyard, with a coal car and passenger car attached to it. He had this track that ran around his property and he would fire that thing up and take people for rides in it (laughs). I think he had a deep nostalgia for his early childhood, the early 1900s, and he thought it all went to hell after that. He influenced the Disney Studios in the 1940s into making a lot of cartoons about that period; the early 1900s. One of the best ones was called The Little House; great Disney cartoon. Another one was about this fedora hat that falls in love with a girl's hat. Another one was Casey at the Bat, I'm sure that's all Ward Kimball's influence.