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Betty Stone: From Columbus to Disney’s studios


Betty Stone



I don''t remember when I first heard his name. I moved to Columbus when I was 9 years old, so it was well after that. I had practically cut my teeth on the films "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio" and "Bambi," but I had really given no thought to the people who animated them -- literally gave them life. For me they were just characters, but as real as I was, created, I guess, by God. 


After I got older, I heard there was some fellow from Columbus who worked for Walt Disney in California. I never dreamed that this Joshua Meador had played such a big part in my magical world of make-believe. Actually, I did not know just how impressive was his impact until recently, although of course by that time I did know he was a VIP at the Disney studios. 


Then the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, the Billups-Garth Archives, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History put together plans to honor Josh Meador and to raffle one of his paintings to preserve the garage at his Columbus home, where he had painted on the walls a la Walter Anderson, though not as extensively.  


This week, Meador''s son, Phil, will review his father''s work in a program at the Mississippi University for Women Nissan Auditorium Friday at 7 p.m. (Phil Meador himself has had a successful career in visual effects.) The public can also join extended family members at a library exhibit Saturday at 10 a.m. featuring some of Josh Meador''s works. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime show. 




Prolonged influence 


I was fortunate to have a visit with Glenn Lautzenhiser and Rufus Ward, who are promoting the event and are men with extraordinary memory and historical knowledge. They have collected a nearly incredible number of facts about Meador. 


He created visual effects for the movies I loved, as well as "Cinderella," "Fantasia," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Make Mine Music." He has been called one of the "five most notable effects animators in history." His work contributed to several Academy Award movies for the Disney studio, and one Oscar which was presented personally to him and a colleague. He was sequence director for "Make Mine Music," which won top honors at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. 


Not only were Meador''s works famous in his own time, but they have had prolonged influence on later films. In "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark," a visual effects sequence when the Ark is opened is taken straight from "Fantasia," considered by some to be Disney''s masterpiece. 


During his tenure at Disney, MGM borrowed him to work on "The Forbidden Planet." Walt Disney had to urge him to take the assignment. For it Meador created the Id monster, one of the most frightening in the history of animation. It inspired both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. His special effects were used in the "Star Trek" series. Trekkies, take notice. 


Walt Disney himself bought over 50 of Meador''s paintings. Once, when Disney wanted to give Josh some special thanks, Disney sent him a case of Jack Daniels. It was Josh''s favorite, but not readily available in California.  






During World War II Meador worked on patriotic films including "Sky Trooper" and "Victory Through Air Power." In "Sky Trooper," Donald Duck joined the Air Force and was sent to Mallard Field Air Force Base. Some animation cells from these movies found their way to Columbus. Rufus'' grandfather, T. C. Billups, had organized a service club in the basement of Whitehall, called "The Drop-In Hangar." People sent memorabilia for the walls.  


The animation cells were signed: "For the Hangar from Josh Meador, chief animator, Walt Disney Productions." Two were autographed, "Happy Landings at Whitehall" by Walt Disney. Rufus and his brother kept four of them. Carlton Billups had one. 




Creative mapping 


Meador did special work for "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier." One piece for that show depicted a map of Mississippi. Meador and a friend would sometimes portray each other''s hometowns as the biggest city in the area. The friend had done the map for the Davy Crockett show. It depicted Nashboro (Nashville), Fort Mims, Ala., and, in the middle, Mississippi''s "biggest city," Columbus. The map was for 1813-1814. No way could Columbus be that! 


What is the source of such talent as Josh Meador''s? Grade school companions recalled that he "liked to draw." While in Lee High School, he would sneak into art classes at Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) instead of his own classes. You might say Josh Meador was really the first male to integrate the W, although he did not matriculate. For college he turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in order to attend the Chicago Art Institute. 


Great talent simply must express itself. Aren''t we glad Josh Meador''s did? 


(Editor''s note: Tickets to own an original Meador oil painting from the collection of the late Walt and Lillian Disney, and donated by the Meador family, are $50 each at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center. The drawing will be held in early November.)


Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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