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Birney Imes: Uncovering another local hero

 

Birney Imes

 

Glenn Lautzenhiser and Rufus Ward are at it again. The two local cultural preservationists have, in the past year or so, organized memorial events for native sons who have been titans in their field, sports broadcaster Red Barber and boxer Henry Armstrong. 

 

Both men were virtual unknowns among Columbians; now they have historical markers. The Ol'' Redhead''s can be seen on Military Road, just north of the offices of Thomas, Kirby and Brown. Armstrong''s marker is on the way to the lock and dam at the intersection of Wilkins-Wise and Waverley Ferry roads. 

 

Ward and Lautzenhiser have their sights on Josh Meador, who for 24 years was an animator and special effects man for Disney Studios in California. Meador won the 1954 Academy Award for special effects for his work on "20,000 Leagues under the Sea." He had a hand in the making of more than 30 Disney films. His animation and special effects credits include "Fantasia, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Dumbo," "Pinocchio," "Alice in Wonderland," "Cinderella" and "Song of the South." 

 

Unlike Barber and Armstrong (and Tennessee Williams, for that matter), who were born here and moved away shortly thereafter, Meador was born somewhere else (Greenwood in 1911) and moved here around age 7. His father was an auditor for the Columbus and Greenville Railroad. Meador grew up in Columbus, attended Lee High School, where according to a report in this newspaper, he "started his career as a cartoon animator drawing in the margins of his school books."  

 

Shortly after the release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," a brief in The Dispatch boasts that Meador was once a "Little Merchant," the label given to newspaper carriers in those days. 

 

As a former Little Merchant, I''ll restrain myself from doing a riff on that subject, only to say that many white males of a certain age growing up in Columbus were either Little Merchants or worked at the Tag Plant, then in a building just south of the old Marble Works. 

 

After high school Meador was off to the Art Institute of Chicago (the school associated with the museum of the same name) where he graduated in 1935. The next year he moved to California and took a job with Disney. 

 

When he wasn''t devising special effects for the studio, Meador painted the seascapes and landscapes of California. His boss, who Meador said everyone called Walt, bought 50 of those paintings over time. Much of his work was made using a palette knife, like the 1950 painting, "The Stockard Home," in the local history room of the Columbus Public Library. The house, located on the 300 block of Third Avenue South, was a magnificent two-story Italianate that Meador rendered in vibrant red tones. The house suffered the same fate as many others like it here. It was torn down for a parking lot. 

 

Other than the movie credits and a bit about his art shows, there''s not a lot of information out there about Josh Meador, the man. He died in 1965. Saturday afternoon I was able to reach by phone his only son, Philip Meador, in Glendale, Calif. Mr. Meador, 70, was gracious with his time and in our conversation painted the picture of a creative dynamo and a loving father. 

 

"He went to work every day and came home every day," Meador said about his father''s movie work. "When he was home he didn''t want to talk about Disney. He would chat with us, then go into the studio to paint and listen to music. 

 

Meador continued. "He was a wonderful guy, a good father, loving, all of that. He had a hell of a sense of humor. His nickname from the studio was Catfish. Most of these guys were midwesterners from Chicago and Josh had this wonderful Southern humor and manner about him. Everyone had a nickname." 

 

Meador said his father''s painting was far from a hobby. He tells a story about an opening in the LA area where collectors were using binoculars to preview his father''s paintings before the gallery opened. 

 

"It was amazing; there were 200 people outside this gallery chomping at the bits to get in and buy a painting.  

 

Josh Meador''s work was exhibited here at the library in 1983 and earlier at the Mississippi State College for Women Art Department (then in Painter Hall) in 1957. At The W, his work was shown with Theora Hamblett, the self-taught visionary painter from Oxford. 

 

At Disney Josh Meador''s primarily work was effects animation, said his son, who eventually became a cameraman for the studio. "He cut the Z''s for ''Zorro''; did the bubble sequence for ''Cinderella''; the water effects in the Sorcerer''s Apprentice sequence for ''Fantasia,''" he said. Josh Meador did the Flubber special effects for the car in "The Absent-Minded Professor," a 1961 film nominated for an Academy Award in special effects. 

 

Philip cherishes the memory of family trips to Columbus. 

 

"Every two or three years we would drive out, either in the summer or at Christmas. It was always a fun experience being with mom and dad and typically a dog. Traveling across the country we would see wonderful things." 

 

Near the end of our conversation, I read Philip Meador something from a Dispatch clipping: "Artist Meador says he knows a good many of the movie celebrities but prefers a quiet, simple life ... His favorite glamor girl is Snow White." To which Philip added, "and my mother." 

 

Rufus and Glenn say they hope to put on a program this fall similar to the one honoring Barber last year. "He is another example of a world class figure from Columbus," said Ward, "and most people have never heard of him." Ward and Lautzenhiser hope to show some of the movies Meador worked on and erect a historic marker in the vicinity of his childhood home at 823 Sixth Ave. N., across the street from Temple Heights. 

 

Philip Meador said he plans to attend the celebration with his son and grandson. Wonder if they''ll be driving cross country with a dog? 

 

Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at birney@cdispatch.com. 

 

 

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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