Reflecting on the past year in the world of Disney entertainment, we remember the premieres of new films and attractions, as well as the moments that helped make 2015 to be one of Disney’s finest in recent decades. But the passing of countless company contributors (artists, actors, and more) always stings. This special edition of Disney In Depth remembers many of the men and women who, in one way or another, shaped how The Walt Disney Company is today.
Dean Jones (Starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat!, Blackbeard’s Ghost and countless other Disney films from the 1960s and 1970s)
As with many major life events, we can recall exactly where we were when we heard the news. For a select number of major Disney personalities who pass away, the same notion holds true. I was looking through my Facebook news feed when a friend of mine – who was also a friend of Dean Jones – shared a post about the actor’s death. Dean Jones, the star of a string of Disney films and a Disney Legend, belonged to a small class of performers who defined Disney entertainment of a long-gone era. People like Hayley Mills (his co-star in That Darn Cat!), Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins), Annette Funicello (too many Disney entities to mention), and David Tomlinson (Bedknobs & Broomsticks) were the Disney stars of the 1960s and into the 1970s. Jones’ acting range, including his comedic style and wild facial expressions, made him an enrapturing force and a friendly face. His contributions to Disney were both high in quantity (by the sheer number of productions) and equally strong in quality. Dean Jones died on September 1, 2015 at age 80.
Here’s Jones in action with Herbie in The Love Bug via a clip from the DisneyMoviesOnDemand YouTube channel.
Maureen O’Hara (Starred in the original The Parent Trap)
Maureen O’Hara’s one and only appearance in a Disney film was none other than the 1961 sister-swapping comedy The Parent Trap as the mom to Sharon and Susan. It was another feather in the cap for the glamorous Hollywood actress who also lent her angelic voice to the Sherman Brothers’ song “For Now, For Always,” featured in the film. Though she never worked for Disney again following a legal conflict, O’Hara possesses at least one Disney film credit. What a good one. Maureen O’Hara died on October 24, 2015 at age 95.
Leonard Nimoy (Voice of King Nedakh in Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Director of Body Wars)
Spock himself can claim some connections to The Walt Disney Company. In the late 1980s, Leonard Nimoy directed the motion-simulator attraction featured in the Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot’s Future World: Body Wars. This experience in the vein of Star Tours, considered too nauseating by some guests because of its setting in a fictional human body, was a fun ride. Wonderfully made under the Star Trek actor’s direction, the film played for more than 15 years. He also lent his voice to King Nedakh, Princess Kida’s sage father, in the cult animated classic Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Leonard Nimoy died on February 27, 2015 at age 83.
Kevin Corcoran (Actor in The Mickey Mouse Club, Old Yeller, Toby Tyler, Swiss Family Robinson, Pollyanna and The Shaggy Dog, along with many other Disney films and TV shows)
For many, Kevin Corcoran was forever Moochie. The child actor from The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s worked for the Mouse for many, many years in various capacities. He worked with fellow Disney actor Tommy Kirk in a bunch of movies, and would later produce several Disney films in the 1970s. Corcoran was named a Disney Legend in 2006. Kevin Corcoran died on October 6, 2015 at age 66.
Rod Taylor (Voice of Pongo in One Hundred and One Dalmatians)
RodTaylor was a one-hit wonder for Disney, even though he amassed dozens of film and television credits over the decades. His role as a Disney employee in came in voicing the main dalmatian in 1961’s animated hit One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Pongo stands as Roger’s loyal companion and one heck of a good dad. Taylor’s vocal performance added to the character’s depth. Rod Taylor died on January 7, 2015 at age 84.
Blaine Gibson (Famed Disney Imagineer and sculptor)
Another Disney Legend passed away this past year – Blaine Gibson. The incomparable animator and sculptor first worked for Disney in the earliest days of feature animation, but his shining moment came in 1961 when joining WED. Imagineering during its earliest days – and for many years to follow – would benefit from Gibson’s sculpting abilities. He left a mark on Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, among other signature Disney attractions, through crafting innumerable figures. Blaine Gibson died on July 5, 2015 at age 97.
Below is a video from The Walt Disney Family Museum’s YouTube channel that features various Disney personalities, including Gibson, talk about Walt.
James Horner (Composer of The Rocketeer, Mighty Joe Young, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and many other Disney films)
The death of James Horner, a famed film composer known best for his work in Titanic and Avatar, took Hollywood by surprise. After all, he still had many more years of developing movie music in him. His credits for The Walt Disney Company were extensive and diverse in tone, from 1983’s eerie Something Wicked This Way Comes for Disney to 2005’s thriller Flightplan, released under the Touchstone banner. He also provided the score for the Captain EO theme park attraction. James Horner died on June 22, 2015 at age 61.
Christopher Lee (Starred as Count Dooku in the Star Wars films)
Though they were not considered Disney films at the time of their release, Star Wars Episodes II & III are now under the umbrella, and they starred Christopher Lee, the deep-throated, old-school actor who could command a room with his presence. As the evil Count Dooku in those Star Wars prequels, Lee knew how to bring down the house in epic lightsaber battles. The actor also starred decades earlier in 1978’s Escape from Witch Mountain. Christopher Lee died on June 7, 2015 at age 93.
Susan Sheridan (Voice of Princess Eilonwy in The Black Cauldron)
British actress Susan Sheridan voiced the female protagonist in one of Disney animation’s most forgotten features: The Black Cauldron. Her non-Disney contributions existed in everywhere from theatre to international television. Susan Sheridan died on August 9, 2015 at age 68.
David Canary (Actor in All My Children)
ABC Daytime has been under the Disney banner since Disney’s acquisition of the network some 20 years ago. Though All My Children met its demise after 41 years of airing, it had a lasting impact on pop culture. David Canary played not one, but two of the show’s most memorable characters: imperial Adam Chandler and his nice twin brother Stuart. He held the roles for more than 25 years, an impressive feat, and garnered five Daytime Emmy awards. David Canary died on November 16, 2015 at age 77.
Dick Van Patten (Starred in Freaky Friday, The Shaggy D.A. and other Disney films from the 1970s)
Dick Van Patten had an illustrious television career for more than six decades, starting when the technological medium was just emerging. The Eight Is Enough actor entered the Disney scene in the 1970s with the comedy Screwball Express. This was just the beginning, though, as the character actor starred in a bunch of movies during the era. Dick Van Patten died on June 23, 2015 at age 86.
Robert Loggia (Starred in The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca and Oliver & Company)
Disney’s early television miniseries The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca depicted Robert Loggia as the western outlaw, belonging in the company of Zorro and Davy Crockett as iconic live-action television heroes from a certain place and time of years ago. Loggia, who often played tough personalities, voiced the brute Sykes in 1988’s Oliver & Company. Robert Loggia died on December 4, 2015 at age 85.
Carson Van Osten (Disney comics artist)
Recently named a Disney Legend at the last D23 Expo, Carson Van Osten served as a graphic artist for Disney as early as the 1970s. He served as a major player in the Disney Consumer Products division, and created a long list of logos and icons for various Disney entities. Carson Van Osten died on December 22, 2015 at age 70.
Here is a video of Van Osten being interviewed during the D23 Expo by Disney D23 for its YouTube channel.
We can treasure all of these great contributors to The Walt Disney Company for generations to come!
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.