Learn about Disney Legend Les Clark, born 11/17/1907.
While many people have had the pleasure of working for the Walt Disney Company, only a select few have made an impact that’s deserving of being inducted as a Disney Legend. The company’s prestigious hall of fame recognizes those who have helped establish the Disney legacy in noteworthy ways.
You’d probably recognize many of the names that have been included on the annual list of inductees, but there are many individuals who have unfortunately not become household names—like Les Clark.
Lead photo courtesy of D23
We’re featuring Disney Legends for 16 months in our 2022 Disney World wall calendar. Did you get your order in?
One of the most hard-working animators in the company’s history, Les Clark was a dedicated member of Walt’s team for many years and was one of the first people to be deemed a Disney Legend. To honor his contributions, here’s a spotlight on the gifted animator and Disney Legend Les Clark.
1. Discovered at an Ice Cream Parlor
While Walt’s company was still in its fledgling years, he and his brother Roy were always looking for gifted people to join their team. One summer day, the Disney brothers were having a cool treat at the ice cream shop down the street from Walt Disney Studios in Hollywood.
There, they met Les, who worked at the shop during the summer months between high school semesters. The Disney brothers noticed Les’ deft hand at drawing artistic lettering on the shop’s menu and complimented the boy.
Recognizing the opportunity that working for Walt could provide but unconfident about his own skills, Les nervously asked Walt for a job two years later upon graduating high school. After looking over Les’ portfolio, Walt offered him a “temporary” position that began the following Monday.
Neither man could have predicted that his “temporary” job would last 50 years.
2. Started at the Bottom
Even though Walt offered Les a position in his company, that didn’t mean the hard-working young man began his career at Walt Disney Studios as a primary contributor.
In actuality, he began his employment with the company by performing an array of menial tasks, such as being a camera operator who captured other people’s drawings on film. Gradually, his work ethic earned him the opportunity to complete increasingly significant tasks, like inking and creating in-between drawings.
Due to his loyalty to the company when other employees were leaving, Les was eventually given whole scenes to animate by himself. He debuted his work in the first Silly Symphony, “The Skeleton Dance,” in 1929.
3. One of the Old Men
Les’ unrelenting drive to continue improving his craft impressed Walt, who brought the young man into his closest circle of animators.
Walt called this group of core animators his “Nine Old Men,” and together the team refined the 12 basic principles of animation. For decades, Les worked alongside other “old men” like Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.
It’s no surprise then that Les was one of the earliest inductees into the Disney Legends hall of fame. His contributions to the company’s animation department spanned almost 50 years and more than qualified him for this honor.
4. A Hand in Your Favorite Characters
Les had a knack for drawing characters exhibiting nuanced emotion, so he was given crucial character moments to depict in many Disney creations that required the hand of a master artist.
His proficiency at crafting poignant scenes led to his involvement in nearly 20 animated feature-length films in which he helped draw iconic characters like Pinocchio, Cinderella, Alice, Tinker Bell, and Sleeping Beauty.
Les also was skilled at synchronizing movement to music, as evidenced by his success on “The Skeleton Dance.” Thus, it’s no surprise that Les was given the task of animating the dancing dwarfs in the studio’s first feature-length animated motion picture.
5. A Man Behind the Mouse
Animator Ub Iwerks is largely remembered as being the co-creator of Mickey Mouse alongside Walt himself. While working at the studio, Ub became Les’ mentor, helping him hone his drawing skills on many projects, including sketching the mouse himself.
Eventually, Les became so skilled at drawing that he surpassed the skills of his mentor, becoming a better Mickey illustrator than the mouse’s own designer.
The animator’s first time drawing Mickey Mouse was on the rodent’s debut: “Steamboat Willie” in 1928. Over a decade later, Les had a major hand in the depiction of the mouse in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of Fantasia, drawing that memorable moment when Mickey’s sleeves keep falling down as he wiggles his fingers.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Les Clark had a significant hand in bringing our favorite animated characters to life. Through his half-century of tireless work and abundant creativity at Walt Disney Studios, he contributed to the creation of over 100 animated shorts.
Which of the classic Disney animated films or shorts that Les Clark worked on is your favorite? Tell us with a comment on our Facebook page!