Scarlett Stahl attended a celebration of life for Mel Shaw at the Walt Disney Studios Main Theater. Shaw was an animator, writer, and artist. He was involved in the animation, story design, and visual development of numerous Disney animated films and was named a Disney Legend in 2004 for his contributions to the Walt Disney Company. ~~Rick
THE COLORFUL LIFE OF MEL SHAW
by Scarlett Stahl
The Shaw and Lounsbery families and the Walt Disney Studios invited guests to celebrate The Colorful Life of Mel Shaw on Tuesday, February 19th, at the Walt Disney Studios Main Theater in Burbank, California.
Guests gathered with friends in the theater as they settled into their seats.
Don Hahn, famous producer, artist and director, was the moderator of the first panel, which consisted of Mel’s son- Rick Shaw, his daughter- Melissa Shaw Couch-Deranleau and grown stepchildren: Ken Lounsbery, Andrea Lounsbery Gessel-Sever and John Lounsbery.
Charles Solomon, well known author, critic and historian of animation, moderated the second panel of animators/artists: Andy Gaskill, Burny Mattinson, Ron Clements, John Musker and John Lefler.
Also shown on the screen were pictures of Mel with his extended family as well as some of Mel’s art. Among the many pieces of his art shown on the screen at the Tribute were the title sequences from the 1977 movie, The Rescuers. These were done in pastels but were compelling.
Melvin Schwartzman, aka Mel Shaw, was born in Brookyn, N.Y. on December 19, 1914, the second son of four boys born to his parents. When Mel was twelve, he won a major prize in a soap carving contest for Proctor and Gamble and continued sculpting all his life. His family moved to California in the late 1920’s, when Mel was a teenager and he attended the Otis Art Institute.
Mel’s first job was lettering movie titles at Pacific Title, owned by film producer, Leon Schlesinger. Next Mel helped create a storyboard for an Orson Welles film, The Little Prince, but it was never filmed. After that he worked for animation directors Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising at their studio for several years.
As his grandfather had owned a stable, Mel had become an accomplished horseman. In the 1930’s while playing polo, he met Walt Disney, who was also a polo player. By 1935, he was working for Disney and was playing on one of Walt’s teams, the Donald Ducks, which beat the President of Mexico’s team in Mexico. Needless to say the Disney team left Mexico rather quickly!!!
Mel worked in animation, story design and visual development, beginning with Bambi, released in 1942. World War II interrupted his career at Disney when he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a filmmaker, producing films as well as acting as an art director and cartoonist for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in Shanghai. He even worked on Lord Mountbatten’s film crew during the war!
After the war, Mel, along with Bob Allen, who had been an MGM Studios animator, went into business together at Allen-Shaw Productions. One of their redesigned creations was the Howdy Doody marionette for NBC.
During the transition at the Walt Disney Studios between the original animators and the new young Turks in 1974, Mel was called back to mentor the new generation and assist with animation design and story. He worked on The Rescuers in 1977, The Fox and the Hound in 1981, The Black Cauldron in 1985, The Great Mouse Detective in 1986, Beauty and the Beast in 1991, and The Lion King in 1994. For his body of work, he was named a Disney Legend in 2004, with his handprints and signature cast in bronze and placed on a pillar at the Walt Disney Studios Legend Plaza.
In private life he married his wife, Louise, within a month of the time that they met. His children said that their parents were like gypsies and would take them away for the entire summer, visiting museums throughout Europe. Mel and Louise were married from 1938 until her death in 1984. According to Mel’s grown children, Louise had suggested that after her death Mel should marry Florence Lounsbery (widow of John Lounsbery, a Disney animator and a family friend.) And in 1985 Mel and Florence indeed were married and remained together until her death in 2004. Both the Shaw and Lounsbery grown children agreed that they all made up one happy family. After Florence’s death, Mel lived with his son in Woodland Hills, California until he passed away on November 22, 2012 at age 97 years.
After the celebration in the theatre, the guests, panelists and family retired to the Studio Commissary for desserts, beverages and lively conversation. All in all everyone agreed that it was a lovely celebration, befitting an incredibly talented Disney Legend, Mel Shaw.
Please note: The Shaw family plans to publish Mel’s autobiography, “Animators on Horseback,” posthumously. The pictures and article above were published with the permission of Howard Green of the Walt Disney Animation Studio and the Shaw family.