Disney Legend Bill Justice died early today of natural causes at a nursing home in Santa Monica, California. He was 97. Bill loved his work at The Walt Disney Company, whether it be programming Audio-Animatronics figures for the theme parks or animating Mickey Mouse. Once, when asked if he ever got bored drawing Mickey Mouse, Bill replied, “Have you seen me draw Mickey upside down?” He then did so — effortlessly.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, February 9, 1914, Bill grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. He attended the John Herron Art Institute (now affiliated with Indiana University in Indianapolis), where he studied to be a portrait artist.
After graduation in 1935, he headed west and joined The Walt Disney Studios as an animator in 1937. During his 28 years in the animation department, Bill served as an animator on such classics as Fantasia, Saludos Amigos, Victory Through Air Power, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Among the memorable characters he animated are the precocious Thumper for Bambi and those mischievous characters, Chip and Dale.
During the 1950s, Bill directed several experimental shorts, including Noah’s Ark, A Symposium On Popular Songs, and The Truth About Mother Goose, all of which were nominated for Academy Awards. Along with fellow Disney Legend Xavier (“X”) Atencio and artist T. Hee, Bill also used the painstaking technique of stop-motion animation in live-action Disney features, including The Parent Trap and Mary Poppins. In all, Bill contributed to 57 shorts and 19 features.
In the 1950s, Bill also directed the Mickey Mouse March heard and seen on Disney’s popular television series, Mickey Mouse Club. Recognizing Bill’s immense talent, Walt Disney tapped Bill to join Walt Disney Imagineering in 1965, where he programmed Audio-Animatronics figures for such Disneyland attractions as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Mission to Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree and America Sings. Bill once said, “One of the most enjoyable Disneyland projects was the Pirates of the Caribbean. Manipulating the figures in each vignette was a multiple challenge.”
Bill went on to help bring to life cast members in the Hall of Presidents attraction in Walt Disney World. He also masterminded the Mickey Mouse Revue featured at Walt Disney World and later, Tokyo Disneyland. Bill also had knack for designing parades. In 1959, he designed the floats and costumes for one of the first Disneyland Christmas Parades, and also produced sketches for the Main Street Electrical Parade.
After 42 years with the Walt Disney Company, Bill retired in February 1979. He wrote a book about his Disney years called Justice for Disney, and was often a guest at Disneyana Conventions. Bill is survived by his daughters, Melissa and Marissa Justice, both of Burbank.
-Walt Disney Pictures press release