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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Harry Holt Images

It was one of those weird things. I saw a nice drawing of Ariel in DeviantArt and looked through some of my Little Mermaid images. I noticed a sketch that was done by an older gentleman while we were at Disney World. I looked at the signature and what I had written in my database. I realized that I had done my searching on the wrong name!

When I searched again, I was amazed to learn more about this man's great background. When we met him, he was unassuming, kind and interested in what we collected.

Harry Holt's "Little Mermaid" (1990)

So, I was reading his obit and then started reading some of the messages left by others. It was really amazing how many people trace their interest in collecting animation art to encounters with Mr. Holt.

Then I read one entry that talked about his "Lady and the Tramp" piece that they valued. "Wait a minute..." I thought. I opened my LadyTramp folder and saw another sketch. My jaw dropped... I had not realized that they were both drawn by Holt. The Lady and the Tramp piece was a year later -- evidently a few months before he left for a full retirement.

Harry Holt's "Lady and the Tramp" (1991)

Here's the entry from the The Big Cartoon Forum:

Harry Holt, who worked for over a half a century as an animator, designer and art director for Walt Disney Studios, has died at 93.

Holt, of Casselberry, Florida, helped design scenes for such classic Disney features as Snow White and Lady and the Tramp. He died April 14, said his wife of 27 years, Barbara.

"He was a very simple man, very quiet and modest, but he knew his trade," she told the Orlando Sentinel.

The many series for which he was an animator included Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles, The Herculoids, Challenge of the Super Friends, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo and Smurfs. He was also an animator for 1964's Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (Hanna-Barbera's first feature film) and the hour-long 1977 NBC special A Flintstone Christmas.

Despite Holt's extensive involvement with Hanna-Barbera, the lion's share of his career was with Disney, where he began in 1936 by applying as an artist. The studio tested his skills by asking him to write and illustrate a script for each major Disney character in comic-strip fashion.

Pleased with his work, animators tried him out. Holt trained for two weeks, then started as an apprentice and moved up the ladder quickly, helping develop Snow White. He was an animator for the Donald Duck shorts Donald's Diary (1954) and Chips Ahoy (1956).

After 20 years with Disney, Holt left to work in TV production and art direction. He spent two years in Chicago, then moved back to Los Angeles. There, he joined Hanna-Barbera Studios to worked on The Flintstones and Tom and Jerry cartoons.

In the 1960s, Holt came back to Disney, such as plans were starting to develop Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He worked alongside the entertainment giant's founder, Walt Disney, and his "Nine Old Men" of longtime animators.
An unfinished work of art was the creation of Jungle Book sculptures to be set in the background for a promotional documentary narrated by Walt Disney. But Walt died before they were used.

Rising to the rank of chief designer, Holt had the job of interpreting and designing Disney World sculptures for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. He sculpted "maquettes," the original models, of characters for such well-known rides and other attractions as Pirates of the Caribbean, Country Bear Jamboree, Snow White, Peter Pan and the Haunted Mansion. The sculpture department then used these models as references to make life-size animatronic characters.
Holt's responsibilities as art director and sculptor also led him to develop attractions at Disneyland in California and Japan.

While art director in charge of merchandising at Disney World, Holt was asked in 1979 to design for Goebel, the firm which makes Hummel figurines. He produced "Amerikids," a set of 32 figurines representing American children.

Holt retired in the early 1990s. His last job at Disney was greeting guests at the Disney/MGM Studio Preview Center in Orlando and signing replicas and photocopies of his Disney character sketches.

"Disney was his life. He used to show animators in the art department how to draw characters. It took 12 drawings to have a character raise an arm from his side to an up position," recalled Barbara Holt.

She remembers his talent as being natural: "He always drew. That was part of him."

Harry Holt is also survived by daughter Renee and son Craig, both of California, and by a grandson.

Collison's Howell Branch Funeral Home of Winter Park, Florida is handling the arrangements.


  1. Bob,

    Amazing images!

    Thanks for sharing your recollections of Mr. Holt and the posting from the forum.

  2. George-

    -Thanks for the comment!
    -I wouldn't have even considered posting this if it hadn't been an unusual confluence of events...


  3. I knew Harry Holt very well. When I worked at World Showcase back in 87-88 I would sometimes spend some of my free time visiting with him before he started work.

    He was very generous with his time. I ended-up conducting an interview with him for the old StoryBoard magazine. He was the cover story and he generously autographed a special photographic copy of the cover the publisher sent to me.

    He gave me many great photographic images to make copies of and I have all of those drawings he gave away.

    I'll email you a scan of the magazine interview.

    It's funny how he and I lost touch. I was thinking of him around 6 months or so ago. I found an image of the Disney Studio strike on the internet and he was in it! I often wondered what happened to him.



  4. Hi, Bob,

    I don't know if you're aware of it or not, but Harry Holt's daughter Renee Holt is a top Key Assistant Animator who worked at Disney for many years.

    I first worked with Renee on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and then on several other movies at Disney.

    I will forward your blog posts on to her since I'm sure she would be interested in these posts about her dad.

  5. David--

    Thanks for the comment. No, I was not aware of his daughter. I followed the link to her IMDB entry. Very rewarding.

    I appreciate you forwarding the post to her. And there is another post on Mr. Holt that she may enjoy reading....


  6. Hi Bob --

    I thought I'd share this with you... I recently purchased a used copy of the 1st edition of 'The Illusion of Life' -- David Nethery had suggested getting an older copy since newer editions had inferior printing. When the book arrived, I found this picture tucked inside the front cover: