Willis Pyle 1914-2016 – Animation Scoop

Willis Pyle 1914-2016

Just received the unfortunate news from animator J.J. Seidelmeier (via Dennis Dittrich at the Society Of Illustrators), that master animator Willis Pyle has passed away. He would’ve been 102 years old upon his next birthday.

Born in 1914, Pyle began his career at the Disney studio in 1937 as a office boy, delivering supplies to the animators. He began drawing for the studio on Pinocchio (1940), as Milt Kahl’s assistant. He also worked on Fantasia and Bambi before leaving the studio to work for Walter Lantz, and then with the First Motion Picture Unit during World War II. Pyle joined UPA after the war animating on Mr. Magoo, and on films such as Gerald McBoing Boing. Moving to New York in the 1950s, Pyle became a successful freelance animator and working on dozens of commercials for studios on both coasts. Further credits included Richard Williams feature Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977); DePatie Freleng’s TV Special Halloween Is Grinch Night; Murakami-Wolf’s The Mouse and His Child (1978); numerous Charlie Brown specials and his animation of the classic 1966 CBS “Season’s Greetings” spot designed by R.O. Blechman

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Harvey Deneroff wrote (at Cartoon Research in April) about Pyle: At 68, he gave up animation for painting and exhibited for many years at Manhattan’s Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery. During video chat, he noted he still took art classes at the Art Students League, the National Academy and the Brooklyn Academy.

His brother, the character actor Denver Pyle, was best known for playing Jesse Duke in the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, while his uncle, Ernie Pyle, was the illustrious Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, whose work as a war correspondent was immortalized in William Wellman’s classic film, The Story of G.I. Joe.

There are a batch of good articles about Willis Pyle online. You might want to start with John Canemaker’s 2010 Print magazine piece. Then there’s the 2009 CBS News Sunday Morning profile, which you can see a minute-at-a-time on the Internet Archive. Finally, it should be noted that Pyle donated his personal archives to Indiana University’s Lilly Library, in Bloomington, which is described here.

Here is Harvey Deneroff’s interview with Pyle from June 6th, 1987, for the occasion of the Fourth Annual Golden Awards Banquet put on by The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, Local 839, I.A.T.S.E. (now The Animation Guild).

pyle1.jpg Art of Willis Pyle

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Eric Goldberg, Jerry Beck and Darrell Van Citters visit with Willis Pyle at the Disney Studios on November 26th 2014.

Eric Goldberg, Jerry Beck and Darrell Van Citters visit with Willis Pyle at the Disney Studios on November 26th 2014.

Jerry Beck

Jerry Beck

Writer, cartoon producer and author of more than 15 books on animation history. A former studio exec with Nickelodeon and Disney; currently on the faculty at both CalArts in Valencia and Woodbury University in Burbank.
Jerry Beck
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