It has taking me a few days to muster up the courage to write this article. For everyone out there who does not know, veteran animation artist and storybook illustrator, Ron Dias, passed away this past Tuesday.
I will never forget when I first spoke with Ron. It was August of 2010 when I anxiously received his voice message on my cell phone (I still have it on file today). He had responded to a letter I wrote to him on July 28 of that year. I called Ron back instantly and found him to be so welcoming and warm right from the start. That first call led to a second, and a third, and so many more over the next three years. We became very close, and in time, met in person this time last year. In fact, you can read about that visit here if you'd like. What a special day it was!
I had always been an admirer of Ron's art from a far as a child, not knowing that this gem of an artist even existed. It wasn't until I became seriously interested in the art of Disney animation, as an adult, when I discovered who Ron Dias was. And then BOOM! I realized that he had always been a part of my life.
Who knew that this man was lurking in the backgrounds of The Secret of NIMH or hiding within the forest of Sleeping Beauty? And who knew that this wonderful man would someday open up his world to me and become such a dear friend over such a short period of time? I know I'm not alone in this. There are so many others out there, reading this now with tears in their eyes, nodding their heads.
Through Ron, I gained a whole new appreciation not only for animation, but for his art. I never fully realized how much he accomplished in his lifetime until getting to know him. Believe it when I say that Ron is all around us. He's made his mark on children's books, background art, movie posters, puzzles, video games, Bluray menus, comic books, record covers, television, magazines....the list goes on and on!
It was the fall of 2012 when he and I decided to talk in depth about his life and art. With his kind permission, I started to record our sessions in mid-September. Between then and early November I interviewed and recorded Ron on consecutive Saturdays. The interviews would range anywhere from an hour to two hours each. In the end, we had over 12 hours of recordings, divided into eight sessions.
Two weeks before Ron passed away, I began transcribing our first interview together. It's really funny how time works that way. I never thought he'd be gone shortly thereafter. I spoke with him for the last time on July 17 while he was in the hospital. He shared with me that he and his lifelong partner, Howard, we're finally getting married that day. Before hanging up, it dawned on me that it was not only my own wedding anniversary, but Disneyland's birthday too! I could tell he just loved that. Without even knowing it, that was our final goodbye.
Although Ron is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. He has touched so many lives through his art and friendship, and that alone makes him immortal. I know many others out there have a story to tell too.
I've been building up quite an extensive file on Ron since we began talking, with the hopes of someday writing a biography about him. The recordings cemented that, and with Ron's blessing, I knew it was something I was determined to do. Now that he is gone, it makes it so much more real, and so much more important to me that his story be told.
With that said, if you have any information about Ron, whether you were a friend, family member, or coworker, and would like to share your experiences, please feel free to send them to me, Vince, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by clicking the COMMENT tab above. Anything you can send is much appreciated and will be included in my files on Ron.
Ron was known for inscribing in his children's books that "Art is Magic!" Well, I think we can all safely agree that Ron Dias was magic. And he is sorely missed.
I encourage you to visit Ron's website at www.rondias.com to read his obituary and/or to post a message on his memory wall by clicking on the "Guest Book" link at the bottom of his homepage.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Howard and Ron's family.
I'd like to wish all you Disney fans out there Happy Valentine's Day! The three lovable images below are favorites from the Valentine's end of my personal Disney collection. If you'd like to share images of your romantic Disney collectibles, send them to email@example.com and I will upload them to the "Comments" section of this post.
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Now that my Dick Kelsey writing is primarily finished and going through the editing stages, I've been going back into my files to dig up some photos of him. There aren't many out there, but the one below is taken from a California newspaper (I apologize for the poor quality!). Disney artist Ron Dias described Kelsey as being "Geppetto-like" with his white hair and spectacles perched on the end of his nose. The included photo is from the mid-1960s, shortly after Kelsey worked together with Ron in the background department on Hey There, It's Yogi Bear for Hanna-Barbera in 1964
February 3, 2013
(Updated February 17, 2013)
Last month or so I stumbled onto an interesting eBay listing while wrapping up my art biography on Dick Kelsey. In Charles Solomon's book, The Disney That Never Was, he included illustrations of charcoal and pastel Kelsey sketches entitled "Rancho in the Sky," hence whetting the appetites of Disney enthusiasts since its 1995 publication. Additional sketches under the same name have recently shown up on eBay to purchase for a rather large sum.
Russell Schroeder, author of the illuminating Disney's Lost Chords volumes, finally shed some light on the origin of these beautiful pastel sketches. Initially, I felt that the sketches may have been linked to Kelsey's discarded Carnival Mexican story sketches (a film that J.B. Kaufman writes about in his book, South of the Border with Disney), but it appears that Schroeder has uncovered substantial evidence leaning towards the "Pecos Bill" segment of Melody Time. Considering that the lost song "Rancho in the Sky" was penned by Johnny Lange and Hy Heath - both who worked on the musical arrangements for "Pecos Bill" - it's more than likely that Schroeder's assessment is correct, and for that he should be applauded.
Although the eBay listing's information seems well researched, I can't help but question the 1941 year attached to these sketches. The song "Rancho in the Sky" was not penned until 1946 according to Schroeder in his first volume of Disney's Lost Chords. It's common for story sketches to be developed sometimes years before a song is attached to it, but the mysteries surrounding "Rancho in the Sky" continues to leave me with questions. I plan to contact the seller to ask some questions regarding his listing. I will get back to you all if I find anything out.
To check out the "Rancho in the Sky" eBay listing, click here.
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