Roy Williams   (1907-1976)
The Big Mooseketeer
Roy was a gag man more than an animator, though on the show his quick drawing caricatures were used as the central prop for many skits. The only real employee among the show's cast, Roy stayed on with the studio until he retired in the 1970's.
Joseph Roy Williams was born July 30, 1907 in Colville, Washington, the son of Ida M. Lofland from Missouri and a Mr. D. W. Williams from Wales, UK. His father passed away before Roy was 12. In 1920 Roy and his mother lived in the Fremont district of Los Angeles, with Roy's grandmother Laura Smith. Roy's mother worked as a confectioner in a local candy store. Roy went to Fremont High School, where he was both a football player, known as "Moose" Williams, and a cartoonist for the school newspaper.
In 1925 Roy was hired by the Hyperion Studio after a short conversation with someone he took for the office boy (it was Walt). This was the beginning of Roy's lifelong personal loyalty to Walt Disney. Walt paid for Roy's training at the Chouinnard Art School, and took him on in the Art Department. As Roy's skill and experience grew, he was moved to the Animation Department, first as an in-betweener, then as a full-fledged animator. During the early thirties Roy and his wife Betty had a daughter, but the couple divorced a few years later, and Roy then married Ethyl, who would be his companion until he died.
Roy's strength was judged to be as a story and gag man, and by the start of the fifties he had moved away from animation. As the studio's production of cartoon shorts and features wound down in the mid-fifties, Roy was assigned to do story boards for the upcoming Mickey Mouse Club
. That's when Walt Disney selected him as co-host for the show. Roy often said that Walt Disney selected him for the show because he was "big and funny-looking". However, even before the Mickey Mouse Club
was concieved, Roy was a front man for studio publicity. One Los Angeles resident recalled:
"I saw Roy Williams in person well before the show went on the air. He came to my elementary school in about 1953, I think, to do a chalk talk, showing kids how to draw Mickey, etc, with a big piece of charcoal on a sketch pad mounted on an easel. He had a suit on, and was introduced as one of the top Disney artists....I do recall that he was big (meaning overweight) and that he was really good with kids, smiling and making everybody laugh and go ooh and aah at his quick sketches, which he gave away to some of my lucky classmates. "
For the first season, Roy joined Hal Adelquist, Bill Walsh, and Jimmie Dodd in picking out the kids who would be on the show. As the casting directors screened the applicants, Roy would sketch them (they were also photographed) and then would contribute his input for the final decision. This was very different from the later seasons, where Roy was excluded from the casting process. When the show started filming, Roy's quick sketch ability figured into the story lines for many numbers. Roy was part of the Roll Call for all three seasons, though he usually came on camera just after the dancing finished.
Roy liked the kids (he and Ethyl had a teenage daughter Maureen) and cast birthday parties were often held at the swimming pool
at his house. Roy also got along well with both Jimmie and Bob Amsberry
, even carpooling to and from the studio with the latter. He was dismissive of his own on-camera performances, claiming Walt Disney forbade him to sing out loud, and even insisting the sound editors had to assemble his spoken lines word by word from multiple takes.
The truth was, that despite some initial miscues, Roy actually could do a little comic acting. In the later seasons he appeared in as many skits as Jimmie, though he stayed clear of song and dance numbers. Roy's on-camera sketching gradually disappeared in the second season, though his illustrations would occasionally grace Jimmie's "Doddisms" and the Mousekefables. Roy was the sort of guy about whom tall tales would grow, but two stories related by Mouseketeers may have some basis in fact. Tommy
mentioned in 1975 that Roy used to regale the older male Mouseketeers with dirty jokes, while Doreen
, many years afterwards, insisted she used to help him hide an occasional bottle around the sound stage.
A more credible story illuminates Roy's love of practical jokes. He used to keep a large gift-wrapped package on the floor of his home in Burbank. Whenever a male visitor came to the house for the first time, he would be told the gift was for him and would be invited to take it away still wrapped. The "gift" was a hunk of iron too heavy for anyone to lift, but it amused Roy to see how long men would try before giving up.
When the filming stopped, the Mouseketeers, including Jimmie, were let go but Roy stayed. He was a lifelong employee of the studio, and resumed his regular duties after the Mickey Mouse Club. His first television appearance post-show was in a Kodak-sponsored special on Disneyland for ABC in June 1959 (now available on DVD). Jimmie returned to the studio for personal appearances and some new filming for the syndicated runs in 1962-1964, but Roy doesn't seem to have taken much active part in this. He did take part in Disneyland Parades as his health permitted.
Roy retired in the 1970's, but continued to hang around the studio and Disneyland, where he could often be found sketching at the Art Corner. He stayed on good terms with the Mouseketeers, particularly Sharon Baird
, whom he saw regularly. He took part (via phone) in the Tomorrow Show
interview in January 1975, and was also interviewed in person by Jerry Bowles
that same year.
After Roy's death on November 7, 1976, a story attributed to the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Newsletter became current to the effect that he was interred in his Mickey Mouse Club shirt and "ears". However, he was actually cremated and his ashes reside at Forest Lawn Cemetery near his old home in Burbank.
Some of the information on this page comes courtesy of Roy's granddaughter Sharon A. Specht, who would like to hear from his other grandchildren
A plea from Disney Historian Jim Korkis for anyone with knowledge of Roy's memoir to get in contact may be read here.