The art of Disney Animation may have developed in radically different ways had it not been for the talent and influence of animator Fred Moore. Moore was described by some as a "natural" artist and his intuitions and seemingly effortless artistic skill almost defined Disney cartoons, especially in the early years.
The beginnings of Moore's career at Disney have the stuff of Disney legend. According to one story, he simply walked into Disney office with some sketches he had drawn on the back of a few scrap pieces of cardboard which he presented to Disney with the simple statement "I like to draw." Another, and more probable scenario had a close friend, Chuck Couch, bringing his drawings to Disney's attention. However he began, he didn't advance rapidly; it was two years before he hit his stride. But he then outshone other Disney imagineers with his simple visual style.
Assigned to work on various short subjects, he eventually became the "Mickey" expert. Other animators had drawn Mickey using the traditional "three-circle" approach. Moore decided to draw Mickey with a more pear-shaped body. Disney took one look at Moore's work and said "Now that's the way I want Mickey drawn from now on." From then on, it is said, Moore tried to do something different with Mickey for every short. Mickey was given pupils in his eyes instead of just black dots; for a short time, Mickey was given ears that worked in perspective. In his hands, Mickey evolved from a series of rubber hoses and circles to someone who could be invested with real personality.
Another development that Moore is credited with developing during the production of "The Three Little Pigs" is the technique of "squash and stretch." Most cartoon characters of the time were drawn walking ,it seemed, with no gravity working on them. Moore was at this time still an assistant animator, given the task of animating a short sequence at the beginning where the pigs were introduced. He noticed that when people walked, their bodies would stretch a bit on one step and then squash down a bit with the next. Moore incorporated this into his characters of the pigs, giving their walk down the lane more of a "full body" movement rather than just legs walking. In Moore's hands, the pigs became living characters rather than just cartoons. It was the aspect of "character" that Disney had been looking for in his animation, which Moore had found the way to achieve.
Moore was caricatured at least twice in Disney shorts and features; once as one of "Fred and Ward - Two Boys from Illinois" in the short "The Nifty Nineties." However, the caricturization which seemed to fit him the best in personality was as the boy "Lampwick" from Pinocchio. Confident, self-assured in his work and just a little cocky, Moore was also physically self-confident. There were not a lot of games that were played around the Disney studio where Moore did not come up with the upper hand. One story has the Disney animators in a competition to see how many pushpins they could throw into the wall. Moore got so good at it that he could throw them in by tossing them backwards over his head and eventually the other animators gave up competing against him.
He was also famous among the insiders at the Disney studio for another reason. Moore had a habit of sketching scantily clad or even nude young women in his spare time. These "Freddie Moore Girls" became highly prized collectibles even among the Disney studio staff. The closest that one ever got on film, however, was in either as one of the centaurettes from the "Pastoral Symphony" sequence from "Fantasia" or the girl from the "Make Mine Music" sequence "All the Cats Join In."
But Moore also had his demons, which eventually let to his downfall. Moore had a problem with alcohol as far back as the late 30's and early 40's. He was actually living on the Disney lot, in a trailer when Disney personally fired him for being drunk too many times at work. He was let go in 1945, then returned to Disney in early '48 (only absent for about a year and a half). During that period, he went to work for Walter Lantz and turned out some of the best animation every seen in Andy Panda and Woody Woodpecker cartoons.
Some have said that since Moore had always been the effortless boy genius in the early years, he could not cope when younger and better animators and newer techniques began to come along. Others believed that he peaked too early, and got began to decline when he discovered that he was never going to get any better. Because of his decline, he was released by Disney in the early 50's.
The most often told story is that he died just a few months later on November 23, 1952, the result of hitting his head on a car while drunk. When he called his friends at Disney from the hospital asking to borrow money for treatment (there was no insurance though the union yet, even at Disney - had Fred Moore had his accident 5 months later he would have been covered), Assuming he was on yet another drinking binge, no one would lend him money. He was released from the hospital and collapsed walking into his house. He died on internal bleeding that same day.)
However, Steve Worth of "Vintage Ink and Paint" tells a different story. He states that "Moore did NOT injure himself by "hitting his head on a car while drunk". He was getting out of his parked car (I think it was on San Fernando Road) and a drunk driver sideswiped him. (Moore was sober at the time.) He was taken to the hospital, but he had no insurance or money to pay for the treatment. The doctors told him that they wanted to do more tests, but that would cost money. They would give him the day to try to line up cash, but if he couldn't find any, they would have to discharge him the next morning. Moore and [Gus] Jeckyl got on the phone and called all of Fred's old friends at Disney to ask to borrow money to help pay for his treatment, but everyone turned their back on him. Jeckyl said that one after another of Freddie's friends told him "Freddie just wants the money to get drunk again..." The hospital finally discharged Moore when it became clear he had no way to pay his bills. He was sent home in a taxi, and died on his front doorstep with his house key in his hand from internal bleeding.
"The next day, one major animator who had refused to give Freddie a dime for his hospital bill moaned and cried loudly over the "great loss". In between sobs, he made a point of whispering to everyone, "You know of course that Freddie was drunk when he got in the accident..." It was a lie designed to make the whole thing Freddie's fault, and deflect any responsibility from from Freddie's "old friends" for turning their back on him. This same animator made sure that the lie that "Freddie couldn't keep up" got into print, so history would repeat it forever.
"Jeckyl told me he would never forgive that guy for doing that to Freddie. Moore had a serious alcohol problem. Everyone knew that. He had always drunk heavily. But his problem was used for political advantage by certain artists who had a vested interest in promoting a certain direction for the films. And it was used to propagate a lie about how Fred Moore died that exists to this day."
However he died, Moore's influence on the Disney style and animation technique was inescapable. To quote fellow animator Marc Davis, "Fred Moore was Disney drawing."