Animator Norm Ferguson, affectionately called “Fergy” by his friends at The Walt Disney Studios, was never inhibited by anatomy and drawing rules. An instinctive artist, he drew what felt right, often surprising his peers with the unlikely results. As animator and Disney Legend Fred Moore once said, “Fergy doesn’t know that you can’t raise the eyebrows above the head circle, so he goes ahead and does it and it gives a great effect.” Fellow Disney Legend Marc Davis summed up Fergy’s contributions when he said, “Norm Ferguson was a sharp performer and a showman.”
Born September 2, 1902, to a Scottish father and Irish mother, Fergy attended Brooklyn’s Heffley Institute, a stenography and typing school, followed by the Pratt Institute, where he studied commercial art. In 1920, after working various stenographic jobs, he decided to pursue a career in the up-and-coming animation medium and quickly won a job at Paul Terry’s Fables Pictures Inc.
Nine years later, he left Fables to join The Walt Disney Studios. There, he served as animator on more than 75 shorts, including The Chain Gang, Mickey’s Orphans, and the Academy Award®-winning Three Little Pigs. Fergy was fast with his pencil, cranking out up to 40 feet worth of animation a day; the average was 10 to 15 feet, according to Disney historian Bob Thomas.
Fergy’s sense of showmanship stemmed from the old vaudeville comedians that he loved to watch during his formative years in New York City.
Their influence on him surfaced in the famous flypaper sequence, which Fergy animated in the 1934 Disney short Playful Pluto. The memorable 65-second sequence, which begins with Pluto sitting on a sheet of flypaper and leads to a string of hilarious gags as he attempts to free himself from the sticky predicament, marked one of the first times an animated character appeared to be thinking onscreen.
In 1935, Walt Disney tapped Fergy to serve as supervising animator on the Studio’s first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For that film, Fergy supervised animation of the first of the great Disney villains, the evil witch; he followed that performance with the unsavory J. Worthington Foulfellow in Pinocchio.
Fergy went on to serve as sequence director on such classics as Fantasia and Dumbo; production supervisor on Saludos Amigos; production supervisor and director on The Three Caballeros; and directing animator on Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. In 1941, Fergy made a cameo appearance in Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon, starring Robert Benchley.
Norm Ferguson passed away on November 2, 1957, in Los Angeles, California.