If the phrase “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” conjures up an image of Mr. Bluebird tipping his hat while whistling a tune, you can tip your own hat to Paul Edwards.
The cheerful bird is just one character Edwards, 101, helped bring to life during his time on the Disney animation team. He also offered his artistic talents to short features such as “Little Toot” and “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”
“The second day I was in L.A., I went to the studio,” says Edwards, a resident of Valle Verde in Santa Barbara, California, since 1990. “The training man looked at my portfolio, he said, ‘Edwards, you’ve got potential, but you need art school.’”
So, he grabbed a desk alongside other young hopefuls at Chouinard Art Institute, an incubator for future Disney animators beginning in the ‘30s.
But before he jumped in the rumble seat of a Ford Roadster and headed to California in search of his mouse ears, Edwards donned something else — antennas. As a freshman at Kansas State Teachers College, now known as Emporia State University, he entered a contest to draw the Kansas school’s new mascot, Corky the Hornet, and won.
“I’m real proud of Corky,” Edwards says. So much so, he says his son David claims Corky is his dad’s favorite kid.
“He started out with four legs,” Edwards says. “We suddenly realized he couldn’t dance with his girl or carry a football down the field with all his appendages, so that was that."
Though the hornet has gone through several iterations since Edwards’ 1933 drawing, with its big mouth and pointy stinger, Corky remains the school’s mascot.
Creativity defined nearly every moment in Edwards’ dynamic career. After leaving Disney, he helped illustrate the technical world of automobiles through his work on General Motors training films like “20,000 Volts Under the Hood,” produced during a stint with the Jam Handy Organization in Detroit, a production company that created the first animated version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, a minister, Edwards later attended seminary and went on to serve the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest for more than 20 years.
“I created a communications department for them in the basement,” he says. “I had a printer work with me, and we turned out all of the brochures and posters.”
Even while serving in the Navy, Edwards used his drawing skills and eye for detail to guide fellow servicemen in differentiating enemy and ally aircraft.
Now at Valle Verde, he finds new opportunities to share his creativity, such as this December when he gave the children and grandchildren of team members a drawing lesson.
According to his own children, says Edwards, he reinvents himself every 10 years. But no matter the life changes, his imagination has never swayed.
“It’s been a great life,” he says. “The Lord’s been good to me.”