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Monday, August 15, 2011

Good Bye Dad: Cornelius "Corny" Cole III, October 12, 1930-August 8, 2011


My father, Corny Cole, past away Monday August 8th at 3:00 AM after a long battle with Multiple System Atrophy. He was 80 years old and is survived by his wife, Linda, four children (Neil, Ryan, Francesca and Dominique) and four grand-children (Heather, Erin, Zachary and Rowan). He also has left behind two beloved brothers, Peter and Lucky Cole and their families

Dad was always an artist, especially a draftsman. He could draw, like no one else I have ever known (check out his work done in this video). Much of his career was within the animation field. He was also a teacher that was beloved by all his students. He taught at Cal Arts and also at USC, but even as a small boy I remember him driving to South Central LA after the Watts riots to teach life drawing classes. I would love to tag along and have his students draw sketches of my favorite super heroes. To be honest, dad's superhero drawings were a little too artistic for my elementary school taste, but I wish I had them now.

He and his identical twin brother, Peter, were also surfing legends in Malibu. I've been told that dad helped teach the original Gidget (Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, whom the book, movie and TV show was based upon) how to surf. She traded him sandwiches for lessons (food was always persuasive to dad, but he was also very generous). Both Dad and Peter, as well as their younger brother Lucky were lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles, something I would later do as well. Here is my dad (left) at the beach in Malibu two years before I was born.

Peter went on to live in Hawaii and become a legendary big wave rider. My dad went to Hawaii briefly to surf the big waves as well, but couldn't leave his work in the art world which was based in LA. That's why I grew up in LA instead of Hawaii like all my cousins. The old photo to the left is Peter surfing at Waiameia Bay. Peter and Corny's younger brother Lucky (also a big wave rider) graduated from UCLA and started working at IBM before personal computers were even an idea plucked from Steve Jobs mind or Bill Gates was tall enough to look through a Window. Okay, maybe he's not that old, but he has always been ahead of the curve. Yes, I have always had good reason to be proud of my dad and uncles, they are pioneers.

This picture to the right is of my dad and Peter goofing off at Peter's home in Hawaii a few years ago when we were all out for my sister Dominique's wedding. "Womb-mates" is how they referred to each other. Born just 6 minutes apart, they were always competitive but also rejoiced in the other's success...as if it was their own. When I heard Peter tell dad near the end that he felt like a part of him was dying I wept. Even now I have tears in my eyes at the thought.

Corny and Peter were not just surfer's but true water men–they studied the ocean. Every time we drove near the coast my dad would read the currents and see where the swells were coming from. He would know which surfing spots would have the best waves. I learned to love the ocean and followed in their footsteps, first as a surfer, then as a lifeguard on the same beaches. I also pursued art and received my Bachelors in fine arts at CSULB.

My earliest memories are of dad hovering over a light board (funny, but the light was never "on") as he worked with mad genius on some animation–always flipping with his fingers between all the pages. Occasionally he would shout some expletive when he had drooled accidentally on the important work because he was breathing so intensely–lost with deep focus in an animated world within his creative mind.

For as long as I can remember he was an artist, a fine artist. Animation was a way to make a living and support his family so he did it, but he never saw himself as just an animator. He always refused to give in to the commercialization of the craft. What is very recognizable is that even the most mundane assignments became a creative challenge to him. He always did his work with excellence and passion, no matter what he was working on.

Dad's first animation job was at Disney as an "inbetweener" on Lady and the Tramp. This is an entry level job filling in the drawings "between" major character movements in animation with his primary role working on Tramp and the Siamese cats. He later worked for Warner Bros., Depatie-Freleng, UPA and many other production studios. He animated Coyote Road Runner, the Pink Panther, Mr. McGoo as well as Alvin and the Chipmunks. He worked on a few animated features: Gay Puree (with the voice talents of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet), The Phantom Tollbooth, Little Nemo, and Raggedy Ann and Andy (check out the scene with the Greedy) He did a spot for the animated film Heavy Metal, which was not included in the theatrical release but I believe it can be seen in a later DVD version. He also did a couple of TV specials for Flip Wilson. He did some titles for movies such as With Six you Get Egg Roll (staring Doris Day and Brian Keith) and even the notorious Flesh Gordon (Yikes, you probably want to avoid that one friends). He did a music video for the Beasty Boys but it never was shown to my knowledge. For many years he worked on his own project which has had a few different names and can be seen on YouTube as Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately the quality of the video online does not do the work justice. I always thought it was a very graphic representation of the fall and its effect on the world.

I was so proud when a short film he designed and animated that was narrated by Orson Wells won an Oscar in 1969, called Is It Always Right to be Right? That was also cool because he became a "member of the academy" and therefore received "thanks" every year by some very famous people. We would also get to see tapes of movies while they were still in theaters because dad had to vote on them. These were just a few of the perks of growing up in an animators home.

Some productions he worked on would go on to win Clio's (awards for advertising) and an Emmy. A few years ago he won the prestigious Windsor McCay life-time achievement award from the Annies (awards in the field animation). This picture is of dad, my brother (Ryan) and sister (Dominique) and my three kids at the Annies when he won the Windsor McCay award. He looked so dapper that day, which is not how he normally would be described (sorry dad, but true). He had a reputation for dressing, well, let's call it "creative casual."

Below is a video compilation put together by a long-time friend of our family and co-worker of Corny's, Bob Kurtz. Thanks Bob for compiling this.



My father was a softy in heart. When my brother and I were naughty kids (staying up way past our bedtime) he would stomp through the house with heavy steps to our bedroom and hollar at us. He would unfurl his belt and then proceed to forcefully whip...the foot of our beds. He could never really bring himself to spank us. We knew this was the way it was, so we were not really very scared, even though those impending footsteps would always get us to be quite and pretend we were sound asleep. Do not mistake his kindness with a lack of resolve, however. While I was in High School he realized he was drinking too much and he quit drinking cold turkey and never touched another glass of alcohol without the aid of any recovery support group or rehab. He quit smoking the same way. Both without a single relapse.

When the Cole family and all the relatives come together we have a tradition of telling Corny stories. He was a character and there are many stories to make us laugh. Some of his famous quotes are:
  • "Anarchy is better than no form of government at all."
  • "I'm so tired I could eat a horse."
  • It's a knife eat knife world out there."
  • While sending me to the market to buy something he called out before I left and said, "If they don't have any, don't buy any." I assured him I wouldn't.
These are just a few of the quotes. There are 80 years of stories that are far more elaborate and could easily fill a book. He never seemed to mind being the punchline at the party, because he never took himself too seriously...except when it came to art.

Art was the one great passion of Corny's life. He saw it as the ultimate purpose for his life. Many years ago my sister Francesca chose to drop her major in theater arts to pursue a pre-med degree (she's now a PhD in molecular biology). Dad, thought it best that she still take theater classes so she could have something to "fall back on" in case the other pursuit didn't work. Yes, he was a different sort of father than most people have. There will be a large retrospective show of my dad's work opening the second weekend of October in LA. We will also have a memorial at that time. Details will come closer to the event.

I always sort of felt like I disappointed my dad when I chose not to go into art but to follow my call in the Lord. Because my world-view varied from his I think he had a hard time swallowing what my life was about, but he always seemed proud of my family.

The truth is, however, that I have always seen myself as an artist. While I do not work with canvas or clay as much anymore, I try to approach leadership and church work with creativity and unique perspectives. I design new concepts and engineer new methods. I value reworking something until it is right. I try to write as an artist, by painting a picture with words, even when working in non-fiction. Perhaps, more than anything else, I have a driving sense to be authentic and not a hypocrite in what I do. At the end of the day, being real in what you pursue was important to dad, and that too has been passed down. It is more important to stay true to your art/convictions than to be successful or popular. That was my father's way in his art, my uncle's way in surfing, and I hope it is for me as well in my pursuit of Christ's kingdom. I think these qualities come from my father. I guess I inherited more than his name (I am Cornelius Cole IV) and love for the ocean.

Thanks Dad.

7 comments:

hugo said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Neil. I lost my father 3 years ago and I can definitely relate. At least I can see your father was a great man and left you wonderful memories. God bless you and your family!

SoleilSmile said...

Hello, Mr. Cole.
You wonderful father's music video for the Beastie Boys was shown in the Tournee of Animation Festival c. 1989. I saw it with my high school art teacher :)

I miss Corny so much. I wanted to draw with him, Sundays this past spring but, Cal Arts discontinued the workshop. You are very lucky to have had such an artistic father.

Shade and Sweet Water,

Ashanti

Neil Cole said...

Ashanti, thanks for the info, I hope to see it myself some time.

seethroughfaith said...

Wonderful to read this.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen

Roger F said...

I am sorry for you loss. I worked with Corney when I was a Murkami Wolf in Hollywood.1970 to 1971 I was a driver for the company but Corney always had time to talk or teach me about life.

Roger Fritch

chris herod said...

I thought of your father today. Way back in 1992, I was one of the only African American students in the Character Animation department at CalArts. Needless to say, I felt as if I didn't quite fit in. Your father let me know he saw something special in me and encouraged me at every turn. Though I didn't ultimately end up in the field, I still carry the love and lessons with me.

Anonymous said...

Mr Cole,

Your Father and I shared many moments working away in art workshops. He was not only my teacher and mentor but my friend. We would work away late into the night until security would come and escort us out. Time seemed to stand still, as I watched Corny work away with Mastery and Grace, his diligence and total devotion to the craft always left a deep impression in me, drove me to strive for the beauty hidden between each stroke. These are lessons I still cherish and apply in my daily life today. RIP my good friend ! and know your light burns deeper than you will ever know.