Milton Quon, an animator who worked on such Disney classics as Fantasia and Dumbo, has died. He was 105.
Quon died June 18 of natural causes at his home in Torrance, California, his son, artist Mike Quon, told The Hollywood Reporter. One of the last living artists who worked at Disney during its Golden Age of Animation, he was “drawing right up until his last days,” his son noted.
Quon also was an actor and an extra who appeared in films and TV shows including Speed (1994) — he described his character as “the token Asian on the bus” in a 2005 interview with the Los Angeles Times — Chill Factor (1989), Sweet Jane (1998), The Cat Killers (2000) and ABC’s NYPD Blue.
Quon was born on Aug. 22, 1913, in Los Angeles, the eldest of eight children and the only son of immigrants who had come to the U.S. from Canton, China.
Despite his mother’s reservations, Quon was encouraged by an uncle to pursue a career in art, and he received a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). As a young freelancer, he created menus and produced design work for restaurants in L.A.’s current Chinatown including Man Jen Low, Grandview Gardens and Soochow Restaurant, and his outdoor lantern sign for Grandview Gardens is now a historic landmark.
Quon joined Walt Disney Studios in 1939 soon after graduation as the third Chinese-American to be hired there, and he worked on the “Waltz of the Flowers” and the “Arabian Dance” scenes in Fantasia (1940) and as first assistant animator on Dumbo (1941).
During World War II, Quon headed a team of 17 artists at Douglas Aircraft who illustrated repair manuals for its bombers and transports. He then returned to Disney and ran its publicity/promotions department, doing promo artwork for films including the 1946 releases Make Mine Music and Song of the South.
In 1951, Quon jumped to the advertising agency BBD&O as the first Chinese-American art director at a national advertising agency, then served as senior design artist at Sealright Co., a large packaging firm, from 1964 until his retirement in 1980.
He taught drawing, painting and advertising courses at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College from 1974-89 and accumulated a collection of more than 100 sketchbooks since 1980.
The Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles presented a retrospective exhibit of his work in 2005; he was one of five artists featured in ” ‘Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles” at the Vincent Price Art Museum in Monterey Park, California, in 2012; and he received the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in 2013.
And in 2017, he was featured in a father and son art exhibition in Red Bank, New Jersey, with his son Mike and in a solo exhibition at Santa Monica College’s Emeritus Gallery.
His survivors also include his wife, Peggy; children Jeff, Tim and Sherrill; and four grandchildren. Asked often about the secret to his longevity, he replied, “A good wife and Chinese food.”
Donations in his memory may be made to the Chinese American Museum, the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California or the South Bay Presbyterian Church of Torrance.