The first time I visited Richard Sherman, I rang the doorbell of his Beverly Hills home and heard the first seven notes of “It’s a Small World.” Naturally, I smiled. The smile has only faded this past week with the news of his passing, but I refuse to be sad. Instead, I am grateful: grateful for all the happy occasions he and his wife Elizabeth shared with my family, for the many kindnesses he showed us, and for being such a warm and inspiring person. He lived a full 95 years.

He was a special figure in my daughter’s life. She has known him since she was a tot and we spent many happy times together at home and at various Disney occasions out of town. One day we were chatting about songs that were written for Mary Poppins that didn’t make the final cut—even one about the eccentric Admiral Boom. When we asked what it was like, he strode over to our Steinway upright and proceeded to sing and play it, just for us. When Jessie married her husband Scott in our living room, he performed a medley of his evergreens at their wedding. My son-in-law’s family and friends, visiting from England, were flabbergasted. We were delighted but can’t pretend we were shocked: he liked nothing better than entertaining an audience of any size with the songs that came from his heart.

The tunes he and his brother Bob wrote for Walt Disney expressed an optimistic outlook on life that he truly embraced. His sibling, who fought in World War II, had a somewhat different mindset, but they both caught the upbeat Tin Pan Alley bug from their songwriting father Al and rode that wave for decades.

Richard’s life was not without its challenges and struggles, but he chose to keep those matters to himself. He and Bob found the perfect patron in Walt Disney; it was not only a match made in heaven, but their timing was perfect. They jumped on the Disney bandwagon just as the studio was solidifying its record label and promoting its young singing star Annette Funicello. As the company’s in-house music makers they were called on to provide material for Annette’s hit albums, some ambitious new attractions at the New York World’s Fair, Disneyland, and even Walt’s weekly television show. (I always liked a number they tossed off for a show promoting Babes in Toyland called “Serendipity.”)

While their career didn’t begin or end with Walt Disney, the company that bore his name became Richard’s safe haven, especially in recent years. He met with Tom Hanks and Jason Schwartzman to talk about Walt before they made Saving Mr. Banks, contributed new material to the remake of The Jungle Book and songs to Christopher Robin, and more. Remembering his boss’s wish that visitors to Disneyland leave the park with “A Kiss Goodnight” he composed a beautiful song that expressed that wish in a way that words alone could not. When he got the demo recording he was so eager for us to hear it that he herded my wife and me into his car so we could listen on his cassette player. Need I add that it was perfect? The lyrics were later published in book form with illustrations by another living Disney legend, Floyd Norman.

And when our little girl had a little girl of her own, she was determined that she would spend as much time as possible with Richard Sherman. Thanks to his son Gregg and our pal Howard Green, this came to pass more than once. Daisy may not remember those encounters but we always will, and she too will grow up knowing and singing his songs and, we hope, spreading the kind of cheer that was his stock in trade.


Richard and his wonderful son Gregg playing with Daisy when she was just a few months old

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024