Larry Lansburgh, who earned two Academy Awards and a host of admirers for the live-action animal shorts and feature films he created over four decades, has died. He was 89.
Lansburgh, who received one of Walt Disney Studios’ Legend awards in 1998, died Sunday at his Eagle Point, Ore., ranch.
The filmmaker’s favorite animals were horses and dogs, and he showcased them on both big screen and small. In 1958, his “Wetback Hound” short won an Academy Award, and in 1961 his feature-length documentary, “The Horse With the Flying Tail,” won another.
Among his other films were “Mystery Lake”; “Stormy, the Thoroughbred With an Inferiority Complex”; “Cow Dog,” which earned his first Oscar nomination; “Run, Appaloosa, Run”; and “Hang Your Hat on the Wind.” For television, he directed “Chester, Yesterday’s Horse” and many other programs for “The Wonderful World of Disney.”
Lansburgh was credited with helping Disney Studios expand beyond cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s with his realistic docudramas. Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of Walt Disney Co., praised him this week as “an enormously talented filmmaker whose expertise and love for animals resulted in some of the studio’s finest and most memorable live-action productions.”
The son of G. Albert Lansburgh, who designed the San Francisco Opera House, Lansburgh learned to ride horses on the old Leland Stanford stock farm that his family leased on the Stanford University campus.
That love of horses stuck. After competing in rodeos and working with livestock in Texas, Lansburgh moved to Hollywood, where, as he described it, “when I was starving to death, I worked as a stuntman” for Cecil B. DeMille.
Lansburgh joined Walt Disney Co. in 1939 as a messenger, and met Disney when he delivered the company founder’s daily lunch. Lansburgh worked his way up, learning film editing, writing, sound, cinematography and eventually directing and producing. During World War II, he shot documentary footage of Disney on his South America goodwill tour, dubbed “Saludos Amigos.”
In 1957, Lansburgh formed his own production company to create animal films, but still worked closely with Disney, who financed much of his production and then distributed the films.
Advocated Humane Treatment of Animals
Lansburgh proved to be a filmmaker ahead of his time, concerned both with humane treatment of animals used in his films and with keeping guns out of sight of his young viewers.
“Guns and kids,” he said in a 1966 Times interview. “Kids see everybody shoot everybody on television, and they are given plastic or play guns as toys. Then, if they find a real gun, they use it.”
Lansburgh disliked the term “documentary” for his pictures, insisting that the real lives of animals have plenty of natural drama. But he was also a stickler for reality, believing gimmicks or special effects would disillusion his audience.
“Our theory,” he said in 1959, “is not to humanize animals. We try to depict things as they are. We take a few liberties. But basically animals are so interesting in themselves that we don’t have to invent situations. People enjoy an animal as an animal.”
Lansburgh continued to make films after moving to Oregon, often using local residents as actors and actual events such as the Pendleton Roundup. He was a registered horse show judge and taught film production at Southern Oregon University.
Lansburgh is survived by his wife, Olive; two sons from a previous marriage, Lawrence of Nevada City, Calif., and Brian of Jacksonville, Fla.; two stepchildren, Allen Wright of Overland Park, Kan., and Jennifer Wright Berrigan of Pleasanton, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be made to District 9 Community Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 548, Eagle Point, OR 97524.