I am saddened to report that Robert Sherman passed away yesterday in London at the age of 86. While I cannot conceive of anyone who doesn’t know the name Robert Sherman, for those you may not recognize the name; think “it’s a small world” and “Mary Poppins.” Yes, it is that Robert Sherman, the older brother of song writing duo Walt Disney called “the boys.” Robert was a musician, songwriter, artist, and novelist, among his many talents, and receiving a breadth of awards for his endeavors. Not wanting to reiterate the work of others, I will instead direct you to the Robert B. Sherman Wikipedia page, and I recommend a visit to get some prospective of how much this man and his brother – Richard M. Sherman – have influenced your life, possibly without realizing it. With his brother Richard, Robert wrote so many of the classic Disney songs we have come to cherish over the years.
I have had the honor of meeting Richard Sherman, twice, in the intimate setting of The Walt DisneyFamily Museum, and the joy of listening to his experiences working for Walt Disney and with his older brother. The first time was during a “Christmas with Walt” presentation, just after the Museum’s opening, and then again for his second visit, during the Disneyland 55th celebration. I was struck by this man’s warmth, kindest, and humility. Upon meeting him for the second time he appeared genuinely surprised and pleased that anyone would want to come back to see him again. I can only imagine, but do so, that meeting Robert would have been a similar experience, and I had hoped that at some point, he might be able to visit with us at the Museum as I truly wanted to meet him. Well that is on item on bucket list to forever be unfulfilled.
One of my favorite clips on YouTube is where Walt Disney introduces “the boys” singing “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for the 1964 World’s Fair GE Pavilion. The jumps and heel clicks with the GE logo on the back of their suit-coats as they depart, is one of the first images that comes to my mind when the Sherman Brothers are mentioned. And, while I normal tear up a bit when Mary Poppins comes to the ‘Bird Lady’ scene, I will never again be able to hear ‘Feed the Birds’ without a tear and fond memory of Robert (and Richard). During one of the Museum presentations (also on the ‘the boys’ DVD documentary), Richard told one of my favorite stories, and was my realization the Dick and Bob were storytellers like Walt. When Walt first gave ‘the boys’ a copy of Mary Poppins, they took it back to their offices for a read. During that reading, they underlined, I believe, 6 chapters that they felt would make the foundation for a good on-scene story. When they, again, met with Walt to discuss the book, low and behold, Walt’s copy of the book had the same 6 chapters underlined. Kindred spirits? I think so. And of course, there are the many songs ‘the boys’ produce for so many other Disney products.
In 2009, the Walt Disney Company released ‘the boys’, a documentary directed by Jeffrey Sherman and Gregory Sherman about their Fathers. It is a touching and poignant story of their fathers lives both in and outside the Disney Company. In it we learn that there was some conflict between the brothers, sometimes heated, as they worked together with their lives so entwined. I think this conflict arose out a natural sibling rivalry, and the male of the species need to compete. I wonder, and suspect, that may be something that attracted Walt Disney to these brothers. From many stories I’ve heard, Walt was known to team up artists with conflicting personalities, as he felt this teaming created better more honest product. Here was a natural teaming that he could appreciate, and encourage to flourish. Quite obviously, he wasn’t wrong.
I also know that the Kennedy Center has just lost and magnificent opportunity to honor two men, who have contributed so much entertainment in America and around the world, while they were both still living. Robert’s other son Robbie initiated a grass roots writing campaign last year to make his Father and Uncle recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, and I happily participated in that campaign writing and letter to add my encouragement that honoring the Sherman Brothers would be a marvelous inclusion, as their contribution to our culture is almost unmatched. While it will be posthumously for one brother, let’s hope the Kennedy Center committee, responsible of the Honors, sees fit to correct their oversight of last year.
Finally, my heart, thoughts, and condolences go out to the entire Sherman family for your loss. Robert was a truly magnificent and marvelous man who gave us all so much. He will be missed, and very deeply by me, and may he Rest in Peace. I hope it may help in your grief to know that, while he will be missed… Because of his tremendous gift to us, Robert M. Sherman will never be forgotten!
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