Norman “Stormy” Palmer, who worked at Disney for 45 years and became closely associated with the studio’s acclaimed True-Life Adventure short-subject series of documentaries, died March 23 at his home in Northridge from natural causes, Disney announced Wednesday. He was 94.
Palmer also edited the Disney live-action films Ten Who Dared (1960), The Legend of Lobo (1962), The Incredible Journey (1963), The Gnome-Mobile (1967) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and had almost two dozen credits on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and other TV shows from the mid 1950s to the early ’80s.
The True-Life Adventure nature films provided early production experience for Roy E. Disney, who began his career in the studio’s editorial department and went on to become the studio's vice chairman and head of animation. Palmer served as his mentor.
“Stormy was one of the key players in creating the classic Disney True-Life Adventures series, and he was a true pioneer in the field of nature documentaries,” said Dave Bossert, producer and creative director at Walt Disney Animation Studios and the producer (along with Roy Disney) of the True-Life Adventures DVD collection. “He took tens of thousands of feet of raw footage and was able to craft it into some of the most riveting, beautiful and entertaining nature films ever created. That series of Oscar-winning films set the gold standard for years and helped to inspire the many generations of nature filmmakers that followed.”
For the 1952 Oscar-winning Water Birds, Palmer used Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” to capture the mood and add entertainment value to the film. He edited other such titles in the True-Life series as Beaver Valley (1950), Nature’s Half Acre (1951), The Living Desert (1953), The African Lion (1955) and White Wilderness (1958).
Palmer also edited the CinemaScope film Grand Canyon, the 1959 Oscar winner for best live-action short.
He retired from Disney in 1983.
Palmer was born Oct. 7, 1918, in Santa Ana, Calif. A fourth-generation Californian, he graduated from Hollywood High School in 1937 and the following year landed an entry-level job at Disney as a staff projectionist. After six months, he moved into the editorial department, where he assisted on the 1940 animated classics Pinocchio and Fantasia.
During World War II, Palmer worked with famed director John Ford in the field photo branch of the U.S. Navy and edited films for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. He also served an overseas stint as an aerial photographer on surveillance missions.
In 1946, Palmer returned to Disney’s editorial department, where he met Barbara Major from the ink and paint department. They wed on Dec. 4, 1947, and were married for 52 years.
Survivors include daughters Christine and Lindsey and grandchildren Amanda and Colin. Funeral services and cremation will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Palmer’s name to Southern California Hospice Foundation (Simi Valley Branch).