"A wonderful storyteller"

Local film animator. House That Jack Built nominated for an Oscar

from the Montreal Gazette, Oct. 5, 2005

By Alan Hustak

Don Arioli, the longtime Montreal film animator who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1968, died of prostate cancer yesterday in Devon, England.

He was 69.

"He was one of the funniest, most outrageous, most creative, really crazy and fun people I ever knew," said retired CBC producer Les Nirenberg, a longtime friend. "He was one of a handful of people in my life with whom I could exchange rapid-fire ideas and build on them."

Arioli, the son of a worker at the Kodak photography factory, was born on Sept. 2, 1936, in Rochester, N.Y. At 19, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. While in the service, he drew a cartoon strip, Aye Aye Sir, for the base newspaper.

He worked in a succession of jobs before moving to Toronto in 1960, where he had been promised a job as an art director for a magazine. The job fell through, Arioli was stranded, and he ended up working as an actor and a stand-up comic with the Toronto Workshop Theatre. There, he got to know Nirenberg, who hired him as an illustrator for his own satirical underground newspaper, The Panic Button.

Arioli joined the National Film Board in Montreal in 1966 to make what he called "good propaganda" for the Canadian government. He turned out anti-smoking and fire-safety films, some of which would today be considered politically incorrect.

One of his classics, Hot Stuff, is about how God gave mankind the gift of fire, and how mankind screwed it up.

Arioli also worked on the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine and produced more than 200 Sesame Street segments.

One of his animated films, The House That Jack Built, was nominated for an Oscar in 1968.

"He was never boring, never dull," said Wolf Koenig, who produced that film.

"He was a wonderful storyteller. He did a lot of storyboards for the NFB, originating the concept and coming up with the story line for other films. He also voiced some of his films."

A short, irreverent and impish character, Arioli moved to England 10 years ago. At the time of his death, he was working on an animation series for an Australian-Canadian television production.

"He sold ideas. He was an angel. We're going to miss him on the planet, but Heaven is a happier place," said retired NFB film producer Bob Verrall.

"He transformed the film board's animation department for the better part of a decade."

Arioli was married twice, first to Sandra Beattie. They had a daughter, Susie, who now heads the Susie Arioli Swing Band. That marriage ended in divorce in 1974.

He later married Rosemarie Shapley, with whom he had a daughter, Amy.

A memorial service in Montreal is being planned. ahustak@thegazette.canwest.com

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