Sunday, February 9, 2014

Editor - Cotton Warburton

For anyone who is a Walt Disney film fan the name "Cotton Warburton" will ring a bell, even if you can't quite recall where you have seen that name. Of course, if you never pay attention to credits ( gasp!! ) then that name will probably not be ringing any bells in your carillon. But for my sister and I, we see "Cotton Warburton" flash upon the tele at least once a week - for that's about how often we watch a Disney film. Starting in 1956, Warburton had a long career with the Walt Disney Studios as a film editor, working on 35 films in that time period. Even though he is best known for his Disney work, Warburton edited a number of films throughout the 1940s for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as well. Let's highlight a little of this man's work and his life : 

Irvine Eugene Warburton was born on October 8, 1911 in San Diego, California. During his high school years at San Diego High he excelled in sports and especially enjoyed track and field events, winning several championships for his running speed. When he entered USC he joined the Trojans football team and went on to become an All-American Quaterback in 1933. While Warburton was quarterback, USC had a winning streak that lasted for 27 games, a record which remained unsurpassed until 1980. 

When "Cotton", as he was nicknamed, left college in 1934 he was offered the opportunity to become a pro football player with the Chicago Bears, but declined, instead choosing to enter the film industry. Hoorah for Cotton!  

He first tried his hand at acting, appearing briefly in Big City ( 1937 ) but then decided to venture behind the camera and became a film editor. This was where he found his forte. His first film at MGM studios was a short Laurel and Hardy comedy entitled Air Raid Wardens, released in 1943. 

Comedy was the genre that Warburton began his career with and which he excelled at best. Several more "B"-comedy films followed ( Three Hearts for Julia, Up Goes Maisie, Love Laughs at Andy Hardy ) before Warburton moved up to the "A" films such as Cynthia, Neptune's Daughter, the delightful Two Weeks with Love, and Three Guys Named Mike ( 1951 ). 

Warburton continued editing for musicals and dramas into the 1950s, working on such films as Sombrero, Above and Beyond, and Skirts Ahoy! before he decided to try his hand at the new medium called television. One of his first forays in editing for the small screen was The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. 

The next project Warburton undertook was editing a western film for Walt Disney studios : Westward Ho the Wagons. It was a happy experience for Warburton and it led to him switching studios permanently. From 1957-1959 he edited one of Walt Disney's most popular television series, Zorro, as well as the film The Sign of Zorro...which were mainly episodes from the first season of the show spliced together to create a feature film. 

Some of Warburton's other credits in the late 1950s, early 1960s included The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, Moon Pilot, Miracle of the White Stallions and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones ( 1964 )

The same year Warburton completed The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, he also worked on another project for Walt Disney...a much bigger film : Mary Poppins. It was for the creative editing in this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical that he was awarded the Academy Award in Best Editing during the 37th annual awards ceremony. The competition that year included Becket, Father Goose, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and the other musical favorite of the year, My Fair Lady

Warburton had to work closely with the animators for the Jolly Holiday sequence but it was the chimney pot sequence of Mary Poppins which was the creme-de-la-creme of Warburton's editing work. It was crisply edited and, combined with the stellar animated special effects, created a toe-tappin', eye popping entertaining musical feast. 

The entry for Wikipedia describes the job of a film editor as thus : Film editing is often referred to as the "invisible art" because when it is well-practiced, the viewer can become so engaged that he or she is not even aware of the editor's work. On its most fundamental level, film editing is the art, technique, and practice of assembling shots into a coherent sequence. The job of an editor isn’t simply to mechanically put pieces of a film together, cut off film slates or edit dialogue scenes. A film editor must creatively work with the layers of images, story, dialogue, music, pacing, as well as the actors' performances to effectively "re-imagine" and even rewrite the film to craft a cohesive whole. Editors usually play a dynamic role in the making of a film. 

We believe much of what makes a Disney film so entertaining, especially the comedies, can be attributed to Warburton's clever editing and perfect comedic timing. He never lets a shot rest on an actor's expression or on an action sequence for longer than is necessary to capture the humor or the excitement of the moment.

Take a look at this short sequence from That Darn Cat ( 1965 ) and you can see what we mean :


Some other Disney classics that Cotton Warburton edited during the late 1960s were The Happiest Millionaire, The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, The Love Bug ( and the Herbie sequels ) as well as the amusing The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. After Walt Disney's death in 1966, the studio was reeling from not having one leader in charge of production. A committee took over to head up the studio and the following year they decided the best project they could undertake would be to finish a film that Walt had started in the early 1960s as a back-up plan in the event that P.L. Travers would not let Mary Poppins be made - Bedknobs and Broomsticks ( 1971 ). Once again, it was Cotton Warburton who was called upon to edit the finished film. He did a marvelous job on the musical numbers ( especially With a Flair ) and the famous marching armor finale, but alas....times had changed. Bedknobs and Broomsticks suffered from major cuts upon its release and failed to be the box-office smash the studio had hoped for. Warburton's editing went unrecognized at the Academy Awards that year as well. 

Warburton went on to edit the comedies that the Walt Disney Studios was creating throughout the early 1970s ( The Stongest Man in the World, No Deposit No Return, Freaky Friday ) and continued until his retirement in 1976. His final film was The Cat from Outer Space. Not the altogether best film to end one's career with but a fun flick nonetheless. 

Filmmaking is a collaborative form of art. No one person can make a masterpiece.  Even if a film has a marvelous cast, great cinematography, and a fine script, the whole film can fall apart in the hands of a bad editor. Each person has to be at the top of their game, and just like football...each man has an equally important position. Cotton Warburton played football like a pro and he brought his game-face into every film project he worked on as well, making sure he wasn't the man who would foul up the game with a "tumble". In our book Warburton was a true All-American Editor.

This post is apart of the 31 Days of Oscar ( Feb. 1- March 1 ) blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema ClubOnce Upon a Screen, and Outspoken and Freckled. Be sure to check out all of the other great entries in this blogathon!


  1. Loved this! Cotton Warburton - a familiar name and an honoured one.

    When my special needs son is at home he keeps Disney movies on a perpetual loop and, as is family tradition, credit reading is a must.

    1. It's hard for us to watch a film without first viewing the credits...they give us a sneak peak of what's to come and it's also nice to see all the talented behind-the-scene folk acknowledged. So many times we watch films and don't even think about the effort involved from even the least important member of the crew.

  2. Congratulations on a lovely tribute to a most deserving man.The work he did on Mary Poppins is fantastic, especially for the pre-CGI era.

    1. We're glad you enjoyed the post! Cotton Warburton was indeed a very talented editor.

  3. Cotton and Norma Warburton we're my Culver City neighbors for years. He brought home Disney films and invited us over for screenings with his reel to reel projector. Sweet guy. He hummed along to the music. His films were always a treat. He was the first person I ever saw wearing Birkenstocks. His son Gary was my dentist. He also wore only Birkenstocks.