On a September Saturday in 1953, Herb Ryman was in his studio working on a painting when the phone rang. He answered it and heard Walt Disney say, “Hi, Herbie. I’m over here at the studio.” On a Saturday? Ryman asked. That made Disney testy. “Yes, it’s my studio and I can be here anytime I want.” Then he changed his tone. “I wonder if you could come over here. Just come the way you are. I’ll be out front waiting for you.” Ryman “was curious and flattered that he picked up the phone and called me. I had no idea what he wanted.”
Herbert Ryman had been set on becoming an artist since he’d been a child in Vernon, Illinois, but he had to nearly die first. “I loved to draw, and everybody looked on it as a harmless hobby.” It didn’t seem so harmless by the time he was in college. His mother was adamantly opposed: Ryman’s father had been a surgeon, killed on the Marne in the First World War, and she was determined that her son honor his memory by becoming a physician, too. But when a severe bout of scarlet fever brought Herbert close to the grave, she relented and, once he’d recovered, sent him to the Chicago Art Institute, where he graduated cum laude.