This is the tale of two men named Claude, who worked at a magical place in Burbank, California, called the Walt Disney Studio. One of them was my father, background artist and color stylist Claude Coats. The other Claude also had a brush but it was much bigger -- it was a broom. Claude Wilson was the janitor, the only black person I remember seeing at the studio when my brother and I would visit as kids in the 50s.
On those visits we would watch Dad at work in his office painting scenes from Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp and other films. We would also notice the other Claude pushing his wide broom up and down the hallways of the animation building, keeping the linoleum floors shining bright.
Mom told us that some of the other guys in the building weren’t so friendly to Claude. After all, he was just the janitor. But he and Dad became good friends. I can just hear Dad saying, “Hey, Claude, come on in and see what I’m working on.” Mom remembered that Claude once said of Dad, “He’s such a good man.”
Every holiday season we waited for Dad to come home with his Christmas present from Claude – a huge glass jar of the tastiest, creamiest, most scrumptious eggnog in the whole world. Claude made this concoction himself from his own secret recipe. He only gave it to special friends and family.
Eggnog, from the old English milk punch, is prepared with eggs, sugar, cream or milk, a pinch of salt, and sprinkled with nutmeg. Those so inclined add rum, bourbon or brandy to taste. Whatever Claude did to create his special version – we’ll never know. But it was the best!
We last saw Claude when he attended Dad’s memorial service in January, 1992. I don’t believe he is still with us, but if his family is reading this, thank you for that thoughtful gift every year… and Happy Holidays. Claude was also “a good man.”