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Historical Figures Get Together in Corona del Mar Studio

November 25, 1988|PAULA VOORHEES | Paula Voorhees is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Great figures are gathered in a studio in Corona del Mar.

Richard M. Nixon is here. So is George Burns. The affable Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem, leans against a wall, smile lines etched deeply at the corners of his eyes. Daniel G. Aldrich, former chancellor of UC Irvine, perches on a desktop. A determined-looking Golda Meir sits on a chair, the pearls around her neck softening her features.

John F. Kennedy has been there. So were Hubert H. Humphrey and Otis Chandler. Bob Hope left for Las Vegas.

Over in the corner, Mickey Mouse smiles, crimson shorts adding a blush of color to an otherwise stark room.

What are they doing in Corona del Mar? All are plaster molds and are intimates of 69-year-old sculptor Don Winton--especially Mickey Mouse. He's been associating with the Disney creation for 40 years.

"Actually, sculpting Disney characters was how I got into this business--and almost out (of it) in a hurry," Winton said with a grin.

"My father was an alcoholic pharmacist who had a hard time keeping a job," said the sculptor matter-of-factly. "My mother died when I was 12, so my two brothers and I began supporting ourselves by the time I was 14.

"My twin brother, Ross, and my older brother, Bruce, also liked working with clay models. We started making and selling ceramic figures similar to Disney characters when I was a junior at Pasadena High School. By my senior year, we had a very profitable business going."

So profitable, in fact, that Disney management felt threatened, Winton said. "We received a letter from some very angry Disney people telling us to cease and desist. But, somehow, Walt Disney heard about us and sent a letter telling us to disregard the first letter and continue our operation. Although I never met him, Walt was very supportive of us. I'll always be grateful for that."

Grateful because the business begun in high school blossomed to support all three young men and their families until older brother Bruce bought out the twins in the early 1950s. Don and Ross went on to design and sculpt for other manufacturers.

"I knew since I was 5 that I wanted to be a sculptor. I just always loved working with clay and molding things. . . . I've never really had any formal training."

In addition to artistic talent, Winton has athletic ability that brought him a football scholarship to Stanford; he won the scholarship while playing for Pasadena Junior College.

"I guess it does seem a little strange that I was playing football and then coming home from workouts and sculpting angels or minute figurines. But shoot, doesn't former pro footballer Rosey Grier do needlepoint?"

(Athletics are an important part of Winton's life even today. He is a member of the Masters Track Movement and competes in shot put, discus and long jump in his age group. His love of sports led to sculpting trophies for the Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament and the John Wooden National Basketball Trophy.)

The brown-haired Winton never used his scholarship. War had broken out, and in 1942 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After completing officer training, he played football for a service team and was charged with physically conditioning bomber crews.

When he was discharged in 1946, Winton returned to Pasadena and the family business, which led to meeting his future bride.

"After seeing a picture of 100 lovely contestants, I offered to sculpt the winner of the 1947 Rose Bowl Queen title. I picked the one I thought should win--actually hoped would win! As the weeks went by, the candidates were narrowed to seven and my pick was among the finalists. My choice, Norma--a beautiful, petite blonde--did indeed become the Rose Queen of 1947 and Mrs. Don Winton in 1948."

Grand marshal of the parade that year was Bob Hope. "Norma and I became good friends with him," Winton reminisced. "When we married, Bob gave us a lovely silver punch bowl and matching candelabra. We lost touch over the years, so I was pleased when I was commissioned recently by the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas to do a statue of him dressed in Army fatigues and carrying a golf club."

Don and Norma moved to their current residence in Corona del Mar in 1971. "By then, Ross had ventured into other things, but I stayed with sculpting. I've continued to do special commissions for industries and manufacturers such as Disney Productions, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Dell Publishing, Max Factor, Mattel Toys, Kenner Products and (the) Franklin Mint."

Winton says his most popular and well-known piece is the Mickey Mouse telephone he created for General Telephone Co. "Mickey was one of my fun projects. It never fails to amaze me how many people have that phone--mostly businessmen high up on the corporate ladder. I believe its popularity is because Mickey reminds you not to take life so seriously. In other words, lighten up."

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