Famed Route 66 historian, journalist, and Disney voice actor Michael Wallis visited students at Northwoods Fine Arts Academy Wednesday morning. The Cars star spoke to second-grade classes about the many paths of creativity he has pursued in life and shared highlights of his career.
Some of Wallis's works include David Crockett: The Lion of the West, Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, and Route 66: The Mother Road. He has also had works published in Time, Life, People, Smithsonian, The New Yorker, and The New York Times.
Wallis is the recipient of the John Steinbeck Award, the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award, the Will Rogers Spirit Award, and numerous others. He was the first inductee into the Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame and is a member of the Writers Hall of Fame of America, the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.
Wallis's popularity as a historian and journalist earned him the opportunity to voice Sheriff in the Disney-Pixar Cars franchise. A native Missourian, Wallis currently lives in Tulsa with his wife, Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis.
Wallis spoke about his early writing experiences and the time he wrote a story about a school-patrol boy for a contest. He was featured in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper and got to meet the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team when he was a kid. After riding in a limousine to a Cardinals-Cubs game and watching from the dugout, he decided that writing was a career worth pursuing.
After finishing college and a stent in the U.S. Marine Corps, he began his career as a journalist and correspondent. After a few years in the field he got to interview famed pop artist Andy Warhol, who the Northwoods kids have been studying in recent weeks. Wallis spent several days shadowing Warhol and getting to know him.
"My expectations of him were wrong," said Wallis. "I wasn't quite sure how he would be, but it turned out he was very much like I was when I was eleven years old. He was very shy, and he was already a famous artist...It happened for him, just like me, when he was a little boy."
Wallis also talked about how he first visited Tulsa on a work trip and staying in the Mayo Hotel penthouse before it closed in the early 1980s. During the trip he fell in love with the Arkansas River, the downtown art-deco architecture, and Route 66.
Speaking about the Cars franchise he told the kids "We taught Lightning McQueen that it's okay to be a race car, but sometimes you also need to slow down, to get off the highway and visit the small towns."
Students from Jennifer Barretto's art class gifted Wallis with drawings and art they created with Route 66 themes.