Cottrell was born in 1906 to English parents in South Bend, Indiana and graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, where he studied English and journalism. After working for a time on George Herriman’s "Krazy Kat" comic strip, he was offered a job working cameras at Disney Studios in 1929. He soon moved into the Story department and contributed ideas for shorts, including Who Killed Cock Robin?, Peculiar Penguins, and Water Babies.
He went on to direct the Wicked Witch and Evil Queen sequences in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and contributed to story on Pinocchio. In 1938, he married Lillian Disney’s sister, Hazel Sewell. In 1941, Bill and Hazel joined Walt Disney and a small group of artists on a goodwill tour of South America on behalf of the United States Government, which inspired Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
During the 1950s, he carried his interest in story over to WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering), where he served as its first president and helped develop storylines and dialog for such Disneyland attractions as Snow White's Adventures. Keen on nomenclature, he encouraged others quit using the term 'ride' and to refer to attractions as an 'experience'.
He also helped develop the popular Zorro television series and, in 1964, was named president of Retlaw Enterprises, the Walt Disney family corporation. He held that position until 1982, when he retired after 53 years of service.
A lifelong fan of Sherlock Holmes, Bill’s idea for a movie about an animal detective inspired the 1986 animated feature The Great Mouse Detective.
In 1994, Cottrell was honored as a Disney Legend. He passed away on December 22, 1995, in Los Angeles.
|1929||Wild Waves||cinematographer - uncredited|
|1934||The China Shop||story - uncredited|
|1934||The Grasshopper and the Ants||story - uncredited|
|1934||Camping Out||story - uncredited|
|1934||Peculiar Penguins||story - uncredited|
|1934||The Goddess of Spring||story - uncredited|
|1935||The Robber Kitten||story - uncredited|
|1935||Water Babies||story - uncredited|
|1935||Who Killed Cock Robin?||story - uncredited|
|1935||Pluto's Judgement Day||story - uncredited|
|1935||Three Orphan Kittens||story - uncredited|
|1936||Three Little Wolves||writer - uncredited|
|1936||Thru the Mirror||story - uncredited|
|1936||Toby Tortoise Returns||story - uncredited|
|1937||Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs||sequence director|
|1938||Wynken, Blynken and Nod||writer - uncredited|
|1941||The Reluctant Dragon||screenplay|
|1942||South of the Border with Disney||Himself|
|1942||Saludos Amigos||story research|
writer: "Aquarela do Brasil"
|1943||Victory Through Air Power||story adaptation|
|1944||The Three Caballeros||story|
|1947||Fun and Fancy Free||story - uncredited: "Mickey and the Beanstalk"|
|1948||Melody Time||story: "Little Toot"|
|1951||Alice in Wonderland||story|
|1952||The Little House||story adaptation|
|1957||The Magical World of Disney||story: "Adventures in Fantasy"|