Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Stargazing at Mickey's Gala Premier

Who was who in Hollywood in 1933? You need only look as far as the Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey's Gala Premier for the answers. Released on July, 1, 1933, it featured over forty caricatures of motion picture celebrities. In the short, all of Tinseltown turns out for the premiere of "Galloping Romance," a short-within-the short remake of Gallopin' Gaucho.
The momentous event was held at the famous and now iconic Grauman's Chinese Theater, located at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. Famous for its forecourt celebrity footprints in cement, the theater was built by showman Sid Grauman, whose partners in the endeavor included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Howard Schenck. It opened on May 18, 1927 with the premiere of the Cecil B.DeMille film The King of Kings. In 1989, the theater's front facade and forecourt were recreated as the entrance to the Great Movie Ride at the Disney-MGM Studios in Walt Disney World.

Mickey's Gala Premier was just five years removed from Hollywood's silent era, and so it's not surprising that numerous silent film stars are featured in the short. Director Burt Gillette and his crew reached back nearly two decades when they included five of the Keystone Cops. Numerous individuals throughout the silent era were members of Mack Sennett's group of slapstick players. Mickey's Gala Premier showcased four of the more famous officers: Ben Turpin, Ford Sterling, Max Swain and Chester Conklin. The Cop between Swain and and Conklin has been identified by some sources as Harry Langdon. Langdon was a silent film comedian who worked for Mack Sennett but was never cast as a Keystone Cop.

Another famous silent film comedian, Harold Llyod, is joined at the radio microphone by actors Edward G. Robinson, Adolf Menjou and Clark Gable. Robinson appears as the character Rico from his 1931 movie Little Caesar.

Three of the era's best known starlets took their turn at the microphone: Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Crawford appeared in the costume of her character Sadie Thompson from the 1932 film Rain.

The biggest draw at the box office in 1933 was Marie Dressler who appears in the cartoon with her frequent co-star Wallace Berry. The two had then recently worked together in the films Dinner at Eight and Tugboat Annie. Their most famous pairing was the 1930 movie Min and Bill, for which Dressler won an Academy Award for Best Actress. That movie was also the inspiration for Min and Bill's Dockside Diner, a counter-service restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Famous then and famous now are the Marx Brothers--Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo and Chico--and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

In his guise as the Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin attempts to sneak past theater owner Sid Grauman.

Eddie Cantor appears in his role from The Kid from Spain, released in 1932. Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante also take turns at the radio microphone. In the 1960s, Chevalier would appear in the Disney live-action films In Search of the Castaways and Monkeys Go Home. He also recorded the title song for The Aristocats shortly before his death in early 1972.

The Barrymore siblings, Lionel,Ethel and John, appear in their roles from the 1932 movie Rasputin and the Empress.

The perpetually morose Buster Keaton does not share a laugh with famous big mouth Joe E. Brown.
Helen Hayes had just won an Academy Award in 1931 for her performance in The Sin of Madelon Claudet. She is seated nearby to Chester Morris, Gloria Swanson, George Arliss and William Powell. The following year, Powell would assume his most famous role of Nick Charles in The Thin Man. Morris would become famous a decade later for his series of Boston Blackie movies.

Classic monsters Dracula, Mister Hyde and the Frankenstein monster, as portrayed by Bela Lugosi, Fredric March and Boris Karloff respectively, display their more jovial sides.

Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey are largely unremembered today, despite being one of the most popular comedy acts of the 1930s. Ed Wynn is well known to Disney fans for his roles in films such as Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat, The Gnome-Mobile and Alice in Wonderland.
Mae West recreates her persona from the movie She Done Him Wrong. She invites Sid Grauman to "Come up and see me sometime." Greta Garbo was one of the decade's most famous leading ladies.

Will Rogers lasso's Mickey while Douglas Fairbanks is overcome with laughter and begins rolling in the aisle. Rogers appears in the The American Adventure at EPCOT.

Disney animators were none too kind when they created this caricature of Will H. Hays. Famous for the Hays Code, he was the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, the forerunner of the current MPAA. He was known in Hollywood as the "Censorship Czar," thus explaining his costumed appearance in the cartoon.

And who are these three gentlemen standing next to Groucho Marx in one of the shorts final scenes? The one on the right bears a very strong resemblance to certain famous cartoon-maker of the era. Hmm . . .

Images © Walt Disney Company

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Behind the Walls of Hollywood Studios
Freeze Frame! - Mickey's Polo Team

Explore Boom Pop!

Greetings From Grauman's Chinese Theatre


Matt said...

Very cool post!

Anonymous said...

Never notice Walt's cameo near the end of the cartoon before. Thanks for the post.

Amy said...

Thanks for the post- that's really interesting!!!

Cory Gross said...

This is one of the few Hollywood-themed cartoons from that era that I have yet to see... As soon as I found out about it via the clip of Dracula, Hyde and the Frankenstein Monster, I had to see it. But haven't! Arg!

Unknown said...

Great post, Jeff!

You really did an amzing job putting this post together.

Walt mentioned not using contmeporary gags in his films since they might lose their significance. Although these are great caricatures, I can see how the humor can be lost on later generations.

Jeff--maybe you should create a Retro-Film Appreciation Society!

Anonymous said...

I hate to be a stickler for detail, but in the photo of the Keystone Kops there are a couple of mis-identifications. The gentleman on the far right is Chester Conklin, not Hank Mann. The Kop identified as Harry Langford is supposed to be Harry Langdon, I presume. However, Langdon was never a Kop and further, never worked with a mustache. So I'm guessing this is not Langdon or they just "made him" a Kop to fit him in somewhere.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful post... helpful, informative & entertaining!! My congratulations...

Jeffrey Pepper said...


Thanks for keeping me on the straight and narrow. I had in fact made the correct ID on Conklin (hence the correct picture) but didn't update the caption or my post copy when finalizing the post.

The Harry Langdon misspelling was just me being sloppy. I based my ID of Langdon on a couple of different sources. The physical resemblance is there to some extant but you're right, he was never a Cop. However, there doesn't seem to be another prominent Cop that matches the caricature.

I've updated the post with the corrections and added a clarification about Langdon.

Thanks again.

Oscar Grillo said...

The man between Groucho and Walt in the picture at the bottom is Warner Baxter,

Mr. La said...

Hi Jeff - another outstanding post - how long does it take you to research a post like this - your attention to detail is marvelous!

Jeffrey Pepper said...

Mr. La--

Thankfully, there were multiple resources both in print and online that that helped with the less obvious identifications. Still, it was a bit tricky as some lists were incomplete, others inaccurate in places and a few cases in clear disagreement. As noted in a previous comment, the Keystone Cops were particularly challenging, causing me to get my notes shuffled and have a misidentification.

Its interesting (and somewhat ironic) to note that none of the sources I found made the Walt Disney ID. There are likely still others we are missing, as reflected by the prior comment that made notation of Warner Baxter.

Thanks to all for your kind words and encouragement. It was a really fun piece to work on.

Hans Perk said...

Great post! Let's not forget Freddy Moore, as described here...

Nate Parrish said...

Jeff, great work as always. I was just thinking about that cartoon when I was at Disneyland and saw in the Main Street Cinema that 'Mickey's Polo Team' was playing, another short that has celebrity cameo's. No doubt Walt had a hand in the original idea for a short that featured polo

Craig Wheeler said...

Wow. What a great, thorough post. Always fun to read your blog. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Very cool, indeed! However--- the photo of Chaplin is not Chaplin...

Jeffrey Pepper said...

Thanks, Jim! I'll try to pay closer attention in the future. I've corrected the image in the post.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog, Thanks for identifying the three singing ladies, for some strange reasons I thought the lady on the right side is Tallulah Bankhead because it quite looks like her.

Gabe Bennett said...

If anyone's wondering why Ed Wynn is wearing a fireman's helmet in this cartoon, here's an interesting bit of Old Time Radio trivia:

When "Mickey's Gala Premiere" came out in 1932, Wynn was at the height of his popularity as the host of the Texaco-sponsored half-hour radio comedy series, "Ed Wynn, the Fire-Chief" ("Fire-Chief" was the brand name of Texaco's gasoline products at the time, sort of like "Techron" is today). As a result, he often wore a fireman's helmet during public appearances and of course, when recording.

The "Fire-Chief" show mainly featured vaudeville-style stand-up comedy (all of it clean, of course; Wynn never worked blue), interspersed with musical performances and was one of the first shows to be recorded in front of a live audience. Recordings of it have been preserved and are available at numerous locations online; I highly recommend it to anyone!

Kerry B said...

Although he didn't have a mustache Harry Langdon did play a cop in The Cat's Meow (1924 short). See film description and picture of Langdon in a tall police cap here: http://silent-movies.org/Langdon/Films1.html

I think the identification of Harry Langdon is correct.

Robert S. Birchard said...

You misspelled Adolphe Menjou