Sunday, August 31, 2008

Disney's Victory Gardens

Posting simultaneously on our sister blog Boom-Pop! is a feature on Victory Gardens, a home front initiative that encouraged citizens to cultivate vegetable gardens to help alleviate food shortages and reduce the need for rationing during World War II. The Victory Garden emerged as one of the more prominent aspects of mid-1940s popular culture, and so it was inevitable that the Walt Disney Studios would in some ways intersect with this pastime of patriotic seed sowing.

Although the Disney Studio never produced a Victory Garden themed cartoon, Walt did lend out two of his biggest stars to participate in Victory Garden promotional efforts. Mickey Mouse was featured on materials for a Green Thumb Contest sponsored by the National Victory Garden Institute in 1944. State war councils sponsored the contest locally. Illinois Mobilizes, the newsletter of the Illinois War Council, noted in their July 1, 1944 issue, "Each entrant receives a contest record book, with a cover especially designed by Walt Disney to be used for keeping a record of planting and harvesting."

Donald Duck was licensed for use on a Victory Garden sign, produced by W. L. Stensgaard. According to World War II historian and Disneyana expert David Lesjak, the sign came in two different types. A fiberboard version retailed for $1.00 while a sturdier one made of masonite board cost $1.69. Lesjak reported that a promotional flier sent to retailers advertised that, "Everybody will want to identify their victory garden with this colorful, durable, outdoor marker. Creates a new spirit for gardens. Thousands will buy for own use, also gifts and prizes."

Donald Duck planted his own Victory Garden in the comic book Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #31, published in April 1943. In "Donald Duck's Victory Garden," Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie square off against a trio of hungry crows, out to pilfer freshly planted Victory seeds. The comic was written and drawn by Disney Legend Carl Barks and was his first Donald Duck story published for the Walt Disney Comics and Stories title.

In the mid-1990s, Disney Imagineers planted a Victory Garden just off of Sunset Boulevard in the then Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World. That particular area of the park evokes a strong World War II-era atmosphere and a Victory Garden is a natural extension of that theming. Set adjacent to Rosie's All-American Cafe (playing tribute to another war-era pop culture icon, Rosie the Riveter) is Rosie's Victory Garden.

Be sure to visit Boom-Pop! for the companion piece to this post, Gardening for Victory.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lost Imagineering: The Lewis and Clark Expedition

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was the proposed E-Ticket centerpiece of the Native America area of the ultimately canceled Disney's America theme park. The blue sky designs for the attraction would subsequently serve in the development of Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom and also, and more directly, Grizzly River Run at Disney's California Adventure. Press materials provided the following description of the Native America area:

Native America explores the life of America's first inhabitants, their accord with the environment and the timeless works of art they created long before European colonization. Guests may visit an Indian village representing such Eastern tribes as the Powhatans, or join in a harrowing Lewis and Clark raft expedition through pounding rapids and churning whirlpools.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Geiger's Rare Books and 1st Editions

Disney's Hollywood Studios is literally peppered with references to the golden age of Hollywood. One notable tribute goes largely unseen--a window advertising Geiger's Rare Books and 1st Editions. The window is located on the second story of a building facade near the Mama Melrose Ristorante Italiano.

The window sign pays homage to the classic 1945 movie The Big Sleep, based on the Raymond Chandler novel and starring Humphrey Bogart as private eye Philip Marlowe. In the film, Marlow is hired to investigate a suspected blackmailer named Arthur Gywnn Geiger. Early in the movie, Marlow visits Geiger's place of business, A. G. Geiger's RARE BOOKS and DE LUXE EDITIONS. Geiger's storefront is featured prominently in a scene where Humphrey Bogart dons a pair of dark glasses prior to entering the shop.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Take Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour

I just noticed an interesting special feature listed on the specifications for The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector's Edition DVD arriving in stores today. Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour provides viewers with a virtual tour of Disneyland's annual holiday makeover of the classic attraction. An optional "Off Track" feature reveals a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the popular overlay.

Additional features new to this edition include commentary tracks by Tim Burton, director Henry Selick and composer Danny Elfman, and a Christopher Lee rendition of Burton's original poem upon which the film was based. I usually steer clear of DVD "double-dips" but I have to admit being especially intrigued by the Haunted Mansion Holiday feature. If anyone happens to pick up the set, let us know your impressions via the comments section.

Image © WDSHE. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Windows to the Past: Wilshire Theatre 1931

Mickey Mouse shared the marquee at the Wilshire Theatre in Los Angeles with what was one of the most popular films of 1931, Trader Horn. The adventure movie starred Harry Carey and was notable for being the first major Hollywood production to be filmed on location in Africa. The Mickey Mouse cartoon was likely The Moose Hunt, as both it and Trader Horn were released in May of 1931. Disney would parody Trader Horn the following year with the cartoon Trader Mickey.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends

Over fifty years ago when Walt Disney launched Disneyland, he successfully blended the creative forces of imagination with the sciences of engineering to essentially create a new and wholly innovative form of entertainment: the theme park. Yet it is a chapter in Disney history that has long been neglected and under served in book form. There have been volumes dedicated to the company's legacy in animation, but the history of WED Enterprises and subsequently Walt Disney Imagineering, has been chronicled primarily outside of mainstream publications in smaller, yet still comprehensive efforts such as the E-Ticket Magazine and numerous other fan-based initiatives.

That is why Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park by Jeff Kurtti is such a welcome release. While the Disney-published 1997 book Walt Disney Imagineering provided an extensive and lavishly illustrated history of the what of Disney Imagineering, Imagineering Legends focuses on the who--those first-generation Imagineers who literally over the course of two decades pioneered the creation and execution of theme park entertainment.

The book, not unlike a Disney theme park attraction, is an altogether immersive journey back to earlier times and places, rich in both design and content. Creatively designed by the late Bruce Gordon, the pages of Imagineering Legends strongly evoke via retro-themed styles, Disney Imagineering's own Hyperion era of creativity and innovation during the 1950s and 1960s.

Surrounded by Gordon's wonderfully placed designs and illustrations, author Jeff Kurtti profiles twenty-nine "Imagineering Legends," beginning with the very first Imagineer, Walt Disney himself. Kurtti then separates the "Legends" by various disciplines. Following Disney, Harper Goff, Ken Anderson, Herbert Ryman and Sam McKim are credited as The Prototype Imagineers; Richard F. Irvine and Bill Cottrell are members of The Executive Suite; Marvin Davis and Bill Martin are The Place Makers; Marc Davis and Claude Coats form The Story Department; Masters of Mixed Media include Bill Evans, Rolly Crump, Yale Gracey and Blaine Gibson; The Model Shop consists of Fred Joerger, Harriet Burns and Wathel Rogers while The Machine Shop features Roger Broggie and Bob Gurr; The Music Makers are the Sherman Brothers, Buddy Baker, George Bruns and X. Atencio. Kurtti concludes the book with whom he considers The Unofficial Imagineers, Ub Iwerks, Bill Walsh, James Algar and Ward Kimball; and showcases John Hench as The Renaissance Imagineer in the book's final chapter.

Kurtti's individual biographies are extensive and informative, showcasing individuals who have largely gone unrecognized and too often unacknowledged in other mainstream Disney histories. And the accompanying illustrations truly compliment the text. They are not repetitions of previously published concept art, but generally heretofore unseen artwork and photographs of the Imagineers themselves as they applied their skills and talents. This is by no means a book to quickly rush through; every page is an utter joy to behold, read and ultimately savor.

Beyond these many merits, Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Theme Park will also fill a much needed void that has been present in Disney history research libraries for some time. In the past, information on the individuals showcased in Imagineering Legends has been scattered among many different and too often, hard to access resources such as the E-Ticket and Disney magazines. For me personally, I foresee it becoming a valuable and indispensable resource for many, many years to come.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Yes, That's Donald Duck

For all the details, check out this very interesting post on Michael Sporn's Splog.
You'll be quite amazed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Souvenirs: The Story and Songs of the Orange Bird

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If I Created the Disney Treasures . . .

With the recent announcement of this year's wave of Disney Treasures DVDs, I thought I would revisit my own wish list of future Treasure sets and also expand on it as well. In a post from January of 2007, I outlined three potential collections; none have yet to be realized and they remain at the top of my request list. For readers of that prior post, please forgive my redundancy in repeating the details of those particular items.

One of the true lost treasures of Disney’s laserdisc era is the Exclusive Archives Collection of The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos. Laserdisc special editions were the real precursors to whole “special features” DVD phenomenon, and the Caballeros/Amigos set was a shining example of the best that format could produce. Beyond the films themselves, the set was filled with an overabundance of supplemental material that would be perfect a Treasures DVD. The documentary South of the Border With Disney, screen tests, radio broadcasts, storyboards, concept art, and publicity materials, are among its many highlights. But the real gems of the collection are reconstructions of two abandoned short subjects: “A Brazilian Symphony: Caxanga,” and “The Laughing Gauchito.”

Marry this material with a complete set of the studio’s “south of the border” themed shorts, such as Clown of the Jungle, Pueblo Pluto, Pluto and the Armadillo, The Pelican an the Snipe, and Contrary Condor, and even throw in the Blame It on the Samba sequence from Melody Time for good measure. Then add a healthy dose of Disney’s Latin American public service films, such as the long unseen The Amazon Awakes and the Careless Charlie series, and you have the makings of a terrific Treasures product. Unfortunately, the recent mainstream release of the Caballeros Collection DVD makes a Treasures release unlikely any time in the near future.

I continue to advocate for the release of what is a mostly forgotten chapter in the Studio’s history: the People and Places series of documentary short subjects. Similar in style and format to the True-Life Adventures, these travelogues employed many of the same talented individuals and earned a number of Oscar accolades as well. People and Places began with The Alaskan Eskimo in 1953 and concluded in 1960 with the films Japan and The Danube. Studio and animation veteran Ben Sharpteen directed nearly all of the titles in the series. The most famous entry, Disneyland USA, was released as part of last year's Treasures entry Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic.

I am a huge fan of the Disneyland-themed Treasures sets, but I feel it's time the focus shifted a bit to the east. An examination of both the concepts and realization of EPCOT would be a wonderful place to start. Starting with the original EPCOT film that appeared on the Treasures Tomorrowland title, the set could also include the various souvenir videos, and also many of the now long gone attraction films. It would be great to again be able to see items such as the Earth Station film, Symbiosis, The Water Engine from World of Motion, and the various original Energy films, including some type of recreation of the now famous Emil Radok designed Energy: You Make the World Go Round. Other great pieces of obscure EPCOT: the Choose Your Ending sequences from Horizons; the original Seas introductory film, the two animated vignettes also from the Living Seas--The Animated Atlas of the World and Suited for the Sea; and the animated educational short Harold and His Amazing Green Plants, that featured characters from Kitchen Kaberet. Highlights from the numerous EPCOT Educational Media films, and clips from The Disney Channel’s EPCOT Magazine program would also be great inclusions.

Among the darkest moments in the history of Walt Disney Home Entertainment were the releases of Make Mine Music and Melody Time. During the company's pre-Treasures era, its primary focus was pleasing the soccer-mom demographic, resulting in some of the most outrageous and unnecessary censorship ever visited upon classic Disney animation. An entire segment, The Martins and the Coys, was removed from Make Mine Music, and the Pecos Bill sequence in Melody Time was clumsily re-edited and digitally altered to remove cigarette smoking references. A Disney Treasures restoration of these two films would go a long way to righting those earlier wrongs. There is no doubt an abundance of material residing in the archives to provide for supplemental features, especially relating to such notable segments as Peter and the Wolf, The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill. A feature profiling the various popular music personalities who participated in the films--among them the Andrews Sisters, Roy Rogers, Jerry Colonna, Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore and Dennis Day--would also be a welcome addition. And throw in the 1954 sequel to Casey at the Bat, Casey Bats Again, for good measure.

If the Treasures series can bring us such notable Disney television-based characters as Davy Crockett, the Swamp Fox and the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, why for heavens sake not Ludwig Von Drake. He is one the studio's most entertaining personalities yet has long been terribly underrepresented on video and DVD. In his first appearance on September 24, 1961, he, along with Walt Disney, introduced Disney television programing to color, and would go on to be the shows premiere animated character during the 1960s. In addition to that first episode, An Adventure in Color/Mathmagic Land, the set could include other Von Drake tour de forces such as Carnival Time, Fly With Von Drake, Inside Outer Space, Von Drake in Spain and The Hunting Instinct. An extended profile of Von Drake's alter ego, veteran voice artist Paul Frees, would make a great supplemental feature.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Melody Time

Monday, August 18, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Mickey's Kangaroo

In the 1935 cartoon Mickey's Kangaroo, Mickey receives a special delivery from a Leo Buring in Australia. The short was supposedly inspired by real life events. On a post from the Disney History blog, J.B. Kaufmann noted:

"According to a syndicated story that appeared in newspapers in 1934, an Australian admirer sent Walt a gift of two wallabies, a male and a female. By the time they reached the States, they had produced a third. According to this story, the Disney staff promptly named the male wallaby Leapo, the female Hoppo, and the baby Poucho. This of course became an obvious inspiration for the cartoon Mickey's Kangaroo, released the following April. Joe Grant told me in 1988 that the newspaper story was true; he remembered the wallabies being kept in a pen outside the story department. I asked him if the name that appears on the mailing label in the cartoon, Leo Buring, was the name of the real-life person who sent the animals to Walt, and he thought it probably was."

Leo Buring was at that time becoming a well known figure in the Australian wine industry. According to the web site Wine Society, "In 1931 Buring formed a business partnership with Reginald Mowat of Great Western called Leo Buring & Co. His first wine was made from grapes grown at his Emu Plains property in the early 1930s."

Another interesting piece of kangaroo trivia--likely inspired by Mickey's Kangaroo, Disney artists would in 1943 redesign Pocket Books trademark kangaroo Gertrude. The paperback publisher's mascot and joey were no doubt drawn in part from the character designs created for the 1935 cartoon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Windows to the Past: Westward Ho! - Wichita

Westward Ho, the Wagons! and Disneyland USA share the marquee sign at the Boulevard Theatre in Wichita, Kansas. Moviegoers lined up around the block in December of 1956 to see the Disney Cinemascope double bill. The photograph is part of the Wichita Photo Archives.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Snapshot! - Min and Bill

Here is a Snapshot! follow-up to our recent post that highlighted the celebrity caricatures that appeared in 1933 cartoon Mickey's Gala Premier. Min and Bill's Dockside Diner at Disney's Hollywood Studios was inspired by the 1930 film Min and Bill which starred Marie Dressler and Wallace Berry. The sign for the counter service restaurant bears caricatures of the two stars, who were both quite famous during the early 1930s. In fact, Dressler, far from a Hollywood glamor queen and well into her sixties, was the number one box office draw at the time. Disney artists created similar caricatures of the pair in Mickey's Gala Premier.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Please, Mister, Don't Be Careless

In 1943, Walt Disney made available the characters from his animated feature Bambi to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service to use in a poster promoting the prevention of forest fires. According to

"The "Bambi" poster was a success and proved that using an animal as a fire prevention symbol would work. A fawn could not be used in subsequent campaigns because "Bambi" was on loan from Walt Disney studios for only one year; the Forest Service would need to find an animal that would belong to the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign. It was finally decided that the Nation's number one firefighter should be a bear."

Thus, on August 9, 1944, a certain and future iconic character was born.

And even today, the Walt Disney Company remains active in the cause.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Windows to the Past: Pinocchio's Pal 1941

An advertisement on the side of a newspaper delivery truck promotes an upcoming article featuring Disney's feature film Pinocchio, and more specifically, the character of Jiminy Cricket. The photograph was snapped in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1940. The photo is from the Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

White Wilderness - August 12, 1958

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of one of Walt Disney's most celebrated films in the True-Life Adventure series, White Wilderness. Released on August 12, 1958, it was a distinct commercial success and would go on to win that year's Academy Award for feature length documentary.

It would gain a degree of notoriety a quarter century later, when in 1982, a Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary on animal cruelty would accuse the filmmakers of staging scenes and perpetuating the myths of lemming suicides. Though commendable for its overall expose of animal cruelty in motion picture making, the report tended to exaggerate Disney's propagation of the lemming suicide myth.

The makers of the True-Life series did in fact play hard and loose with filming and footage. But those individuals have long made no secret of such efforts and documentaries and interviews on the recent True-Life Adventure DVDs attest to their forthrightness. While the lemming scene in White Wilderness was admittedly staged, it has since been misrepresented rather frequently, accusing the Disney filmmakers of forcing the creatures over the cliff to their deaths. As noted by both the film's narrator Winston Hibler and other academic sources, the lemmings (based primarily on those indigenous to Norway) in fact die from exhaustion from extended swimming rather than from the plunge into the water. In his narration, Hibler notes the suicide myth in its proper context. In an interview on the CBC program, Roy E. Disney mistakenly cited a "seven-year suicide cycle." The program then proceeded to debunk this statement of lemming misinformation. A simple viewing of the film demonstrates that Disney's statement did not reflect the actual content presented in White Wilderness.

On the program, CBC reporter Bob McKeown cited no specific evidence that the lemmings in White Wilderness were killed as a result of the filmmakers' staging of the sequence, but did make that suggestion via the film's own footage. That coupled with a statement by Roy E. Disney, who by his own admission had no direct knowledge of the lemming sequence, that "we may have lost a few lemmings," more or less became the indictment that McKeown was looking for. While the Disney Studios' technical and philosophical approaches to making True-Life Adventure films were certainly questionable, especially when you consider the "True-Life"moniker, the lemming controversy associated with White Wilderness seems potentially overblown. It is interesting to note that fifty years later, staging techniques continue to be used in the filming of nature documentaries.

Despite said controversies, White Wilderness contains much spectacular and remarkable footage. It remains a distinct spiritual and technical forerunner to current nature documentaries, most especially the much lauded Planet Earth series. In fact, the first episode of Planet Earth features scenes of a mother polar bear and her cubs that is remarkably similar to footage in White Wilderness.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Monday, August 11, 2008

Windows to the Past: February 2, 1967

An ongoing feature entitled Windows to the Past has proven to be a very popular feature of our recently launched sister blog Boom-Pop! The series features vintage archive photographs that literally transport you to another place and time. I thought it would be fun to take the concept and apply a Disney spin to it here at 2719 Hyperion.

February 2, 1967 was the date that Roy O. Disney hosted a press conference at the Park Theatres in Winter Park, Florida that outlined the company's plans for the construction and establishment of Disney World. The centerpiece of the presentation was the film made by Walt Disney just prior to his death in December of 1966. The film outlined the company's concepts for the Florida property with a special emphasis on Walt's own personal vision of EPCOT.