Monday, June 25, 2007

Walt Disney's Surprise Package: Lady

I'M LADY. I like it here where I live. Everything is good, especially Mister Fred and Missis. They always speak in gentle voices. Besides Mister and Missis, there's the Small One. He's only been here six months and he's too new to speak.

So begins a cute little dog story from the 1944 storybook collection Walt Disney’s Surprise Package. In an earlier post, I provided some background on this very interesting Simon and Schuster publication and how it presented material from animated projects that were at that time still in some state of concept development or production at the Burbank studio. Preceding Lady and the Tramp by more than ten years, the story “Lady” features an earlier and much abbreviated version of the 1955 film’s storyline. It had yet to include Tramp and many of the other colorful supporting characters such as Jock, Trusty and Peg.

Told in the voice of its title character, the story includes the three primary human characters that were ultimately realized in the film as Jim Dear, Darling and Aunt Sarah, and unnamed incarnations of Si and Am, Lady’s devious feline adversaries. Names and relationships were somewhat different. Lady’s owners began their conceptual life as Mister Fred and Missis, while it is in fact Missis’ mother who brings the malicious and troublesome Siamese cats into the picture. Lady identifies her as the horrid Cat Woman.

In a scene that didn’t make it into the film, Lady is framed for the disappearance of the household’s pet canary Trilby:

Suddenly, over in the corner, the dishes trem­bled in the china closet. Two brown bodies bounded from the top. They leapt into the air, straight for the canary cage. They grabbed it with their eight horrid feet and two horrid tails.

Trilby shrieked with terror. The cats were snatching at her through the bars!

"Coming!" I barked. I sprang, snapped at the cage bottom, and pulled it off. Trilby fluttered down. Out of the cage, out of the open win­dow, she flew for her life. Trilby and cats don't mix. No, Sir.

"What's going on down there?" cried the voice of Missis from upstairs.

Footsteps came hurrying down. Mister and Missis and the Cat Woman too! The cats scurried off. They flattened themselves safely into the darkness under the china closet.

The Cat Woman reached the dining room first. She pointed at me, and then to the empty, broken cage. "That animal has eaten your poor canary!" she cried. "She's a dangerous dog! There's no telling what she'll do next!"

"Lady!" That's all that Missis said. It was just her voice that made me wish I were dead. No one saw the cats peek out from their dark safe corner and sneer with their slanted eyes.

Everyone looked at me and began to whisper. "Take her away right now," said the Cat Woman. "She's dangerous . . . don't waste any time."

In the movie, the two cats do set their sights briefly on the pet canary, by are quickly distracted by the nearby goldfish and then again by "baby cries." Later in the storybook version, Lady is again blamed for an incident that would ultimately evolve into the films “rat” confrontation. However, in this early version, the cats are still the primary villains:

I was prowling about upstairs. Somehow I didn't like the sniff of things. I searched the bed­room, the bathroom, and the cupboard where they keep the towels. I walked down the hall. The Small One's door was open a little wider than it usually was. I poked in my head just to see if all was well. I blinked. All the hairs on my back stood up straight. Cats!

They were clawing at the Small One's basket . . . tearing the dainty lace ruffles . . . pulling off the beautiful ribbon as though it were com­monplace, everyday string! Then suddenly they jumped for the blue bow on the hood of the basket, just over the Small One's head! They missed the bow and crashed against the basket. It rocked wildly from side to side. It almost spilled the Small One out!

This was too much!

I sprang through the open door. I snarled. I barked. I growled like the thunder that comes when it rains. The Small One made loud screams. He wasn't hurt, but he was mighty scared. The cats raced away down the hall and disappeared.

Fast feet came rushing up the stairs. I wanted to run but I didn't. Lights flashed on. The Cat Woman shouted, "I knew it would happen! I told you so! She's a dangerous dog!"

But in the end, Lady is ultimately vindicated:

Mister came up close. He knelt down beside me right in the mud. He ripped off my muzzle. "Lady! Lady, forgive us! We know now it was the cats! We found lace and blue ribbon in their claws. What might have happened without you!" He picked me up in his arms, mud and all. He carried me all the way home like a puppy. A grown-up dog like me!

The story’s illustrations depict a very different and slightly “toonnier” version of Lady, but the Siamese cats are not very far removed from their future Si and Am renditions. In ten subsequent years of development, Lady would discover romance, adventure, new friends and the joys of Italian cuisine. Unknown to its young readers in 1944, Walt Disney’s Surprise Package was providing an early peek at what would become one of the Walt Disney Studios most beloved and cherished endeavors.