Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bob Broughton 1917-2009

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Disney Legend Bob Broughton passed away on January 19. He was 91 years old.

Broughton began his career with Disney 1937, working first in the mailroom at the Hyperion Avenue studio. Shortly thereafter, he moved into the camera department, and that remained the focus of his career until his retirement in 1982. His resume was wide and varied; he worked extensively in animation, mastering the use of the multiplane camera on Pinocchio and then helping to pioneer special photographic effects for Fantasia. In later years, his camerawork and special effects expertise contributed to live action films such as The Parent Trap and Mary Poppins. When Alfred Hitchcock contracted Disney to provide special effects for his thriller The Birds, Broughton was key in helping bring the legendary director's vision to realization.

According to his Disney Legends profile, Broughton once noted, ""I had one of the best jobs anyone could have, with a one-of-a-kind organization and incredibly talented people."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Much Stuff?

If you've spent any amount of time at Walt Disney World, chances are pretty good that you've either seen or been one of these people: the crazed tourist, charging headlong through a crowd, fastpasses fluttering, stroller wheels locking up, shouting at their family in a mad headlong dash to "fun" at Splash Mountain, Space Mountain or wherever. Immediately upon arrival, the alpha male of the group will whip out the park map and begin madly planning the next "fun" of the day, oftentimes utterly missing the attraction he ran so far to get on. The Disney parks reward a leisurely pace and attention to detail, something many guests miss out on on their madcap dash through the parks. I used to chalk it up to personality types, but after many years of visiting those parks under various states of duress, I have another idea.

Between 1989 and 1999 - let's say, give or take, the bulk of the "Disney Decade" - Walt Disney World was expanded at a merciless rate. This short ten year time period saw the opening of two theme parks, something like fifteen hotels, two shopping districts, two water parks and two miniature golf complexes. By any standard that's a huge expansion, but when taken into account with the already existing two theme parks, one water park, zoological exhibit, shopping village and five-plus hotels, in ten short years Walt Disney World expanded from a big balloon to an overfilled zeppelin. She hasn't stopped yet.

Now, realistically for a moment, let's speak about clientele. Chances are very good that 50 - 60% of the people at Walt Disney World at any one time (except for that one crazy week in December, but that's besides the point here..) are utterly unlike you, the dear reader, who has made her or his way to this site - this sentence! - through your unwavering devotion to Disney. Many of Walt Disney World's annual visitors are people who come here sporadically, rarely, or perhaps just once in their whole lives. They are not devoted to Disney, and many of them have only the vaguest inclination of why the place has Walt Disney's name on it anyway, and some of them are still wondering why there aren't any roller coasters sitting out in asphalt parking lots like they have back at Six Flags over Texas. But most of them do know this: they've got about ten days to see it all because they're not planning on coming back for a long long time, if ever.

It's an expensive proposition, and when you factor in a potential desire to see the other Orlando attractions like Universal, Sea World, or even more minor excursions like the Orlando Premium Outlets, the time at Disney does begin to take on the air of a national emergency. Magic Kingdom was designed in 1971 to take two days to see, and it's only gotten bigger since. It's total insanity to try to realistically devote a single day to EPCOT, although if factors like operational hours and crowd levels were on your side it would be possible to get pretty satisfactory experiences at MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom in a single long day. That's still five "best case scenario" days, and that's only taking into account the physical parks themselves, without the hassles of transportation, hydration, eating and so on. It's a big pill to swallow.

One could argue that by stacking Walt Disney World with far too many things to possibly do in one trip, they are encouraging repeat trips, which is probably true. How many people honestly take advantage of any one of the four 18-hole miniature golf courses on property on any given day? How many trips have they already taken to Walt Disney World before the thought even occurred to them? On one hand this encourages the building of unique vacations, on the other it kind of excludes the once-in-a-lifetime tourist who will concentrate her efforts on seeing as many of the theme parks for as long as possible. Disney's practices of offering more than can possibly be done in the average length of the American vacation, and feeding the fires of the naturally resulting planning obsession with their 180-day booking window and FastPass itineraries is not only unfortunate, but in some ways actively irresponsible. Albeit, their only responsibility is making money, but where is the balance that you can pack into your vacation?

The original idea of Walt Disney World was just that: balance. The Magic Kingdom was the biggest draw and as such had the largest capacity, but even in the early days there were a variety of activities meant to encourage a vacation spent outside of that theme park. Golf was a heavy emphasis, and a whole resort catering to golfers coexisted with four golf courses around property. The Polynesian Luau and Top of the World were effectively onsite nightclubs, and a variety of rental craft plowed the waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon. There was the World Cruise, a narrated tour of the lagoon, and the Electrical Water Pageant, and even a ski show. In fact, once that Disney-made lagoon was the real heart of Walt Disney World. Now it's more like an epic inconvenience between your car and that theme park. The point that you weren't parking for the Magic Kingdom, but for the entire resort, has been lost in the shuffle. It's a subtle point but it is the difference between a more varied experience and that crazed run towards "fun".

EPCOT was finally added ten years later to only then extend the length of the tourist experience, but in the Eisner regime the expansion got totally out of control. Certain things did seem to be responding to tourist demands, such as budget hotels, although these were used mostly as an excuse to make the original hotels even more expensive. If EPCOT was the right expansion at the right time for fairly sound reasons, sometimes it seems like Eisner was building things just to placate his construction fetish. Walt Disney World is now home to something like 20,000 rooms, which admittedly is a fraction of the people that, say, Magic Kingdom can house at any one time, but that's a huge number nonetheless.

All of this is to ask the question: has Disney expanded themselves right out of any sort of reasonable proportion in Orlando? Although other countries have different standards of what an acceptable vacation is, American employers and - perhaps more importantly - American schools - demand increasingly that the family be present and available. Two weeks is about what the length of what a vacation is expected to be, and for many guests Walt Disney World is pretty close to too much. It's too much to take your time with, at least, and is sufficiently overwhelming to cause as much stress and anxiety as the job it is supposedly relieving. In some ways it can be said that the "Vacation Kingdom" has become the true taskmaster's paradise, the workaholic's week off where the differences become negligible.

The funny thing with this sort of complaint is that it's simply not addressable in any way. Once Disney builds something, they should go right on keeping it up. There are both good and bad things about the expansion after all. Perhaps the absolute realistically worst thing about it is that it has necessitated the spreading thin of Disney's resources; their ability to maintain any one park well is directly related to how many other parks need a slice of the profits. But there are good things too. Eisner's personal kink for hotels resulted in the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge and the Boardwalk, three Disney properties which are so great they they stop being above average hotels and become actually good for the soul. I'm not sure I would trade a 1978 Walt Disney World for a 2008 Walt Disney World, but I know I would miss those properties. Perhaps it's a generational thing. The difference between the two eras is like having a single drink at a friend's house and binge drinking in Times Square.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Will This Pinocchio Come to Life?

Walt Disney's second full length animated feature Pinocchio had its Hollywood premiere on February 9, 1940, and within two days had quickly entered the popular culture via this editorial cartoon that appeared in the February 11th edition of the Los Angeles Times.

The cartoon, created by Bruce Russell, satirized then President Franklin D. Roosevelt's potential designs on seeking an unprecedented third term in the White House. FDR's symbolic "3RD TERM" Pinocchio came to life later that year, and he would go on to successfully win a fourth term in 1944.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What a Character! - Johnnie Plug-Chek

The November 1945 issue of Popular Science provided this rare glimpse of the Disney-created cartoon character Johnnie Plug-Chek. This pint-sized mechanic appeared in the film The Right Spark Plug in the Right Place, commissioned by the Electric Auto-Lite Company and produced by the Disney Studios.

The Electric Auto-Lite Company has since evolved into Autolite. The company began in 1911 as a producer of buggy lamps. It started manufacturing spark plugs in the mid-1930s.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Windows to the Past: Davy Crockett and Burl Ives

Burl Ives was but one of over forty different recording artists who released a version of the song "The Ballad of Davy Crockett." That is likely why Ives found himself signing copies of Davy Crockett comic books at a department store in April of 1955. This was at the height of the Davy Crockett craze and Ives' rather remote connection to the Disney television program and its four color tie-in was still enough to draw an excited crowd of autograph-seeking youngsters.

Photograph from the Life Magazine photo archive hosted by Google.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Patron of The Clock Store

Even in the very early years of the Disney Studio, animators were paying homage to themselves and other studio personalities in the very cartoons they were producing. In the 1931 Silly Symphony The Clock Store, two pocket watches appear, marked with the engraved initials of their supposed owners. The initials W.E.D. are a quite obvious reference to Walter Elias Disney, but the initials of H.G. are a bit more mysterious.

Digging into the the film's credits, as provided by Russell Merritt and J. B. Kaufmann in their book Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies, we discover that this particular sequence was animated by a gentleman named Hardie Gramatky.

Gramatky worked at the Walt Disney Studios from 1929 until 1936. On the website, Gramatky's daughter Linda Gramatky Smith notes:

"He went to Chouinard art school at night and to the Studio during the day. His first job was to do a Disney comic book, but he finished six months of drawings in three days when Walt asked him, 'Gee, Hardie, what would you like to do now?' Dad told Walt that he'd like to try animation. There were only fourteen animators there when he arrived (and 250 when he left for New York in 1936)."

In a 1938 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Walt Disney said of Gramatky, "There was a boy working for us who had a great future in our Studio. But his heart wasn't in his work and he decided to chuck it all and paint what he wanted to paint. We gave him a great send-off because we admired his spirit. He had a struggle, but he arrived. Even when he was struggling he was happy for he was doing what he wanted to do."

Gramatky would go on to become a well known artist and illustrator, perhaps most famous for his series of Little Toot childrens books. Disney would adapt Little Toot for the 1948 feature Melody Time. Gramatky was especially celebrated for his work with watercolors. In a 2006 magazine article, artist Andrew Wyeth named Gramatky as one of America's twenty greatest water colorists.

A footnote to the sequence from The Clock Store: The timepiece in the center is marked with the letter M, the meaning of which, if any, is a bit harder to decipher. The film's credits only list two individuals with names beginning with M: background artists Carlos Manriquez and Mique Nelson.

The Clock Store is available on DVD as part of the Walt Disney Treasures - More Silly Symphonies (1929-1938).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lost Imagineering: Chinatown

Walt Disney and his Imagineers pursued a number of ideas for a street-based area that would have been located to the east of Main Street USA at Disneyland. Among the proposed concepts were Liberty Street, Edison Square and then later, Chinatown.

The main attraction of Chinatown was a dinner theater that would have featured an audio-animatronic representation of famous Chinese philosopher Confucius. The show was among the very first concepts developed that would have made extensive use of audio-animatronic figures. Development of the Confucius animatronic began in 1956; it followed Walt's well known Buddy Ebsen "Little Man" project, and preceded the the creation of the Lincoln figure by a number of years.

Authors Bruce Gordon and David Mumford provided an extensive description of the proposed attraction in their book Disneyland: The Nickel Tour:

We're back in October of 1959, where the Disney designers are hard at work bringing the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius to life in a little Chinese restaurant. It's all part of a "Chinatown area being developed for Center Street, next to the Market House.

In addition to a meal of fine Chinese cuisine, guests visiting the restaurant would be treated to a special show written by Golden Horseshoe comic Wally Boag. But before the show, while the guests were munching their appetizers in the Meditation Room. they could soak up the Chinese atmosphere, get into the spirit of the event, and, of course, get a peek at all the items that would be available in the Gift Shop after the show.

Seating would begin once each hour as the guests were led into the restaurant's main room. Mounted on the front wall would be a huge Chinese dragon. Looking out the windows of the room, guests would see film projections of Chinese streets, designed to make it seem as if they had actually been transported to the Orient. For dinner, there would be a choice of almond duck, shrimp, chicken or beef entrees, followed by a dessert of Chinese pastry.

Once all the dishes had been cleared away, the dragon on the wall would come to life and the show would begin.

"Honorable patrons look very happy," the dragon would say, "must have been something you ate." Looking all around the room, belching fire, the dragon would say "Hope no one in audience minds if dragon smokes."

In addition to the idea of having Confucius host the show, the designers created a philosopher named "Chew Well" (it's a restaurant, remember) who would be surrounded by dozens of Audio-Animatronics birds in cages, as well as a group of singers called "The Nightingirls." But Wally settled on a character he called "Grandfather Chung," designed to please the prospective sponsor, Chun King (even though Wally mistakenly spelled "Chun" as "Chung").

"Now that you have dined on food, it is time to dine on knowledge."

Grandfather Chung would begin by taking questions from the audience. The questions, of course, were all prerecorded, and would emanate from somewhere in the back of the room.

The Chinatown concept was ultimately shelved and Imagineers turned their attentions to the development of a Hall of Presidents idea that eventually evolved into the Great Moments with Mr. Linclon attraction for the 1964 World's Fair.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cutting Out with Johnny Appleseed

Here at 2719 Hyperion, one of our favorite Disney animated vignettes is the story of Johnny Appleseed, one of the segments from the 1948 feature Melody Time. The Disney incarnation of Johnny inspired few merchandise tie-ins, but the story of the American folk hero was translated into a comic book story that appeared in the Dell Giant Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies No. 6, published in 1956.

Johnny and a few members of his supporting cast were featured on the back cover of that comic in the form of a cutout activity. The instructions:

"These cutouts will give you a chance to set the scene for your own story about Johnny Appleseed's adventures. First, cut out the pictures on this page. Then, fold each one along the dotted lines to make it stand up. Now, you're ready to put your story into action. You can arrange the cutouts any way you choose, and move them around whenever you like to follow Johnny as he travels West planting his seeds."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pana-Vue Slide: Arriving at Treasure Island

Images such as this one are relatively rare and take us back to the earliest of days at Walt Disney World. The Entrance Landing to Treasure Island was featured on slide WDW-961 from the Treasure Island set. Treasure Island was the original incarnation of Discovery Island. 1980s-era editions of the Birnbaum Guides revealed:

"Before the World began, this island was flat and scrubby, just a tangle of vines. But Disney planners, thinking of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, decided to turn it into a horticultural and zoological paradise. They cleared the vegetation, brought in 15,000 cubic yards of sandy soil, and added 500 tons each of boulders and trees. They built hills, carved out lagoons, sowed grass seed, and planted 20 types of palm trees, 10 species of bamboo, and dozens upon dozens of other plants from Argentina, Bolivia, the Canary Islands, China, Costa Rica, Formosa, the Himalayas, India, Japan, Peru, South Africa, Trinidad and other nations around the world. Then they added winding paths, built aviaries and filled them with birds, and added a few props to carry through the Treasure Island theme. A wrecked ship salvaged from off the coast of Florida was installed on the beach, and a Jolly Roger hung from the lookout post. The creation was dubbed Treasure Island."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2710 Hyperion Ave. - Send No Samples!

In the spring of 1936, Walt Disney wanted artists. That is clearly evident from this advertisement that appeared in April 1936 issue of Popular Mechanics. The studio was deep into the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and was desperately recruiting artists. Ads similar to this one appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country.

But there is one small detail in this advertisement particularly interesting to the residents here at 2719 Hyperion. What is the significance of 2710 Hyperion Ave., the address listed near the bottom of the ad?

2710 Hyperion Avenue was the location of a building called the Disney Annex. It was situated across the street from the main complex of the Walt Disney Studios, whose address, 2719 Hyperion, we commemorate here. The Disney Annex was added to the studio sometime around 1936. During the late 1930s, it was in this place that aspiring artists were typically given tryout periods to prove their talent and skills, working mainly as in-betweeners under the watchful and often harsh supervision of studio manager George Drake. Part of the training process also involved art classes taught by Don Graham.

In an interview with Wes Sullivan, animator Volus Jones observed of the Disney Annex, "It was mostly for the young people who were moving into animation. They put them in one building. Then it also had a small sound stage."

In an interview with John Province, veteran Disney animator and Imagineer Marc Davis remembered:

The way you began was through a life class the Studio had, taught by a man named Don Graham, a marvelous instructor from Chouinard's. For the first two weeks, you were on trial. At the end of that time, if you could draw to Don Graham's satisfaction, you were enrolled in an in-betweening program. You would draw for half a day, and then attend art classes and lectures as a way of paying your way. so to speak. There was an entire building devoted to that kind of thing, and people were in and out of there like a revolving door. They would look over your work and someone would say, "Mr. Jones, Mr. Drake wants to see you," then he'd pick up his coat and leave. Everybody knew what it meant. We would never see "Jones" again.

In his autobiography, studio veteran Bill Peet was particularly critical of the harsh and competitive environment of the Annex:

The next morning at the appointed time of nine o'clock I was at the Disney front gate. It was the wrong place. I was told to check in at a one-story stucco building across the street called the Disney Annex. The tryout group had already lined up at the front door to sign in, and I was the last of the fifteen to arrive.

Most of them were fresh out of art school as I was, and they came from all parts of the country in response to the special delivery letter, not knowing what to expect.

The boss of the Annex, George Drake, was a tall, scrawny chain-smoking neurotic with a shock of rusty hair and extremely large ears. He started things off with a stern lecture warning us that the one-month tryout would be no bed of roses. And more than once he reminded us how fortunate we were to get an opportunity to work for Disney. "There are plenty of people waiting out on the street to get a job here" was his last warning.

Volus Jones also noted that early in the production of Bambi, a run was created adjacent to the Annex to house a live deer. "The artists would come over and look out the window so the little deer couldn't see them. And they would watch its antics and take pictures."

Based on Jones' memories and other anecdotal information, it appears that the Disney Annex was moved to the Studio's new Burbank location sometime in early 1940, and incorporated into buildings constructed there.

Photo of the Disney Annex from the Ingeborg Willy Scrapbook, courtesy of Bob Cowan.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our Genuine American Antique - January 17, 1706

“Dr. Franklin, as our genuine American antique, I suppose our story begins with you."

Benjamin Franklin. Born this day, three hundred and three years ago, he would go on to become an author, publisher, scientist, inventor, philosopher and diplomat.

And let’s not forget cartoon character and cutting edge audio-animatronic.

The Walt Disney Company has brought the illustrious founding father back to life twice. First as a somewhat incompetent and comic character in the 1953 short Ben and Me, and then in 1982 as the co-host of the elaborate American Adventure attraction in the then newly opened EPCOT Center.

Adapted from the children’s book by Robert Lawson, Ben and Me is more the tale of Amos, a poor church mouse, who according to the story, was the true inspiration and innovator behind Franklin’s numerous and notable accomplishments. It was actually Amos who invented bifocals and the Franklin stove, and who helped turn the somewhat dry Poor Richard’s Almanac into the successful Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. When the practical joking Ben literally “shocks” Amos in the famous kite-flying electricity experiment, Amos swears off their partnership and returns to his original church home. Years later in 1776, Ben seeks Amos out for help as the colonies prepare for revolution. Wishing to protect himself from further mischief on Ben’s part, Amos insists on a contract, the words of which provide the basis for Thomas Jefferson’s opening to the Declaration of Independence.

Ben and Me is a fun and entertaining film with impressive pedigrees. It was directed by Hamilton Luske, and studio veteran Winston Hibler was part of the story team. Nine Old Men alumni Woolie Reitherman, John Lounsbery, Ollie Johnston and Les Clark were among the film’s animators. Sterling Holloway brought his usual charm and humor to the role of Amos, while Hollywood character actor Charlie Ruggles voiced Ben Franklin. Ruggles would go on to play the part of Haley Mill’s grandfather in Disney’s The Parent Trap in 1961. Released in theaters with the True-Life Adventure feature The Living Desert, Ben and Me was well-received, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Subject.

Ben and Me later appeared on the Disneyland/Wonderful World of Color television programs, and inspired a few merchandise tie-ins, most notably books and comics. Amos was clearly a member of a new species of Disney mice, all very similar in design, that began with Cinderella’s supporting characters, and frequently showed up in other products during the 1950s, including magazine stories and record albums.

Nearly thirty years later, Disney would reinvent Benjamin Franklin again, in another animated, but altogether different incarnation. In 1982, Franklin and co-host Mark Twain began telling the dramatic story of the American Advenute through music, film and audio-animatronic figure-filled vignettes. The AA for Franklin, at the time one of the most sophisticated and complex created, became famous in and of itself for ascending stairs and walking across a set piece. Imagineer Dave Feiten spent a week walking and practicing with a cane, in order to learn the movements and in turn program the AA for the scene that had Franklin interacting with Thomas Jefferson.Perhaps most distinctive about the Franklin character in American Adventure was the voice acting provided by Dallas McKennon. His performance as the "proud elder statesman" feels dead on accurate, despite the fact that we have no idea what Franklin sounded like. McKennon appeared in a number of Disney live-action films, and provided voice talent for features such as 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. He also supplied voices for other theme park attractions, most notably Zeke in the Country Bear Jamboree, and the Prospector who imparts safety warnings at the beginning of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Historians and biographers characterize Benjamin Franklin as a man of wit, humor and intellect. He likely would have been amused by the charms of Ben and Me, and no doubt impressed by the technology that brought him back to life for one of Walt Disney World’s premiere attractions.

This post was originally published on 2719 Hyperion in January 2007.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pana-Vue Slide: Canoe and Keelboat

Two now extinct attractions can be found in this Walt Disney World souvenir Pana-Vue slide. Slide WDW-305 from the Frontierland set features guests paddling along in an Indian War Canoe as the Bertha Mae keelboat navigates the river not far away. In the distance to the left can be seen the Haunted Mansion. The Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat can be seen on the right side of the picture, behind a still undeveloped Tom Sawyer Island. Though the slide caption identifies the canoe as an "Indian War Canoe," the attraction was referred to as the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vintage Vinyl: Professor Ludwig Von Drake

While many Disney enthusiasts often immediately associate veteran performer and voice artist Paul Frees with his performance of the Ghost Host from the Haunted Mansion, I would argue that the crowning achievement of his Disney resume was in fact the vocal creation of the early television era character, Professor Ludwig Von Drake. And although his work in this regard stretched over numerous episodes of Disney's Wonderful World of Color and the featurette Symposium on Popular Songs, Frees's Von Drake persona is no better represented and encapsulated than on the vintage 1961 vinyl LP Professor Ludwig Von Drake.

Released just prior to the debut of the Von Drake character on television in the fall of 1961, the album Professor Ludwig Von Drake immediately transcended the juvenile music genre to which it was classified. The album proved an energetic, frequently spontaneous, and consistently hilarious endeavor, often more akin to comedy albums of the time period than to the narrative-based childrens records that were then typically produced as media tie-ins.

In their book, Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, authors Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar noted:

"In the early 1960s, comedy albums reached a level of popularity comparable to music LPs. Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Vaughn Meader, and Allan Sherman were topping the charts. This could be what helped inspire Johnson and Camarata to produce an LP with an accent on humor, and an accent was responsible for much of the humor."

Side One of the album features Sherman Brothers songs, most of which were drawn from episodes of the Wonderful World of Color. Side Two is noticeably more free form as Von Drake explains the recording process by way of a performance of the "Blue Danube" and a send-up of "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" from Cinderella.

Frees brought to the character of Von Drake a wacky, irreverent spontaneity. According to Frees biographer Ben Ohmart, Frees once noted, "Walt Disney gave me a lot of liberty in portraying the Professor, and I've made him more personal than any of my other characters." Frees went on to say, "The Professor is bright, good-natured, has a sense of humor, and is marvelously absent-minded at times. But he has character. He is always driving at something and he is not beyond scolding you for lack of attention. When we have a story conference, the writers toss questions and situations at me. I ad-lib on tape and it's incorporated into the script."

Frees gift for ad-lib is apparent throughout the Professor Ludwig Von Drake LP. ("Now the Wonderful World of Color was originally on the television program, that of which I produced and starred and I directed . . . there's a character in there named Walt Frisbee or something that I draw and he's some kind a duck or something . . .") and ("This is Side Two for those of you who just came in late.") are just two of the many hilarious examples. Authors Hollis and Ehrbar noted that "Some of Frees's more colorful ad-libs reportedly did not make it onto the album but have been preserved for private listening."

Professor Ludwig Von Drake is currently available at the iTunes store.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Windows to the Past: Roy Williams for Christmas Seals

I had intended to feature this particular Window to the Past during the holiday season, but as they say, better late than never. This photograph was snapped on December 8, 1955. The big "Moose-keteer" Roy Williams is joined by actress Dani Crayne at the opening of the Christmas Seal both at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood, California.

Photo courtesy of the USC Digital Archives

Friday, January 09, 2009

Pana-Vue Slide: The Mickey Mouse Revue

Pana-Vue Slides were among Walt Disney World's more popular souvenirs during its first decade or so of operation. A good friend recently discovered quite a few sets buried in a corner of his basement and generously passed them on. Beyond their very cool vintage pedigrees, the various sets offer rare glimpses of bygone attractions and park landscapes.

From the Fantasyland set, slide WDW-411A gives us a glimpse of the Mickey Mouse Revue, the audio-animatronic show that was ultimately transplanted to Tokyo in the early 1980s.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Grab Your Shootin' Iron Son, We're Goin' Huntin'!"

One of the great joys of the recent Disney Treasures DVD The Chronological Donald Volume Four was to see the 1955 cartoon No Hunting restored to its original unedited, widescreen Cinemascope presentation.

No Hunting clearly stands out as one of director Jack Hannah’s best efforts over the course of his tenure with Donald Duck. It is more akin to Tex Avery’s numerous MGM parodies or Goofy’s own “How To” series, than it is to traditional Donald Duck cartoons. Donald and his typical antics are kept to a minimum, in favor of a broader, satirical take on the outdoor sporting life that was especially romanticized during the post-war years.

Hannah's approach to lampooning that era's sportsmen was certainly an interesting creative choice. The director and his crew set their very over-the-top satire in a tableau of World War I and II-inspired battlefields and elements. Hunters hunker in trenches and hunter-paratroopers descend down from the sky. Beachhead landings and devastated landscapes feature prominently. The comedy is broad and often hilarious, despite the use of very harsh wartime imagery as its primary satirical device.

The broad, but still somewhat sharp social satire is combined with well-crafted slapstick in the form of the spirit of Donald's Grandpappy. He is certainly at the heart of the short's humor and foreshadowed future eccentric Donald Duck relatives such as Ludwig Von Drake and Moby Duck.

Hannah discussed No Hunting with Jim Korkis, in an interview reprinted in Volume One of Didier Ghez’s series of books Walt’s People. Here’s an excerpt where Jack relates the inspiration for the short:

I used to go hunting with my dad when I was a kid and this short was a great takeoff on these hunters and fishermen. They really are this way. They are as dangerous to themselves as to the game they’re hunting. I’ve heard there are more hunters shot on opening day than deer. It shows how timeless these shorts are because it still spoofs hunters and fishermen. They’re still that way.

My students especially enjoyed the joke where all the trash cans are coming down the river and I stuck in Bambi’s mother who says, “Man is in the forest. Let’s dig out.” There was sort of a subtle feeling in the short that Donald wasn’t himself which is why he doesn’t talk. Hunting didn’t mean a thing to him but it was the spirit of his grandfather that came out of the painting off the wall that got into him and now made a monster of him. He was possessed. That’s why he didn’t speak. Donald just wasn’t himself. I never thought of that later as being one of my better shorts but after seeing it recently, I’ve changed my opinion.

Beyond his directing chores, Jack made another interesting contribution to No Hunting:

Talking about this particular short, I stuck my voice in several times. Remember where the spirit of the Duck had antlers on and a moose was down in a hole with him and the moose says, “Hmmm, you’re a cute one”? That’s my voice! The animator I was working with on that sequence, John Sibley, got a big kick out of the way I said it so I finally said, “Hell, I’ll record it.” And I did.

Special thanks to Jim Korkis and Didier Ghez for making the interview material available. Be sure to check on Didier’s terrific Disney History blog, and his Disney Books Network, for more information on the Walt’s People series.

This post is a revision and expansion of an article previously featured on 2719 Hyperion.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Monday, January 05, 2009

Adventurer's Almanac: Ganesha

Though the Adventurer's Club at Walt Disney World has faded from view, we can still continue to bring you excerpts from the always entertaining Adventurer's Almanac that was published during the early 1990s. This selection is from Volume No. 54, Issue No. 1.

Curator's Corner

Hello Adventurers; Hodges here. The topic for this installment of "The Curator's Corner" is Ganesha. Ganesha was the God of Good Fortune in the Hindu mythology ... eventually. You see, another Hindu god (who shall remain anomalous) was jealous of Ganesha's good looks and cut off his head! Vishnu, the head Hindu honcho, soon came by and said, "Dang! That's the third one this week!"

Following an ancient Hindu veterinarian's remedy, Vishnu restored Ganesha to life by supplying him with the head of the next animal to walk by It was, by good fortune, an elephant. Thus, Ganesha went on to be a wise and memorable god, in spite of the fact that he worked for peanuts.

So, when people call you "elephant-head," take it as a compliment! Here are several other expressions that history teaches us are actually compliments:

"Pig-headed"—honors the Welsh god Ovinia and her ability to find food for her worshippers almost anywhere, no matter how disgusting it looked. A reform movement later resulted in barbecuing Ovinia at the stake.

"Guano-head"—. . . bad example.

"Pin-head"— notes the inventor of bowling, Eugene S. Trike, and his ability to take hard knocks and still have something to spare.

"Egg-head"—no legend here, I just like saying egg-head.

I hope this information will increase your popularity. If it doesn't, perhaps you should try a mouthwash. Yours in college, uh, knowledge,

—Hector Flodges.

Editor's note: Curator Fletcher Hodges has resumed taking his medication at the proper intervals, as of this printing.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Freeze Frame! - Daisy's Favorite Spot

Daisy Duck has always been portrayed as a bit of a free spirit when it comes to romance. And according to the 1954 Donald Duck cartoon Donald's Diary, she dated quite a few Disney Studio employees. In one of the short's funnier moments, Donald carves his and Daisy's names in a tree at a location the narrator identifies as "Daisy's Favorite Spot." The back of the tree reveals why.

Though only first names are carved onto the tree, they likely refer to the following studio employees:

Al - storyman Al Bertino
Dan - effects animator Dan MacManus
Sib - animator John Sibley
Nick - storyman Nick George
Hugh - layout artist Hugh Hennesy
Ed - animator Ed Ardal or composer Edward Plumb
Harry - animator Harry Holt
Jack - director Jack Kinney
Bruce - layout artist Bruce Bushman
X - then artist and animator X. Atencio
Fred - Possibly animator Fred Moore, though Donald's Diary was made two years after his death in 1952

The cartoon features one other notable Freeze Frame! moment. When Donald and Daisy go to see a drive-in movie, they can be seen viewing the Pecos Bill segment from Melody Time.

Images © Walt Disney Company