Saturday, February 28, 2009

Windows to the Past: Franco Loves Mickey

The one panel comic Private Lives was similar to the more famous Ripley's Believe It or Not! and focused on little known facts about famous figures and personalities. This particular edition of the comic was published on May 17, 1939 and spoke of General Francisco Franco's somewhat ironic fascination with Mickey Mouse.

The text refers to the then recently resolved Spanish Civil War and it bloody aftermath. Franco rose to power in Spain as a result of that conflict and was allegedly responsible for executions of dissidents that numbered in the thousands.

The cartoon also includes a minor piece of Disney theme park related trivia. The shop Adrian and Edith's Head to Toe in Disney's Hollywood Studios is named for the fashion designer Adrian, whose dog-equipped rumble seat was featured in the comic.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Eastern Winds

More from the July 1972 issue of Walt Disney World News:

There isn't so much information about the Eastern Winds, but it's interesting to note that in 1972, with Caribbean Plaza and Tom Sawyer Island still a year and a half away, the Walt Disney Story still almost a year away, and Space Mountain and most of Tomorrowland still not fully ready for another three years, Disney's two biggest new advertised attractions were the Water Ski Show and the World Cruise. Although the Water Ski Show is fairly well documented, the World Cruise was an afternoon use of the two Magic Kindgom sidewheeler riverboats which still run from the TTC to to park. It was a narrated trip to Treasure Island and cost a whole separate ticket!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Disneyland Art Corner

Among many Disney historians and enthusiasts, it is legend. A time and place now far removed, but distinct in memory, awash with nostalgia and rich with irony. For a little over a decade, it was not just a simple souvenir shop within the happiest place on earth, but also a small but ever so significant bridge of connectivity between studio and theme park. It brokered the sales of enchantment on acetate, and in doing so, likely preserved countless tangible pieces of animation history that might have otherwise met with incineration. Many future animation professionals left this special store carrying inspiration in a paper bag, ensuring a subtle yet enduring legacy heretofore largely uncelebrated.

The Disneyland Art Corner was indeed a place of magic.

This souvenir store, nestled in a corner of Tomorrowland, was born with Disneyland in 1955 and serviced park guests until shuttered in September of 1966. It began as a temporary location in a striped tent just off the hub near the Red Wagon Inn, when Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955. After work on Tomorrowland was completed later that summer, the Disneyland Art Corner opened there in a new, permanent location on September 5, 1955. The interior of the store featured a Paris-inspired theme, appropriate enough for its art-based atmosphere, but clearly an odd fit for its Tomorrowland setting.

The if I only had a time machine . . . scenario is a daydream common to almost everyone. In that regard, it would be no understatement to suggest that the Art Corner would likely be the favorite temporal destination of most Disneyana collectors and enthusiasts. Among its many products were postcards, flip books, artist prints, art supplies, animation kits and various other sundry souvenirs. But most famously, this was the place where original hand-painted animation cels and cel elements could be purchased for as little seventy-five cents a piece.

Disney historian Jim Korkis remembers, "There was nothing else like Disneyland in the entire world when I was a kid. So it was not unusual to me that there was nothing else like the Disneyland Art Corner in the entire world." Korkis visited the Art Corner frequently as a child in the mid-1960s. He recalls, "There, in Tomorrowland, in a square building near a fenced off area where model airplanes buzzed loudly, was the Disneyland Art Corner. Part of the building was devoted to a display of how animation was done. Apparently, it was part of a traveling display that had toured in connection with the release of Sleeping Beauty as well as some items that Walt had shown on his weekly television program. They even had thaumatropes displayed! I remember walking through the exhibits, reading the explanatory plaques next to the displays and trying to figure out how it all worked." This was the Art of Animation exhibit that was adjacent to the Art Corner in the same building and opened in May of 1960.

Of the Art Corner itself, Korkis remembers much of the store's merchandise. "The majority of items were 'gag' items including postcards featuring Disney characters but with a 'squeaker' inside, flicker buttons where a picture of Goofy with a slight tilt would proclaim I’m Goofy About Disneyland or a picture of Tinker Bell who would state I Tink Disneyland Is Great, or funny signs, or small little colored plastic television sets that when you looked through a small white hole in the back of the set and pulled a switch on the side a cartoon picture would rotate."

A 1956 mail order catalog for the Art Corner described much of the shop's mainstay merchandise. Among the more unique items:


These 16-page guides contain the actual model sheets used by the artists at the Walt Disney Studios in drawing the various Disney characters. Each book covers all the proportions positions, and characteristics of one particular character. An invaluable source of information for the budding, young artist. Library now available:

"How to Draw Mickey Mouse"
"How to Draw Donald Duck"
"How to Draw Jiminy Cricket"
"How to Draw Goofy"
"How to Draw Pluto"
"How to Draw Chip and Dale"

1.16 each


A set of eight souvenir Disneyland post cards in full color featuring Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse, Lady and Tramp, and other well known Walt Disney characters. These cards were designed by the artists at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and are sold exclusively through the Art Corner, Disneyland. A lot of fun to mail them to your friends from your own home town.

.45 per set of eight


See your favorite WALT DISNEY characters come to life. A wonderful toy as well as an excellent demonstration of the principles of animation. Each book has a full color cover and contains thirty pages of black and white sequence drawings. Now available:

Mickey Mouse
Donald Duck
Chip and Dale

.24 each . . . .90 set of four


A large palette with simulated wood grain, complete with brush and six genuine water color cakes. Also imprinted with the ART CORNER Mickey Mouse sending greetings from Disneyland.

.34 each

The Art Corner sold a wide variety of art supplies, from easels and pens to paints and sketch pads. One of the store's most notable products was this one:


This kit is the result of considerable research and experimentation by the artists at the Walt Disney studio and is designed for anyone who likes to draw and has an aptitude for cartooning. It is complete in every detail and contains the following: One Animation Board complete with sides, glass, standard pages, and instructions for assembly and installation of light, two 16-page character model guide books using Walt Disney characters, one "Tips on Animation" book, one glossary of animated terms, one hundred sheets of high grade punched animation paper, two pencils, one eraser, six standard exposure sheets, and seven page treatise on animation methods at the Walt Disney Studio.
7.70 West of the Rockies
8.20 East of the Rockies

The Walt Disney Animation Kit was an inspiring piece of merchandise to many young artists of the era. Jim Korkis remembered the impact it had on him as an aspiring young animator. "There was even the offer that if you did an animated scene you could send it to the Art Corner and they would film it in 8mm and send it back to you!" Korkis recalls. "In addition, you got a special card declaring you a member of the Art Corner. At the time, to me, that was as good as being told I was a Disney animator."

Animation professional and filmmaker Michael Sporn also has fond memories of the kit. Sporn recollects, "I used that light box for many years animating lots of 8mm film. That kit probably solidified my desperate desire to get into animation when I was a kid." Veteran animator Tom Roth, who has worked on such films as Rescuers Down Under, Hercules, Dinosaur and Shrek, remembered, "I did a couple of pencil tests and sent them onto the Disney studio to be shot. They sent them back with a nice letter saying my animation was the best they had seen from all the Animation Kit owners. That got me started and I have been a professional animator now for 36 years."

But most significant of all the listings in the catalog was this one:


Walt Disney "originals," are hand inked and painted in full vivid color, and mounted on heavy colored 9"x12" matboard ready for framing. Not copies, transfers or duplicates of any kind, but the actual hand-drawn artwork used in photographing a recent Walt Disney picture. These beautiful pictures are a most appropriate souvenir of Disneyland. Ideal for children's rooms. Now available are Lady and the Tramp and some other characters from this feature. Also, Goofy, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale, Humphrey the Bear, and Jiminy Cricket, from recent Disney pictures. Please specify your preference, but order is subject to stock on hand.

1.47 complete with souvenir mailing envelope

Yes, that's right. $1.47.

Rob Richards, perhaps best known as the house organist at Disney's El Capitan Theatre, is a fifteen year veteran of collecting animation art and Disneyana. He states that, " . . . the Art Corner has a legendary, almost mythological status. I can't imagine the lottery win of buying original Disney production cels for a dollar!" Richards has become a scholar of animation art and collecting, and something of an expert when it comes to the Disneyland Art Corner. According to Richards, the Disney Studio didn't generally ascribe much value to their cels. "They were just a step in the production process. Frank Thomas told the story of taking home cels from Fantasia so his kids could use them to slide down the neighborhood hill! Many cels were simply thrown away after being photographed."

The Art Corner was however, not the first time Disney made animation art available for purchase. Richards notes, "Through the years, Disney realized the artwork did indeed have some historic and commercial value and could generate some income for the studio. The first cel marketing venture included 7000 cels from Snow White, released by San Francisco's Couvoisier Gallery. These were followed by cels from Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, the Silly Symphonies, etc. These originally sold for $5 to $50, a fairly expensive price in those post-Depression years. For five dollars, a person could buy a single cel set-up over a simple airbrush background. For $50, one purchased a more elaborate, panorama or multi-character piece. The Courvoisier Gallery sold these early Disney cels for roughly ten years, at what were considered rather high prices for the day. In 1948, the Courvoisier Gallery went out of business."

The business of selling cels was given new life when Disneyland opened in 1955. This was due almost entirely to the efforts of Jack Olson, a background artist at the Disney Studio who was placed in charge of the studio's retail venues within the park. Olson literally rescued thousands of cels from awaiting garbage dumpsters and turned them into revenue-generating Disneyland souvenirs.

"These Art Corner animation cels were sold at an astonishing low cost," says Rob Richards. "I have one piece actually hand-priced in pencil on the back... 75 cents! The usual price was a dollar for a single character, up to five dollars for a multi-cel setup." In their book Disneyland: The Nickel Tour, authors Bruce Gordon and David Mumford observed, "They were considered of such little value, in fact, that Disney designer Malcolm Cobb was told to sort through the cels, and throw away any he thought weren't worth a dollar."

An Art Corner cel of Chip and Dale, likely from a
television production, on an unrelated background.

From the collection of Bob Cowan.

Rob Richards described some of the distinctive hallmarks of Art Corner cels. The cels were usually trimmed (sometimes drastically), reduced in size from a full cel sheet to as small a piece as possible. Small mats were less expensive, increasing the per-piece profit margin. The cel layers were stapled to color print backgrounds reproduced from Disney animated films, or just as often over a piece of plain colored art board. The finished setups were overlaid with a blank cel for protection. On occasion the mostly-blank overlay cel was a remnant of an effects cel. Setups were fitted with an inexpensive mat, and the backing was taped shut with plain old masking tape. The finishing touch was the "Gold Seal." Applied to the back of the cel, it stated This is an original handpainted celluloid drawing actually used in Walt Disney production, released exclusively at Disneyland © copyright Walt Disney Productions.

Richards also explained that one of the bewildering, but still amusing aspects of Art Corner setups was the odd combinations. "You might get a cel of a penguin from Mary Poppins coupled with Donald Duck from an industrial or educational film, on a background from Paul Bunyan! Or Tinkerbell and one of Donald Duck's nephews on a Sleeping Beauty background. These are actual setups I've had. The bizarre combinations were endless."

Richards notes that it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Art Corner. "The Art Corner rescued thousands of cels from being destroyed and saved them for posterity."

A number of Disney Studio artists frequented the Art Corner, drawing sketches and creating caricatures for park guests. Studio veteran and Mouseketeer Roy Williams made numerous appearances there throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Though the Disneyland Art Corner closed in 1966 to accommodate a dramatic overhaul of Tomorrowland the following year, its retail legacy lives on to some extent in the Art of Disney stores scattered throughout Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But it is a legacy that has certainly lost the innocence of that earlier era. Ironically, the Art Corner's inexpensive but authentic pieces have been replaced by collectible reproductions priced in the hundreds to sometimes thousands of dollars.

What remains of the Disneyland Art Corner are simple memories of joy, discovery and inspiration. It was a place that, for eleven very short years, encapsulated the creative spirit and heritage that was ultimately responsible for the very theme park that surrounded it.

Special thanks to many individuals who have generously shared their resources relating to the Disneyland Art Corner: Jim Korkis, Rob Richards, Bob Cowan, Jenny Lerew, Hans Perk and the blog Vintage Disneyland Goodies.

Disneyland Art Corner postcards provided courtesy of

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chanticleer and the Fox

In the early 1990s, Disney Press published a series of childrens storybooks derived from unrealized concepts long hidden away in the studio's animation archives. These included a Mickey Mouse version of The Emperor’s Nightingale, Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, that in fact did ultimately make its way into Fantasia 2000.

However, my favorite of this terrific series of books has to be Chanticleer and the Fox, featuring wonderful concept art by Disney studio and Imagineering legend Marc Davis. According to Charles Solomon’s book Disney That Never Was, the stories of Chanticleer the rooster and Reynard the fox combined became “the most fully developed unmade feature at the studio.” Efforts on both characters began as early as 1937. Initially, ideas for Chanticleer were challenged by the belief that it would be difficult to create a rooster who would be likable in both appearance and character. The story of Reynard met opposition from Walt Disney himself, who considered the subject potentially “too highbrow” and felt that the character’s villainous nature would be too difficult to overcome.

The idea for combining the two characters into one story came about in 1945, but was ultimately shelved by the early 1950s. Then, in 1960, it was put on track to be the feature that would follow 101 Dalmatians. Marc Davis and Ken Anderson were put in charge of development, at which point Davis produced the extraordinary artwork featured in the Disney Edition storybook. In a 1998 interview with Disney historian Jim Korkis, Davis reminisced about the project:

"It had been around the studio for a long time and Ken Anderson and I thought we could develop it as the next animated feature after 101 Dalmatians. At the time, Walt was thinking about not doing anymore animated features and we felt if we had this thing done up, it might get him excited and change his mind. I think the concept art is some of the best work I did at the studio."

Sadly, the project was killed by studio financial executives at a time when decisions were being made to cut back on animated feature production. Davis distinctly remembered his frustration over the project's cancellation:

"We had all the artwork up on the walls and we went through this presentation and they were all quiet and some bookkeeper says 'You can't make a good character out of a chicken.' And that's all it took to kill us and that's nonsense. You can make a good character out of a push pin if you want. We thought this had tremendous possibilities. We could have brought this off with interesting characters."

Davis’ distinct style is immediately evident in the book’s colorful and extensive illustrations. The personalities of Chanticleer and Reynard are especially vibrant and well realized. Many of the animal designs would foreshadow elements of the studio’s own Robin Hoodthat would be produced a little over a decade later. Former Disney animator Don Bluth would ultimately produce his own version of the Chanticleer story in 1991 with Rock-A-Doodle, but this Elvis-inspired interpretation was critically blasted and more or less rejected by moviegoers as well.

This is an expansion of a post previously published on 2719 Hyperion in February 2007.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Windows to the Past: Chesty and His Helpers

Two kindergarten students read all about Chesty, a character created by the Disney Studios in 1943 to promote the War Chest effort in Los Angeles. The children featured are Alan Vierira and Helen Ruth Barnes of the Hoover Street School. Although the two were certainly demonstrating their support for the War Chest effort, their expressions seem to indicate some level of irritation with each other. The photograph was dated November 2, 1943.

To learn more about Chesty and to see a complete scan of the booklet that Helen and Alan are holding, check out Disney historian David Lesjak's article Chesty and His Helpers - Los Angeles War Chest at his always informative and meticulously researched blog Toons at War.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Animated Animators: Ferdinand the Bull

Though it won an Academy Award for best animated short subject, Walt Disney's 1938 cartoon Ferdinand the Bull seems better known among Disney enthusiasts and historians for its use of caricatures of Disney animators, then working at the studio.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston identified the individuals caricatured in their book Too Funny for Words: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags. In order of appearance:

First came the banderilleros, as represented by Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Fred Moore and Art Babbitt.

They were followed by three picadores, the last of which is a caricature of Bill Tytla.

Finally, the matador arrives, followed by his moza de espada, in the guise of Ward Kimball.

Of the sequence,Thomas and Johnston noted:

"The parade of participants for the great bullfight in Ferdinand the Bull (1938) was a series of caricatures of animators and directors, with the animator who conceived the whole idea bringing up the rear and leering knowingly at the camera. It was rumored that Walt thought the matador was a caricature of himself, but the animator quickly denied giving the character any resemblance to his boss."

That animator of course was Ward Kimball. And even in a later interview, Kimball made no acknowledgment of basing the matador on Walt: "I caricatured myself, Fred Moore, Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Art Babbitt and Bill Tytla." Of his own animated incarnation, Kimball noted, "I came in with a pillow with a sword on it, and I think I liked the part."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pana-Vue Slide: Tomorrowland

Mission to Mars, America the Beautiful and the WEDway Peoplemover were the landmarks of this future past--Walt Disney World's earlier era Tomorrowland. This stark white, bright and shiny vision was replaced in 1994 with the more fantasy and escapist-oriented "future that never was." This was slide WDW-662 from the Pana-Vue Tomorrowland set and was entitled Land of the Future.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Myth Of Walt Disney's Lord of the Rings

Though not as preposterous and enduring as Walt Disney's supposed post-death cryogenic hibernation, there is another Disney-related urban myth that continues to be accepted as fact by many Disney fans and even well-respected academics. It is the claim that Walt Disney held the film rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy for a period of ten years beginning sometime in the late 1950s, and was frustrated in his inability to bring a movie version to realization.

Many sources reference this Disney-Tolkien connection. The Wikipedia entry for Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings notes that a young Bakshi first expressed interest in the epic fantasy while working for Terrytoons in the late 1950s, but, "At the time, the film rights to the story were held by Walt Disney." In the book, The Animated Movie Guide, author Jerry Beck states that "Walt Disney held the film rights to The Lord of the Rings for ten years, passing it on to United Artists in 1968."

It seems that these notions of Disney ownership of the property were heavily perpetuated in the late 1970s when Rankin-Bass produced an animated television version of The Hobbit, and Bakshi's film arrived in theaters. In an article about The Hobbit television program, the New York Times noted, "The Walt Disney Studio considered animating The Hobbit, but decided against the project because the work lacked the kind of humor that audiences expect from Disney animation and because any attempt to alter Tolkien's story to inject such humor might result in bad will and vocal resentment among Tolkien devotees." In its review of the Bakshi film, Time Magazine observed that, " . . . the task of translating this ring-cycle to the screen had stymied some of the most formidable names in Hollywood, including Walt Disney."

Dropping references to Walt Disney into these Hollywood-Tolkien discussions certainly made for compelling copy, but these casual, yet seemingly genuine notions of Disney involvement and implications of rights ownership, were ultimately without merit or substance.

That is not to say that Tolkien's creative efforts were not bantered about the halls of the Disney Studios. According to author Charles Solomon, a studio artist described to Walt, in a 1938 memo, an idea for Fantasia that combined Tolkien's hobbits with Wagner's epic The Ring of the Nibelungen. Animator Woolie Reitherman remembered Walt once considering The Lord of the Rings, but abandoned the idea when his own story department determined that it would be too long and unwieldy to be produced as an animated feature. In the end, there appears to be no evidence to suggest that the Disney Studio actively sought to acquire the film rights from Tolkien. And it is a simple fact that Disney never at any point owned the rights to either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.

Resources from the Tolkien collection stored at Marquette University and citations from Tolkien's own personal letters, document clearly the various attempts to bring The Lord of the Rings to the screen. This documentation serves to severely undermine the Time Magazine notion that," . . . the task of translating this ring-cycle to the screen had stymied some of the most formidable names in Hollywood."

In 1957, Tolkien received a screenplay proposal from Forrest J. Ackerman, Morton Grady Zimmerman, and Al Brodax. After some negotiations, Tolkien ultimately rejected the trio's efforts, dissatisfied with both the treatment and what the author considered poor financial prospects. Twleve years later, Tolkien sold the film rights to United Artists. Filmmaker John Boorman attempted to develop the trilogy as a single live-action feature but never succeeded. Tolkien passed away in 1973. In 1976, the Saul Zaentz Company acquired the rights and ultimately produced Bakshi's animated incarnation.

Even more outlandish statements can occasionally be found that claim Tolkien and Disney were good friends throughout the 1930s, assertions that seem to have no basis in any historical documentation. Animation scholar and Disney biographer Michael Barrier agrees that there is no record of any direct connection between Walt Disney and J. R. R. Tolkien. Barrier suggests that people may be confusing Tolkien with T. H. White, another British author of fantasy-inspired literature. In 1939, Disney acquired the rights to White's bestselling book The Sword in the Stone, but would not produce his Sword in the Stone animated feature until over two decades later. This time frame loosely parallels Tolkien's own Middle Earth publishing history; The Hobbit was first published in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings followed two decades later. Tolkien's initial contacts with movie producers in the late 1950s were not far removed from Disney's production schedule on The Sword in the Stone.

The ultimate irony to the Disney-Tolkien scenario is that Tolkien simply despised Disney's interpretations of fairy tales and fantasy literature. In a letter from 1937 that discussed illustrations for an American publication of The Hobbit, Tolkien stated the he would " . . .veto anything from or influenced by the Disney Studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing)." In later years, Tolkien would continue to hold in contempt anything he perceived as Disney-fied, and seemed to make it quite clear he would never grant Disney rights to any of his literary properties. But, it could be said that the Disney Company in fact had the last laugh in the matter, albeit briefly, when the film rights to The Lord of the Rings were held by Disney subsidiary Miramax for a short period of time in the 1990s.

Although this may all suggest that Tolkien was an author who fiercely protected the integrity of his literary properties, the good professor's motives were not entirely pure in that respect. While his grudge against Disney was readily apparent, he was not necessarily adverse to his works being artistically compromised, if the price was right. In a letter to his son Christopher in 1957, Tolkien addressed the prospects of that initial movie proposal in no uncertain terms:

"The Story Line or Scenario was, however, on a lower level. In fact bad. But it looks as if business might be done. Stanley U. and I have agreed on our policy: Art or Cash. Either very profitable terms indeed; or absolute author's veto on objectionable features or alterations."

So, in the end, one has to ask, how did the myth of Walt Disney's ownership of film rights to The Lord of the Rings emerge into both Disney- and Tolkien-based popular cultures? It may have been nothing more than an inadverdent combination of wishful thinking and simple logic. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, sensibilites surrounding a Lord of the Rings film adaptation almost always pointed to an animated treatment. During that era, Disney would have have no doubt always been the leading candidate in the public perception to take on such a challenge. When Bakshi's 1978 film generally did not live up to expections both artistically and comercially, many fans of both Walt Disney and J. R. R. Tolkien seemed eager to reflect on a "What if . . ." Walt Disney-Lord of the Rings scenario. The rest is, shall we say . . . mythology.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Windows to the Past: Pinocchio's Hollywood Premiere

On February 9, 1940, Walt Disney's second full length animated feature Pinocchio had its Hollywood premiere at the Pantages Hollywood Theatre. Studio veteran Jack Kinney remembered:

"When Pinocchio was in the can and ready for distribution, there was a gala premiere at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, with searchlights, stars, press, red carpets, the whole shebang. Everyone who worked on the picture was given free ducats to the command performance, so we all rushed out to rent tuxedos.

"Of course, none of them really fit, and you've never seen a more uncomfortable-looking group of slobs, except for Bruce Bushman (son of Francis X. Bushman, heartthrob of silent movies and a star of the original Ben Hur). He made a grand entrance in his very own tails. He was 'to the manor born' and looked it, while the rest of us tried to keep our stiff shirts and collars in place, sweating out the whole ordeal."

Kinney refers to Bruce Bushman, who was another Disney Studio veteran. Bushman began his career at the studio doing layouts for cartoon shorts. He later served as an art director on the original Mickey Mouse Club series and was a key designer for many of Disneyland's earliest attractions. Outside of Disney, he created design concepts for two interesting but unrealized theme parks--Bible Storyland, and a park themed around 1960s-era Hanna Barbera characters.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Disney's Hollywood: The Alexander Theatre

The city of Glendale, California has numerous contemporary connections to the Walt Disney Company. Disney Consumer Products, the Disney Stores and most famously, Walt Disney Imagineering, all have operations based out of this Los Angeles suburb. But in the Hyperion years of the Walt Disney Studios, Glendale often played host to the efforts of those early animation pioneers. It happened by way of a movie theater that has become well known as one of southern California's more legendary picture palaces: the Alexander Theatre as it was called prior to 1940, the Alex Theatre as it exists since then and still today.

The Alexander Theatre in 1940.

The Alexander Theatre regularly hosted preview screenings of major studio films during Hollywood's golden age. Throughout the 1930s, newspaper listings for the Alexander would frequently feature the notation, "Major Studio Preview Tonight." Famous Hollywood stars and studio executives were often sighted in or around the Alexander, and on the nights of advertised previews, the theater would become a magnet for movie fans and autograph hounds.

As it was located just a few miles from 2719 Hyperion Avenue, Walt Disney used the Alexander Theatre numerous times throughout the years to run preview screenings of many of his cartoon short subjects. In their book Silly Symphonies, authors Russell Merit and J.B. Kaufman document preview screenings of Disney cartoons there as early as 1931 with the shorts Egyptian Melodies and The Clock Store.

Disney Legend and veteran animator Ward Kimball once observed, "We always previewed our pictures in Glendale at the Alexander, and they let us know when they'd run The Wise Little Hen or Orphans' Benefit and we'd all go out. We had passes and we would sit in the audience and listen, and Walt would walk outside and have an impromptu discussion."

In his book Walt Disney and Other Assorted Characters, studio veteran Jack Kinney noted,"When a picture was finished, it was usually previewed at the Alexander Theater in Glendale to get audience reaction. After the show, the boys and girls would gather in the lobby and discuss the various scenes with Walt." According to Kinney, the Alexander even played a part in Walt Disney's swan song as a director:

"Walt moved into his own music room and started making The Golden Touch, the King Midas story. This was a very hush-hush operation, with just two animators, who were sworn to secrecy. The entire studio awaited this epic, and finally it was finished and previewed at the Alexander Theater in Glendale. All personnel turned out to see what Walt had wrought. He had wrought a bomb! The Golden Touch laid a great big golden egg. That picture was the last Walt ever directed. We knew better than to discuss it, ever."

Clarence Nash, the legendary voice artist of Donald Duck, remembered a nervous trip to the Alexander in 1934 to preview the Mickey Mouse cartoon Orphans' Benefit. "We drove over to the Alexander Theater, here in Glendale, for the preview. I was more nervous about that picture than I was about The Wise Little Hen," Nash recalled. "I was with a group of Disney people, and my wife was with me, too. I was just like an average audience; I got a big kick out of it and completely forgot that I had anything to do with it."

The Alex Theater shortly after refurbishment with new marquee.

The Alexander Theatre opened in 1925 and in its early years showcased both motion pictures and vaudeville shows. It was designed in a Greco-Egyptian style by architects Charles R. Selkirk and Arthur G. Lindley, and was similar in many ways to Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in nearby Hollywood. In 1940, noted theatre architect S. Charles Lee created a new and elaborate exterior marquee, distinguished by a 100 foot tall art deco neon spire crowned with a large starburst. In its newly refurbished state it was rechristened as the Alex Theatre. The theater was purchased by the City of Glendale in the early 1990s and underwent a $6 million restoration. Since 1994, it has served as one of southern California's premiere performing arts venues.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Kingdom Klassifieds, July 1972

Back in the 1970's when Walt Disney World was in her infancy, you could check into your Walt Disney World hotel and be handed a handsome, themed folder made especially for your hotel of choice, and neatly tucked inside would be a number of magazines and leaflets. Your Complete Guide to Walt Disney World, presented by GAF, would be tucked in here, with it's pretty cover of Cinderella Castle (albeit flipped). There would be a leaflet for whatever special activities would be happening during your stay, and you would also find the latest issue of Vacationland Magazine. Most likely you would also find the latest issue of Walt Disney World News, a beautiful 'periodical' - "The Happiest News in the World" - which kept guests abreast of the latest happening at the parks on a monthly basis. Much of it was promotional fluff, with pieces spotlighting the night-time entertainment appearing at The Top of the World that month, the special performance bands at the Magic Kingdom, and more.

Most amusingly the publication went to some lengths to appear to be a real newspaper, reprinting those banal Mickey Mouse daily cartoon strips, and most amusingly of all, including a fake classifieds section called "Kingdom Klassifieds". Reprinted here for your nostalgia is the section from the July 1972 issue of Walt Disney World News. Disney only wishes she were this lightly clever today.

Immediate Openings. A large number of green leafy people to resemble topiary figures of famous Disney characters while authentic topiary shrubs grow in. Long hours. Contact Landscaping Department. *

Housekeeper Needed. Limited light housekeeping duties - mostly dusting. Some night work during full moons. See the "Ghost Host" - Haunted Mansion, Liberty Square.

Driving Instructor. Intensive private instruction for a single student. Name your own salary! Immediate opening. Call Toad at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - Fantasyland.

Summer Jobs. Need 24 tall thin men to costume as spires and pose as Cinderella Castle during Castle's vacation first two weeks of August. **

Rural Land - Located on island in Rivers of America, Frontierland. Presently occupied by burned-out settler's cabin. Very reasonable price.

For Devoted Tea Drinkers Only. World's largest teacups. Each stands apx. 4' high and has a 200 gal. capacity. Eighteen in all. May be seen at Mad Tea Party attraction - Fantasyland.

Your Own Castle! Live in medieval splendor in this totally unique home. Multi-story structure features Gothic design highlighted by numerous spires and turrets. Surrounding moat suitable for fishing. Drawbridge and spiked gates ensure complete privacy. Contact Cinderella for appt.

Atomic Submarine - Nearly new. Two-year/20,000 league warranty still in effect. Contact Capt. Nemo.

Shrunken Heads, voodoo dolls, assorted safari gear "donated" by previous visitors to this area. Sorry, no calls. Come in person. Trader Sam - Adventureland Jungle Cruise. ***

Attic Sale - Many unique and "unusual" items including ghostly chains, cobwebs, etc. See at Haunted Mansion - Liberty Square.

Pixie Dust - Now you can fly without a plane! A light sprinkle keeps you airborne for hours. Must sell large quantity immediately. Grounded by FAA. Call Tinkerbell - Fantasyland.

Be Noticed. Own A Dragon. 82 feet long. Purebred, green with black markings. Makes a wonderful watchdog! May be seen nightly in Electrical Water Pageant, Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.

Four Parrots... each from a different nationality. Select from Spanish (Jose), German (Fritz), French (Pierre), and Irish (Michael). All guaranteed talkers, complete with translation dictionary. See at Tropical Serenade - Adventureland.

Free! Dual-purpose Crocodile. Recently swallowed large wind-up clock. Can serve as both unusual pet and timepiece. Alarm set for 5 am. See Capt Hook - Fantasyland.

Most reasonable lodging anywhere! $1.00 per night! First-rate accomodations that even include free meals! Many "interesting" fellow tenants. Kal Kan Kennel Club - Main Entrance Complex.

Wanted: One or two-acre briar patch in South Orange County. Not interested if within five miles of tar pit. Contact Brer Rabbit - Fantasyland.

Lost: MOON FLIGHT with 120 persons aboard, in vicinity of Milky Way on June 10. If located, contact Supervisor, Flight to the Moon - Tomorrowland.

Wanted: Hunny! All grades and quantities. No offer refused! Must satisfy "rumbly in tumbly". Winnie-the-Pooh.

* This is funniest because it isn't so far from the truth. In the 1970's, that transportation ticket at the front of your ticket book was good for transit to the Magic Kingdom via ferryboat, monorail... or tram. Big ugly trams brought guests up the road alongside the Contemporary past a whole lot of nothing for a whole long time. Before long, dozens of whimsical topiaries sprouted alongside the road... plastic ones. There was not sufficient time to allow real ones to grow, but from a distance of a tram, they looked quite good. I've spoken to many early Walt Disney World visitors who are still embittered from when they pulled over in their family cars to examine these creations more closely... and discover plastic, spray-painted green.

** Is this just about the strangest joke you've ever read or what?

*** Trader Sam may still offer wares at the end of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise, but the figure was renamed Chief Namee at Walt Disney World in 1990 via internal contest. The winning entry was "Chief: NAME". The entry is pronounced "Nah-Mi" for the purposes of... not being too obvious, I suppose.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Going Hollywood with Mother Goose

Similar to efforts made for the 1933 cartoon Mickey's Gala Premier and the 1939 Donald Duck short The Autograph Hound, the Disney Studios transformed Hollywood celebrities onto celluloid in what became the most expensive of all Silly Symphonies, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood. Immensely popular and critically lauded when released in late 1938, it would, in unedited form, go on to languish for decades in the Disney vaults due to perceived offensive content related to its caricatures of African American personalities Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Stepin Fetchit, and a brief blackface gag involving the animated incarnation of actress Katherine Hepburn. The Walt Disney Company finally made it available in uncut form in 2006 on the Walt Disney Treasures More Silly SymphoniesDVD.

The celebrity caricatures in Mother Goose Goes Hollywood are credited to Disney Legend Tee Hee, and they proved to be his baptism of fire into the Walt Disney Studios. Hee began working in Hollywood in the mid-1930s, drawing caricatures of contract stars for MGM's publicity department. He moved to Warner Bros. in 1936 where he would provide similar designs for the cartoon The Coo Coo Nut Grove. Despite a earlier failed interview with Disney Studio boss George Drake and art instructor Don Graham, Hee later allowed a neighbor's brother, who was an animator at the studio, to hand deliver to Walt a collection of his caricature drawings.

In an interview with Richard Hubler, Hee described how he manged to get in the door of the studio: "This was through these caricatures again. Thank goodness they were the entree because my drawings were not good enough and Walt liked the caricatures. He thought they were great and he said, 'I think we can use him on Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood,' the film that they had not been progressing very far with."

He was paired with Ed Penner to create a storyboard for the short. He described to Hubler the story meeting where he and Penner presented their ideas to Walt Disney:

"When we started going through it, I had enough ham in me that when it came to the parts of the characters, I would enact them, standing up in front of the people--there were about twelve or thirteen people there, including Walt. I did Katherine Hepburn saying, 'I've lost my sheep, really I have," . . . I was flitting around you know, like they would do. And I think Walt was entranced. He laughed, and all the other guys laughed too . . . Ed Penner and I, we had the conviction that Walt would like it, and while I'd never met him, I just felt this was what he would like. So when it was all over with he said,'Well, I think it's great. What do you guys think?' And they all said it was great. So I knew I had a friend."

The other creative powerhouse behind Mother Goose Goes Hollywood was Ward Kimball. Kimball animated more characters than anyone else on the crew, most notably the characters representing Hugh Herbert, the Marx Brothers and Cab Calloway.

As Hee observed, the project had been long in development when he was brought on board. According to authors Russell Merit and J.B.Kaufman, Hee combined the ideas from two previously unrealized Silly Symphonies--The Hollywoods and Mother Goose Land. Bill Cottrell, along with Joe Grant, (Grant had previously designed the star caricatures for Mickey's Gala Premier), conceived for The Hollywoods a forest setting filled with birds and animals based on Hollywood personalities. It was shelved primarily due to Warner Brother's release of The Coo Coo Nut Grove, which Hee, as mentioned, was instrumental in helping to create. Hee ultimately married this idea to the concept of Mother Goose Land, a short that was developed in the mid-1930s, but also later abandoned. A Walt Disney memo from 1935 summarized the idea for the short: "Jazz has taken the place of the old jingles, so Mother Goose takes them and puts them to a modern tempo with modern thoughts." This concept clearly evolved into the lively jazz-based finale led by the Cab Calloway and Fats Waller characters in Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.

Merit and Kaufman also noted " . . . so much story material was suggested for Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood that at one point, in the spring of 1937, Disney considered releasing it in two reels. Ultimately it was released as a standard one-reeler, but remained the most expensive of all the Silly Symphonies."

Mother Goose Goes Hollywood was certainly appreciated by the very show business community it both satirized and celebrated; it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cartoon Short Subject. It competed that year with three other Disney shorts, The Brave Little Tailor, The Good Scouts and Ferdinand the Bull. The popular and similarly acclaimed Ferdinand ultimately took the top prize.

Don't miss the companion piece to this post:

Who's Who in Mother Goose Goes Hollywood

Who's Who in Mother Goose Goes Hollywood

As a companion post to Going Hollywood With Mother Goose, we hereby present a guide to the celebrities and popular culture represented in the Silly Symphony cartoon, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.

The short opens with a direct parody of the MGM roaring lion logo. While it comically features a roaring Mother Goose, what it notable is the take-off on MGM's slogan,"Ars Gratia Artis," or translated, "Art for Arts Sake." The Mother Goose logo features the pig latin phrase "ERTZNAY TO OUYAY," roughly translated, "Nertz to You!" or "Nuts to You!" This is quite likely a not-so-subtle dig at the Hays Office, the industry-created watchdog organization headed by Will H. Hays that constantly dogged Hollywood studios to adhere its code of morals and standards when producing their films. The Hays Office considered the phrase "Nuts to You!" to be offensive and frequently demanded (although often unsuccessfully) for it to be removed from scripts and films.

Katherine Hepburn is the first star to been seen in the cartoon. She is cast in the role of Little Bo Peep and spends the entire cartoon in search of her sheep.

The Old King Cole sequence features Hugh Herbert as the king and Ned Sparks as his jester. Comic actor Joe Penner arrives and presents Herbert with a not quite cooked duck--Donald Duck that is. Penner's signature line throughout much of his career was "Wanna buy a duck?"

Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx are the Fiddlers Three.

Charles Laughton, Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew are represented in Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Three Men in a Tub. Laughton is seen in his role of Captain Bligh from Mutiny on the Bounty while Spencer Tracy portrays his character of Manuel from Captains Courageous. Although Bartholomew appeared with Tracy in Captains Courageous, he is seen here as his character from the movie Little Lord Fauntleroy.

W.C. Fields portrays Humpty Dumpty and is antagonized by famous dummy Charlie McCarthy. Fields and McCarthy shared the screen in the movie You Can't Cheat an Honest Man and their longstanding feud was a popular feature on Edgar Bergan's radio program. Fields had previously played the role of Humpty Dumpty in the 1933 motion picture version of Alice in Wonderland.

Simple Simon and the Pieman are represented by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

See Saw Margery Daw is performed by Edward G. Robinson and Greta Garbo. Garbo utters her famous line, "I want so much to be alone."

Eddie Cantor is Little Jack Horner; Wallace Beery is Little Boy Blue.

From the cartoon's musical finale, Edna May Oliver, Mae West and ZaSu Pitts form a singing trio. Some sources claim that the center character is Joan Blondell, but based on her exaggerated figure, hairstyle and facial features, she appears much closer to Mae West.

Clark Gable and George Arliss.

Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.

Fred Astaire and the long controversial Stepin Fetchit.

And finally, big mouths Joe E. Brown and Martha Raye complete the musical number.

But one possible mystery remains. Who is portrayed on the figurehead of the rattle held by Ned Sparks in his jester incarnation? The design seems too distinct to be generic. Would anyone care to hazard a guess?

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

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

Images © Walt Disney Company