Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vintage Headlines: Fred Waring in Wonderland

This month marks the 60th anniversary of an early television era Disney milestone.  On March 18, 1951, a significant portion of the popular Fred Waring Show was devoted to showcasing the music from Alice in Wonderland and featured cast members Kathryn Beaumont and Sterling Holloway.  Walt was featured in a brief prerecorded segment about the movie itself while Mary Blair designed the special stage sets used on the program.  The actual release of Alice in Wonderland was still months away.  Walt had already promoted Alice the previous Christmas Day with the special One Hour in Wonderland, his first foray in television production.

Peg Simpson, a television reporter at the time, noted:
Fred and his Pennsylvanians will introduce the music of Walt Disney's new, all-cartoon motion picture, "Alice in Wonderland." Although the story will not be told, the music will be presented with settings costumes that interpret the true "wonderland" flavor. Twelve-year-old Kathy Beaumont who acted the part of Alice for the animation of the film, will join the Pennsylvanians in the interpretations. Sterling Holloway, Disney's Cheshire Cat, will also be there. But, with the exception of little Kathy and Holloway, all parts will be taken by the Waring staffers.  Six of the songs from the film will be launched with the aid of all the Pennsylvanians.  Mary Blair, Disney set designer, has adapted the sets to television and the whole show's sure to be a gay, charming event. "I can think of no one in this cockeyed world better equipped to introduce the music from "Alice in Wonderland" than Fred Waring and Pennsylvanians," says Walt Disney. We agree fully.
Columnist John Crosby observed:
Among the more serious firsts to be committed recently was that of Walt Disney in plugging his forthcoming movie, "Alice in Wonderland," on Fred Waring's Sunday night television show.  Actually, this is the second  time Mr. Disney has used television to promote his new picture. He did it once before on a special Christmas show during which a good many of the better scenes from his early movies and one scene from "Alice in Wonderland" were shown Disney is the first major producer to use television this way.  In general, the movie people have shied away from TV as a competitor even though it's possibilities as a promotional medium are pretty obvious. Personally, I think Disney has done a shrewd job of exploitation. The two fragments of "Alice in Wonderland" I have seen have whetted my appetite for more, for the whole picture, in fact.

Fred Waring was no stranger to Disney.  He and his Pennsylvanians had performed the Trees segment in the 1948 package film Melody Time.

Excerpts from this particular episode of The Fred Waring Show are included on both the Masterpiece and 60th Anniversary Alice in Wonderland DVD sets.