Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vintage Headlines: More and Better Shows

Spring of 1955 was a busy time for Walt Disney.  The Disneyland television show was nearing the completion of its first season, the opening of Disneyland the park was just a few months away and The Mickey Mouse Club would premiere on ABC the following September.  Newspaper columnist Bob Thomas provided a look at the state of Disney productions in this article from March 15, 1955:
The 51 acres of  the Walt Disney Studios probably contain more ideas than any similar place in the world.  The place bristles with new plans and ambitious projects. Leading the thinkers is a 53-year old dreamer named Walter Elias Disney. One of the major reasons for his fabulous success: he has never outgrown the boyish notion that even the wildest dreams can come true. Vast millions of TV viewers know Walt as the proprietor of Disneyland, an hour show that has brought new dimensions of entertainment and enlightenment to home screens. The public's response has been immense. The ABC network show sprang into the list of the 10 most seen programs.  Some 15,000 letters reach the Disney Studios weekly. The producer has even bigger plans for next  season. The first year's product of 20 shows ended last week. Fifteen programs will be repeated. Ten of these will be played again during the summer.

On Sept. 7, Disneyland will start a new season of 26 shows. Because of the amazing success of the Davey Crockett trilogy, Walt will have two frontierland subjects. One is "Johnny Tremaine," the story of a boy who lived during the American revolution and witnessed Paul Revere's Ride, the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington. The other is called "Children of the Covered Wagon." Based on fact, it will show a pioneer caravan over the Oregon Trail. "I want to get Fess Parker (who played Crockett) out of buckskin," Walt said. "He'll play  a doctor who goes along with the wagon train. Buddy Ebsen (Crockett's sidekick) will be in it too." Among the other Disneyland subjects: rocket around the world; the Goofy success story; "Robin Hood" (two parts); "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." plus the life of Washington Irving; history of the animated cartoon; American folk lore; a day in the life of Donald Duck.

Disney's latest enthusiasm is an hour-long, five-a-week children's show for ABC, the Mickey Mouse Club.  Starting this fall, it may well revolutionize the kiddie market. It Howdy Doody looks worried these days, you'll know why. "The show will be emceed by Mickey himself," Disney said. "Our people-and-places photographers all over the world will send film showing what children in other lands are doing. As soon as we get accredited, I expect to sec the Mickey Mouse newsreel right with the others filming the President at the White House."  Disney plans to show kids how to draw, how to keep clean, how to drive safely. "It seems to  me that most shows play down to the children," he observed. "I plan to play to the 12-year-olds; the younger ones will want to reach up to that age. I don't think teenagers will have their intelligence insulted, and I believe we'll have a lot of adults watching."

The pre-TV functions of the Disney lot are going in high gear too. In the mill are cartoon features like "Lady and the Tramp," "Sleeping Beauty" and a widescreen release of "Fantasia." His nature photographers are filming elsewhere; the next feature will be "The African Lion." Disney is also planning such live-action films as "King Arthur," "The Great Locomotive Chase" and "Colorado Expedition." Then there is Disneyland, the11-million-dollar, 160-acre wonderland near Santa Ana, Calif.  Opening, this July, it will be the closest thing to a world's fair that America has seen in the postwar era.
Some annotations to the article:

Johnny Tremaine emerged as a feature film (sans the "e") instead of television episodes, as did Children of the Covered Wagon, the title of which changed to Westward Ho! The WagonsKing Arthur of course became the animated The Sword in the StoneColorado Expedition was eventually released to theaters as Ten Who Dared.


Anonymous said...

The really scary part of that clipping is the article just to the right of the Disney article.