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Thursday, September 11, 2014

SEPTEMBER 11th: The Hope Fostered by Walt Disney's Creative Legacy

Photo taken on September 11, 2001 by Disneyland Cast Member Dave Marquez.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From time to time here at the Disney History Institute we feature guest editorials and essays; and to me, this is one of the most important that we have done. Over at our DHI Facebook Group we always have an active and lively historical conversation underway regarding Walt Disney and his creative legacy. This is often peppered with unseen images, fantastic pieces of Disney art and spectacularly rare visuals--you can learn more about it at: DHI Facebook Group.

This morning a member posted a story about her family vacation to Disneyland ... which just happened to be on 9/11. Within moments of reading just the first few paragraphs I knew that this was something I wanted to share here--something permanent on our DHI site, and not ephemeral as Facebook often is.  For the last few days I had been trying to decide what the best way to memorialize 9/11 here at DHI was--going through the usual suspects, such as patriotic American imagery featuring a Disney bent, or whatever--but I was continually troubled by what my options might be. And it was like Walt Disney was watching me and saying: "Kid, don't fret, I have just the right thing! Something that, even to me, represents what I want from my Happiest Place on Earth, and how I want it to be remembered." It was this story. It was just what I wanted, and I was happy that the author, Diane Grimaldi Whiting, was willing to share it. 

And if I needed some image to share, Walt made sure that happened too (although I know he did not like photos of his Park without people -- but for this occasion, he made an exception). The above image was taken by an old friend of mine who I had not talked to for almost a decade--David Marquez. Dave was working in Guest Relations at Disneyland on that fateful day and shot the above image in the afternoon, complete with our American flag poignantly at half-staff. It was just one of the few times that Disneyland was closed for a national tragedy (other times Disneyland was only partially closed were on the assignation of JFK and on Yippie Day). I'm happy to say that Dave was also very happy to share.

So, with all of this in mind I am happy--and honored--to share this story of how Walt Disney's creative legacy helped one family remember hope. I think all of us that lived through the 9/11 experience can remember how strong the feelings were and probably also recall when hope started returning to us; and I dare say that for many of us here at DHI, Disney was in someway involved in our own journey back to these feelings of hope.

Paul F. Anderson, co-historian and founder of the Disney History Institute

By Diane Grimaldi Whiting

My family was there on 9/11/2001. We were on our way to Disneyland (actually spending the night in Vegas), when the terrorists struck back east. We didn't know what to do. My husband and I decided that we were going to go to California anyway. When we were driving through the desert, we heard over the radio that Disneyland was closed. I finally managed to get hold of someone at Disney Dining reservations, who said to just come, and everything would work out.

We were staying at the Disneyland Hotel (my favorite!), and when we stepped into the lobby, we were surrounded by characters. My kids were 10, 7, and 9 months at the time, and we were trying to shelter them from the awful events of the day. Disney really came through. Buzz and Woody immediately started playing with my son. They were having a "Space Ranger shootout" through the lobby. And Snow White and Cinderella came up to see my dd. She was star struck. They sat and talked with her, and her eyes were as big as saucers. Pluto was playing peek-a-boo with my baby, who loved squishing his nose. The hotel was practically empty, because all flights had been grounded, so no new guests were arriving, and other guests who were scheduled to leave had made other hotel and travel arrangements. It was so odd to see it that way.

Diane Grimaldi Whiting and Family.
September 12, 2001
Snow White came up and asked if she could take my older kids to the conference room down the hall where they were showing Disney movies and serving cookies and lemonade to the kids. There were other characters there who were watching the movies with the kids. Let me tell you, that was my dd's dream come true! They also had other conference rooms set up for parents with banks of TVs showing the news, and more cookies and lemonade.

After we'd checked in, we headed to our dinner reservations at Goofy's Kitchen. The place was practically empty, and it was like the staff and characters were there just for us. They were amazing. 

It was such a hard day, and I felt worn out trying to be happy for my kids while I wanted to break down and cry over what happened in NYC, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Goofy saw me standing by the buffet, and just walked over and hugged me. It was so sweet. A lot of hugs were given that day between characters and adults. And even as a grown-up, when you feel awful, hugging a giant Eeyore does help.

The park was closed for the rest of the day, but the pool was open, and the kids had a great time swimming. All of the games in the arcade were free, and ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney (the only place open...and only for Hotel guests) had free sodas for everyone, and all of their games were free as well.

The next morning Disneyland reopened, and we were part of the handful of people in the Park (no new people were arriving, locals were home...glued to the TV, and people who were stuck there were out of money, so they weren't in the Park). Mickey came up to greet us, took my oldest kids by the hand, and skipped with them down Main Street. It was amazing. We have wonderful photos in front of the castle with literally not another soul around. When we rode the rides, the CMs just let us stay in the vehicles and ride as many times as we wanted.

The next day, or maybe the day after (not really sure, as everything was still a blur), Disney started having a moment of silence during the day, where everyone in the park stopped what they were doing, and we all stood and sang "God Bless America." It was very moving. There were many people visiting Disneyland from overseas, and after the ceremony was over, several of them came up to us and asked if we were American. When we told them we were, they all hugged us and said they just wanted to let an American know how sorry they were for what had happened, and that they support us and were praying for us. We were all crying. And it still brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

So it was a very bittersweet and emotional time at Disney for us. We wanted to be happy for our kids, and most importantly, not frighten them, but we also wanted to do nothing but watch the news 24/7. I was so impressed at how kind and sweet every single cast member was during the week we were there. Especially the characters. They were very attentive and engaging, and sought out my children at every opportunity. I think we all wanted to feel better and find some hope in the world during such a bleak time, and nothing helped more than hearing children's laughter. Disney made my children laugh that week...and they gave me hope.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I changed the header photo (flag at half-staff on Main Street) because there was a mistake when I posted the original image. As it turns out Dave Marquez had not taken that particular photo, but one very much like it (he had mistakingly posted on our Facebook page that he had taken the photo). This was brought to my attention by the brilliant, whimsical and always vigilant (when it comes to Disney History!) Douglas E. Marsh (and close friend of DHI).  Doug explained that the photographer wishes to remain anonymous, otherwise I would give them credit here. Dave Marquez notified me and found the photo he had taken (which is remarkably similar--almost identical, so easy to see why there was a mistake...I mean how many photos are there of a half-staff flag at Disneyland with NO ONE in the Park?). This photo by Dave is now the one at top.  Thank you to everybody for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Duck in the Hat

Duck in the Hat
(or How Dr. Seuss Secretly Wrote a Book for Walt Disney)
by Didier Ghez
For years it has been assumed that Walt Disney and Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), two of the best-known creators of children’s entertainment, never collaborated on a project.  There is no project that includes both of their names; however, recently-discovered documents reveal that Geisel did secretly write one book for Disney—a book that has had a following for over 70 years.  Today, on the blog, I’ll lay down how Dr. Seuss secretly wrote a famous book that, when published, only held Walt Disney’s name.

Bennett Cerf
In December of 1939 Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of the publishing company Random House, and John Clarke Rose, an executive at the Disney Studio in Burbank in charge of publications, were discussing the upcoming Disney book slate. Among the ideas envisioned, several books based on Pinocchio and Fantasia, of course, but also a biography of Donald Duck titled The Life of Donald Duck, which Random House hoped to release in October 1940.

“As soon as I receive the additional Donald Duck drawings and cells that you have promised me,” wrote Cerf on December 26, 1939, “we will get to work in earnest on this book which, as you know, is very close to my heart.”[i] In the same letter, Cerf added: “The matter of the authorship of this book is still open. Robert Benchley [American humourist and star of The Reluctant Dragon] would be a good name, but I do not consider this important. If possible, I would like to list the book as ‘The Life of Donald Duck BY Walt Disney.’ It is understood that the illustrations for the book will be taken from old Donald Duck releases.”

Walt Disney, c1940
Four months later—after moving beyond Robert Benchley—the studio decided to create The Life of Donald Duck in house, using two storymen: Joe Grant and Dick Huemer.  Joe and Dick were stars of Disney’s Story Department, men with a deep familiarity with the Duck and the Disney concept of narrative. In theory, with Joe and Dick on board, this project should’ve gone smoothly, but by the following May the book was in trouble.  Even though the turn-in date was quickly approaching, the studio had no usable manuscript.

Cerf was puzzled and anxious, regularly checking with the studio to see when the manuscript might be delivered.  Rose, who understood the problems, stalled and dodged Cerf’s requests.  In a letter to a publicity man at Disney, Cerf wrote: “I hope you hear from the unpredictable Mr. Rose in the next day or two in regard to The Life of Donald Duck and take it you will call me about this as soon as possible.”[ii]

Four days later Cerf received news from Rose and sent him a short note which read “It is really good news to know that the first draft of the text of The Life of Donald Duck looks swell. I still think this book is going to be a whooping success from the word go.”[iii]

But in reality Cerf had rejoiced too soon. On June 27, 1940 John Rose finally admitted that things were not progressing as planned: “Re The Life of Donald Duck: Circumstances beyond our control have delayed us and we are profoundly sorry.”[iv] A few weeks later things looked even worse when Cerf wrote to Rose: “I thought that the suggested layout and pictures selected for The Life of Donald Duck were absolutely perfect, but I am afraid that I can’t say as much for the text, which struck me as corny and singularly lacking in sparkle. I would deeply appreciate your telling me your honest opinion of this script sometime. I hope we will be able to fix it up; I think the idea is good enough to repay our leaving no stones unturned to make the product as good as we possibly can!”[v]

Replying to this note, Rose sent a rough drawing of Donald with these simple words: “Confidentially it stinks!”

On August 3, John Rose wrote tongue-in-cheek: “It would appear that nobody wants to buy a duck, or rather that our little duckling grew up to be a turkey – anyhow, Donald lays an egg!”

In that same note to Whitman Publishing executive Sam Lowe, Rose also explored other possible authors who might produce a good manuscript on the Duck: “Bennett once said he’d be willing to take a crack at the text and I wish you could prevail upon him to come to the rescue. […] I don’t think [author of children’s books] Margaret Wise Brown is the answer. As you know, my good friend, Dr. Seuss, is visiting the family in La Jolla these days and even before you guys turned loose on me I’d confessed my worries to him. He offered me the personal Christmas present of doing the job – incognito, of course – and by golly I think he could do it if no one told his publisher and his publisher didn’t want the job himself.”[vi]
Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) c1957

To understand why Theodor Geisel would even consider tackling the Disney job—in secret, as a personal favour to Rose—one has to circle back to the late ‘20s and move from Los Angeles to New York.

In 1927 Dr. Seuss, fresh from his college years at Dartmouth, was still unknown, living with his parents in Springfield, Massachusetts, and had placed only a few of his drawings in magazines and newspapers. But on July 16, 1927 he sold a cartoon to The Saturday Evening Post, which gave him the confidence to move to New York to try and kickstart his career. In New York, Geisel moved in with an artist friend from his Dartmouth undergraduate days… John Clarke Rose, who had a one-room studio in Greenwich Village.

Here is the way Dr. Seuss himself told the story to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in April 1976: “The last thing we used to do at night was to stand on chairs and, with canes we'd bought for that purpose, play polo with the rats, and try to drive them out, so they wouldn't nibble us while we slept. God! What a place.

"And I wasn't selling any wares. I tried to do sophisticated things for Vanity Fair; I tried unsophisticated things for the Daily Mirror.

"I wasn't getting anywhere at all, until John suddenly said one day, 'There's a guy called ‘Beef Vernon,’ of my class at Dartmouth, who has just landed a job as a salesman to sell advertising for Judge. His job won't last long, because nobody buys any advertising in Judge. But maybe, before Beef gets fired, we can con him into introducing you to Norman Anthony, the editor.'"

The result of the Geisel-Anthony meeting was the offer of a job, as a staff writer-artist for the humor magazine, at a salary of seventy-five dollars per week—enough encouragement to cause Ted Geisel and Helen Palmer to marry. The wedding took place at Westfield, New Jersey, on November 29, 1927.[vii]

In other words, Geisel owed Rose not only his first job but also, to some degree, his wife. No wonder they stayed good friends. No wonder Dr. Seuss may have felt that he owed John a favor.

Walt Disney c1940
Thirteen years later, in 1940, Bennett Cerf was ecstatic to have Dr. Seuss secretly pen the Disney Duck book for Random House: “I honestly think that Ted Geisel could do a magnificent job on the text of The Life of Donald Duck. Did you discuss the question seriously with him back here? If he won’t tackle it alone, maybe he will consider doing it jointly with me.”[viii]

 “I was also serious about Geisel,” Rose wrote, “but I hesitate to impose on his generous good nature. You see, he knew I was worried about the text, on account of he’s visiting my family in La Jolla and can hear me talk in my sleep when I join them on weekends. He would be making a personal gesture to me and would not expect any compensation.”[ix]

A week later Cerf wrote back: “I will be looking forward to seeing what the unpredictable Doctor produces in re The Life of Donald Duck.”[x]

On August 19, John Rose explained with clear delight: “You will be pleased to know that the unpredictable Doctor is sitting in my office [at the new Disney Studio in Burbank], hard at work on The Life of Donald Duck. He has already made himself quite at home here at the studio and intends to toss the medicine ball around this noon in our new Penthouse Club. If all goes well on this project, Ted may be assigned to other Disney book projects.”[xi]

“I will be holding my breath until I can see the Seuss version of The Life of Donald Duck,” answered Bennett.[xii]

“I can tell you more about the Seuss version of Donald’s Life after this weekend. Too bad you aren’t out here collaborating with Ted on La Jolla’s sands,” shot back Rose.[xiii]

When Cerf got Dr. Seuss’s text he loved it and knew that all of the problems with the old manuscript were now fixed: “Ted Geisel’s version of The Life of Donald Duck is just about a dream come true. That book is going to be a honey.”[xiv]

The book was released in April 1941 and remained a classic for years. In 1994 a facsimile was re-issued by publisher Applewood.

Dr. Seuss’s collaboration with Disney remained the best-guarded secret of his entire career and a total revelation to Disney historians and Seuss historians alike!  Though Walt Disney’s name is on the cover, next time you see the book be sure to mentally add the name of Dr. Seuss, as his words frame the text.

Didier Ghez is the author of Disney's Grand Tour: Walt and Roy's European Vacation, Summer 1935 and is the editor of the Walt's People series which collects interviews on the men and women who worked with Walt Disney and for the Walt Disney Company.  He also manages the fabulous Disney History Blog.

[i] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated December 26, 1939. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[ii] Letter from Bennett Cerf to Dick Creedon dated May 24, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[iii] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated April 28, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[iv] Letter from John Rose to Bennett Cerf dated June 27, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[v] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated July 17, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[vi] Letter from John Rose to Sam Lowe dated August 3, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[vii] The Beginnings of Dr. Seuss – An Informal Reminiscence by Theodor Seuss Geisel in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine dated April 1976.
[viii] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated August 6, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[ix] Letter from John Rose to Bennett Cerf dated August 10, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[x] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated August 16, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[xi] Letter from John Rose to Bennett Cerf dated August 19, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[xii] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated August 21, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[xiii] Letter from John Rose to Bennett Cerf dated August 23, 1940. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.
[xiv] Letter from Bennett Cerf to John Rose dated January 24, 1941. Random House Records 1925-1992. Columbia University – Special Collections.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Project: Fair Winds

 Project: Fair Winds
by Jeremy Marx

At the close of the D23 Expo, as Todd Pierce and I were walking down Katella Avenue, we started talking about Disney's involvement in the 1964 World's Fair.  We talked about Lincoln, the Magic Skyway then the Small World Pavilion.  In front of the Small World Pavilion was the Tower of the Four Winds, a massive metal structure designed by Imagineer Rolly Crump.  The tower was a system of wind-driven propellers and mobiles, a collection of circus animals and geometric shapes cut from metal.  I posed this question: "Imagine being able to look up at the Tower, see it move and spin, just like it did at the Fair."

"That would be pretty cool," he said.

As I was born several years after the New York World's Fair, I never had the chance to  see the Tower. I've seen photographs, postcards and film segments, all of them two-dimensional. I never had a chance to walk around it, and wrap my head around the artistry of this massive metal sculpture:  the curves, pinwheels and animals.

I had the idea that I could recreate Rolly Crump's Tower inside of a 3D digital environment--though I wasn't yet entirely sure how to do that.  Let me say this: from the start I was  apprehensive to take on this project, as the Tower itself no longer existed (it had been cut up after the Fair) and I needed substantial reference material to recreate the Tower as a working digital model.

Another problem: the Tower was huge--utterly enormous. When a person photographed the structure, they had to stand way back-- so much of the detail was lost. Close-up images (with better detail) only included small sections of the Tower.

Now factor in this: the Tower was also a round, three dimensional object, meant to be admired from all angles.  Wheels within wheels.  Layers of movement.  So that the Tower was constantly recreating its image.

At the end of November--when I had a little free time from work--I turned my attention to the Tower. I was not a 3D artist, and I had no formal training in app development.  So I decided to put aside those problems and start with the research.  There were a few items in the DHI archive's, and Paul recommended several sites rich with images.

This lead to several days gathering as many pictures from sites such as,,, and of course, Paul Anderson's great article on the Tower's history at  I started with 34 images, and maybe a minutes worth of film. Most images were  grainy and small.  A few better resolution images allowed me to zoom in without losing to much detail. Over the weeks that I worked on the model, I slowly unraveled the structural wonders of the Tower.  More than once, I had moments of artistic revelation: "Seriously," I would say to myself, "where did that come from, and how did I miss it until now?"

Work progressed slowly.  Perhaps the best way I can demonstrate the process is through these image captures that demonstrated architectural progress of my work.

This image was at the end of the first day trying to get an idea of how the base looked--an image I pretty much tossed when I noticed I had the the wrong idea of the floor above the base.

The base was coming together, and finally curved the outside supports. 
The next few images show some basic details added. Spacing of the bars was a huge issue, as was the various ways that the model connected with itself.   Here, you can see that the center pillar and the left arm were too long.

This shows coloring and details being added to the Tower.
This is the Tower in a prototype, which was used to show the motion of the different rotating parts.

So a few months ago, the Unreal Engine 4 was opened up for the masses to see what they would make, and I jumped in to see what the quality and frame rate would be for this project. UE4 also has a great system for creating videos of what is running in it.

The Towers that you see in this image were static objects: nothing in them was yet programmed to move.  But it did show me how the shadows would display.
One of the final images of the Tower before the video was made.
This last image is something special for me. I have over twenty screenshots of one of the previous builds as my desktop background. They are set to change every thirty seconds and one came up. I stared at it and wondered why I had one of the reference photos in with the screenshots. It took a minute, but I realized that it was not real. This was the Tower that I built, and it fooled me. So I looked for the photo that I thought I was looking at, and put it next to my image. See if you can figure it out for yourself.  One of the photos below is of the real Tower, the other is of the model.  Can you guess? 

And so, with this, I'd like to announce that the Tower of the Four Winds will soon live again, as a moving, dimensional object inside of a digital universe   (In case you're still wondering  which image is real, which is digital. The real Tower is on the left.)

And now it's time for all to see, The Tower of the Four Winds, as it was in 1965.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Walt Disney and the Griffith Park Zoo

Retta Scott and Mel Shaw - Griffith Park Zoo - c1940

Walt Disney and the Griffith Park Zoo
by Todd James Pierce

Lower Row WPA-Style Stone Enclosures
Many people know that Griffith Park holds Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn, the backyard structure where he worked on his scale-model railroad.  They also know that the park holds the famous carousel where Walt once took his daughters and where—at least as Walt later explained it—he sat on a bench and first conceptualized Disneyland.  But the park holds other treasures related to the personal history of Walt Disney and the artistic history of his studio.  The greatest of these are the remains of the original Griffith Park Zoo.

Concealed behind a lower set of foothills—a ten-minute hike from the road—are the elegant (and extremely small) enclosures that once defined the park’s zoo.   Along with the carousel, the zoo was the other park location where Walt regularly took his daughters: according to Diane Disney Miller, their Sunday routine was church then “Griffith Park, usually, to the zoo or to amusement parks or something.”  But aside from Walt’s personal fondness for the location, the Griffith Park Zoo was also central to the development of the studio.
To increase the realism in his cartoon shorts and later the features, Walt hired art teacher Don Graham to better train his animators in classical illustration and motion.  As part of these classes, as animator Volus Jones recalls, Graham regularly led  field trips over to Griffith Park Zoo” to sketch animals and better understand their anatomy and movement.   According to animator Jack Bradbury, for a while, these trips were as regular as clockwork: “one full morning a week was spent at the zoo, sketching live animals.”

Upper Row
As the studio moved into production on Bambi, groups of animators—outside of Graham’s structured field trips—sought out the zoo as a source of inspiration to design and animate animals.  “As the people that were working [on Bambi] were learning more about animal drawing,” explains animator Mel Shaw, “Marc Davis, myself, and Retta Scott, we used to go to the zoo, which was just down the road from [the Disney studio in Burbank], for lunch practically every day, and we would sketch the animals around there. I think that we were trying very hard to get something that was a stylized version of the real animal.”

“The Griffith Park Zoo was very minimal at the time, but still—it was animals,” Marc Davis recalls.   The zoo, as best I can tell from records and remains, contained only two rows—more of a city park with animals than a formal zoo.  The south sections of the lower row, with its elegant WPA-style stone enclosures, housed large animals such as lions and bears.  The north section housed monkeys, macaws and other medium-sized animals in wire and metal cages.  The upper row—which also may have been used to isolate or treat sick animals—contains a series of rockwork cages and also a work building.

The zoo was so small, with only a couple dozen enclosures, that a person could walk its length in under five minutes.  This also explains why Walt repeatedly brought animals into the studio.  Not only could animators better study them (such as two New England fawns purchased for Bambi) under studio lights, animators couldn’t find many animal models at the local zoo.  To mediate these problems, animators regularly drove to the better-equipped San Diego Zoo and a few animators (such as Marc Davis and Mel Shaw) ventured up to Thousand Oaks where the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus housed their animals during winter. 

Lion Enclosure
The Griffith Park Zoo existed from 1912 to 1965, with the large animals (such as the lions) arriving in the mid-1930s.  The studio had a strong relationship with the zoo.  When the studio finished Bambi, they donated the two New England fawns to the zoo, where they were displayed for the public.  When the park wanted to develop a larger zoo, they asked Walt Disney and the studio to participate in its design.  According to studio artist Blaine Gibson, “They felt that Disney, with the artists that he had, could improve [the park].”  For a while, during the 1950s, Walt Disney was involved with the development of the new zoo (now called the Los Angeles Zoo) to be built two miles from Griffith Park Zoo.  Disney considered how landscape designs and artistic elements—such as statues—might help enhance the physical space of a zoo.  But eventually zoo board politics ended Walt’s relationship with the development team.

Even though the animals were removed decades ago, the remains of the zoo still inhabit Griffith Park: the stairs, the walkways, the stone enclosures, and rows of metal cages.  They cannot be seen from the road or the parking lots.  They are well-hidden but open to the public.  I’m including a map below.  If you take Crystal Springs Drive and park near the carousel, you can find them by following northwest trails.  To see the upper portions, you’ll need to hike dirt trails.  But tucked back in this hidden portion of the park is the zoo that Walt once knew and was a regular research location for scores of studio artists.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

JOURNAL OF A DISNEY HISTORIAN~Television, Disneyland Dirt and Walt (OH YEAH, Walt!)

The Disneyland Dirt & Massacre Edition
by Paul F. Anderson

Edgar Samuel Paxon's "Custer's Last Stand." Oil on canvas, 1899.
From the collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming.

With the popularity of Disneyland hitting fever pitch in the five years following opening day, there was a mad rush within Disney for attraction ideas to handle the ever-increasing crowds. This particular concept came from Vincent H. Jefferds of the Character Merchandising Division in New York. Jefferds sent a direct Inter-Office Communication to Walt on June 2, 1960, with the subject line: "Ideas For New Park Attractions."
His brilliant proposal was to do Custer's Last Stand using the Circarama Treatment (which this author thinks would have been quite exciting!). The following is the word-for-word pitch:
“By passing through a cave pass we stumble into the last circle of defenders. From the rocky pit, which is graded upward to the screen, we see in Circarama the cavalry outpost surrounding us at some distance, and beyond them the hills. There, in classic fashion, mounted Indians appear on the hills miles away, silhouetted against the sky, first on one side, then on the other, et cetera. They charge the outpost and kill most of the cavalry. The others retreat towards us to the right and the left. The Indians come closer until they are war whooping at close range, circling the audience, firing directly at us in the pit.”
I think we can see why Jefferds ended up serving out an illustrious career in Character Merchandising in New York, and never did fulfill his dream of becoming a WED Imagineer.

MEMORY OF WALT ~ Louis Prima
Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book" 1967
It's been awhile since I've written about a memory of Walt here at DHI. So the hubbub a few weeks ago on the Institute's Facebook page (lots of informed and intelligent Disney history discussions: DHI Facebook Group) was about the professorial (we are not all that bad) protestations about King Louie's singing to Baloo being a hidden dream to be white ("I want to be like you ..."). This discussion got me thinking about Jungle Book and also about the actor that uttered these racially insensitive words! And then I remembered an anecdote I happened across a couple of decades ago.
In Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book” (you remember that overtly racist film!) King Louie was voiced by jazz musician Louis Prima, who had this to say about Walt Disney: 
"The thing that struck me most about Mr. Disney was that he changed the atmosphere of every place he entered. He had a tremendous physical presence that affected those he came in contact with. The only other man I can think of that had the same powerful personal impact on people was Franklin Roosevelt. And yet there was nothing pretentious about him. Mr. Disney was dynamic, and still casual, friendly, with a great sense of humor. A fellow like Disney you wanted to be around."

Remember when the big department stores would do fantastic window displays? Every holiday you could expect a new fantastical display window (think: the opening shot from "A Christmas Story"), and often even non-holiday periods featured whimsical displays. With Walt's characters and cartoons increasing in popularity, it didn't take long for companies to come his way asking for help on their windows. This wonderful image from the early 1930s shows the Disney decked-out window of the May Company. Contained within are some of the most sought after, early Disney collectibles (and thus, the heart attack). The larger figures (book, house and characters) were not merchandise you could buy (SADLY!), but rather window dressing--and these type of displays equal serious heart failure (quadruple bypass!) for Disney collectors.
There were numerous companies during this time period that specialized in department store display material--W.L. Stensgaard and Old King Cole come immediately to mind as companies that were used to create Disney store displays. In this case, it is likely that the May Co. did this display in house, as they had their own department that handled store displays.

So if the first window display photo didn't make your heart tingle, perhaps this one will.  This is a perfect example that not all window displays were about selling merchandise. This is a window advertisement for Pacific States Savings and Loan Company, and they are using a display of Mickey Mouse cels (heart okay now?) and photos of Walt and the Studio at work. I'll leave it to someone with better eyes to translate the "Unpaid Movie Stars" piece of cheese (seriously, check it out, it is cheese!!).

With today's windows being, for the most part, just a showcase of merchandise, I for one, would relish the return to the heyday of department store windows.

I was reminded recently of a quote from an old friend. Bruce Gordon, Walt Disney Imagineer. Bruce once claimed that Disney fans love pictures of dirt. How true! So in homage to our "dearly-departed" friend (with all apologies to the Haunted Mansion) I present an Institute photo essay of Disneyland dirt.

Disneyland, shortly before opening. Photo taken by Walt's First Imagineer, Roger Broggie, Sr.
Fall 1958, the draining of the Rivers of America. Most likely, the first time it was drained after opening.
Where is the Pirate Ship? Fantasyland leveled for New Fantasyland. 1983. Tony Baxter in talking
about New Fantasyland commented on being kind of ill after looking at Fantasyland like this.
He said he was reminded of the old-time Imagineers that he trained under, and about their original
Fantasyland with Walt. And here they had just ripped up everything and would be replacing it all.
He hoped that it would be just as good and worthy of those that had come before.
A serious sign of respect for the past and for those that he learned under.
A very nice shot of dirt! Featuring the construction from fall 1988 on Splash Mountain.


Courtesy Chili's & Ziosk.
As a Disney Historian, I am always thinking about, well, Walt Disney. Recently I took my two sons to dinner at Chili's. I was somewhat amazed that portable screens (with computers) were at each table. It is a new initiative where you can actually order from the screen, see food, request refills, and pay your bill. Mind you, my amazement was not that these devices were on my table, for such is the world we live in of computers, smart phones, and the like. As a Disney Historian, my amazement came from something I remembered that we have here in the DHI Archives.

Roy Williams drawing of his boss checking out the hamburger on a TV screen. Circa 1944-45
We have a rare document set here at the Institute on Disney's early television development. From such comes this great image by Roy Williams showing Walt making his dinner selection on a television screen at the table. This was done around 1944 or 1945, so 78 years later Walt's futuristic vision comes true! Or at least, that is how this Disney historian thinks.


Walt’s interest in television started in the 1930s, and like most of his professional life, he bucked the trend, as almost all the movie moguls were anti-television. “The feeling of the motion picture business was that television was something we ought to fight, or we should ignore and maybe it would go away or some darn thing,” declared Walt. So strong were his feelings that at a gathering of motion picture trade press professionals Walt was asked to give a statement. He was not expecting to give any type of talk, and told them that he didn’t have anything important to say. After a few minutes, Walt declared, “Come to think of it, I think I have.” He got up before everybody and enthused: “I spent a week watching television and ... I think the motion pictures ought to really get hep to it. I think it’s going to be one of the greatest selling mediums that they could have.” The group was shell shocked! The industry leader that asked him to give a statement said, “Oh, is that all you’ve got to say? Well, I thought you had something important to say.” Walt replied coldly, “Well, it may not be to you, but it is to me.”

But with the start of World War II, Walt’s interest in television was moved to a back burner, “because materials needed for military use” were the same that the TV industry needed, and said materials were in short supply, according to Roy Forkum in an unpublished essay “Disney Prepares for Television” (the same document set that provided the information and image from the above “Walt Disney Futurist”). Yet, even during the War, the cogs continued to turn in Walt’s brain, primarily because he was privy to some of the top secret advancements being made. In the same essay, Forkum comments on this technology, that “countless perfect devices which, when released to peace time industry, will, just as soon as they can be installed in telecasting stations, relays and receiving sets, give us surprisingly advanced and satisfactory television.”

Walt Disney and Kathryn Beaumont, the English child star who plays Alice, from a scene
from ‘One Hour in Wonderland,’ the Walt Disney Christmas party, which was beamed
on NBC-TV on Christmas afternoon 1950. Other stars, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen
can also be seen, as well as Sharon and Diane Disney.
(Bobby Driscoll seems to be missing in this photo.)
Shortly after the War, the Disney brothers kept close tabs on the television industry and continued to seek out information. It would surprise most people to learn that in a room at the Studio there was “a great zoned map of the States, with colored pins for telecasting or relay stations, existing or proposed, that reminds one of an agency of sales or advertising. As news comes in of a new station erected, up goes a new pin with references to be found on file of the number of receiving sets actually in the area, and the area’s potentialities when things really get going.” (From the unpublished “Disney Prepares for Television” essay.)

Walt Disney Copyright Book for "One Hour
in Wonderland" (1950).

Of the two, not surprisingly, Roy was the most cautious. His interest was either in purchasing a television station, or if they were to go into production he wanted to wait until color became available. He felt that color “best represented” the Disney product. Walt, well, was Walt. He wanted to jump in with both feet. So the two came together and began experimenting, which resulted in Disney’s first television program, “One Hour in Wonderland” broadcast on Christmas day 1950. Within little time they got pressure from, according to Walt, “every source in the picture business!” Walt asserted that the message was short and emphatic, “Not to do it!”

Fortunately, like with most prognosticators advice to Walt, he didn’t listen. And the rest is, shall we say, history.

More to come on television in future DHI installments.

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-"Custer's Last Stand" painting, oil on canvas, 1899, by Edgar Samuel Paxson is courtesy of my home state and is from the collection of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. (Worth a visit should you find yourself in the Yellowstone area of the great state of Wyoming.) Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
-One Hour in Wonderland images courtesy of my good pal Matt Crandall who spent a LOT of time with me running around Los Angeles in the early 1990s trying to find all the material that now resides in the Institute. You can visit his site which is not only a personal homage to Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland, but also shows what a serious case of OCD looks like. Check it out at: Vintage Disney Alice.