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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.

Post up your comments below or over on our Facebook Group Site.  (Even when things are slow on the blog, stuff is always happening over on Facebook).  

-"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.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Magic Skyway Press Preview & Opening Day
by Paul F. Anderson

WED Imagineering Art featuring a cutaway of the Magic Skyway.


Robert Moses, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford II
at the April 12, 1964 Press Preview.
Opening day of the 1964 New York World’s Fair for the public was April 22,1964, but many attractions had invitational “special” openings. Disney and Ford scheduled a special National Press Premiere for the Ford Pavilion on April 12th, in the hopes of creating some publicity and excitement for the attraction. Walt Disney himself arrived in New York on April 10th, which provided him with enough time for a run through of the attraction. "We all rode through it with Walt—in one of the Lincoln Convertibles—he was still critiquing, particularly in the prehistoric area. But when we came to the unload area, he was mighty pleased with the results the fellows had accomplished. He told us that he thought it was going to be a really good show," enthused Don Edgren, WED Project Engineer on Ford.

Pre-Opening color image showcasing the Caveman area.

It was to be one of the largest openings at the Fair, as over 2500 invited guests showed up for the press preview. Most of the jaded East Coast press were enthusiastic about the exhibit, which was apparent, not only by the numerous comments heard that day, but also from the scores of positive remarks that followed in newspapers and magazines.

With lines featuring wait times up to four hours, WED and Walt
learned extensively about handling people or "queue technology."
The day started with remarks by Walt, Henry Ford II, and Robert Moses, the head of the New York World’s Fair Corporation. Walt called the exhibit "a parable of man's journey through time from his primordial beginnings to an unknown tomorrow lighted by the fires of science." Referring to Audio-Animatronics, he continued "[the exhibit] marks the beginning of an entirely unique form of art and entertainment, which will eventually take its place beside the theatre, opera, and motion picture." No doubt hoping to expand the realms of Audio-Animatronics, Walt also reflected on its educational opportunities: "This show ushers in a new medium of education as well. Through this system the door has been opened for a whole new concept in animated exhibits. This permits a different type of museum approach, quite unlike the static displays that have become so traditional."

Henry Ford II made several nominal remarks regarding the exhibit being a token of his company's idea that a better, friendlier tomorrow lies ahead for all mankind, and then took the opportunity to plug Ford's annual car sales. Moreover, characteristically he offered a bit of a snipe at Disney when he proclaimed: “I won’t say we’ve done it [the Ford Pavilion] within our original budget, but they’ve got the job done.” There is no record of Walt’s response.  Moses closed the proceedings on an up note by calling the exhibit "a magnificent pageant of man in terms of his environment, adaptability, and inventive genius. [The exhibit] is a flashback to Benjamin Franklin and Henry Ford, with more than a touch of the dramatic genius of Walt Disney." (I’ve often wondered if Moses’ callback to the first Henry Ford was a slap in the face to Henry Ford II who by most accounts was not the brightest bulb in the box.)

Walt Disney and Imagineer-Extraordinaire Herbert Ryman review Ford Concepts.

With the remarks concluded, Henry sounded the horn of a 1964 Mercury Convertible which started the continuous procession of convertibles along the dual tracks. The first car carried Disney, Ford, and Moses. The second car had as its passengers: A. R. Miller, Ford president; Charles H. Patterson, executive vice president; and architect Welton Becket. The press and their families were then invited to experience Walt Disney’s Magic Skyway through the Ford Motor Company Wonder Rotunda (by far and away the most pretentious name at the Fair).

WED Concept Art featuring an unrealized Walt Disney dream for the Disney Magic Skyway thru the
Ford Wonder Rotunda. To learn more about Walt's idea and why it didn't work, read about it as a
Facebook Exclusive DHI Story at:  While your at it, join our group.

Roger Broggie, Sr., photograph of construction
work underway at the Walt Disney Magic Skyway.
Comments by the press, not only from the press preview but also from the entire run of the attraction, were primarily positive. "A Walt Disney Masterpiece—at the top of the list," reported the Lake Shore News (Wolcott, NY). The Memphis Press Scimitar called it "the most thrilling 12 minutes of the Fair. This was worth the entire trip to the Fair." The Mississippi Pilot offered a comparison between General Motors Futurama and Ford’s Disney attraction: "It's difficult to choose between the two, but if I had it to do, I would choose Ford—because the handiwork of Walt Disney added to Ford's exhibit that ever-necessary ingredient of humor." Not all comparisons were favorable, however, with most detractors contending that the exhibit didn't really produce the "threshold of the future" that it promised—whereas the Futurama exhibit, they claimed, showed them the unknown element of the future.


Not surprisingly, opening day was hectic (yet it didn't suffer the same disastrous beginning as Disneyland). True to form of significant opening days in the 1960s, the day was beset with protests (primarily civil rights demonstrations objecting to racial policies of certain companies and states).  A small, sit-down strike in front of the entrance ramps by a group of "hippies,"  plagued Ford. However it didn't last long nor did it have much of an effect on the day's festivities.

WED Imagineer Art. Wonderfully expressive Marc Davis concept showing the dual-leveled track
that provided twice the capacity for the attraction. Also a more extensive scene for the Pterodactyls, that
was victim to the constant budget issues faced between Ford and Disney.

Other than the protests, the day was filled with parades, opening ceremonies, and a visit by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The latter resulted in an unusual incident for Imagineer Bob Gurr: "We were still having a time with the spacing in the cars. I was standing by the console at a critical corner and putting baseball bats between the cars, and making sure that everything was going to work. Then all of a sudden the Secret Service showed up and surrounded me. I had been standing in front of a window with my hands in my pocket... down below was a parade with the President!" (I am guessing the stack of baseball bats next to Gurr were also on the radar of the Secret Service.)

Walt made only a brief appearance at the Ford Pavilion opening—he did, after all have three other shows that he was responsible for, including one (Lincoln) that was causing him a great deal of frustration. Fred MacMurray, who three years earlier had flown a Model T, also put in an appearance.

WED Imagineering photograph showing the dinosaurs with a Model Santa Fe & Disneyland Train.
Used by Imagineers for comparison when bringing back the Dinosaur show to Disneyland.

Without pause, Walt and his Imagineers had brought this first of their Fair attractions headlong into a new age—an age of "bigger and better" attractions. What is striking is the attraction's contrast to anything done by Disney up to this point. It was a radical departure from what they had already done at Disneyland—which in turn was a radical departure from anything done before it. Ford was the first; when we look at all of the themed rides and attractions of today, whether they be from Disney or another company, it all can be traced back to the beginning Walt and his Imagineers had created for Ford at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The Ford Pavilion wasn't the only thing to open on April 22,1964—a new era also opened.

Until Next Time in our continuing DHI 50th Celebration of Walt Disney's Involvement in the 1964
New York World's Fair, we say GOODBYE, like Walt's favorite Caveman! (And no photos please--or
if you do, all we request when sharing, is also share where they came from ... DHI! Thanks!)

Post up your comments below or over on our Facebook Group Site.  (Even when things are slow on the blog, stuff is always happening over on Facebook).  

Saturday, April 12, 2014


This entire year here at the Disney History Institute we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary
of Walt Disney's contribution to the 1964 New York World's Fair.
Our banner artwork is a rarely seen piece of WED Imagineering Art. Painted by
Disney Imagineer Sam McKim for the presentation to the Illinois dignitaries to "sell" them on
the idea of using Walt's "Winkin' Blinkin' Lincoln" for their World's Fair Pavilion.

How Abe Found His Way To Illinois
by Paul F. Anderson

The pairing of the Illinois Pavilion with the Audio-Animatronics of Mr. Lincoln was the proverbial "match made in heaven." It started when the Illinois legislature passed early in 1963, a bill that established the Illinois Commission on the New York World's Fair. The Commission was given the broad directive of how to illustrate and dramatize Illinois' "attractions in the midst of the most sophisticated competition expected at the World's Fair." At the very first meeting of the Commission it was decided that the theme would be "Land of Lincoln." Acting as temporary Chairman of the Commission was Fairfax Cone. Robert Moses, who headed the World’s Fair corporation, had General Joe Potter, the Fair's Executive Vice President, and Martin Stone (Director of the Industrial Section) contact Cone regarding the Lincoln figure. Cone later confessed that when presented with the idea he was skeptical, yet he was willing to entertain the concept.

Another inspiring concept from WED Illustrator Sam McKim.
Prepared specifically for the State of Illinois Presentation (1963).
On April 5, 1963, Cone arrived at the Disney Studios for a presentation of the Lincoln figure. He was suitably impressed. Upon returning to Illinois, he immediately dispatched a letter to Walt that read, "I am sure you know that I was overwhelmed by the realism of the Lincoln figure that you showed Mrs. Cone and me last Friday. The possibility of our using the Lincoln figure and the effect of this upon visitors to the New York World's Fair have not left my mind during any of my waking hours since I saw it. I am going to New York tomorrow to discuss the Illinois participation with the Fair people, and I expect to be in touch with Jack Sayers shortly to further explore this project."

In the Spring of 1963, the Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner, appointed renowned Lincoln scholar, Ralph Newman, to the permanent position of Chairman of the Illinois Fair Commission. "I was working in the Lincoln field for several years -- and so I knew of Disney's interest in Lincoln," remembered Newman. "I also knew that he had been toying with the idea of Audio-Animatronic figures, and that Lincoln was probably going to be his first experiment. As soon as I was appointed, I called him to tell him that I was the Chairman of the Illinois Commission and that our Pavilion was going to be devoted to Lincoln which appealed to him very much. From that moment on we started conversations on the feasibility -- when this project would be done, what we could do, what it would cost, what input I could have as an authority on Lincoln -- and we went to work." In a short time, Newman would become the driving force (and Walt’s biggest supporter) for the use of the Lincoln figure at the Illinois Pavilion.

"I went to California and met with Mr. Disney, and discussed the Lincoln figure and the facilities that would be necessary for him," recalled Newman. The Lincoln authority was impressed not only with Walt, but with the dignity and reverence of the Lincoln figure, as well as the many ideas from the Imagineers for the show. When Newman returned to Illinois, he gave a very positive report on the Lincoln figure to his good friend, Governor Kerner.

Accordingly, the Governor made plans to visit the Disney Studio to see the Lincoln figure. "Walt came in one day to show Lincoln," remembered Lincoln Imagineer Neil Gallagher. "He had with him the Governor of Illinois. I was running the figure manually, so I made Lincoln stand up and make a few gestures. We had a speech on tape at the time, and Walt played him the speech. After the speech, Walt told him all about the project. Well, by the time Walt was through talking, I was ready to put money into this thing."

With such brilliant McKim concepts like this, coupled with Walt's presentation skills, the State of
Illinois did not have a chance. Walt won over the critics and Lincoln did the same at the Fair.
Apparently the Governor was as impressed as Gallagher, because from that point on the Illinois Commission was very adamant that the figure become a part of the Illinois Pavilion. Over the next five months the negotiations dragged on. The biggest stumbling block was the cost to do the show. "The Illinois Legislature had voted a million dollars for us to participate in the Fair, without any investigation as to what it might cost. They didn't know if it would be too much or too little -- it turned out to be too little," explained Newman.

WED Enterprises offered two small concessions in an attempt to alleviate the costs. First, they agreed to include all maintenance and operation costs in the rental fee, previously established at $600,000. Second they divided the rental fee up into two years, $350,000 for the first year and $250,000 for the second year. The Illinois Commission had the exclusive option on renewing the contract with Disney for 1965 at the $250,000 fee. WED had stripped their terms down to the bare minimum, but Disney and Newman knew that it wasn't enough. If Moses wanted Lincoln at the Fair, he would have to give in some too.

The skills of the painter, Robert Moses, and Walt
Disney meant Fairgoers were in for some
Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.
(Cover of the Lincoln Operations Manual.)
"We started working on Mr. Moses," recalled Newman. "He had some very tough conditions, including our having to use his expensive security, high rentals, high fees for utilities, and more. We couldn't afford that and Lincoln too. Mr. Disney and I went to see Moses, and I told him that the Legislature only voted us a fixed amount of money, and that we needed his help if we were going to use Lincoln. As we were leaving, I told Moses that I was going to see Adlai Stevenson, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and to call me there if he wanted to reach me. I did that deliberately figuring that it would make some impression on him. I told Mr. Disney that if Moses didn't agree to our terms, we would have to participated without the Disney figure. He said, 'He'll call you.' He was right, because Moses called us at Stevenson's office and agreed to our terms."

Newman reported the good news to the Commission in a meeting on August 28, 1963. Three concessions were made to the Illinois exhibit. First, the working drawing approval fee and the connection fees for utilities were set at a $5,000 maximum. Second, the fees for the demolition of the building and restoration of the site to a finished park were waived. Finally, the most significant concession was a $250,000 unsecured subsidy "in order that the Disney-Lincoln production could be included in the World's Fair." It was a significant offer on Moses' part that truly showed his convictions for the Lincoln figure. It was the first (and only) instance of financial support to any exhibitor at the World's Fair. The net result was that only $100,000 out of the Illinois' budget went to Disney for the first year rental on Lincoln, the World's Fair Corporation paid the remaining $250,000 to cover the balance.

It took almost a year and a half, and the opening of the Fair was right around the corner, but with a little bit of help from Moses, Disney's Lincoln now had a sponsor in the State of Illinois.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Penthouse Club at the Disney Studio

Disney Studio 1941

The Penthouse Club at the Disney Studio

By Todd James Pierce

Walt Disney in the Penthouse Club, 1960s, event unknown
The Penthouse Club, up on the roof of the Animation Building, was run by Walt Disney's boyhood friend, Walt Pfeiffer.  It was an all boys club—which as the 1943 Employee Manual pointed out: "Men Only! Sorry, gals."  The girls had their own "Tea Room" on the top of the Ink and Paint Building.  This "Boys Only" rule was, of course, indicative of mid-Century gender discrimination prevalent throughout the American workplace.  But at the studio, the separate areas for men and women also discouraged company flirtations and romances, which Walt believed wasted his staff’s time. "The only women allowed," one employee recalls, "were waitresses from the Commissary." 
The Penthouse Club, as animator Floyd Norman explains, was "a perk 'Walt's Boys' could earn after rising through the ranks over a series of years...a club not open to everybody--and that seemed to be the attraction."  In a 1941 talk to his employees, Walt pointed out that the Penthouse Club was not necessarily “a closed thing.  We would be glad to allow any fellow who is decent and respectable to belong to it.  However, at the start we had to allow those men who carry the main responsibilities of the Studio the first chance to join.  After giving those men their chance, we then threw it open to the whole group."  Even after the club was open to all male employees, club fees generally put membership out of reach of the younger artists at the studio.  In practice, then, the older and best-paid employees were primarily the club’s members.
Freddy Moore Mural at Penthouse Club

To get to the club, you’d take the elevator up to the private fourth floor.  The club entrance included a mural, painted by animator Freddy Moore, filled with topless and bare-bottom ladies, as well as a single man (who looked a little like Moore) swooning over them.  These images weren't explicitly sexual as much as they were erotic and flirtatious.  “Although some might call it soft core,” one animator recalls, “it was pretty spicy stuff considering this was Disney in the sexually-repressed fifties.”  Regardless, the mural clearly established the penthouse as a gentleman’s lounge.

Penthouse Gym - 1941 (possibly featuring Karl Johnson, right)
When the Burbank studio opened in 1940, it contained three food service areas: the cafeteria, the semi-formal Green Room/Coral Room dining area, and the club.  As animator Ollie Johnston recalls: "We could come up [to the Club] and get a milkshake or something to drink anytime you wanted, or get something to eat, or have traffic [i.e. a delivery boy] deliver it to your room...And gee, it was great."

Beyond the restaurant, the Penthouse Club—or “the roof” as it was casually called—included a bar, barber shop, a masseuse and massage table, steam baths, a gym with exercise equipment, and beds for members who simply weren’t feeling well (i.e. drank too much).  For entertainment, it offered billiard tables and cards, with small-stakes poker being particularly popular among the men.

Carl with a "C" in this Disney Dispatch, 1943
Regular exercise classes were led by Karl Johnson, a Swede who for a time was Walt's personal trainer at the Hollywood Athletic Club.  Even at the age of 60, Karl Johnson was a distinguished athlete—once a lightweight wrestler in the 1912 Olympics—who believed vigorous activity was essential for everyone.  Once the Penthouse gym was open, he assisted artists with weights and stretches--artists that in one Disney in-house publication were called "sedentary clients."  One member recalls that Johnson was always available and that—as a peculiarity of his workouts—he used a 16-pound weight-lifting ball that he recommended for the abs and stomach.  This same tongue-in-cheek publication explained that "Many Disneyites...were weak in the chest until Carl [sic] wheeled them into braving the unknown world of exercise."  These classes lasted until 1949, when, at the age of 66, Johnson retired from the company.  [Note: Karl Johnson uses a "K" for his Olympic records, though some studio publications spell his name "Carl."]

Rooftop Sunbathing - 1941
Outside, on the rooftop patio, were tables and umbrellas, where the men could sit and talk.  But the most popular activity, as described in a 1947 issue of New York Magazine, was sunbathing where “male employees acquire an all-over tan.”  To put it more bluntly, as Milt Kahl's assistant later recalled, "We used to take nude sunbaths, on the roof of the Studio, on our lunch hours and 'chew the fat.'"  This practice lasted for years, but eventually ended when nuns and nurses noticed naked men atop the studio.  “St. Joseph Hospital was right across the street,” Layout artist Joe Hale recalls, “and they had built a new four-story wing on it.  Anyway, it turns out that some of the nuns at St. Joseph’s were peering across the street, watching the guys…So when the word got around at the hospital about what the nuns were doing, Mother Superior or someone called over to the Studio and complained about the nude sunbathing.  So they knocked that off.”

A Slightly More Revealing Shot, Same Day, 1941.
The club tended to bring its members more deeply into company culture, solidifying their social lives inside the studio.  When Walt’s amusement park was nearly finished, he invited club members (and their children) out to Disneyland two weeks before it opened.  On Monday July 4, 1955, about 200 people (members and children together) walked through Disneyland—or those parts of it that were finished.  They rode the Jungle River ride (even though many of the animals were not yet installed on the river bank), with Walt himself narrating the adventure, then climbed aboard the stagecoach and Conestoga wagons.  Walt, specifically, wanted to see how children would engage his park, as until then, its few visitors had mainly been adults.

Walt Disney, 1960s, Penthouse Club, Event Unknown
During the war the sick beds (or drunk beds) in the Club became temporary quarters for some of the officers that descended on the studio to make training films.  "Accommodations were tough, really, in Los Angeles," explains Erwin Verity, a Disney director and producer. "And they had to be here every day.  In our little Penthouse Club upstairs, we had a couple of beds, and there were officers quartering themselves up there."

The Penthouse Club also played a role in the discontent that led to the studio strike in 1941.  In the late 1930s, those years following the completion of Snow White, younger artists felt that the studio worked as a large family.  Back then, animator Ken Peterson recalls, “There wasn’t anybody you couldn’t ask for help, a top animator or whoever.  There were different salaries, but nobody worried about that.”  With the club, Walt inadvertently engaged a class system at the studio.  The membership fee—remembered by some to be $7 per month—was roughly half the weekly salary of a newly-hired inbetweener.  Some artists saw the club as a significant move away from the egalitarian family atmosphere to a workplace filled with haves and have-nots.  “We were all feeling sort of left out…The strike was about economics, but it was also a rebellion about the kind of [new] management Walt had.”

Walt Disney, 1963, Mousecar and Duckster Ceremony
By the 1950s, the club became more of a gathering place—with less emphasis on exercise and more emphasis on social events.  In the 1960s, it evolved into a lounge for old-timers, those who had worked at the studio for 20 or 30 years.  The converted gym also became the location for studio award ceremonies, including the Mousecars and Ducksters.

Though the Penthouse has been closed for years—with the tables hauled away and the Freddy Moore mural removed—the structure still sits atop the Animation Building, a reminder of earlier times, when Walt imagined the studio as an artists’ paradise, filled with work, social activities, exercise, and even drinks.


Post up your comments below or over on our Facebook Group Site.  (Even when things are slow on the blog, stuff is always happening over on Facebook).   That's it for this time.  TJP