Disney History, Walt Disney, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Animation, live Action, 

American Experience: Early Problems?

American Experience: Early Problems?

American Experience: Early Problems Race and Culture at Disneyland in the 1950s by Todd James Pierce Yesterday I woke to find a handful of messages about an American Experience clip that had been posted on YouTube. The clip was posted by PBS to promote its upcoming show on Walt Disney. While lying in bed, using my phone, I checked the DHI Facebook Page to find the clip—also a few dozen DHI Facebook Group members sounding off about its content. Sample respondents included individuals claiming that they had just canceled their pre-order of the DVD and others saying that they would terminate their PBS support pledges. Many people said that Susan Douglas—the expert featured in the clip—simply “doesn’t get it.” I watched the clip, which featured Susan Douglas discussing how Disneyland, in the 1950s, inculcated guests with ideologies of racism and classism. My initial response was: Seriously, this is how PBS wants to market the show, by alienating and offending its core audience? Even PBS should know that the fan base for the parks far exceeds that of for the early animated features.   As I started in on my day, I mostly let the clip go, as, for months, I figured the PBS documentary would have both positive and negative takes on Walt and his work. Personally, I believe that Walt and his studio transformed animation, elevating it, at its best, to an artistic form of moving illustration. I also believe that Walt understood America’s attachment to entertainment in his development of cinematic themed space (such as Disneyland). But even within that, there’s lots of room for informed disagreement.... read more
New Podcast – DHI 011 – The Pinto Colvig Story

New Podcast – DHI 011 – The Pinto Colvig Story

NEW DHI PODCAST – The Pinto Colvig Story So who was Pinto Colvig? The voice of Goofy, the voice of multiple dwarfs in Snow White, the voice of practical pig, a sound effects man, and an animator. One of my projects for this past year was to edit and introduce Pinto Colvig’s memoir (written in the 1940s) for publication. This is the earliest known book-length memoir by a Disney artist. The book is out. And now here is the Pinto Colvig podcast. Upgrade your windshield time with a little history from the old Disney studio on Hyperion Avenue. Download and subscribe – it’s free. DHI 011 – Pinto Colvig Story https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/disney-history-institute-podcast/id674703040?mt=2... read more
New Podcast – DHI 010 – Interview with Blaine Gibson

New Podcast – DHI 010 – Interview with Blaine Gibson

DHI Podcast 010 – Blaine Gibson by Todd James Pierce Earlier this month, Blaine Gibson, Disney animator and sculptor, passed away at the age of 97.   I was lucky enough to interview Blaine multiple times.   I’ve assembled this podcast as a tribute to him.   I’ve always felt that voice was a window into personality.   Here, Blaine narrates his own story at the Disney studio, giving special attention to his efforts on the iconic Partners statue that graces Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom in Florida, and the Disney Studio in Burbank.  Subscribe to the Podcast: ... read more
Pinto Colvig’s Lost Memoir

Pinto Colvig’s Lost Memoir

  Pinto Colvig’s Lost Memoir by Todd James Pierce A few years ago, while doing some archival work, I came across a full memoir written by Pinto Colvig, an early animator, film actor, and voice actor whose work goes back to the 1920s: he worked with Mack Sennett, Walt Disney, MGM, etc. More specifically, he worked on the Keystone Cops; he animated early black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons; he was the voice of two of the seven dwarfs; he was one musical voice for the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz; and he was the original voice of Goofy. The book is, very likely, the earliest full-length memoir written by an animator or voice actor: Colvig wrote it in the early 1940s, yet it was never published. For the past year or so, I’ve worked with the SOHS to bring it into print. I penned a lengthy introduction about Colvig’s early life, drawing on his personal letters and other materials, as the book, itself, only covers his experience in Hollywood. Thanks to Theme Park Press for doing such a beautiful job with it.  It’s now available on Amazon…as a book…or for the... read more
Disney Studio Fiction – Keller in Effects

Disney Studio Fiction – Keller in Effects

Keller in Efects Effects Animators in the 1950s — I think most people here know that, in addition to working on DHI, I also direct a creative writing program at a university in California. Very rarely do I get these two worlds to merge, but yesterday the summer issue of VQR arrived with a short story I wrote about effects animators in the 1950s. I wrote the first draft of the story years ago, with a little guidance from Dorse Lanpher. (The characters in the story have nothing to do with Dorse, but Dorse, an effects animator himself who started at Disney in the 1950s, sure helped with the technical details.) Issues are available at some bookstores, but VQR was kind enough to post the story online: http://www.vqronline.org/fiction/2015/07/keller-effects    ... read more
Satellite – View of America 1959

Satellite – View of America 1959

 Satellite – View of America by Todd James Pierce By now, there are very few areas in Disneyland, back in the 1950s, of which I haven’t seen clear pictures. There’re still things on my list: such as the interior of the Hollywood Maxwell shop on Main Street and various interiors of the original dark rides. But up on the blog today is an image that I’ve never seen before—at least not with such clarity. It’s the exterior entrance to Satellite – View of America, probably taken in 1959. I think that most fans know that, in 1954, Walt Disney used his weekly TV show to introduce America to the concept of Disneyland. The show reminded viewers that certain areas of the Park, such as the Jungle River Cruise, were based on Disney film properties, such as the True Life Adventure series. (The connection was so strong that, during the park’s early planning stage, the original name for Adventureland, was True Life Adventureland.) These Disney episodes that included previously released films and animated cartoons were mixed with new stories originally produced for TV.  In two instances, these new shows proved so popular that they influenced how the park was designed. The first of these examples is known to many fans: Davy Crockett was a national sensation, with an expensive replica of Davy installed in Frontierland in July 1955 and then in December the riverboats from Davy’s second adventure were placed on the water alongside the Mark Twain Steamboat. The second example, however, is not as well known. In 1954 Walt asked Ward Kimball to develop a show that would somehow... read more

DHI is moving! Update: Completed!

Or at least the site is. Over the next few days, we will be moving to a new server, and over time more new and better features will be made available to all of our readers. Wish us luck!   Update: We have completed the move. Over the next few weeks and months, we will be adding more to the site, giving our readers more to see and do.... read more
Before Lincoln – The First Disney Human Animatronic

Before Lincoln – The First Disney Human Animatronic

Confucius animatronic head beside early Abe Lincoln figure Before Lincoln – The First Disney Human Animatronic by Todd James Pierce So what was the first Disney Audio-Animatronic in human form—a figure whose speech and movement were synchronized with sound?  According to the standard history, it was the Abe Lincoln model that premiered at the 1964 World’s Fair.  And yes, it’s true, Lincoln was the first finished human full-range animatronic presented to the public.  But there was an earlier animatronic—a secret pet project that existed inside the studio Machine Shop, dating back to, probably, 1959.      According to Bob Gurr, John Gladdich (or Gladdish?) in the Machine Shop started to fiddle around with a talking head.  For several years, he worked on this in his spare time, using springs to control the mouth and acquiring prosthetic eyes that he fit under brass eyelids.  Once he developed rudimentary eye and mouth movement, he asked members of the model shop to create a latex skin to cover the mechanics, but the skin never fit around the eyes, with the material pinched at the corners.  After multiple masks were created, the team in the machine shop decided it was better to embrace the design flaw, explaining that the mechanical head was modeled on a man of Chinese descent, as that would explain why the skin narrowed sharply to points around the eye sockets.      When corporate sponsors came through the studio, members of the machine shop demonstrated the mechanical head explaining that someday Disney would have realistic robotic human figures in the park, figures that synchronized full movement with recorded sound.  The implementation... read more
DHI 009 – Walt at Christmastime

DHI 009 – Walt at Christmastime

  New DHI Podcast – Walt at Christmastime by Todd James Pierce and Paul F. Anderson Join us for our Holiday offering–a selection of Christmas letters written in the 1930s and 1940s by Walt and Roy Disney, most of them never before published! A DHI podcast exclusive. DHI Podcast 009 – Walt at Christmastime – 36 minutes Subscribe to the Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/disney-history-institute-podcast/id674703040?mt=2 ** iTunes subscribers should see the new podcast immediately. For those using the iTunes webpage to download individual episodes, content will update at... read more
WALT DISNEY’S PASSING: The Admiral’s Rah-Rah Eulogy

WALT DISNEY’S PASSING: The Admiral’s Rah-Rah Eulogy

IN MEMORY OF WALT DISNEY (1901-1966)Admiral Joseph Fowler by Paul F. Anderson December 15th marks the passing of Walt Disney, and many of us our thinking about him today. I hope everyone will take a moment to reflect on the numerous ways that Walt Disney brought joy and wonderment to our lives, and how he made the world a better place. Walt’s vision extended well beyond the years he spent on this mortal coil, leaving us to wonder what could have been with just another decade (especially those of us that spend our days researching Walt’s EPCOT!). The months following Walt’s death were a scary time for those working for Disney. There were rumors that Roy would step down, and what that would mean. Litton Industries began buying up Disney stock, leading many to believe that the company would be taken over. So unsettling was this, that Roy personally addressed the issue, assuring Disney employees that the Disney family still owned 38% of the stock and they were not going anywhere. Cast members at Disneyland were particularly nervous, wondering what direction the happiest place on earth would be going in. Recognizing this, and wishing to give his old friend a tribute, Admiral Joseph “Can-Do” Fowler prepared a letter for Disneyland employees, which was published in “Inside Disneyland,” at the time a two-page newsletter published on a semi-regular basis for all involved with Disneyland. As you will see it is part remembrance and part pep talk. We here at the Disney History Institute are proud to share this letter with you (which we believe is the first time it has found its way... read more
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