by Paul F. Anderson
One of my favorite aspects of the blogosphere, is the ability to present some of the vast array of graphics from Disney history. This is a luxury I never had with Persistence of Vision. I have always had a fondness for newspaper articles, advertisements, and photos; and thus over the years I have collected large amounts of this material. So to start off this new feature here at the Institute I give you three different advertisements featuring Pinocchio.
While relatively simple in nature, a great deal can be learned from these ads. As with many things, they are overflowing with information and clues, if one just knows where to look. When I teach my class on Walt Disney in American Culture, I have a short lecture on looking beyond the obvious to see what can be discovered. I’m a professor in the American Studies Department (which is basically an extension of the History Department), and I would say 80% of my students each year are working on, or have, a degree in History. So looking beyond the obvious and finding facts through intrinsic dating, region of the country, names, and more, is something that will be useful in their pursuit of history. The three newspaper clippings are a good example of how I teach some of the skills used and what to look for. When I purchased these, they were as seen, which is typically how I find clippings: without dates or citations (i.e., what periodical they are from).
My entire career I have received questions like, “How do I become a Disney historian?” I wish there was a simple answer, other than just “do it!” It is sort of a made-up field, but as with anything, knowledge is power, and the more you learn the better off you will be. So, for the benefit of those who are interested, I thought I would just offer some ideas of what I go through when I find incomplete pieces of history, like these three clippings. As a note, I randomly pulled these three clippings out of one of my files today, and spent about 20 to 30 minutes obtaining the information below.
CLIPPING #1 There is a wealth of intrinsic information in this advertisement. First would be the theater, which is the Hippodrome. There are several theaters by this name, the most famous being located in Los Angeles. I took a look at the other Hippodromes, and found out when they were in operation, what kind of theater they were (plays, films, etc.), and what their logos looked like. Based on this knowledge, the theater in California was the most likely candidate. The listing of “RKO Radio Picture” as the distributor shows me that it is dated between 1936 and 1954, the years RKO had the Disney distribution deal. With this information, I can find out the years in which Pinocchio (1940) was re-released, those being: 1945, 1954, 1962, 1971, 1978, 1984, and so forth. Obviously, if RKO is listed, then it can only be the original release of 1940, or the re-releases in 1945 and 1954. The other two pieces of information would be the 30 cents for a ticket before 1 o’clock and the Extra Sport Thriller “Men of Muscle”. With a little bit of searching on these two facts, and with everything else combined, it suggests a date of 1954. Historians like to use sneaky words like “circa” (abbreviated: ca.). This comes from the Latin word circum, meaning “around”. Circa (ca.) in historical terms is typically understood to be a range of years both before and after the date listed … the range being fifteen years, thus ca. 1954 would be 1939 to 1969. It gives pop cultural historians a lot of leeway for mistakes, if you are only dealing with events of the last fifty to sixty years. However, if you are an ancient historian and trying to pinpoint the First Peloponnesian War (ca. 445 BC), then it is considerably more difficult.
CLIPPING #2 Okay, this one is pretty easy. The date, obviously 1950. Cleveland Arena only takes a few seconds to discover it is Cleveland, Ohio. While there are other Clevelands across the United States, a quick search of where the Ice Capades appeared (major metropolitan areas), as well as intrinsically looking at Howard’s Army Store on 224 E. Federal, which was located in Cleveland, makes the Ohio connection a slam dunk.
CLIPPING #3 I have left the trouble maker for the end. The theater was relatively easy to discover, as it has an address. It was located in Boston, Massachusetts in Chinatown and has a rich history (with a name like LaffMovie, how could it not?). R.H. White only confirms this, as it was a large Boston department store next to the theater. A great deal of extras in this one, but that is where some interesting problems come up. The Disney cartoon, “Polar Trappers” was released in 1938, but no serious issue, as the shorts were in perpetual re-release with the Disney animated features. Strangely, three of the films listed—”I Taw A Putty Tat”, Mighty Mouse “The Magician”, and Let’s Go Shopping with Leon Errol—were all released in 1948. With this kind of documentation, one wonders if Pinocchio had a limited release in 1948? RKO is not listed as a distributor, but this means little as often times the distributor would be left off. At this point, I did some research on the theater and found that it had a storied past, which provided some clues. It opened originally in 1894 as B.F. Keith’s Theatre, where in 1896 Thomas Edison demonstrated his new Vitascope movie projector. The theatre was sold by Keith in 1928 and reopened in 1929 as the Apollo Theatre. It then became the Lyric Theatre, and later in the 1930s became a movie house called the Normandie Theatre, and finally the LaffMovie Theatre. I did not search long enough to discover the actual year it became LaffMovie, but one site on historic theaters stated it was demolished in the “early-1950s”. While “early” is not quite as vague as “circa”, generally one would consider that to mean 1950 to 1953, thus further confusing the issue. Without further research, which could certainly be done, I decided to wrap it up by looking at the graphics (illustrations, lettering, fonts, etc.). The look and feel of it is the fifties. And thus with all things considered I arrived at 1954 (with my escape clause added: “circa”). If one was interested in truly dating the clipping, there would be several leads to follow up on. First, I would find out exactly when LaffMovie came to be and what year it was demolished. Second, would be to go through the Pinocchio campaign manuals, which feature the exploitation advertisements. While matching up the ad is simple, actually owning all of the manuals for Pinocchio is a costly endeavor—and Inter-Library Loan simply does not have access to this type of material. The final lead I would look for, is finding the re-releases for the other four films mentioned.
See, and you thought being a Disney historian was fun! (Actually … it is!).