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DAY TWELVE-by Paul F. Anderson

For the final installment of 2009’s DHI Twelve Days of Christmas, we have a Christmas present … literally! One of the early employee “benefits” at the Walt Disney Studios was the spirit of giving that was exhibited by the boss. Yet, what was a generous Christmas nature with Walt, was a logistical nightmare for his secretaries. “Christmas was a time of trial for Walt’s secretaries,” wrote Bob Thomas in Walt Disney: An American Original (1976). “He maintained a file of hundreds of children of his personal friends, members of the press, studio workers, film executives, etc. To each child went gifts of Disney character merchandise–one important item apiece, plus a few little ones. The gifts continued until the child reached the age of twelve, then he or she was dropped from the list and received a Christmas card instead. Walt’s secretaries were charged with assembling the packages, and each had to be wrapped separately. A room in a studio warehouse was converted to a Santa’s workshop, and Walt dropped in to inspect the packages and make sure that his specifications were observed.

Preparation for Walt’s Christmas gifts began months before the season started, as a flurry of correspondence was exchanged between Walt, his secretaries, his licensees, and Kay Kamen (his Character Merchandise Guru). Walt usually had a good idea of what he wanted to include in the packages, and would instruct his secretaries, usually Dolores Vought his life-long secretary, to make the arrangements.

The DHI Christmas present for Day Twelve is from December 1945. While doing research at the Walt Disney Archives back in 1998 I discovered a memo from Kay Kamen to Dolores Vought tucked away in a “Government & Commercial Films” file. Kamen was writing from Mexico where he was surveying potential interest in licensees for The Three Caballeros (1945). He wanted Dolores to let Walt know he had taken care of much of the work for Walt’s Christmas package for the year. Kamen told her that he would be at the Studio in two weeks and would then take care of gathering any remaining items that Walt wanted. Kamen also included copies of invoices of everything that had been ordered, and according to Walt’s wishes it was to be billed to the Studio. The following is what Walt requested:

-Two Gross of Disney Slotties (Container Corporation of America, St. Louis, MO)
-Six Cases of Donald Duck Oats (National Oats Company, Cedar Rapids, IA)
-One Case (144) Mickey Mouse Cookies (National Biscuit Company, New York)
-One Case (144) Donald Duck Cookies (National Biscuit Company, New York)
-Six Cases Donald Duck Peanut Butter (Nash-Underwood, Chicago, IL)
-Donald Duck Cameras (Chicago, IL)
-Six Cases of assorted Donald Duck Citrus Juices (Florida Citrus Canners Co-Op, Lake Wales, FL)

The image with this essay shows all of these items together in one Christmas “package.” So had you been a lucky child on Walt’s Christmas list in 1945, this would have been close to what you would have received. All the items in the photograph are period items from around 1945 and are from the DHI collection. Enjoy.

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