Do Centaurettes Look Good In Sweaters?
by Paul F. Anderson

Today’s Fun Foto essay should probably be titled “Fotos.” I was digging around in my photo library and found this set of images and remembered how hard I laughed when I found them. It was at a vintage movie show in Southern California in the early nineties. One of the Los Angeles newspapers had ceased publication, and their photo collection ended up at this show with one of the dealers who specialized in photographs. A quick pause in the story, if I may. One of my favorite historical authors, and Pulitzer-Prize winner, is Robert Caro. I had the opportunity to see a presentation he did for the Organization of American Historians, where he said something truly profound. Someone asked him what was his secret for being a great historian. Caro responded, “because I turn every page!” That is to say, you look at, and read, everything when doing research (and truth be told, my favorites in Disney history–J.B. Kaufman and Michael Barrier–do the same thing). I have lived by this in my own research, and also in my search for research! So, with that thought in mind, back to the movie show. This dealer had thousands of photographs from this collection, and most of the images were rather plebeian in nature. Still, this Caro quote was in the back of my mind, and so I kept going. My diligence was well rewarded, as you will see in this Institute essay.

Many of the Disney old-timers that I have interviewed have regaled me with the humor and practical jokes that went on behind closed Studio doors. At times, the practical jokes seemed endless. Ken Anderson told me that in the thirties and forties Walt didn’t mind this, because he knew creative people needed an outlet, and as long as they were getting their work done he was generally okay with the tomfoolery. Moreover, he thought it helped promote their creativity. Rolly Crump told me roughly the same thing about a the fun that went on in the fifties, stating how odd it was that they all dressed in white shirts and thin black ties, but the play and jesting was off the charts (businesslike dress, un-businesslike fun). He contrasted this to what he saw with current day animators, [A] how they dressed in wild, colorful, and crazy clothes, and yet, were so businesslike and their appeared to be a lack of fun (un-businesslike dress, businesslike work). He claimed that it was because when Walt was around, the creative people were in control, and of course … well, you know the rest of the story. Still, I feel that the humor at the Studios is an important part of Disney History (although I may receive some flak from my Academic colleagues). As such, I’ll be happy to share a lot of these practical jokes and incidents of humor in future Institute essays. One thing about these anecdotes, at least those that I can recall, is that they take place within the Studio–that is, within the confines of the “Disney family.” Today’s essay is a rare example (at least in my research) of the Disney humor extending outside “the berm.” [B] It is also about my favorite film (Disney or otherwise), Fantasia, and the first film I ever saw (my father, God bless him, took me when I was four years old–been hooked ever since!).

It is a well-known fact that the initial release of Fantasia was not very successful. This is due to many things: the War in Europe and loss of the Foreign market; Fear of War in America; Disney enthusiasts did not know what to make of the film; Fantasound was expensive to install; RKO was not thrilled about distributing the film[C]; and so much more.

When the film finally premiered in Los Angeles at the Carthay Circle, both Walt and Roy realized how important it was for the film to do well. Roy Disney and Bill Garrity even had thoughts of opening at the Hawaii Theatre (5939 Hollywood Blvd.) and went to visit the theatre to see how difficult the installation of the Fantasound equipment would be. They reported to Walt that it would be “as good a spot as Carthay,” but Walt ultimately decided on the more prestigious Carthay Circle (even though the Hawaii was giving him a better deal).

So important was this premiere, I think the Disney publicity department went into overdrive in trying to boost the film’s attendance throughout its run. Certainly, if RKO was not going to do it, Disney would go above and beyond. These photos were obviously an exclusive to one paper (where a PR agent would let a specific story or image be available only to a particular newspaper). What is different, is the newspaper responded to their exclusive, which somehow got back to Disney. And the results are quite amusing. The first photo (below) shows a wonderful model from the Model Department. Featured is a Centaurette apparently leaping over some pine needles that were know doubt picked from a tree on the Studio lot. The background features a scene from the film. All together, a nice image. However, this was 1941 and our sweet girl is, well, topless.

What is a respectable editor to do? Here Disney has gone and given you an exclusive, and yet it is most certain to raise issues with your subscribers. The next image is part of the back of the above photo. It has the various newspaper stamps (“Received Jun 4, 1941”) as well as the pencil written notations for the publication in the newspaper, such as run it Thursday (“Thurs”) in the Drama Section, column inches (“1 col x 3 1/4”), and, a paste down clipping of how it was published. You can see that a good portion of the image is cropped, leaving just a part of her bare top, and also what is left appears to be shadowed out (that’s what art departments are for). Of interest to this particular essay, is written in pencil is “Put a sweater on her!”

This brings us to, what they call in the comedy industry, the payoff! Somehow, someway this got back to the Disney Studios, and more than likely, back to Joe Grant and the Model Department. It is entirely possible that somehow Walt got wind of it, or the editor of this particular newspaper called him up and razzed Walt about it. Either way, the Disney Studios decided to restore our dear Centaurette’s modesty by, well, probably getting someone in the Ink & Paint Department to knit her a sweater. And yes, in the meantime, she has changed poses and obviously been to the beauty shop for her hair. A rare example of the Disney sense-of-humor outside of the Studio.

Sweater done! Mission accomplished!

Endnotes and Citations can be seen at: endnotes.

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