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.
Endnotes and Citations can be seen at: endnotes.