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"What's New" Archives: May 2010

May 31, 2010:

"Mickey Mouse" and D-Day

 

May 24, 2010:

Animation: The Delusion of Life

Børge Ring on Jack Kinney

 

May 19, 2010:

Russian Rhapsody

 

May 18, 2010:

A Special Barks Painting for Sale at Auction

 

May 4, 2010:

Cleaning House

 

May 3, 2010:

More on the Dumbo Roll-A-Book

 

May 31, 2010:

Disney at war"

"Mickey Mouse" and D-Day

I recently read (on microfilm) an interview with Walt Disney in the New York Post for June 30, 1944. That piece, by Mary Braggiotti, begins as follows:

"Dear Mickey Mouse:

"How are you, old boy? How I'd like to see you again!"

"That's all the letter said," concluded Walt Disney, "just that. It was from an American prisoner in Germany."

To Mr. Disney, sipping a scotch-and-soda at "21" before his departure for Hollywood the other day, this letter in a recent batch of Mickey's fan mail seemed to mean more than the news item that, on June 6, naval officers gathering for an invasion briefing at a port in southern England had to whisper "Mickey Mouse!" into the ear of the sentry before they could receive their orders.

That last sentence made me sit up, because it promised a solution to one of the more curious little mysteries associated with Disney animation—or maybe I should say, one of the more persistent Disney urban legends.

The notion has long been widespread that "Mickey Mouse" was the code name for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. For instance, Neal Gabler writes in Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination that "at Allied headquarters the code name for the operation was 'Mickey Mouse.'" Gabler cites no source for that statement, and although many other books and Web sites say essentially the same thing, all of them are obviously peddling secondhand information. David Lesjak, proprietor of the Toons at War blog, who almost certainly knows more about the Disney studio's history in World War II than anyone else, told me some time ago: "Disney staff did a search of the Archives and of all internal Disney Company computer databases and found no reference anywhere to Mickey Mouse being the codeword for the D-Day Normandy landings. The Pentagon and the Eisenhower Presidential Library were also consulted and the results at both institutions were also negative. There is speculation that 'Mickey Mouse' may possibly have been used at the lower unit level as a codeword, but even then there is no supporting documentation."

"Supporting documentation" has finally turned up, but what it supports is another matter. I haven't yet checked the Post microfilm for the "news item" that Braggiotti mentions, but a quick online check of other newspapers turned up three that published a very brief United Press item, datelined London, on June 8, 1944. The exact wording in the three papers differs, thanks presumably to editing, but the substance in each is the same. Here's the UP item as it appeared in the Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail:

Mickey Mouse played a part in the invasion of northern France, it was revealed today.

Naval officers gathering for invasion briefing at a southern port approached the sentry at the door and furtively whispered into his ear the password of admission: "Mickey Mouse."

That surely is the tiny incident that was ultimately inflated, by Neal Gabler among many others, into something much grander, so that "Mickey Mouse" became the password not just for one meeting, but for the entire Allied invasion. I've updated my page devoted to errors in Gabler's book to take this new information into account; the D-Day entry is for page 411.

This particular legend will no doubt continue to thrive, even though it's false. It's strange how many such falsehoods have attached themselves to Walt Disney and his creations, even though Walt himself was exceptionally accurate and straightforward in responding to interviewers' questions.

Comments

From Diane Disney Miller: Paula Sigman alerts me to your blogs, and I am always amazed at the scope of your research, and what you find.  Regarding Mickey Mouse and D-Day you muse on the fact that so much myth is attached to the movements and character of my dad.  It's been fueled alot by overly creative PR people who felt they had to prove themselves by recreating him. He was so open, so available to the press, and to anyone, actually. The fact that they airbrushed cigarettes from his photos probably helped the "frozen" myth.  I'm not a big fan of PR.

From David Lesjak: Great stuff Michael!  Thanks for sharing. Another piece of the puzzle solved. I knew there was no way "Mickey Mouse" could have been used as the password for the whole invasion...there would have been supporting documentation somewhere for something so significant.  The story you have uncovered makes more sense.

[Pasted May 31, 2010]

From Tom Carr: As a U.S. Army medal holder myself, I love that picture of Mickey and his friends marching with the troops. Many U.S. warplanes had cartoon characters painted on their noses...Mickey, Donald, Bugs, and Popeye, among others.

Maybe at some point you could do an online feature about the Disney and Fleischer and Warner Brothers cartoon studios and WWII? I know that you've covered this subject to some extent in your books...but a lot of the younger folks don't read any books. Sad but true—I've asked many of them how often they go to the public library, and most of them say that they never do, even though San Mateo County has a really fine library system (disclaimer: my late aunt was instrumental in building it, so I'm biased on the matter).

Video games and skateboarding seem to have taken over most of their attention. My nieces appear to be more or less immune to bad entertainment since their I.Q.'s are practically off the scale, but I can't help but wonder what popular entertainment is going to look like twenty years from now? Oh well, if we're both around at that point, we'll probably be living in nursing homes... if you call that living.

[Posted June 2, 2010]

From David Lesjak: I meant to say the program you have pictured with the Mickey Mouse D-Day password post was one of two created for the Masquers by Disney artist Hank Porter. Besides creating the cover art, Porter also created the illustrations found on the inside and back pages. The other Masquers program Porter designed featured Mickey, Minnie and Donald saluting an American flag along with three head shots of members of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy.

MB replies: ...And I meant to say that I picked up that illustration from a 2006 Cartoon Brew post by Jerry Beck, and that I'd already used it in a December 25, 2006, post of my own. When I decided to use the illustration again, I couldn't locate my page where I'd used it originally, and I set aside the search for later. This time, a Google search for "Masquers" brought up the right page. My apologies to Jerry and to Rick Greene, owner of the Masquers program whose cover Jerry reproduced.

[Posted June 4, 2010]

May 24, 2010:

Animation: The Delusion of Life

Thad Komorowski wrote to me earlier this month, while I was in Russia: "Brad Bird is directing Mission: Impossible IV for Paramount. So long chances of Pixar ever making a decent movie again." I agree that the prospects for good Pixar movies are very dim, but the possibility of Bird's directing again for Pixar had surely evaporated by the time, a couple of years ago, he was announced as the director of 1906, a very expensive live-action movie about the San Francisco earthquake. Production of that film has stalled in the weak economy; it's because of 1906's troubles that Bird became available to direct M:IIV. (To read one of the many reports confirming that Bird has been signed for that Tom Cruise movie, click on this link.)

Brad BirdJohn Lasseter runs Pixar; if, like him, you were also the director of Cars, would you really want to have the director of The Incredibles at your elbow? Bird's continuing presence at Pixar would have been an uncomfortable reminder of just how much better a director he is than his longer-tenured colleagues, not just Lasseter but also Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter. I've heard or read nothing to suggest that Lasseter pushed Bird out the door, as he did with Chris Sanders, another gifted director, at Disney Feature Animation, but neither have I heard or read anything to suggest that Bird was ever part of Pixar's long-term plans.

The theaters are full of animated features these days, but is it conceivable that anyone, Brad Bird included, could ever build a career as a Hollywood animation director at all comparable to the careers of the most successful directors in live action? Surely not; the directors at Disney and DreamWorks and elsewhere are submerged in all-but-anonymous teams, and at Pixar, the remaining directors work deep inside a cloying, crudely manipulative house style. Even at Pixar, Andrew Stanton is turning to live action, to direct John Carter of Mars. Under those circumstances, it's no surprise that Bird has moved into live action, almost certainly for good. His departure is a stark reminder of just how limited is the future of almost anyone working in Hollywood animation today.

It's curious, given that reality, that there's what seems to me an over-abundance of student animated shorts on the Web. Most such films are exactly that: student films, exercises for learning, and as such almost always of interest only to the student filmmaker, the instructor, and perhaps the filmmaker's peers. They should be exposed to the wider world only when the student filmmaker is exceptionally precocious or when the student has gone on to a distinguished professional career whose roots are worth examining. The student films I sample on the Web almost never meet either test, especially the first one.

Cartoon Brew, in particular, has been posting many such films, especially from CalArts, even while ignoring Brad Bird's decision to leave animation behind (Bird is of course one of the most famous CalArts alumni). The rationale in both cases, I suppose, is that animation students should be encouraged, or at least not discouraged—but encouraged to do what? To prepare for creative careers that can't happen? To be proud of work that isn't worth a minute of an adult audience's time? Is the idea to build the students' self-esteem? I seem to recall that Bird had something to say about such thinking in The Incredibles.

Comments

From Floyd Norman: I completely agree with your assessment. It would appear that most animation students and even a few professionals totally missed the message in Bird's film.

Disillusioned with Disney, I'm now watching Pixar take the same dark path.

From Ricardo Cantoral: I think Bird finally realized that sticking to animated features was going to limit him to conventional stories. I doubt he would have been allowed to direct a human-interest story such as 1906 at Pixar unless there were some talking animals and kids in it.

Even during the golden age of animation, I am sure many people would have followed the examples of Frank Tashlin and George Pal and entered live-action features if they could have. We all regard that era as a high point in the art of animation because the animated characters felt so tangible, but all those shorts and features were limited to very simple situations: no social commentary or genuine acknowledgment of the outside world, unlike many of the live-action films of the day.

[Posted May 24, 2010]

From Jeff Peterson: In yesterday's "Animation: The Delusion of Life," your opening words suggest that Brad Bird had left Pixar by the time the 1906 film project was announced, which is somewhat at odds with the fact that this film was then being referred to as Pixar's first live-action film.  In early 2008, due to the high budget, Warner Bros. agreed to invest in the production in exchange for foreign distribution rights, which would make this a three-way co-production between Pixar, Disney, and Warner Bros.

If Bird does get 1906 greenlit for production, strictly speaking, it wouldn't mean that he is leaving animation behind since this disaster spectacle would undoubtedly be filled with digital animation.  Perhaps it would be safer to say that Brad Bird seems to be leaving character animation behind.

[Posted May 25, 2010]

From Tom Carr: First of all, watching computer animation gives me a splitting headache. The last digital animated film I saw was Shrek 2 , and it was then that I realized that no amount of technical hoo-hah can rescue a bad script. If even Buster Keaton was defeated by crappy scripts (and he was), there's no way to overcome that.

According to Joe Adamson's biography of Tex Avery, Tex would go over to where the live-action MGM comedies were being filmed, and give the director some great Avery gags, for nothing. Apparently, he just wanted those films to be better than they were.

So, I wonder what these digital hotshots would do if they were stuck in the era of pencils and ink and storyboards? I wish I had a time machine to send them back there so I could find out.

What makes Snow White a great film? Of course, it's in part the technical innovation— no one had ever attempted anything like that before— but without the story, it would amount to nothing. Maybe what we need is better writing and less "dazzle." Dazzle gets old in a hurry.

From David Levy: Thanks for the informative post. Although, I can't say that I agree with all your conclusions regarding Brad Bird's "departure" and what it means for animation. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but one of Bird's formative career experiences was some writing work on the live-action TV series, Amazing Stories. As a creative person, wouldn't it be likely that Bird could have diverse goals and interests, especially over the run of a long career? Animation is but one way to tell stories and when someone such as Bird has mastered one area, it stands to reason that he or she might be looking for new experiences and a different set of challenges. As successful and important as Brad Bird is in animation circles, his personal career plans are his alone, and shouldn't discourage anyone from entering this field, or from pursuing his/her own hopes and dreams, whatever they may be.

From Ricardo Cantoral: Tom Carr has a valid point in questioning whether today's technical wizards surviving in yesteryear. Andrew Adamson, who directed the Shrek films, had no character animation credentials to his name before he directed those films. Try as I could, all I could find to his name pre-Shrek is "visual effects supervisor". Go figure that one out.

From Donald Benson: Even as a Pixar fan, I'm a bit nervous about their creative future. Every article makes mention of their "unbroken string of hits." A commercial disappointment or two would cause heart failure in the boardroom but might also free them from what must be the crippling fear of producing the first "flop" (that is, anything that doesn't flatten every other film currently in release).

Also, Pixar has the blessing/curse of a handful of like-minded creative leaders. A blessing in that their talents and instincts are often on the money—artistically as well as literally—and they can realize them. A curse in that their shared vision is necessarily finite; stretched to cover an entire studio's output the limitations and flaws become ever more visible. Walt Disney certainly fell into that trap; his name came to imply nearly identical and easily parodied products. Maybe he was drawn to urban planning because he couldn't repeat himself there.

Thus far Pixar has taken impressive risks in their choices—even Cars, which was really an idealized vision of Route 66 with a story for form's sake (which, ironically, made it a bigger merchandise/theme park asset than many better stories). But standard notes begin to stack up, just as they do with any star, writer or director who discovers "what works" and begins to depend on it. Even if Mr. Bird makes great stuff away from Pixar, his own challenge will be keeping his strongest ideas from calcifying into trademarks, like Hitchcock's naughty humor or Capra's sentimentalism.

It's worth noting that Disney animation has been battered and almost been burned to the ground at various times (Not sure whether to count the most recent "shutdown"; too much of the entrenched infrastructure remained intact). As a result, at least some of the old sure-fire formulas got trashed. One hopes Pixar will figure out how to do the same less traumatically.

[Posted May 26, 2010]

From Vincent Alexander: I do have to say I was surprised when I found out that Brad Bird was directing a Mission: Impossible movie... not only because he was switching to live-action, but because I'm not completely sure he fits the material. I mean, he has shown before that he is gifted at directing action sequences, but his films are very character-oriented, and that's not something I would associate with Mission: Impossible. Also, The Incredibles and Ratatouille both struck me as very personal statements about being an artist and striving for perfection. I wonder if it will be possible to incorporate themes like that into his upcoming movie...? I'm probably worrying over nothing, though. Brad Bird is a fantastic director, and he'll probably come up with another classic.

As for Pixar, I haven't given up on them yet. After all, they've only released two films so far that I wasn't totally satisfied with (Cars and WALL*E). So, in my opinion, there's still some hope. Then again, I can't get too excited over Cars 2.

[Posted May 27, 2010]

Kinney and Colvig

Børge Ring on Jack Kinney

From Børge Ring, the renowned Danish animator, these memories of the Disney director Jack Kinney (seen above at the right, with Pinto Colvig, in front of a storyboard for the 1945 Goofy cartoon African Diary):

Director Jack Kinney of Goofy fame had a hobby. He was a jazz drummer. On a gig in San Francisco he was driving uphill when the rear end of his car sprang open end sent his big bassdrum into the arms of Mother Gravity, who gave  the instrument a roll down the long. long Francisco slope. Jack turned and pursued the instrument. The drum swerved and rolled fullspeed on to a  terrace with people at covered tables and  straight into the cafe where it made a boom sound against the bar and fell  on its side like a shot elephant. Mother Nature's energy was spent. A redfaced Kinney entered and retrieved his property.

Kinney seems to have remembered the incident when he directed the jazz short "After You've Gone" in Make Mine Music. "I have always had a hand in the story of any film I directed", he said, "Not for ego reasons but to make sure I never got saddled with weak material. I did not get story credit because Walt never credited a man for more than one thing at a time." I asked him: "When you recorded Benny Goodman's quartet for 'After You've Gone,' did you have the fun of sitting in with them on drums?" "Oh, no. To Benny Goodman that was unthinkable. But I have spent a lovely afternoon in the sound studio in the company of Hoagy Carmichael, who was a friendly, unsnobbish man."

Kinney was shy and  evasive about his time as an animator. "I  was just beginning to get the hang of it when Walt shunted me to the story department", he wrote. I think Kinney's  animation of Horace Horsecollar in The Band Concert  is excellent. He once wrote, "The value of animation is overrated." I was studying The Wind in the Willows [much of which Kinney directed] when Jack wrote, "Did you really think that was a good film? The animation is fabulous, but nobody outside the business can see that."

Comments

From Tom Carr: Jack Kinney was certainly one of the key Disney men who really understood the possibilities of animation combined with music (in a lighter mode than Walt employed in Fantasia, though). In a complete coincidence, a Pinto Colvig record is featured on the new Pilsner's Picks page, "The Bargain Basement's Basement." I'm always worried that the copyright cops will pounce on me (they've done it before), so I won't mention what character he's playing, except to say that it's not Goofy.What a bunch of Bozos!

[Posted May 25, 2010]

From Paul Trotter: It's worth noting that the storyboards in the photo are credited to Bill Peet. There are is more information at Bill Peet Jr's Web site.

[Posted June 8, 2010]  

May 19, 2010:

Victory Day

Russian Rhapsody

Phyllis and I returned Sunday from a nine-day visit to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, an exceptionally interesting trip with almost no animation- or comics-related dimensions. At the urging of the American friends living in Moscow who served as our guides, we timed our visit to include Sunday, May 9—Victory Day, when Russians celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. That was sixty-five years ago, and so the number of surviving veterans of what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War has dwindled sharply. Dozens of them came to Gorky Park on Victory Day, though, wearing their uniforms and their medals, as they do every year, to receive flowers and chocolate bars from their grateful countrymen. I took pictures of many of them—they were happy to pose—including the gentleman in the photo above, with Phyllis (at left) and our friend and traveling companion Mary Kay Burton. (The cups held kvas, a low-alcohol drink.) We met many memorable characters, like a nurse who survived the Nazis' siege of Leningrad and a bewhiskered mariner—his picture is below—who spoke warmly of America and especially of American submarines; they were much better than Soviet ships, he said, because the American government cared about its sailors.

Gorky Park vendorVictory Day has a resonance in Russia that V-E Day could never have in the United States, because Russia suffered so much more terribly in the war, losing millions of its people to bullets and starvation. The Russians thus celebrated the sixty-fifth anniversary on a very large scale. The very idea of the Great Patriotic War has become more complicated in recent years, though, since that war was fought in defense of a country, the Soviet Union, that no longer exists. The Soviet Union's constituent parts have for almost twenty years been independent countries, some at odds with what is now called the Russian Federation, to the point that one (Georgia) fought a brief war with Russia in 2008. Under those circumstances, all the banners and posters celebrating the victory of the "CCCP" (the Russian-language initials for the USSR) had both a nostalgic flavor and, underlying that, the strong suggestion that maybe the breakup of the Soviet Union was not irreversible. It will be interesting to see how Victory Day is celebrated a few years from now, when the remaining veterans have left the stage.

I said the trip had nothing to do with animation or the comics, but I did notice some generally dreadful-looking and presumably Russian-produced animation as we flipped through the channels on our way to the BBC or CNN. I wasn't aware of any sort of Disney presence—surely Robert Iger has plans to remedy that—and I doubt that many Russians have ever heard of Bob Clampett or his Looney Tune whose title I borrowed for this post. A few inflatable American cartoon characters did find their way onto vendors' stands in Gorky Park, as you can see in the accompanying photo. Look closely and you'll spot Spider-man and Tom Cat. I have no idea if these were authorized versions.

A couple of words of advice, if you're thinking about a trip to Russia yourself. Don't be intimidated by the visa process, which is an expensive pain but not as bad as it first appears; and learn the Cyrillic alphabet, which is really very easy to master. When you can read street signs and make your way around in the Metro, you will feel much more comfortable in Moscow. Otherwise, a trip to Russia is self-recommending, especially if, like me, you're old enough to remember when the very word "Kremlin" had an ominous sound. Now I think of the Kremlin as an old fortress full of gold-domed churches and beautiful tulip gardens.

Russian sailor

Comments

From Gregory Williams: It must have been a great relief to vacation away from animation and comics for a while. But I don't think you're aware of just what you missed. The current state of Russian animation is so poor largely because of the sudden shift from communism to capitalism, believe me or not. The loss of state funding completely changed the nature of the industry at the turn of the '90's. There's been other problems since, like the lack of theaters in Russia making it difficult to make a profitable film.

The main company in Russia under the U.S.S.R. was Soyuzmultfilm, which remains in reduced form after the collapse. They're literally a company which arguably produced more great work in their time than the Walt Disney Company. In spite of the country's censorship, federal grants allowed for a tremendous amount of quality animated work that wasn't possible in the United States due to market concerns.

For now I'll point out two of the directors with the most prominent feature filmographies: Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Let Atamanov.

It could be said for today that neither of these filmographies is particularly impressive, but just how many auteur feature directors were there in the United States at the time? The directors with the longest filmographies were Ralph Bakshi, and the collective careers of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. You can decide which you prefer, but I have to say that in this regard, Russian animation allowed for more auteur directors at an earlier stage than U.S. animation. Rankin and Bass obviously blurred the line between live action and animation. Ivanov-Vano and Atamanov created rotoscoped films, like Bakshi, though the circumstances under Perestroika make me unsure of their creative intent.

Another thing that I'd like to point out is Yellow Submarine. This film had an enormous impact on the animation industry on the other side of the iron curtain, as did the pop art movement in general. I'm broadening the scope a bit here, but note the short films Music Box with a Secret, Contact, and in Hungarian animation, the feature film Janos Vitez.

Most of the little I know about Soviet Russian animation is from the blog Animatsiya in English. The main resource for information on Russian animation is the web site Animator.ru. I provided this reply because I believe that your second to last paragraph gives a very misleading impression on the animation industry of Russia due to the emphasis on its current history.

MB replies: I didn't think I could reasonably be taken as generalizing about Russian animation, rather than just mentioning the little I'd observed on a nine-day trip. Any broad consideration of Russian animation should certainly take into account not just the artists Gregory Williams mentions, but also Yuri Norstein, whom he doesn't mention, and no doubt others whose names are not familiar to me.

[Posted June 16, 2010]

May 18, 2010:

Barks painting

A Special Barks Painting for Sale at Auction

Just back from Russia, I received this message from Cathy Freeman about her father, a man whom I knew and liked very much:

My father, George R. Sherman, was head of foreign relations and then publications for Walt Disney Productions from the late '50s until the mid-'70s, when he died of a very rare cancer. I'd sit on the floor of his office at the studios in Burbank, a block from our house, and read through typewritten manuscripts about which he wanted a child's opinion (I was ages 6-12). My father also traveled the world to book fairs to promote Disney publications, and we went with him on one trip when I was eight years old. Three months traveling through Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Yugoslavia promoting the new (at the time) feature, The Jungle Book.

George ShermanDad also said that if we came up with a comic book story he would give us $150 for a Mickey Mouse or Uncle Scrooge and $75 for a Chip and Dale or lesser character (this was around 1968). We considered the studio to be family, and even this year, shortly before Roy Edward Disney died, I got a handwritten Christmas note from him (I didn't know he had cancer).

My father was a writer at heart but worked for Disney as a day job. It made for a magical childhood as we became little ambassadors for any foreign representatives that came to town. We'd go with the visitors to Disneyland quite often. My father found that the best way to communicate with the numerous representatives, who all spoke different languages, was to sponsor a poker game at our house. He'd let me stay up and be "banker," exchanging their currency for poker chips. He'd then write my teacher at school, "Please excuse Cathy's absence, she was up late playing poker." He once tried to name a cow "Lolita" in a comic story but got censored by the "higher ups." 

Because of the recession, I have just put my Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge oil painting up for sale. The painting was given to my father by Carl Barks. My dad secured the rights for Carl to paint Disney characters after Carl left Disney, and I think the painting I own was a thank-you present to my dad. My father died in 1974, when I was sixteen, and I had the Scrooge painting on my graphic studio wall up until last month, when I decided to let Heritage Auction Galleries auction it this May 20-22.  I've cherished this painting, and I hate to see it go, but it might buy me three years of health insurance deductibles. The auction site is at this link.

George Sherman's portrait of Scrooge was one of a small number of such paintings—all of them similar but not identical—that Carl Barks never sold but instead gave to friends. Carl and his wife, Garé, gave one such painting to Phyllis and me (as a belated wedding present, they said—they wanted to make sure we were going to stick together) when we had Thanksgiving dinner with them in 1973; it's hanging a few feet away from me as I write this. Have any others of these gift paintings gone on the market since Barks's death? None that I know of, and surely such sales are extraordinarily rare if they have occurred at all.

Bidding on the Scrooge painting ends on Thursday, May 20, at 10 p.m. CDT. Again, the auction page is at this link.

Comments

From Gunnar Andreassen: Your question:  Have any others of these gift paintings gone on the market since Barks's death? None that I know of, and surely such sales are extraordinarily rare if they have occurred at all.

Yes, one of them was sold on Heritage a couple of years ago for $47,800. See this page.

From Cathy Freeman: Thank you for your kind words about my father and for posting this. I truly appreciate your doing so (and the photo of my father as well). That poker game was when I was in second grade!  Dad would also take us to the Santa Anita Race Track because it taught good math skills on the concept of probability (with us on dad's shoulders so we could see the race horses!).

[Posted May 19, 2010]

From Dana Gabbard: There is a marvelous interview with Sherman that Malcolm Willits conducted in the mid-1960s. I reprinted it in Duckburg Times No. 12. It contained our first inkling Disney had any records showing the circulation figures for its comics from the classic era. I have included his citation of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories' high water mark of 3 million in several Wikipedia entries. Another notable action of Sherman is that it was he who hired Tom Golberg to run the studio program to produce comic-book stories directly for use by foreign licensees, which gave folks like Tony Strobl and Jack Bradbury employment while Western Publishing was winding down. I'll confess I've always wondered if Sherman ever tried to recruit Carl Barks for the program; I'd suspect that loyalty to Chase Craig (for whom Barks was doing Junior Woodchuck scripts in that time period) would have made Barks politely beg off. Sherman also arranged permission for Les Daniels to reprint Barks' ten-pager that is almost an economic primer on supply and demand. I think inclusion in Daniels' book Comix: A History of Comic Books in America was one of the first attempts outside of fandom to mark Barks as being among the pantheon of comic-book legends.
 
I remember what a shock it was in the early 1980s when Dave Smith wrote me that Sherman had died of cancer when I inquired what had ever happened to him. Which made it all the more poignant to reprint the interview, in which he is so lively and upbeat.
 
Maybe I'll pull together a Sherman Wikipedia entry eventually—he seems worthy of being remembered. I just did an entry for the old Disneyland Art Corner and have my sights on Toni Mendez and Kay Kamen for my next efforts. Just like Sherman, Mendez and Kamen have an important place in the history of Disney and comics which deserves to be recognized. Ah, the fun we aging fanboys have...

From Tom Carr: I'd love to have that painting... the glaring eyes of Scrooge McDuck and his tight grip on his money bag are absolutely classic Barks! It looks great even in the small reproduction. Unfortunately, my personal Money Bin is almost empty, so I couldn't submit a bid. If I tried to dive in, I'd hit my head on the bottom. However, I've been updating Pilsner's Picks, and it's looking pretty good. There's no charge for any of the music, so everyone's invited. Feel free to post the link, and welcome back.

[Posted May 20, 2010]

From Mark Evanier: George Sherman was a heckuva good guy.  I worked for him on and off for a year or so around 1970—a year in which he was often missing whole weeks of work due to illness.  He'd come back from one of those absences to find his desk piled high with scripts by me.  Before long, he recommended me to Chase Craig...and though he told me it was because he thought Chase needed me, I knew it was because he was trying to
eliminate a drain on his health by having to read all the stuff I was producing.

George bought a number of script around this period from Jerry Siegel, who was unemployed and in dire need of work, plus he arranged for Jerry to do a few things for Chase.  I'm afraid that as good as Jerry was at adventure scripts, he never grasped the dynamic of writing Disney-type material and the scripts were only acceptable after George (or in two cases, I) had done major rewrites on them.  I was paid full rate for what I did.  George, I assume, was not paid at all.  But even though Disney owed Jerry Siegel nothing, George felt it was only right to help out a legend who was down on his luck.  That's the kind of guy George was...very compassionate and also very smart.

[Posted May 21, 2010]

May 4, 2010:

Cleaning House

I'll be tied up for the next few weeks—making a brief visit to Russia, among other things—so the site will be quiet. Before I take my leave, though, I need to clean off my desk, as follows:

RSS: If you've given up on my RSS feeds, which were worse than usual for a while, give them another try. I haven't been able to automate my feeds completely, as my Dreamfeeder program promised, but I've figured out how to update my feeds without an intolerable amount of manual labor.

FACEBOOK: I don't think I'm alone in not quite having figured out Facebook. I'm sure I need to be posting more there, if only to alert my "friends" to good stuff on this site. As it is, I have something like thirty "friend" requests that I haven't responded to yet, simply because I spend almost no time on Facebook. I will try to mend my ways. I think I'm going to pass on Twitter, though.

FOR THE BARKS FANCIER: Some of us can't get enough information about our favorite cartoonist, and if you're one of that group, you should check out my page devoted to corrections, additions, etc., to my book called Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book. David Neebe has come up with some more information about the obscure kite safety giveaway that Barks illustrated and that was published in a yet-to-be-determined-with-any-finality number of editions. You can find the additional information at the entry for pages 124-25 and 226.

LUCKY LINKS: There are too many good blogs today, all deserving of extended mention, but I can't leave without a bow to a couple of particularly enjoyable Disney-related sites. 2719 Hyperion, Jeff Pepper and George Taylor's blog, is a consistent source of well-researched, intelligently written, and beautifully presented historical material, but I want to call your attention specifically to Jeff's two-part series on the neighborhood surrounding the Disney studio at that Hyperion address as it existed in the 1930s. "Bringing the past to life" is an overused phrase, but it most definitely applies here. You can go directly to the first installment by clicking on this link. Another Disney-inspired site that I've been enjoying is Vincent Randle's Drawn to Illusion. Let me recommend particularly Vince's illuminating post on an unjustly neglected Disney short, The Little House.

Walt's People Vol. 9WALT'S PEOPLE VOL. 9: The ninth volume of Didier Ghez's remarkable series devoted to interviews with Disney veterans (plus a few historical essays and excerpts from correspondence) and has just been released. You can order it from Xlibris ($23.99, for 541 pages) at this link. Here's a rundown of the contents:

Foreword: John Culhane

Dave Smith: Thurston Harper

Ray Pointer: Berny Wolf

John Canemaker: Fanny Rabin about Art Babbitt

John Culhane: Art Babbitt

Tom Sito: Bill Melendez

Mark Langer: Ken O’Connor

John Canemaker: Thor Putman

John Culhane: Art Scott

Dave Smith: Ken Anderson

Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz: Ken Anderson

Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz: Les Clark

Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz: Jack Cutting

Robin Allan: Jack Cutting

Robin Allan: Bob Jones

Robin Allan: Joe and Jennie Grant

Floyd Norman: Three Disney Story Guys (Pete Young, Fred Lucky and Vance Gerry)

Jim Korkis: Margaret Kerry

Paul F. Anderson: Jack Ferges

Paul F. Anderson: Fred Joerger

Jim Korkis: The Secret Walt Disney Commercials

Michael Mallory: Paul Carlson

Didier Ghez: Paul Carlson

Floyd Norman: Just Finish that Darned Thing!

Didier Ghez: Victor Haboush

Julie Svendsen: Walt Peregoy

Floyd Norman: Disney’s “B” Movie

Alberto Becattini: Frank McSavage

Klaus Strzyz: Jack Bradbury + Mary Jim Carp

Klaus Strzyz: Bob Foster

Alberto Becattini: Bob Foster

Didier Ghez: Julie Svendsen

Göran Broling: Correspondence with Ollie Johnston

Clay Kaytis: Burny Mattinson

Didier Ghez: Tom Sito

As always, the entries vary in quality, but the average is consistently high enough that I can recommend this volume, and every other volume in the Walt's People series, without qualification to anyone who cares at all about Disney history. This volume stands apart because it includes a few of the interviews recorded by John Culhane forty years or so ago, when he was writing an animation history to be called Magic Mirror: The First World History of the Animated Film and published by Viking. Parts of that book, at least, were in manuscript in the '70s, and the publisher was rounding up illustrations as early as 1972, but then the book simply vanished. I last saw it mentioned in a 1975 trade-paper item. It seems a shame that Culhane doesn't say anything about that lost book in his very long introduction to the new volume of Walt's People.

May 3, 2010:

More on the Dumbo Roll-A-Book

Dumbo

[A May 5, 2009, update: I've done a little more tinkering with my Dumbo Roll-A-Book piece, to add some information about Helen R. Durney, Dumbo's original illustrator, and to remove a few rough edges.]

I've greatly revised and expanded my essay called "The Mysterious Dumbo Roll-A-Book," to incorporate a great deal of new information I've gleaned from a variety of sources: the galley proofs for the original version of the story at Syracuse University, New York state corporate records, obscure newspaper stories, census forms, and so on. Putting together all the pieces, I've also been able to eliminate some of the guesswork in the original version. There are still unanswered questions—I'd love to see a complete copy of the contract between Disney, on one side, and Dumbo's original authors and publisher, on the other, and I want to know more about Helen Aberson and Hal Pearl, the authors—but what you'll get from my revised version is a much fuller picture of how the story evolved and how it came to be a Disney property. At least half the piece is new or heavily reworked, so I don't think you'll be wasting your time if you take another look at it.

Speaking of Dumbo: anyone who cares about that film as much as I do should be spending some time at Hans Perk's wonderful blog, where he's posting the draft, the Disney studio's record of who animated what in each scene in that film. This is the sort of bedrock information that's easy to overlook on the Web, but it's far more substantial, far more important, than almost anything else that's being posted. After all, intelligent people will still be talking about Dumbo fifty or a hundred years from now, after the brayings of today's whiny hacks and hysterical has-beens have vanished into the ether.

I've also done some further tinkering with my essay called "Walt's Adventures in the Ivy League," just making it a little more specific about some of the people and places involved, and providing, for instance, a fuller version of William Lyon Phelps' charming tribute to Walt at Yale.

I don't plan to return to either piece any time soon, but I do expect to write some more essays of this kind before long; they're a lot of fun to work on. I have in mind a piece on Walt's visits to Atlanta, for example. But first I'm overdue to put up a few more interviews.

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