Merrill Remembers a Native Son (Just Not Very Well)
Thanks to Geoff Blum for forwarding this odd item:
Oregon Town Dedicates New Park to Donald Duck Artist
MERRILL, Ore. (AP) — The tiny town of Merrill is dedicating a new park to the Walt Disney animator who's known for drawing Donald Duck and creating the characters in DuckTales.
The Herald and News reported Friday that Carl Barks died in 2000 but he's now considered one of the most influential comics of all time.
Workers are planting trees and flowers at a new park that will be called Good Duck Park in Barks' honor.
Barks worked as an animator for Walt Disney Studios from 1935 until 1942.
He helped develop a basic Donald Duck sketch into a superstar Disney character.
Barks later drew a number of comic books, including one that led to the DuckTales comic book franchise and TV cartoon.
In all, Barks would draw more than 500 stories.
Set aside the fact that Barks's connection with Merrill was tenuous. The family ranch (where Barks was born) was about five miles west of the town, which barely existed when Barks was a child. When Phyllis and I set out to see the ranch back in the eighties, Carl and Garé discouraged us from going on to visit Merrill, because there was nothing there to connect the present-day town with the Merrill of Barks's childhood. But if Merrill wanted to name a park after Carl Barks, why not?
Unfortunately, the name is not Carl Barks Park but "Good Duck Park," which sounds like a Chinese restaurant. And note the emphasis on DuckTales, with no mention of Uncle Scrooge.
Did Disney insist on such a warped "tribute" to Barks? Or was Disney involved at all? It would be interesting to know, but, with the Barkses' cautionary words in mind, I doubt I'll ever visit Merrill to try to find out.
Walt Disney passed through Chicago many times by train on his way to and from New York (and, sometimes, Washington, D.C.). The photo above was taken during one of those trips, early in 1942, when he was traveling to Washington. I've posted an essay with photos from several of his Chicago stops, and including the memories that Diane Disney Miller shared with me from a 1943 trip when she accompanied her parents. It's at this link.
When I was a kid, I occasionally set up tabletop versions of favorite comics or cartoons, using cardboard and modeling clay to create my miniature worlds. I can't recall particular subjects now (although I think Pogo's swamp was one); it was the general idea of building those little worlds that appealed most to me. I have to believe that Wes Anderson's films, and particularly his stop-motion features, most recently Isle of Dogs, have grown out of a similar impulse. Probably that's why I always want to see new Anderson films, even though I never like them very much. The b.s. content is just too high.
Isle of Dogs is the perfect example. This is a conventional story of a comic-bookish kind, with strong echoes of sources as diverse and familiar as Lady and the Tramp and The Prisoner of Zenda. What gives the film a distinctive flavor is the Japanese setting and especially the prevalence of (largely untranslated) Japanese dialogue. When the chief villain is on the screen, ranting full blast, it's like watching Toshiro Mifune in a Kurosawa epic, without subtitles. But why is Isle of Dogs set in a sort-of Japan, where English is the first language only of one American girl and the oppressed canines? The best answer may be that this is a setup that is made to order for film critics of a ruminative kind, the ones most likely to relish a film that seems to be saying perceptive things about language and culture. Sure enough, The New Yorker took the bait: it has published not just a warm review but also a followup piece dealing specifically (and admiringly) with Isle of Dogs' use of the Japanese language.
The American voices for the dogs are mostly well cast, especially Bryan Cranston as the Tramp-ish Chief; Anderson has a knack for attracting top-flight actors. Top-flight stop-motion animators, too; the animation is consistently excellent, so much so that I had to remind myself repeatedly that I was watching puppets, and not CGI. But... if Isle of Dogs could have been made in CGI, with essentially the same result on the screen, why wasn't it, especially considering that CGI skills are now so widespread, and costs presumably so much lower than they once were? Perhaps for the same reason the story is set in Japan rather than in some generic American or European place. It's a way of making special what is at bottom very ordinary.
Peter Schjeldahl, in a review of the Grant Wood retrospective now at the Whitney Museum in New York, remarks, in a labored paragraph about Wood's presumed if never confirmed homosexuality, that "no special sleuthing is needed to winkle out his desires from enraptured depictions of hunky men versus his stony ones of women, and the recurrent suggestions of male anatomy in his bizarre Iowa landscapes—spatially impossible topographies, compounding descriptive and decorative techniques without the slightest feel for nature, which can appear impatient for the arrival of a Warner Bros. cartoon character or two."
I'm always alert for references to the Warner cartoons that go beyond the rote invocations of "wackiness" and the like, and so my eyeballs perked up when I saw this one, even though, on reflection, I'm not at all sure what Schjeldahl is referring to. Maurice Noble's designs for Chuck Jones's cartoons, most likely, but I don't think the comparison works very well, since Noble's backgrounds are "modern" in a way that Wood's are not, for all that, as Schjeldahl suggests, there's kinship between Wood's work and Salvador Dali's. I don't think Schjeldahl had in mind the backgrounds Paul Julian painted for Friz Freleng's cartoons of the late 1940s, but the fine-art connection may be stronger there than anywhere else in the Warner canon.
I wrote of Julian in Hollywood Cartoons that "his backgrounds had a cartoon brightness and simplicity, but they also seemed solid and real." I talked with Paul about his influences, and he surprised me with this name: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Flemish master of the sixteenth century. When I thought about that comparison, it made sense. Bruegel's paintings often depict robust comic action that takes place in real settings, in a real atmosphere. Just like a good Freleng cartoon.
My PC crashed and burned early in March, and I am only now approaching the restoration of a normal state of affairs. If there is such a thing where computers are concerned, that is. The last few times I've moved from one PC to another, the process went, if not smoothly, at least smoothly enough that I wound up eventually almost where I'd started, with most of my files intact but in a different machine. Not this time. My Quicken personal finance software is the biggest casualty; all of my transactions for the last eight years are, if not destroyed, very much in hiding. I backed up all my files on Windows as I'd done before, starting with the original CDs, but now, it seems, Quicken expects you to back up according to a new protocol. Whether doing so would have saved my missing data, I have no idea, but I'm inclined to doubt it, if only because Quicken's online helpers are so totally clueless. And then there's my wireless all-in-one Epson printer, which now won't let me scan unless I hook up a USB connection, a problem that many other people are having and that Epson adamantly refuses to solve. And then there's the loss of Windows Live Mail and my heavily used storage folders. There's more, but I won't bore you with it. At least my Dreamweaver software and this website are functioning normally, for the moment. Knock on wood.
The multitudinous sexual-harassment scandals have been variously disgusting (Matt Lauer), ridiculous (Garrison Keillor), or disappointing (James Levine of the Metropolitan Opera), but one of the saddest little scandals, for my money, is the one involving John Kricfalusi and reported first in Buzzfeed and then in Cartoon Brew. Why "sad," I'm not entirely sure. It's not because I think John's disgrace will rob us of any great cartoons. He hasn't done anything worth watching in recent years, and even his earlier and more celebrated work is, to my mind, fading rapidly in interest. (His Ren and Stimpy cartoons were intriguing not because they were funny—for the most part they weren't, and aren't—but because they seemed so different from standard-issue TV cartoons. Now the differences have narrowed.) Where John was outstanding, I think, was as a sort of pedagogue, an analyst and critic, especially when he was writing about Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones many years ago. There was point and discipline to his writing, but it leaked away long before the current embarrassment. It was fun to argue with John back then, as in the email exchange that I posted here in 2004, in the early days of this site. John seems to have passed beyond such exchanges, in favor of Trumpian bluster, just as his personal life has descended into Trumpian squalor. What a pity.
Back in 1940, Atlantic Monthly published an article by one Paul Hollister titled "Walt Disney, Genius at Work." Almost fifteen years later, the New York Times and Variety published notices to the effect that Hollister's biography of Walt, titled "Man or Mouse," would be published in October 1955 by Atlantic Monthly Press-Little Brown. It wasn't, and I'm wondering what happened, and where Hollister's manuscript wound up. In the Disney "main files," I'd guess—the book was to have been "profusely illustrated," no doubt with copyrighted material—but who knows. For sure it's not with the Paul Hollister papers at the Archives of American Art in Washington, because that was a different Paul Hollister. The "Disney" Hollister was an advertising man who died in, I believe, 1970. The other Paul Hollister was an author and art critic specializing in the history of glass. He died in 2004, no doubt exasperated by fielding dumb questions about his nonexistent book on Walt Disney.
[A March 7, 2018, update: Well, that's embarrassing. As Garry Apgar points out, Neal Gabler in his Disney biography refers to the Hollister manuscript, a copy of which is at the Walt Disney Archives. Using amazon.com's "look inside" feature, I find that Gabler refers to the Hollister manuscript about twenty times, mostly in endnotes but also in a paragraph that decribes how Roy Disney torpedoed its publication. I should have remembered that, and I should have checked Gabler's book when was writing this item; I'm afraid I let my skepticism about his work get the better of me.]
Another mystery author: James C. Lynch. At the time of his death in May 1955, at the age of 53, he was, according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, "writing 'History of the Art of Animation' for the Walt Disney Studios." He was, again according to his obituary, a contributor to Saturday Evening Post and Collier's, and was "the author of a popular Illustrated Bible" that was on the verge of publication. Probably Lynch's work on animation history was subsumed in the Don Graham-Bob Thomas Art of Animation, although I find nothing in the editions of the book I own that credits him for any work on that project. Presumably his work papers also wound up in the "main files," if they survived at all, but it would be interesting to know if that's the case.
Harry McCracken came to my rescue, providing a link to one of the Telecomics episodes on YouTube. Here it is, and you can find more there, if you do a search for Telecomics. My interest in embedding links to YouTube has been revived, and you will probably see more here in the future.
In case you missed it, Mark Kausler has contributed a typically well-informed comment about the Telecomics TV cartoons that are the subjects of a couple of my recent posts; Mark's comment is at this link. You'll see what will probably be some familiar names from other contexts: Dick Moores, who drew Disney newspaper comics and comic books before assuming command of the Gasoline Alley comic strip (I wrote about his career for the first volume of Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales, the reprint series I'm annotating) and Robert Bruce, the offscreen narrator for many Warner Bros. cartoons. I interviewed Bob Bruce at his home in Minnesota in 1990, and I'll have to pull that transcript to see if he said anything about Telecomics.
It occurred to me, as I was reading Mark's comment and thinking about all the other veterans of the Hollywood animation studios who also worked for operations like Telecomics, that there's a book there, a book that would trace the movement of animation people from one small studio to another in the years following World War II, in the early days of television. Not that I want to write such a book, but I would certainly cheer on anyone who did.
In case you missed it, Harry McCracken has provided abundant detail about the Telecomics TV cartoons of the late 1940s, including links to YouTube samples of the series, in a comment on my February 15 post. Harry's comment is at this link.
I enjoy poking around in the Dell anthology comic books of the 1940s, especially those edited by Oskar Lebeck. One of the more obscure of them, Red Ryder Comics, began in the early 1940s by housing a variety of Stephen Slesinger properties, but by 1950 it had become strictly a cowboy comic book, its pages filled with the adventures of Red and his Native American sidekick, the ludicrous Little Beaver.
I could never work up much interest in Red Ryder Comics when I was a kid, but recently Bob Barrett pointed me toward some pages and features in that title by Morris Gollub, one of my favorite Dell cartoonists, and I've followed up by scrutinizing some Red Ryder features that never attracted my attention before. One of those features, called Telecomics, was based on what the Slesinger company's website calls "a new film media in the 1940s that featured synoptic versions of popular children' s books and current happenings of popular comic attractions." I've never seen an example of Telecomics, and I don't know of anyone else who has, but its "comics" were evidently shown in a slide-show format similar to that of early TV cartoons like Crusader Rabbit.
The Telecomics stories that began appearing in Red Ryder in 1946 were initially burlesque science fiction that anticipated the Jetsons, but after that they wandered all over the place, finally serving as a framing device for reprints of the King of the Royal Mounted comic strip (another Slesinger property). The earliest episodes have a Little Lulu look and were probably drawn by one or both of the cartoonists Lebeck called in to help John Stanley with that feature, but the more interesting Telecomics installments, by far, are those that may have been written by Stanley himself. As I noted in Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books, first-rate Stanley is readily identifiable as his work, but second- or third-string Stanley can be harder to identify, and the temptation may be to see Stanley's hand where it's not. The half-dozen or so Telecomics stories that feel to me like his work have their moments, but they're not top-of-the-line Stanley.
I've reproduced below what is probably the best of the Telecomics stories, from Red Ryder Comics No. 42, January 1947; it bubbles with some of the in-jokes that Lebeck's cartoonists enjoyed adding to their work. Thus "Blackjack Stanley," who is drawn (by Dan Gormley) not as a caricature of the real Stanley, but, probably deliberately, as a much rougher-looking specimen. Teleboy's home address, 200 Fifth Avenue, is also an in-joke, since Lebeck's office was at that address in New York. ( "P. D. Garvits" sounds like a real name, but I have no idea whose.) I enjoy, too, all the stigmata of very early television: the tiny screen, the cheap sets, and what were in 1946 (when the story was written and drawn) still very small audiences. Only the interactivity between screen and viewer may seem advanced, but in this story it is a deadpan joke of the kind I associate with Stanley.
I've always had a small pile of flip books on my bookshelves—a Felix flip book by Otto Messmer that Milt Gray picked up for me at Montreal in 1967, personal flip books by Mark Kausler and George Griffin, an Oskar Fischinger flip book by his widow, Elfriede, a nifty little Snow White flip book published by Disney in the early nineties, and a set of a half dozen flip books by independent New York animators like Tony Eastman and Kathy Rose. Other flip books have fallen by the wayside. I used to have several that I bought at Disneyland in 1969, and I remember having a couple of MGM cartoon flip books that I think I gave to Mark Kausler many years ago.
Now, thanks to Pete Docter, I've been enjoying the second set of Disney flip books that Pete has overseen in between his directing duties at Pixar. The first set (which I haven't seen) was devoted to one scene each by the animators known as the Nine Old Men (Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, et al.). I've voiced here, on more than one occasion, my skepticism about the very idea that the nine were the premier Disney animators, and Pete's new set, titled "Nine More Old Men," is a sort of corrective to that notion. The books in the new set—handsomely bound and beautifully reproduced from the original drawings—are of scenes by Ub Iwerks, Norm Ferguson, Art Babbitt, Ham Luske, Grim Natwick, Bill Tytla, John Sibley, Fred Moore, and Hal King. An accompanying booklet provides biographical information about each animator.
Hal King is the big surprise here; he's represented by a Donald Duck scene from TheThree Caballeros. But the animators in the new box are a shadowy group compared with the Nine Old Men. Most of them died before the Nine began to acquire the celebrity that Disney nourished. I realized, as I reviewed the names represented in the new set, that I'd met and interviewed only two of them, Babbitt and Natwick. Moore, Tytla, Luske, Ferguson—I would have loved to meet all of them, but they were all gone long before I made my first trip to California in 1969. Iwerks turned me down when I asked for an interview shortly before he died in 1971, and Sibley died in 1973, when my interviewing was still in its early stages. I'm not sure how Milt and I overlooked Hal King (who lived until 1986), but then, we did interview a lot of people who probably have as strong a claim to a place in the box.
So, these flip books serve the honorable purpose of giving more attention to artists who richly deserve it. But I'm not sure what I think about flip books in general: are they toys, variously simple or (like the books in the new set) sophisticated, or can they serve a serious purpose? What can you learn from a flip book that you can't learn from watching classic animation frame-by-frame on Blu-ray or DVD (or even, if you're a true dinosaur like me, CAV laserdisc)? I don't know the answers, but this is a case where the answers would be superfluous. The new flip books, through their excellence, are self-justifying.
Volume 4 of the complete syndicated Pogo was published by Fantagraphics last month, with Mark Evanier and Eric Reynolds filling in for the lamentably deceased Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson as the series' editors. Here's what I wrote to Mark recently:
Last month [on Mark's blog], you noted the availability of the boxed sets of the Pogo reprints: “You can also order a lovely boxed-set of Volume 3 and 4 via this link or order the boxed set of Volumes 1 and 2 at this link for about the price of one volume. If you care about great comic art, these books are must-haves.”
Well, of course, which is why some of us have ordered each individual volume well in advance of publication, three years in advance in the case of Volume 4. I assume that having those advance orders in hand is helpful to Fantagraphics in setting print orders and otherwise. But the existence of the boxed sets creates a dilemma for Kelly devotees: do you order each book in advance, or do you wait for the books to be published so you can order the boxed sets? That’s actually what I’ve done with the Floyd Gottfredson/Mickey Mouse reprints, but those books are a lower priority for me than the Kelly volumes and also the Barks reprints, which again I’ve ordered individually in advance rather than as boxed sets.
The dilemma could be resolved if Fantagraphics sold the empty Pogo boxes separately after the books were published, but as best I can tell the boxes are available only when you buy the boxed sets, that is, when you buy books you don’t need if you’ve already done Fantagraphics the favor of ordering the individual volumes in advance. Perhaps you can encourage Gary Groth to make the empty boxes available at some reasonable price.
Although Volume 4 is, like its predecessors, self-recommending, I feel obliged to offer a caveat. The comedy in the daily strips in the new book is, to me, softer in focus than the daily miracles that Kelly was producing a few years earlier. Missing is the menace that is often lurking in the earlier strips, menace that typically but not invariably takes the form of efforts by some of Kelly's characters to eat their friends and neighbors. Other times, his characters seem to want to do no more than inflict gratuitous damage on those same friends and neighbors, and without giving much thought to what they're doing. I think about the wonderful trial of Albert the Alligator, when Albert's friend Churchy LaFemme, the turtle, warns Albert away from the trial on one day, then testifies against him on another, when he preposterously identifies a catfish skeleton as the bones of the Pup Dog. As harsh as such a précis might sound, the strips themselves are anything but grim, much funnier than the less abrasive strips of a few years later.
The earlier strips are what I would call "serious comedy," comedy that harvests the whole range of human experience, as opposed to the shallow knockabout comedy that's prevalent in the later strips. The Sunday pages especially are, I hate to say, sometimes little more than an embarrassment. But that's the price you pay to hobnob with a genius like Kelly. He's not always good, but when he's good, he's great. I don't know that anyone will ever say that about Ernie Bushmiller, at least not when they're sober.
The name E. G. Lutz should be familiar to you if you're at all acquainted with the early history of American animation. If it's not, turn to the indexes in my books Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age and The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. Lutz was the author of Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development (1920), the first book-length treatise on how to make cartoons. This was the book that Walt Disney got from the Kansas City Public Library soon after he went to work for Kansas City Film Ad, and that he and his earliest co-workers and employees, like Hugh Harman and Friz Freleng, used as a guide when making their own cartoons.
Lutz has always been a shadowy figure, but now his great-nephew Frank Lutz has put up a website that explores Edwin's life as not only the author of Animated Cartoons but of many other books as well: "He pursued many aspects of art, and between 1913 and 1936 he wrote 17 instructional 'how-to' books on drawing, art anatomy, cartoon animation, lettering, landscape painting with oils, watercolor painting, engraving and etching, and memory drawing. Many of these books had multiple printings"
The Lutz website is, for most of us, more accessible than the Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee, and that's a shame, because Lutz is represented there now in an exhibition that I'm sure opens up animation's remote past even more comprehensively than the new Lutz website. It's titled The Art and Mechanics of Animation: The J.J. Sedelmaier Collection. Here's a description of the exhibition from the museum's website:
"From its very beginning, the art and craft of film animation has been as much a part of movie history as motion picture film itself. The motion picture industry had its beginning in the 1880s, but animation production actually pre-dates this launch by a half century with devices such as the Phenakistiscope (1833) and the Zoetrope (1834). These simple mechanical wonders allowed the viewer to experience moving images through the use of sequential exposure of a short series of registered drawings or even photographs.
"As the motion picture film industry advanced, so did the invention and development of animation equipment. The Art and Mechanics of Animation chronicles more than a century of the development and use of various devices and equipment key to the production of animated films from their beginning up to the 1990s. Fortunately, studios like New York’s Terrytoons and Fleischer Studios and, of course, The Walt Disney Studios, documented much of the behind the scenes activity in newsreels and promotional films. Some of these are included in this exhibition."
J.J. Sedelmaier is, as many visitors to this site know, the proprietor (with his wife Patrice) of the White Plains, New York, animation and design studio that bears his name.
The exhibtion runs until April 29, and I'm still trying to figure out if I can make it. I hope so.
It has been just over four years since Michael Sporn died, and this is one of the many occasions when I wish I could have his company again. If I could have lured him from New York, what fun it would have been to visit the Sedelmaier exhibition with him.
Thanks to the holidays, minor but enervating illnesses, and family obligations this website has again been dormant for too long a time. But I've accumulated a lot of notes for post-worthy items, so let's get started.
Interviews. V. Martin writes: "I have a couple questions about the transcripts of the interviews with the animation veterans you and Milt Gray conducted. How do you determine which interview(s) to publish on your site? Do you intend to release all the transcripts on your site or book form? As an animation fan and researcher, it would be something I would enjoy reading and consulting."
Good questions. As for how I choose interviews, that's partly a question of demand, although there's rarely clamor for me to post interviews with particular animation or comics people. I posted the Wilfred Jackson and Jack Kinney transcripts when I did because Pete Docter wanted to read them, but that was mostly a matter of moving those interviews up on the list of candidates for publication; I already knew that the interviews, with Jackson in particular, were very strong and would be well received by people who take the time to read such things.
Another consideration is how difficult it may be to prepare a transcript for publication. Many interviews exist only as typescripts that must be scanned and corrected—typically an arduous proecess—before they can be posted. Others exist as computer files, but many of the printouts have been edited and revised, in some cases substantially, by the interviewees, and incorporating those changes in the digital files can be a lot of work. In a few cases I've scanned and begun correcting an interview only to throw up my hands in despair at finding some way to make it publishable. The interview with Milt Kahl's assistant John Freeman falls in that category (I may yet go back to it, although I cringe at the thought), and I have a couple of Ward Kimball transcripts that I've never even tried to make publishable, because Ward marked them up so heavily..
Other transcripts may be perfectly coherent in and of themselves, with minimal changes by the interviewees, but still cry out for supplemental material like frame grabs to be fully understandable; I think of a wonderful interview that Milt Gray did with McLaren Stewart, Wilfred Jackson's layout man on some of the great Disney features. When I can con someone into helping me with such refinements, that interview will be near the top of my to-be-published list.
As I've posted interviews on this website, Didier Ghez has been reprinting them (along with a lot of other people's interviews and similar material) in his book series called Walt's People. That series, now published by Theme Park Press, is up to twenty volumes all together. Didier's books don't foreclose the possibility of a book (or books) devoted solely to Barrier-Gray interviews, but I haven't tried to interest a publisher in such a project.
Who Dat? Over the years I've accumulated a lot of photos, some with people I can't identify, as in this (still unresolved) case. Robert Lughai is trying for a definitive identification of another mystery man, this one at the left in the photo above with Adriana Caselotti (the voice of Snow White), Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck), and Roy Williams (who surely needs no introduction). Robert writes: "I recently came across a photo [the one you see here] on the Heritage Auctions site which comes from the Adriana Caselotti estate.I think it might be from a promotional tour, possibly for the 1958 re-release of Snow White (or maybe the 1957 Cinderella reissue)." And from a later message: "I'm feeling maybe 65-70 percent confident that the man on the left is Dickie Jones. He's a little fuller in the face than how he appeared in his earlier cowboy days [when he starred in the Buffalo Bill Jr. TV series, among other things]. Yet, he seems to have the same hair. Maybe I'm just reaching. Yet, with him being the voice of Pinocchio, it would make sense for Disney to ask him to come back to do a promotional tour along with the voice of Snow White. The group photo is probably from 1957-58. His TV career was sort of wrapping up then and it wouldn't have hurt him to take advantage of this opportunity. Anyway, that's my guess."
That makes sense, although the man in the photo looks to me a little older than Dick Jones would have been in the late fifties (he was born in 1927). But he was indeed winding down his TV career by then. So, the photo may have been taken (on the Burbank lot) later than 1957-58; or could the man in the photo be someone else who resembles Dick Jones? Tell me if you know.
[An April 25, 2018, update: Howard Beckerman has come to the rescue! "The man standing next to Adrianna Caselotti
is animator and director Ken Walker. He was at Disney on several films. I worked with him at New York commercial studios.
I remember him drawing some of the characters from Song of the South." Well, that's a relief. Now I need to pull out some other photos with mystery men (no women, so far).]
Walt and Zermatt. I've posted several times about Walt Disney's visits to Zermatt, the lovely village in the Swiss Alps that was the setting for one of his best live-action films, Third Man on the Mountain. (A Google search of this website for Zermatt will bring up several substantial items.) As I observed when I visited Zermatt in 2004, although Zermatt was important to Walt, he did not seem to be at all important to Zermatt and its residents, many of whom didn't even recognize his name when I asked about him. Benjamin Morris writes about his own more recent and more fruitful visit: "No one does seem to know Walt came to Zermatt. I did however find two pictures of him.
One in the entrance vestibule of the Hotel Walliserhof [the bottom photo below] and the other inside the Matterhorn museum [the top photo]." I suspect both photos were up when I visited in 2004 and I simply missed them; I'm glad that Benjamin was sharper eyed.
O-Zell Lives! One of the pleasures of historical research is visiting the locations where something significant happened, even or maybe especially when that signficance doesn't involve great battles or other stupendous events. I've loved visiting the ranch in Oregon where Carl Barks was born, and the buildings on the Warner Bros. lots where the Looney Tunes were made, and the house in Marceline where Walt Disney lived as a boy. Some historic buildings are gone, of course, like the Disney studio on Hyperion, and one such building that you might think by rights is surely gone, after more than a hundred years, was the O-Zell plant in Chicago. O-Zell was the bottling company in which Walt's father, Elias, owned a stake, and where Walt himself worked, briefly and unhappily. But no: Dave Mason, whose researches into the more obscure corners of Disney history I've commended here before (do a Quick Google search above for his name) has produced strong evidence that O-Zell's premises still exist, even though the company is long gone.
An "ah-ha!" moment... in understanding the original location of Chicago's O-Zell Company... and the significant investment made there by Elias Disney and his family (including Flora, Roy and Walt). In 1916, O-Zell's street address was listed on all correspondence as 1301 - 1317 West 15th Street (immediately adjacent to the Chicago Junction Railway)... but as Chicago changed many of their street numbers in the early part of the 20th century... the current street address for what was once the O-Zell factory, offices and laboratory... is now known as 2401 W. 15th Street (at S. Western Avenue). It was at this very site where Elias Disney once worked and where Walt Disney briefly took employment as well. Needless to say, factory work was not for Walt Disney and he soon moved on to other pursuits.
One reason that O-Zell is often overlooked in the city's Building Department records is that O-Zell only leased space in a new warehouse facility constructed in 1915 by the Midland Warehouse and Transfer Company. The new building replaced a prior warehouse also owned by Midland at the same location. The Midland Warehouses remain in operation today (east face of building has been remodeled) and the listed street address for the facility is now referenced as 1500 S. Western Avenue. Until 1916, all communication with O-Zell was carried out at their downtown business offices (Fred W. Webb, financial agent) once located in Suite 1108 in the historic Borland Building at 105 S. LaSalle (at Monroe). The Borland Building was demolished in 1975.
O-Zell continued to operate on W. 15th Avenue until approximately 1920 when the name was changed to the No- Peer Packing Company (shortly before it ceased operations).
You can find more images of today's Midland Warehouses at this link. And here, also courtesy of Dave Mason, is an earlier Midland photo, showing the building when it probably looked more like what Elias and Walt saw.
Further from Dave Mason:
Incredible that this took so long to find. But now it makes more sense… in that O-Zell wouldn't have been the only occupant in these buildings. It appears that Scrogin [O-Zell's disreputable proprietor] was prone to exaggeration here as well… in making every communication sound as if O-Zell owned the property and was the only enterprise on the site (and never mentioning the Midland Warehouse & Transport Co.) and also explaining the lack of available photos for the O-Zell headquarters. It appears that O-Zell operated from Midland's "A" building (and only a portion of the five-story building)… with other enterprises using the "B" and "C" buildings.
Politics. As some of you know, I once worked on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to a Democratic senator and then for a Republican congressman. After that I worked for many years for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest business lobbying organization. Mercifully, my work there had almost no ideological component. Mostly I traveled all over the country (I missed Idaho, somehow) interviewing business people for features in the Chamber's monthy magazine. That was a fun job. The travel could be grueling (you really don't want to drive a few hours each way to spend some time in La Junta, Colorado), but the business people were mostly great, warm and enthusiastic and eager to tell me about their companies. I spent time with some recognizable names, like Sam Walton and Dick Clark, but, saints be praised, I never crossed paths with Donald Trump. I've been tempted occasionally to vent on this page about the unfolding disaster in Washington, but there are lots of other places you can read about that. Let me recommend Mark Evanier's website, which several times a week offers a "Trump Dump" with links to some of the best political commentary, alongside Mark's posts about the saner worlds of comics and show business.
There's a novel by Kevin Brockmeier, published more than ten years ago, titled The Brief History of the Dead. In the book—which I've read only in part—our planet's dead populate "the city," which is located in an alternative reality, but their afterlives depend on the memories of the living. When you're forgotten, you're gone.
If you've seen Pixar's new feature, Coco, that premise may sound familiar.
That's not to say that Coco owes its existence to Kevin Brockmeier; something like the idea of "the city" is present in other sources, too, like Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels. And beyond that, Coco has been cunningly assembled from so many sources, familiar and otherwise, that it seems foolish to single out one of them. (In how many animated features does a seemingly benign character, like de la Cruz in Coco, turn out to be a truly bad guy? I would count them but I'd run out of fingers pretty quickly.)
Coco is, I hasten to say, a very good-looking and enjoyable movie, with only a few inconsequential slow spots (although I wonder what very young children make of it). But it's one of those enjoyable movies that may become less enjoyable in retrospect if you can't resist the urge to pick at some of its loose threads.
For one thing, the afterlife it depicts is very culturally specific; if what we see is Purgatory (a reasonable guess, since Mexico is a Catholic country), it's Purgatory with mariachi bands. The partying would seem to get in the way of being shriven of one's sins. And is there an anglophone Purgatory on the other side of the Rio Grande? Come to think of it, if, as the ghost Hector says, you can survive in the afterlife only so long as you're remembered by people who knew you when you were alive, doesn't that mean that almost everyone in the afterlife (the villain most definitely included, since he was killed in a 1942 accident) is going to evaporate within a few decades at most?
To ask such questions, even with tongue in cheek, is to take Coco much too seriously. See it, enjoy it, and forget it. And if you want to see a Disney movie that is truly memorable, that looks seriously at life and death, that was born of genuine feeling rather than sophisticated scavenging, let me recommend an 80-year-old relic called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Don Benson, in a comment I've posted at this link, offers some information about the DVD reissues of items that are, if anything, even more obscure than the cartoons in the new Porky Pig set. Reading Don's comment, and thinking about the shortcomings of the Porky set, put me in mind of my own experience many years ago in assembling the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.
The comic books that were the sources of the reprints in that book belonged to me and a small number of trusting and helpful collectors. Most of the color separations were made directly from the comic books, for the sake of the best possible quality. I was deeply concerned that the company making the separations would handle the comics carefully, and I was assured repeatedly that it was a premier operation that did a lot of work forWashington's greatest art museum, the National Gallery of Art, and other gold-standard clients. The contractor's offices were within walking distance of my home in Alexandria, so there was none of the angst that might accompany shipping the comics around the country.
In retrospect, I should have accompanied the comic books through the separation process, never letting them out of my sight. But it seemed ridiculous to demand more rigorous supervision of the comic books than the National Gallery required for its masterpieces.
When I picked up the comics after the separations were completed, I found many of them damaged, obviously through careless handling, so that, for example, the covers of my copy of Pogo Possum No. 3 were pulled loose from the staples. I raised hell, and the contractor ultimately wrote a check that was as much as I could reasonably ask for but was, of course, not large enough. The prices of old comic books were on the way up, and any payment was going to fall short of what the comics would be worth in just a few years' time.
The color proofs that my co-editor Martin Williams and I saw were beautiful, but they were from a sheet-fed press, and the actual books were printed, inadequately, on a rotary press. When Martin and I complained bitterly to Felix Lowe, then the director of the Smithsonian Institution Press, that we had been misled, he shrugged off our complaint. The books were selling well and generating revenue for more arcane projects, so who cared?
What happened to me with the Smithsonian book has happened again and again, on a larger or smaller scale, on many of the projects I've been involved with. I don't know if Jerry Beck and George Feltenstein have suffered from the same lack of sympathy and respect that I've encountered—and I don't think we can expect them to tell us if they have—but certainly the shortcomings of the Porky set are suggestive. Using poor source material when better was available...patching in an obviously wrong soundtrack not just once but repeatedly...these are not accidents of the kind that could befall anyone trying to do the best possible job. They're more like expressions of indifference or even contempt.
So, we're left with a Hobson's choice: buy the deficient Porky set and endorse implicitly the shoddy work of the people who shortchanged not just Jerry and George but everyone who has paid good money for the set. Or don't buy the set and add to the likelihood that more (and better) such sets will never appear. I've bought the set, but I do hate having been boxed into that corner. Oh, and I don't expect to ever see that phantom complete Tex Avery set.
Jerry Beck, who with George Feltenstein herded the Warner Archive set of 101 mostly black-and-white Porky Pig cartoons into existence, wrote in response to my November 29 post about that set. I'm posting his message here, instead of as a comment, because of the importance I attach to preserving classic Hollywood animation and presenting it with the fullest possible respect for its creators' intentions. Here's Jerry:
You're right that I haven't weighed in much since the set was released; but beforehand, George Feltenstein and I tried hard to be clear about the quality of the cartoons' presentation. In venues like Stu's Show (a podcast), I openly explained the set was being done on a minimal budget, using "down and dirty" vault fine-grains, with almost no clean-up.
Porky Pig 101 was designed and advertised solely as a comprehensive collection of the black & white Porky Pig Looney Tunes cartoons–and that’s what it is, pure and simple.
Here’s the thing about the Porky set (and the point I made elsewhere) – it was partially created to gauge if there is still an audience for such “physical” product.
In comic book terms: Porky Pig 101 was an “ashcan issue”. A test. A canary in a coal mine. Warner’s hadn’t done a set using down and dirty copies before. There are no plans to ever do it again (that’s one lesson we’ve learned).
People clamoring (as I am) for a Tex Avery set–this is the reason Warner’s hasn’t released one. They will only do it when they can loosen corporate funds to do full restoration (a project made particularly difficult when 90 percent of the original negatives no longer exist).
The heyday of the “Golden Collections” or “Disney Treasures” on DVD is over. There is no “financial incentive” for the major studios to restore and release classic cartoons from their library. Especially large numbers of black-and-white cartoons.
Through the Warner Archive Collection we had an opportunity to release the 101 as we have. Should we have waited until some far future day that might allow us to restore them properly (a situation which we cannot foresee happening anytime soon)? We took a chance to release them now–and to test the waters.
I mentioned on Stu's Show that if the set sells well, I've been told it will lead to proper restoration for all future Warner Archive classic cartoon releases.
I stand proudly behind Porky Pig 101. Do I wish the cartoons were perfectly restored? Of course I do! Despite some of these issues, the overall effect of watching and owning all these otherwise uncensored cartoons, in one package, is still exciting to me, and seem to be exciting to many who have written to me in support. Warner Archive is assessing the sales data and critical feedback now.
I can only suggest that everyone check it out and judge the set for themselves. I predict that most (like you) will find it a worthwhile purchase.
I've been working my way through the five-DVD set of more than a hundred (mostly) black and white Porky Pig cartoons from Warner Home Video. For my opinions on the cartoons themselves, let me refer you to my book Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. I've enjoyed revisiting the cartoons in the set. I saw them all, many of them multiple times, when I was writing the book, but most of those viewings are now twenty years or more in my past.
The source of contention where the new set is concerned is not the cartoons themselves but the quality of their presentation. This is, unfortunately, not a Blu-ray set, and even though many of the cartoons look just fine, a fair number of them have flaws that are difficult to excuse. Thad Komorowski has listed a few dozen lapses on his blog, most of them corruptions of the soundtracks.
While I've confirmed such problems in my own viewing of the cartoons, I've been more disturbed by the evident variable quality of the sources used. I don't understand why, for example, Porky's Badtime Story, the first Looney Tune directed by Bob Clampett, looks so bad. It can't be because satisfactory source material is lacking; I would have been happy to lend Warner my own 16mm print of that cartoon if anyone had asked.
The only excuse I've seen for such quality lapses is that the money to do better wasn't there. That excuse is entitled to some respect, because there's no doubting that the sales of conventional DVDs have slid in recent years; also, the sales of any series of DVDs will almost certainly decline as new sets in the series are issued, and a lot of Looney Tunes have been made available on video.
I licensed dozens of audio clips from my interviews to Warner's contractor for use in supplemental materials on earlier Golden Collection sets, and the amount the contractor was willing and probably able to pay fell with each new installment. I didn't question that; I knew what was happening in the market, and I could understand why a set with a lot of Bosko cartoons might not be a robust seller. But that doesn't explain why cartoons that may have been issued on video a few years ago should look much worse now in new versions.
What I find particularly disturbing is that George Feltenstein and Jerry Beck, who were principally responsible for the new set, seem not to have addressed the complaints in any substantive manner. The people who restore old films and recordings are typically quite open about what they're doing and how and why they're doing it, but that has not been the case here. The idea seems to be that if you're a fan of the Warner cartoons, you should accept whatever scraps are tossed your way without complaining, and cartoon fans, being for the most part pathetic toadies, have been all too eager to comply. Komorowski's posts have attracted a great deal of hostility, directed not at his admittedly harsh tone but at the very idea that he might question any aspect of Warner Home Video's [a correction, thanks to Thad Komorowski: should be Warner Archive, not Warner Home Video] performance.
Despite my disappointment with aspects of the Porky Pig set, I'm still glad I bought it (at a price considerably higher than what amazon.com is now asking for it). Please forgive me if I don't urge you to do the same.
Back on April 16, 2013, I posted a "Where Walt Was" item about his brief visit to what was then called Ciudad Trujillo (long since restored to its original name, Santo Domingo). He sat for an interview with a Dominican journalist on February 28, 1957. Two Dominican journalists, actually, as evidenced by a second photo that recently came into my possession. I've added it to that post. To see both photos, and read about Walt's visit to the Caribbean, click on this link.
I have been lax in not saying more here about some exceptional books from John Canemaker and Didier Ghez. It took me quite a while to figure out what I wanted to say about both.
The Lost Notebook: Canemaker's The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney's Movie Magic is as thorough and meticulous as we've come to expect from any Canemaker project. It is also, as a sympathetic friend who works in the business said to me, "a little dry." That was probably inevitable given the book's origins as a commission from the Walt Disney Family Foundation and its publishing arm. The Lost Notebook is in large part part a reproduction of the notebook that Schultheis compiled to document how effects were achieved at the Disney studio when great films like Pinocchio and Fantasia were being made. It is now part of the Walt Disney Family Museum's collection.
My overriding problem with the book—and what has discouraged me from writing about it sooner—came into focus as I read the chapter titled "He Took Credit for Everything." In those pages, notably in quotations from interviews with the Disney veteran Bob Broughton, the book opens up, and the sense is not that we're reading about one man's record of mechanical solutions to mechanical problems, but about how creative people worked together to achieve those solutions. It's the functioning of that collaborative spirit that I've always found most absorbing in my own study of the Disney studio's operations.
As Canemaker notes, Schultheis was stingy with identifications of his co-workers when he mounted photos in his notebook, and he was, more than that, seemingly uninterested in those co-workers generally. (They probably returned the favor. When I asked George Rowley, who was deeply involved with the effects animation for Fantasia, about Schultheis, he didn't recognize the name.) There is ultimately far too much Schultheis in the book, and not enough Canemaker, and there's no question as to who is the more sympathetic guide to those Disney "secrets."
As for those secrets, I came away from the book wondering how much of what Schultheis put into his notebook could be reverse-engineered. That is, can we tell how, say, a multiplane scene in Pinocchio was shot by examining the film (and maybe some of the surviving documentation, like drafts), as opposed to relying on Schultheis's description? I lack suffiicient expertise to make a definitive judgment on that point, but my guess is that the notebook's entries are not exactly an animation equivalent of the Rosetta Stone.
I've wondered, too, about just how special the Schultheis notebook is, as a notebook/scrapbook. There are other such paste-up books extant, and at least one has been published. Much of the Schultheis notebook is composed of publicity photos and printed material; his technical descriptions, the heart of the notebook and really the only justification for its publication, take up a relatively small percentage of its pages.
If you haven't bought the book yet, should you? I'd say yes, if with some hesitation, given its hefty price. But my strongest feeling when I finished The Lost Notebook was fresh regret that Canemaker was not commissioned to write the official Disney book on Fantasia, a plum assignment that fell instead to John Culhane. Given how long it has been since the Culhane book was published, perhaps it's not too late for a Canemaker book on Fantasia yet to materialize..
One quibble: Canemaker's annotations add enormously to the value of the book, but he missed the chance to give a nod to Paul Satterfield, a leading Disney effects animator and director of much of the "Rite of Spring" section of Fantasia. In the top photo on page 247, that's Satterfield pointing at the storyboard for Mickey's Surprise Party, the 1939 commercial cartoon for Nabisco.
They Drew as They Pleased: That's the umbrella title for a series of beautifully illustrated books from Chronicle Books devoted to the "hidden art" generated during work on the Disney cartoons, with chapters on individual artists, some relatively well known, like Albert Hurter, and many others known only as names at best. I reviewed the first volume, covering the work of Hurter, Gustav Tenggren, and two other artists, at this link. Two more books have now been published, and Didier Ghez, the author and editor of the series, warns that it may be cut short if sales (which were excellent for the first volume) don't pick up. That would be a great pity. The books are much more substantial than most books devoted to concept art for cartoons—John Canemaker's are the exception—and they belong on your shelves if you have any kind of serious interest in the great Disney cartoons.
And yet: what I wrote about the first volume applies as well to the second and the third. Open the books and you're immediately confronted by the question of whether these drawings are of interest primarily (or exclusively) as gateways to better understanding of the films, or if they invite admiration for their own sake. Ghez himself refuses to make such distinctions. "What really fascinates me," he wrote in response to my earlier review, "is the behind-the-scenes of the creative process. ...With They Drew As They Pleased, I attempted to do three things:  Give a sense of how rich the pre-production creative process was.
 Treat some of the men and women who worked on those animated cartoons and features as individual artists and not just as shadows hidden behind Walt.
 Reveal some of the drawings that history books have been discussing for years but that we had never seen."
The sheer volume of Disney drawings—at the studio and in private collections—is so enormous that reproducing even a small percentage of the plausible candidates for a book would be impossible. What I think Ghez has tried to do is recognize that reality while still being as generous as possible in his judgments as to what to include or exclude. As a result, some of the drawings are highly appealing as stand-alone works of art (Kay Nielsen's in the second volume, for instance, and many of the sketches originating in the character model department, in the third), whereas other sketches don't have as much to offer. And then there's the matter of giving recognition to neglected individual artists. The second volume devotes many pages to Sylvia Holland, and it's hard for me to see how the weight assigned to her work—more than fifty pages, many more than for any of the other artists in the second volume—can be justified on its artistic merit alone.
In that connection, there's another question that intrigues me.
A few months before the 1941 Disney strike, Walt Disney spoke of Holland and two other female artists, Ethel Kulsar and Retta Scott, in highly positive terms, bracketing them as talented artists who could hold their own with the men on the staff. Scott, like Holland, gets a chapter to herself in the second volume, but Kulsar is visible through only a few drawings and photos, and she is mentioned only in a supporting role to Holland. I came away from the book wondering why that was, and wanting to know more about this artist who attracted Walt's praise. The little I know about her, thanks to Kevin Carpenter, is that she was a 1932 graduate of the Cleveland School of Art and was, in the words of Cleveland Plain Dealer article, "the first 'inker' in the history of the Disney studio to be promoted to the story and production department," as "assistant story supervisor."
Unless I simply missed it, I don't find any explanation in Ghez's text for Kulsar's almost complete omission.
As for the future of the series, some falling-off in sales is inevitable with any series of books, absent a subscription plan, and that is probably what is at work with the Ghez books. The Wall Street Journal devoted a half page to the third volume (which is titled, rather awkwardly, The Hidden Art of Disney's Late Golden Age, The 1940s—Part Two), and surely that has helped. "Disney books" tend to be seen as suitable only for the denizens of a ghetto reserved for Disney fans, and so they mostly don't get reviewed at all. The Ghez series deserves much better than that.
As I've mentioned before on this site, I'm contributing annotations to a series of books from IDW reprinting the Sunday page Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales. Most of those comics are adaptations of Disney feature films from the '50s and '60s, both animated and (mostly) live action. Two volumes have been published so far, the most recent in September, with a third—the one whose jacket I've reproduced above—scheduled for next March. If you're not familiar with the Treasury page, and with how it fit into the Disney scheme of things way back in the middle of the last century, let me refer you to the following comments from Donald Benson, which he sent to me just after he got his copy of Volume 2:
On my porch from Amazon this morning. Flipped through and read the intros, then perused the artwork. Good stuff all around. Some surprises: Perri, not my idea of an adaptable film, looks impressive. Johnny Tremain joins the movie literally halfway through (the first half, climaxing in the Boston Tea Party, had all the melodrama of Johnny trying to claim his birthright and burning his hand in molten silver). Especially intriguing is how you put the strips in the context of the films and the studio.
The '50s and '60s were when the Disney machine was going full tilt. Even so, by the time I was reading the Classic Tales, the art was literally sketchy and Dean Jones and Dick Van Dyke were indistinguishable from each other. I read it for clues about upcoming movies, the way modern kids study stills and trailers on them thar computers.
There probably wouldn't be a huge market for it, but I could imagine a coffee table book that followed Disney's development as a synergy juggernaut from the postwar years up until the '60s. The scale and unity of Disney as a cultural presence—the television shows, comics, records, books, cereal prizes, tie-ins, etc., topped off by an actual Land—gave Disney a unique position in the boomer psyche. We grew up with Mickey Mouse Club (already syndicated reruns for me, but with a fresh wave of merchandising and promotion); drooled over Disneyland on TV; and read books and comics that not only sold new films but kept older films alive between re-releases.
Disney synergy was and is often imitated with mixed results. But I don't think you'll ever see it so broadly applied again—even at Disney.While pop culture was trying to hold out against the '60s, Disney even followed us into adolescence. I was too young and geographically removed for "Date Nights at Disneyland," but very aware of grown-up Annette and Hayley Mills.
To this day I'm not sure if I ever saw all of Peter Pan and a few others before adulthood; I know my first complete viewing of Pinocchio was in my late teens. But as a kid I was thoroughly familiar with the stories and characters from an array of Disney products and programs. Disney was a brand like Holiday Inn or McDonald's or Sears. Familiar and safe, with a reliable baseline of quality. (I don't think it's an accident all those outfits were treated with mockery or contempt by a generation rejecting conformity as a virtue.)
I think I've seen mention of four Classic Tales volumes in all; the completist in me is fighting the reader. I may call it a day at Volume 2.
Four volumes is indeed the plan. That will take the series past Mary Poppins and up almost to the end of Walt Disney's life. The Treasury continued for more than twenty years after that, but, despite what amazon.com seems to say on its page for the third volume, I know of no plans to reprint any of those post-Walt pages.
I realized some time ago that I should save myself trouble by not posting reviews of items that I've purchased with my own money. I get very few comp copies these days, no books from Fantagraphics or Disney Editions, no DVDs or Blu-rays from anybody, except on those rare occasions when I've given the author or publisher some help, and not always then. (Don Hahn asked me to read and comment on the manuscript of Before Ever After, and I did, and I got thanked for my trouble, but I saw the published book only by ordering it through interlibrary loan.)
My shelves are so full that I now buy animation- or comics-related books only on rare occasions, and I feel the urge to review one of them even more rarely. For instance, I've not laid eyes on that gargantuan Disney book from Taschen, much less bought it. Movies are different, and when I write about one here you'll know that I think it's interesting enough for me to have paid for my own ticket. I'll go see Coco in a few weeks, and I'll probably write about it, but that will be it for the rest of the year.
There are always exceptions, of course, and one of them is Warner Home Video's new Porky Pig DVD set, which I paid for in advance. I'm still working my way through it, but I'm sure that by the time I finish I won't be able to resist the urge to write about it, and not just because Warner is recycling (again) a couple of my audio commentaries.
I must add a good word for Bob McLain and his Theme Park Press, a remarkable operation that is putting into print rare and unusual Disney-related material. Some of it is so highly specialized that it is hard to imagine the nature of its audience, except for people (like me) who are always looking for untapped sources for their own writings. But then there are the books from familiar and well-regarded names like Didier Ghez, Jim Korkis, Paul Anderson, and Floyd Norman, and the new editions of worthwhile books that have passed out of print, in some cases decades ago.
The quickest way to survey Bob McLain's offerings is to go to amazon.com and do a search for "Theme Park Press." A lot of titles about the Disney parks will come up, but also books about Disney movies, Disney people, and even Disney comic books. You'll probably find something you can't resist buying.
There are some important books, by Didier Ghez and John Canemaker, that I've really wanted to review, but I'm only now figuring out what I want to say about them. With any luck I'll finally post a review in the next few days.
That's a gag heading, for a gag that will probably be caught by very few readers of this website (not that I have many to spare). The "Stanley" is John Stanley; the "monster" is Little Lulu, the character who consumed his artistic energies for fifteen years; and "Stanley and His Monster" was the title of a feature in DC's Fox and the Crow comic book at the end of its life. Now do you get it? John Stanley and Little Lulu are the subjects of a new book by Bill Schelly, which you'll find reviewed at length at this link.
Disney (and Wong) on PBS: "Walt Disney," the American Experience documentary that first aired two years ago, will be rebroadcast on the next two Tuesday evenings, part one tomorrow and part two on September 5, both at 8 p.m. EDT. Both halves are two hours long, and both are terrible misrepresentations of Walt and his accomplishments. I mention the show here only in case you haven't seen it and feel some vague urge that you should. You shouldn't; unless, that is, you have an incomprehensible urge to spend far too much time with the likes of Neal Gabler and Richard Schickel.
Another PBS documentary with a Disney connection will be broadcast on Friday, September 8, three days after the second part of "Walt Disney." Tyrus," about the very long life of the Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong, will be broadcast at 9 p.m. EDT as part of the American Masters series. Note the distinction: American Experience for Walt, American Masters for Ty Wong. The distinction is significant: Walt was presented in his PBS incarnation as essentially a sociological phenomenon, whereas Wong, it's clear from the preview material, will be presented as an artist whose work is not just worthy of respect on its own but also stands as a monument to one man's triumph over racism.
This is, as I suggested early this year shortly after Wong's death at the age of 106, mostly malarkey, but I must admire the selling job that won Ty a PBS documentary and a remarkable front-page obituary in the New York Times. Ty's work was excellent, to be sure, but his timing was also superb.
Beyond Ink and Paint: That's the title of a documentary film that Christine Guest is making about women in animation. She has filmed interviews with an impressive roster of women and a few men (so Don Hahn is on the interview list—but where is Jenny Lerew?). She is attempting to raise the money to complete the film through a Kickstarter campaign. I am allergic to Kickstarter campaigns in general—I can't help but think of John Kricfalusi's campaign for a cartoon to be called Cans Without Labels, a campaign that attracted lots of money but several years after its conclusion has resulted only in a decidedly unfinished (and, so far, godawful) film. Beyond Ink and Paint is, however, the rare instance of a Kickstarter project that is worthy of your support. And time is running out—the deadline is August 30. You can read about this project and make a contribution by going to this link.
"Jake": I mentioned last month, when I was writing about "Jake," my decidedly former literary agent, that he and I shared only one Facebook friend, the excellent caricaturist Drew Friedman. As I suspected, and is so often the case with Facebook "friends," the connection between Jake (his real name, actually) and Drew was essentially nonexistent, and Drew unfriended Jake when he read my account of my unfortunate dealings with him.
This is what I dislike most about Facebook, and why I am so relucant to "friend" people I don't know, however legitimate they seem. It's all too easy to find yourself a "friend" of someone as low-grade as Jake. Like Drew Friedman, you can "unfriend" that person when you learn what he or she is really like, but in the meantime, damage has been done.
Surviving Barks comic-book art: There's not a lot of it, and what there is was cataloged quite thoroughly more than twenty years ago by Matti Eronen. Now Søren Marsner has brought the cataloging of the surviving art up to date on a website whose purpose he explains as follows:
"As I told Matti Eronen, I have always been very fond of his printed book from 1994, but I really missed seeing the surviving comic book art. The main purpose of the new website is to show good photos/scans of the original pages. For the most part I have used scans from the Carl Barks Library [the multi-volume set published years ago by Another Rainbow] in black and white. but I have started to change these scans to reproductions from the originals—when I am able to find them (a very difficult task). So far, of the 200 pages shown on the site, about 80 are reproductions from the original artwork.. For now, reproductions of the remaining surviving pages on the site are from the CBL—though I have some difficulties with the story from Uncle Scrooge No. 13, 'Land Beneath the Ground.' I am not really sure which parts have survived."
What you see here is the earliest surviving comic-book artwork by Barks, the fifth page of the "Donald Duck" story in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories No. 52, January 1945. According to Søren Marsner, the original art is now in a private collection in Finland.
There are surprises (at least I was surprised) to be found on Søren's website, like the multiple Barks covers from the early fifties, many of which Barks himself colored and signed.
You can visit Søren's admirable website, and possibly help him fill the gaps in his reproductions from the original art, by clicking on this link.
The 2017 San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone, and with it the occasion for the publication of the con's souvenir book, which includes my essay marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of Carl Barks's first Disney Duck comics. You can read my essay at this link.
I'm sure this editorial cartoon will be reproduced many places, but I can't resist posting it here in case any of my visitors missed it. What I especially like is that it captures the spirit of the Chuck Jones cartoons so well; the artist (whose name, I'm embarrassed to say, I can't decipher) clearly knows and likes the Road Runner cartoons, well enough that some of his poses echo the cartoons quite precisely. [A July 30, 2017, update: Garry Apgar identifies the cartoonist as Michael de Adder.]
But wait! I just noticed that this editorial cartoon appeared in a foreign newspaper! Time to build a wall on our northern border as well as the southern! Or maybe launch a surprise attack on Toronto. Those bloodthirsty Canucks deserve it.
One of my lasting grievances with my publishers has been that they've set the prices for my books too high. University presses are good at publishing books, but, in my experience, not very much interested in selling them. For a tenure-maddened assistant professor who takes the apothegm "publish or perish" seriously, getting into print is all that matters, but for someone like me, who wants his books to be bought and read, that's not enough.
That's why I've been pleased to see Funnybooks, in particular, listed at a somewhat more reasonable price on amazon.com in recent weeks. It's my favorite of all my books, and to see it overpriced and lagging in sales has been maddening (and my complaints have, I'm sure, not endeared me to the publisher). If you've been interested in the book but have put off buying it, now may be the time. The price has been bobbing around, and new copies are not available for Prime shipping from amazon itself, but finding a like-new copy for ten dollars or more off the the $34.95 list price should not be difficult.
Which reminds me: Volume 2 of Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales, the Sunday-page reprint series, was originally scheduled for publication this month, but is now set for September 5. A third volume is scheduled for publication next March, and I see from amazon's listing that I am again to contribute introductory notes. That's news to me, since I've heard nothing to that effect from the publisher, but I will of course be happy to step up to the plate once again, even if that means writing about The Parent Trap.
...is paved with good intentions, of course, and for the past month this website has been a victim of such.
Some of my distractions have been good ones. It appears now that I don't have Parkinson's disease after all; that's what the doctors concluded after I was injected with a radioactive material (I started to write "after I was bitten by a radioactive spider") and underwent a procedure called a DAT scan.
On the negative side, I've hit a wall where my literary agent is concerned. As you may recall, that gentleman—let's call him "Jake," since that rhymes with "snake"—was appropriating my royalties on The Animated Man for himself until I blew the whistle a few months ago. By the time I caught on, the total he owed me was approaching eleven thousand dollars. After spending too much money on attorneys' fees, I've had to conclude that recovering those royalties would be prohibitively expensive and quite likely impossible ("judgment-proof" is the operative phrase). There seems to be no point in pouring more good money down that rathole. "Jake" has a Facebook page, so I'll be able to keep up with him that way, although his page has been quiet for the last few months. Maybe he knows he's being watched.
"Jake" and I have only one "Facebook friend" in common, the estimable caricaturist Drew Friedman—or is "caricaturist" the right word? I see that Mark Evanier has identified Drew as an "lllustrator," but that doesn't seem quite right, either. What Drew draws are portraits—of old Jewish comedians, most famously, and of comic-book worthies—that are not so much exaggerated, in caricatural fashion, as rendered with near-hallucinatory clarity. I love his published work, but I especially enjoyed a show of his original art at the Society of Illustrators in New York a few years ago. I hope "Jake" is not his agent, or that Drew caught on to him faster than I did. Drew has a blog at this link.
I'm inordinately fond of the Dell Comics subscription premiums of the 1940s and 1950s, the pinups and trinkets you got for subscribing to the likes of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics and Walt Disney's Comics & Stories (the latter technically not a Dell title, but close enough). I've written about them several times on this site, as at this link. So, when this pinup from the early forties turned up on eBay some months back, complete with original mailing envelope, I couldn't resist it, despite the sloppy color separations that left part of Bugs's face white instead of gray.
I planned originally to post the pinup around Memorial Day, but I had second thoughts and decided to put off posting until the Fourth of July. But then I got cold feet again. Why, I'm not entirely sure, but I think my reservations had to do with that pistol on Bugs's hip. There was just something too serious about that gun. Not too serious for Veterans Day, just possibly, but too serious for a day honoring the dead.
It may sound odd to speak of an overly serious gun in connection with Bugs Bunny, given the prevalence of guns in the Warner Bros. cartoons, and, for that matter, the frequency of violent deaths (Back Alley Oproar, Show Biz Bugs, ad infinitum), but the guns and the deaths are almost always at one or more removes from reality. They're metaphorical guns and deaths; the characters wielding the guns and suffering the deaths are reaping the consequences of their own greed or stupidity. As I think I say somewhere in one of my books—forgive me for not looking it up—the worst fate a Warner character can suffer is not to be maimed or killed, but to be embarrassed. Only rarely is a Warner character "really" killed, as in the occasional Daffy Duck cartoon in which Daffy exits from a roasting pan looking more like a zombie than someone who has been playing dead.
Such cartoons serve mainly as cautionary examples. In contrast, animation at its best can deal not just comically but masterfully with questions of life and death; Walt Disney proved that most notably in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I recommend the closing pages of my chapter on that film in my book Hollywood Cartoons as evidence. The makers of the best cartoons are always aware of what they're doing, and of how to discipline themselves to achieve the result they want, whether that's laughter or tears.
While I'm on the subject, any thoughts on who drew that Bugs Bunny pinup? It started with a drawing by Bob McKimson, I think, but I don't know who took it from there.
Dave Mason wrote in response to an item I posted last fall, a guest post by Garry Apgar about the unsettled question of exactly when Mickey Mouse can be said to have been "born."
Someone else may have stumbled onto this little nugget already… but I thought I'd pass along my findings in connection with your September 1, 2016, item providing a brief mention of the fifth birthday party for Mickey Mouse (September 30, 1933).
While the accompanying photo with Mickey and Bela Lugosi has been widely associated with Mickey's fifth birthday since it was first published in the Motion Picture Herald (October 7, 1933), most Disney historians since that time have been unaware of the true location of the event and of the other individuals pictured in the photo.
Those pictured with Mickey Mouse include (left to right): Joe Penner (comedian), Mrs. Joe (Eleanor Vogt) Penner, Olga Baclanova (actress), Bela Lugosi (actor), Mrs. Bela (Lillian Arch) Lugosi (mother of Bela Lugosi's only child, Bela George Lugosi), and Paul Gerrits (actor, comedian).
The confusion with subsequent descriptions of the photo might be rooted in the Saturday, September 30, 1933, column by "Phil M. Daly" in The Film Daily. In referencing "THE Mickey Mouse Birthday Party tonight at the Hollywood restaurant…" his lack of specificity may have led researchers to assume he was writing about a celebration in Hollywood, California.
However, the event was actually held at the Hollywood Restaurant (aka Hollywood Cabaret Restaurant) at 47th and Broadway in New York City. The event was hosted by Mickey's new film distributor, United Artists.
The assembly of these individuals at New York's Hollywood Restaurant makes a bit more sense when it is understood that Lugosi, Baclanova, and Gerrits had just opened on September 12 in Earl Carroll's "Murder at the Vanities" at the New Amsterdam Theatre (only five blocks from the restaurant).
This performance also represented Lugosi's first return to the stage since starring as "Dracula" (1931) and as such, it would have been unlikely that he would show up in California that weekend to honor Mickey.
In addition, the two comedians would have been well aware of the New York party's emcee, comedian and fellow performer Jerry Lester (who also provided several of the celebrity voices for Mickey's Gala Premiere).
Prior reports on Mickey's fifth birthday party have also mentioned Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers and Mary Pickford being in attendance. However, that appears unlikely as the entire group had just gathered on September 28 at the Writers Club (6700 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood) to honor Walt and his smash success with Three Little Pigs.
It seems reasonable that if Walt wasn't going to travel to New York for the east coast party, neither would the other attendees of the event in Los Angeles.
Garry Apgar, author of two books on The Mouse,adds the following: Great stuff from Dave Mason. The more you dig into Disney or Mickey, the more you find. One thread always leads to another—not to mention the occasional twisted knot. And wonderful photos, too. All that’s missing is a La Martinique matchbook on the table in front of Mickey and friends.
The Hollywood restaurant, at 47th and Broadway, was located not far from the Broadway Theatre, formerly Universal’s Colony Theatre, at 53rd and Broadway. The Colony, of course, is where Mickey Mouse debuted in November 1928 in Steamboat Willie. If there has been any modern-day confusion about the restaurant’s location that’s because Film Daily waspublished in the Big Apple. Back then, the paper’s readership (show biz folk mainly, and New Yorkers especially) would generally be familiar with the restaurant mentioned by “Phil M. Daly.” Anyone in Tinseltown would certainly know that the Hollywood was not one of their local hangouts. I might also point out that Jack Alicoate, the editor-in-chief of Film Daily,was a big Disney booster. As early as 1922 and running through 1929 after Mickey hit it big, Walt was written up twelve times in the self-styled “Newspaper of Filmdom.”
Dave’s post does pose two questions, however. What was Joe (“Wanna buy a duck?”) Penner doing in a promotional shot for a stuffed mouse? Once Donald Duck hit it big that would have been unthinkable. Penner, incidentally, was briefly caricatured in the last of the Silly Symphonies, Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood in 1938.
The second question is: what is in those two bottles on the table? Can’t be wine or champagne. They are not standard size bottles for vino, much less the bubbly. Besides, there is no stemware in sight. Maybe it’s sparkling mineral water. It looks like there’s ice in the otherwise empty highball glasses. Bela, Joe, and company may have been ready for a bottle of bonded whiskey to be brought to their table … but only after the Mickey Mouse business of taking the publicity photo was done. Then the party would really begin!
Back in December 2000, I caught up with the great cartoonist Will Eisner at the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida, of which he was a trustee. We talked about his own career and the work of some of his peers over lunch and then as we walked through the museum and looked at the comic art on its walls, with my tape recorder running the whole time. My informal record of that visit—published here in the centennial year of Eisner's birth—is at this link.
My 2,500-word essay marking the 75th anniversary of Carl Barks's first comic-book work has been accepted and will be published in the souvenir book for this year's Comic-Con International at San Diego. If you share my love for Barks, I think you'll enjoy my piece.
The second volume of the collected Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales Sunday pages, with my commentaries, will be available July 25, according to amazon.com. If you liked the first volume, I'm sure you'll like the second.
I mentioned early this month that my literary agent failed to send me the royalties I earned on The Animated Man, my Walt Disney biography, over a span of several years. He hasn't responded to letters from my attorney, and I've been exploring what might be involved in filing a lawsuit. This is a difficult situation, because the amount involved, almost $11,000, is an awkward size. If I were owed $50,000, hiring an attorney to file suit on a contingency basis—that is, the attorney would get a large piece of whatever he recovered—would be the obvious course of action. If the amount were $3,000, writing it off as a bad debt would make just as much sense. But $11,000 isn't enough to interest most lawyers, and it's too much money to shrug off.
To state the obvious, almost no one goes into writing about animation and the comics, and about people like Walt Disney, in the expectation of making lots of money. (If they do, they're in for a disappointment.) To have even the modest royalties I've earned on The Animated Man stolen by someone I trusted is very painful. It turns out that I put my trust in an agent who is not even a a thief with a little imaginative flair, but just the moral equivalent of a pickpocket.
Today is John Canemaker's seventy-fourth birthday, so what better time for a fellow septuagenarian to celebrate his new blog. John Canemaker's Animated Eye is already, and predictably, given John's track record as writer, scholar, and filmmaker, one of the ornaments of the internet. John posts rather infrequently, because each post is so rich in rare photos and fresh information about subjects close to his heart (Disney, McCay), but in contrast to yours truly, John has made it easy to keep up with his blog through email updates. Blogs like John's seem to be scarcer in these days of Facebook superficiality, and I'm very pleased that he is paddling against the tide with such a substantial offering.
Richard Schickel died early this year, an event that seems to have attracted scant notice in Disney/animation circles despite the notoriety that Schickel enjoyed, if that's the word, beginning with the publication in 1968 of his sort-of biography of Walt Disney, The Disney Version. I find no mention of his death on the Cartoon Brew or Disney History websites, to mention a couple of sites that I visit often.
The Disney Version, the first unauthorized book-length examination of Walt's life and work, has been in and out of print since its publication, more often in than out, each new paperback edition equipped with excerpts from admiring reviews. As best I can tell, none of those reprintings have incorporated any significant corrections. Years ago, for reasons I don't now recall, I decided to go through the book (the hardback original, which I bought in 1968) and identify as many of Schickel's sources as possible—not a daunting task, as it turned out, because he had relied heavily on sources anyone could find in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. I quickly decided that his use of those sources was careless and error-prone. He did talk to some former Disney employees, but not very many, and here again his "research" was remarkably thin, as I learned when I examined his notebooks and other materials at the University of Wisconsin.
As with Disney, so, evidently, with other Schickel books. I actually bought his 1984 D.W. Griffith biography on the strength of some rapturous reviews, only to be brought back to earth by Tom Gunning's review (sympathetic but ultimately damning) in American Film. I never did finish reading that book.
Schickel was of course a prominent talking head two years ago on the misbegotten two-part PBS show about Walt, along with Neal Gabler, and the two writers' casual attitude toward mere facts seems similar. Gabler's Disney biography was loaded with significant (and avoidable) errors, and when the paperback edition came out, exactly one of those errors had been corrected, most likely by the publisher (because it was mentioned in a prominent review) rather than the author. Schickel, like Gabler, seems to have proceeded with a limited interest in factual accuracy. More important to both authors, I'm sure, was the opportunity to say what they thought, and when facts got in the way of their opinions, so much the worse for the facts.
That's not necessarily a terrible thing, but proceeding in that manner places a very heavy burden on the quality of your opinions. With Schickel and Gabler, the salient characteristic of their opinions is not their intellectual substance but that they coincide with the prejudices of their target audience—urban sophisticates who have long regarded Walt and his works with comprehensive disdain. Such congruence guarantees some good reviews, even when the authors involved are lightweights compared with Schickel and Gabler. (Among other writers on Disney and related subjects, Marc Eliot and Stefan Kanfer come immediately to mind.)
Where Disney is concerned, I've often been acccused of having opinions myself, or, more specifically, "strange opinions," the kind that don't square with the stale incantations by so many Disney-blessed writers. I'm rarely called out for inaccuracies, more often for being accurate in inconvenient ways. (Was Dave Hilberman, the Disney strike leader, a communist? Well, yes, he said so, but let's pretend he wasn't.) When there are errors in my books, you'll find them corrected on this site, and, whenever possible, in subsequent printings. Sometimes the expense of fixing a mistake makes a correction in the printed books impractical, and then especially I feel the chagrin expressed so well by the Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt: "[S]cholars find it extremely painful to be caught out in even small factual errors. I have made my share, and I can bear witness that they burn, in Shakespeare's phrase, like the mines of sulphur."
It's hard for me to understand writers who don't feel that urgent need to avoid and correct errors, but there are a lot of them around, some of them in exalted places. Greenblatt was reviewing a book by an author who seems to be a Shakespeare-scholarship equivalent of Richard Schickel or Neal Gabler but whose book was published by a prestigious academic press and has enjoyed praise in many of the right places—but, at least, not in the New York Review of Books, where Greenblatt's review appeared.
I feel obliged to add that Schickel was, in my sole exchange of brief letters with him, gracious and friendly (I offered to put him on Funnyworld's mailing list, and he accepted the offer, in a reply that I have regrettably lost). That was probably in 1967, before The Disney Version. I've since heard of other people who had similarly pleasant encounters with him. With Neal Gabler, not so much. I think Gabler revealed himself most tellingly in a piece in the May 2016 Atlantic Monthly, titled "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans." Yes, it is indeed possible to boast and whine in the same breath.
Back in March 2009, I posted this photo taken in New York on October 23, 1941, the evening of the premiere of Dumbo at the Broadway Theater; Fantasia had ended its run there two days earlier.
The premiere was a black-tie occasion followed by a celebratory party at which Walt and Lillian Disney were serenaded by rough-looking Western Union messenger boys. I didn't know where the party was held, but now Dave Mason has come to the rescue. The matchbook on the table points to the answer: La Martinique, a nightclub at 57 West 57th Street, a few blocks away from the Broadway. (That theater was, and still is, as far as I know, at 53rd and Broadway.)
There was a Hotel Martinique in Manhattan, too—it's still there—and when I was writing Funnybooks, and writing a caption for the photo just below (it's on page 27), I thought it likely that it was taken at the hotel, which is at 32nd Street and Broadway, not far from Western Printing & Lithographing's offices at 200 Fifth Avenue (at 23rd Street, where Broadway crosses Fifth). Someone, probably Oskar Lebeck's wife, Ruth, wrote "Martinique" on the back of the photo, along with the names of some of the people there. But it was almost certainly taken at the nightclub; the décor visible in both photos, and in other early '40s photos from the nightclub that Dave Mason has shared with me, argues that both photos were taken at the same place, La Martinique.
The photo below, which was given to me by Oskar Lebeck's daughter, the late Letty Edes, is dated on the back 1943, and was probably taken during Schlesinger's expedition to the East Coast in December 1942 and January 1943. You can read about that trip, and see other photos taken then, at this link.
Oskar Lebeck (at right), the New York-based editor of Western Printing & Lithographing's Dell comic books, entertains a group at La Martinique that includes, from left, his wife, Ruth Lebeck; Leon Schlesinger, producer of the Warner Bros. cartoons; Mary DuBois, wife of Gaylord DuBois, Lebeck's star comics writier; Harold Spencer, general manager of Western Printing's Poughkeepsie plant; Spencer's wife, Todd; and Gaylord DuBois. The woman with her back to the camera may be either Schlesinger's wife, Bernice, or Helen Meyer, vice president of Dell Publishing.
I last posted here in January. I don't think I've ever before let so much time pass without posting. The reasons for my silence have been mostly related to health, my own and my father-in-law's. I hesitate to post about personal matters here, but I know that some people have continued to check the site frequently, and they may appreciate an explanation of what's going on.
My wife is an only child, and the full import of that status is probably felt most keenly when a very old parent (he is 92, a World War II veteran, and a widower) is sick. Especially, I might add, when that parent has been highly self-sufficient for many years and has had to adjust, grudgingly, to a much more limited existence after breaking his hip a year and a half ago.
His other ailments, piled atop that central injury, have limited our travel and interrupted other plans. Last fall, we were four hours away from a flight to California (and a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum's Pinocchio exhibit) when a call came from the assisted-living home: my father-in-law had fallen again. We had to cancel the trip. Last week he was back at the VA hospital in the midst of yet another crisis. It's always something, and, of course, Phyllis and I have no choice but to respond.
As for me, I was diagnosed late last year with Parkinson's disease. That diagnosis probably sounds dire, but maybe more so than is really the case. I don't have any tremors, the disease having manifested itself most visibly in a slouching posture that Phyllis noticed before I did. There are drugs and therapies available to retard the disease's progress, and I am taking full advantage of them.
These complications haven't consumed all of my time, but when a few hours do open up I've had to weigh my desire to spend an hour or two with this website against the need to keep family and medical demands under control. (Do I dare take time to update the site when I could be working on my father-in-law's income- tax return instead?) In March, Phyllis and I made a brief driving trip to the Carolinas that gave her a blessed break from the near-constant attention she feels obliged to give to her father—but we did stay in touch with him daily by phone.
My own medical situation seems to be settling into a satisfactory routine, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to post here with some regularity soon. I have a tremendous backlog of good material, such as a Will Eisner interview from 2000, my second with him, that I originally hoped to post in March to mark the hundredth anniversary of Will's birth. With any luck, I'll have it up in a week or two. This website is a source of great pleasure to me, and I'm looking forward to bringing it back to life.
I've done a little writing while the site was dormant, including notes for the second volume of IDW's reprints of the Sunday page called Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales. I've also written an introduction for Theme Park Press' reprint of Gerald and Danny Peary's pioneering 1980 anthology The American Animated Cartoon.
I won't be attending the San Diego Comic-Con in July, but I was asked to write a piece for the con's souvenir book marking the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Carl Barks's drawings in a comic book, Four Color No. 9, Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. I could hardly refuse that invitation. I don't know yet if my essay has even been accepted—it certainly departs from the superhero orthodoxy that dominates the San Diego con's proceedings—but I'll hope that it passes muster. I enjoy nothing more than reading and writing about Barks's stories, and I think my enjoyment is evident in the new piece.
No new books of my own are on my work schedule, and that's just as well, I'm afraid. I am feeling decidedly sour about book writing.
I learned a few months ago that my literary agent, the man who represented me in negotiations with University of California Press for The Animated Man and Funnybooks, has been sitting on money that he owes me. The royalty checks from UC Press for The Animated Man, my Walt Disney biography, were mailed to him twice a year, normal procedure when an agent is involved. He was then to send the money to me, retaining his 15 percent commission. Instead, he cashed the checks and kept all the money.
As far as I knew, since my agent never sent me the royalty statements, my royalties never covered my advance. This went on for several years, until I finally got suspicious, fired my agent, and began getting royalties from UC Press directly.
UC Press has been very helpful, providing me with copies of all the royalty statements and cashed checks. The amount I'm owed is not huge, but it's large enough to make a lawsuit an attractive next step, even at a distance of more than a thousand miles (my agent—my former agent—lives in Connecticut). Stay tuned.
October 2015: A 1973 interview with Jack Kinney, reading comic-book stories by Gaylord DuBois, the Bodrero family, thoughts on Carl Barks, a post-mortem on PBS's "Walt Disney."
September 2015: Notable new books on Disney by Canemaker, Kaufman, and Ghez, and on Jay Ward by Darrell Van Citters, a 1976 interview with Wilfred Jackson, "Walt Disney" on PBS, more Song of the South drafts.
August 2015: On the road with Jim Bodrero, John Culhane's missing book.
July 2015: A West Coast expedition and a Comic-Con report, Wilfred Jackson interviewed in 1973.
June 2015: Western Printing's pay rates, Tomorrowland, a note from Harvey Kurtzman, Dell comics at Disneyland.
May 2015:Amos 'n Andy as a source of Pogo's brilliance, Walt Disney in London, Little Lulu and other Dell comics.
April 2015: On the road with Walt Kelly and Carl Barks, a Funnybooks roundup.
March 2015: Gunther Lessing, Michael Sporn on the radio, Funnybooks in review, Gerry Geronimi interviewed.
February 2015: Walt Kelly takes the Disney gang to the circus, Michael Sporn remembered, Strange Magic, Ted Bonnicksen identified.
January 2015: More on Funnybooks, "Those Aggravatin' Animations," The Sweatbox.
November 2014: Funnybooks struggles into print, Frank Frazetta's animation art, Bob Hope and Bugs Bunny, what jazz's history has to say about animation's, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston interviewed in July 1987.
October 2014: Reviews of new Disney books, including A Mickey Mouse Reader, how animation became the confusion of life, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston interviewed in October 1976.
September 2014: Being puzzled by Deja and Keane, the difference between Disney and "Disney."
August 2014: More on the Dell pinups, vintage photos from my 1971 visit to Disneyland.
July 2014: The Dell Comics Club, a batch of book reviews, the passing of Sody Clampett, a better picture of Carl Barks, "internal" versus "instrumental" motives in the animation industry.
June 2014: The Fairest One of All reviewed, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Carl Barks's first published work, Walt and Diane Disney in Chicago in 1943, more on "concept art," the myth of the missing Disney credits, Felidae.
May 2014: Disney's Grand Tour, "concept art," Little Lulu's cinematic debut.
April 2014: Sick Little Monkeys, a Funnybooks update, a memorial celebration for Michael Sporn, Walt Disney's skeptical supervisor at Kansas City Film Ad.
March 2014: John Stanley's 100th birthday, remembering Michael Sporn and Robin Allan, seeing Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks.
August 2011: New collections of classic Disney comics, the Corny Cole interview, Chuck Jones enshrined at a casino, Dave Hand on ones and twos, is innocence bliss when watching cartoons?
July 2011: Mystery men at Disney's Hyperion studio, The Illusionist.
June 2011: Inking at Disney's in 1931, the Fred Kopietz interview.
May 2011: New Disney books, problems with interviews, the passing of the great collector Bill Blackbeard.
April 2011: More on Walt's church in Chicago and the Dumbo Roll-A-Book, Lynn Karp interviewed.
March 2011: John Hubley and Milt Kahl interviewed, Roger Armstrong remembers life at the Lantz studio in 1944-45, Walt Disney visits Evanston, Illinois, on the Fourth of July 1957.
February 2011: Tim Walker and Mark Kausler, the Bob McKimson interview and more McKimson matter, the Huffington Post stirs up a storm.
January 2011: Flogging the Dell/Disney comic books, Tangled, potpourris of items about Walt Disney and Bob Clampett and new books, Glen Keane speaks about Tangled in French, a "Flying Gauchito" mystery, Walt meets Princess Margaret and suffers under a double standard.
November 2010: Carl Stalling on acetate, lost Laugh-O-grams found, Børge Ring on Alice in Wonderland, Tim Susanin's book.
October 2010: Books: Jim Korkis's Vault of Walt, Craig Yoe's Felix, John Canemaker's Two Guys Named Joe and J. B. Kaufman's South of the Border with Disney.
September 2010: John Benson on Avatar and IMAX 3-D, Mike Maltese and his Bugs Bunny painting, Craig Yoe writes, Satoshi Kon, The Ducktators in the flesh, Chronicle Books' animation volumes.
July 2010: Toy Story 3, Milt Gray's web comic strip, sad news about Roy Rogers and Harvey Pekar, my 1997 interview with John K., more on the mysterious Mortimer Mouse, reprinted comic books.
June 2010: Dave Smith retires, more on the Dumbo Roll-A-Book, Barks on a T-shirt, Waking Sleeping Beauty.
May 2010: "Mickey Mouse" and D-Day, animation: the delusion of life, Børge Ring on Jack Kinney, my visit to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, George Sherman's Barks painting, more on the Dumbo Roll-A-Book.
April 2010:How to Train Your Dragon, Carl Barks tells how he worked, Fantasia and the fundamentalists
March 2010: More on the Dumbo Roll-A-Book, questions for Walt Disney, the "family tree" of animation, a 1967 gathering of pioneers at Montreal, Dumbo's premiere, Dumbo in print, Walt's adventures in the Ivy League, Fess Parker remembered.
February 2010: The mysterious Dumbo Roll-A-Book, Oscars and Annies, Disney and Tolkien.
January 2010: More on The Princess and the Frog, Kurtzman's Humbug, Dumbo's crows, The Animated Man in Italy, Richard Todd and Walt Disney on the set.
December 2009:The Princess and the Frog and Fantastic Mr. Fox, a cel fire at the Mintz studio, Richard Todd, Roy Edward Disney, Hal Sintzenich's diaries, more hot air from an "archivist."
November 2009: On the sidewalk with Charlie Mintz, a visit to Saint Louis, when Fantasia spread out, on the barricades with Art Babbitt.
October 2009: "Sincerity," Ward Kimball photographs R. Crumb, Walt Kelly writes to Walt Disney, losing illusions in today's Hollywood animation business, more on Walt Disney at Harvard (and Yale), Art Spiegelman in Arkansas, the Walt Disney Family Museum opens its doors.
September 2009: What Walt Disney was doing in London in 1935 and New York in 1940, George Winkler and Andrew Stone and Charlie Mintz, Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell, Dr. Seuss' advertising films, Li'l Eight Ball's disappearance from comic books, shipboard with Walt and family in 1949, the curious case of Mortimer Mouse.
August 2009: Carl Barks on exhibit in Baltimore, the mystery of Barks's Donald Duck, Lillian Disney speaks in public, early omens on The Princess and the Frog, Classic Children's Comics, Walt Disney in Ireland, home again from a long summer journey.
June 2009: Taking a summer break, Egghead and Elmer, more on Sita Sings the Blues, Pixar's Up, the role of words and drawings in early Disney story work.
May 2009: Reading the funnies in bulk, Keith Lango's ideas about "visual harmony," Walt Disney goes to Harvard, John Canemaker goes to Kansas City, Sita Sings the Blues, Disney and Columbia, fictitious "Walt Disneys" on stage and screen, David Gerstein's blog, Monsters vs. Aliens, more on Dave Hand, Milt Kahl as "the animation Michelangelo."
April 2009: Easter greetings from Warner Bros. Cartoons, Børge Ring on David Hand, Ken Annakin, Dick Huemer, Floyd Norman, Ferguson's flypaper sequence revisited, Disney's walled garden, Don Bluth, the Walt Disney Family Museum, Bob Clampett's secret life.
March 2009: Walt Kelly comics from Fairy Tale Parade, Chuck Jones on TCM, Walt Disney at Dumbo's premiere, Emil Flohri, Coraline, Watchmen, in the Disney music rooms in 1931, a case of mistaken identity, ten years of Hollywood Cartoons.
February 2009: Acting in animation, with a riveting memory of Bill Tytla, Coraline, 3-D pro and con, cartoon cocktails, the first Disney annual report, Marceline faces from Walt Disney's time, a Marceline myth.
January 2009: "The Three Little Pigs" as drawn by Walt Kelly, Ted Eshbaugh's studio in 1931, "card check" in 1941 and 2009, The Tale of Despereaux, Walt Disney sails from Chile to New York on the Santa Clara.
December 2008:The Spirit on the screen, cartoon directors' Christmas cards, trying to identify a mystery man, books: Spirited Away, Popeye, and The Animated Man, Bolt and Madagascar 2, Dave Hilberman's FBI file.
November 2008: Back from Italy, live-action Disney on Turner Classic Movies.
October 2008:The Wall Street Journal on Pixar and Disney,Walt at the keyboard, Chuck Jones and Eddie Selzer, Chuck at MGM, "Directors and Directions," salvaging Disney's California Adventure, Walt Disney's attitude toward women, "Of Cabbages and Kleins," The Perfect American as novel and opera, on the set of Invitation to the Dance.
September 2008: Visiting J. R. Bray, Ben Sharpsteen and his museum, Elias Disney in his own words, the ancestral Disney lands in Ontario, a book ban in Burbank.
August 2008: Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising remembered, Michael Sporn's role on The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, more on Wertham, Sporn DVDs.
July 2008: More Looney Tunes on DVD, WALL•E and Kung Fu Panda, Walt Disney's stump, Bill Tytla's voice, Disney anniversaries, Wertham's locked vault, Schulz and Peanuts demolished, more on Walt and Dolores.
May-June 2008: Walt Disney's Kansas City building, Walt and polo (and polo-related deaths), Japanese features, Walt and Dolores Del Rio, late-period Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett in Canada, Walt Disney meets Robert Taylor in 1938 and visits Marceline and Saint Louis in 1946, the post-modern Goofy, The Colored Cartoon.
April 2008: The Jones-Avery letter, what Walt Disney really thought about Goofy, the "Censored 11," Borge Ring on Hans Perk, remembering Ollie Johnston, Two Days in the Life: Kansas City, 1922, more on Walt Disney's 1922 want ads, Walt's skeptical supervisor at Kansas City Film Ad, Bob Clampett and Ollie Johnston share a table, the Schulz kidnaping, Nick Cross and The Waif of Persephone.
March 2008: Walt Disney's want ads in 1922, Dick Huemer's Buck O'Rue, A Day in the Life: Disney, January 1930 and February 1927, A Day in the Life: Walt Kelly, 1955, The Animated Man in trade paper, Walt Disney meets Yma Sumac and visits Atlanta, responding to complaints about negative criticism, Bob Clampett at work, "What Would Bob Do?"
February 2008: Walt Disney and Joan Bennett in 1942, an interview with Elias and Flora Disney, debate about Buckaroo Bugs, Emery Hawkins at Lantz, Walt Disney in England, Carl Barks's first issue of Uncle Scrooge, Jim Bodrero interview, photos of Warner story man Lloyd Turner, remembering Roger Armstrong.
January 2008: Dell comic books, Ward Kimball, Chuck Jones, Joe Grant and hero worship, more on writing for animation (and why some people spread falsehoods about it), Walt Disney's 1934 trip to Hawaii, Hanna-Barbera celebrated in a book, Bob Clampett, Satoshi Kon, more on the voices of Walt's Alice.
December 2007: Writing for animation, Margaret O'Brien and Walt Disney's Alice, Jack Zander, more on UPA, Rod Scribner at work, Borge Ring, a "mystery studio," Byron Haskin and Disney's Treasure Island, more on Coal Black, Walt and Lillian on the town, revisiting Raggedy Ann & Andy and Wizards, Satoshi Kon's budgets.
November 2007:Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, Mickey's birthplace in New York, the UPA book, the Michael Sporn retrospective at MoMA, the ideas that interviews can stimulate.
October 2007: Carl Stalling interviewed, Dick Huemer remembered, more on Walt Disney and Zorro, the controversy over the Schulz biography, Joe Penner and the "Agony, agony!" catchphrase, Walt and The Art Spirit, Walt in Hawaii, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, The Jungle Book revisited.
August 2007: Walt and the librarians, independent animators, the mystery of Walt's Goldwater button solved, Diane Disney Miller blasts Neal Gabler, Paprika, interviews with Clarence Nash, Jim Macdonald, and Billy Bletcher, Pete Emslie's guidelines for animal characters, Ratatouille.
July 2007: More on Harry Reichenbach, Walt Disney and Igor Stravinsky, Surf'sUp, Walt at Smoke Tree Ranch, Dave Hilberman, The Iron Giant revisited, Michael Sporn and Walter Lantz on DVD, Ratatouille.
June 2007: More on Walt Disney's Goldwater button, more on the flypaper sequence, Roger Armstrong, Disney in Deutschland, Ratatouille, Walt and Zorro, more on Walt and T. H. White, Harry Reichenbach and Steamboat Willie, the auctioning of Carl Barks's estate.
May 2007: UPA wars on the blogs, Ferguson's flypaper sequence, Walt Disney's employment contract, Harry Reichenbach, Disney art at Montreal, Walt writes to T. H. White, selling The Animated Man in L.A.
April 2007:The Animated Man, Fergy ruffs, Meet the Robinsons.
March 2007:The Animated Man, Cartoon Brew Films, a Cock Robin mosaic and documents, a Dumbo essay, the Goldwater button again, Walt and the space program.
February 2007: More on writing v. drawing, Paul Hindemith meets Walt Disney, Fantasia, Van Beuren dolls, Bob Clampett and Edgar Bergen.
January 2007: Walt's Goldwater button, Neal Gabler's errors, writing v. drawing cartoon stories, a Disney exhibition at Paris, Happy Feet.
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