Walt Disney with his daughters Sharon (left) and Diane.
Diane Disney Miller
She died yesterday at the age of 79, as everyone knows by now, after suffering a fall in late September that left her in a coma. This is a terrible loss. Two great institutions—the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles—speak very clearly about the remarkable person she was, about her strength of character and her dedication to honoring her parents' memory as splendidly as possible. She left too soon, with much accomplished but with important work still to do. There is on the museum's website a full and admirably sensitive account of her life.
The Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, came first. It is a wonderful building that would not exist in its present form, and maybe not at all, if Diane had not made that possible through her determination and, of course, her financial support. The Walt Disney Family Museum is entirely her creation, and it is in its own way just as wonderful, for all the reasons I laid out here after a visit in March 2012. How amazing that one tiny woman—I was surprised when I met her last year by how small she was—could impose her will through such huge and disparate projects, and could do it in a way that left her all but invisible when you are in the concert hall and especially when you are touring the museum. The museum is unmistakably the Walt Disney Family Museum—it's about him, with no trace of self-aggrandizement by the museum's founder.
I wish I could feel confident that the Family Museum will long survive her, but institutions that are the product of one person's unique vision are inevitably vulnerable until enough other people have fully embraced that vision as their own. That was of course the pattern of Walt Disney's life, as he persuaded skeptics to see an exciting future first for animation and then for Disneyland. If Diane had lived I think it likely that she would have led the museum to the same sort of broad popularity. But now there is no telling what will happen. Cost-cutting often becomes the highest priority under such circumstances, and if it does, the museum's days may be numbered. Rare is the business or institution than can cut its way to success.
For now, though, the museum survives, and there can be no better time to visit it—and to say, as you enter, a quiet "thank you" to Diane Disney Miller for her wonderful gifts to all of us.
Has it really been two months since I last posted here? Yes, I'm afraid so. I've been busy.
In late August, Phyllis and I flew to our old home town of Alexandria, Virginia, for almost a month of cat sitting and house sitting for former neighbors. That visit permitted me to do some valuable research at the Library of Congress and the National Archives (just before the shutdown) for Funnybooks, my book on the Dell comic books. I tied up a few animation-related loose ends, too, and some of what I learned may come in handy if I ever have the opportunity to revise Hollywood Cartoons or The Animated Man.
Once back home, I was consumed for a couple of weeks by work on Funnybooks, which I delivered as a more or less final draft to University of California Press on October 7. I'm now plowing through a lot of material that I set aside earlier as of secondary interest, just in case there's something that deserves to be noted in the book. In this phase I've pulled off the shelves material I'd forgotten I owned (early 1960s issues of the fanzines Comic Art and Alter Ego, for instance), and it has been a wonderful nostalgia trip. But so far nothing has suggested that I need to rethink anything more than a few details in what I've written about the Dells.
One unexpected side effect of my inactivity has been that not posting has become rather enjoyable. If you get into a regular posting rhythm it's tempting to think that a lot of people actually want to know what you might have to say about, say, The Croods; and so when you don't post anything for a while you get a little anxious about losing your audience. But I've come to believe that the most important reason for posting on a specialized site like this one is to put one's thoughts in order—not to try to attract an inevitably small number of visitors—and so I've suppressed the urge to say something, anything, just to freshen the site.
I expect to have a lot more to say in the coming months, though. Funnybooks is requiring less and less of my attention, and for the first time in many years I don't have another book in the pipeline. Among other things, I'll be reading or re-reading some important recent books, like Thad Komorowski's Sick Little Monkeys, and figuring out what I think about them. I expect that to be a pleasurable and stimulating exercise, and I'll post the results here, for my own benefit and I hope yours. I may even get around to seeing The Croods.
I've been spending a lot of time with Walt Kelly recently, in his papers at Ohio State for a couple of days in June and for the last few weeks at home while I've been finishing my book on the Dell comic books, Funnybooks. It has been a pleasure—Kelly is one of my two favorite cartoonists, in tandem with Carl Barks—but I've left myself with not enough room for a suitable centennial tribute. So, I'm posting the cover of a Kelly comic book, the second issue of Pogo Possum, from 1950. This was the first Kelly comic book I bought with one of my own dimes (I'd had Animal Comics bought for me in previous years). I remember trying to share with my parents at the dinner table some of the hilarity I found in this comic book, only to meet a stone wall of resistance. My father became a convert eventually, but my mother never did, alas.
Two years ago, shortly after the death of Cornelius “Corny” Cole, I published here the interview that Milt Gray and I conducted with Corny in 1991. That interview covered Corny’s career from his earliest days as an in-betweener at the Disney studio up through his work as a production designer on many animated features, shorts, and TV shows. Along the way, Corny talked about his friend Willie Ito, who worked with him at Disney and Warner Bros. in the 1950s. Willie read the interview recently and wrote me to say that Corny had exaggerated a bit in describing a couple of episodes in which Willie was involved. I’ve posted Willie’s very enjoyable message on this separate Feedback page. I interviewed Willie not long before I interviewed Corny, and with any luck I’ll get that interview (and others) posted before too many more years.
Floyd Norman, who had the privilege of working alongside Walt Disney fifty years ago—and whose opinions always command respect for that and many other reasons—has seen Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney movie I wrote about on July 17. It's the Christmas release based on the making of Mary Poppins, and starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Floyd wrote:
As always, I enjoyed your post on the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks. You might be surprised to hear that I thoroughly enjoyed the film and think that audiences will be surprised how good it is.
I count myself lucky to have been in meetings with the Old Maestro back in the sixties. On set, I even related to Mr. Hanks that he was playing Walt somewhat young. No worries, however. I think Tom Hanks has captured in his performance the essence of Walt Disney. His enthusiasm, his incredible optimism, and his ability as a canny salesman. No, he doesn't look like Walt and he doesn't sound like Walt. Yet, much to my surprise he is Walt Disney.
That's good enough for me. I'll buy a ticket, or maybe two. But here's an odd thing. Saving Mr. Banks, with a winning impersonation of Walt, will be the opening round in what I'm sure will be a year-long celebration of Mary Poppins' fiftieth anniversary, with the film being hailed as Walt's greatest achievement. But as Mark Sonntag has pointed out, the packaging planned for the Blu-ray 50th anniversary edition doesn't identify the film as "Walt Disney's Mary Poppins" but as "Disney Mary Poppins." This is the same sort of depersonalized packaging we've seen on other reissued Disney features in the past year.
Conflicting impulses seem to be at war here. Perhaps these are the questions being posed in that big building on the Disney lot, the one with the Seven Dwarfs on the pediment: Do we celebrate Walt as an individual, perhaps to the point of transforming him into a new sort of "Disney character," or do we work at converting "Disney" into as innocuous a brand name as "Ford"?
Henry Ford was a controversial man, after all, but no one now decides to buy or not to buy a Ford automobile on the basis of Henry's antisemitism. Walt has been a magnet for controversy, too—unjustifiably, if I need to say that yet again, but I wonder if that matters to the people who are now managing the brand.
I'm in the final stages of work on my next book, Funnybooks, so I've done very little movie-watching this summer, whether in a theater or via Blu-ray or otherwise. I did finally see Wreck-It Ralph, the Disney CGI feature in which video games come to life, on Blu-ray a few weeks ago. When I discussed it the next day with my seven-year-old friend John—a theatrically savvy kid who saw Mary Poppins onstage in New York last year with his mom—I told him I didn't much care for it. He was shocked—shocked!—by my failure to appreciate what he was sure was the best movie he'd ever seen. Happily, we found common ground that afternoon by watching a dozen color Mickey Mouse cartoons from the 1930s.
Wreck-It Ralph felt to me like just one more Hollywood animated feature made by committee, so that when the story started getting too convoluted, the impulse wasn't to simplify but to add another layer of complication. More dialogue, more plot twists, more stuff, so that everyone on the committee could point to something that was theirs. Today's Disney features remind me powerfully of treatments and continuities I've read for much earlier Disney features, films made during Walt's lifetime. Many of those treatments were more complicated, sometimes much more complicated, than the stories that wound up on the screen. The reason the films were so much better than the treatments was because Walt Disney's dominant drive was toward simplicity and directness. I detect no comparable cast of mind at John Lasseter's Disney studio, or almost anywhere else in the Hollywood animation industry
Which isn't to say that kids like my friend John are wrong to enjoy movies like Wreck-It Ralph, only that they're finding enjoyment in them that differs fundamentally from the enjoyment I found as a child, and still find as an adult, in movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, writing about Despicable Me 2, remarked of the script that it was "erratic, to put it generously. Yet the 3-D animation is so stylish and, from time to time, so downright beautiful, that you hardly notice when the storytelling loses track of itself." Indifference to poor storytelling is surely characteristic of a large part of the audience for most new animated features. I haven't seen Despicable Me 2, but I have to believe that its lapses in storytelling would bother me a lot more than they would bother John. That's why it's pointless for me to go see it, and the other animated features like it. They were most emphatically not made for people like me, who grew up with movies of a very different and, I think, vastly superior kind.
Walt Disney's judgment wasn't perfect, of course, as I was reminded by one of the characters in Wreck-It Ralph: King Candy, a dithering old soul whose voice and mannerisms have been borrowed from Ed Wynn, a famous clown who starred in vaudeville and on radio in the 1920s and early 1930s. Wynn, who died in 1966, appeared in a lot of weak Disney live-action movies toward the end of his life, usually miscast (as, for example, a deaf Vermonter in Those Calloways), but he's present in The Absent-Minded Professor, otherwise a stupefyingly dull, laugh-free "comedy," in a reprise of his radio role as the Texaco Fire Chief. Thanks to Wynn, there's suddenly an invigorating whiff of eccentricity and unpredictability in what is otherwise a flat, predictable film. There was, alas, no opportunity, for him to enliven other Disney duds in the same way, and King Candy too is a pale shadow of the original.
But, to end on a positive note, I did love Sarah Silverman's voice work in Wreck-It Ralph.
It is, of course, much too early to pass judgment on Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney feature dramatizing the making of Mary Poppins. It won't be released until December. All we have to go on so far is a trailer, available on Cartoon Brew, with a few glimpses of Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney. (I've appropriated the frame grab above from that source.) Those glimpses are not encouraging. Hanks is fine actor but in the American movie-star mode made familiar by John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda...the list is a long one. What those excellent actors had in common was that they expertly blended their own personalities (or what seemed to be their own personalities) with those of the characters they were playing. At least, that is, when they were well cast. Ask one of them to play a part whose dimensions couldn't be expanded gracefully to accommodate the actor's personality, and you've got trouble, or maybe much worse, as with John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. What I see in the trailer is Tom Hanks distorting his actor's persona in unattractive ways, trying to give us Walt's dynamism but losing his—and Hanks's—warmth and charm. I hope the feature itself is better.
What is most interesting about Saving Mr. Banks at this point is that it is one more step in what seems to be the gradual transformation of Walt Disney himself into a Walt Disney character, fundamentally similar to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. I've written about this transformation before, in connection with the remaking of Disney's California Adventure theme park, but I don't think I ever envisioned Walt's becoming the principal character in what will inevitably be a largely fictional account of one part of his life.
If Saving Mr. Banks is successful at the box office, we can no doubt look forward to similarly fictional Disney movies, about the Hyperion days, perhaps, the making of Snow White, the construction of Disneyland, and so on. Some if not all of those movies could resemble Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in their mingling of more or less real people with ’toons who behave as if they were real people. One possibility: a live-action Walt is betrayed by an animated Oswald, who is presented as a typical Hollywood back-stabber, conniving with a live-action Charlie Mintz. Then Walt finds an animated Mickey, out of work since he was a child bit player in the Alice series, rummaging through the trash behind the Hyperion studio in search of a bit of cheese. Etcetera.
Or, think about Walt's habit of prowling through the studio at night and looking at what's on the storyboards or the animators' desks. He picks up a sheaf of Bill Tytla's animation and as he flips it Grumpy comes to life and complains to Walt about how Tytla is drawing him: "Tell that dadblasted Cossack he's makin' my fingers too big! They look like bananas!"
I need to quit. I'm entirely too good at this. Bob Iger, you have my private number.
That's the headline on the Wall Street Journal's review of the opening on June 1 in London of the English National Opera's production of The Perfect American, Philip Glass' opera based on the execrable novel about Walt Disney by Peter Stephan Jungk. I've written here about the opera, which had its first performances in Madrid in January and has already been available on streaming video. The Journal's review, which may be behind a paywall, is at this link.
Heidi Waleson, in her Journal review, notes that Rudy Wurlitzer's "scathing libretto" presents Walt as "a megalomaniac: racist, antiunion and determined that only his name, rather than those of the thousands of artists who labored to bring his visions to life, will endure. He doesn't demur when an awestruck child compares him to God, and he orders his family to preserve his body by freezing after his death so that he can be resurrected." The Perfect American is, she writes, "a deeply subversive piece, whose Walt seems emblematic of many powerful contemporary figures, [but] nonetheless evokes some sympathy for its uniquely American protagonist, with his small-town roots, affection for animals and passion for trains that drove the creation of the whole Disney magic kingdom. The opera is not an anti-American screed, but rather a takedown of a ubiquitous American type."
That it is also, in its depiction of Walt, almost totally false and malicious seems not to matter in the least. One might think that shortcoming was worth at least a mention in passing.
Most Disney fans are not operagoers or, for that matter, playgoers (unless the play is something like The Lion King), so I'm sure it's tempting to shrug off bizarre distortions like The Perfect American and the off-Broadway play called A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney. But I see in them the shape of the future. What the opera and the play and their like tell us is becoming what "everybody knows" about Walt Disney, and about what a terrible man he was. You can expect much more amoral drivel like Heidi Waleson's review when The Perfect American opens in New York and Los Angeles, as I'm sure it will.
I have been immersed for the last few months in work on Funnybooks, my next book, which is taking longer to wrap up than I expected. In researching and writing it, I've been reminded repeatedly that when I’m writing a book (or anything else), it's important to ask myself first, “Am I being accurate?” Once that’s settled, my second question to myself is at least as important: “Why would anyone want to read this?” The normal reader asks that second question first, of course, and if there’s no good answer, the question of accuracy never even comes up. For Funnybooks I’ve pretty much disposed of the question of accuracy, at least to my own satisfaction, although there remain a few frustratingly sketchy areas. I’m now addressing the second question, through extensive revisions.
I'm looking forward to completing those revisions soon, so that, for one thing, I can write about a number of other people's books that deserve my attention, and yours, including Thad Komorowski's Sick Little Monkeys, J.B. Kaufman's magisterial book on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Jim Korkis's latest compilations of his Web columns on Disney subjects.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've posted on amazon.com my eBook called Furr and Purr, a story for children about a couple of cats with a passing resemblance to two long-deceased members of my household. (That's them in the photo at left, which was taken in 1977.) When I wrote that book, around 1980, I put it through a long series of revisions as I tried it out on a host of adult and child friends. Everyone said they liked it, so I was taken aback by the dismissive reaction I got when I sent the book to editors and agents. They left me wondering if the book was really that bad.
Last year, when I read about amazon's self-publishing program, I decided to take a look at Furr and Purr for the first time in years. Enough time had passed that I could read it almost as if it had been written by someone else. I was pleasantly surprised. It's a good little kids' book, cute and funny and suspenseful, with some charming characters. So, why was it received so poorly?
Perhaps Furr and Purr is too far removed from what for the last few decades has been considered appropriate reading for children. I wrote it simply to entertain my audience, using as one model Walter R. Brooks's Freddy the Pig stories, my own favorite books when I was a child. Back when I was borrowing those books at Little Rock's wonderful old Carnegie library (destroyed decades ago in a fit of madness), the children's librarian could not quite disguise her skepticism about them, or about talking-animal fiction in general. I'm sure that bias has persisted.
As with the Freddy books, there's nothing to be learned from Furr and Purr, no uplift; but, also, nothing to flatter the child reader, no insinuation that he or she must be a smart little cookie to be reading this cool book. Fun is my only aim, and maybe that's not enough. But attitudes can change. The Freddy books stubbornly refuse to stay out of print, and children keep discovering them. Furr and Purr may have a future yet.
Since I first mentioned Furr and Purr here, there has been some small but gratifying feedback. No royalties yet, though! The book's future is no doubt limited in its present format; for one thing, it would benefit immensely from illustrations (the photo above is the only one, on the book's "cover"). At this point, I can't justify that expense. I can only hope that the book will eventually attract a large enough audience to make illustrations feasible.
So, if you're on the fence, take the plunge! After all, it's only 99 cents (or zero, if you're an Amazon Prime member), and you can download a book onto an iPhone—and, I assume, an iPad—as well as a Kindle. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Animation by Milt Gray: There has been animation on this website by Milt Gray, my invaluable collaborator on Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age and a veteran of more than four decades in the Hollywood animation studios, from the beginning. That's his cycle animation of a cartoon dog amid the links in the right-hand column. There is even animation by Milt in Hollywood Cartoons, in the form of several "flip books." Now Milt has posted a minute of animation of a very different kind on his site devoted to his character Viagri Ampleten. Milt says: "It's far from perfect, mainly due to not having a way to pencil test
it. But it's about 90% of
what I was hoping for." Milt is a tough critic. One may find Viagri herself either sexy or terrifying—I lean toward the latter view, especially after watching "Cyber Cafe"—but you'll certainly have to look very hard to find new animation this accomplished anywhere else on the Web.
Identifying Visitors to the Third Man Set: Last February, I posted an essay made up of photos taken by Werner Schrämli during the shooting of the wonderful live-action Disney feature Third Man on the Mountain in Zermatt, Switzerland. Both Werner and I were uncertain of the identities of some of the people in the photos, but now Michael Kirby has come to the rescue. I've added his identifications and some additional information on that essay page; you can go directly to the caption with the new information by clicking on this link.
Identifying a Mystery Man: Back in October 2008, I published a publicity photo for The Reluctant Dragon in which three members of the Disney staff were seated behind Walt and Robert Benchley in what was supposed to be, but wasn't, a screening room at the studio. I recognized Ted Sears instantly, and Pete Emslie identified Larry Clemmons as the man on the left. The third man remained unidentified, but in February 2009 Gunnar Andreassen offered the very plausible suggestion that he could be Al Perkins, one of the five writers on the film. Now Gunnar has provided another such publicity photo, this time with four Disney writers visible, and, thanks to Gunnar, positive identifications for all of them: from the left, Clemmons, Sears, Perkins, and Bill Cottrell. (Benchley is holding a maquette of one of the centaurettes in Fantasia.)
Al Perkins visited Norway in 1972, and Gunnar has sent me a scan of a newspaper interview with him. The Al Perkins in the photo accompanying the interview is clearly the same man as in the Reluctant Dragon photo. Perkins was by 1972 not working in animation but was instead an author of children's books. He was an alumnus of Dartmouth College, where he was a classmate of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and it was through Geisel that he entered the children's field, writing for Beginner Books. A half dozen of Perkins's books, obviously intended for very young children, are still in print and will come up if you search amazon.com for "Al Perkins." He had some impressive collaborators, including Rowland B. Wilson and Eric Gurney.
And Speaking of Children's Books: I mentioned some time ago that I once tried my hand at writing such a book, an animal fable modeled on the "Freddy" stories of Walter R. Brooks. The characters were cats, the title Furr and Purr. The book found no takers, and I consigned it to the proverbial drawer. Last year, when I learned that I could offer a self-published Kindle version on amazon.com at no cost, I thought, what the hell, and did it. An electronic version of Furr and Purr can be yours for 99 cents, or for nothing, if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber. So, if you're curious and have 99 cents to spare, here's the link. But no refunds!
...and how strange it feels to write that! I met Bob in 1969, when he had just turned 56 and so was considerably younger than I am now. He died on May 2, 1984, just before he turned 71; again, younger than I am now. But what makes it really hard to embrace the idea of a Clampett centennial is that he is still such a compelling presence in my memories. Almost thirty years after his death, I have only to think of Bob Clampett and he appears instantly in my imagination—not just as an image, but as a deep, chuckling voice, as sly and quizzical facial expressions, as a whole person. I remember with unusual clarity how he looked when I first saw him, sitting behind his desk at his Seward Street studio in Hollywood, and I remember all too well how I felt when my friend Larry Estes called to tell me that Bob had died.
I think Bob made such a strong impression on me because he was in the best sense a character—not a character in the funny-peculiar sense, as in "he's a real character," but a character like the ones he brought to life on the screen. That is, a personality that was vivid and distinct, unlike the personalities of most of the people we encounter. He was great fun to be around, much more so than most his contemporaries at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio, although I don't recall ever feeling truly relaxed in his company. He was too bright a light for that.
Bob enriched my life through his presence as well as his cartoons. It was a great privilege to have known him.
From "Land Beneath the Ground!" in Uncle Scrooge No. 13 (1956).
Barks on Ice
Ralph Wright was a story man for the Disney cartoons for many years. Milt Gray interviewed him for me, as part of the research for Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, and I sent Ralph the transcript in September 1982. When he returned the edited transcript a few weeks later, it was with a letter in which he recalled an incident involving Carl Barks. Here is what he wrote, with my minimal editing:
There is something that I have never heard about Carl Barks that stayed with me all these years. He sort of took me under his wing when I arrived at the "annex." Carl had a hearing aid which he could "turn off" when he wanted to concentrate.
I was born in Grants Pass, Oregon. (Dad had a gold mine which he sold—for five bucks.) Carl came from a town due east of Grants Pass: Klamath Falls [actually, Merrill, which is near Klamath Falls]. One day we got to talking about Oregon and we got around to the lava beds (a national park) just south of Klamath Falls across the border in California. Carl nearly lost his life there when he was a kid (don't know what age). I had been there and went down under the desert (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) into an ice cave. Its floor was wall to wall ice and it moved— you could set a lantern on the ice until it left a ring, mark it, and come back a week later, and the ring would have moved six inches or so. A river of ice—it flowed downhill and the roof of the cave was just a foot or so from the ice in some spots. Carl and another kid crawled down one of these narrow openings, explored for a while, then tried to crawl back up the ice, a pretty steep climb. But the heat of their bodies melted the ice and they almost didn't [get] out. So Carl's career almost ended right there.
You should go see it some day. It's called Lava Beds National Monument. There are mountains of "glass" obsidian there, and it's where the last Indian war (Modoc) was fought. [Actually, the Modoc war was fought in 1872-73, before later engagements like the massacre at Little Bighorn.] It was a natural fort and the Indians nearly won. They even had their own deep freeze (ice caves). It was called Captain Jack's stronghold (he was the Modoc Indian chief). ... Old Scrooge would never have been invented if Carl had of slid a few feet farther.
Grants Pass, as any Barks fan knows, is where Carl and Garé Barks lived in their last years.
You can read about Lava Beds National Monument, and its caves and the Modoc Indians, at this National Park Service website. With rare exceptions like "In Old California," Barks's stories resist any autobiographical interpretation, but reading Ralph Wright's letter, it was hard for me not to think about Barks stories set underground, like "Christmas for Shacktown" (Donald Duck Four Color No. 367, 1951) and "Land Beneath the Ground!" (Uncle Scrooge No. 13, 1956). I wish I'd asked Carl about that connection, but I seem not to have done so. There was a lot of turmoil in my life in the fall of 1982, so I can't be surprised that I dropped that particular ball, but even so...
I recently acquired the photo above, which shows Walt Disney being interviewed by a Dominican Republic journalist on February 28, 1957. It was taken at the Dominican capital, Ciudad Trujillo, a city named for the bloody dictator whose thirty-year rule would end in an assasination four years later. The capital's original name, Santo Domingo, has since been restored.
The photo was probably taken aboard the cruise ship called the S.S. Alcoa Cavalier. Walt, his wife, Lilly, and their friends the Welton Beckets (he was a celebrity architect, famous enough to be the subject of a profile in the Saturday Evening Post) were near the beginning of a Caribbean cruise aboard the Cavalier that would last more than two weeks. Becky Cline, the director of the Walt Disney Archives, shared with me their itinerary. On Thursday, February 21, the Disneys and the Beckets flew to New Orleans, where they stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel. On Saturday, February 23, they embarked on the Alcoa Cavalier, arriving in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, February 27. Their stay in Ciudad Trujillo was short. On Friday, March 1, they arrived at La Guaira, Venezuela, where they left the ship and a driver took them to Caracas for an overnight stay at the Tamanaco Hotel. The next day, the driver returned them to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, to reboard the ship. After a stop at Guanta, Venezuela, on Sunday, March 3, they arrived in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Monday, March 4.
Trinidad was the prinicpal destination, as Welton Becket explained in a 1968 interview with Richard Hubler for his never-to-be-published Disney biography:
We went to the Mardi Gras down there on an Alcoa boat—it was a three-week trip. He was supposed to have a rest, and I was, too. We tried to avoid talking business but constantly, at dinner or lunch, he drifted off into his future plans and I guess I did, too. But in Trinidad he immediately wanted to join the natives out in the street so we found ourselves in a big march down to the town—and he really enjoyed it. He enjoyed mainly how happy these people were with their drums. We all bought steel drums and we had a ball. …
I think what he enjoyed most was just walking around the streets and mixing with the people. They didn’t know him and they didn’t crowd around him like the other cities. It was hard for him to get around. But there they didn’t even recognize him because they don’t have television.
From Trinidad the Alcoa Cavalier sailed to Kingston, Jamaica, arriving there on Friday, March 8, and finally disembarking at Mobile, Alabama, on Monday, March 11. The Disney party drove from Mobile back to New Orleans, staying at the Pontchartrain before returning to Los Angeles on Thursday, March 13.
Years later, Becket traveled again with Walt to the Caribbean:
We took his plane, and went to most of the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico, etc. It was an interesting thing there on that trip, there again, personal research he was doing. He had read a book, he was then working up the pirates of New Orleans [sic], and he had heard that there was an island down in the Caribbean—almost opposite Cuba—on which pirates actually lived, hidden from any ships that came by. So, we found it. It’s a volcano. It has a winding valley that goes down to a dock and there are probably twenty houses—it’s an English-owned island.
On Walt's trips with Becket, the architect said, “he was not relaxing (except when we played dominoes—he plays dominoes quite well—that got his mind off things), but he was always constantly planning—new ideas and new things ahead—and every time he saw something he was trying to relate it to the present Disneyland or something. I was with him when he got the idea of the Tiki Room. He bought a bird cage—where was this? I guess it was Puerto Rico at an antique shop (because Lilly was always going into antique shops). But this was part of his organized mind, he was then just thinking about this. Many of his things in the apartment [at Disneyland, presumably] he’d pick up on these various tours. Lilly, she was a great collector."
Fittingly enough, the S.S. Alcoa Cavalier was an odd and interesting and ultimately even rather sinister ship. It is described on this web page that Becky Cline called to my attention. Some excerpts:
The SS Alcoa Cavalier was built for the Alcoa Steamship Company by the Oregon Shipbuilding Company of Portland, Oregon. Launched in March of 1947, she was originally intended to be a “Victory Ship” for the transport of war material. Instead, the vessel wound up serving as a cruise liner, making runs out of New Orleans to various Caribbean ports. The Cavalier was in service until 1963; she was ultimately scrapped in New Orleans five years later.
Asbestos insulation was used extensively throughout the construction of seagoing vessels prior to 1980. The reason was because of fire danger, which is perhaps the most catastrophic event that can occur at sea. This was driven home in a most graphic way in September 1934, when the cruise liner S.S. Morro Castle caught fire at sea off the coast of New Jersey, killing nearly 140 passengers and crewmen. ...
Congress ... passed regulations requiring the use of asbestos insulation aboard seagoing vessels, particularly in the fire room, around boilers and in the engine room. Although the legislature's intentions were good, the fact is that asbestos product manufacturers were well aware of the health hazards of their wares. Medical researchers had long suspected the toxicity of asbestos; their suspicions were confirmed by the mid-1930s. ...
Eventually, the government did issue “advisories” to shipyard workers in 1943, recommending that respirators and ventilation be used at job sites. By then however, the asbestos producers had done their jobs well; such warnings were not taken seriously, which is why mesothelioma navy cases are most common.
That page is from the website of a law firm that represents plaintiffs in asbestos suits (and would obviously like to represent more), so caution is in order. Still: could Walt's exposure to asbestos in 1957 have contributed to his death from lung cancer almost ten years later? His chain smoking was undoubtedly a much more important cause, but maybe that two and a half weeks on the SS. Alcoa Cavalier didn't help.
Just for the record: those four dots in the upper left-hand corner are from damage to the photo.
I've been consumed lately with work on Funnybooks, which has gotten in the way of putting up posts that I very much want to write, like a review of Sick Little Monkeys, Thad Komorowski's book about Ren and Stimpy and the ongoing artistic train wreck that John Kricfalusi's professional life has become. Yes, if you care about animation, and specifically about what is probably the only television animation of the last few decades that is worth a minute of your time, you should buy the book. I'll try to explain why sometime within the next few weeks.
As it happened, I read Sick Little Monkeys immediately aftering reading Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and in both cases, as I thought about the people who made the cartoons and the comic books, the phrase "deranged adolescent egomaniacs" came rushing to the surface of my mind. I won't be reviewing the Howe book, since my interest in Marvel comic books evaporated in the early seventies—that is, around the time they began to be edited, written, and drawn by people who had grown up as superhero fans and who took their heroes, and themselves, entirely too seriously. But if your interest is stronger than mine, Howe does an admirably thorough job of writing about the comic books and the people who made them.
In the meantime, if you're thirsting for substantive postings about animation and, occasionally, the comics, there's no better source than Michael Sporn's Splog. I am constantly amazed that Michael posts so much, and that so much of it is really good. Today, for example, you can read his review of The Croods, a DreamWorks Animation feature that I plan to do my best to avoid, for all that I've admired Chris Sanders's work in Lilo and Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon. It seems that not even a talent as great as Sanders can escape being chewed up in DreamWorks' cliché machine. I've enjoyed Michael's posts on Bill Nolan and Grim Natwick, too, posts enriched not just by Michael's insights as a seasoned animation professional but also by lots of well-chosen frame grabs; and then there are his posts about good people I knew or wanted to know, like Mary Eastman and Hardie Gramatky. I visit Splog every day, and you should, too.
Les Trois Petits Cochons
John McElwee is the proprietor of another remarkable blog, Greenbriar Picture Shows, an ongoing source of detailed and fascinating information about the Hollywood movies of decades past, animation sometimes included, and he has shared with me the advertisement at the right. John writes:
I came across, just now while indexing theatre ads from the 30's, a very unusual Broadway playdate for The Three Little Pigs in November 1933. The Disney cartoon was presented in French as an "exclusive showing." The Globe Theatre was not an ethnic or foreign language house, having opened originally in 1910 as a legit venue. It later closed, then was reborn as the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1958. It seated 1,415.
If nothing else, the engagement, and this ad, demonstrates the enormous and ongoing appeal of Three Little Pigs as it ran late into 1933. Perhaps the novelty of hearing Disney's Pigs in French drew repeat patronage eager for another helping of the animated hit.
I knew that the French-dubbed version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs played a Manhattan engagement, but I don't recall knowing that the French version of Three Little Pigs did.
If, back in 1933, you wanted to see Les Trois Petits Cochons but didn't care about the feature, you might have had to think hard about the cost in that Depression year. Twenty-five cents then was the equivalent, according to one inflation calculator, of $4.38 today. A dime or fifteen cents would have been manageable, surely, but a quarter? Maybe a bit rich.
Fess Parker in Norway
I know that Disney live-action movies are of limited interest to many of the people who visit this site, but I can't resist posting an item that Gunnar Andreassen recently sent me. I'm a Fess Parker fan, and I count my acquaintance with him as one of the best things I carried away from work on my Walt Disney biography, The Animated Man. An opportunity to revisit my memories of Fess is always welcome.
I've known for a long time about Fess' 1956 visit to Europe, when Davy Crockett mania was striking there after ebbing in the United States, but I don't recall ever seeing a contemporaneous newspaper report from one of the countries Fess visited. But here, thanks to Gunnar, is a translation of an article in the largest Norwegian newspaper, on April 27, 1956, about Fess’ visit to Oslo:
"I came as soon as possible after school," said one of the boys who stood in line at the Fornebu Airport yesterday . Along with a few hundred others with similar interest, mostly boys, but also many girls, he waited for the American children’s— and therefore also the Norwegian children’s— new "hero," comic book hero, adventure book hero and American Indian film hero Davy Crockett. The plane arrived from Copenhagen with Fess Parker himself, who plays the title role in the film Davy Crockett.
The kids who pushed against the fence and yelled "Davy," were probably slightly disappointed as Parker stepped out of the plane and it turned out that he was not in "uniform." He was one meter and ninety-six cm., but he wore an ordinary gray coat. He had neither gun nor buckskin shirt and fur cap made of "coon," as the small American raccoon is called. But on the other hand, nine-year-old Terje Christensen of Kampen School had a complete "Davy Crockett" equipment, and he was allowed to stand near the plane and be the first to greet the popular guest when he set foot on Norwegian soil. Parker pleasantly greeted both Terje and the hundred other fans in the front row along the fence. By the way, it seemed as though he modestly tried to get away from fame and hero glory of his film role. His first words were: "Davy Crockett died 120 years ago!"
The real David Crockett was known as an American hunter and forest man who fought the Indians in the early 1800s. He later became a politician and was elected to Congress. In the struggle to liberate Texas, which was then a Mexican province, he was captured by the Mexicans and shot. The hero's death after fortress Alamo fell, however, proved a bit of a problem for film producer Walt Disney one hundred years later. The television film series about "Davy" ends—completely historically accurate—with this sad event. Complete national mourning broke out in the U.S.A. Disney received 15,000 maudlin protest letters every week and thousands of boys walked in a demonstrations with posters: "Don’t let Davy Crockett die at the Alamo." The result was that Disney had to wake Davy to live again and the television series about him continued.
Film star Fess Parker, who in almost all Americans' eyes now is identical with Crockett, is 29 years old. He was born in Texas, where his parents have a farm, and he has from his film revenues bought a farm next to his father’s. Actually, he had thought himself to have an academic career, he earned a university degree and wanted to study theater history. In order to get some practical experience of theater life, he tried his hand in acting and got a role in the play Mister Roberts, which incidentally recently was shown here as a film. After he came to Hollywood, he got some minor jobs while he as a living sorted underwear in a large department store on the night shift. Among the few films he ever participated in was a "horror movie" with eerie giant ants [Them]. ... One day Disney went through some old movies to try to find an actor that he could use for the planned film series about the national hero Crockett. When he saw Parker among giant ants, he cried: "There is Davy Crockett! Who is that guy?"
Before he came here, the boys and girls in Oslo knew him only from comics, books, etc., but on the occasion of the star's visit the color film Davy Crockett was shown in a special showing at Eldorado Cinema yesterday, and Parker was presented to the youthful audience from the stage—in buckskin and coonskin cap. And not just that, he also talked and played the guitar and was one of the nicest movie stars who have visited Oslo to this date.
My interview with Fess Parker, from 2003-2004, is at this link, and my post after his death in 2010 is at this one.
An April 6, 2013, update: From Gunnar Andreassen, a few frame grabs from Norwegian television coverage of Fess Parker's 1956 arrival in Oslo:
Gunnar has also sent this link to a very brief, silent clip of Fess Parker's arrival in London that year.
From the Madrid production of The Perfect American. The figure at the center of the stage is supposed to be not Walt, but Andy Warhol. What is Andy Warhol doing in this opera? You'll just have to watch it.
Watching The Perfect American
Philip Glass' opera The Perfect American, which is ostensibly about Walt Disney, can now be seen streaming on the internet, through the site called medici.tv. (Thanks to Brent Swanson for the link.) You can find video of a live February 6 performance from the world premiere engagement at Madrid's Teatro Real at this link. Medici is a subscription service, but you can for the time being see The Perfect American for free, simply by registering (and providing a minimal amount of information about yourself). The opera is in English, and there are no subtitles—not necessary for some of the singers, like those who play Walt and Roy Disney and who enunciate clearly, but subtitles would be welcome in other cases. Not that you really need them to follow what's going on. The music has its moments, although if I'm going to watch an opera by a minimalist composer, I'll go with John Adams (Nixon in China).
Like the Peter Stephan Jungk novel on which the opera is based, Rudy Wurlitzer's libretto for The Perfect American is insanely stupid, but it's hardly the first opera of which that can be said. The basic idea, as so often with efforts to diminish Walt Disney, is that just about everything he did and said was the product of a neurotic obsession, a bogus idea that permeates even an ostensibly sympathetic biography like Neal Gabler's. (He loved trains? How bizarre! He must have been sick in the head!) And so we have Walt, a man whose warm feelings for animals were evident whenever he was photographed around them—in all the photos and film I've seen, he is smiling and unmistakably happy—not just regretting the childhood incident in which he panicked and killed an owl, but haunted by it for the rest of his life. And there is of course Walt the tyrannical boss, reducing his employees to interchangeable ciphers (here wearing eyeshades and identical plaid clothing) and depriving them of credit for their work. There's the Walt who wants to be cryogenically frozen; there's Walt the bigot, telling the audio-animatronic Abe Lincoln that maybe he went overboard with that equality business. There's even Walt the philanderer, carrying on a most unlikely romance with Hazel George, the studio nurse.
It's tempting to shrug off this absurd opera, which will of course be seen by a total audience much smaller than any that ever saw a popular Disney film, much less visited Disneyland in a single week. The problem is that the opera will be seen by precisely that educated, sophisticated audience that is already disposed to look down on Walt and his works, and that will find its prejudices reinforced and validated by The Perfect American. For proof, you need look no further than the February 1 issue of Time, and its three-page feature article about Glass and The Perfect American. (Thanks to Are Myklebust for scans.) The magazine quotes Glass as speaking sympathetically about Walt—sympathy not evident in the opera itself—but with unmistakable condescension: "People were more conservative then. You have to consider the context." Time, for its part, describes Walt "as much a bully as he was a genius."
"What makes this opera interesting," Glass told Time's Lisa Abend, "is that it shows the best of American character—and some of the worst." Anyone looking for the "the best" in The Perfect American should be prepared for a long search.
I've posted another of my essays based on a group of photos taken on the same day, or sometimes, as in this case, within a short span of time. The subject in this case is Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo, who was photographed in Hollywood in 1969 for publicity for The Pogo Special Birthday Special, the misbegotten TV show directed by Chuck Jones.
The self-caricature of Kelly at the right was also distributed as part of the promotion for the show.
You can read about The Pogo Special Birthday Special—and, of course, see the photos—by clicking on this link.
You may have heard that Dave Fleischer worked on the famous "Let's All Go to the Lobby" trailer, which was added to the National Film Registry in 2000. Thanks to John Owens of the Chicago Tribune, here's proof: a couple of ads from the early 1950s, from the Filmack Trailer Co.'s trade magazine Inspiration, that use Dave's involvement as a selling point. Filmack, a Chicago-based company, has an interesting history extending back almost a century. John Owens has written about Filmack's story for the Tribune; you can read his article at this link.
As John writes, "The artists who worked on these films are, for the most part, unknown"—with the obvious exception, of course, of Dave Fleischer. John continues with appropriate caution: "It's been said that Walt Disney may have worked in a freelance capacity for Filmack in the early 1920s, but that hasn't been determined." Probably Walt's early involvement with Kansas City Film Ad, a company making similar trailers, led to someone's associating him with Filmack. It is unlikely, to say the least, that Walt ever had anything to do with Filmack.
It's remarkable how many odd stories have sprung up depositing Walt in jobs he never held or in towns he never visited. My favorite recent example is an email I received from a lady in Pecos, Texas, who wrote as follows. I've altered her message to conceal identities:
In your research of Walt Disney did you discover the relationship he had with C-- C-- (her married name)? I understand the two were friends in high school in either Kansas or Missouri. In the 1960s Mr. Disney would come to Pecos, Texas, to visit Mrs. C--. It was said they had been high school sweethearts. I met him once at her home when playing with my cousin, her grandaughter. Although I did not know he was an important man and there was no fuss about his visit I've always remembered him playing with us and my new "Susie Homemaker Oven." I sat in his lap and fed him cake.
It was while talking about that event with M-- C-- that I was told he was very fond of Mrs. C--. I understand he visited her many times there in Pecos. I am sure this is [an] occasion Mrs. Disney would have been uncomfortable with but I am sure it was all harmless.
All harmless, I'm sure, as far as the real Walt Disney was concerned, since I don't think he ever set foot in Pecos, much less made multiple visits there. (If you doubt me, find Pecos on the map.) As for the cake-eating "Walt," perhaps he had good reason to conceal his real identity and the nature of his relationship with his "high school sweetheart." Maybe his wife would have been "uncomfortable"?
When I wrote Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, I made no reference to any number of well-known cartoons, including Cat Concerto (Hanna and Barbera, MGM), Rhapsody Rabbit (Freleng, Warner Bros.), and Walky Talky Hawky and Crowing Pains (both McKimson, Warner Bros.). Not because there wasn't anything worth saying about those cartoons, but because I didn't have enough pages to say what I wanted to say, about those cartoons and many others. And just as well, perhaps, because if I had written about those four cartoons I might be posting corrections and clarifications now, thanks to the new information that some diligent researchers have just revealed.
Thad Komorowski has posted an exceptional examination of how Cat Concerto and Rhapsody Rabbit, two remarkably similar cartoons, happened to go head to head at the Academy Awards for 1946. Keith Scott, the great expert on cartoon voices, has written an equally impressive account of just how Foghorn Leghorn got his distinctive voice. Thad wrote his piece for his own blog, with input from Keith Scott, David Gerstein, and Kurtis Findlay, but both of these wonderful essays have been posted on Jerry Beck's revived Cartoon Research site. There are nits that could be picked—I'm sure Thad has Irv Spence and Dick Bickenbach returning to MGM later than they actually did—but no serious flaws that I've detected.
As Thad makes clear, it was probably coincidental that Rhapsody Rabbit and Cat Concerto were in production simultaneously. It may seem odd that cartoon makers at MGM and Warners (and Lantz, where Dick Lundy directed Musical Moments from Chopin around the same time) should have hit upon the idea of presenting their characters as concert pianists, but it really wasn 't. For one thing, the mid-1940s were the heyday on film of the Spanish pianist José Iturbi, who was so well known that he was one of the first guest stars on Amos 'n Andy when that radio show returned to the air in the fall of 1943, after a hiatus of more than six months. Iturbi was an MGM star, and he appeared in two movies that also included animation by Hanna and Barbera: Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Holiday in Mexico (1946). That's Iturbi in the 1940 publicity photo at left, with the MGM lion, from the website of the José Iturbi Foundation ("Popularizing Classical Music...One Note at a Time!").
What's truly odd is that directors at both Warners and MGM thought it was a good idea to shove their leading characters onto the concert stage. Rhapsody Rabbit has always seemed especially problematic in that regard, since it presents Bugs as an overbearing bully, at war with a much smaller and weaker creature. If audiences thought that Warners was copying MGM, that surely was true in part because Bugs in Rhapsody Rabbit is much more like Tom Cat than he is like the Bugs of, say, Hare Trigger (1945), coolly confronting a blustering, stupid but still dangerous adversary, Yosemite Sam.
I've written here more than once about the beautiful Swiss town of Zermatt, where Walt Disney found inspiration for Disneyland's Matterhorn and filmed one of his very best live-action films, Third Man on the Mountain. Now a Swiss visitor to the site has shared with me some photos he and his family took during the filming of Third Man in July 1958. You can see them by going to this Essay page. [An April 6, 2013, update: I've added correct identifications of the people in one of the photos.]
Oskar Lebeck (seated), with four of the cartoonists who wrote and illustrated Dell comic books for him. From left: Mel Crawford, Dan Noonan, John Stanley, and Dan Gormley.
What I've Been Doing
I've been a long time away from this site, thanks to my book on comic books, Funnybooks. I submitted a semi-final draft to the publisher, University of California Press, yesterday, and I'll consider the book finished after a few more months of reviewing and re-reviewing source material, choosing illustrations, and so forth. It's turning out well, I think, although I'm sure I'll get a lot of flak from those people who know that Tony Strobl was a much better cartoonist than Carl Barks, that the Archie comic books far surpassed Little Lulu, and so on. As I keep reminding myself, you can't please everybody, and sometimes you can't please anybody.
Speaking of the illustrations: The photo above, of Oskar Lebeck with some of the cartoonists whose work appeared in the Dell comic books he edited, was published in the program book for the 1976 NewCon comics convention at Boston. This was the fabulous convention at which Barks, John Stanley, and Harvey Kurtzman were guests, along with other luminaries. I missed it, for what seemed like good reasons at the time, and I've been kicking myself ever since. The photo must have been taken around 1950, not long before Lebeck left his job with Western Printing & Lithographing, and my best guess is that it was intended to illustrate an article about Western's New York-based comic-book operation in the company's house organ, The Westerner. An article about Western's Los Angeles office appeared in an early issue of The Westerner, but no companion article about the New York office was ever published, maybe because Lebeck left the company in 1951 and his successor died within a few months.
I've hoped to use the photo in Funnybooks, but at this point I have no idea where to find an original print or a high-resolution scan from one. I thought the photo might have come from John Stanley's family, since it illustrates an article about Stanley, but that was not the case, and I have no idea how to get in touch with Don Phelps, the convention's presiding genius and author of the Stanley article. I can use a descreened scan—that's what you see above—but that would be a last resort. So I'd welcome any suggestions.
I have a backlog of material that I hope to have posted in a few more days, including some by very patient visitors to the site who have shared their finds with me. In the meantime, there is of course lots of other good animation- and comics-related stuff on the Web, posted by people whose productivity shames me. Michael Sporn, for one, has something new and stimulating up every day, including, recently, a fresh look at my own Hollywood Cartoons. Believe me, it's very flattering to have people like Michael and Thad Komorowski and Bill Benzon returning to my book and finding more food for thought in it. I hope I eventually have the opportunity to revise that book and take another long look at Bill Tytla's animation, in particular, although that may be hoping for too much.
The Philip Glass opera based on Peter Stephan Jungk's execrable novel about Walt Disney opened last night at the Teatro Real in Madrid. It opens at the English National Opera in London in June. You can see stills from the production at this link, and a brief video clip that shows Walt in dialogue with the audio-animatronic Lincoln at this link. The latter site is in Spanish, but the opera itself is sung in English. To judge from the video clip, Glass' Perfect American will be generally similar, in tone if not in aims, to Satyagraha, his opera that took Gandhi's life as a starting point but not much more than that.
I've posted several times about Jungk's novel and Glass' unfortunate decision to make an opera from it, most extensively on February 13, 2012.
A sign advertising the Chuck Jones Experience at the entrance to the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas. Note the size comparison chart that includes those decidedly non-Chuck Jones characters Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil.
As I Was Saying...
I didn't intend for this site to stay dark for so long, but a number of things got in the way of fresh posts. A lot of snow and ice, for one thing; the evening of December 25 brought to Little Rock a foot-deep white Boxing Day and a loss of power that lasted four days, until just before we caught a flight for Kansas City, there to make connections with a train heading west.
The 24-hour train trip to Winslow, Arizona, was part of a bargain-priced package Phyllis found on the Web from a company that specializes in rail travel. Part of the package's attraction to me was that not only did we catch our train at Kansas City's magnificent old Union Station—as Walt Disney did in 1923—but the route we followed was identical with that of the Santa Fe Railway's Super Chief, which Walt and lots of other Hollywood people rode many times. (Amtrak's route diverges from the Super Chief's at both ends, outside Los Angeles and outside Chicago, but not on the long stretch that we traveled.) I'm sure our roomette accomodations and our meals in the dining car were a notch or two, or more, below what Walt experienced in the 1930s and 1940s—and the echoes of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest were rather faint—but there was a pleasing general resemblance to train travel in its heyday.
Winslow was immortalized in the Eagles' 1972 hit song "Take It Easy," whose lyrics, you may recall, include a line about standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. There is now in Winslow a downtown park (on a corner, of course) complete with a statue and a mural, dedicated to the song, which can be heard there all...the...time. But that's OK; Winslow doesn't seem to have a lot going for it, other than the song, so why not milk it for all it's worth?
There is also in Winslow, to be sure, a marvelous hotel, right on the railroad tracks, called La Posada, a former Harvey facility that has been beautfully restored. Most of its rooms are named for movie stars who stayed at the hotel in its heyday, when it was a jumping-off point for visits to "Indian country"; we had the James Cagney room. La Posada was our own jumping-off point for the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, and then for another train, from Williams, Arizona, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
From the Grand Canyon we made our way—not by train, alas, but by bus, although for much of the way on old Route 66—to Las Vegas, which Phyllis and I hadn't visited for about twenty years. We had been content to stay away, but probably every American should visit Las Vegas every few decades. It's as much a monument in its own way as Mount Rushmore and the Washington Mall.
We were impressed by how advanced the Strip's fantasy architecture is now, compared with the early 1990s. Back then, the Excalibur was a hot new casino hotel and the most Disneyland-like, its design aimed at pleasing children as well as their parents. Now it seems rather quaint compared with a phantasmagoria like the Paris, a mash-up of every French icon you've ever seen or heard of, starting with a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower.
I understand that any number of Disney Imagineering people pitch in on Vegas projects when there's no work for them at the Disney theme parks, and the Paris in particular certainly reflects that kind of expertise. We stayed across the street at the Bellagio, whose evocations of Italy are subtle by comparison, if subtlety is what you want in Las Vegas (but why would you?).
Not every hotel on the Strip shows the Paris's kind of ingenuity—the Venetian strives for the same effect but is rather tacky, and we found New York New York disappointingly pedestrian once you got inside—but the shabbiest and most depressing casino on the Strip is surely Circus Circus. That casino was once famed for its acrobats performing above the gamblers—I remember reading about it many years ago, not long after it opened in 1968, when Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was being serialized in Rolling Stone—but now it's a sad kind of place where, a friend suggests, you should wipe your shoes on the mat as you leave the building so that you don't dirty the rest of the Strip. I think the acrobats are still there, someplace, but I didn't seek them out.
When you work your way across the ground floor to the very back of the casino, past the slot machines and the very ordinary gift shops and fast-food joints, you come to the Chuck Jones Experience. I'd had no intention of ever visiting the Chuck Jones Experience, but since we were in Las Vegas anyway, I couldn't pass it up.
I won't bore you with a detailed account of my visit, since you can learn as much as you need to know from the website—which, I can't resist pointing out, might lead one to believe that Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil were Chuck Jones characters. What a pity that Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson aren't around to pay the Experience a visit! Perhaps the Experience is best described as a tiny theme park without any rides; or maybe a museum exhibit assembled without any purpose except to glorify Chuck.
The Chuck Jones Galleries in California and Santa Fe are temples of the same sort, but for some reason I didn't find the Experience quite as distressing as the galleries, at least as long as I could put the rest of Circus Circus out of my mind. But it's distressing enough. What bothered me most, I think, is what always bothers me about the glorification of Chuck, the stubborn refusal by his disciples, taking their lead from the great man himself, to acknowledge any distinction between the Good Chuck (the director of wonderful cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s) and the Bad Chuck (the director whose work fell off a cliff around 1960, or a little earlier, and never hit bottom). The original drawings on the walls, an indiscriminate mixture of both Chucks, all but decree that you must ignore the difference.
The pop-culture connections elsewhere in Las Vegas are most noticeable in the slot machines, many of them "themed" with licensed properties. You can waste your money on John Wayne slot machines, Tarzan slot machines, Superman slot machines, and Elvis Presley slot machines. If you loved a movie like Ghostbusters, The Hangover, or The Wizard of Oz, there's a slot machine waiting for you. I'm not sure how many of those machines offer inducements other than their themed decorations, but at the John Wayne machine, if the reels stop at the right place, you get to hear a pretty good imitation of the Duke's voice tell you to "Cough up some more money, sucker," if not in those exact words. As Wayne fans we responded in Pavlovian fashion and wasted a couple more dollars, hoping the Duke would favor us with a few more good words and maybe even a little cash. No such luck. We spent about five dollars on such themed slots and didn't get nearly enough entertainment from them to be lured into spending more.
The slot machines that most surprised me were the Star Wars machines (the ones shown here are at the Las Vegas airport, but there are some on the Strip, too). Now that Disney owns Star Wars, I've been told, these machines will vanish when the contract runs out. I'm puzzled, though, by what George Lucas was thinking when he approved a slot-machine deal. Star Wars, needless to say, appeals to kids, and there are lots of kids in Las Vegas these days, since so many of the casinos have followed Excalibur's lead and made themselves "family-friendly." But if you cared at all about those kids, why would you let your famous logo be slapped on machines that so easily could tempt kids (and, through them, their parents) into foolish and destructive behavior? Surely I don't need to point out that if you're going to gamble, slots are the worst way to do it, apart from buying a lottery ticket.
From Las Vegas we flew to Los Angeles for a very brief (four nights) visit, my first there in almost six years. That interval still surprises me when I think about it, because I spent weeks at a time in L.A. in the 1990s and early 2000s, when I was working on Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age and The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. On this trip I was tying up loose ends for my comic-book book, with stops at a couple of libraries. Phyllis and I also had dinner with Milt and Katie Gray in Santa Monica, and I had lunch the next day with Mark Evanier at the Tam O'Shanter, where we occupied Walt's favorite booth. It really was his favorite, as verified by Becky Cline, the Disney archivist, when I had lunch the following day with her and her predecessor, Dave Smith, at the Burbank burger joint called Mo's. And then we flew home.
I think this is the first time I've ever visited L.A. that I didn't leave behind some significant research that I just didn't have time for. I still haven't made it to the Musso & Frank Grill, another of Walt Disney's hangouts, but I'll probably have trouble talking Phyllis into making a trip west just to have lunch on Hollywood Boulevard. But I'll give it a shot.
We're just a few days past the 111th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth, and Garry Apgar, editor of the forthcoming Mickey Mouse Reader, a collection of rare historical articles to be published next year by University Press of Mississippi, has noticed how many important Disney-related events took place in the last two months of the year. Kinda spooky—well, no, not really, but certainly appropriate, considering that many of us associate "Disney" with Christmas and the warmth and goodwill that we want to feel at this time of year. Garry has contributed an essay, "November and December in Disney History," to this site, and you can read it by clicking on this link.
That's a hen Walt Disney is stroking, a hen held by its owner, the celebrity chef Sam Letrone, in this 1961 photo taken at Pontchartrain, France. Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller is just to the right of Letrone, looking rather dubious about the doves on his sleeve. That's probably Ron's wife (and Walt's daughter) Diane at the far right, with her back to the camera, and it's definitely the Millers' daughter Tamara who is reaching across the table to pet a dove.
[If you're really into Disney history, or maybe French cuisine, or maybe just chickens, after reading this post you'll want to scroll down to the updates I posted on December 8 and December 9, 2012.]
Walt Disney was born 111 years ago today. That's not a birthday party photo above, but it's a photo that says something about why so many people still remember Walt, and why they smile at that memory. The photo is dated September 2, 1961; my print came with a "snipe" in French on the back, headed "Who is the star?" This is my translation:
On the way to Paris, Walt Disney went to pay a visit to his old acquaintance and friend Sam, the celebrated restaurateur-troubadour of Pontchartrain, well known not only for the finesse of his cooking but also for the art of training hens and roosters that he presents "as a bonus" to his customers. In this compatible group, to whom must one award the Palm of the "Grande Vedette" [i.e., give star billing]? Is it to the restaurateur-troubadour, the father of Mickey, or the "hen who lays on command"?
Sam Letrone was a celebrity chef of his day, fifty years and more ago; he opened his restaurant in Pontchartrain in 1944. If he were active today, he would undoubtedly be appearing on the Food Network. Here is how his performances with his chickens were described in a photo feature in Life for March 3, 1958:
Guests who ask for an omelet at the restaurant Chez Sam, which is half an hour west of Paris in Pontchartrain, can really crow over the freshness of their eggs. The chef, Sam Letrone, simply calls for his hen Césarine and she delivers the desired egg direct to Sam's frying pan. Dutiful Césarine is just one of the well-trained plumed performers at Sam's hilarious hen parties. Others balance serenely atop a tall column of glassware and serenely puff filter-tip cigarets. ...
[Sam] describes [his training] as partly mesmerism and partly conditioning the chickens' reflexes to react to certain sounds.
He still served chicken at his restaurant, Sam told Life, but only chickens that were "not related to the performers."
I doubt that Sam was ever a candidate for a Michelin star. [Wrong! See below.] He was, however, the nominal author in 1954 of an as-told-to memoir, La Bohème en Toque Blanche (The Bohemian in the Chef's Hat), whose cover drawing depicts him in the company of his trained chickens. It's still readily available from internet dealers in used books, as is what appears to be a later children's book, Le Petit Monde de Maître Sam (The Little World of Master Sam). The snipe refers to him as a "troubadour," and I believe he recorded one or more albums as a singer, but I haven't been able to locate references.
Sam was still in action almost twenty years after he and Walt crossed paths. You can watch him and his chickens in a 1980 YouTube video at this link; embedding is disabled for some reason. His restaurant was by then in Yvelines, a village about five miles southwest of Pontchartrain (which is part of a larger town, or administrative unit, called Jouars-Pontchartrain, if you're looking for it on a map).
Walt Disney read about Sam in that issue of Life (they were almost certainly not "old acquaintances and friends"), and he didn't forget him. More than three years later, on August 17, 1961, he and his wife, Lillian, his daughter, Diane, and her husband, Ron Miller, and three of the Millers' four children sailed from New York on the United States—Walt's first trip to Europe by ship since September 1957. There was a reason he had switched back to a ship from jet travel: he was filming part of one of his live-action features, Bon Voyage, on the United States. The movie's stars, Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman, and other members of the cast were also on board.
In France, the Disneys, Millers, and MacMurrays traveled to Paris by car, stopping at Pontchartrain to dine at Chez Sam. According to Diane Disney Miller, "Ron recalls that dad had read about this in Life ... and made the reservation to go there, giving the instructions to the driver." When the Disneys and Millers arrived at Chez Sam, "we found that Fred and June MacMurray and their 6-year-old twin daughters were there, too, so we shared a large table. An absolutely wonderful memory!!!"
Diane Miller also says: "As Ron recalls, dad, who fancied himself an amateur magician, sensed a sleight of hand movement that was the secret to the hen's trick. I really wasn't aware of all this, probably because I was preoccupied with our children. He must have told Fred about it too. I really didn't know this, and I think it is so ... what shall I say ... really cute.. what's a better word? So Walt."
A couple of things about this episode strike me as being very "Walt." There's his obvious pleasure in caressing the hen with him in the photo, for instance; I have seen Walt with animals in many still pictures and on film, and he invariably seems to be enjoying their company. And then there's the fact that he tucked away his memory of that Life article for several years, until he could make use of it.
Of course, the story would be better if Walt had put Sam and his chickens to work in one of his films or TV shows, and as far as I know, he never did. Or did he? In Chez Sam we have a restaurant whose principal attraction was its trained birds. Does that remind you of a Disneyland attraction that opened a couple of years later, with "Audio-Animatronic" performing birds instead of real ones? I'm speaking of the Enchanted Tiki Room, of course. It's not a restaurant, to be sure—but as is well documented, it was originally planned to be one.
I know that the Enchanted Tiki Room opened in June 1963, but I have no idea when planning for that attraction began or if Walt's memories of Sam's performing poultry played any part in that planning. But I'd certainly like to think so.
[A December 8, 2012, update: Just after I posted this piece, I received from amazon.com a copy of It's Kind of a Cute Story, the autobiographical volume by the great Disneyland designer Rolly Crump. (To read about the book, and about how Crump and his co-author Jeff Heimbuch deliberately avoided using any Disney-copyrighted illustrations, see Heimbuch's comment on my second post about the continuing controversy over Amid Amidi's Ward Kimball biography.) The Crump book has a chapter on the Enchanted Tiki Room, but, alas, my hasty reading reveals no hint that Sam Letrone and his chickens may have played an inspirational role.
[Garry Apgar has persuaded me that I erred in identifying Yvelines as a "village," when it's really the department, a sort of French state, in which Pontchartrain is located. When Yahoo Maps took me to "Yvelines," it was almost certainly taking me to the center of that department, rather than to a specific locality of that name. Sam had probably moved his restaurant by the time that video was made—YouTube dates it to January 12, 1980—but most likely to another location in Pontchartrain or nearby. As Garry says: "Though the decor inside the restaurant is different in the video, the narrator says Sam's place is located 'on a national highway [probably the N12] about thirty kilometers from Paris.' That's still a fit—geographically—for Pontchartrain. Maybe he'd done a rehab on the place at some point after Walt's visit. (The sign also reads: 'Auberge Chez Sam,' which may indicate a change in name.)"
[A lingering question is what kind of "sleight of hand" Walt might have seen when Sam's hen was laying on command. As Garry says, "The hen laid the egg about six inches or so above Sam's sauce pan [in the video]. Hard to see how sleight of hand was involved there! And he gets the birds to do simply amazing things. I never before had such respect for a chicken." Possibly the hen required more encouragement when Walt saw it.]
[A December 9, 2012, update: As Garry Apgar has discovered, I was unjust to Sam Letrone when I wrote: "I doubt that Sam was ever a candidate for a Michelin star." The 1978 Michelin red guide, the bible for hungry and discriminating travelers throughout France, gave Sam one star (of a possible three), a distinct honor. Moreover, it gave his establishment three crossed spoons and forks, which means that not only was the food exceptional (thus the star) but it was a pretty classy place in other respects. Garry suggests:
It does, incidentally, now, in retrospect, make sense that Sam got a star, or even had one at the time the Disneys descended chez lui en masse. For two reasons: First, everyone in your photo is dressed up very smartly, even the gents in the background. People dressed up back in the day much more commonly than now, but still... Second, Walt from the get-go, almost, always liked to go first class, especially wherever publicity might be concerned. So it makes sense that he would not go to a restaurant, with his family, to be photographed, where it was little more than a carney attraction, with only mediocre grub on the menu.
[That's true, surely, but it's worth remembering that Walt's preferences in food tended to lean not toward grande cuisine but the likes of canned hash. When I interviewed Jack Cutting back in 1986, we talked about Walt's visits to Paris—Cutting lived there for three years when he worked for Disney, overseeing the dubbing of soundtracks for foreign releases of Disney films, among other things—and Jack said this:
He had been overseas during the war as an ambulance driver and felt he knew Paris. One day he was in the French office—he always said to me he never liked the French office, I don't know why—and it was lunchtime. I said, "Let's go somewhere nearby and have lunch." He said, "You'll have to excuse me, I want to go out to lunch by myself. You know, I know Paris." I went off to an Italian place—I get in a rut where I know them, and I sit and read the morning paper at that time of the day. ... Anyway, I came around through the back streets and I came through the Lido Arcade, which came out on the Champs Élysées just up the street from 52 Champs Élysées, where the office was. They had recently opened a little place in the Lido Arcade where they sold American hamburgers. I glanced in there, and here he is. Isn't that cute? I could have gone in and said, "Hi, Walt," but I wasn't going to do that, because he knows Paris. I think he just wanted to have a hamburger.
[When Phyllis and I have traveled in France, we've found that a "two-fork" rating in the Michelin Guide means that both food and ambience will probably be well above the American norm. So, that Chez Sam had what she calls a "three-fork" rating may have had some significance, perhaps more than his one star. The "three forks" meant that it was a nice place, on a par with the nice places that Walt liked at home, such as the Tam O'Shanter and the Musso and Frank Grill.
[When did Chez Sam disappear from the guide rouge? Sometime in the 1980s, probably. Garry reports that it's not listed in the 1986 guide, and it's certainly not in the only copy I still own, from 2006.]
Here's another snapshot from my December 12, 1986, visit to Ward Kimball's home in San Gabriel, this one taken outside Ward's Grizzly Flats Railroad depot. I can't explain the props now (a really big toothbrush?), if I ever could. It's perhaps enough to say that they speak of the subject's unusual personality. When you're a great Disney animator, you're entitled.
Since posting two days ago about the Walt Disney Company's insistence on sanitizing Amid Amidi's Kimball biography, Full Steam Ahead!, I've heard from Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter and the founder of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and Floyd Norman, the veteran Disney artist and writer. You can find their comments at this link. Diane's sentiments are mine, exactly, and Floyd's second message is, I think, rather chilling. Amid's difficulties are not unique; the Walt Disney Company's minions are insisting on editing other people's books as if Disney were going to publish themitself. That's beyond the pale. What I hear the company saying through its actions is that books like Amid's and Floyd's have little or no value apart from what is bestowed on them through Disney-licensed illustrations. So, Disney is justified in exercising ultimate control over their editorial content, even on so flimsy a basis that a book has made some Disney suit "uncomfortable." What arrogant nonsense.
If anyone asked my opinion (not that anyone has), I'd urge Amid and Chronicle Books to publish Full Steam Ahead! without any Disney-licensed illustrations. Ward was an excellent and very distinctive cartoonist, and a book in which his drawings have not been filtered through the larger Disney sensibility would be startling and refreshing. And there are Kimball drawings on the fringes of Disney's domain—I'm thinking about that wonderfully degenerate "Mickey Mouse" he drew many years ago for Bob Foster, and his hilarious caricatures of his colleagues as various incarnations of Captain Hook—that could be included without trespassing on sacred ground. True, such drawings might provoke a form letter from Margaret Adamic (just doin' her job, as some toady would undoubtedly whine in Cartoon Brew's comments), but any letter of that sort could be safely consigned to the wastebasket.
Above and at the end of this item are my photos of Ward Kimball at home in San Gabriel, California, where I visited him on December 12, 1986. Oh, the trains? Well, with any luck Amid Amidi's Kimball biography will be published next year and you'll get the full story on Ward's very unusual hobby.
A Kimball Crisis
I'm sure that most people who come to this site are like me and visit Cartoon Brew daily, so I needn't go into detail about Amid Amidi's difficulties with the Walt Disney Company over Full Steam Ahead!, his biography of the great animator Ward Kimball. Briefly, Disney, in the person of Margaret Adamic, who is in charge of such things, has refused to permit the use of its copyrighted illustrations in the book unless Amid makes changes in the text that would, I gather, make Ward seem more like a clean-cut all-American boy and less like the naughty prankster—or dirty old man, as one of Walt's secretaries would have it—he actually was.
I read the book in manuscript, at Amid's request, made some suggestions, and helped him plug a hole or two with information and photos he needed. It's a very good book, well researched and well written, and I recall very little in it that might make a maiden aunt blush. If there's any blushing, it will be because of what Kimball himself said or did—and it is, of course, the most important purpose of such a biography to present its subject whole, even when some of what he has said or done may make a reader uncomfortable. Amid's Kimball biography will be an important addition to the animation-history bookshelf—if, that is, Margaret Adamic ever relaxes her grip.
Adamic's objections have delayed and possibly derailed publication of the book. It is to be published not by Disney itself, it should be noted, but by Chronicle Books, a San Francisco company that has done very well by Disney in publishing a series of flattering "art of" books about recent Disney animated features. Adamic supposedly reads every word of a book before authorizing the use of Disney-copyrighted illustrations in it. That's fine with me; but a Disney functionary has no business usurping the editorial judgment of an author and his publisher, unless that publisher is the Walt Disney Company itself. Otherwise, that functionary should just say "no," if "no" seems to be in order, and leave it at that.
Amid has in his frustration with Disney gone public with his complaints about the company's treatment of his book—a risky course, needless to say, but one I can understand and endorse, especially since other authors are apparently encountering obstacles of the same sort.
Amid's woes have called to mind my own encounters with Margaret Adamic, most recently in connection with The Animated Man, my 2007 biography of Walt Disney. When I was writing that book I asked her for access to the Disney Archives, and that access was refused because Neal Gabler was already at work on his biography of Walt. Since the Walt Disney Company had chosen as the authorized biographer of its founder a writer who had previously branded Walt Disney an auti-Semite and dismissed two of his greatest films as "treacle cartoons," I decided that I would keep my distance from the company during work on my own book. I thus chose only illustrations that I was certain the Walt Disney Company could not legitimately claim to own.
So far so good, until the fall of 2008. It was around that time that Walt Disney World began selling the paperback edition of The Animated Man in its stores. That led to the book's coming to Adamic's attention, and on September 25 she wrote to my publisher, University of California Press, complaining, in legal-boilerplate language, that The Animated Man reproduced "our copyrighted images and images depicting our copyrighted characters and other valuable DISNEY properties." No specifics. Most important, from my point of view, this challenge meant that my book could not be sold in the Disney theme parks.
Since Adamic's complaint was both vague and erroneous, it was difficult to frame a response. Adamic didn't reply when UC Press asked for specifics. In January 2009, I wrote to her myself, and again she did not reply. I then accepted an offer of help from a friend who knew someone who knew a high-ranking Disney executive, and in February I sent that executive a two-page letter describing my dilemma. He called me two months later, in April 2009, to tell me that five photos were the problem, because Disney owned them, and that details would follow from Adamic.
They did, a few days later. Four photos were at issue, not five, and Disney owned none of them. (If you borrow someone else's old photo and make a copy negative from it, that doesn't give you ownership of the photo. If you distribute a publicity photo widely with no copyright notice and no restrictions on use, you can't assert copyright when someone uses it in a book. And so on.) I wrote to Adamic, after putting on my battered old lawyer hat, and explained in detail why Disney's claim to own the photos was not valid. She replied a few weeks later, on May 14, 2009—that is, almost eight months after her initial complaint—in what I can only describe as the most grudging terms: "Although we do not entirely agree with your position, we have decided in the interest of not extending the debate longer than it has gone on, to not pursue the matter further. Accordingly, we will simply instruct our Disney Theme Parks Merchandise buyer[s] that they are free to sell your books in the theme parks if they choose to do so."
Need I say that the buyers chose not to do so? Perhaps they thought the book wouldn't sell to theme-park visitors (although that wasn't what the Walt Disney World buyers seemed to think before Adamic's edict came down). But certainly they might have reasonably concluded that the book was damaged goods, that it bore a fatal taint after its eight months on the taboo list. Why risk annoying higher-ups by putting such a book on a park's shelves? I wouldn't have run that risk myself, back in the days when I worked for a couple of other dysfunctional large organizations.
What was so frustrating about this episode was not that Disney, through Adamic, complained about my use of four photos. It was that the complaint was so vague, and that Adamic refused to respond to a request for details until that Disney executive involved himself in my case. Meanwhile, I suffered real injury through the removal of my book from sale in the theme parks. I think about how differently things might have played out if Adamic had from the beginning told me and my publisher which illustrations were the subject of her complaint, and we had thus been able to prove quickly that no copyright infringement was involved.
All of this is not to say that Amid's situation is any better or worse than mine was, only that the same kind of corporate overreach that is damaging his book also damaged mine. I'm sure other people have similar stories. Perhaps Margaret Adamic herself is the victim of unreasonable demands from executives higher up in Robert Iger's hierarchy; or maybe she's just one of the petty tyrants who always flourish in poorly managed bureaucracies. Regardless, it seems likely that this sort of scrutiny of what serious authors write about Walt Disney and the people who worked for him will lead only, at best, to cautious books of the kind I wrote about in the essay I called "The Approved Narrative."
As I say in that piece, books worth reading can still emerge under such circumstances. J. B. Kaufman's new book on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may be one. I read that book in manuscript a few years ago, at Kaufman's request, and I remember it as a solid piece of work. I haven't seen the published book, so I have no idea how well it survived Adamic's scrutiny.
And what would Ward Kimball think of all this? If you listen very carefully, you may hear derisive laughter drifting through the ether. Who is the target of that laughter? Probably best not to ask.
To read extensive excerpts from the interview I recorded with Ward Kimball during my 1986 visit to his home, click on this link.
Crowdfunding: Earlier this year, I voiced my skepticism about such crowdfunding sites as Kickstarter and Indiegogo in terms that now seem quaint: "For a filmmaker they are, it seems to me, intensely problematic. Asking for small contributions to get a film off the ground isn't quite like drumming up small contributions for a political campaign; your base of potential support is obviously much smaller. But if, given the limited size of that base, you set your funding goal at a level so high that as a practical matter you're asking people to chip in hundreds or thousands of dollars, some people may quite reasonably wonder why they shouldn't get a piece of the film, instead of just dropping money in the filmmaker's tin cup."
But last weekend, according to Cartoon Brew, "Blur Studio completed its crowdfunding effort for the proposed animated feature, The Goon, based on Eric Powell’s comic book. They exceeded their $400,000 goal, and set a new crowdfunding record for an animation project by raising $441,900 from 7,576 backers. The previous record-holder, Starburns Industries, had raised $406,237 in September for their stop motion film Anomalisa."
Hundreds of people, it seems, were more than happy to drop hundreds or even thousands of dollars in Blur's tin cup, in exchange for which they will receive goodies of various kinds, ranging from posters to (for a $10,000 donation) lunch with the filmmakers after a private screening of the story reel the Kickstarter money will pay for. Two donors chipped in enough to win the latter prize; I hope for their sake Blur has a good caterer.
It all seems very strange to me, although not as surpassingly weird as more than 3,500 Kickstarter backers' shoveling $136,723 at John Kricafalusi so he can make a short cartoon called Cans Without Labels. Does anyone really believe that a lack of financing is what has held John K. back since the brief glory days of Ren and Stimpy, as opposed to his own persistent lack of artistic discipline? Who will get the blame if Cans Without Labels turns into yet another Kricfalusi train wreck?
As the sums involved grow larger, crowdfunding reminds me more and more of the schemes through which wealthy people buy a whiff of Hollywood glamour by investing in individual movies. Now the" investors" are more numerous, the individual sums involved are much smaller, and if a film is successful the filmmakers need not part with a share of the profits but only with a few tchotchkes. There's a "story arc" here that I don't find particularly appealing.
One problem is, though, that sometimes small, interesting projects turn up on these funding sites, and they don't deserve to be lost in all the noise surrounding the likes of The Goon and Cans Without Labels. I swore off mentioning crowdfunding after my drumbeating for Michael Sporn's Poe—the epitome of the worthy independent film—but I have to put in a good word for two crowdfunding efforts that promise to result in short films of more than routine interest. Mark Sonntag, a longtime friend of this website, is seeking funding through Indiegogo for a short cartoon called Bounty Hunter Bunny, and Betsy Baytos is trying to finish her documentary film Funny Feet: The Art of Eccentric Dance, through Kickstarter. I won't go into detail about either project; I'll just say that I'd actually like to see both films when they're finished. Take a look, and you may agree.
I've made a small financial contribution to both efforts. But that's it. I'm through with crowdfunding, and I'm certainly done with publicizing any such projects here, no matter how worthy.
Facebook: Sometimes weeks will pass without my looking at Facebook, but I logged in yesterday, mainly to see if anything was happening with members of my family. I was chagrined when I found any number of messages, some of them sent to me weeks ago. Just for the record, I really dislike the idea of Facebook's serving as a sort of substitute email. Keeping up with regular email is sufficiently time-consuming; I don't want to feel obligated to log in to Facebook just in case someone has written to me there. So, if you do write to me through Facebook, and you don't get a reply, don't be offended.
J.J. Sedelmaier is the proprietor of a New York animation studio that bears his name and that has produced memorably witty TV segments for Saturday Night Live, The Colbert Report, and other shows. He is also a frequent contributor of fascinating posts to Print magazine's outstanding blog, Imprint. His most recent contribution is about a 1929 book with illustrations by Winsor McCay in his most ferocious political-cartoonist mode.
As J.J. writes: "Titled Temperance—or Prohibition?, it's a small hardbound book filled with data presenting the Hearst Syndicate's position of repealing the Prohibition laws and the inconsistent behavior of legislators responsible for supporting and enforcing the Volstead Act. The reprinting of select political cartoons by McCay and Opper helped demonstrate Hearst's ongoing campaign." Which was, of course, successful a few years later. Click here to read J.J.'s complete post, "Winsor McCay’s Anti-Prohibition Illustrations." You'll find on Imprint's Sedelmaier page links to his earlier contributions; I especially recommend the one titled "How Walt Disney Used His Kansas City Library Card," about the checkered history of E. G. Lutz's Animated Cartoons.
These posts of J.J.'s are wonderfully illustrated, in the McCay post with a dozen or so illustrations from the book, in the Lutz post not just with pages from the book but with photos of different editions, American, British, and German. Here's your chance to sample a copy of the original 1920 edition of Animated Cartoons, complete with dust jacket. And there are many other posts of equally rare and equally compelling material. I don't know of anything comparable to these posts except possibly the scans that Michael Sporn posts in such abundance.
...has been torn down. The brilliant creator of the Little Lulu comic book put down his pencil around 1970 and moved with his young family from Manhattan to Cold Spring, New York, in the Hudson Valley, where he went to work for a company called Fairgate Rule, a manufacturer of high-quality rulers and yardsticks. Stanley worked for Fairgate, in the small (5,900 square feet), blue factory building in the photo, as a craftsman; as he said at the Boston Newcon in 1976, "I work in silk screening. It has no relationship at all to cartooning." Stanley's son, James, says of his father: "I think at his core he was an artisan, a perfectionist who wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty—so it isn’t a stretch to understand where he ended up." Stanley retired from Fairgate sometime in the 1980s and died in 1993.
When it was torn down last January 30, the Fairgate factory had been closed and empty for five years, since Fairgate's assets were sold to another company in Rhinebeck, New York. It was a non-conforming use in an otherwise residential neighborhood, and it had become an eyesore by the time it was demolished. The Fairgate name survives on precision products of the kind the Cold Spring company used to make.
Tissa David: The beloved New York animator died last August 21 at the age of 91, when I was away from home and this website, so I couldn't mark her passing then. I knew her only slightly, and for some reason never interviewed her, but I knew how good an animator she was, and I knew how much her friends loved her. The last time I saw her was at the Museum of Modern Art's retrospective of Michael Sporn's films, in 2007. And that was appropriate, because the best film on the program I saw—and maybe the best of all of Michael's many excellent films—was The Marzipan Pig, which Tissa animated entirely. There was a memorial service for Tissa in New York on October 23, and Michael Sporn has posted a detailed report about it; five of her friends and colleagues spoke, including John Canemaker, Howard Beckerman, Candy Kugel, R. O. Blechman, and Michael himself. It was a warm and loving occasion, and the transcripts of the short talks by John and Michael convey with wonderful economy just how exceptional a person Tissa was. I wish I could have been there, and I certainly wish I'd spent more time with Tissa herself. I've borrowed the accompanying photo of Tissa with John Canemaker from Michael's blog.
Sandy: Michael Sporn has also posted a detailed report on how he and his wife, Heidi Stallings, survived the aftermath of last week's great storm. It's not nearly as boring as he would have you believe. I'm a bit of a snob where natural disasters are concerned, especially since an F-1 tornado came charging down my street at 3 a.m. a year and a half ago (goodbye, 200-year-old oak tree in my front yard! I should have posted some photos here), but my condescending chuckles were silenced as I read about what it was like to muddle through in a cold and dark and wet lower Manhattan. We have other friends who live in that vicinity and who had to make their way to and from their 27th floor apartment by candlelight. No fun. But did I tell you about the ice storm back in 2000 that trapped me and Phyllis and my in-laws in their house for four days at Christmas with no power... That was bad; but I think maybe Sandy was even worse.
Movies: I see so few new movies these days that I keep thinking I should say a little about those I do see, mostly on Blu-ray, just so my readers know that I spend my time doing some things besides reading comic books. But what to say about John Carter? Maybe that it isn't nearly as bad as the reviews led me to expect—the Disney marketing people must have had their knives out for Andrew Stanton—but that it is still fatally flawed in some obvious ways: there is more story than the movie can accommodate, and the hero is a jerk. Simplify the plot and make John Carter himself more sympathetic, and you've got a show. Everything Pixar makes is to me lacking just as much as John Carter is, but somehow the animated features escape the crushing scorn that greeted their live-action cousin. The Adventures of Tintin, on the other hand, is just as hopeless as many reviewers thought. Steven Spielberg obviously had a good time making it—who wouldn't enjoy flitting around in your own private computer-generated environment?—but he didn't think enough, or at all, about whether his audience would share his enjoyment. I have grown very tired of the super-fast, intricately choreographed action that seems to be required now in all computer-animated films, and that Spielberg lavishes on Tintin. The technology that makes such choreography possible also makes it ultimately unconvincing, because it usually is so obvious that the story has been constructed around the choreography, rather than the choreography's advancing the story. And then are Tintin's motion-captured characters, who are basically "cartoony," à la Herge, but whose skin is adorned with all the pores and freckles and blemishes that CGI folks mistakenly think make their characters seem more real, instead of simply bizarre. Has Spielberg never seen The Incredibles, whose characters lack such accoutrements but are infinitely more persuasive as real creatures than Spielberg's puppets? And then there are the "cartoony" passages in the animation, as when Captain Haddock is spun around on an airplane propeller, the sort of thing that would kill a real actor...well, enough.
And more movies: Speaking of The Incredibles, I'm reminded of its director Brad Bird's first live-action effort, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which was far more successful at the box office than his Pixar colleague Stanton's first such feature. I actually don't know how one goes about "directing" a movie like Ghost Protocol, a vast machine that is a producer's movie (that is to say, Tom Cruise's movie) if ever there was one, but whatever Bird did, it worked. I thought I could detect his hand mostly in the quieter scenes, when Cruise and Jeremy Renner and the other actors are supposed to be, and actually are, recognizable as human beings, an impressive accomplishment especially where Cruise is concerned. Finally, let me say a word about the stop-motion Czech feature Toys in the Attic, directed by Jîrî Barta, which could just as well be called Toys in the Basement, it's so grubby-looking. It's a cold-war parable, and it recalled for me stop-motion films from Eastern Europe that I must have seen decades ago. It's a strange and anachronistic but ultimately charming film, because it's not relentlessly slick, like the typical American stop-motion production. But I didn't like the American actors' voices on the soundtrack; this is a movie that cries out to be heard in the original language, with subtitles.
These postcards from hand-tinted photographs were mailed in 1929, when Walt Kelly was a teenager enrolled in Harding High School, and they were presumably produced not long before that (the high school was built in 1924-25, just after President Warren Harding's death, thus its unfortunate name). The high school is still there, on Central Avenue, as is the hospital, next door— it fronts around the corner, on Grant Street—although its picturesque 1884 building has long since been absorbed into a modern structure. Both were less than a mile away from the Kelly home on East Avenue, and even closer to the General Electric plant where Kelly's father was a foreman for many years. There have been a number of books devoted to historic photos of Bridgeport, including at least two based on postcards from the city, but I'm not aware that these cards have been reproduced in any of them, and certainly not in color.
Here's how this book is described by the publisher, TwoMorrows:
"Hailed as one of the fathers of Saturday morning television, Lou Scheimer was the co-founder of Filmation Studios, which for over 25 years provided animated excitement for TV and film. Always at the forefront, Scheimer’s company created the first DC cartoons with Superman, Batman, and Aquaman,ruled the song charts with The Archies, kept Trekkie hope alive with the Emmy-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series, taught morals with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and swung into high adventure with Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro. Forays into live-action included Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis, plus ground-breaking special effects work on Jason of Star Command and others. And in the 1980s, Filmation single-handedly caused the syndication explosion with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its successors. Now, with best-selling co-author Andy Mangels, Lou Scheimer tells the entire story, including how his father decked Adolf Hitler, memories of the comic books of the Golden Age, schooling with Andy Warhol, and what it meant to lead the last all-American animation company through nearly thirty years of innovation and fun! Profusely illustrated with photos, model sheets, storyboards, presentation art, looks at rare and unproduced series, and more — plus hundreds of tales about Filmation’s past, and rare Filmation-related art by Bruce Timm, Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, Phil Jimenez, Frank Cho, Gene Ha, and Mike McKone — this book shows the Filmation Generation the story behind the stories!"
Or maybe you do want this book for Christmas? You say you have glowing memories of Filmation's TV cartoons? If that's the case, what in the world are you doing here?
If you're any kind of Bob Clampett fan, you know about his unrealized effort to make cartoons based on the Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. But it's unlikely that you know how that Clampett project metamorphosed into "Tarzantoons." To read about that very short-lived cartoon studio—and to get the story behind the drawings above by John Coleman Burroughs, ERB's son—click on this link.
Another year, another volume in Didier Ghez's monumental series collecting interviews (and related material) with a vast range of people who worked for Walt Disney or had some other strong connection with him.
You might think that after a dozen volumes this series would be running down, or at least running out of source material, but that's not the case. Each new book seems to be thicker than the last, and the interviews, if inevitably uneven, are on the whole wonderful additions to our knowledge of Walt Disney, his works, and the people who executed his ideas. All that's lacking now is a comprehensive index—preferably on-line, and preferably updated annually—so that it's easier to locate individual interviews and pertinent passages within each interview. I know that Didier is aware of that need, and I'll not bug him further about an index. (There is, however, no reason why other people can't bug him.)
Volume 12 is available from amazon.com in both print and Kindle editions, the latter at a ridiculously low price. Either way, if you care about Walt Disney and about preserving the history of the company that bears his name, you should buy this book.
As I noted in an update to my April 11 post on Walt Kelly's mystery caricatures, a short, pipe-smoking character has now been identified definitively by Bob Barrett as Morris Gollub, one of Kelly's colleagues first at the Disney studio and then on the Dell comic books edited by Oskar Lebeck. As I also noted in that post, Moe Gollub was caricatured by John Stanley, too, in New Funnies. Now Frank Young, proprietor of the Stanley Stories blog, has reminded me that not just Gollub but also Dan Noonan and Stanley himself were caricatured in the "Woody Wooodpecker" story in New Funnies No. 125, July 1947. In the last page of the story, above, Stanley is the tall cop in charge, Gollub is the short cop, and Noonan is the chinless one taking orders from Stanley.
As almost always in the Dell comic books, there are no writing or art credits, but the writing bears Stanley's fingerprints. For one thing, Woody doesn't even appear in this story of which he is the title character until the last panel on the fourth of its eight pages. It's hard to imagine the writers for the later Dell and Gold Key comic books being allowed to get away with that, but such successful departures from convention were not at all unusual for Stanley, especially when Lebeck was in charge.
But who actually drew the story from Stanley's layouts? Not Stanley himself; the drawings look hasty and rough compared with his, and there are ambiguities (exactly where are the cops standing in the sixth panel? how is the Gollub cop's arm attached to his body in the seventh panel?) that were not typical of his work. Besides, the Gollub caricature looks much more like Kelly's version in Our Gang than Stanley's in New Funnies. I'd guess that Lloyd White was the cartoonist, but that's only a guess.
Whoever drew the caricatures, you have to wonder what Gollub and Noonan thought about how they were depicted. Such pitiless humor seems to have been accepted practice among Western's cartoonists; Stanley himself was a strikingly handsome man, but his good looks were the target of Walt Kelly's ridicule in a couple of stories, in Our Gang Comics and Animal Comics. The more interesting question is why Kelly wasn't included in the gallery of caricatures for this story; if he were, all of Lebeck's best cartoonists would be there.
Speaking of Frank Young's blog, he is selling (for download, at only $2.99) a lavishly illustrated 88-page bibliiography of Stanley's work in the 1940s, which extends well beyond his deservedly famous Little Lulu. A bargain, to be sure. You can also read the complete "Woody Woodpecker" story from New Funnies No. 125, on Frank's blog, at this link.
At the Fred Harman Art Museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, a self-portrait, on the left, and one of Harman's western-themed paintings.
My insurance company says not to advertise absences from home—good advice, I'm sure, although I doubt that many burglars visit this website. If they do, they've undoubtedly figured out by now that I was gone for quite a while. Four weeks, as a matter of fact, although it has taken me half that long to get reasonably caught up on everything except updating the site.
Phyllis and I made a long-planned driving trip in August and September that took us, essentially, down the Rocky Mountains from Montana to New Mexico (after preliminary visits to the Dakotas to see Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park). We visited ten national parks and monuments and drove more than 5,500 miles. Not at all a hurried trip, because so many of the roads we traveled were all but empty; and while some parks, like Glacier and Yellowstone, require days to appreciate properly, others, like the Little Big Horn Battlefield and the spectacular Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, demand only a few hours. Such a trip does require advance planning (we started working on it a year ago), especially if you want to stay in lodging in some of the parks themselves, as I recommend, but it felt leisurely rather than rushed.
Most of my extended trips of recent years have had a sizable animation/comics component, especially when they've included a week or two in the Washington, D.C., area for visits to the Library of Congress, but this trip had almost none, until the last couple of days.
On our way from Mesa Verde National Park, in southwestern Colorado, to Santa Fe, we stopped for an hour at the Fred Harman Art Museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Harman was most famous as the creator of the Red Ryder comic strip, but he was also the brother of Hugh Harman, the MGM cartoon producer-director, and he and Walt Disney worked together at the Kansas City Film Ad Company in the early 1920s and were briefly in business together. Fred Harman was an authentic cowboy who grew up on a Colorado ranch and later lived on one while he was drawing Red Ryder. That ranch, the "Red Ryder Ranch" familiar to kids (like me) who read Red Ryder Comics in the 1940s and 1950s, passed out of Harman's hands decades ago; he lived for the last twenty years of his life (he died in 1982) in the house that is now the museum. Harman in his later years was a painter of western life, and dozens of his paintings fill the museum's walls, along with a sampling of his daily and Sunday Red Ryder originals.
Fred Harman's son, Fred Harman III, runs the museum now; he is in his mid-eighties and was not receiving visitors the day I was there. The museum is not a money-maker, understandably so—Red Ryder disappeared from the comics pages in 1963, and Fred Harman's paintings, although they invite comparisons with the work of western artists like Frederick Remington and Charles Russell, have never attracted a following nearly as large as the work of those artists. So, the Harman Museum's future is cloudy. Its remote location can't help: even Santa Fe is hours away. If you're interested, visit the museum while you can.
The Chuck Jones signature logo on the front of the Chuck Jones Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The day after our visit to the Harman Museum, we were in Santa Fe, in the midst of that city's rambunctious annual festival. We were last in Santa Fe in 1999, when we visited what was then called the Chuck Jones Showroom, on Palace Avenue a few steps off the Plaza. I had forgotten about that store, but we stumbled onto it while in search of a highly recommended Mexican restaurant (which we found eventually; try the Casa Chimayo when you have the chance).
The store is now called the Chuck Jones Gallery, but it's the same place, one of three such stores (the other two are in southern California). I noticed a few presentable original Jones pencil sketches on display—each priced in the thousands of dollars—that might have been from the 1950s, but mostly the gallery is devoted to the flabby drawings, imitation cel setups, and other embarrassments that became associated all too closely with Chuck's name in his later years. One room was labeled an outpost of the Chuck Jones Center for Uniformity—sorry, Creativity—in Costa Mesa, California, and was decorated with what appeared to be children's efforts to imitate Chuck's drawings (I could have hugged the kid who drew a crude but defiantly individual Mickey Mouse). While I was there, a chubby woman of a certain age, with dyed-black hair and pushing a very small and very hairy dog in a baby stroller, entered the store and exclaimed as she looked at the awful stuff on the walls, "How precious! How precious!" Yes, I thought to myself, that just about says it.
This was twelve days before the hundredth anniversary of Chuck's birth on September 21, and seeing the gallery made me lament again how sad and cynical his last few decades were, what a pall they cast over a career that was in earlier years so impressive and so admirable. The Santa Fe gallery opened in 1993, almost ten years before Chuck's death; although owned by his daughter, it was his store. He not only made those flabby drawings of the Warner characters (and cloying paintings that are even worse), he wrote a painfully self-serving autobiography and lent his imprimatur to dubious films, books, and products of various kinds, all of them comprehensible only in mercenary terms. He presented himself as a cracker-barrel philosopher who trotted out the same bromides—folksy cloaks for an ever more bloated ego—in one interview after another. It was painful to watch.
There was a sort of hostage-taking at work. Because Chuck pretended that his grotesquely inferior later work was on a par with his great cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, he made it all but impossible for anyone to distinguish publicly between Good Jones and Bad Jones—or even Good Jones and Not Quite as Good Jones—without seeming to denigrate the Master. As I came to know very well, if you tried to draw such a distinction you were sure to get your head bitten off.
Perhaps that's one reason Chuck's centennial has attracted very little attention, apart from blog posts and a few carefully managed celebrations whose participants, people like Leonard Maltin and Eric Goldberg, could be counted upon not to whisper anything subversive. I don't know what kind of observance, if any, took place at what has become Chuck's principal monument, The Chuck Jones Experience, an "interactive" attraction at the Las Vegas casino Circus Circus that seems intended to keep the kids from getting restless while Mom and Dad dispose of their life savings.
Chuck himself undoubtedly knew the difference between Good Jones and Bad Jones; back when he was showing his cartoons at colleges and museums, he didn't stick one of his lousy late cartoons in between seven-minute masterpieces like Duck Amuck and One Froggy Evening. But because he and his acolytes could not abide talk about what made some Jones cartoons so much better than others, they have increased the danger that all of his cartoons will ultimately be dismissed as animated versions of that stuff on the gallery walls: kitsch, precious kitsch.
Even though the site has been quiet, some of my visitors have contributed meaty comments, and not just on my August 13 posts, the last before my hiatus. The great Danish animator Børge Ring, back in action after a fire devastated his home earlier this year, has written in response to my 1987 Phil Monroe interview, offering a comment about one of Monroe's directors, Friz Freleng, that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face; you can go directly to it by clicking on this link. You'll also find fresh meat on the Feedback pages devoted to CGI studios and Bob Clampett. Particularly satisfying to me, Bob Barrett has solved one of the lingering mysteries about just which of Walt Kelly's colleagues at Disney and Western Printing were caricatured in Kelly's "Our Gang" stories. To see which Kelly caricature has been identified, go to this addition to my April 11 post. You'll also see how John Stanley depicted the same cartoonist.
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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