Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Are Myklebust sent me last week this link to an excellent article about the Mickey Mouse gaz mask. Since the Mickey Mouse gaz mask was very heavily used during the London blitz, and since I am going to London this evening, the timing sounded right to post this.
My trip to London means that the blog might be quiet once again this week.
Monday, September 25, 2006
"[Disney artist] Jack [Fergus] belonged to a club called the “Tip-Top Club,” which was anybody over 6 foot 6 inches. I can tell you a funny story about Jack because we were assistants together at that point in my career. We were walking down the main hall in the animation building one day coming back from lunch. He had such an incredible arm span he was dragging his finger tips on both sides of the wall as we came back in the building. Walt Disney had just gotten out of the elevator and was coming our way. He looked and saw Jack and he said, “ Jesus Christ!” Jack was a very, very big man. "
I stumbled this morning on a large series of pre-war Swiss Mickey Maus magazines sold on ebay by "comik-collector." I mention them here as they are extremely rare and it is the first time I see such a large series being sold.
For more information about this magazine and other Disney magazines published all accross the world before WWII (including the Serbian ones I keep showing on this blog), check my article on the subject here.
Three excellent read this morning: An interview with Ken Anderson and one with Claude Coats (part 1 and 2) by Steve Hulett on The Animation Guild Blog, as well as an excellent article about Animator training through the decades by Tom Sito on the Animation World Network. Enjoy!
Friday, September 22, 2006
The other man without whom the exhibition would not exist is of course Robin Allan, author of the book Walt Disney and Europe, which served as the foundation for the concept of the exhibition.
Robin (left) is doing much better (he had a stroke last year) and is seen here discussing with my great friend and fellow Disney enthusiast Sebastien Durand.
Quite a few other personalities attended the inauguration ceremony, among them Bob Iger, Charles Solomon, Andreas Deja,...
One of the attendants was a Disney artist, old time friend and collector of Disney original art who acquired a few months ago a couple of drawings of the Cuban Caballero that we showed a few weeks ago on this blog thanks to Jenny Lerew. The main reason I mention this fact is that I learned at the event that we might soon see those drawings in a book about Freddy Moore, which might be the first of a long series of art books about Disney artists. I can't add details at this stage, but let's just say that the project seems very serious and involve quite a few very (I mean very) knowledgeable animation experts.
Two men are responsible for the phenomenal quality of the Il Etait une Fois Disney exhibition. The first one is Bruno Birveau, the curator of the event.
You can see him, on the right of this photo, discussing with Michel Mandry, former editor-in-chief of Le Journal de Mickey and living memory of Disney in France.
I remain pretty swamped at work and things are not getting better (don't worry, I love it), which explains my weird silence of the last few days. I also still have not received the photos I need to cover properly the Il Etait une Fois Walt Disney exhibition at the Grand Palais, but I have decided to start tackling the subject, mentioning various odds and ends before staring it in the eyes, hopefully next week. If you really can't wait, speak French and want to start somewhere, check the Disneyland Resort Paris fan site. They are theme park enthusiasts, so their focus is slightly weird, considering that the exhibition is mostly about animation, but it will sort of give you a feel of the place and of the size of the event.
So what is it all about? There are a few events that count as the most important in my life as a Disney enthusiast. One is the first interview I conducted with Disney artists (the Brizzi brothers at the Disney Studio in Montreuil), then there is the inauguration of Disneyland Paris in 1992. But above and beyond all this stands the inauguration of last week.
Let me try and explain why even while typing this I start getting goosebumps. Picture first the fact that this exhibition is taking place at Le Grand Palais, which along with Le Louvre and Le Musee d'Orsay is one of the most prestigious museums in Paris. It's the equivalent of the National Gallery in London or L'Hermitage in St. Petersburg. That's a good start but is far from enough.
A lot could still go wrong at this stage. The works displayed could have been badly chosen: say that the curator decides to focus only on cels and backgrounds, final shots from Disney movies, Disneyana material, the life of Walt Disney. None of this would make sense in the context of Le Grand Palais. The exhibition could be too broad, covering the current works of the Studio and therefore venture into the commercial realm of Disney. Still a mismatch. All those pitfalls were avoided by the curator of the exhibition. Pretty amazing feat for an outsider! He selected only beautiful mostly never-seen-before artwork - especially concept art - and made sure the only movies featured were those that Walt had personally supervised.
But once again at this stage the exhibition would only be extremely good, not yet great. It would be what we have seen before a few times: a beautiful homage to the art of Disney (like what is currently happening in Japan), which would satisfy Disney enthusiasts and cater to animation fans. What brings the whole thing to another level is the very concept of the exhibition: it is a quest to understand what works of art (especially European ones) inspired the art of Disney artists. Based on the seminal book of Dr. Robin Allan, Walt Disney and Europe, the Grand Palais exhibition displays works by the greatest European masters, like Gustave Dore, Heinrich Kley, or even Breughel, German expressionists and French architect Viollet le Duc alongside Disney concept art, layouts and backgrounds. And as all of you know, Disney's artists works do not pale in front of those of those masters. In fact the association is mind-boggling: if you are a layman, the quality of the concept artists' works become even more obvious and you start understanding that Walt had some really outstanding individuals working for him, that he was not the only one who drew everything and that the Studio was far from being a factory. If you are a Disney enthusiast you are bound to be stunned by connections with famous or less famous works of art from the past that you were not aware of.
Of course for Disney enthusiasts, the walls covered with Mary Blair and David Hall drawings (to name a few) help you reach animation heaven, as do the fact that most of the books that Walt collected during his 1935 trip to Europe are displayed.
And then weird things start happening: The French intellectual magazine Telerama (above) releases a special issue above Disney, and while one can feel that its journalists hate to love Disney, this simple event in itself is a sign that something strange is going on. Picture The New Yorker releasing a special issue about Disney and you will understand what a Frenchman can feel when he sees this. Or when the TV channel Arte dedicates a special evening to Disney and features Disney's Alice in Wonderland. In other words, there is definitely something bizarre going on in France at the moment and even though some in the traditional media like Liberation or Le Monde hated the exhibition, it is still obvious that for an honnest visitor (one not blinded by ideology) this exhibition should be a revelation about how much outstanding art was actually created by the Disney Studio, how little has been seen to date and how intimately linked it is to European cultural heritage.
I am convinced that a few persons will become Disney historians or at least serious enthusiasts after having walked out of Le Grand Palais. Our thanks go to an exeptional man for having achieved this feat: the curator of the exhibition, Bruno Girveau. It takes guts in France, in the artistic community to undertake and achieve such a project!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
All the people I've met in Paris who had already read Tom Sito's newly released book Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson had found it to be not only fascinating but also a page-turner. This one is defintely a "must-have" (as if anyone kept a doubt about this).
[Thanks to Carla Fallberg for Tom Sito's photo.]
As for me, I found of particular interest some posts about animation and Disney artists:
The obituary of artist Bernard Wolf by Mark Kausler; an old post by Hans Bacher on his blog called A Tribute, that features quite a few photos of former Disney artists including Walt Stanchfield (left) - whom I had mentioned on this blog and whose interview will appear in a future issue of Walt's People, but whom I had never seen before; a more recent post by Hans called "some more history" that features photos of Eric Larson and of the Beauty and the Beast crew during a research trip in Paris; and two posts from the Animation Guild Blog: one about The Norconian party that followed the completion of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and one about Ken Anderson.
Enough to keep one busy for a while, I would say.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Apologies for this long silence. I am still swamped with work and catching up due to my trips to Paris and Italy (earlier on). I will post a report about the exhibition this week. It was a stunning event launching an exhibition that is without a doubt the best Disney exhibition ever (I do not believe I am exagerating here). I was so taken by it, unfortunately, that I forgot to take pictures, which is the explaination for the delay in posting the report this week. The report, hopefully will be illustrated.
My posts today, will therefore try to catch up with what I should have posted last week, being mainly recommendations about great pieces to read. Some obvious, some less more so.
I would start with the second and third installements of Floyd Norman's series about The Jungle Book on JimHillMedia, as well as with an article about the actors that could have played Eddie Valiant by Jim Hill.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Apologies but that's it for this week. I will be traveling to Paris tomorrow for work and to attend the inauguration of the Disney exhibition at the Grand Palais and will unfortunately not have time to take care of the blog.
More next week with a full report about the exhibition.
Of course the most talked-about book of the moment is the exhibition catalog from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, The Art of Disney. See the PBCB blog, the Temple of the Seven Golden Camels blog and CartoonBrew for more details.
How to get one's hands on it is the big challenge of the week!
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Do not for any reason miss Michael Barrier's post from September 6, 2006 on his site. You are certain to love it.
To answer your question Mike: please do post more of the documents you may have. Who cares if they interest only a small audience? That's the audience that will use it to further Disney research in new, fascinating ways.
Speaking of Mike, his upcoming book, The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, is now listed on Amazon.com
And here is Jim Korkis' last article of the week!
VOICES SINGING THE SONGS OF THE SOUTH
Currently I am working on an extensive article on Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH for the magazine, Hogan's Alley, and here is a research vignette on some of the uncredited vocal work in that film:
Much of the uncredited singing was done by the Hall Johnson Choir, an African American choir led by Hall Johnson (a highly regarded African American choral director, composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist) that performed to enthusiastic audiences in various prestigious New York venues. National recognition came when Johnson's choir performed under his direction in Marc Connelly's Broadway production of "Green Pastures" in 1930.
Five years later, Johnson took the choir to Hollywood, California to participate in the film version of "Green Pastures"(1936). Johnson and the choir remained in the Hollywood area and appeared in other films including "Hearts Divided" (1936), "Banjo On My Knee" (1936), "Lost Horizon" (1937), "Tales of Manhattan" (1942) and "Cabin In the Sky" (1943). Their performances also included the crows in Disney's "Dumbo" (1941) and "Song of the South" (1946). Johnson returned to New York in 1946 where he organized the Festival Negro Choir of New York. He was posthumously honored for his work in films by being elected to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975, five years after his death.
The DeCastro Sisters were a female singing group: they consisted of Peggy, Cherie, and Babette DeCastro. In 1945, the DeCastro family moved to the United States from Cuba and the sisters became protégées of Carmen Miranda. They had a style similar to the popular Andrews Sisters trio but with a Latin flavor. It was probably their connection with Miranda who had worked with Disney on "The Three Caballeros" that helped get them their first film work doing some singing background vocals for "Zip A Dee Do Dah" in "Song of the South".
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I was working this weekend on a marvelous interview of Frank Thomas by Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz for a future issue of Walt's People and particularly liked the following story about Tytla:
"I had a scene in Pinocchio. Bill Tytla was doing Stromboli, and in this scene Stromboli reached across the table and chucked Pinocchio under the chin. He was sitting on a little piece or bologna or something and fell over backwards. For some reason, some production problem, I had to do Pinocchio first, which was silly, because it was Stomboli's doing this that really motivated the action.
So I went down to Bill and I said, “How are you going to animate this?” Bill was pure emotion, wonderful guy, and his eyes would light up, he would tell me what Stromboli was like, what a big guy he was and how he'd move. He starts coming at me like this and backing me up across the room. I backed into the scene cabinet, half tipped the thing over and all the scenes start spilling out all over and Bill never stops.
So I go back and tell Milt, who was in the room next to me and Milt thinks this is the funniest thing he's ever heard, so he goes running into the room across the hall and told the story about when Frank went to see Bill Tytla and he gets to me backing into the cabinet and he starts waving his arms like this and he hits the lamp which was hanging down here and he knocked it down and it came crashing. He goes into the next room to tell them about it and he knocks into a storyboard and he knocks it off: it's hanging and it falls to the ground. Well when things fall, it fell flat like this, all the pushpins shoot straight out and then all the sketches… there's a slight pause and all the sketches just fall right down. Do you know how long it takes to get a storyboard just right and to have it all gone?
And Milt went to the next room, but by then word had gotten there and they said, “DON'T TELL THAT STORY!”
"I see that someone on your blog asked when my new book would be available. You correctly noted in the first blog entry that it would be park-exclusive in February or March 2007. But I think there has been a misunderstanding about when the book would be available on Amazon: it is September or October of 2007. Not this month in 2006.
I'm sorry to disappoint eager readers who thought they could buy the book this month. Alas.
Here is the fourth of Jim Korkis' short stories.
BILL EVANS AND DISNEY TOPIARY
For Volume 5 of WALT'S PEOPLE, I am currently transcribing my interview with the legendary Bill Evans who landscaped Walt's backyard and later Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Here is an early excerpt as well as a reminder to pick up the three volumes of WALT'S PEOPLE currently in print. Walt had been enthralled by the topiaries he had seen on his European trips and wanted something similar for Disneyland.
"There are a number of differences between our topiaries and the ones of legend that go back about 3,000 years. It's an ancient art. It takes about fifteen years to get it into a recognizable shape. That wouldn't do for Walt. He asked us if we could speed up the process a little bit. We told him we thought we might be able to give him something that was acceptable in a couple of years. The early ones were all Disney inspired like the hippos from FANTASIA," said Evans.
The first results appeared in Fantasyland in 1963 but the figures were later moved to their permanent location in the front of "It's A Small World" in 1966. The first animals included the hippos from FANTASIA but also Dumbo and was the start of a tradition at Disney theme parks worldwide.
A wire frame is created and originally there were trees (like an olive tree) and shrubs grown inside the frame although that could take three to ten years. Today, temporary topiaries can be created almost overnight by using a frame and sphagnum moss with vining plants. However this temporary version will not last as long as the shrubs grown inside the frame.
There are over 120 shrub and 65 sphagnum character topiary throughout the WALT DISNEY WORLD Resort as well as hundreds of geometric and free-form topiary shrubs and trees. Pete's dragon, ELLIOT, is the largest shrub character topiary. Grown and trained for 10 years, this Podocarpus macrophyllus measures over 10 feet tall and 14 feet from head to tail.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Please note that I will be doing all this purely for historical reasons.
Are Myklebust also noted that unlike previously mentioned the movie was not directed by Carlos Amador but by Tito Davison.
Third part of this week series of articles by Jim Korkis.
Researching some articles is more interesting than others.
The Playboy "Playmate of the Year" for 2006 happens to be Kara Monaco. Born in February 1983 in Lakeland, Florida and graduated from Lake Brantley High School in 2001, this five foot six inch blonde-haired, blue-eyed young lady began her performing career as a Disney princess at Walt Disney World. She performed as seven different characters for parades and "meet and greets" including Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel the Little Mermaid, and Alice in Wonderland. "I most liked being Cinderella," she said in a recent interview, "All the little girls love Cinderella". In fact, this issue of "Playboy" has photos of Kara as "Snow White" and "Cinderella". She started appearing in "Playboy" special editions August 2004 and was a centerfold in the June 2005 issue which generated many articles entitled "From Cinderella to Centerfold". So if you are a Disney completist, these issues might be something you want to add to your collection.
This is not the first time a twenty-three year old female Disney performer has appeared in "Playboy". Dayle Haddon's first film role was in Disney's live action film "World's Greatest Athlete" (1973) and Disney was grooming her to become a leading ingénue. However, Miss Haddon had other career goals and appeared in the buff in the April 1973 issue of "Playboy", effectively ending her Disney career.
And let's not forget original Mouseketeer Doreen Tracy (left) who revealed all in the August 1979 issue of "Gallery" although to make things worse, in some shots she is wearing her mouse ears and Mouseketeer sweater.
That must be the power of Disney. Nobody ever mentioned when actress Debra Winger appeared nude that she began her performing career at the age of seventeen as a costumed character at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Southern California. She wore a furry troll costume (the mascot of the park at the time) and while changing on the back of a truck, it suddenly jerked, sending her head first to the ground. She was in a coma for three days and one doctor thought she would be completely blind for the rest of her life. Just one of the dangers of being a costumed character but probably not as dangerous as publicizing that you used to be a Disney Princess.
Great news! Clay Kaytis has posted the second part of his interview with Burny Mattinson on the Animation Podcast. No better way to start your day.
Also check this morning Floyd Norman's excellent article about The Jungle Book on Jim Hill Media and the post Still More Disney Reminiscences on The Animation Guild blog.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Here is Jim Korkis' second article of the week.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the changing relationship between McDonald's and Disney so researching an article on the two companies, I thought I would take a look at the very beginning when Ray Kroc who led McDonalds to world prominence first met a very young Walt Disney.
In Ray Kroc's autobiography (GRINDING IT OUT, Contemporary Books 1977) is the following paragraph:
"My parents objected strenuously, but I finally talked them into letting me join up as a Red Cross ambulance driver. I had to lie about my age, of course. In my company, which assembled in Connecticut for training, was another fellow who had lied about his age to get in. He was regarded as a strange duck, because whenever we had time off and went out on the town to chase girls, he stayed in camp drawing pictures. His name was Walt Disney."
However that is not the end of the story. Years later in 1954, Kroc wrote to Disney:
"Dear Walt, I feel somewhat presumptuous addressing you in this way yet I feel sure you would not want me to address you any other way. My name is Ray A. Kroc...I look over the Company A picture we had taken at Sound Beach, Conn. many times and recall a lot of pleasant memories... I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald's system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald's in your Disneyland development."
Walt responded with a warm letter informing Kroc that his request had been sent to the Vice President in charge of Disneyland concessions because Walt confined his activities to the creative side. So there could have been a McDonald's when Disneyland opened if that Vice President had followed up on the offer.
One great this about Holly's site (see below) is that it allowed me to discover that the Duckomenta has a website. For those of you unfamiliar with this project that rewrites the history of art as if the Disney ducks had been the inhabitants of Earth since day one this site might prove fun to explore. It's in German, but just click on the "Raum 1, Raum 2,..." links at the bottom of the page to explore the different rooms.
Those of you who have been checking The Disney Books Network those last few years know that I am not a big fan of theoretical books about Disney. This has not changed, which is why I can unfortunately not be enthusiastic about Holly Crawford's book Attached to the Mouse: Disney and Contemporary Art. This is a purely subjective point of view, the basis of it being: if you make some efforts reseraching a subject about Disney, why not make it real research about Disney history? That being said, my main criticism about Holly's book was its lack of illustrations (probably due to costs and copyrights reasons). A book about art inspired by Disney that did not show Disney-inspired art seemed pointless. I am glad to say that Holly now has a site that complements her book and that contains quite a few cool links to interesting art pieces, including the one you can see on the left by Alexander Kosolapov. This at least I find fun and interesting to a certain extent.
While Didier enjoys his time in Italy, Disney Historian Jim Korkis has agreed to share some "research vignettes" from articles he is working on. These research vignettes are short, fun facts Jim has discovered as he digs deep into Disney history to find accurate information for his forthcoming articles.
Here's a fun little item I ran across while I was researching the early days at the Disney Studios. The great thing about Disney history is that there is always something new to discover.
In 1934, there were 187 people working at the Disney Studios. When Walt wanted to gear up for production for SNOW WHITE that year, he needed more artists and he told his head of training, Don Graham, "I need 300 more artists! Find them!" So by 1935, there was a continual influx of new animators, assistants, inbetweeners, etc. flooding the Studio.
While things were exciting, they were also frustrating as the new artists were integrated into the studio or let go when they didn't make the grade. Above several of the desks was a mimeographed copy of what was called "The Animator's Prayer". One artist saved a tattered copy of that unique piece of Disneyana and I am reprinting it here for your amusement and edification:
THE ANIMATOR'S PRAYER
Our director, who art above us,
Blankity,Blank,Blank be thy name!!!
Thy pictures come, they will be done,
In color as in black and white.
Give us this day our daily razz...
And forgive us our animation
As we forgive those stories that are
Written for us.
Lead us not into chase, but deliver us
....from the Layout Artist!
Obviously, for those who are familiar with the animation process, this prayer is more amusing but for everyone it is an indication of the level of fun that existed at the studio even with the problems of a new project looming ahead.
Quite a few new posts these last few days on Toons at War. Also worth checking is Temple of the Seven Camels: in the post titled Another Tribute you will find beautiful documents related to Bill Peet and if you scroll down in the D&D6: Proportion post you will enjoy a fabulous concept drawing of The Jungle Book by my favorite concept artist, Ken Anderson.
Friday, September 01, 2006
And I answer: Yes, that's clearly possible. It would be a similar situation to The Gremlins project.
Would anyone have access to the book that Joakim mentions above?
I will be in Italy the whole of next week on a business trip and I am frankly not certain of how much I will be able to post.
Speaking of Italy: would any reader of this blog know someone who seriously collects Disney plush toys by Lars from Italy? (those were created in the '30s, '40s and potentially '50s) I am extremely eager to write an article about those for an upcoming issue of Tomart's Disneyana.
I have the same question regarding the English toys by Chad Valley.
Pete Emslie is really a tremendous artist and I am really a lucky man to have so many talented people helping me with the Walt's People book series.
Pete just sent me yesterday the cover caricatures for Volume 4 and I could not resist sharing them with you all. We are still on track for a late November / early December release.
And here is the last part of Jim Korkis' great series about Walt and polo.
"Mickey's Polo Team was released on January 4, 1936 and directed by Dave Hand whose attention was already focused on his directing responsibilities for Snow White.
There isn't much of a storyline in the cartoon. It is just an interesting premise for physical gags of a polo game between four popular Disney animated characters against a team of four Hollywood celebrities. The spectators in the stands are a mix of Disney animated characters and Hollywood celebrities (Clarabelle Cow kisses Clark Gable, Edna May Oliver sits next to Max Hare, Shirley Temple cheers next to the Three Little Pigs, etc.)
The Mickey Mouse team consists of Mickey, Donald Duck, Goofy and the Big Bad Wolf. The Hollywood team of Movie Stars are Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel and Harpo Marx.
While modern audiences may struggle to identify the caricatures of some of the then famous stars like Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, even the most astute viewer of classic films on Turner Classic Movies might have trouble identifying the referee.
The referee is a caricature of Jack Holt who was a popular silent screen star who made the transition to talkies primarily in Westerns. In fact, Holt was the father of famous Western movie cowboy star, Tim Holt. Jack Holt was a "manly man" and a strong supporter of polo as terrific physical exercise. He played at the Riviera alongside Walt Disney but is unfortunately forgotten by modern audiences.
This cartoon was made at the height of the Disney Studio's involvement in playing polo. However, this was not the version that Walt originally intended.
There was to be considerable footage devoted to a caricature of Will Rogers. In fact, Disney animators had been sent to Rogers' Santa Monica ranch to sketch the humorist in action.
Rogers was well-known for his love of polo. He even landscaped his own polo field on his estate before he built his house. Upon his death, the estate was given as a gift to the State of California on the condition that equestrian activities continue at Will Rogers Park. It is the home of the Will Rogers Polo Club, the thirteenth oldest polo club in the United States.
In fact, it was Rogers' death in an unfortunate plane accident in August 1935 while Mickey's Polo Team was in production that resulted in his caricature being removed from the cartoon.
Hollywood's interest in polo had already begun to wane and Walt himself would hang up his polo mallet within the next two years. The story of Walt Disney and polo is just another interesting anecdote in the life of an amazing man."