Monday, March 31, 2014

Some News...

OK, the Walt and Space book project will have to wait for a while. I have to put it on the back burner for some time (but I won't abandon it). There is a good reason for this, though: Chronicle Books and Disney have approved last week an ambitious project of 5 art books about Disney concept art and Disney concept artists from the 1930s to the 1990s.

The first volume, on which I am currently working, will focus on the art and career of Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horvath, Gustaf Tenggren, Kay Nielsen, Bianca Majoli and David Hall.

The challenge, of course, is to manage to build on the astounding work already done by John Canemaker in his seminal book Before the Animation Begins.

I have already reached out by email to some of you, but if I haven't and if you have rare documents linked to any of those 6 artists, could you please, please contact me ASAP at Thanks a million in advance!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The blog will be updated again starting on Monday March 31.
This just in from Garry Apgar:

[With winter almost gone, at least in the colder North American climes, it's nice to turn our thoughts to spring and what the French call le joli mois de mai. As reported in the news squib above from May 1953 our Gallic friends were thinking big at that time, Disney-big, in terms of animation.

I could be wrong, but I believe Walt did a live-action re-make of "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" in the mid 1960s called "The Nanny and the Chimney Sweep" ... though, if memory serves, he changed the title somewhat.

"French Cartoon Ready," New York Times, May 14, 1953, p. 33

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The beautiful book about Disney's version of "The Nutcracker Suite" from Fantasia released by Little Brown in 1941 contains some fascinating drawings of an insect orchestra.

I should probably know this, but do any of you have more information on that insect orchestra? Who drew those illustrations? Is the insect orchestra an abandoned project? Etc.

[UPDATE: The art was created by the artist Walt Scott.]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This just in from Garry Apgar (slighty off-topic):

[n the March 9, 2014 issue of the New York Times Magazine is a terrific article by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, based on Suskind's new book, Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, to be published on April 1st by Kingswell, an imprint of Disney Book Group. 

The story is about how Ron and Cornelia Suskind's autistic son Owen was "saved" by "Disney therapy." Owen's miraculous therapeutic healing involved not just latter-day Disney classics like The Lion King but also Golden Age Disney animated features like Pinocchio, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, even "a bootleg copy of Song of the South.”

Suskind writes in the article: 

But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times.

New York Times Magazine, March 7, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mary Blair exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum was inaugurated last week and from all the reports I got it is absolutely stunning and not to be missed. Definitely worth going to the Museum just to visit it.

As if this were not enough the Walt Disney Family Museum Press released a gorgeous catalog written by John Canemaker, Magic Color Flair: The World of Mary Blair. This 172-page art book is a "must have". It contains pieces of art which I had not seen before and John amazes us once again by unearthing a few photos of Mary which I believe have never appeared elsewhere.

Run to get this volume and to see the exhibition, you won't regret it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bob Thomas who wrote the official biographies of Walt and Roy passed away.
The second issue of The Carl Barks Fan Club Pictorial has just been released. This is a beautiful magazine which is definitely worth picking up.

This second issue contains a long article I wrote about the making of my book, Disney's Grand Tour. There is almost a whole book to be written about the research process which led to Disney's Grand Tour. This article will give you a good taste of what that process involved. The article is illustrated by various images which are related to the 1935 trip but which I was not able to release in the book for various reasons.

(For more information about Disney's Grand Tour, check out the Theme Park Press website.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Help Needed

Would any one of you have access to the following documents:

- Hollywood Citizen News, "On the Distaff Side at Walt Disney’s" (Feb. 23, 1940).

- The Bulletin, Volume 1 number 12 and number 14 (Feb. 1939)

If so, could you please email me at Thanks a million in advance.
 This just in from Gunnar Andreassen:

[Here's the 8th dwarf - Boxy - drawn by Riley Thom(p)son - and a caricature he made of himself.

Some years ago those two and a collection of other drawings were up for auction at Bonhams - but I don't think they were sold.

From the description:

A collection of over 100 erotic and raunchy colored pencil drawings by the Disney animator, Riley Thomson

1930s, colored pencil on animation paper, bound in a vintage book, the collection includes a drawing of Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice who wishes for a larger penis which is granted; a drawing of a wolf man inscribed OK Nick Nichols, OK Ford, OK Bob Leunin, OK Riley, OK Ward Kimball, OK Walt; bad boy Peter with Daisy; a penis with a face looking into the magic mirror; 12 drawings of a story of Jenny the hillbilly (whose face resembles Dopey); five drawings making reference to work; 15 drawings of self-portraits all with sexual references; 29 drawings of Glover and Doc Friendly, Glover has lost all limbs except for one who is obsessed with erected penises; 11 drawings of portraits, some very finished drawings; 7 drawings making references to Burk /Anthony with large penises; 6 drawings depicting Stanford students as penises; 20 miscellaneous drawings with erotic references.

Riley Thomson began his career in 1935 as an animator of Warner Bros. Merry Melodies. He began working for the Disney Studios in 1938 and animated some of Disney's Mickey shorts such as The Little Whirlwind, The Nifty Nineties and Mickey's Birthday Party. He was most famously known for animating Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer Apprentice, for which he created a character that looked less like a rat and more like a cute mouse by exaggerating his features. In the early 1950s, he began drawing comics with Disney characters for Western Publishing. By the late 1950s, he took over the Brer Rabbit Sunday page from Dick Moores and continued doing that until 1959.]

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The web site "A Lost Film" contains some astounding historical material about the first French version of Snow White and much, much more. Truly a fascinating site. (Thanks to Are Myklebust for the heads up.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

This just in from Garry Apgar:

[The Chicago Tribune published this ACME wire service photo of Walt being honored by USC in June 1938, but mistakenly promoted him to an honorary Doctor of Science:

“Disney a Doctor”

Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1938, p. 22

   Los Angeles, Cal., June 5. — [Special.] — Walter E. Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse and other cartoon cinemas, was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree by the University of Southern California in the 55th commencement exercises, held in Los Angeles Memorial coliseum. President Rufus B. von Kleinsmid conferred the honor “in recognition of distinguished achievements in cinematography.”]

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Kindle version is now available on Amazon.

This just in from Gunnar Andreassen:
[Enclosed is a great poster with Musse Pigg (Mickey Mouse), made in connection with the Childrens Days in September 1937 - and a boat race in Stockholm.  I found a small version of it on the web, but with the help of Lasse Emanuelsson - who bought the last copy of the exhibition catalog with this poster they had at the Royal Library in Stockholm, I got a high resolution version.
Musse is standing on top of Stadshuset (The Town Hall) in Stockholm.  See also photo of the building.]

Friday, March 07, 2014

A few days ago, Mark Sonntag posted the above photo on the Disney History Insitute Facebook page. He was trying to find out where Walt was that day.

A short while later David Lesjak and Brett Jeffries working closely together, established that the photo had been taken at the University of Southern California and that the man on Walt's right is Rufus Bernhard von KleinSmid, President of USC at the time. We know that Walt got his honorary Masters of the Arts degree at USC on June 4, 1938.

What I realized by researching that date is that he attended another important event that same day...

At 18.00, he arrived at the infamous Lake Norconian party, "Walt's Field Day", that he had organized to celebrate the completion of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Update on ongoing projects

So, now that Disney's Grand Tour, Inside the Whimsy Works, and Life in the Mouse House have been released, what am working on at the moment?

The manuscript of Walt's People - Volume 14 is complete and we should expect a release around May at the latest. (The above caricatures were created by John Musker for the cover.)

I am hard at work on Walt's People - Volume 15 and most of the chapters have already gone through the first round of edits.

Joe Campana and I are working on Eric Larson's long-thought-lost autobiography (and on Eric's notes about animation). We are putting them in shape for release later this year or early in 2015.

I am also in the very early stages of research on "Disney and Space," a book which is probably about two or three years away at least.

Finally, I am working on two other fun projects, one with Joe and one on my own. The one with Joe is focused on one of the "holy grails" of Disney history. Too early yet to reveal what it is. It will probably take us three or four years to complete. The other project, if it happens, will be a collection of five visually stunning books. More on this later this year, hopefully.

In other words, things are busy and fun at the moment.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Life in the Mouse House, the memoir of Golden Age Disney story artist Homer Brightman is now available on Amazon.

Homer Brightman was one of the members of Disney's Story Department from 1935 to 1950, right in the middle of the Golden Age of Disney animation.

During those fifteen years, he was often teamed up with other legendary story artist, Harry Reeves and was instrumental in developing dozens of storyboards for some of the most famous Disney shorts, many of them featuring Donald and Pluto. Among the classic shorts tackled by Brightman, we find Alpine Climbers, The Fox Hunt, Clock Cleaners, Beach Picnic, The Fire Chief, and Lend a Paw.  Homer also worked on several of the features, including Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Cinderella.

Being part of the Story Department, Homer was at the very heart of the Disney Studio and worked with some of its stars, including Ted Sears, Dave Hand, Perce Pearce, Roy Williams, Carl Barks, Ham Luske, and Frenchy de Trémaudan.

After Disney, Brightman joined UPA, MGM, and Walter Lantz. He passed away in 1988.

Here is the introduction I wrote for the book:

[Most of the talented artists who knew and worked with Walt Disney are gone. Those who have never or seldom been interviewed took their precious memories to the grave.

Or did they?

Thankfully, for Disney History addicts like myself, there are still hidden autobiographies and memoirs to be unearthed: from the legendary 1938 – 1948 diaries of animator Ward Kimball, to the not-yet-released autobiography of concept artist Mel Shaw, Animator of Horseback, or the recently discovered notes of Eric Larson for his book 50 Years in the Mouse House. Needless to say, those documents are extremely rare and of uppermost value to Disney historians and Disney enthusiasts alike. So when I found traces of a memoir written by a story artist of Disney’s Golden Age, in the archives of Disney historian Michael Barrier, I knew that I had hit “pay dirt.” The story artists worked closest to Walt than any of the other artists and they were at the center of the Studio’s creative process. The ‘30s were the most exciting creative period at the Studio. And Homer Brightman despite having collaborated to dozens of shorts and quite a few features, was one of the lesser known artists of that era. I knew that the book would be fascinating and enlightening.

After tracking down Homer’s daughters, Pamela Etzler and Connie Heller-Zeiger, and after reading the book, I was glad to confirm that its contents are indeed exhilarating from a Disney history standpoint.

There are dozens and dozens of stories in this volume which are either brand new or shed new light on what we already knew: hilarious memories of fellow story artists Harry Reeves, Perce Pearce, Roy Williams, Webb Smith and many others; new information about the career of animator Frenchy de Trémaudan; new details about the events of the 1941 Studio strike; and, almost at every page, new elements that help us “connect the dots” when it comes to artists and events. In other words, I learned something exciting and fun in each chapter.

But there is also a darker side to Homer Brightman’s memoir. One can feel that his fifteen years at the Studio were not a happy time professionally and emotionally. The man we discover is one who while at the Disney Studio suffered due to internal politics, constant fear of losing his job, and artistic frustrations. This unhappiness leads to a very dark portrait of Walt. We all know that Walt was not a saint and could be a harsh taskmaster. Many of Homer's colleagues, however, had a very different point of view on Walt as a boss and as a human being. Many of those positive perspectives are shared in the pages of the book series Walt's People.

In other words, as it always is when reading an autobiography, it is important to keep in mind that Homer Brightman’s perspective is subjective. His point of view is nonetheless a very important one, his story fascinating, and his prose is so clear that his book, from day one, was a delight to read.

When he completed his book in 1986, Homer decided to hide the names of his co-workers behind pseudonyms. Homer’s daughters, Pam and Connie felt that the body of the book had to be released exactly as Homer had left it with the only addition of a few endnotes to clarify a few facts and the rare faulty memories. Thankfully both also realized that the book takes another dimension when one knows who are the artists hidden behind the pseudonyms. I am therefore enclosing below a list of the names of the individuals we believe we identified, thanks to notes left by Brightman as well as some additional research completed while working on this manuscript. I strongly encourage you to make reference to this list while reading Homer’s memoir.

Life in the Mouse House is an enlightening adventure, which for Homer ironically started on a grey morning of February 1935…]

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

This just in from Gunnar Andreassen:

[As you probably know Walt Disney only visited Sweden once.  A couple of days ago I found a Swedish newsreel from 1959 - that you might not have seen - about his visit to Sweden in connection with a film that was shot partly there: Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.
He came to Stockholm, was received at the airport by a young girl with flowers and the director of the film and among others the chief of RKO there. He held a press conference at the balcony of his hotel.   He also visited the "Filmtown" and met with Ingmar Bergman - the famous Swedish director.

See 02.52 into this newsreel.

You might have read what Joakim Gunnarsson posted about this event on his blog a couple of years ago (two postings).]

Monday, March 03, 2014

I learned recently that in 1945, before the end of WWII, a group of French journalists visited the US. Among the places they toured, was the Walt Disney Studio where they had a chance to meet Walt. One of the journalists was none other than Jean-Paul Sartre, who would won the Nobel Price of Litterature in 1964 and, along with Albert Camus, became one if the two most famous French writers of the second half of the XXth century.

I would love to find out the exact date of this historical meeting. Sartre was not at all famous at the time, so no one at the Studio probably realized that two of the World's greats had just met.