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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Few Disney Moments
I always understood that in Hollywood, success is based largely on the company you keep. If that’s the case, then I guess we can say Walt Disney was indeed a very large success in 1932, based on the grouping shown here --- but what was Walt doing with the Royal Family? Ethel and Lionel are in costume for Rasputin and The Empress, and I’d assume they’re on the Metro lot --- do you suppose Walt has come over to ask permission to use their caricature likenesses in Mickey’s Gala Premiere? The Barrymores were no different from anyone around Hollywood in the early thirties --- they were willing, nay anxious, to pose with the youthful prodigy that had made animated cartoons top-of-the-bill attractions. All doors were open to Walt Disney --- I’d imagine that in the town’s social stratosphere, he’d have been a dream guest at any dinner gathering. The man was doing something utterly different in an industry that thrived on formula, and everybody recognized talent that approached genius, if for no other reason than the fact that so few had it.

Moving the clock forward to January 30, 1959, we now see Walt unveiling a bold initiative to introduce stereophonic television into our homes, by way of "three-source reception" combining radio and TV. The idea was to place the FM receiver on the left, the television set in the center, and AM on the right, separating each radio from the center set at a distance of four to six feet. Walt’s demonstrating the "simplicity" of the plan here, and according to the caption, ABC was right on board for the experiment, which would be conducted by way of the network’s broadcast, The Story Of Peter Tchaikovsky. I assume the program itself had a stereo track, but that’s easy enough to check if anyone has the DVD of Sleeping Beauty
, which includes Tchaikovsky as an extra. I’m just sitting here thinking how neat it would be if you could reproduce this whole set-up today, with a black-and-white TV set and those two vintage radios on either side --- wonder what it would sound like --- probably better than you’d think. What a visionary this man was.


Here’s Walt close to the end. He’s visiting the set of The Happiest Millionaire, the last feature on which I understand he had hands-on involvement. That’s Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson standing with him. There are several generations of us who will always remember where we were at the moment we learned of Disney’s death. For me, it was in front of the television late in the afternoon. I was watching a local kid show called Clown Carnival, hosted by a station employee suited up daily as "Joey" --- sort of a Freddie The Freeloader for Charlotte area kids. Anyway, Joey broke character near the end of the show to announce that "we all lost a good friend today", and that’s when I learned Walt had died. At the time, it honestly didn’t seem possible, especially since I had no idea he’d been sick. That was December 1966. Only a few months before, my friend next door had sent a letter out to the studio asking for Walt’s autograph. He got back a slip of paper with the signature. At the time, I questioned its authenticity, as this looked nothing like the fancy scroll that often accompanied ads for Disney pics. Of course, now there’s no question in my mind it was the real thing. Walt Disney would never have sanctioned fake autographs going out to his fans (and don’t any of you dare submit any comments confirming that he did!).

7 Comments:

Blogger East Side said...

One of my Mickey Mouse B & W DVD sets has that cartoon. I remember because my wife thought Lionel Barrymore (as Rasputin) was supposed to be Abraham Lincoln. What Lincoln was supposed to be doing at a 1932 premiere, she didn't say. (She's not an expert on old movies, so I forgave the mistake.)

7:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks, East Side. After seeing your comment, I went back and found the cartoon on the DVD set.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

It's hot, and lately the world seems rotten -- headed for terrible anarchy, chaos and destruction. Accordingly, I am unashamed to admit that the last few lines of today's post made me start to weep...

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Eric O. Costello said...

Isn't it true that around this time (ca. 1932-3), Disney and MGM were working together on the "Hot Chocolate Soldiers" sequence for "Hollywood Party?"

7:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I believe that "Hot Chocolate Soldiers" would have been sometime in 1933-34. "Hollywood Party" was released in 1934.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Some years ago I had an interesting conversation with a colleague. She asked me who I would consider "the most influential artist of the twentieth century." She clearly expected me to name Pablo Picasso, or Salvador Dali, or James Joyce, or someone like that. But I told her flat out, "That's not even a head-scratcher. Walt Disney, hands down." She was flabbergasted, but the only reply she had was to deny that Disney was ever an artist. Needless to say, this was so absurd that I didn't bother to refute her. But I stand by my words. There's not even a close second.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your memories... Walt Disney has always been my hero.

I have to agree with Griff - the world today *is* rotten, and I'm kind of *hoping* it's heading for destruction. And rebirth. We need Walt Disney today.

2:14 AM  

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