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Monday, June 24, 2019

Snow White A Sock In Seattle


Another Home Historian Covers Snow White in 1938

An Appeal to the many who know more than I do: Name films for which a scrap book was issued, a dedicated album to fill with souvenirs, like the one above for Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. I can’t offhand think of another movie where this was done, but surely there were some since 1937, and maybe others before. Paramount imitated most aspects of Snow White with Gulliver’s Travels in 1939, but there’s no evidence of a scrapbook, at least the pressbook doesn’t indicate one. What’s shown here is proof that at least one Snow White album was bought, and filled, by a dedicated fan in Seattle. It is a priceless record of local exploitation during 1938 and varied news articles that ran alongside ads placed by the Music Box and the 5th Avenue Theatres. Like with Russell Merritt’s dedication to Hound of The Baskervilles in 1959, here was an anonymous viewer’s effort to gather everything Seattle did on Snow White’s behalf and memorialize it. Did he/she anticipate that Disney’s first animated feature would live forever?




You’re nearing ninety or past it if you saw Snow White first-run. We’re told since 1937-38 that the impact was huge. There had never been a talkie to roll up grosses like this. Grown-ups saw Snow White and cried. It was a genuine social phenomenon. Experts warned you couldn’t hold an audience still for an hour and a half of cartoon. That was to extent true for animated features that came after Snow White, even most of Disney’s, none of which stirred a same emotion in watchers. I sought an eyewitness to Snow White’s first salvo and found one in teacher/historian Conrad Lane, who was born in 1930 and saw the show new in March 1938. He was seven and a half years old. The place was Anderson, Indiana. Conrad had no awareness of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs before his mother took him to see it. He had certainly been to movies (earliest recollection: Footlight Parade in 1933), and liked cartoons, the recent Popeye specials (Ali Baba, Sindbad, etc.) having made a big impression. The term “freaked me out” would wait thirty years after Snow White for coinage, but Conrad says it applied here, for he was “absolutely enthralled.”




They had entered the theatre right went the huntsman failed in his resolve to kill Snow White and warned her instead to run away and never come back. Conrad says this was a most terrifying thing he’d seen in movies up to that time. Even a happy ending dismayed him, for why would Snow White leave her dwarf friends to ride off with a prince she barely knew? His mother replied, “She came back to see them once a year” (maybe Disney should have inserted a title to that effect). Next day’s print ad touted Snow White as “Held Over.” It was the first time Conrad encountered the term. Awareness of Snow White would linger thanks to bally nailed on telegraph poles between home and school. Here was no mere kid picture. Conrad’s aunt and uncle drove two hours from out of state to experience Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs at an early Indianapolis run. Disney would not in his lifetime see response like this for an animated feature. Maybe adults spent their bolts on Snow White, because Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, got nowhere near it. I wonder if, when follow-ups came, they said, “We’ve seen one of these, and one is enough.” Snow White was many kinds of a glorious novelty, but in the end, it was a novelty, “something that is new and has not been experienced before, and so is interesting,” as the books say, but how many go back for a novelty done again?




Seattle’s scrapbook keeper got much help filling pages from local newspapers. Each week they would memorialize records set at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, where Snow White stayed a month before moving over to the Music Box Theatre for three more frames. Short subjects were freshened through the run, Quintupland, featuring the Dionnes, an initial accompany to Snow White. Ads were customized to signal each holdover (“Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho!, Seattle Loves Us So!”). It became clear that patrons were going back again and again to see Snow White. Repeat biz as a foregone conclusion was incorporated into ads (“No Matter How Times You See It, You’ll Always See Something New”). Music Box management told local press that “no screen offering --- since the advent of audibility in the cinema, had been viewed repeatedly by so many patrons.” 1,700 ticket-buyers saw Snow White twice, 600 had been in three times, and 63 people declared they watched the feature four times, and planned to return again.




This kind of success had to inspire a copy, Paramount in most favored position with Max Fleischer’s shop at feature-ready. They tested water with the Popeye specials, and went forward now with Gulliver’s Travels, which was handsome, if derivative. A best lick at Disney may have been Gulliver getting into the Christmas 1939 marketplace ahead of a delayed Pinocchio. If Snow White was to be Disney’s sole blockbuster,  at least it could draw repeatedly from that well. 1940 dates had Oscar-winner Disney cartoons for company, and a worldwide $2.4 million yielded from the first major reissue (1944) was better money than Fantasia and Dumbo took in their first release. Snow White stayed evergreen with a worldwide $2.2 million in 1952, this revival stage-managed by Terry Turner. Snow White was kept off TV but for clips and songs excerpted to tease new theatrical dates (1958), or when Walt permitted a pencil test for an unused segment to highlight a 1956 episode of Disneyland. There was nothing quite like the affection Snow White inspired, a jewel precious enough to stay locked up except where admission was paid to theatres. Frozen out were schools and film societies that would otherwise rent Snow White in 16mm, even as other Disney animated features went that route. Eight or so minutes of Snow White could be had on 8mm, in color even, but getting the whole thing meant resort to bootleg 16mm, which, depending on the skill of your duper, could serve well, since prints were often made off reduction negatives finessed from 35mm, the latter accessible thanks to Snow White continuing to run at cinemas. All a pirate had to do was take a print to his lab and run off a negative. Good enough tech work and a re-recorded track could yield nice 16mm. That’s all smoked meat now, what with Blu-ray, streaming, the rest of resources to enjoy Snow White at our leisure.


Elmer and Bugs Back in 2019 with Dynamite Dance


But who’s watching Snow White today? Would it seem too stately … slow? Likely as not, yes and yes, for sure beside hopped-up animation of a last … thirty years at least? Anyone who treasures Snow White would have had to grow that love in a theatre seat, as SW was no television staple (was there ever a TV run?). Home video release was in 1994, the kiss-off to reissues that sustained Snow White since 1937. Wouldn’t a young parent be more likely to scoot Junior in front of whatever Toy Stories or Little Mermaids were handy? Those represent Mom and Dad’s youth better than hieroglyph like Snow White. To put it mild, you’ve got to be some serious old to hold Snow White dear, but is this not true of any Classic Era animation too long out of a wider public eye? I see where Warner Bros. is trying yet again to revitalize their cartoon stable, this time “1,000 minutes of new animation each season, which will be available across multiple platforms, including digital, mobile, and broadcast.” They’ve gone back to old-style cartooning if the online sample is to be believed, a minute-and-a-half Bugs/Elmer called Dynamite Dance. So how long will WB transfuse effort and dollars to characters long past mainstream life? There were 3-D Road Runners, a Tweety, some others, in 2010. Before that came Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1992) and Animaniacs (1993-1998), these over twenty years ago, closing on thirty, in fact. Are there fans that grew up on Tiny Toons and consider them classics? Hard to guess … I was raised on Huckleberry Hound, but need not revisit him. The Warner figures were such a force, and for so long --- how could they simply fade away? --- yet we must wonder how many more chances WB will give the franchise. If this latest effort fails, might it be the last Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies we hear?

Earlier Greenbriar consideration, over ten years back, on modern fate of classic cartoons. Be sure to review the comment section.

14 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Back in the 80's, took my kids to a screening of one of those bootleg 16mm prints of SNOW WHITE at, I believe, a YWCA. As a collector myself, I was moderately impressed at the quality of the print not to mention the guts of the guy showing it in such a semi-public venue (no actual ads or official announcement, but the show had plenty word of mouth publicizing) Will have to ask my kids (now in their late 30's, early 40's) if they remember that specific Saturday.

As to the Looney Tunes reboot, I am hardly an objective judge since my son Alex is the supervising producer of the series. I can say an enormous effort has been expended to recapture the spirit of the originals. The 40 minutes of shorts shown this month to a packed theater at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival seems to have gone over very well judging by online comments. And, no, I have not seen anything other than that one little short myself. Can't wait to see the rest!

12:15 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

Snow White is screening this summer at the Ohio Theater in Columbus as part of their classic film series. I expect it'll be very packed.

I was at Disney World about ten years ago and Snow White and the dwarfs were all pretty heavily featured. Seems like kids are still familiar with them.

1:39 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Don't know if "Snow White" ever made it to broadcast, but I remember when you NEVER saw a Disney movie on TV, except in halves on the "Wonderful World of Color". I remember seeing one of those 16mm catalogs. To my young eyes it looked like they'd picked the feature films too dull to re-release, with no animated features at all.

At some point in 70s, I think, NBC ran "Absent Minded Professor" as a prime time special. Later, at UCSC, they managed to get "Melody Time" and "Make Mine Music" for an on-campus gig. I recall being almost shocked to channel-surf one afternoon in the current century and find "The Rescuers" on TBS. Lately I've noticed some lower-rent cable channels running "The Best of True-Life Adventures" and other non-classic fare. But "Snow White"? I doubt it, even now.

A bit of weirdness, particularly with Disney: Stuff related to the old films are a bigger deal than the films themselves, which have evolved from big, unforgettable Nights at the Theater to familiar titles mixed in with dozens of videos lying around the house. It started early, when Mickey Mouse slipped to a lesser rank in shorts and even in comics, yet remained the powerhouse in merchandising and as a theme park mascot. Various efforts to shore up Mickey's bona-fides began in Uncle Walt's lifetime ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice") and continue today with a series of modernized online shorts, but it's almost academic since the mouse is ingrained as an icon.

The Disney parks are swarming with characters, rides and merchandise from old films fewer kids have actually sat through. Right now Disneyland is packing them in with an insanely expensive Star Wars land. The movie franchise is not what it once was, but no matter. At WDW, there's a fairly new roller coaster lavishly themed to the Seven Dwarfs' diamond mind. Over at rival Universal, they're expanding their Harry Potter attractions, still huge even though the movies have ended and the current "prequel" series isn't doing nearly so well.

Here and in the linked post you talk about the attempts to reboot the Looney Tunes. A great deal of their fame with boomer kids comes from how we experienced them: They were the best of the afternoon kiddie fare on broadcast TV, back when broadcast was the only real entertainment option. They also stood out on Saturday mornings -- remember those? -- when nearly all the competition came from Hanna-Barbara, where theatrical short talent cranked out endless product on short schedules and shorter budgets. The new Warner shorts may be glorious, but where will they find that magical showcase combining audience, medium, and moment? It was a perfect storm of opportunity, the same one that propelled Hopalong Cassidy, the Three Stooges and the Universal Monsters into bigger-than-before stardom. And, incidentally, that enabled Disney to jump from niche producer to national institution. Ironically, those piles of Disney VHS and DVD titles fill the place once held by local hosts running Looney Tunes.

3:25 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

When I was a child, I had a Disney book with a single disc that condensed the whole movie in less than 15 minutes featuring the Mexican soundtrack since I was in Argentina. A few years ago, I contributed scans from it to somebody writing about Disney discs (78rpm, LPs, and singles) but declined them because he only concentrated in English language elements. I hope he didn't dispose of them as garbage because I don't have any of this anymore.

My other exposure to SNOW WHITE was a lengthy expert that used to pop up in either 8mm or 16mm prints shown in birthday parties; it was the sequence in which the dwarfs wash their hands before dinner. There were also clips frequently seen in the Disney show on television for years.

After that, when I was teen, I rented a pirate VHS version of the complete movie and after seeing it I was totally unimpressed. Then in 1994 it was officially published in video and later the Disney channel in Latin America began to frequently play it.

I can understand the impact of the film from perspective and placing myself in the position of those who originally saw the show when it was new. My parents were children at the time, they probably saw the thing then but they never said anything about how memorable it was.

The only difference that I did notice when I saw the movie in its complete version is near the beginning when Snow White actually meet the prince, a scene that I hadn't seen ever before.

Yet, I have never being impressed with Snow White nor with the Disney cannon either.

For the new Looney Tunes I hope they are as good as they are saying.

3:41 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

While I'm babbling: There was a recent kerfuffle at Disneyland when they semi-converted the Main Street Cinema into a merchandise location (the corresponding version in Florida was completely retailized long ago). Purists were up in arms.

The Main Street Cinema is a survivor from opening day; a big round room in period trim with multiple screens and no seats. The original idea was to provide a taste of silent movies, with each screen featuring a comedy short or a single reel from a feature. That was when Main Street was much more about nostalgia for older guests. I was one of the probable handful of kids who insisted on seeing every one of them through. This was when silent films were hard to see anywhere.

An early Mickey Mouse occupied one screen; eventually they shifted to an all-Mickey program ("Mickey's Polo Game", a Technicolor short, is shown in B&W to match the rest).

The Disneyland managers are trying to figure out how to drive more traffic into this little walk-around experience. After yanking the merchandise and cashier, they're experimenting with benches. My own proposal is that they put a gleaming, ample restroom facility behind it. People waiting for the inevitable laggards in their party will have a nice, air-conditioned place to wait and incidental entertainment.

There used to be a sit-down theater in Fantasyland, dedicated to shorts and featurettes like "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" and "It's Tough to Be a Bird". That was back when comparatively few people had color sets, and the films shown weren't available anywhere else. The space is now the Pinocchio ride.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I had a work colleague who owned a pirated VHS of Snow White. When I borrowed it to show my then-very young daughter, I made her promise not to tell any of her friends. I didn't relish the idea of the Disney Police swooping down on me.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Dr. Mark said...

I saw SNOW WHITE in theaters 4 times in my life until Disney stopped their "Every 7 years" reissue schedule and dumped everything to VHS DVD and video.

From Wikipedia: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first re-released in 1944. This re-release set a tradition of re-releasing Disney animated features every seven to 10 years, and was re-released to theaters in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993.

I'd have seen it in 67, 75, 83 and one of the last 2 times. Seeing it in 1967 at age 7 french fried my mind! Had only seen MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC theatrically prior to that and the scary moments in SNOW WHITE made it nearly a horror film by comparison.

Since they seldom have regular theatrical showings of Disney classics anymore (A crime!) it will be rare indeed to have the chance to see SNOW WHITE on the big screen
at The Ohio Theater in Columbus Ohio in July 2019 during their 50th Annual Summer Movie series. (Showings On July 6th and 7th) They attempt to get 35mm whenever possible, but this is sadly a "Digital Presentation."

1:21 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

His mother replied, “She came back to see them once a year." Gotta love Moms.

I suppose the bloom was off the SNOW WHITE rose by the late sixties. As projectionist at my home town theatre, I ran SW&SD paired with Leo & Huntz's DIG THAT URANIUM venture for a Friday/Saturday booking.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The SNOW WHITE merchandising started all over again with RKO's 1944 reissue. I was handling an estate awhile back, and among the effects was a 1944 Snow White comic book.

The merchandising of Disney reminds me of when my wife and I visited a new Disney Store, which the locals were buzzing about because of its extensive inventory. The staff was supposed to be very knowledgeable about all things Disney.

So we went in, and there was a wide variety of Disney merchandise, but I just knew there would be nothing with my favorite Disney character. I asked one of the "knowledgeable" staff members (maybe age 23), prefacing my question with "I bet you won't have this," and I got this self-assured smirk (as if I had challenged him to a trivia contest and he was thinking "go ahead, you can't beat me!"). He asked, "Who's the character?"

I said, "Humphrey."

Pause. "That's not one of ours," he said with finality. "That isn't a Disney character."

"Sure it is. He was the last of the Disney short-subject stars." Which I immediately regretted saying, because the guy probably didn't know what a short subject was.

He dug out this big hardcover book (some kind of Disney encyclopedia) and found Humphrey. "No, we don't have anything on him," he muttered.

And this was maybe 20 years ago, so I guess in these days where even Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are falling off the pop-culture radar, Humphrey hasn't got a prayer!

And hooray for Mike: what a combination! SNOW WHITE and DIG THAT URANIUM! Nice to see that Allied Artists was still making prints available at that late date. The neighborhood theater in my town booked SPOOK CHASERS in 1965.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

As I understand it a bank holiday prevented people from going to see PINOCCHIO in first release.

FANTASIA required special theaters wired for FANTA-SOUND. That limited the number of engagements.


PINOCCHIO, BAMBI and FANTASIA were far more expensive to produce than was SNOW WHITE which is why those films took longer to go into the black. DUMBO was made at a very low cost so it made a profit early for Disney. From my personal experience with the Disney features none of the classics had/have a problem holding the audience's attention.

With the saturation of the home video market the feeling probably is there is no point in releasing these films to theaters today as everyone and their sister has a vhs, dvd or Blu-ray copy. When we see SNOW WHITE on a TV screen in a doctor's office while waiting to see them the immediacy of a theatrical presentation is blown to bits.

That's a shame as the experience of seeing these films with several thousand absolute strangers is the best way to experience their magic and power. In the home we can pause the film. In a theater we can't.

Great post.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Scott - The print of DIG THAT URANIUM (which ran with SW&SD) was an original 1956 print. All of our prints came out of Charlotte. All were stored at the Charlotte Observer newspaper basement. In 1968, there was one print left of DIG THAT URANIUM, JUNGLE GENTS and SPOOK CHASERS. As these prints wore out, they were not replaced. By 1971, when I began running theatres, only SPOOK CHASERS remained. A few years later, it was gone.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

The animation style of SW&SD was different than any subsequent Disney animated feature.

About 1988 or so I remember DUMBO came out on VHS. I bought it to watch with my six year old niece. Remember those over sized white vinyl tape cases Disney used? I had not seen DUMBO since the 1960's and I was amazed when I started the movie which depicted a nasty thunderstorm. I remember thinking "I don't recall a live action storm at the beginning of this." Well it was not a live action storm but a superbly animated one.

Of course my allergies acted up during the BABY MINE song. Time to move the sofa pillow via my face.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

So how long will WB transfuse effort and dollars to characters long past mainstream life? There were 3-D Road Runners, a Tweety, some others, in 2010. Before that came Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-1992) and Animaniacs (1993-1998), these over twenty years ago, closing on thirty, in fact. Are there fans that grew up on Tiny Toons and consider them classics? Hard to guess … I was raised on Huckleberry Hound, but need not revisit him. The Warner figures were such a force, and for so long --- how could they simply fade away? --- yet we must wonder how many more chances WB will give the franchise. If this latest effort fail, might it be the last Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies we hear?

Considering how popular Tiny Toon Adventures still is with fans that remember it, as well as how popular Animainiacs and its spin-off Pinky & The Brain were. not to forget how popular Loonatics Unleashed was (check out the considerable fanart here: https://www.deviantart.com/popular-all-time/?section=&global=1&q=Loonatics+Unleashed) as well as all of the Warner Bros. Animation shows that aired on the Kids WB programming block of the WB network, I'd say that there is a sizable fan base who consider them classics (myself included), especially since a new Animainiacs show is coming out next year on Cartoon Network.

I predict that this new short, however, is going to have problems, especially since it has Bugs blowing up Elmer with dynamite, and many parents (who think that all animation is for kids) might object to seeing that much as parents of the '70's and '80's objected to seeing the characters blow up each other constantly (as well as object to what Bugs and others said about women in the original shorts, case in point the Canadian women who objected to Bugs implying that all women were witches inside after having a witch transform into a female rabbit in Bewitched Bunny; https://web.archive.org/web/20000302190830/http://www.megalink.net/~cooke/looney/cen-witch.html).

As for how current animation will be regarded as classic, judging by the high box office totals for most animated movies nowadays, I can see that they won't have a problem in that regard.

4:10 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

Of all Walt Disney regular short cartoon's leading characters, I can't think of any funnier than DONALD DUCK; THE 1940-50'S PRODUCT BEING absolutely priceless, classic comedy, all the way- and how about those made in 'SCOPE? The people who made these DD CARTOONS were such talented comedians themselves, it seemed to me that they had their own studio, away from GOOFY OR MICKEY MOUSE, and others. THOSE CARTOONS I could never find any humor in, at all...(TO ME, MM WAS ABOUT AS FUNNY AS A HAILSTORM ON A WARM SUNNY AFTERNOON!). Not ANYTHING ELSE at Disney was as cherished to me, or was as important to me, nor was any other cartoon character, ANYWHERE ON ANY SCREEN FUNNIER than head-numbing hilarious antics of DONALD DUCK and friends.

12:55 AM  

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