As you might suspect, I get dozens of e-mails every day related to some Disney question and, if I took the time to respond to each one, there would be no time for me to write anything else—including this column.
I do try to respond to as many as I can if I can locate the information quickly, but some require extensive research that would take days or weeks. So they are put in my overflowing "to do" file.
However, some people write to me not to ask for something, but to share some additional piece of information. Since, for the most part, I try to write columns that are historically timeless, a reader might not discover a column until years after it originally appeared.
In fact, here are three e-mails that I received recently about columns I wrote years ago. As I often say, nobody can know everything, especially me.
I am very grateful that readers take the time to share their information so that we are all enriched.
Here are a few things I never knew that I never knew.
The Tale of Ariel's Tail
I wrote a column about a children's half-hour television project Jim Henson was doing for the Disney company titled The Little Mermaid's Island.
I recently heard from Robert Short, who just discovered that 2011 column, and who graciously filled in one of the missing pieces in that story:
"I designed and created the Mermaid tail costume for The Little Mermaid's Island.
"Having designed, constructed and supervised Daryl Hannah's Mermaid tail and effects for Splash, Disney turned to me for this pilot and series. I made the tail from the same material as I had for Daryl's costume, but as your article indicated, it was much more modest than the look of Ariel in the animated film.
"In answer to your question about the underwater shots of Ariel swimming, we shot the sequence with the actress in the actual tail at the Disney water park, Typhoon Lagoon, in Orlando. Hope this helps clear up a bit more of the mystery of the The Little Mermaid's Island.
Oscar winning Short also reminded me that this year is the 30th anniversary of the Touchstone movie Splash. I don't think today's Disney fans realize how controversial that film was at the time it was released with the language and very brief, obscured nudity (basically Madison's rear end as she climbs out of the water), considered inappropriate for a Disney film.
I attended that year's stockholder meeting where an irate stockholder got up and passionately accused in a long diatribe the Disney company of producing pornography.
To release the film, Ron Miller created a separate film division, Touchstone, to tackle more mature topics. On an $8 million budget, the film grossed more than $6 million on the opening weekend, and eventually made nearly $70 million in the United States alone on its initial release.
Short designed the tail and worked on the transformation scenes, as well. As he recalls, "The challenge was not only to create something beautiful but also practical which the actress could swim in at 35 feet below sea level and still look at ease. This was accomplished using a new never-before-used material called Skin-Flex, which became an industry standard."
It was such an effective design that actress Daryl Hannah was able to swim so fast that she outpaced her underwater safety crew. However, the tail was difficult to remove. So during lunch breaks, Hannah remained in the water with her tail on and actor Tom Hanks would lean over and feed her fries like she was a sea creature at SeaWorld or Marineland.
Danny the Lamb was a Girl
Most folks know that in the books and movies the famous collie Lassie is a girl. Yet, the character is portrayed in the movies and television shows by a male dog. Originally it was animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax's collie, Pal, whose male descendents often played the role as the years rolled on.
I mentioned in another column that the live action reference dog for Tramp in Lady and the Tramp was a stray who was female and lived out the rest of her days on the Pony Farm at Disneyland with Owen Pope.
This is all quite common movie trickery. Yet, even I was surprised by this next bit of previously unknown information:
Back in 2010, I wrote a column about the Disney feature film So Dear To My Heart.
Recently, I received this additional information about the lamb from Dan Replogle of the Cromwell Historical Society:
"I recently wrote a book titled Cromwell's History. It is about the history of Cromwell, Indiana. Harmon Harper was given Danny the black lamb and the deal was that Harmon was to haul Danny around and show "her" to the crowds and build up interest in the movie.
"Cromwell is near Chicago where the movie was released in 1948. After this, visitors made their way to the farm in Cromwell to see (and pet) Danny. I have been told by Ed Harper that Danny was:
- A GIRL
- Did not like adults
- Was very smart and ornery. She would turn on the water in the barn and let the other sheep out of their pens. She learned how to open gates.
"Danny died in Cromwell and Ed Harper knows where she is buried.
"In the movie, Danny had a scrotum attached to her rear so Danny looked like a boy. I thought Danny was a boy. I am also named Danny. I have not known many Danny girls. I have not heard a song Oh, Danny Girl."
Young Walt Story
Here's another story I recently received in response to the stories that I wrote about Walt's boyhood:
"My name is Nicholas Chase. I grew up near Disneyland and visited there often as a young boy with family and friends. My great aunt Mabel (Rice), on my mother's side of the family, was Walt Disney's third grade school teacher when Walt was enrolled at Benton Grammar School in Kansas City, Missouri.
"Walt's father came to school complaining that my great aunt had kept Walt after school as he was not completing his assigned work. 'Cartooning' was the reason. Walt's father said: "Please do not keep Walter after school; he has a paper route and the family needs the money!"
"True story told to me by my great aunt many times and repeated by my mther, Helen Graham Duffy Chase of Wheatland, Wyoming. Walt's brother Roy Disney lived in my hometown, South Pasadena, California, behind our middle league baseball coach's house."
I actually read a similar version of this story in a source that I trust.
Walt, like many young boys loved to draw cartoons. Walt once laughed that his earliest drawings were done on toilet paper (because the Disney family was always financially challenged) and then used for their original purpose which is why some of his first drawings no longer exist.
In school, Walt was often bored and like many schoolboys would draw in his textbooks, including stick figures at the bottom of the pages to create a flip book.
The Disney family did indeed need the money from the paper route and it is reasonable that Walt's father, Elias, would plead with a teacher not to keep Walt after school. In that era, farmers would often plead with teachers not to keep their child after school because they were needed to work on the farm.
Who is Marla Ryan?
Sometimes mysteries pop up unexpectedly. As I mentioned, I attended the outstanding DVC presentation of "Great Moments with Walt Disney."
In the show, they ran several of the television opening segments with Walt Disney that I have seen over and over and over for several decades.
However, this time, there was something different. It wasn't just seeing them on a large screen which was a huge delight, but for the first time, I noticed that the same young, perky actress kept popping up in different roles.
In An Adventure in Color (September 1961), she was one of the three black-and-white ink and paint girls that are magically transformed into full living color when Walt says the magic letters "NBC." In Disneyland After Dark (April 1962), she is the cutie who steals Walt Disney's popcorn as she repeatedly asks him to autograph her hat, her sister's hat and finally a half dozen or more other hats. In A Rag, A Bone, A Box of Junk (October 1964) she brings a bag of discarded items from her garage ("We don't have an attic!") to Imagineers X. Atencio and Bill Justice and engages in playful almost flirtatious banter with Walt.
I never noticed her ever before. In one of the clips, she is called "Marla" which I had to assume must be her real name. When I talked to Ryan March, who was the co-presenter of "Great Moments with Walt Disney," he mentioned she also popped up in several clips that were eventually dropped from the show for reasons of time. He had no idea who she was.
She was pretty and perky. I think I must have assumed that they may have pulled her out from her regular job at the Disney Studio to do these bits. It was quite common to pull someone out who already worked there since they were available and relatively inexpensive.
Walt's secretary, Tommie Wilck, even makes a brief appearance in one of the openings talking to Walt.
However, according to the records at the Disney Archives, this re-appearing actress was never employed at the Disney Studio. She was just apparently an extra hired from Central Casting.
She must have made an impression on someone. I suspect it was that she was always on time, knew her lines, was easy to direct, never caused any trouble and, of course, was pretty. However, there are a lot of other actresses at the time who also fit that description.
Did Walt take a liking to her? Was she connected with someone working at Disney?
Her name was Marla Ryan. Later, she changed her name to "Marlo" Ryan.
Her first known screen credit was a small part as "Helen" in the movie Dragstrip Riot (1958), followed by a lead role as "Sue Randall" in Date Bait (1960) and finally as just "redhead" in Where the Boys Are (1960). She also appeared in television episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ("Here Comes the Groom" 1960), Michael Shayne ("The Poison Pen Club" 1960), and Mr. Ed ("Pine Lake Lodge" 1961).
Then she just disappears. Did she die? Did she get married and leave the business as so many actresses did during that same time period? Obviously, from her Disney credits, she was working as late as 1964. In fact, her Disney credits don't appear in her IMDB listing.
There was also a short-haired brunette that appeared at least twice in these same clips. I have absolutely no clue who she was at all.
So, for those, who think everything has already been written about all things Disney, here is a mystery that I am including here and maybe I will get an e-mail maybe years from now when someone discovers this column to help me solve "The Mystery of Marla."
The Three Stooges Connection
There is a popular game called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," based on the concept that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any random actor to actor Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible.
I am surprised that someone hasn't developed a Six Degrees of Disney game based on the same concept that every person is only seperated from Disney by a maximum of six links.
For instance, I never would have imagined that there was a connection between Disney and the Three Stooges.
I probably could have made the link that Gold Key comic books published comics based on the Stooges as well as Disney characters or that both Disney cartoons and Stooges' shorts were often shown together at a children's matinee at local theaters but it turns out there is an even closer link.
While researching my latest book, I ran across the following interesting fun fact.
"Head stooge Moe Howard had a company that I thought could help us," said Disney producer Harry Tytle. "Always on the look-out for potentially expensive scenes to animate with cheaper alternatives, I was anticipating a section of 101 Dalmatians where there were extensive use of automobiles chasing through the countryside.
"I had discovered that Moe Howard had a company that had licked this problem," he said. "Ub Iwerks and I, along with other technical people, went to see Moe's process. Unfortunately, Ub decided we would be able to use the technique, but I got a kick out of making the visit."
In the film The Three Stooges in Orbit, a method was featured using live footage appearing to be animation and called "Cinemagic." It was developed by comic book artist Norman Maurer—Moe's son-in-law—who first used it in the 1959 low-budget sci-fi film The Angry Red Planet.
"The animation process my dad invented filmed live actors dressed in special costumes and makeup, and through a patented chemical process, turned the frames into realistic animation," stated animation writer Jeffrey Scott, the son of Norman Maurer.
For the Disney animated film, animators instead created a white model of the car, with bold black lines. They filmed it in action and ran the footage through the Xerox process to create a cel to be painted. When Cruella is seen driving her car from a snow ditch, a sand-like substance was used to create the illusion of snow.
The Disney Daughters' Weddings
I was asked recently about where Diane Disney Miller got married and it took me a bit of time to track down the answer.
Diane was married at All Saints by the Sea Episcopal church in Montecito, California. Sharon was married at the First Presbyterian Church in Pacific Palisades.
Speaking of Presbyterians, Reverend Glenn Puder was the Presbyterian minister who did the dedication prayer at Disneyland on July 17, 1955. He was Walt's nephew-in-law having married Walt's niece, Dorothy (daughter of Walt's older brother Herbert).
When the Community Presbyterian Church opened in Celebration, Florida, Michael Eisner approved the design that included a 126-year-old bell salvaged from a rural church in Iowa. For the building of the church,The Puders contributed $300,000 of Disney stock given to them by Walt and Roy Disney.
"It's a great privilege for us," Dorothy Puder said in 1996. "This money was not our money, but the Lord's money. So when this opportunity came up, we were thrilled about contributing."
"It's our way of remembering Walt and Roy," Glenn Puder said. "It's a great fit as far as we're concerned. The money coming full circle."
That's just another example, I guess, of Six Degrees of Disney.