For me, it is a joy listening to Walt Disney speak. There is such a warmth and humor in his voice that he really seemed like a beloved uncle. It is hard to believe that originally Walt didn’t want to be the host of his own weekly Disney television show.
During a story meeting on a Disneyland television show to promote Lady and the Tramp on May 25, 1954, Walt said the following: "I haven't got a good voice to carry narration, got a nasal twang, I know. I'm not being immodest, just being practical."
It was always Walt's intention that the hosting duties for the show would be done by some other celebrity and yet as they searched they couldn’t find anyone with the same genuine folksiness as Walt. The compromise was for Walt to introduce the show and then turn it over to an expert in the particular topic area.
"I'm as big a ham as anyone, but actually it's an ordeal for me to be in front of the cameras. They wanted me to smile, to be warm. All I could see was that cold eye of the camera and the glum faces of the crew staring at me,” Walt confessed when asked if he enjoyed doing the television introductions. I suspect Walt secretly liked doing those introductions judging by the fact that he loved ad-libbing during those segments.
Imagineer Marty Sklar remembered that when he wrote for Walt, he always kept one thing in mind:
"Every time I wrote something for him, I always found a way to use the words 'things' because Walt had a marvelous way of making 'things' sound so big and magical. For instance, he would say, 'And now we're going to create the Pirates of the Caribbean and the pirates are going to burn and sack the whole town! But for our next project at Disneyland, we're going to do some really fabulous things.' He just described this fabulous 'thing' that was beyond all of our imaginations. Yet, somehow, if he said 'things' on camera that word by itself became much bigger than whatever he was specifically describing at the moment."
Jack Spiers wrote many of those television introductions for Walt and recalled: "Walt's Midwestern tongue had difficulties getting around certain words. There were some words that I realized I shouldn't ask him to say on screen. Like aluminum which came up because Alcoa was one of the sponsors of the show. But he just couldn't say it. Somehow I'd have to write around it."
Jim Algar who is best known for his work on the True Life Adventures series also wrote and directed Walt in the opening introductions: "We all have blind spots in pronunciation of words. 'Hover' was one of Walt's blind spots. He always said 'hoover'. Once, I wrote a television lead-in for him and, unthinkingly, dropped in the word 'hover'. He came down to the stage to record the narration and as he was reading, I heard him say 'hoovered over us'. I was in the monitor booth and had to push the control button and my voice came booming inside the booth like a voice from the the heavens. It was a delicate moment. I said, 'Walt, gosh, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but that should be hovered not hoovered.' He kind of snorted and said, 'Oh, you and your damn college education.' "
Thankfully, in addition to those introductions to the weekly television series (and wouldn’t it be great to have a DVD collection of just those introductions?), Walt was a frequent guest on radio programs in the 1930s and 1940s.
However, there are many other recordings of Walt as well as demonstrated by an interesting presentation done on August 9 at a local chapter meeting of the National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC) in Orlando.
In 1979, Ed and Elaine Levin who operated a small home shop selling Disneyana, along with a few fellow collectors formed a club called “The Mouse Club” and began publishing a newsletter the following year and accepting memberships. I was one of the original members. In August 1982, they held their first convention devoted to Disneyana at the Jolly Roger Inn across the street from Disneyland. Even though it was only one day and primarily a location for dealers to sell Disneyana, several Disney Legends showed up and shared stories of working with Walt.
This event led to other Mouse Club conventions but there was some dissension in the organization and fourteen members left the club and formed their own club, the NFFC, and held their own conventions, usually twice a year. Like many Disney fans, I was a member of both organizations and one of the original members of the NFFC. The Mouse Club eventually disappeared and, thanks to the NFFC developing local chapters around the United States and the world, the NFFC grew and grew.
Disney took notice of the success of these unofficial conventions and was encouraged to create its own Disneyana convention in 1992. Despite its success, Disney stopped doing these conventions after the 2002 event. However, the NFFC continued to produce conventions and this year in addition to the recently held West Coast convention in July in Anaheim, the NFFC is producing its third East coast convention in Orlando on October 3-5. It will be held at the Regal Sun Resort on Hotel Plaza Boulevard near Downtown Disney.
There are some amazing things scheduled this year including a “final farewell” to the Adventurer’s Club.
Local chapters of the NFFC often showcase some interesting speakers as well and on Saturday, August 9, Disney historian Jim Korkis presented “Sounds Like Walt” that featured some unusual audio clips of Walt speaking that have rarely been heard over the decades. Apparently, Jim tapped in to the generosity of his many fellow Disney historians to borrow some out of these out of the ordinary sound clips.
To make the presentation even more amazing, in attendance were Disney Legends Charlie Ridgway and Tom Nabbe who were invited to contribute their memories prompted by the audio clips.
First, there was a Public Service Spot for the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness from 1962. (Apparently, Mouseketeer Annette Funicello did one for the same organization that same year.)
“This is Walt Disney. How fast can blindness strike? In the split second of an eye accident. Every day more than four hundred American children risk damage or destroyed vision from eye accidents. Teach your child to handle toys and tools with great care. And if he’s not mature enough to handle them safely all the time, keep them out of re ach. Pointed sticks, air guns, slingshots, bows and arrows cause seventeen percent of all serious eye injuries. Guide the play of youngsters as much as possible. Don’t gamble with your children’s eyes. They can’t be replaced. For free information on eye health and safety, write to the National Society of the Prevention of Blindness. Box 426. New York 19, New York.”
Next, came a treat from a Lux Radio Theater presentation from Sept. 8, 1936. For two decades, beginning in 1934, The Lux Radio Theatre presented one-hour radio versions of motion picture films either current or forthcoming. The adaptations ranged from The Thin Man to The Jazz Singer to The African Queen. Lux Radio Theater tried to feature as many of the original stars of the original stage and film productions as possible, although it was not unusual to see Alan Ladd or Edward G. Robinson performing as the lead actors in the adaptations of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. The show was sponsored by Lever Brothers who made Lux soap and detergent.
Cecil B. DeMille, the film director known for spectacular films, was the host of the series each Monday evening from June 1, 1934, until January 22, 1945, when William Keighley became the new permanent host from late 1945 through the end of the series in mid-1955. Walt appeared on three intermission segments in the 1930s, including this first one that happened in the middle of the production of The Plutocrat with Wallace Beery. Clarence Nash often accompanied Walt on his many radio appearances to voice Donald Duck and he did in this segment as well.
In this particular segment, DeMille asks Walt who is the better actor, Mickey or Donald? I was fascinated when Walt replies, “Mickey is an actor. Donald is a clown.”
Walt always thought of Mickey as an actor like a Clark Gable and that made him different than other animated personalities.Besides this segment, Walt was also the intermission guest on December 20, 1937 and for the presentation the next year of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Over the years, the Lux Radio Theater did adaptations of several Disney animated features including Snow White (December 26, 1938), Pinocchio (December 25, 1939 with John Garfield), Alice in Wonderland (December 24, 1951) , and Peter Pan (December 21, 1953 with John Carradine doing the voice of Captain Hook). They were often scheduled around Christmas time because of the tie-in with children.
The shows usually featured the original casts including Kathryn Beaumont, Bobby Driscoll, Ed Wynn, Jerry Colona, and Adrianna Caselotti. If you are looking for copies of those shows, I would recommend going to Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs . I wish Walt’s other two segments would have been played, as well, but then there might not be time for the other gems like Walt’s off-the cuff speech in Marceline on July 3, 1956.
The Walt Disney Municipal Park and Swimming Pool was dedicated July 4, 1956 in Marceline, Missouri. For the first time since 1910, when they left Marceline with their family, Walt and his older brother Roy returned to the city to dedicate the new recreation facilities that were adjacent to the Country Club lake.
While speaking to the crowd Walt said, "I feel very humble to think that you all wish to name this the Walt Disney Municipal Pool."
After flying in to the Kansas City airport, the Disneys drove three hours in a Cadillac Sedan and arrived in Marceline the evening of July 3. They freshened up and then drove to the Santa Fe Country Club around 10 p.m. where they were greeted by hundreds of residents. Walt spent a good part of the evening signing autographs. He did talk for a few minutes and remarkably, those remarks were recorded. Walt recalled that in the early Disney cartoons, they sometimes used outhouses and that he got the idea of using outhouses for gags from Marceline.
“The only other place we lived was Kansas City and everything was up to date in Kansas City. We didn’t have those outhouses. But in the early days, we got a lot of laughs with that outhouse. Of course, after we got a little more money, we got a little more refined about it.”
Walt mentioned “Mrs. Moorman” and that refers to Mrs. Eugenia Ringo Moorman, the wife of the Marceline school superintendent, who he called his “first dream girl.” When he was left alone while Roy was taken on a school trip, he got to stay over with Mrs. Moorman who asked him if he was scared to sleep alone. Walt said, "Yes." He suffered from an occasional bedwetting problem which might explain (Walt said later in a 1960 visit to Marceline) why he awoke that night to find himself alone.
Next up on the venue was Walt’s speech for the Dedication of New Orleans Square, the first new "land" added to Disneyland since it opened in 1955. It was roughly three acres and ended up costing close to $18 million.
It was officially dedicated on July 24, 1966 by Walt and the mayor of New Orleans, Victor Schiro (1904-1992), who was mayor from 1961-1969. At the dedication, Schiro made Walt an honorary citizen of New Orleans. A reporter for a New Orleans newspaper wrote that "it's the next best thing to being there" and repeated the information from the Disney publicity material that it was built for almost the exact amount paid for the entire Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
This was Walt's last major public appearance at Disneyland. At the dedication, Walt said, "Disneyland has always had a Big River and a Mississippi sternwheeler. It made sense to build a new attraction at the bend of the river, and so New Orleans Square came into being, a New Orleans of a century ago when she was the 'Gay Paree' of the American frontier."
It is hard to believe that less than five months later, Walt would be dead. He seemed so playful in this audio excerpt. He keeps interrupting the mayor, pointing out that they both have mustaches, how the dollar has risen since New Orleans Square cost as much as the original Louisiana Purchase and joking that since he was made honorary citizen of New Orleans (“You know I am already a Louisiana Colonel”) that maybe the mayor should be made honorary “dictator of the Magic Kingdom."
Finally, there was Walt’s Tencennial Speech at the Disneyland Hotel from July 17, 1965. Since this was borrowed from my collection, I have heard it before but I love seeing others hear it for the first time. I transcribed the speech for an earlier MousePlanet column.
However, while I mentioned that Walt was introduced by Jack Sayers, I forgot to mention that Sayers began his Disneyland career in 1955 as director for Customer Relations and was later the director of Lessee Relations.
I know there are many, many other Walt audio treats out there not only ones from the Thirties where Walt would pop up as a brief guest on shows like Walt and Mickey celebrating Mickey’s Seventh Birthday on the show Magic Key of RCA (September 29, 1935) or Walt and Mickey and Donald Duck in The Duck Who Didn’t Believe in Santa on the Electric Hour (December 23, 1945) with host Nelson Eddy playing Santa or even little local shows like “Wormwood Forest” from Nashville (January 22, 1949) where Walt and Mickey visit looking for backgrounds for their next animated film or even “Treasury Star Parade” (Program No. 69 1942) where Walt narrates part of the story of Bambi.
I know Walt did an eight-minute interview with movie historian Tony Thomas in 1958 where he talked about his early career and the development of the Fab Five characters. I also know that Dick Strout interviewed Walt at least twice in the 1960s once when Bambi was re-released and then again when the World’s Fair opened. Strout was a writer for Modern Screen magazine but was best known as a Hollywood columnist who had a syndicated radio program “Hollywood Profiles” that was broadcast on more than 800 radio stations. Strout did a lot of interviews with the stars of Disney live action films in the 1960s that are a lot of fun, especially one he did with Jim Backus and Joe Flynn for Now You See Him, Now You Don’t.
So I don’t know if it is frustrating or fascinating that there is still so much “unheard” Walt out there, but I do know that the NFFC members of the Orlando chapter certainly enjoyed hearing all these “hidden treasures,” just as I know the folks attending the convention in October have some very special treats awaiting them.
For more information on NFFC and the upcoming convention, visit www.nffc.org or call 863-427-2858.
(Send an email to Wade Sampson)
Wade Sampson grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Wade describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.