Spring Cleaning Disney-Styleby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
During the year, while I am doing research, I often run across tidbits of interesting information that aren't enough for an entire column but are just too good to file away for who knows how long.
I also come across information for an article that just can't be included because of length limitations.
I learn something new about Disney mythology every day.
So while people think the future is always changing, when it comes to Disney stories, the past is always in flux, as well. Imagineering is the keeper of the stories, so they can make any decisions they want. As a Disney fan and historian, I just like to know what the "real" story is supposed to be so I can try to write about it accurately.
Here are some selections that I hope with entertain or inform that couldn't be squeezed in anywhere else.
Mary Oceaneer's Parrot
I wrote an article on the new Miss Adventure Falls water park attraction and was confused by the official Disney press release that identified Mary Oceaneer's parrot as "Duncan."
In the Disney Cruise Line's Oceaneer's Club and Lab, where Mary first appeared, it was always clear that the parrot's name was "Salty." Did Mary have two different parrots? (By the way, on the bookshelf at the Skipper Canteen in Magic Kingdom's Adventureland is a book by Mary titled Parrots As Pets.) Well the official word from the powers-that-be was that Mary's parrot is named "Duncan" but that "Salty" is his nickname. That sounded like retroactive "hooey" to me and when Imagineering reviewed my article they removed any reference to the name "Salty" as a nickname so the mystery continues.
The Start of S.E.A.
Imagineering revealed that the official founding date for S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventureres) is August 12, 1538, so previous references to "founding members" like Jason Chandler are no longer canonical since he was from the late 1800s.
Farewell to Disneyland's Submarine Voyage
In the Los Angeles Times of September 9, 1998, there was an article about the last voyage of the Submarine Voyage attraction at Disneyland the day before. Disneyland cast members took the last rides beginning on Tuesday, September 8 at 9 p.m., and, by 11 p.m., it was officially closed.
Disneyland spokesman John McClintock told the newspaper: "The subs were decommissioned in a ceremony at 7 a.m. (September 8). We had a representative of the Navy, Commander Robert Thomas, who said he'd grown up in Tustin and rode the subs as a kid. There is no formal decommissioning ceremony for the Navy, but Thomas said usually there is a ceremony with the lowering of a banner."
That ceremony was performed aboard the Nautilus by longtime park employee Manny Mendoza, who worked on the Submarine Voyage attraction when it first opened in 1959. The Nautilus made a circuit of the lagoon and the banner was presented to Donald Duck in his sailor suit. At that point, Disneyland cast members had the opportunity to take a ride before the park opened.
Roy O. Disney Ghost Writer
Thanks to writer Keith Mahne, who was doing an interview with Disney Legend Marty Sklar, I was able to sneak in one question of my own about whether it was Sklar who had ghostwritten Roy O. Disney's article entitled "Unforgettable Walt Disney" for the February 1969 issue of Reader's Digest.
Here is Sklar's reply:
"No, I did not write the Roy O. Disney piece in Reader's Digest. I did write Roy's message to the media and employees when Walt passed away, and [with his finance team] I wrote Roy's messages in the Disney Annual Report from roughly 1963 to 1967. I also wrote Walt's messages in the Annual Report during this period. And Roy asked me to write a speech he gave in the U.K. a few months after Walt's death.
"Yes, it was tough after writing things for Walt for 10 years—especially as a spoken piece, because their style, their ease in presenting, Walt's easy visual and audio rapport with audiences after so many years of TV lead-ins and interviews—contrasting to Roy's lack of those experiences … all meant, I think, that both Roy as a presenter and me as his speech writer had a difficult time. I was pleased the speech was well received, and also that he never asked me again – don't really know if he made other speeches after that (maybe to bankers!)."
Lugosi the Volcano
Actor Bela Lugosi did some posing in his original Dracula cape as Chernabog in Fantasia (1940) for animator Bill Tytla the first week of November 1939. Tytla later found the pictures taken from those sessions unusable for his purpose, so he had animator Wilfred Jackson strip to the waist and pose following Tytla's directions.
He re-shot the session and used the Jackson photos as reference. However, for publicity reasons, it was promoted that Lugosi was the model and that little anecdote has appeared for decades.
From Modern Screen magazine February 1940:
"Versatile Bela. When Bela Lugosi had a call from the Walt Disney studios the other day, he proceeded over there considerably perplexed about what kind of role the cartoonist had dreamed up for him. The actor was met by Disney and Leopold Stokowski. 'Mr Stokowski will direct his orchestra in music symbolizing the eruption of a volcano,' Disney explained, 'and will you please interpret the volcano?'
"Lugosi admitted it was something of a shock to be called on for anything of this nature, but, being of the old school, he launched into the assignment. So successful was his interpretation that moving pictures were taken of him. These will later be used as models by the Disney artists when drawing the erupting volcano for the animated cartoon. 'Guess I'm one actor,' said Lugosi, 'who doesn't have to worry about being typed.'"
I am sure Lugosi's confusion came from being told his character was the top of a mountain and perhaps Tytla encouraging him to make strong dramatic movements like an erupting volcano.
Tezuka Meets Mr. Disney
Most of us know that famed Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy, among other things, briefly met Walt Disney at the 1964 New York's World Fair. I recently stumbled across Tezuka's own remembrance of that encounter:
"I admire Walt Disney. I am charmed by Walt Disney, and my career was inspired by Walt Disney. And I met him in New York, or, I should say, I just walked past him. On the opening day of New York World's Fair, was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to him. I came across him leaving the stage just after delivering a speech. I got nervous but somehow introduced myself to him.
Osamu Tezuka: 'I am a head of a Japanese animation studio.'
Walt Disney: 'Nice to have you here.'
Tezuka: 'I am the one who made Astro Boy.'
Disney: 'Really? I know Astro Boy. I saw the work in Los Angeles. It's a great work."
Tezuka: 'Thank you very much. My staff would be honored. Well, may I have your comment about the work?'
Disney: 'It's a very interesting Sci-Fi story. Future children are looking toward space. So I, myself, think about making Sci-Fi, too. If you have time, visit me in Burbank.'"
Tezuka was so inspired by Disney's animated feature Bambi (1942) that he created his own animated version of such a story known as Kimba, the White Lion (1965 after first appearing in manga in 1950) that some still claim later influenced the story of Disney's The Lion King (1994).
Animation historian Fred Patten has written extensively about the various connections over the years, and later interviewed animator Mark Kausler, who has a story credit on the Disney film (along with 16 others).
Kausler, renowned for his knowledge of animation history and his skill as an animator, stated:
"But animation fans are always watching as many different cartoons as they can. When Disney started The Lion King project, we were told it should be like Disney's Bambi, but set in Africa with African animals but to keep it away from looking too much like Bambi with its 'animals versus Man' theme.
"It was to star only animals with no humans at all. So we were thinking just about variations of Bambi. Nobody ever mentioned Kimba and if any of us who knew of it thought about it, I guess we figured that since Kimba was always about the animals trying to get the humans to accept them as equals, the absence of humans in The Lion King made it a different plot.
"It was no secret that The Lion King was inspired by the studio's own Bambi and featured similar elements, such as a young animal prince surrounded by colorful and comical animal companions. Tezuka also made no secret that it was Bambi that was his inspiration for Kimba, so obviously two new films both based on the same original film will have many similarities."
On the cover of TV Guide magazine for March 28, 1992 there was a picture with the Beast from Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) nervously awaiting the Oscar announcements since the film was nominated that year for Best Picture. The other people on the cover were not actual celebrities but people that illustrator Chris Notarile chose as models, among them his wife, his cousin and himself (in the beard).
True Life Adventure Opening
From the legendary Floyd Norman on April 4, 2017, I received an answer about the animated openings for Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures. The gentleman responsible was premier effects animator, Joshua Meador, who created the Monster from the Id for MGM's Forbidden Planet (1956).
"Josh was a veteran effects animator on many of the Disney classic animated features. When Winston Hibler began producing the two-reelers back in the Fifties, Walt needed someone who could create the animated introductions for each film. Josh Meador was the guy behind all that stuff.
"However, Josh was more than just a talented effects animator; he was also a gifted painter and was known throughout the studio for his marvelous landscapes. So, Josh not only storyboarded and animated the Disney intros, he also painted the backgrounds. Backgrounds he would eventually 'destroy'.
"Do you know how Josh created the magical paintbrush creating paintings onscreen? Josh would paint the backgrounds and shoot them in reverse. That means he literally wiped away his own beautiful paintings as they were filming. The illusion of the animated paintbrush creating beautiful backgrounds was the final image we saw onscreen.
"Truly magical images that I loved as a child. However, in the process of creating these animated sequences, all the original background paintings were wiped away. Sadly, gone forever. I was lucky enough to visit Josh's office on occasion and see the master at work. One of the last assignments I saw Josh create was the opening sequence for the NBC television show, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color."
Joshua Meador's son, Phil continued to work in Disney's Scene Planning Department for a number of years after his father's passing.
Eisner's Introduction to Disney Animation
At a Disney press conference reported in New York's Newsday April 20, 1984, it was revealed:
"[Michael] Eisner was asked about the report that he never saw a Disney animated feature until he was a grown-up. He admitted it was true—that he'd only watched minimal animation shorts on TV 'like Heckle and Jeckle'. He was in his early 20s when he took his 3-year-old child to a drive-in to see Pinocchio (1940). As he recalled, his child was bored and he and his wife tried to figure out what it was that had made the film a classic."
Cinderella Castle Restaurant
King Stefan's Banquet Hall in Cinderella Castle was actually the brainchild of Richard Irvine, who was president of Imagineering when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.
In 1990, Imagineer John Hench shared:
"When we were designing the Magic Kingdom for Walt Disney World, it was decided that Cinderella Castle would be more than twice the size of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.
"Although Walt loved Sleeping Beauty Castle, in retrospect he thought that it should be bigger. So, when we decided to build the larger castle, we needed something to fill the center space. There had been many inquiries over the years from guests who wanted to tour a Disney castle, so Dick thought a restaurant would be ideal."
That Other Version of Tomorrowland
Imagineer David J. Fisher pointed out that before Walt Disney World re-branded its Tomorrowland in 1994 into the "future that never was," the land still had story elements that most guests never understood.
Fisher wrote: "The red pavement beneath the StarJets and PeopleMover platform in Tomorrowland was meant to represent the residue from the StarJets blasting off. The lights that line the top of the PeopleMover tracks were supposed to be a landing strip for alien aircraft."
He also pointed out that the safari jeep that used to be in front of the Adventurers Club on Pleasure Island was actually used in the 1957 Disney feature film The Absent-Minded Professor.
KCAL Channel 9
When I lived in Los Angeles, I loved watching Channel 9 KCAL because it often had half-hour and hour-long specials devoted to Disneyland's special celebrations, like "Blast to the Past." In March 1992, Disney sold off Los Angeles television station KCAL (Channel 9) for 45 percent of a company that owned New Jersey-based WWOR. Although Disney would not comment, Paul Marsh of Kemper Securities Group said the station lost money in 1991 and was one of Los Angeles' lowest rated stations. Disney bought the station in 1987 for $320 million and was selling it for $209 million. Disney had bid for WWOR in 1986, but lost out to MCA Inc. which acquired it for $387 million in 1987 but MCA had to spin off the station to its shareholders in December 1990.
On March 26, 1992, the Disney company announced that it was terminating its two-year "experiment" and would be closing its Mickey's Kitchen chain of fast food restaurants.
The company said it would devote those resources to expanding the Disney stores, particularly overseas. It planned to open 65 new stores, including 13 in Europe and two in Japan. Since the chain's launch in 1987, 126 Disney Stores were opened.
Disney had originally planned the Mickey's Kitchens to be near the successful Disney Stores across the country, but only opened two prototype restaurants: one in Montclair, California, and the other in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois.
"We will continue to test new concepts in the Disney Store, but as much as we like Mickey's Kitchen, results to date do not warrant the management attention required," said Steve Burke, executive vice president of Disney Specialty Retail, in the Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1992.
He said all 60 of the Mickey's Kitchen employees would be offered jobs at nearby Disney Stores.
"There's a lot of competition out there right now," said Douglas Christopher, a retail analyst with Crowell Weedon in Los Angeles. "They were going head-to-head with a restaurant mostly appealing to kids. But McDonald's is the leader in that."
Mickey's Kitchen offered such food as Meatless Mickey Burger, Pinocchio Pizza, and fries shaped like Disney characters.
Queen Mary Sails Away
In the L.A. Daily News for March 7, 1992, Walt Disney announced it had terminated its lease agreement to manage the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose tourist attractions in Long Beach. The company had been managing the attractions under contract since 1988, but decided to exercise its "one time option" to pull out of its 59-year pact to manage the attractions. That option would have run out on March 18, 1992.
"After doing evaluations, it became clear that escalating costs for repairs and operations made it economically unfeasible," said Erwin Okun, senior vice president at Disney. "It never turned out to be a major attraction that could compete with other attractions in Southern California."
Disney had cancelled its plans in December 1991 to develop a sea-themed park in the area that would have included the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose. Disney claimed "the project would have been too expensive and involved a burdensome regulatory process."
Instead, they decided to build Disney's California Adventure.
Disney declined to say how much it lost on the operations but Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell said the attractions were losing five million dollars a year. The latest figures available showed the attractions grossed $44 million in 1990. Disney agreed to continue operating the attraction until September 30th and pay Long Beach $500,000 to terminate the lease. Disney said it would try to relocate the approximately one thousand Disney employees working those attractions.
I hoped you found something in this potpourri of information interesting. I have more spring cleaning to do and might share another column or two of these oddball selections in the future.