Disney Goes Dentalby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
It has now been almost two years since I last went for a dental check-up. Most people avoid such visits, but for me the delay has been because of COVID restrictions and no immediate toothache.
Unfortunately, I have always had a sweet tooth, especially for See's chocolate that is a challenge to get here in Florida, so it is only a matter of time before I may have to empty my wallet and open my mouth wide once again. Today's column features a sweet treat of the connections between Disney and dentistry.
In September 2021, a new expanded Confectionery shop opened on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom and is now sponsored by Mars Candy featuring previously unavailable sweet treats at Walt Disney World including many that are from Mars. Old fashioned photos of the founders of M&M and a beloved horse they had known as Snickers are displayed.
Walt Disney World's Main Street has always had a candy shop since 1971, although the area was split between the candy shop and the GAF Camera Center. There was always a "show kitchen" like the candy shop at Disneyland where guests could watch cooks making various treats like fudge or caramel apples. In the 1980s, Kodak took over the camera shop and See's briefly sponsored the candy shop.
The candy shop expanded into the camera shop location when Kodak moved to the Town Square Exposition Hall in 1998. The new storyline was that Thomas and Kitty McCrum were the owners and operators of the shop.
In 1998, Imagineer Kevin Neary (who has authored several Disney related books) came up with an interesting concept for the redesign of the location that was developed and finished by Imagineering Show Writer Shawn Slater. They combined two details from Disney history.
The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (also known as the Columbian Exposition) was meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus and his arrival in the New World. Walt's father, Elias, moved from Florida to Chicago in 1890 and found work as a carpenter for a dollar a day, seven days a week, building pavilions for the fair.
He loved working on the fair and years later shared stories about it with an impressionable Walt, who was fascinated and obviously inspired to some day build a similarly impressive family friendly entertainment venue.
The Confectionery Shop on Main Street referenced that fair with a poster, announcing the Columbian Exposition, near the counter selling fudge and with all the mechanical devices throughout the store supposedly inspired by the fair's Hall of Machinery.
Those additions included small mechanical inventions placed on shelves with descriptions relating to the process of creating confectionery goods and overhead a constantly moving chain of wire baskets filled with treats on a conveyor belt.
The following is the official Imagineering back story of the shop:
"Thomas and Kitty McCrum had run a candy store on Main Street for as long as anyone could remember. In fact, they became famous for their sweet creations. But Thomas McCrum was never one for resting on his laurels. He was always looking for new and exciting ways to improve his candy making and increase his business.
"On a fateful trip to Chicago, for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, McCrum found inspiration. He and his wife entered the Expo's storied Machinery Hall and were mesmerized by the mechanical machinations on display.
"Upon returning home, McCrum set out to duplicate some of what he'd seen, applying the wondrous new innovations to the creation of chocolate and other such delicacies.
"He moved quickly from prototypes and test recipes to full-blown production. In no time, the McCrum's little candy store had expanded, pushing into nearby storefronts and taking over an entire corner on the Town Square.
"Now, at the turn of the 20th century, the McCrum's Main St. Confectionery is poised and ready to take advantage of a new era of technological advancement: the electric age!
"Kitty McCrum, of course, has had to hire additional help, especially to get through the busy season, when streams of tourists pour forth from the railroad station at the edge of town. But it's all worth it to see the smiles on their faces.
"Now if she and Thomas could only stop sampling their own creations."
Besides utilizing elements of Disney history, the gag about the shop is that it is a dentist who is operating the store and, in a way, generating more business for his primary profession by selling cavity-causing treats.
McCrum was a reference to Dr. Thomas B. McCrum, a dentist in Kansas City, who helped a young Walt Disney out financially when the young filmmaker had to close his Laugh-O-Gram studio and let go all his employees.
The old storyline is given a brief acknowledgment in the new shop on a framed newspaper article from the Main Street Gazette written by Scoop Sanderson, one of the fabled street citizen characters, that states:
"Yesterday marked the official groundbreaking for the forthcoming expansion of Main Street Confectionery, a development thanks in no small part to the equally-groundbreaking chocolate innovations of local treat-makers, Mars.
"It is their creation, the Milky Way chocolate bar and the immediate and consistently overwhelming crowds it has drawn to the Main Street Confectionery that has made today possible.
"Joining the Mayor as participants in the Town Square ceremony were both Kitty and her husband, Dr. Thomas McCrum, who had the distinct honor and privilege of temporarily – and carefully – wielding the Mars candy company's renowned 'sweet spoon'.
"On behalf of themselves and the Mars company the McCrums celebrated with and thanked the citizens of Main Street for the overwhelming response to the Milky Way bar that will make this new chapter of chocolate possible."
The larger square footage creates a showcase store with beautiful in-laid marble, brass railings and blue bunting, suggesting an event that showcases home confectioners across the nation in an award ceremony called the Sweetest Spoon.
Cartoon drawings depict some of the winners of the award and they feature Disney's latest blatant attempt at diversity. The winners include Agata Kaminski from Chicago, Illinois, a Polish chef known for her paczki; Willie Anderson, a young black man from Tulsa, Oklahoma, known for his pound cake; Toshi Hayakawa, a Japanese cook who is also a Main Street firefighter known for his Mochi; Sonia Sanchez from Brooklyn, New York, who is Puerto Rican and known for her cinnamon sugar; Dr. Alsoomse Tabor of the Blackfeet Nation, Montana, who is a paleontologist known for her famous fruit leather; and Saul Fitz of Beulah, Maine, a Jewish tailor who makes chocolate rugelach.
Beulah, Maine is a reference to the Disney live action movie Summer Magic (1963). In the movie, two of the town's residents were Nancy Carey and her cousin Julia. According to the Imagineering back story, they opened The Chapeau hat shop on Main Street, which was sacrificed for the Confectionery expansion.
In November 1922, Walt's first company, Laugh-O-Grams was in trouble. The deal with the Pictorial Clubs to release the updated animated fairy tales produced by the young Walt Disney and his crew had turned sour and Walt desperately needed money. Walt tried to get some needed income by taking movies of local children for their parents and providing newsreel footage to national syndicates but it wasn't enough.
Walt was living on the second floor in the Laugh-O-Grams studio and eating on credit at the Forest Inn Cafe that was on the first floor. He soon ran up a debt of $60 and was forced to eat cold beans out of a can in the studio. Walt had to go to the nearby railroad station to take a bath.
A local dentist, Dr. Thomas McCrum, of the Denner Dental Institute of Kansas City, agreed to pay Walt $500 for a short film about how bad things would happen to young people if they didn't take good care of their teeth.
Walt himself told the story that has become one of the famous Disney stories:
"One night [McCrum] called me. He said, 'Come over here tonight and we can get it all wrapped up.'
"I said, 'I can't come tonight.'
"And he asked, 'Why not? What are you doing?'
'Nothing,' I replied.
'Well,' he said, 'why can't you come?'
"And I said, 'I haven't any shoes.'
"He said, 'you haven't any shoes? Where are they?'
'They were falling apart,' I said, 'I left them at the shoemaker. They're fixed, but he won't let me have them unless I pay him and I can't pay him. I have to wait until I can dig up a $1.50 somewhere.'
"He had a car and he asked, 'Is the shoemaker still open?'
"I said, 'Yes.'
"He said, 'I'll be right over.'
"Dr. McCrum came over, went in and paid the shoemaker, gave me my shoes, and then we sat down and struck the deal to make the little film."
A live-action film was faster and less expensive to produce than animation. It was to be Walt's first educational film and was titled Tommy Tucker's Tooth.
Supposedly it was Dr. McCrum who came up with the basic storyline, but it is obvious that Walt's storytelling abilities fleshed out that outline even though there was no known written script.
Basically, the storyline is that a young boy named Tommy Tucker takes pride in his appearance and practices good dental care that he demonstrates in great detail and all of this leads to success and a happy life.
Unfortunately, despite being a good kid and a hard worker, another young boy, poor Jimmie Jones is very careless about his appearance and neglects his teeth and he misses out on many opportunities, including a great job, until he becomes more like Tommy.
Watching the film today, it is still effective because Walt cleverly connected dental care principles with things that people already knew and understood like refrigerating food and darning socks. The film shows how Walt understood how to communicate important information with humor and using familiar similarities that would be very evident in the military training films and educational films that the Disney Studios would make decades later.
Walt held auditions at various Kansas City schools to recruit his cast and from Thomas H. Benton Elementary School (which Walt himself had attended) came an 11-year old boy named "Jack" Records to play the part of "Jimmie Jones." John W. Records later became a doctor.
"I don't recall a script. Walt would act things out," Records later told Disney historian J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt for their excellent book about Walt's silent films, Walt in Wonderland.
Walt directed the film and his childhood friend Walt Pfeiffer ran the camera.
Filmed in December 1922, it remained in circulation so long that, ten years later, Dr. Records' fiance saw it in a university home nursing class. A copy of the film was donated to the Walt Disney Archives by the American Dental Association in 1971.
A few years later, Dr. McCrum approached Walt to make a sequel. Walt produced that sequel in Hollywood in August 1926 featuring Walt's niece, Marjorie Sewell Davis, as "Clara" in Clara Cleans Her Teeth.
Clara comes from a good family but refuses to see a dentist despite the problems with her teeth. However an animated nightmare (with animation done by the legendary Ub Iwerks) quickly changes her mind and visits to the dentist gives her a new life where she can enjoy snacks at lunch in the schoolyard with her friends without her teeth hurting.
"He would act things out. He would go through the facial expressions," Davis remembered many years later. She felt the only reason Walt cast her was because since she was a relative, he didn't need to pay her much.
Mickey Mouse was still almost two years away but the Disney brothers were having success with their Alice Comedies and had learned a great deal about directing children.
After those early attempts at educational films, Walt did not make another educational film until during World War II when he became involved in creating training films for the military. Many of those films have been lost over the years after they served their initial purpose or quickly became outdated.
Since they were military property and sometimes featured classified material, the Disney Studios never kept a copy of most of those films. However, once again, the wonderful world of dental health care was one of the subjects.
Neither the Disney Company nor the Defense Audio-Visual Agency has a print of a film made by Disney for the U.S. Army in 1945 titled Dental Health (Project No. 7280). The Navy had previously produced at least eight dental instructional films prior to 1943. These films were made at the U.S. Naval Dental School at Bethseda, Md.
For the approximately eight-minute Disney animated educational film, Major Arthur H. Schmidt of the Army Dental Corps was the technical advisor. The film covered such juicy topics as the reaction of peridontium to tissue irritants, the role of nutrition in the upkeep of a healthy dentition (which supposedly was supported by "well balanced Army meals"), dental infection, an overview of tooth function, and instruction in the functioning of full and partial dentures.
The Disney Company does still have an animation "continuity" script and includes the following dialogue that was accompanied by appropriate animation illustrating what was being said by the off screen narrator:
"The tooth is held there by a membrane, or tissue, made up of thousands of tiny fibers holding the tooth to the jawbone. This membrane, incidentally, serves another purpose, too. It acts as a cushion or shock absorber when biting pressure is applied to the tooth.
"Now, let's examine the tooth itself. The crown, that part you see above the gums, is covered by a very hard, glossy substance called enamel. The crown is the chewing surface of the tooth. The body of the tooth is made up of an ivory-like tissue known as dentine.
"In the heart of the tooth is a space called the pulp chamber. It's filled with small blood vessels and nerve fibers. They're responsible for keeping that tooth alive and healthy. We'll talk about it more a little later on. Meanwhile, let's talk about pain."
When it came to military insignia, the U.S. Navy Dental Corps were represented by two designs from the Disney Company. One was requested on December 20, 1941 by Lt. Francis A. Sines, who was assigned to the Naval Operations Base at Norfolk, Va. There was a circle logo stating: "Let's Go! Keep 'Em Chewing" and featured a helmeted goat sticking his head through the circle, chewing away and revealing one good tooth.
The other insignia was requested by Richard T. Street on July 5, 1942 for the dental reserve students at Loyola University. The image is of a full sized sweating Donald Duck struggling as he carries an oversized molar that is as large as he is.
Since a dentist's office is a standard springboard for comedy, it is odd that no Disney animated short was ever created for the Disney characters using this premise. After all, even Donald Duck had an impressive set of teeth when it was necessary for a gag.
From April to October 1938, Disney storymen did struggle to develop a never-made Disney short titled Mickey's Toothache. Given laughing gas, poor Mickey Mouse enters a nightmare world inhabited by living teeth, toothbrush monsters, and odd creatures that are half-dental pliers.
In a final courtroom confrontation, there is a judge whose head is in the shape of a wisdom tooth and he charges Mickey with "teeth neglect." I couldn't find a reason why this short never developed further other than the fact that over the years there were many Mickey, Donald and Goofy shorts that were started and never made it to production for a variety of reasons.
In 2013, a previously forgotten piece of concept artwork for the cartoon by Ferdinand Horvarth was discovered in the Walt Disney Archives, hiding in an animation research department folder lost for more than 74 years at the time.
The surrealist sketch features a terrified and chubby-cheeked Mickey sprinting away from his nemesis Pete as a crazed dentist, bearing chainsaw and pliers, and an anthropomorphic dentist chair grabbing Mickey.
Disney Archives Director Becky Cline described the cartoon as "Mickey has traveled to the dentist and fallen under the influence of too much laughing gas. The overdose sends Mickey into a nightmarish world inhabited by living teeth, a psychotic dentist's chair and a vengeful pair of dental pliers."
Even after Walt's death, the Disney Company continued to produce educational films about dental issues. Teeth Are For Chewing released in 1971 explained the importance of good personal dental care as well as the functional role of the teeth. "Disney's Dental Health Program" in 1982 was a series of four cartoons explaining different aspects of dental hygiene.
For Disney Educational Media, a live-action costumed Goofy character participated in a short 13-minute film called Goofy About Dental Health (1991). Goofy leaves a magical toothbrush under a child's pillow and the kid is transported to a dentist's office where he learns how to have healthy teeth.
When it comes to Disney and Dentistry, that's the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth. Keep smiling!