Another Word From Walt

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Another Word From Walt

In some ways it is hard to fully appreciate the great fascination and popularity of Walt Disney and his studio in the 1930s. When I was talking with animator Marc Davis about the early days at the Disney Studio, he told me: "There was a constant group of people coming into the studio to meet this man. These were famous people. They weren't coming with anything to sell. They just wanted to meet Walt. You could hardly open a magazine from one week to another where there wasn't something about Walt and Mickey Mouse. Not just the little magazines but the slick ones like the Vanity Fairs and magazines of that sort."

In the days before the Disney Studio officially had a publicist to shape Walt's thoughts, Walt himself was quite chatty with various publications about his life and what was happening at the studio.
Having spent too many hours of my life in libraries struggling to read microfilm and microfiche and trying to find dusty bound volumes shoved in unusual locations, I thought I would once again spare MousePlanet readers that same adventure and share some gems of Walt's own words from my personal archives.

The June 24, 1938 edition of The Family Circle had a very nice article by George Kent where Walt talked about his early life. In the interview, Walt told Kent that his 4- year-old daughter, Diane was his severest critic. Walt said that he showed her most of the Disney cartoons before they were released and if she liked them, then he knew they must be good.

Here are some direct Walt quotes from that interview:

"We're an organization of young men. We have licked every mechanical difficulty which our medium presented. We don't have to answer to anyone. We don't have to make profits for stockholders. New York investors can't tell us what kind of picture they want us to make or hold back. I get the boys together and we decide what we want to do next. Now it's my ambition to set up the organization so that it will belong to the people in it. The revenue from "Snow White" gives us a chance to go ahead. Our greatest hope is that "Bambi" and "Pinocchio," our next feature-length pictures, will be regarded as highly by the public as "Snow White" has been.

"I haven't always lived in a city. When I was five my family moved out of Chicago and we went to Marceline, Mo., where my father had bought a farm. We lived there six years, and I guess it must have made a deep impression on me. I can clearly remember every detail-just as if it had been yesterday. I even remember the train ride from Chicago to Marceline, and I remember the new things that I saw as I looked out of the window. You see, I had never been to the country before.

"We got off the train we crossed the railroad tracks and went over to a grain elevator and waited for the neighbor was to meet us.

"Finally we got into a wagon and drove out to the farm. It was pretty farm with a good house and a big yard. Later we had all sorts of animals-pigs and cows and chickens and ducks and a horse named Charlie. All of us kids would climb on old Charlie's back, and he would head straight for the apple orchard and a tree with very low branches. Then we'd all have to scramble off Charlie's back pretty fast. I also used to ride an old sow's back, but she'd usually make for the pond, and I frequently ended up in the water.

"Those were the happiest days of my life. And maybe that's why I go in for country cartoons. Gosh, I hated to leave it-but we had to. The place was sold at auction and I remember how terrible my brother Roy and I felt as we went about the countryside tacking up signs announcing the sale of our furniture and stuff.

"Not long ago I went back to Marceline and walked out to the old farm. There were circus posters on the barn, which we had always kept nice and clean. The house was shabby and unpainted-not clean and white as it was when we lived there. I remember that because of the bawling out I got from my mother when I used some lamp soot paint to draw pictures on the siding.

"I also was reminded of my unhappy adventure with an owl. It was sitting on the low branch of a tree as I crept up behind it and made a grab. The bird, half-blinded by the daylight, whirled on me and nearly scared me to death. In my terror I stamped on the owl and killed it. I've never forgotten that poor bird, and maybe that has something to do with my liking for animals.

"I think that everything you do has some effect on you, and that old farm certainly made an impression on me. I don't know a lot about farming, but when I see a drawing of a pig or a duck or a rooster I know immediately if it has the right feeling. And I know it because of what I learned during those days on the farm.

"As far as I can see being a celebrity has never helped me make a better picture or a good shot in a polo game or command the obedience of my daughter or impress my wife. It doesn't even seem to help keep the fleas off our dogs, and if being a celebrity won't even give you an advantage over a couple of fleas, then I guess there can't be much in being a celebrity after all!"

Sometimes newspapers or magazines might publish just an interesting quote or two from Walt. Here are some interesting statements by Walt quoted from The Ogden Standard Examiner of May 12, 1935:

"I don't know why girls should be poor animators but they are. Very frequently they are better artists than men but for some reason they lack the knack of getting smooth action into their drawings.

"I've often been told how lucky I am not to have any stars to go temperamental on me. It's true I never have any trouble with Mickey, the three pigs or any of my characters. But don't ever think animators can't be temperamental. Say, they can be just as bad as any star you ever saw.

"Occasionally one will have an off day on which he can't draw anything worth while. Then he has to be pampered and pulled out of his slump with all the diplomacy that would be used on a star."

"People and Places" was a series of live-action shorts similar to Disney's popular "True-Life Adventure" series but instead of focusing on animals, just as the title suggested, it focused on different cultures beginning with the February 1953 release, "The Alaskan Eskimo."

There were seventeen installments including: "The Ama Girls," " The Blue Men of Morocco," "Cruise of the Eagle," "The Danube," "Japan," "Lapland," "Men Against the Arctic," "Portugal," "Samoa," "Sardinia," "Scotland," "Seven Cities of Antarctic," "Siam," "Switzerland" and the final installment, "Wales" released in June of 1958.

Many of these travelogues were filmed in Cinemascope and "behind the scenes" clips as well as the featurettes themselves were featured on the Disney television show. "Tiburon," a "People and Places" short that took William Smith four years to complete was never released theatrically but popped up on an episode of the Disney television show.

In 1959, Golden Press released a Disney's "People and Places" book by Jane Werner Watson "and the staff of Walt Disney Studio" with information and photos from some of these featurettes. This 176-page hardcover featured a forward by Walt Disney and stories on "Lapland-People of the Reindeer," "Morocco-The Blue Men" and "Samoa-The Sacred Islands."

In a 1963 episode of "Wonderful World of Color," Walt told the audience: "If just plain people would get together and listen to one another, they might be our best ambassadors of international good will. It's true. When people get to know and understand each other, they very often find they're not much different after all."

This belief is reflected very strongly in Walt's introduction to the "People and Places" book so I thought for those readers who don't have a copy on their shelves, they might enjoy Walt's great enthusiasm for other cultures and his belief that it really is a small world after all:

"Walt Disney's People and Places" (Golden Press 1959).

In our film visits to faraway lands, we have found that every people has a wealth of ancient lore--every place a treasure of rich tradition. Each land is steeped in the memory of historic times that shaped the lives of its people.

Today, modern ways have reached into nearly every corner of the globe. Yet in many lands, old and colorful customs continue, unchanged by time, undisturbed by the march of progress. We have sought out these few remaining places where the old ways are carefully preserved by people who cherish ancestral cultures and ancient legacies.

However, it seems that the laws of progress dictate that, in all things, the old must steadily give way to the new. Our 'People and Places' pictures are living records of some of the unique customs and old cultures that still endure in remote and isolated corners of the globe.

As the past slips slowly but certainly into the future, these traditions of yesterday may soon be lost forever in all the tomorrows yet to come. Our purpose has been to capture and preserve these stories before they become only dim memories.

In primitive times, man lived in fear of the tribe in the valley just across the mountains. Yet when adventure and exploration brought such peoples together they found common bonds -- common problems -- basic human problems of hopes, aspirations and ambitions.

Most of the world's people will never travel to strange and faraway lands, but we hope that through our pictures, and through the pages of this book, a contribution may be made toward strengthening the bonds of good will and understanding by which all men can exist together in peace.