Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In the Service of the Red Cross

My new book documenting Walt Disney's time in France as a volunteer driver with the Red Cross at the end of World War I has just been released in soft-cover and e-book formats.


Check out my publisher's information page at this link for more information.

The book contains a lot of new information and photos including:

  • five never-before-published photos of Walt in his Red Cross uniform
  • the contents of a scrapbook of art Walt sent home to a school chum
  • two photographs of famous Parisian landmarks snapped by Walt himself
  • five postcards sent to friends back home
  • the contents of dozens of letters exchanged between Walt and his former canteen boss following the war, when they renewed their friendship
  • extensive use of journalist Pete Martin's landmark 1956 interview with Walt Disney - "hear" Walt speak about his many overseas adventures including the "charge of the cordwood brigade," the court martial that almost happened, doctored souvenirs, the picnic with a famous general's son, and much, much, more.

Join Walt as he celebrates his seventeenth birthday in a small French bistro, and learn about this exciting and formative time in his life that closed his childhood and set him on the path to the man he would become.

Walt stands atop an abandoned British tank overlooking the Hindenburg Line, a defensive barrier built by the Germans that ran across northeastern France. This image and many other never-before-published photos and research items make their debut in the book.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Disney and the war

My book on Disney's involvement in World War II is now available in both print and e-book formats on Amazon and through my publisher at ThemeParkPress.com.

The book is a revised edition of Toons At War, which I self-published 13 years ago! The title of the updated and revised edition is: Service With Character. The Disney Studio and World War II.

The second edition contains a lot of new information on Disney's contributions to the home front, military training films, propaganda films, life at the studio during the war, and the Studio's creation of over 1,200 combat insignia. This book covers a huge variety of topics related to Disney during World War II.

Click on this link to check it out.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Walt Disney - the first Academy Awards

November 1932 was the hottest on record in Los Angeles. A cold snap would follow in December, but that month, those living in the Los Angeles area endured daily temperatures in the mid-80s.

On Friday, November 18, 1932, Walter Elias Disney and his wife Lillian traveled from their home on Lyric Avenue, down to the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. The four mile journey would normally take about 15 minutes, but on this day, the traffic would be much heavier.

Four years to the day of the release of the first Mickey Mouse sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, Walt and Lillian were on there way to the 5th annual Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' banquet, being held in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel.

The Ambassador Hotel as shown on an early postcard.
In addition to hosting several Academy Award ceremonies, the Hollywood landmark was also home to the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub. The hotel was demolished recently to make way for a public school.

In front of hundreds of film notables, including movie stars, directors, studio executives and state and city politicians, Walt Disney would collect the first two of his many Academy Awards. One newspaper article stated, "It was a glittering ceremonial, attended by more than 900 of the great and lesser-great of the film world."

The Fiesta Room circa 1940s.

According to another newspaper report, "The event drew thousands of spectators who blocked traffic for more than a block in front of the hotel. The crowds parted as sleek limousines drew up and discharged the feminine stars, many of them with great puffed sleeves, high neckline and fur-trimmed gowns, and accompanied by the immaculately groomed escorts."

November 18, 1932 - four Hollywood luminaries pose for a photo at the 5th Academy Awards banquet. L-R: Stan Laurel, Walt Disney, Hal Roach and Oliver Hardy.

Walt Disney socialized that evening with several of his Hollywood friends. As testimony to Disney's acceptance in Hollywood social circles, one year later he would attend a party given by fellow producer Hal Roach. Held in a sound stage at the Roach Studio, the gathering of Hollywood's who's who celebrated Roach's 20 years as a filmmaker. Besides Walt Disney, those in attendance included Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, John Weissm
uller, Jean Harlow, Darryl Zanuck, Jesse Lasky, Louis B. Mayer, Will Rogers and Sid Grauman.

The ceremony in the Fiesta Room was hosted by Conrad Nagel, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organization he and 35 other like-minded industry insiders founded in May 1927.

At some point in the banquet, a short color cartoon produced at the Disney Studio was played for those in attendance. Parade of the Award Nominees featured caricatures of those nominated in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories.

Several internet sites indicate artist Joe Grant was hired specifically to work on this short, however no production records for this film exist at the Disney Archives to confirm this. Some historians suggest Grant's first work at the Studio was on the film Mickey's Gala Premiere.

Parade of the Award Nominees is notable for the fact the film marks Mickey's first on screen appearance in color, preceding the color Mickey Mouse short The Band Concert by several years.
As Mickey Mouse led the procession the actors and actresses walked down a carpet dressed as the characters they portrayed.

Wallace Beery, (with child actor Jackie Cooper in tow holding on to Beery's coattails), was nominated for his portrayal of an alcoholic boxer trying to get his life back in order on account of his son in The Champ.

Fredric March was nominated for his dual screen appearances as Dr. Jekyll,
and Mr. Hyde.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were nominated for their screen performances in The Guardsman. Convinced his wife (Fontanne), was cheating, Lunt impersonated a Russian guard in order to seduce her. He succeeded but she claimed she knew it was him all along.
Helen Hayes was nominated for her role as a wrongly imprisoned woman who turns to prostitution in order to support her illegitimate son in The Sin of Madelon Claudet.

And Marie Dressler was nominated for her portrayal of a devoted housekeeper
in Emma, who marries her employer only to have his three children turn on her when he dies..
The Best Actress statuette was awarded to Helen Hayes and for the first time in the Academy's history, a tie was declared for Best Actor - Beery received one less vote than March, but under the rules in effect at that time, a nominee had to poll at least two votes more than his nearest competitor to win. A tie was declared and the two actors were awarded statuettes. Both men had recently adopted little girls and in his acceptance speech March reportedly delivered one of the funniest lines of the evening, when he said, "Under the circumstances, it seems a little odd that we were both given awards for the best male performance of the year."

Parade of the Award Nominees was, by all accounts, a hit that evening. One new
spaper reported the film garnered a "huge laugh."

Walt Disney knew prior to arriving at the banquet that he was going to receive two awards. Up until 1941 winners were informed beforehand
, in order to allow members of the press attending the function time to meet their filing deadlines.

It's not known at this time if Disney gave an acceptance speech. The assembled crowd though agreed with the Academy's decision to award Disney the honorary statuette. One newspaper reported, "Judging by the applause, the greatest enthusiasm was for Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, and for Helen Hayes."

A press photograph taken at the banquet shows an obviously happy Walt Disney standing beside his obviously proud wife. In the photo Lillian holds the statuette, an Honorary Special Award given to her husband for the creation of Mickey Mouse, while Walt holds the C
ertificate of Honorable Mention, awarded to him for Flowers and Trees.

The photo appeared in several newspapers and magazines in the days following the banquet. The accompanying caption in one newspaper read:

"Mickey Mouse, the hero of the comic strip...and of the animated cartoons in the movies, has won for Walt Disney, his creator, the coveted distinction of a special award by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Disney is shown in the picture above, snapped at the annual banquet...where the award was made, together with Mrs. Disney, who is holding the inscribed...statuette symbolizing the award.

At the same time Mr. Disney was honored with one of the Academy's annual awards, this one for his color shorts. This is the first time that two awards in the same year have come to one man."

The ceremony marked just the third time the Academy had bestowed an honorary award and the first time an award had been given in the newly created Cartoon Short Subject category.

Walt shows off his two awards while on the grounds of the Hyperion Studio.

The Certificate of Honorable Mention stated:
"Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Walt Disney Productions Ltd.
has been judged worthy of the Academy's
for the Cartoon Short Subject

"Flowers and Trees"

This judgment being rendered with reference to
Motion Pictures, First, Regularly Exhibited in
the Los Angeles district during the
year ending July 31, 1932."

Flowers and Trees was in production as a black and white short when the decision was made to scrap all of the completed footage. After witnessing Technicolor's newly developed three color process, Disney stated, "When I saw those three rich, true colors on one film, I wanted to shout."

Ever the visionary Disney was able to convince Technicolor to grant him an exclusive multi-year contract for the right to use their new process. As soon as Studio technicians developed new adhesive color paints, production on the short resumed.

At the urging of a mutual friend, Disney showed some of the completed short, totaling no more than one minute, to Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman's Chinese Theater. Grauman was so impressed, he requested Disney finish the film as soon as possible so he could show it at his next major film premiere. Disney rushed the short through production in order to have the short finished in time to be shown at Grauman's world premiere of Strange Interlude, a feature starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer.

The critical reviews praised Disney's venture into color: "Given its premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater..the reception was such that the next ten [Silly Symphony films] will be on rainbow diversion. [The] critics rave over Flowers and Trees has been nationwide wherever it has been shown...the reviewers as well as the industry hailing it as a revolutionary step in the progress of cinematic development." In England Flowers and Trees "broke all short subject records by running for seven solid weeks in various West End theaters."

Taken at the same time as the previous photo, Walt Disney is pictured with his two awards and a Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse doll.

At the banquet's conclusion, many of the attendees filed over to the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub. While it's not known if Walt and Lillian joined in on the festivities, there can be no doubt the couple enjoyed their drive home that evening.

Walt Disney received many congratulatory telegrams and letters following the banquet. Perhaps the most touching came from former business partner Ub Iwerks, who had left the Disney Studios in February 1930. According to Iwerks' biography, "Ub's [telegram] was reportedly one of the few [Walt] truly cherished."

The two awards bestowed upon Walt Disney that night signaled the beginning of Disney's dominance of the cartoon genre. There would be many more awards to follow in the years to come.

My thanks to Jeff Pepper at 2719hyperion.com for providing me with the screen shots from Parade of the Award Nominees. Check out his site - he does great work. Thanks Jeff!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Schools closed in honor of Mickey Mouse's birthday

Today is the official day The Walt Disney Company celebrates Mickey's 84th birthday. Over 50 years ago the mouse's big day was a big deal and was celebrated with birthday-related events worldwide. Now, not so much. In honor of Mickey's birthday I offer-up some publicity ads from years gone by:

The funny thing about the above ad was that schools were really closed on October 1, 1932. Just not in honor of Mickey's birthday. October 1, 1932, was a Saturday! Some clever marketing on someone's behalf, possibly Harry Hammond Beall, who was in charge of Disney Studio publicity at the time.

The following ads are from the big UA publicity campaign of 1935.

The next ad dates from 1938.

Mickey's 7th birthday bash in 1935 was a really big deal. Walt Disney's distributor, United Artists, pulled out all the stops with a huge publicity campaign. To learn more about UA's 1935 promotion and see some other cool birthday ads please visit my previous post on the topic by clicking here.

As always, click on the images to make them larger.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The most popular character in screendom . . .

One final Columbia promotion before I start to post some great Mickey Mouse publicity ads in celebration of Mickey's 84th birthday on November 18. This one is from December 1930.

The graphics, design, and layout of this ad epitomize why I like vintage 1930s Disneyana so much.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

He talks! He sings! He dances!

As promised, here's another grouping of early Columbia Pictures Mickey Mouse cartoon advertisements. These ads began appearing in trade magazines shortly after Walt Disney signed a distribution deal with Columbia in April 1930.

Respectively, the ads date from April 6, May, 27, June 3, and June 10, 1930.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mickey, Charlie, and Doug

In celebration of Mickey's upcoming birthday, I'm going to try and post a series of rare Mickey Mouse magazine advertisements from the 1930s over the course of the next week. 

Here's the first in the series - a Columbia Pictures promotion from February 1931:

In the spring of 1930, Walt Disney ended his business relationship with the shifty Pat Powers, a New York businessman who had been distributing the Mickey Mouse shorts starting with Steamboat Willie, and instead inked a new deal with Columbia Pictures. 

The interesting coincidence in the above ad is the fact Chaplin and Fairbanks were two of the four Hollywood legends that started up United Artists in February 1919, along with Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. And it just happened to be United Artists that Disney signed with to distribute his films starting in June 1932, after a falling out with Columbia.

Monday, January 16, 2012

M.J. Winkler + Felix the Cat = Walt Disney's Alice

In my last post I asked readers what the connection was between M.J. Winkler, Felix the Cat, and Walt Disney.

Margaret J. Winkler began her career in the film industry as Harry M. Warner's executive secretary. Warner took the then 21-year old to film conventions on the east and west coasts, where she established contacts within the industry, and learned the trade.

Fast forward seven years. In 1921, Pat Sullivan brought Warner samples of his Felix the Cat series to show Warner, with the hope he'd distribute the cartoon. When Winkler expressed an interest in the series, Warner suggested she not only distribute the Felix cartoons, but also Max Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell series. Winkler ended-up signing both Sullivan and Fleischer to contracts, and in doing so, the 28-year old became America's first female film distributor.

Walt Disney had written to Winkler while he was in Kansas City as the head of Laugh-O-gram Films. Disney was looking for a distributor of his Alice Comedies, a new cartoon series he was developing that would see a live-action actor interact with cartoon characters (a reverse of Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell series that saw cartoon characters in live-action surroundings). Winkler expressed an interest but Disney's Laugh-O-gram Films went bankrupt before Disney could fully exploit his idea.

In August 1923, Disney left Kansas City for California. On the 25th of the month he again wrote to Winkler indicating he was no longer associated with Laugh-O-gram, and that he was "establishing a studio in Los Angeles for the purpose of producing the new and novel series of cartoons I have previously written about."

Unbeknownst to Disney, Winkler was on the verge of losing the Fleischer series, and her contract with Sullivan was about to expire. When she informed Sullivan she was going to exercise her option to distribute the Felix cartoons for another year, Sullivan balked. The contract between the two allowed for the option as long as the "reels were similar in number and length to those of the first series." To circumnavigate the contract, Sullivan indicated he was going to change the cartoon's length, and the number of cartoons produced. Winkler publicly threatened legal action.

As these events unfolded, Winkler responded to Disney's letter requesting to see a sample of his new series. Disney had previously mailed Alice's Wonderland, the one and only Alice cartoon produced while in Kansas City, to a New York agent, who in turn arranged to show the film to Winkler.

After viewing the film, and with the fear her two main products were about to be lost, Winkler sent Disney a telegram on October 15, 1923, which stated in part: "Believe series can be put over...will pay fifteen hundred each negative for first six and to show my good faith will pay full amount on each of these six immediately on delivery of negative."

The contract that followed enlarged the option to 12 cartoons in 1925, and 12 more in 1926. Elated with the news, Disney convinced his brother Roy, who was resting in a hospital due to a bout of tuberculosis, to join him in producing the series. This contract started Walt Disney on the path to becoming the most successful cartoon producer and innovator of his day.


The question I ask is, would Winkler have even bothered with Disney had she not been on the verge of losing her two most successful series?

As a side-note, Winkler and Sullivan temporarily worked out their differences for the 1924 series. Sullivan switched to Educational Pictures for the distribution of his cartoon in 1925.

Most of the facts in this post have come from Timothy Susanin's excellent book, Walt Before Mickey. Disney's Early Years, 1919-1928. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a fantastic manuscript detailing Walt's early years. Tim's book should be part of any serious Disney historian's library. All of the illustrations in this post were discovered by me in various issues of The Film Daily.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

M.J. Winkler and Felix the cat - what's the Disney connection?

Here's a pair of threatening ads I searched for and located in a 1923 magazine.

Just what does this Felix the Cat and M.J. Winkler have to do with Disney, you ask? 

Well, I'll write about these ads and the very important connection they have in the realm of Disney history this coming Monday. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Disney's Woking Way home - more photos

Here are some more images from Walt Disney's Woking Way home. Some are from the real estate agent who's listed the house for sale, while others come from the collection of my friend Mark Sonntag, the January 1940 edition of Better Homes and Gardens, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The first two images show the living room. The 1930s image shows the living room decked out with a Christmas tree. The modern day photo shows the beautiful floor to ceiling stained glass window, which I believe has a view of he swimming pool. This is the window the Christmas tree was placed in front of.

The stained glass window had some gorgeous detailed work. Walt Disney's daughter Diane Disney Miller recalled there was also an insert featuring an image of William Shakespeare.

The next image shows the back side of the house, where the pool would eventually be built. You an see the aforementioned stained glass window on the right side of the image. On the left side is the staircase where the color photo of Walt and Lillian was taken.

The following set of images show Walt Disney in the backyard before the swimming pool was built. In August 1942 Disney participated in a Los Angeles wartime scrap drive by donating two iron deer to the War Production Board's Conservation Division. The Snow White playhouse built for Diane and her sister Sharon is visible in the background.

In The Animated Man, A Life of Walt Disney, author Michael Barrier wrote, "Roy Disney marveled in 1968 at the audacity of the construction: 'He hung this swimming pool up on the corner of this darn thing. It's a granite hill and we were taking bets to see if it would stand. It's thirty-five years and it's still there.'"

As you can see in the second image, the swimming pool and the playhouse are still there to this very day.

On a clear day, this is the view Disney and his family enjoyed.  According to the Better Homes and Gardens article, "When the air [is] clear...he has a 90-degree view. He can see the Pacific and even Santa Catalina Island, about 40 miles away. Below is spread that fascinating checkered panorama of Pasadena, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Beverley Hills...he can see his beloved studio, where inanimate pictures leap magically to life."

The next image shows the beautiful winding staircase that joins the two floors. Regarding the gorgeous painted ceiling, Michael Barrier wrote, "'Everybody gets mad at the rich for owning these big places,' [Walt Disney] told the Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, 'but they forget how many jobs it creates . . . I built a house in Los Feliz during the Depression. Men used to line up there in the morning hoping to get work. I found a graduate of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and had him paint my whole ceiling.'"

The second image in this set shows Walt and Lillian posing on the right side at the base of the staircase. The shot was taken by famed photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull, who took several images of Walt and Lillian throughout the house during that shoot.

The next two images picture Walt and Lillian in the home library. The images were an almost identical pose.

The next two photos show the screening room. The family would often get together to watch first run movies like Gone With the Wind. Diane Disney Miller recalled, "That room was once the den and a guest bedroom. It was furnished differently . . . it had a couch. We saw all the great movies of the time, including Hop-a-long Cassidy and Roy Rogers films, as well as dailies from dad's current live-action films."


The final image shows Walt standing beside what looks like the fireplace visible in the first two images at the start of this post.

Hope you enjoyed this trip back in time!