Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Archive for the ‘Disneyana’ Category

Be a Reader like Walt Disney

The birthday (publication date) of my wife, Jackie Azúa Kramer’s, second children’s picture book, reminded me of how important the activity of reading is, not only for children, but for adults.

As a result, I was also reminded that all of you who are reading this post and the hundreds who’ve read my past posts are taking time out of your undoubtedly busy day to read. In fact, many of you have followed my Blog. That means that there are people out there who have chosen reading my post as an important part of your day. I’ll get back to this later, but I want to focus on reading.

I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. But I am a regular reader. My literary tastes run the gamut from Sci-Fi/Fantasy to Biography, Mystery, Humor and yes, Disney related books. I recently finished Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C.V. Wood and the Making of the Great American Theme Park. It’s heavily researched and presents

CV Wood & Disney

Disney, C.V. Wood & Bud Price

a view of the many difficulties encountered as Walt willed Disneyland into existence. The figure of Wood figures prominently in the Disneyland creation story in a way that the Disney company has never promoted. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Wood was more instrumental than people like Admiral Joe Fowler or Roy Disney in getting the park open on that memorable and hot day in July 1959. Either way Wood’s story, and how his particular talents for promotion and salesmanship may have made Disneyland possible, is a fascinating read. There are some unique insights into how much the park meant to Walt,by people who were there, and what he was willing to do to make it a reality.

ink-and-paint-departmentI’ve talked before  in a post Inspired by Walt to Get Creative about the amazing book Ink and Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation. For fans of Disney history, especially, the animated films, this book is a must read. And read you will. This coffee table sized book is meticulously researched and filled with personal accounts of the talented, dedicated and creative women who worked in anonymity, advancing the art of inking and painting cels. The book pulls back the curtain on the lengths that Disney was willing to go to make his animated films the best there ever was. None of us takes for granted the skill and attention to detail it takes to color thousands of individual cels.

Ink and Paint PinocchioThis book adds levels of detail around, paint color creation, special effects (real blush used on Snow White’s cheeks), or how the women managed to keep those bubbles in the Cinderella floor cleaning scene all looking the same. Yes, animators created the illusion of life, but the women of the Ink and Paint Department helped bring those drawings to life in glorious color and detail with pens, paintbrushes and other tools in ways that were just as creative as the men who got most of the credit. Find a comfortable chair and a flat surface to put this book on and become immersed in the Disney era that defined animation to this day. If you get tired of reading, there are hundreds of great photos.

Have I successfully whetted your appetite to read? Sneaky, huh? Are you someone who says you don’t have time to read? With smartphones and tablets, you can read just about anywhere. Stuck in line at the Market? Open up a Disney biography like Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas or The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by Michael Barrier and read a few pages. If you like reading about Disney history, like me, Disney During World War II: How the Walt Disney Studio Contributed to Victory in the War by John Baxter (see my post Working Through a War for a taste). Love the Parks, take a look at another large format book by “The Imagineers”, Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real. Really, whatever particular Disney joy you might have, I guarantee you will find something fun, interesting or revealing to read.

mickey tablet

First Mickey Mouse Merchandise

Walt and the Disney Company have a long history of book publishing and many books have been created using Disney characters or other intellectual property. Many talk about how Disney revolutionized film and character merchandise. Putting Mickey Mouse’s image on stuff started in a rather inauspicious way when he appeared on a simple writing tablet in 1929. The book with a Disney copyright book featuring Mouse titled, “Hello Everybody” was published the very next year. Since that first book Disney and the many Disney imprints have continued to publish children’s books for decades. Not only was Disney a strong proponent of books and reading, but many of the films, animated and live action, produced in his lifetime were based on works of literature.

First Mickey Book

First Mickey Mouse Book

David McKay Publications became the first to publish a whole line of books under Walt’s authorization in the 1930s. I have two of these in my Disneyana collection.

All of us Baby Boomers grew up reading or having Golden Books read to us. Golden didn’t publish only Disney character books but the Golden Books library included, wonderfully illustrated stories about Mickey, Chip n’ Dale, Snow White, Dumbo, Donald Duck, Pinocchio and our favorites from cartoon shorts and feature-length animated movies.

Today, Disney continues the tradition of book publishing through many imprints including Disney Publishing Worldwide and Disney Hyperion.

Walt has been quoted as saying,

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”

Treasure IslandWalt oversaw the production of 35 films whose stories started as books. Certainly stories stuck with him, were inspiration, like Snow White and Treasure Island. A consummate story teller himself, biographies refer to him reading constantly in his years as head of his Studio. He did research, he read scripts, story treatments and was likely inspired by books, newspaper and magazine articles on a variety of subjects.

Here Walt can be seen in his research library at the Burbank studio with a collection of National Geographic magazines. Much of the research went into Disney’s True Life Adventure series. But, I’m sure all that information found its way into other films as well.

Disney Nat Geo collection

Storybook_land_poster_largeWalt’s Disneyland was filled with literary influences. Tom Sawyer Island can be traced back to Walt’s love of Mark Twain, The Mad Tea party comes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jungle Cruise probably came from writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is drawn from the 1908 children’s novel The Wind in the Willows, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, while based on Disney’s film, the story that Walt read was from the Grimm’s Brothers. It’s not surprising that Walt included an attraction called The Storybook Land Canal Boats in his opening day roster.

Study after study has shown that reading to children and encouraging them to read as they get older, not only improves their reading comprehension, but stimulates their imagination, encourages them to ask questions, increases their curiosity, improves language development and stimulates brain activity rich with visualization. Children who are read to early are more likely to be readers themselves. Aside from these benefits, reading to your child is an opportunity for quiet times together that can help parents form lasting bonds.

Walt and other celebrities lent their name and photos in 1959 for the second year of a National Library Week, to give more attention to libraries and stem the tide of reductions in book readers who had turned to movies and TV for entertainment. The campaign and programs continue today in the month of April. Those who prophesied the end of Libraries in the digital age couldn’t have been wronged. If your library is like mine, it has re-imagined itself as a community center where adults and children can find all kinds of activities from book clubs to yoga film showings, music and oh, yes, book – physical and eBooks. If you haven’t stepped in your local library recently, you’d be surprised what you might find. How about free museum or local attraction passes, banks of computers for use, and printing. You might even find a cafe or at least you can bring in the beverage and snack of your choice.

World Read Aloud DayAnyone looking for ways to influence their kids or any kids to read can pick from a wide range of activities. My wife and other authors participates in World Read Aloud Day.  If you have no local library, or even if you do, you can support or build your own Little Free Library, which is a standalone lending library, usually in an easily accessible location supported by the community, a group or an individual. Check out their website for examples, building plans and success stories. Books in school libraries and classrooms are always in short supply. If the school you attended is still in business, consider a donation through the PTA and support not for profits like Behind the Book, whose mission is to inspire NYC Public School students to love reading by bringing accomplished authors into the classrooms.

Examples of community Little Free Libraries

Getting back to my earlier topic of reading my blog. Over the last couple of months I’ve had an uptick in new followers. In my own way, I’d like to think that I’m encouraging people to read. Thank you all for your support and the encouragement I get from the thought that I’m not just talking to myself. (Although I have been known to amuse myself for hours with my rapier wit) I write because I have something I want to share and it’s a great feeling to know that you find my creative outlet worthy of your time. Thanks!

Now, go read a book!

Walt and reading

My Connection to Walt Disney Through his Signature

1939 child's easel

1939 Falcon Toy from my collection

As I wrote about in my post Hooked on Collecting, collecting has been part of my life for a long time.  After years of collecting antique magic books and ephemera, I changed gears and began my collection of Disneyana.

Because my blog is about my connection to Walt Disney, I’ve often written about him as a mentor as well as a motivator for my creative work in this blog, my playwriting, and the current novel I’m working on.

I was born in 1960 and by the time I was old enough to understand who Walt Disney, the man, was, he was already gone. Over the years I have come to understand that while Walt quickly gave up drawing, and never directed a single live action film, his creative contributions were no less important to his Company’s success. But more about that later.

The closest I can come now to “meeting” Walt is to have something that he had in his hands. Objects, unless they are one of a kind, like his Oscars and other awards, are nearly impossible to find on the open markets, and, thankfully, are available for everyone to see in the Disney Family Museum and glimpses into the Disney Archives.

 

So, the what’s left are items that he signed.

Anyone who’s done research on Disney signed items has found, sometimes the hard way, that the history of Walt’s signature is very complicated, making authentication difficult — even for experts. Aside from his actual signature, there are at least four different Disney Company sanctioned signatures.

There are ones done by his secretaries. I found this on Big Cartoon News:

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There are pieces signed by Disney artists Hank Porter and Bob Moore (from the same web site):

 

There are fan cards done by many different Disney artists like this 1930s version from my collection:

Donald Duck Fan card

Finally, there’s the Disney corporate logo of Walt’s signature:

disney corporte logo

I was fortunate to have purchased most of my Disney signatures back in the 70’s and 80’s, when you might find them priced in the hundreds of dollars. If you’re in the market today, you’ll probably find many autographed pieces over $1,000. And, if you come across an autograph that relates to a significant event or time period in Walt’s life, the prices will go up dramatically. I have one of those pieces in my collection from early in Walt’s career. I promise to share it in another post.

I found these two items on Nate D. Sanders auction website and are offered for price representation purposes only. This signed, first edition book sold in 2015 for about $15,000.

disney signed first edition

This signed letter sold for about $1,300

disney signed letter about machine

To insure that the signatures in my collection were authentic, I turned to an expert, Phil Sears. For 25 years Sears has been the world’s only autograph dealer specializing in Walt Disney autographed items.  He has consulted for virtually all of the world’s major auction and authenticating firms including Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and many more. I have taken advantage of Mr. Sears’ free, preliminary authentication opinion to at least be somewhat assured of the signature’s authenticity.

This classic posed photo is from the 1940s. Walt may be holding a storyboard from Snow White, which premiered only a few years earlier.

Disney signed portrait

Photo signed circa 1940

This one from the 1940s was probably signed on a page taken from a book.

Disney signed Bambi card

This autograph has been professionally framed with a period picture of Walt. It’s an example of his signature in the 1930s.

Disney picture with signature

This letter, unfortunately in poor condition and, as yet, not authenticated, was signed from Walt and Mickey Mouse.

Disney signed letter

I find this one interesting. First, it is signed Walter E. Disney. Second, since the date is February 2nd 1935 and it’s made out to Bell and Howell, it’s possible that this was related to the filming of Snow White.

Disney check

My love of books makes this one a favorite of mine. It’s a 1953 first edition published by Simon and Schuster.

Lady & the Tramp book

Why have Walt’s signatures and autographs gone up in value? First, because many of his signatures were done by artists or secretaries, there are many inauthentic ones out there. Many have even been sold in error by reputable companies. Second, Walt’s signature changed over time. So, what looks like a scribbled forgery on the book above, is actually real and verifiable based on the date it was signed. But it might have been discarded by someone uninformed.

disney and mickey on disneyland tv

Walt & Mickey on Disneyland TV Show

Finally, I don’t think he become the publicly identifiable figure of “Uncle” Walt, until he was at least a year into the Disneyland TV series which premiered in 1954. Only then did he become really known to the millions who tuned in every week until his death in 1966. So, there was only about a decade where someone as famous as Walt would have been hounded for autographs, other than ones he might have done on a thank you note or a letter, contract, etc. Finally, his life was cut short, so he didn’t enjoy a slowdown typical of the end of famous people’s lives where he might have had down time to meet and sign things for fans.

Because Walt actually handled these items, at least to sign them, they hold special places for me in the collection. As I said earlier, Walt never did all that much drawing for the animated films he produced. In the future, I’d love to add at least one piece that includes a Disney character drawn by Walt.

I alluded to a piece in my collection from early in Walt’s career that I will happily share at a later date. It has a drawing, but not of a character from the well known Disney canon. As they used to say in the newspaper biz, “Watch this space for future developments”.

disney signing at disneyland

Wishing you all a Happy Holiday & a Joyous New Year!

Thank you all for reading my posts and your kind, supportive comments during the past year. In the spirit of giving, I’d like to share the Disney Studio’s 1938 Christmas card from my Disneyana collection.

 

1938 Xmas card 1

1938 Xmas card 2

1938 Xmas card3

1938 Xmas card 4

Keeping Disney Time

I’ve written in the past about collecting Disneyana (See Hooked on Collecting). One of the items, I have gravitated to are timepieces. In the book “The Mickey Mouse Watch, From the Beginning of Time” by Robert Heide & John Gilmen, they relate that Tim Luke, who was working then as the head of collectibles at Christie’s, called the Mickey Mouse timepieces pivotal and central to the theme of Disneyana collecting.

I don’t wear any jewelry regularly, other than my wedding band. But, wearing a Disney watch seems like a way to make a statement without being flashy and it can be a great conversation starter. I have some very nice non-Disney watches that I wear regularly. But I also have some Disney watches that I find myself wearing often. All the items in the post are from my collection.

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LtoR: SII Marketing; WDW original artwork (they used to sell these at Uptown Jewelers on Main St); Seiko; early D23 gift; Kodak, WDW 25th Anniversary; WDW SE Collector’s Series

I also have collected some very early Disney watches which I don’t wear. Watches were not the first item Disney granted merchandising rights for. That goes to a simple pad of paper in 1929, shortly after the release of Steamboat Willie. Watches didn’t appear until 1933 and were first produced by the Waterbury Clock Company under the Ingersoll label . The first Mickey wristwatches were sold for $3.75.

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Because the watches proved to be so popular, (Macy’s in NYC sold 11,000 of them in one day and they outsold the World’s Fair commemorative 3-1 in 1939). Ingersoll sold more than 2.5 million watches between 1933 and 1935. A Mickey watch was sealed in the NY World’s Fair time capsule in 1939. The watch I own is from 1934, identifiabke by the addition of “Made in the USA”, added to discourage counterfeiters.

Ingersoll also produced a pocket watch version in 1933. The original box was red like the wristwatch. The box I have is from a later model.

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Once the watches popularity was established, Ingersoll added a deluxe version manufactured from 1937-1942. I haven’t been able to determine the exact year my watch is from.

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In 1933 Disney released the Silly Symphony cartoon Three Little Pigs, which became an enormous success. Not only was the short Popular, with audiences coming to the theaters to see the Pigs, not necessarily the main features. The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” sold records, sheet music and was easily on everyone’s lips. The watches sold by the thousands. The wolf’s eyes shift back and forth on the pocket watch version. A larger table alarm clock was produced in 1934 and sold for $1.39.

My collection moves ahead to the  what I believe is the 1950s with these two very different alarm clock styles from Bradley. One is a simple windup alarm clock. The other is more in the old whimsical Disney style with 2 bells.


This “Official Mouseketeer” watch is probably from the 1970s revival of the “New Mickey Mouse Club”.

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These two mantel clocks from the 1980s. One is a Mickey Mouse 60th Anniversary. The other plays 6 melodies. both are by Seiko.

These are some more recent pieces I bought, because I liked the way they looked and they were limited editions.

Finally, here’s a pendulum style clock that I’ve been unable to track down any information about. Could be someone’s hand made piece. There’s no markings on it and the character image is very well done.

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Starting with the Ingersoll watches, Disney timepieces were part of the overall merchandising genius of Herman “Kay” Kamen, the man Walt hired to manage character licensing. Ever watchful of the Disney brand, every licensed item had to be approved for quality by the Disney Company. By the time Snow White opened a complete merchandising campaign was ready to go on day one. It’s no secret that the licensing fees have always been a significant part of Disney company revenues. Thousands of watches and clocks have been produced over the years. So, a collector should be able to find something of interest with a price tag to match the budget.

Because there were and continue to be many different Disney character timepieces produced, it’s often hard to track down specific information, particularly on some of the older pieces. Part of the fun, is the detective work that’s required to specifically identify dates and manufacturers for any Disneyana item. If anyone has reliable information about the pieces I’ve included here, please let me know through a comment or email. Those of you who are hooked on collecting, like I am, happy hunting!

 

Hooked on Collecting

I’ve always liked to collect things. I’m not talking about hoarding. I’m talking about interest and passion for a subject or type of item. There are many kinds of collectors. Some people collect memories and stories that they use to gather people around them. Some collect people, friends to make their lives socially active. Others are drawn to a subject or person that they want to feel closer to.

Over the years I’ve collected, baseball cards, comic books, books on magic, magic ephemera and oh, yes, trivia. I seem to collect trivia like the underside of a bed collects dust bunnies. It has, however, helped me at the Disney Trivia contests I go to. Many sports collectors stick with a team or players that they admire or root for. As a teen I collected antique magic books. when I was an amateur magician.

houdini

Houdini signed letter and period photo from my collection

I was very drawn to the master showmanship of Harry Houdini and wanted to know more about him. My interest in magic waned after college, as my attention was focused on my career, then my marriage and then my kids. As our kids got a bit older, trips to Disney World increased in frequency and I wanted to know more about the man who had created great movies and could envision and realize a place people could go to escape into a world of fantasy.

Walt’s drive, passion and success was inspiring. I’d always been a fan of Disney movies. The first movie I ever saw was The Sword in the Stone. In my collection I have some small

Jungle Book toys that connect me with my childhood. And since my mother was a Disneyana collector when I was young, I can look at certain things, like a Snow White radio or a Mickey Mouse sled and I am taken back to the house I grew up in. But it it’s Walt who I wanted to know more about. And, since I’m not able to meet him, the closest I am able to get are things with which he was connected.

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Given the number of projects in which Walt was involved, it always amazes me that he even had time for anything but work and family. But he did. And his “collection”, his passion, was for trains and railroads. It seems he may have developed a connection when he was a boy and his family lived in Marcelinne Misourri, which I have learned was a town created by the Aticheson, Topeka & the Santa Fe R00_steam_up_at_studio_soundstage_eddie_sargeant_rogger_broggie_and_walt_050327_bennettailroad, which went from Chicago to Kansas City. When he was older, he not only visited railyards, but built a small gauge railroad on his property that he called the Carolwood-Pacific. Walt himself, with help from his staff and other rail enthusiasts like animator Ward Kimball, built engines that they would ride on track laid out on a soundstage. Later Walt would lay out a larger small gauge railroad he called the Carolwood-Pacific, and take friends on rides. His

carolwood-pacific

Walt running the Carolwood-Pacific in his “backyard”

passion for railroads can be seen in the railroads that circle every Disney park in the world (except for the new Shanghai park). The Disney railroad was one of the premier attractions when Disneyland opened. Walt’s influence and interest in railroads is can still be felt in the railroads that are part of every Disney theme park.

 

walt-disney-train-engineer

Walt at Disneyland Opening Day

Since I was not alive for, for the premiers of the early Disney animated films, or the opening of Disneyland, I like being able to touch things that, not only, Walt might have had on his desk or passed at the Studio, but also things that the animators, Imagineers and other creative people around Walt would have created or touched. The trouble is, Walt was an early adopter of merchandising for his films. As a result, there are thousands of early Disney related items to collect

Some Disneyana collectors focus on a character, movie or type of collectible, like animation cels. I’m not sure I’ve hit on a single theme, so my collection is eclectic. But, primarily I’m drawn to things that would have been produced during Walt’s lifetime.

Some collectors buy things as an investment. While some of the items in my collection are valuable, their value to me is not in what I could get for it if I sell it. I can’t speak for all collectors, but when I buy, or find, a Disney item, it’s as if I found buried treasure. I remember as a teen, prowling old bookstores for out of print magic books. Finding one on a dusty shelf would make my heart race.

I find auctions are very exciting. I go through the catalog of items to be auctioned like a kid in a candy store. Then there’s the anticipation as the item I am interested in gets closer to being put on the block. Then there’s the competition, bidding against other buyers and the excitement as the bids go up and I make quick “command” decisions about how much more to bid or whether I should let the item go. I still remember the first auction I went to in New York City. I think I was about 13. It was a large catalog of magic items. I got my numbered paddle and sat in the room and watched as the items were auctioned off. I was surprised at how fast things went. It wasn’t as if the auctioneer was giving people a lot of time to think about their bids. Finally, after a couple of hours, the item I wanted to bid on, I think it was a Harry Houdini poster, came up. The auctioneer started the bidding. And then, bing, bang, in about 10 seconds the bids were well beyond what my meager budget could afford. And then it was over. I was disappointed, but the experience was fun.

I have some favorites in my collection, that I can’t help but look at when I go past them. I chuckle to myself when I look at the Dopey ventriloquist dummy. Who thought it was a good idea to make a dummy out of a character who doesn’t speak? If I were a kid in the late 1930s what would I have thought Dopey sounded like? There are some autographed pictures which would have been signed by Walt himself, including a check to Bell and Howell from 1935. Since Bell and Howell manufactured parts for the multi-plane camera that was used to film Snow White, that means that Walt signed that check in the midst of one of his greatest triumphs and most highly creative periods of his life. I can imagine him sitting at his desk with piles of papers, drawings, paintings, model sheets and a pile of checks to sign. Maybe it was late at night, after a grueling day of storyboarding, difficult decisions about plot and character and direction. Perhaps there was a scene or moment that an animator was having difficulty translating Walt’s ideas onto paper.

The Disney’s were always on the brink of financial ruin in those early years. “Walt’s Folly”, as everyone in the industry was calling it, was a hard project for them to get financing. Walt and Roy ended up using even their homes and cars as collateral to keep the project going. Then maybe he’d get up, make himself a drink and walk around the animator’s room. He’d look at the work on the tables. I’ve read that he would go through the garbage cans, sometimes pulling things out and leaving notes for the animators on a drawing that he felt had more promise than they did.And I have some early toys, including a tin, windup Ferdinand the Bull from 1938. The book was one of my favorites when I was a boy.

The collection lets me, just for a moment, live in a world where Walt Disney is still alive and I was around him. I know it’s easy to sugarcoat a time before we lived. Walt was apparently not always they easiest man to work for. And, we do tend to glorify past times, ignoring the hardships that were part of that era. But, what a thrill it must have been to interact with that creative, blazing comet that streaked through the studio and left, in his wake, ideas and inspiration that built an entertainment empire. Thoughts like that have helped me through many of my toughest days. So keep collecting. Don’t let anyone call it junk or laugh at the dozens of Disney snow globes or trading pins that give you so much joy to prowl second hand stores, browse ebay or buy at the parks, then display, look at and enjoy. Buying and keeping things related to Disney helps keep the magic alive even when you’re not at a movie or in one of the theme parks.

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