Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Walt Disney’

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!

 

You’re Not a Villain if you take a Disney Vacation

mrtoad_detailI was in a restaurant the other day for the first time and on the inside cover of their wine list was an explanation for their approach to wine offerings. It begins with the following: “Ever been to Disneyland? Welcome to our version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (or splash and swirl mountain, if you prefer)”. A little further along, they talk about changing the way traditional wine lists are formatted. Toward the end of the page, they finish with “Remember, it’s just like Disneyland (without the long lines)”. On the one hand, the restaurant clearly wants its wine list seen as singularly inventive, ground breaking, fun and memorable, the waywalt watching painter many people viewed Disneyland. Whoever wrote this was a Mr. Toad fan, so probably someone who likes Disney theme parks enough to pick an attraction that had a large fan base. But, then after some explanation about how make the best use of the list, including some tips (take a look at it before coming in, ask the server for recommendations, let the server choose for you, or forget the wine and order scotch), the writer felt it necessary to cover the other half of the world’s view of the Happiest place on Earth, by making references to attraction lines. If you read my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing?, I’d say the writer has not come to terms with his or her inner Disney fan.

castle costWhen I hear other people talk about their Disney theme park vacations, some of the first comments they often make are related to three different complaints. First up is “It’s so expensive” (often followed by a “you know what I mean” look or a sigh). I’ll admit, a Disney theme park vacation is not going to be cheap. I do, however, believe one should think in terms of what value for your money. Even If you don’t stay at a hotel on the Disney property, you are getting an extremely immersive experience chock full of just about every vacation option you can think of, (with the exception of the actual ocean), all as close a short car or bus ride.  Here in NY a movie ticket will cost me $13 for about 2 hours of entertainment, including endless previews, commercials, not including snacks, A ticket to the Bronx Zoo is $37 and is limited to walking and watching the animals. I’ll let you do the math. And that doesn’t include all of the free activities that you can take advantage of once you are inside the park.

Wherever you roam within a Disney theme park, you can be assured of a consistently high quality of customer experience. There’s no surprise when playing round of miniature golf that the course will be clean, well managed and, of course, perfectly themed. Every interaction whether it’s an attraction that starts with a themed, often, covered queue or a restaurant, perhaps with characters, or character meet and greets, is handled with the highest quality and attention to detail. As the inventor of the modern7-guest-service-guidelines theme park, Walt always insisted on the highest levels of customer service at Disneyland. It all started with calling the employees Cast Members. Walt believed that a theme park visit should feel like going to a show or a movie. Once a Cast Member is “on stage” each guest interaction is handled with a smile and an honest desire to add to the your vacation’s enjoyment. That tradition continues today. Every time you interact with a cast member, you’re not only treated like a valued customer, but made to feel you are somehow special. Many of us have experienced an unexpected magical moment, like a fastpass, a free pin or help finding a lost item.

06_ParksBlog_BigTop_MerchDisplaySecond complaint is that Disney is too commercial and geared towards kids. Let’s put that first part into context. Every vacation spot in the world is a commercial undertaking. If, by commercial, those people mean that it’s all about Disney. Well, yes, it is. That’s why people would go to Disney parks, instead of some other vacation option. And, having souvenirs with those much loved characters is no different than being upsold a scuba excursion or Hawaiian Luau. And unless you’ve been kidnapped, blindfolded and released without your consent into Disneyland, I don’t think I’ve seen too many unhappy adults at Disney parks. (Unless they are they proud parents of an over tired, over stimulated child who should have been given a rest earlier in the day). Even if you’ve never seen a Disney movie, there’s plenty to enjoy that’s geared aswalt watching painter much for adults as it is for kids. You can play golf, laze about in a water park, be pampered at a Disney hotel or enjoy a world class meal. In addition, there is a growing number of rides that have height restrictions and are not designed for the youngest amongst us.

The restaurant’s wine list comment about the lines is the third most related complaint in my unofficial survey. I sympathize with those who spend the bettecastle fireworksr part of their Disney theme park vacation on line. However, I believe some flexibility and planning can do a lot to reduce the waits while improving the overall quality of one’s Disney vacation experience. Anyone who books a Disney vacation during a peak attendance period, should be resigned to some lines. If you can avoid those times (there is plenty of advice and statistical analysis on expected crowds across the many Disney fan sites), then, by all means, pick a less obviously busy day or days. Expecting an empty park during school Easter break or between Christmas and New Year’s is like expecting a private showing of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center any day in December.

Even if you can’t or can go any other time, I find it rather amazing that many of the same people who complain about costs for Disney vacations, do little or no planning. People will scour the internet for the cheapest airfares, hotels and rental cars. But not doing any planning at all for your time in Parks is just asking for lots of waiting, extra walking, planning-ecardmissed experiences and an overall cranky group of people. If you don’t want to do the planning, there are websites that will help you do it. Some will even ask the age range of the people in your group, whether you want to minimize walking or waiting, hours you want to spend in the park and will consider historical crowd levels to give you a good chance of having an extremely enjoyable time. You can even build in breaks, meals and other special Disney park experiences like parades and fireworks. And there are many well reviewed travel agencies that specialize in planning and arranging Disney vacations from the parks to cruises to Disney adventures. So, don’t stop your planning at plane fare and insure that your hard-earned dollars translate in a vacation that you don’t regret taking.

A Disney vacation is not everyone’s cup of un-birthday tea. Just as climbing Everest or a week of some city’s oldest churches is not going to be at the top of everyone’s list for leisure activity.  Sure, there might be situations where you might not get the best spot for watching a parade, the highly prized meal at Be Our Guest might elude you or keeping everyone in your group happy means that you don’t get a second ride on Splash Mountain. And there are some extras that are beyond many people’s budgets, like the Chef’s Table at the Napa Rose. But, there are so many other options, I defy anyone to say that there aren’t enough options to make your vacation fun and leave you feeling you’ve gotten good value for your money. With some planning, some thought about what’s most important to you and a little flexibility you’ll not only have a great time, but also experience the unexpected magical pixie dust that makes you feel like you too can fly.

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Working Through a War

joseph campbell hero quoteAs we honor the men and women of the armed forces for their service past and present on this Memorial Day, I’d like to take a peek at the often overlooked, but important, work of the Disney studio during WW II and it’s effect on Walt and the Studio. Like many of his generation, Walt Disney lived through two world wars. He was too young to enlist in WWI. Even though the war, for the most part, was over, 16 year old Disney found a way to serve by being an ambulance driver, stationed in Paris in 1918. By all accounts, he Disney 1918returned, a changed man. Widening his view of the world encouraged him to look beyond whatever ambitions his parents had for him and encouraged him to find his own way. Having been around, but also, not served during my generation’s wars, Vietnam and the two gulf conflicts, I think I can say, without hesitation, armed conflict affects everyone in some way, either positively or negatively. Walt’s experience in Europe left him with optimism about his abilities led him to open his first business, illustrating and lettering for magazines.

In 1941, right after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the Disney studio property, not only had to deal with war time 160511-walt-disney-life-book-04rationing and other changes, but, became the only major movie studio to be occupied by the U.S. Army. Staying for 8 months, the military took over large sections of the studio, including having one Navy Commander, take up residency in Walt’s office bedroom for several days. I don’t think that the War made Walt anymore patriotic than he had been. However, with overseas profits cut off, his studio commandeered, he launched his staff and himself into an all out effort to support the war effort in the best way he could – film making. Commercial efforts were completely halted, but the overall output of the studio actually increased at the same time cost to produce short pieces, educational films, and propaganda decreased by a whopping 98%.

The downside to this flurry of activity was threefold. First, the general public did not see much of the top secret or educational films, which amounted to 93% of the Studio’s output. Films on aircraft identification, venereal disease, dental health, precision bombing and pacific islands slated for invasion were praised for the effectiveness. But aside from some lighter pieces featuring Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck on military service and propaganda films like “Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line (Minnie teaches housewives how to save kitchen fat for use in explosives)

“Winged Scourge” (7 Dwarves show how to combat malaria), and the “New Spirit” (Donald Duck demonstrates the importance of paying income taxes), Disney produced only two films that had significant public showings.

One was heaped with high praise, Der Fuhrer’s Face, for it’s morale and propogandist value. The other, Victory Through Air Power, the only film of the period Walt controlled completely from start to finish during the war, generated no money and poor critical reviews.

Second, although the Army kept the Studio busier than they had ever been and every effort was made to reduce production costs, the U.S. government was, not only, cheap, but was slow to pay and often, Walt had to go directly to Congress to get paid at all. In typical government fashion, opinions about the value and quality of the Disney work would be endlessly debated, even though there had been a promise to pay for the work. As a result, even the increase in film footage from the normal about 37,000 feet per year to over 200,000 feet, the Studio spent the war years barely breaking even. walt with generals.jpgWalt was not one to complain. As a patriotic American, he felt it was his duty to have the Studio help support the war effort as much as possible. All of this was accomplished while many artists left Disney for more creative work, and others were drafted, while the remaining staff struggled to keep up with military and government demands and short deadlines. Keep in mind, that while Disney toiled through primarily government contracts, other studios were producing films like The Philadelphia Story, Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, Going My Way, and Double Indemnity, to name a few. Not that those studios didn’t support the war effort, but their output was still primarily under their control. During 1946, in contrast to Disney’s struggles to stay solvent and restart his Studio, the industry, as a whole, had its best year ever.

Which brings me to the third, and perhaps, most important negative effect of the Studio’s war effort. The war had come almost immediately on the heels of the of the traumatic and crippling animator’s strike that almost brought the Studio almost to a halt in 1941. Walt was terribly hurt and felt betrayed by the artists that he had worked so hard to build into a creative powerhouse and transformed the Company from a mom and pop shop, into one of the most respected and profitable film companies in the world. I will not spend time here going into a full account of the strike or whether Walt was justified in his thinking. (Read some of the many biographies like The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life by Steven Watts or Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination  by Neil Gabler for more strike details). But, here was a man who thrived on inspiration and the freedom to create as he pleased, being forced to work through the frustration government contracts coupled with a limited set of choices for what to work on. With little understanding of the situation, he was called unpatriotic and a war profiteer by some and even by government officials who were dictating the work. Since he was told by the military to avoid humor or invention in the films, I’m sure he just got bored. Later, those same people criticized the work because it had no humor.

As a result, Walt withdrew from much of the day to day, hands on work that had been part of the foundation of his earlier success – the Disney touch. The effects, psychological, financial, creative, of this strike and the War, undoubtedly led, in some part, to the rather uninteresting film period that followed, characterized by quick, lower budget bundling of shorts like those in Make Mine Music and Fun and Fancy Free.

On the other hand, after the war, it could be said that doing more live action film making in England, to take advantage of monies that were frozen there, may have encouraged the dawning of a new focus for Walt. He turned most of the day to day work over to others, who shepherded Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan to successful outcomes. Walt spent more time on the sets of the other movies, learning and building what he would need for future films like Treasure Island, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Mary Poppins. Time to think, tinker with his backyard railroad also gave him time to work out the beginnings of his next great adventures, TV and Disneyland.

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Not everyone contributed to the War effort by fighting. Certainly, the Disney Studio work was cited for its morale boosting and educational value. But, there is no question that Walt lost the better part of 5 years of creative energy to do his part. Finances dictated many of the decisions he was forced to make in the ensuing years to keep his Studio afloat. The fallout from, creative boredom, focus on money and the disappointment he felt toward the striking animators who he had respected and tried to do right by, most likely played a factor in Walt’s disillusionment with the direction he saw America taking. Some of animated projects that had been put off during the war were made and most are considered part of what many call the Silver Age of Disney Animation. But many remained, concept art, unfinished scripts, or in some cases just unproduced ideas. What might have become of unrealized ideas like The Rainbow Road to Oz, Don Quixote, Chanticleer and unfinished collaborations with Roald Dahl and Dali. Many or none may not have made it out of the conceptual stages. And I would be the last to say, I wish Walt had stuck with animation instead of doing TV, building Disneyland or producing Mary Poppins. For now, I’d like to remember that while Walt didn’t man a post, his work and the work of his Studio, was a factor in the Allied effort to win the war.

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Disney artists designed more than 1,000 WWII military logos

Should Disney Have Opened Pandora’s Box?

pandora announcementI get excited about new things Disney will bring to the theme parks. But, I was both confused and troubled by the 2011 Avatar announcement. Universal Studios had just opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which had become an immediate success. It looked like the Disney Company was feeling the heat in a way that had not happened in the history of their prized theme park franchise, which contributes a significant amount to the corporate bottom line. The country was still coming out of the recession/depression, which, I’m guessing, didn’t help Disney World attendance. So, rather than simply accept loss of market share in the Florida area, Disney was going to put up a fight to maintain its position as the world’s pre-eminent purveyor of theme park entertainment. But, the longer Harry Potter remained strong, without a new wow Disney experience, the more likely that more theme park dollars would go to Universal. Thus, time to market was going to make it hard to find something organically Disney which would get the public’s attention.

As first movie to earn more than $2B worldwide the Avatar had sold a ton of movie tickets. Director/Producer Cameron had already announced sequels were already in the works. Disney may have seen this as an opportunity to build on an already successful franchise while they were building the new park area. Looking in the post-LucasArts acquisition, rearview mirror since, Disney may have even tried to buy Avatar, before settling on a partnership with Cameron. I must admit; I was not all that excited about the prospects of having Imagineers working on a product that didn’t come from somewhere inside the world of Disney. Yes, they did acquire The Jim Henson Company and create the very popular Muppet*Vision 3d. But the Muppets were more about a collection of wonderful characters that Disney could use in a variety of ways. The movie Avatar was more than just interesting characters; it was a wholly imagined world. In the meantime, the expected Avatar sequel or sequels have been delayed numerous times, including most recently in March of 2017.

Walt-in-Jungle-2-Placing Pandora inside Animal Kingdom seemed like a workable idea. I’ve been doing some planning for a trip to Disneyland this summer, and realized that I had never been on the Jungle Cruise there. Originally, Walt had wanted to populate the attraction with real animals. But, at the time, it just wasn’t possible, so, Animatronics were used instead. In a way, Joe Rhode’s Animal Kingdom fulfilled one of Walt’s dreams — to give guests an opportunity to come face to face with the wild kingdom, which Walt had once quipped were “some of the most fascinating people I ever met. . “

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Imagineer Joe Rohde

Disney’s Animal Kingdom was never meant to be about Disney films or characters. Rhode wanted to offer guests an immersive “edutainment” experience in a faraway land, filled with adventure, mystery and mystique. Uncle Walt would have been completely behind all those ideas. And, his often quoted belief that Disneyland would always be changing has been taken to another level through the creation of a living theme park, where the animals are unscripted and unpredictable. How many of you have been on the Safari and had to wait while an unhurried rhino or other tenant blocked your truck? And, while it has seen a reduced presence, Animal Kingdom was meant to help raise environmental awareness.

Now, after 6 years of work, Disney, with marketing hoopla commensurate with the effort, is about to unveil Pandora – The World of Avatar. And, while I still think it was an

Pandora-Commericial-600x338odd and unexpected direction for Disney to take, my initial negativity toward the addition has been tempered by putting Pandora into the Animal Kingdom context. I recently re-watched Avatar, and without a doubt, Pandora is very far away and very alien to us. It delivers a movie experience filled with adventure, mystery and magic. We’re being told that guests will enter this strange world and encounter much of the environment in an interactive way. I experienced the Imagineers’ immersive approach long before the area was completed when I went through the Pandora exhibit at the 2015 D23 Expo. The Cast Members were presented as employees of Alpha Centauri Expeditions, a company organizing tours to the planet. There was a salesy video commercial of what would be included in the trip and then we got to view a detailed model and other items we would see there. In typical Imagineer fashion, Pandora Cast Member name Itags, will include, not just origin city and state, but “Earth”, as well.

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I think some of the central themes of the movie are exactly in line with the themes and messages conveyed during a visit to Animal Kingdom. Avatar presents a world and its people that are in tune and interdependent. The respect for one another that the inhabitants demonstrate on Pandora is the same as the edutainment messages we get from It’s Tough to be a Bug and Kali River Rapids as well as reminding us of majesty of nature and the connection between animals and humans in the Rivers of Light show. By allowing guests to get closer to the animals in their natural habitat than most Zoos, Disney gives us the opportunity to get to know creatures with which we share the Earth. They don’t remain obscure images, but take on reality after which most people can no longer resist the temptation to want to insure their survival.

Once past the entrance gate of Animal Kingdom, we are immediately immersed in the1024px-AnimalKingdomEntrance greenness of the Park and all the traditional park trappings maintain the sense of being in a place for away geographically, culturally and societally. Aside from the basic plot, Much of the Avatar movie is spent, in great science fiction fashion, world building. We learn about the native Navi’s religion, family structure, myths, government as well as the world’s rules which maintain harmony within Pandora’s circle of life. The movie stresses what can happen when the balance of nature is upset and how nature will fight to maintain that equilibrium. Animal Kingdom guests can get a look at how the animals are cared for, explore Conservation Station, animal encounters and other interactive, educational areas to learn more. Riding Expedition Everest offers a cautionary tale of the dangers that lurk in unexplored parts of any world.

So, a match that, at first glance, did not seem to make sense, looks different when evaluated against the backdrop of what Animal Kingdom represents. Being transported to Pandora is no different than climbing Everest, going underground with bugs, crossing an African reserve or stopping off at a 1950’s roadside attraction created by an dinosaur bone dig. Walt not only loved natural beauty, but by almost single handedly creating the wildlife documentary format in True Life Adventures, he showed his respect and admiration for our beast, bird and fish neighbors. I’m not sure when I’m going to get there to see Pandora for myself. In the meantime, I’m trying to avoid all the Fan generated video and “reviews” so I can experience it without spoilers or other people’s ideas in my head. I not only expect to be amazed, thrilled and entertained, but reminded that it’s up to us to care for the fragile, little planet Earth that we call home.

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A Mother’s Day Message

Since, I usually post on Sundays, and since, today happens to be the usual busy Mother’s Day, I’d like to revisit my very first post on this Blog, A Mother’s Gift, which I wrote shortly after my mother passed away and updated recently.  I wrote about how my mother’s interest in Disney and Disneyana influenced me. I didn’t always appreciate the gifts my late Mother bestowed upon me during her lifetime, including a love for all things Disney. I think trying to separate from your parents, particularly our mothers is part of the natural growing up process. Unlike much of the animal kingdom, our mothers don’t usually push us out of the nest or chase us away as we get older. Our moms are always there for us.

The effect of denying that my mother could offer me anything useful to learn didn’t become clear to me until after she was gone. My mother had taken my brother and I to many Disney movies while we were were growing up. She surrounded us with Disneyana in the house. I owe much of my treasured Disney collection to her hard work and appreciation of Walt’s work. In retrospect, now that I am caretaker of that

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Part of my Disneyana collection

collection and continue to add to it, I wish I had spent more time enjoying the items with her. There are some pieces that she must have found wonderfully interesting and exciting to own, but are now a mystery to me. She may have even owned some of them during her childhood. I’m not making the same mistake with my kids. I’ve created an annotated item inventory and I spend time to help my kids understand why the collection means so much to me. (see my post Hooked on Collecting)

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Walt Disney and his mother, Flora

As with all son’s, Walt appears to have had a complex relationship with his mother. Based on the biographies I have read, it seems he trusted her. While he was in Paris at the end of World War I, he sent money home and she put some aside for him so his father wouldn’t find out. It was that nest egg that enabled Walt to start his first business. We’ll never know for sure how much his mother helped

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Walt in Paris, 1918

make Walt who he became. But, you can be certain, that whether he was aware of it or not, her voice, her advice and her support was in his head and heart.

My mother always supported me in all my ventures and adventures over the years. It may have taken some time to blossom, but her love of Walt Disney was definitely inside me somewhere. It’s lead to my growing collection and this Blog, as well as connection to a worldwide community of, creative and inspiring like-minded, Disney loving people. So, take this as a cautionary tale. Your mother may not always know best. She may not always be right. But she has a lot to offer, if you give her the chance. You never know what you might find in yourself someday. So, Happy Mother’s Day to all the deserving, unappreciated moms out there from all of us to whom you give so much.

I’d like to take advantage of the Disney community to which I referred. I was hoping that someone out there could help me identify these objects from my collection, which I have had no luck identifying. If you can help, please leave a comment or send me an email.

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Walt Disney Goes to the Fair

world fair ticketjpgIn last week’s NYC D23 event recap “Behind the Scenes Experience: Magic in Manhattan & More”, I did a quick flyover of Disney’s contributions to the 1964 NY World’s Fair. There’s way more to that story. Just as Walt used the Silly Symphonies shorts to test and perfect animation skills needed for his animated masterpiece, Snow White, he used the NY Fair to improve Disneyland.

Walt grew up at the tail end of the World’s Fair era and probably attended at least one. The Fairs were opportunmoses newsweekjpgities for countries, companies and organizations to offer a taste of current accomplishments and future promise.  Although today you could argue we can get much more from the internet and we don’t have to wait years for it to come to our part of the world.  But, we also don’t get the advantage of being able to “touch” things. But there was a time that cities like NY and Paris would spend tons of money to bring the world to their Fairs. By 1964, fair mania had begun to wane. So, it’s no surprise that when Fair organizer Robert Moses was looking for a sure-fire way to drive attendance, he approached Walt to contribute the Disney touch. Walt jumped in with great enthusiasm. But not just because he liked World’s Fairs.

As usual, I won’t assume all my readers are familiar with the subject matter. So, first a little background on the ’64-65 NY World’s Fair. The brainchild of Moses, the self-styled urban planner, road builder, and master of disaster (couldn’t help let my negative view sneak in), the Fair was intended to last three years, make money for investors, and create a public park as a City legacy. It was billed as an international festival dedicated to “Peace Through Understanding” and a showcase of American industry. Walt even promoted it in a dedicated episode of The Wonderful World of Color called “Disneyland goes to the World’s Fair”.

In typical Disney TV fashion, the episode not only educated us on World’s Fair history, but plugged the Disney attractions. The work on the Fair put an enormous strain on WED, which had been working furiously for four years since Disneyland’s opening, adding new, innovative attractions like the Matterhorn Bobsleds (first steel rollercoaster) and building the world’s 8th largest navy for the Submarine Voyage. Why, then, with the success of Disneyland, would Walt turn his attention away from his latest labor of love?

Walt & Roy

Walt & Roy Disney

Walt may have been motivated to invest heavily in the Fair by two things. First, he was already considering locations for an “East coast” Disneyland and wanted to gauge interest. The “smart” money was saying Eastern intellectuals wouldn’t take to the wholesome entertainment that had drawn millions to Disneyland. Second, Walt’s typically ambitious plans for Disneyland, were, as usual, outpacing funding. Many would, rightfully, argue it was Roy Disney’s financial acumen that helped make everything possible. But, Walt had already proven through the Disneyland TV program deal, that using his instincts he could find ways get what he wanted by using other people’s money.

To maintain control over the Disneyland project, Walt had created a separate company, WED Enterprises (Walter Elias Disney), to do the development. Walt saw an opportunity to get deep pocketed corporations, inexperienced in theme parks, to fund newwed logo technologies and attractions. WED was already staffed with many future Disney legends like John Hench, Rolly Crump, Marc & Alice Davis, Mary Blair, and Bob Gurr who would drive theme park innovation, design and engineering for decades. Walt simply asked them to work on a few more projects. It seems he always made it sound so easy, no one questioned the effort it would take. They just went to work creating miracles.

Ultimately, the Fair drew less people overall than had been expected, lost money and a planned third season was cancelled. But, the popularity of Disney’s four pavilions, Pepsi’s It’s a Small World, GE’s Progressland, (including the Carousel of Progress), Illinoi’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Ford’s Magic Skyway convinced Walt that an Eastern theme park would work. (He probably knew already, but needed to convince others)

As a Disney fan, today, I remember visiting Small World, COP and the Skyway at the Fair as a child (No memory of Lincoln). Little did I know then that the Fair would launch many celebrated innovations that would change theme parks and more forever. Before we get to the pavilion work, I want to mention one of the less celebrated Disney innovations introduced at the Fair, perhaps, more impactful to the world than any of the headliner attractions.

progressland lines

Walt, never let a good problem go to waste. Long waits at Disneyland attractions were commonplace from day one. The Fair, no exception, had similar lines. Walt had his people study the lines at the fair to devise new methods for queue management. In my recent tour of the Fairgrounds in Flushing, NY (see my previous post) I learned that the lines for the COP were crazy long, especially in the hot humid months of July and August. The solution was razing an unfinished building behind the Progressland pavilion and turning it into a covered overflow queue area. This area had the first use of the now familiar switch-back queuing system. Before you dismiss the significance of this creative solution, think about how often you encounter this kind of line system. It’s everywhere there’s a line that needs to be managed.

The four Disney attractions had some common elements that put them, consistently, at the top of everyone’s list of Fair favorites. First, if you keep my queue story in mind, except for Lincoln, which was a stage show, they were designed to maximize rider capacity. Attractions, today, like Small World and Pirates move people through by the hundreds an hour. Early Disneyland’s low capacity rides like The Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach Ride and The Phantom Boats didn’t last long. At the Fair, WED Imagineerssmall world boat tackled capacity issues with the debut of three different ride systems. Small World and Skyway were originally planned as walk-throughs. But, herding large numbers of people efficiently through was not Walt’s of showing off. The Small World boat system, designed by transportation genius, Bob Gurr, proved so efficient that it has been used in other attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and other theme parks.

Small World still moves ‘em through in all of its worldwide incarnations. But, the ride system in the Ford Magic Skyway proved to be even more groundbreaking. The only requirement Ford had was that guests ride in actual Ford cars. Gurr and the WED Ford-Magic-Skywaygeniuses modified the cars so they were individually propelled underneath by a track. Sounds simple now. But, according to a Gurr, the Ford system took longer to design than to build Disneyland. He tells a story that because the cars were different lengths and had no bumpers, around certain turns they would smack into each other. The banging magic skyway carcaused broken lights and damage. The Imagineers solved the problem with track design and a complex set of rules about which cars could be next to each other. And they employed a full time crew of car body repairmen during the run of the Fair to fix damage that still occurred. The Magic Skyway transport system is the grandfather of theme park, dark ride systems and is still used at The Haunted Mansion as well as powering the recent Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure rides in both U.S. parks and many other rides. If you get on a continuously loading ride anywhere with all the cars connected, and it turns as the ride progresses so you face the action, you’re probably riding Skyway’s descendant, an Omnimover or a version of it.

Much of Disney’s early animation success was built on the use of music to enhance the entertainment value of his films. Since Walt viewed theme parks attractions as another story telling method, the second common Fair attraction element was music. The Sherman brothers created two of the most famous ear worms in entertainment history. Both It’s a Small Word After All and It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow, not only, stick with riders long after exiting the attraction but they artfully reinforce the overall theme of both experiences. Since Walt did not copywrite Small World, his gift to the world has become the most publicly played song of all time.

The ride systems were certainly innovative and continue to be improved upon. Yet, it’s a different gadget that we all have come to love in Disney attractions and in lots of other walt-disney-tiki-roomplaces. Legend has it that the first Audio-Animatronics appeared in the Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963 because of a small mechanical bird Walt found in an antique shop. But, as usual, after simple figures in the Tiki Room and Jungle Cruise, Walt wanted to do more. He used the Fair to apply the patented technology to depicting people. The Lincoln figure turned out to be the most complex, “robot” at the time. It was so convincing, many guests left the show thinking that it was a real actor. AAs are used in many Disney park attractions and other theme parks. There are about 300 figures alone in Small World. Pirates in Disneyland has 53 AA animals, and 75 pirates and villagers. It wasn’t easy lincoln aagetting Lincoln to behave. In fact, the President missed his targeted opening date. Walt had to tell a room full of VIPs that he wouldn’t present the show until it was perfect. Finally, the WED Imagineers solved the problems and the show opened to rave reviews. The same design was used for the COP figures. These days, it’s hard to think of Disney, or, for that matter, many theme parks without thinking about AAs. Decades after their introduction, they continue to be added and improved in new attractions and new theme parks.

cop act 1Everyone at WED who was involved with the Fair has said that while Walt was involved with all the projects, there’s more of Walt in Carousel of Progress than anything WED ever did. The show captured much of the sensibilities with which he infused all his creative work. It has a nostalgic Midwestern feel. The GE sponsorship allowed the characters to celebrate one of Walt’s favorite themes, the march of innovative technology making lives better. The design of the rotating theater was a way to mimic the quick transitions done in film. The Carousel Theater was guest-friendly and efficient enabling the theater sections to entertain six audiences simultaneously. With a new show starting every four minutes no one had to wait for long show to end to enter. WED employees who were around, say Walt put the final touch in place by adding a “weenie”, the dog, to each of the scenes.

Walt also had a giant model of “Progress City” seen through the windows in the last scene, which guests could get a better look at when exiting the theater. Take a look at my posts, The Unfulfilled Promise of E.P.C.O.T. and The Legacy of Walt Disney’s E.P.C.O.T. to learn more about Progress City and Walt’s interests in urban planning and leveraging cop last sceneAmerican industry’s innovative abilities. Walt had already begun buying up land in Florida, so those plans must have been already percolating. You can still sneak a quick peak at a portion of the model of Walt’s ideas for the city of the future when you ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover.

The Magic Skyway had similar city of the future themes, focused on humorous AA scenes of innovation over the centuries, like the invention of the wheel. The Skyway track system concept was used to create the WEDWay PeopleMover ride at Disneyland a few years later and was to be an integral part of Walt’s Prototype Community in Florida. Disney Imagineers also contributed tiny scale models of Scenes from 11 nations, past and present in the International Garden as guests entered the Ford pavilion.

thames model for ford

Always the innovator and always the promoter, Walt saw the Fair as a multi-faceted opportunity dinos in disneylandto extend the Disney brand and worked it out so that Small World, Lincoln and COP would have future homes at Disneyland. Sadly, the only physical part of the Magic Skyway salvaged was the dinosaur AAs, which found a new home in the Primeval World diorama along the Disneyland Railroad.

Much of the work that went into the creation of the attractions continues to impact how theme park entertainment is designed and executed. All the Disney parks around the world except for Shanghai have a version of Small World. And boat ride systems are used in theme parks around the world. The Fair themes of peace and innovative advancement were central to how Disney built his company.  While many of the attractions were designed to educate the public, Disney Fair attractions, made the medicine go down easier by infusing humor such as in COP, whimsy in Small World and wow factor experienced in Lincoln and Magic Skyway. The two years in NY may represent the beginning of the end for what people nostalgically think of when they “remember” World’s Fairs. The contributions of Walt and his magical Imagineers are probably one of the reasons the 1964 Fair remains an iconic example of creativity, innovation and invention.

 

Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event

D23-logo-official-fan-clubAs a Gold charter member of the D23 Disney Fan club I longingly read accounts of the many member events in California and Florida. Tours of the Disney Studios, Walt’s office, lunch with Imagineers are all things I’d love to do. But, since I live in New York it’s not practical. The D23 organizers have done some wonderful events in NYC. Just last year, I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for the 25th Anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, where Angela Lansbury sang. Before that the Fanniversary tour landed in NYC with highlights from the Disney archives.

As good as those events were, D23 they cooked up a whole day of fun and interesting experiences for 40 lucky Gold Members this past week in NYC. They called it, “D23 Behind-the-Scenes Experience: Magic in Manhattan & More”. And more it was!

We began the day by joining the rest of an enthusiastic audience at a taping of ABC’s The chew openingChew at studio near Lincoln Center. For my wife, Jackie, and I, it was our first experience at a television taping. We were surprised at how small the set space was, and how many people it takes to create a one hour television show. Cameramen, stage managers, food stylists, cooks, stage hands, sound engineers, a DJ, and lighting technicians were everywhere. As wed23 chew set 3 waited, the 5 stars made their way onto the set, introduced by the comedian, R.C. Smith, who kept us laughing the entire morning as he got us warmed up and taught us how to clap and laugh on cue. Finally, Clinton, Carla, Michael, Mario and Daphne sat down to tape the four segments of a show called Simply Perfect Sweets. They are very relaxed, chatting among themselves while reading segments from the teleprompter, all the while having stage managers waving time warnings in front of them. At the end of each segment, dozens of people appear from doors and behind set pieces, like an ant army, to clean up, add new food ingredients, move cameras, apply makeup, shift lights and more. R.C. kept d23 chew set 2our energy up as we hungrily watched the front row of “tasters” sample the dishes that were prepared by the hosts. Meanwhile, Mario, Clinton and Michael chatted with members of the audience. If you watch the show, you’ll notice that Clinton has a different jacket on for the last segment. He and Executive Producer Gordon Elliot were admiring a coat, worn by an of the audience member, so he exchanged it for the one he was wearing for the last segment. Following the taping, we watched Clinton and Carla do promo spots for use by other ABC programs. Then we took a group photo with the stars.

 

chew photo

d23 event snackAfter giving us some much needed snack bags and a gift bag from The Chew, we boarded a bus for our trip to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Ford23 chew bag those of you who are not aware, Walt Disney and his WED Imagineers created four of the most popular pavilions for the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair. It’s a Small World debuted at the Pepsi pavilion, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was the standout at the Illinois pavilion, GE’s Progressland featured the Carousel of Progress and for Ford Walt created the Magic Skyway. At the Park, we were introduced to Mitch Silverstein, Gary Miller and Stephanie Bohn, volunteers who working to preserve the iconic NY State pavilion (made even more famous by its role in the MIB movie). Mitch ny state towersand another volunteer who happens to be a Disney World guide, took us for a tour of the fairgrounds, pointing out the locations of the Disney designed attractions and telling stories about the fair.

For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip. Walt took advantage of the work at the Fair to push his WED geniuses to invent and perfect much of the technology that continues to be the backbone for many of the Disney theme park attractions. I’ll start with Mr. Lincoln, the invention that ushered in the age of Audio-Animatronics. There are now thousands at Disney and other theme parks around the world. The boat ride through Small World, was a precursor to Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen Ever After and Living with the Land entertaining thousands of people in a day. And the ride system that guided cars through the Magic Skyway, eventually became the People Mover with similar systems still in use at the Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth. As important to Walt, three of the attractions, Carousel, Small World and Mr. Lincoln were added to Disneyland while many of the Audio-Animatraonic figures from Skyway, were re-purposed for other Disneyland attractions.

COP then and nowsmall world then and now

Because of our schedule we didn’t get to the Ford or Illinois locations. We ended our tour of the historic fairground with a very special opportunity to go inside the NY State pavilion. The structure is still in a bad state of repair, hence the hard hats we are all wearing in the picture. You can learn more about the pavilion preservation effort here.

042717_event-recap-NYC pavilion

D23 Unisphere cropped

After a final picture in front of the iconic Unisphere,  we re-boarded the bus and were given the second very special D23 gift, these limited edition reproductions of photos and postcards from the World’s Fair.

d23 vintage postcards

Our next stop was a well needed lunch at Trattoria Dell’Arte in Manhattan, where we enjoyed a three course meal. We also received our third gift, an event inspired picture containing 23 NY/Disney related images and a copy of the special event restaurant menu.

We took the quiz on the bus to guess what the icons represent. If you want to know what all the icons stand for in the image? The answers are here.

d23 event credentialWe took a short bus ride to the Times square area, where we received our next present, a newly designed earhat with the familiar I Love NY logo. We all put them on and took the picture below. With about 30 minutes until our final tour leg, we took our D23 event credential into the Times Square Disney store for a little 50% off shopping spree.

D23 Times Square.jpg

At 4:00 we re-assembled in front of the New Amsterdam Theater. Taylor  told me that this D23 event was inspired by the 20th anniversary of Disney’s re-opening of the theater after a lengthy restoration. On the theater marquee was a special message welcoming D23 Aladdin (1)our group.  Inside, sitting in the front rows of the orchestra where we were treated to a historical overview of the theater from it’s opening in 1903, to its long time use by the Ziegfeld Follies, then a slow decline, along with the rest of 42nd street, in the 1970s, then the theater’s closure and, finally, it’s rebirth as a Disney managed theater. We were led onto the stage, which is now hosting the Broadway version of Aladdin. The many complex workings of automated sets, trap doors and shown walls were explained and we saw many famous visitors who have signed their names on the theater’s walls.

Our next theater stop was a room Ziegfeld used at the back of the orchestra section. In the room, were props and costumes from many of the Broadway shows that Disney has produced, including Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, Little Mermaid, Aida, Lion King and Newsies. We could touch and try on whatever we were found interesting. Some of the popular pieces were the $7,000 dollar lion king masks and props from Mary Poppins.

The day ended with a wonderful cocktail reception in the lower part of the theater where there was wine, beer, soda and delicious tapas. Our final gift, was an Aladdin playbill signed by the cast.

d23 signed aladdin

I can’t say enough about the logistics managed effortlessly by Tyler and Jen Marie. Even with the difficulties of keeping track of such a large group, NYC traffic and the many different stops during a very long day, they remained up-beat, personable and, most of all, fun. Everyone in the group, some had traveled from as far as California, were all great fun. We traded stories, talked about our Disney interests and enjoyed each other’s company during our NYC road trip. My thanks to Tyler, Jen Marie and the D23 organization for putting together one of the most interesting and enjoyable days my wife and I have had in Manhattan.

Have you attended a D23 event? What was your experience like?

Since I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Disney effect on the NY World’s Fair, I’ll use next week’s post to dig deeper into the four attractions that, for many, have become symbols of the historic Fair years.

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