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Walt and Diane

Walt and Diane

No, these two photos are not identical; notice the slight differences in Walt's hands and Diane's expression. The photos are an extreme example of what I've sought in the feature I've called "A Day in the Life," when I've published several photos taken the same day, no more than a few hours or minutes—or, as in this case, seconds—apart, the idea being to give some sense of that passage of time.

Changing Trains in Chicago

By Michael Barrier

The photos above were taken on Saturday, August 21, 1943, at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, and published the next day in the Chicago Sun. The newspaper reported that Walt arrived in Chicago from Detroit on that Saturday and stayed in a three-room suite at the Drake "just long enough to pose for pictures with his 10-year-old daughter, Diane. Twenty-five years ago, he said, he worked in Chicago as a mail carrier and collected mail from the Drake." Walt spoke to the Sun's reporter about his plans—never realized—for a film on the soybean for South American audiences.

The Chicago stop came near the end of a nearly month-long trip that took Walt, Diane, and Lillian to New York and then to Detroit for a few days on the way back home. It may seem a little odd that Walt put up in a fancy hotel suite for what was probably just a few hours, but that was consistent with the patterns of rail travel seventy-five years ago.

Typically, travel between Los Angeles and New York required a change of trains at Chicago, from, say, the New York Central's Twentieth Century Limited to the Santa Fe's Super Chief. Depending on connections—the Super Chief didn't run every day—there might be a layover in Chicago of several hours or longer. Considering that a rail trip across the country took days rather than hours, escaping the Pullman car and camping out for a few hours in a fine hotel would have been attractive to passengers who could afford it.

Back in 2010, I asked Diane Disney Miller what she remembered about that trip, and her reply was typically full and generous. Here's what she told me in an email that I've edited very lightly:

I remember that trip so well, except that I wasn't aware that we were ever in Chicago.  It was all about New York.  We went on the train, of course, and when it stopped in Albequerque, N.M., the Indian vendors came aboard, and dad bought me a little turquoise bracelet and ring (our birthstone).  [In New York] we stayed in the Waldorf Astoria. Mother and I spent at least one day with Katie Kamen, wife of Kay, who had planned a city trip for me. We had lunch at the automat, which I was eager to see because dad had talked about it.  I had spent my fourth-grade year in Immaculate Heart (on the corner of Franklin and Western), my first experience with the Catholic Church, and I was full of the mystery of it, and was collecting Holy Cards. Katie had located a shop where I could buy some.

We went to the Met [the Metropolitan Museum of Art], and encountered a piece of art that gave me nightmares for many years: Pavel Tchelivitch's Hide-and-Seek. [That surrealist painting is actually in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, an institution with stronger Disney connections than the Met.] Dad took me one day to a performance at Radio City Music Hall, then back stage where I met his friend Leon Leonidoff and saw how the Rockettes had created the wonderful (to me) effect of a stormy sea.  They all lay down on the floor and did the "bicycle" excercise, covered by a huge silky fabric of the right shade of blue. [Walt and Leonidoff] appeared to be good friends.  Dad asked Leonidoff about his daughter, as I recall.

[Leonidoff produced all of the Music Hall's stage spectacles for 42 years, from its opening in 1932 until he retired in 1974. One of those spectacles had a "Mickey Mouse" theme, but I know nothing more about it. Walt had a long association with the Music Hall, which showed one Disney short after another in its early years, and then Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which had a spectacularly successful run. He undoubtedly crossed paths with Leonidoff on multiple occasions.]
We went to the theater almost every night.  We saw Oklahoma twice, because dad was so taken with it.  We saw Angel Street, which became the movie Gaslight. .. Arsenic and Old Lace ... Tomorrow the World, about the rehabilitation of a Nazi youth (with Skip Homeier), and a vaudeville review...
We spent a weekend at Major [Alexander de] Seversky's home in Long Island.  He had talked [about] going clam digging, and I was very excited about it. We did dig clams and had an all-clam dinner that evening.  The Major was a good host. The caretaker's son Nicky was a nice kid just my age, and we swam in the ocean. It is a very happy memory, except that I've realized that I might have been an annoying kind of kid, because I recall bugging the Major about the clam digging:."When are we going to go clam digging?". 
Was this trip occasioned by the premiere of Victory Through Air Power?  [Probably not; the New York premiere was on Saturday, July 17, 1943, a week before the Disney Archives says Walt and Diane left for New York.] I've read references to that. My cousin [Roy Edward Disney] has spoken of him and me flying paper airplanes from the hotel window in the spirit of the film. I don't recall being with him at all, nor Roy and Edna's presence ...but I don't recall being in Chicago either. I spent one night in New York with Kay and Katie Kamen, and have thought that might have been because of the premiere. But I don't recall any talk of a premiere.
We went from New York to Detroit and stayed at the Dearborn Inn. Dad had some press interviews, and I recall being part of one. I was humiliated that the woman had invented a quote from me, and have distrusted the press since that time. We must have been in Greenfield Village, although I didn't recall it being called that. It was all "Dearborn" in my memory.  There is that photo of dad and me on vintage bikes, he on one of those tall ones, me on small trike.  I've never seen the photo that you sent [one of the photos above]. If it was 1943 I would have been 9 1/2 [not 10, as the Sun said]. I remember a lot of talk about the soybean. Henry Ford was devasted by the loss of his son Edsel to undulant fever caused by tainted milk, and was pursuing soybean research as an alternative to dairy products. Was this before pasturization of milk?  I do recall that the Adohr Farms milkman delivered "certified milk" to our door.
It was a wonderful trip.

This was a wartime trip, of course, and I don't know how wartime travel restrictions might have been felt by the Disneys, but probably not much if at all, considering Walt's involvement with government projects like that abortive soybean film.


Walt passed through Chicago many times, usually on his way to New York or Washington, or both, and as these photos show, the press and autograph seekers were sometimes waiting. The top photo was taken early in 1942, when Walt was en route to Washington (and, from there, to New York). The bottom photo was taken in January 1949—a typically cold Chicago January, to judge by the warm clothes and the all but visible shivers—at the start of a three-week trip that was devoted mostly to publicizing the newest Disney feature, So Dear to My Heart. Walt was accompanied by his wife and Beulah Bondi, who played Bobby Driscoll's grandmother in So Dear.

Walt in Chicago 1942

Walt in C hicago 1949

[Posted May 9, 2018]