June 26, 2010:
June 16, 2010:
June 8, 2010:
June 6, 2010:
June 26, 2010:
Dave Smith, the Disney studio's archivist since he founded the Walt Disney Archives in 1970, wrote yesterday with this announcement:
As you may have read in the media, after 40 years with Disney I have announced my retirement to coincide with my 70th birthday in October 2010. Of course, Disney has been a major part of my life for the past four decades, so it will be difficult tearing myself away. I am very proud of the Walt Disney Archives, which I have lovingly built up, at first by myself alone and then with the help of an ever-growing and knowledgeable staff. From a glimmer of an idea, the Archives has turned into a department which continually proves itself invaluable to The Walt Disney Company. I have been privileged to work with some of the most wonderful people in the world—my fellow employees and cast members throughout the entire Disney organization. While it will be hard saying good-bye, I am sure that I will continue to work with the Archives and D23 in my retirement.
Dave's reference to "media" was to this story about the Archives in yesterday's Los Angeles Times (the photo above is from the Times). Disney's CEO Robert Iger talks in that story about possibly housing the Archives' holdings in a museum of some kind, saying, "It could be that we end up in partnership with an existing museum. ... It also could be that we create our own." The Times story doesn't mention the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, but obviously that museum would be affected in some way by any Walt Disney Company decision to proceed with its own museum. Fortunately, there's no reason a new Disney museum couldn't complement the Family Museum rather than compete with it, since the Walt Disney Company now has a longer history without Walt (43 years 6 months) than it did with him (43 years 2 months).
Even before Dave Smith retires, his second-in-command for twenty-two years, Robert Tieman, will also be leaving, as revealed yesterday in Didier Ghez's Disney History blog. Their twin retirements will be a huge loss of invaluable experience, but happily, Dave's successor as archivist will be Becky Cline, who has been an increasingly important member of the Archives staff for many years. I spent weeks at a time in the Archives in the 1990s, and I remember overhearing Becky field hundreds of phone calls from the public, most of them asking what were obviously idiotic questions (there must be an awful lot of Cinderella watches out there, and everyone who owns one must want to sell it for a huge sum). Having survived that searing challenge with aplomb, Becky is surely prepared for whatever the future may bring.
I look forward to dropping by the Archives occasionally in the future (it's now closed to outside researchers, but so far not to social callers), but it will certainly not be the same without Robert Tieman and, especially, Dave Smith. Dave and I began corresponding in 1968, before he went to work for Disney, and we first met in 1969, when he passed through Little Rock on a cross-country driving trip. In the years since, we have been in touch frequently. Dave has been a good friend to me, Funnyworld, my books, and this Web site. I wish him all the best in his new life.
Very little new information has surfaced about Dumbo's pre-history since I posted my revised piece called "The Mysterious Dumbo Roll-A-Book" early last month. I did hear from Eric Pearl, grandson of Hal Pearl, co-author with Helen Aberson of the original story, but Hal Pearl died when Eric was only four, and he could offer only confirmation that Hal was married to Helen Aberson, briefly, before he married the woman who became Eric's grandmother.
A new Blu-ray edition of Dumbo has been released in Europe, but it won't be released here until 2011, presumably as a seventieth-anniversary tie-in (Europe was consumed by war seventy years ago, of course, and the seventieth anniversary of Dumbo's release there is presumably a few years away.) The making-of documentary on the disc includes John Canemaker's summary of the story's origins, which Gunnar Andreassen transcribed:
The book was written in 1938 by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. It was the only published children's book that the couple ever did. They sold their story to a company called Roll-A-Book—where the book would be on a scroll and you’d read through it. I don’t think there are any copies of it that exist anymore. There were about sixteen illustrations that were done by a local circus artist and those still exist. They are in the collection up in Syracuse. So Disney locked up the rights and then gave the project to two of his top writers, and [they] were Joe Grant and Dick Huemer.
Pretty close, although I don't know of any basis for calling Helen R. Durney a "circus artist." The "sixteen illustrations" can only refer to the sketches, with varying degrees of finish, that have survived in the Durney collection at Syracuse University; the actual illustrations for the Roll-A-Book, whatever their number, have probably disappeared. The Dumbo disc includes shots of two of Durney's sketches, which accompany John Canemaker's comments, and Gunnar Andreassen has sent me frame grabs of them; they're what you see accompanying this item, along with a frame grab of an ad for the first (and for practical purposes only) Roll-A-Book, The Lost Stone of Agog.
This is an exceptionally bountiful period on the Web for people who feel affection and enthusiasm for Dumbo akin to my own. Hans Perk has published the complete draft—the Disney studio's own record of who animated which scenes in the film—on his immensely valuable blog; unfortunately, I haven't figured out to get to the earliest installments, but a full page of later posts of the draft comes up when you click on the label "Dumbo."
(Hans has posted many other drafts—which are pure gold for research into Disney animation—and is now posting the one for Melody Time.) Mark Mayerson has been publishing one of his fabulous mosaics for Dumbo, breaking down the film into a frame grab for each scene, with credits from the draft and illuminating comments on each installment. The most recent installment, the ninth, covers scenes of Timothy the mouse animated by Woolie Reitherman; click here to go to the first installment. Michael Sporn has posted a wealth of Dumbo-related material on his ever-bountiful "Splog"; to call it up, simply enter "Dumbo" in the search box. Robert Cowan, even though recovering from a heart attack, has been posting model sheets and other Dumbo items at his Cowan Collection site.
Considering how much Dumbo material has come to light on the Web, it's remarkable how little we still know about the history of this wonderful movie. Not only are there holes in our knowledge of how the story came to be written and to pass into Walt Disney's hands, as I've documented in my Roll-A-Book piece, but the production of the film itself is skimpily documented compared with the other early Disney features. The voluminous transcripts of story meetings, so plentiful for Snow White and Pinocchio and Fantasia and Bambi, simply don't exist for Dumbo. As Hans Perk has noted, even the draft credits no one for a number of scenes. No doubt answers to some of the questions about Dumbo could be found in Disney's "main files" and its Animation Research Library, but whether such material will ever become available for public inspection is highly doubtful, so research will necessarily proceed in other ways.
From Gunnar Andreassen: I read with interest your posting on Dumbo yesterday! Just a bit of information: The Dumbo blue-ray bonus disc contains among other things hundreds of preliminary sketches, even some 25-30 by Albert Hurter, so you Americans have something to look forward to next year.
[Posted June 28, 2010]
June 16, 2010:
I was floored yesterday when I opened Cartoon Brew and found there a generous birthday tribute by Amid Amidi. I turned seventy on June 15, and my plans for a quiet sort of celebration were upended by Amid's post and the comments and emails that followed. Quite a day, topped off by Mark Mayerson's equally generous response to Amid's post. I hope that everyone involved will accept my heartfelt thanks.
Amid's post probably brought a few new visitors to my site, and I'm a little embarrassed that I've posted so little recently. I've been spending most of my time re-reading Carl Barks stories, thinking about them, and trying to reduce my thoughts to the words that will make up a couple of chapters, at least, in my next book, on comic books. Spending so much time with Barks is tremendously stimulating and enjoyable, but it does get in the way of posting very much here. I'll remedy that soon, I hope, with a substantial piece on Walt Disney's several visits to Atlanta and a number of other things—the piece I wrote for a business magazine after I interviewed John Kricfalusi in 1998, for one, and Roger Armstrong's highly evocative memories of working at the Lantz studio in 1944, for another. Stay tuned!
June 8, 2010:
Joseph Smith writes: "Thought you may be interested in—and perhaps could shed some light on—this t-shirt I picked up at the Uniqlo store in Soho, New York. Disney merchandise, including Mickey Mouse underwear for adults, has taken over the front of this very popular store, the Japanese company's flagship in the United States. While searching through the many items available, the name 'Carl Barks' caught my eye. I decided that for $10.50, I had to pick up this shirt. How often does anyone ever see the name Carl Barks on a Disney product? I'm guessing this design comes from a 'how-to' or 'behind the scenes' book or article describing the creation of a comic strip. Any idea where they picked this up?"
I'd guess that the source was my April 12 item, but if anyone has a better idea, let me know.
From Thad Komorowski: The drawing on that t-shirt appeared in Carl Barks Library Set II, p. 6. I'm sure it was taken from there, but no idea why it would adorn a t-shirt... All I know is, I want one!!
[Posted June 8, 2010]
From Geoff Blum: The drawing was done for James Pepper, an antiquarian book dealer in Santa Barbara whom I’ve long known in my more serious collecting capacity. Nice to know that people are still reading the Library—or it might possibly have been taken from the Scandinavian Carl Barks Collection, which perhaps stands a better chance of having traveled to Japan in recent years.
From James Pepper: My friend, Geoff Blum, has forwarded to me a link to your website. The Donald Duck t-shirt was most amusing for me to see. The original drawing is in my possession and was drawn for me as a gift from Carl Barks in the early 1970s. He was a family friend. I lent the original to Geoff for use in the creation of the multi-volume Carl Barks Library and the t-shirt manufacturer lifted the image from that set or the newer Scandinavian version, cutting off the portion of the drawing where it is inscribed to me. It was the only time Carl drew something explaining how he created his ducks and I did not realize what a unique piece he had created for me till many years later.
MB replies: Not the "only time," actually, as evidenced by the 1966 sheet reproduced in my April 12 item, but certainly the version with a more nearly complete drawing of Donald, as opposed to the fuller written description on the 1966 sheet. My thanks to James Pepper, Geoff Blum, and Thad Komorowski for so quickly clearing up this little mystery. [Posted June 9, 2010]
June 6, 2010:
Thanks to the Little Rock Film Festival, I've finally seen Don Hahn's documentary about the rebirth of the Disney animation department in 1984-94. It's a fascinating film, not least because so much of what we see and hear—a great deal of it on video—is contemporary with the events. The outline of the story is familiar to anyone who paid the least attention to Disney animation in those years, but Waking Sleeping Beauty tells that familiar story with a gripping immediacy.
As I watched, though, I felt more and more as if I were watching a strange new version of the "Rite of Spring" sequence from Fantasia, with Michael Eisner as the tyrannosaurus rex, Jeffrey Katzenberg the triceratops, and Roy E. Disney the grumpy brontosaurus who thinks he doesn't get enough credit for his pivotal evolutionary role. The actual directors and writers and animators, when they popped up on the screen, were like scurrying mammalian life forms trying not to be crushed by the gargantuan egos locked in battle above them.
Waking did nothing to ease my skepticism about the Disney features it was celebrating, but instead renewed it. My central problem with those movies has always been that they have no authors—there's no dominant artistic intelligence behind them, as there is with the great Disney features, the best Warner and MGM shorts, The Incredibles, and all the other animated shorts and features worth watching, down to How to Train Your Dragon. Instead, the films are corporate products, born of constant compromise and exhausting internal struggle. (Not surprisingly, Jeffrey Katzenberg comes across in Waking Sleeping Beauty as a clueless maniac, but he has lots of company.)
The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (which Don Hahn produced) did have a real author of sorts, the late lyricist Howard Ashman, as Hahn's narration acknowledges. It was unquestionably the example of those two films, and the momentum provided by their success, that made Aladdin and The Lion King such huge hits after Ashman's early death from AIDS. Ashman was a product of Broadway, and while watching Beauty and the Beast again, two days before I saw Waking Sleeping Beauty, I found myself regretting that I haven't yet seen it on the stage. That's where a Sondheim-flavored musical like Beauty belongs, surely, especially because on the stage there needn't be the tremendous gulf between the film's best drawing and animation, like Glen Keane's of the Beast, and the crudely oversimplified—let's please not say "cartoony"—drawing and animation of so many of the supporting characters.
I could mention other things about Beauty and the Beast that bother me, but I'll refrain, since those things obviously don't bother most people (and certainly not the three little girls who watched the movie with me last week). I'll only say that I much prefer another version of Beauty and the Beast, Jean Cocteau's brilliant live-action film from 1946. That's a movie whose authorship is, happily, not in the slightest doubt.
From Donald Draganski: I just viewed WSB, and I'm rather ambivalent about it as a documentary. A lot of the animators and and staff members at the bottom of the food chain are featured, and it's nice to see the guys who do the real work recognized, but I think that the boys on top—Eisner, Katzenberg, etc.—are treated a bit too benignly. Judging from what I read in various book dealing with the inside workings of the corporate world of Disney, they were evidently aggressive sob's, and that side of their behavior certainly wasn't suggested; instead, we just see some mild disagreements among the parties enacted like they were at a a cotillion tea party, and not in the corporate down-and-dirty-in-your-face world. I think that the caricatures that some of the animators drew for in-house circulation tell far more about the true character of Eisner and Co. than does the film.
[Posted December 22, 2010]