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Monthly Archives: January 2012

January 31

January 31, 1986 – Down and Out in Beverly Hills is Released to Theaters

“Yeah, maybe I ought to become a bum. No job, no responsibilities…”

On January 31, 1986, the Touchstone Pictures film Down and Out in Beverly Hills was released to theaters. Based on the French play Boudu sauvé des eaux by Rene Fauchois, the film is about a homeless man who tries to drown himself in a pool of a rich family in Beverly Hills, only to be rescued and taken in by the family, with life-changing results for everyone involved. The film is notable for being the first R-rated film, due to several uses of profanity and nudity, released by the Disney Studios. The film was a financial success for Disney, grossing over $92 million in the U.S. during its run. The film stars Nick Nolte as Jerry Baskin, Richard Dreyfuss as Dave Whiteman, Bette Midler as Barbara Whiteman, with Little Richard as Orvis Goodnight; Little Richard’s appearance in the film, as well as the song “Great Gosh a’Mighty” that he provided for the soundtrack, helped revitalize his career.

The film begins with a gritty look at the overall homeless situation in Beverly Hills, and follows the path of one particular homeless man named Jerry Baskin, who travels with his dog, Kerouac. This is contrasted with the lives of the Whiteman family, as they wake up to begin their day. The family, consisting of Dave Whiteman, his wife Barbara, his son Max, his daughter Jenny, the family dog Matisse, and the maid Carmen, are quite dysfunctional, to say the least. Dave wakes up to see a new tape by his bed: his son is an aspiring filmmaker, who sends his father tapes to let him know how he really feels. Unfortunately, the tapes are just as confused as Max is about himself. Barbara Whiteman, obsessed with yogis, gurus, and acupuncture, has lost romantic interest in her husband, which drives Dave to an affair with Carmen. Jenny, a college student, has been starving herself, much to the concern of her father. And Matisse, the dog, is emotionally disturbed, biting everyone and having to see a dog psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, Jerry is sleeping on a park bench with his dog Kerouac, when the dog spots a woman jogging with a bag of food. Tempted, he runs after her, and decides to follow her home. Jerry wakes up and, finding Kerouac gone, panics and starts roaming the streets looking for him. He ends up in a back alley in a Beverly Hills neighborhood, and decides that he does not wish to live anymore. Entering the Whiteman’s backyard, he fills his pockets with rocks and jumps into the swimming pool. Dave spots this and sprints through the house, screaming “Call 911!” Dave ends up saving Jerry’s life by pulling him out of the pool and giving him CPR. He then offers to let Jerry stay for a while, much to the annoyance of his wife. Surprisingly enough, Jerry is the first person Matisse really takes to, presumably filling the void in Jerry’s life that Kerouac left behind.

The Whiteman Family gathers around as Dave pulls Jerry out of the pool

Although many members of the family don’t take too well to Jerry in the beginning, he slowly and surely works his influence throughout them, by telling them his story of how he was arrested for selling draft cards in the sixties, how he was an aspiring actor, and how his little sister died of leukemia, and other aspects of his life story. Through his stay with the Whitemans, he begins to help to solve their various problems and change how they view the world around them. Meanwhile, as open as Dave was in the beginning, his patience is beginning to wear thin when he sees how Jerry seems to be taking his place. For instance, Jerry ends up sleeping with Barbara, which in turn makes her attracted to her husband again. When Carmen sees how Barbara and Dave are intimate again, she sleeps with Jerry, rebuffing Dave’s advances. When Jenny comes home from college for the Christmas holidays, she lets Jerry know she’s on to his schemes, and in turn, he confronts her for her anorexia, and ends up seducing her. This all comes to a head at the New Year’s Party, where Dave ends up exasperated with Jerry to the point of wishing to finish the job Jerry had tried to start in the pool.

As Dave throws Jerry into the pool at the New Year's Party, this begins a chain reaction of people jumping in after them

Although set in Beverly Hills, most of the filming took place on soundstages, or were assembled sets on the Disney backlot. The house used as the Whiteman residence is an actual house in Beverly Hills, and while the daytime exterior shots were filmed at the house, the nighttime shots were filmed at the studio-created duplicate façade, because of various permit restrictions. There were many instances, however, of location work in the film, including Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, and the Los Angeles International Airport. Overall, the film is a rather funny look at how we never seem to appreciate what we have, and how looking through another person’s eyes can change our perspective completely.

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January 30

January 30, 1959 – The Peter Tchaikovsky Story Premieres on Disneyland

“…for just as Sleeping Beauty was held under an evil spell for a long, long time, just so did an evil spell put Tchaikovsky’s genius to sleep for many years, until something wonderful happened to awaken him to his full powers as a composer.” – Walt Disney

Straight from Fantasyland, audiences were treated on January 30, 1959, with The Peter Tchaikovsky Story, a look at the life of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, composer of the ballet Sleeping Beauty, whose score inspired the Disney animators to create the animated feature of the same story. The episode also gave audiences a chance to see early clips from the completed film in widescreen, a first on television. This was also the first television show to be simulcast in stereo. The stereo simulcast required the assistance of radio stations, but unfortunately, this could not be accomplished in all markets. Two versions of this episode were prepared, to accommodate those who would be able to use their stereos. Although the episode was originally shown in black and white, the main story was shot in color. The episode was directed by Charles Barton, and stars Grant Williams as the older Tchaikovsky, Rex Hill as the younger Tchaikovsky, Lilyan Chauvin as Fanny Durbach, Leon Askin as Anton Rubinstein, and Narda Onyx as Desiree Artot. The episode also features Galina Ulanova and the Corps de Ballet of the Bolshoi Theater in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

As the narrator relates, Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a small provincial town in Russia, in 1840. When we first see Tchaikovsky, his siblings are running around the living room while he sits at the piano, playing. At a young age, he had found happiness in music, particularly the music of Mozart, whom he considered his idol. His mother, however, worried about how much time he spent at the piano, and hired a French governess to teach the children. The governess tries to understand the boy’s love of music, but in the end, she tries to tear him away from the piano to have him play in the sunshine. One evening, Tchaikovsky is troubled by the music that seems to play unending in his head. “Whenever the boy’s soul was stirred,” the narrator explains, “the music would throb in his head until it was almost painful.” The governess hears his painful cries, and decides to soothe him by reading him a story he had never heard before – the story of Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately, the story did little to put him to sleep; it caused his creative juices to flow, and he snuck down to the piano to compose before being caught by the governess. The next day, Tchaikovsky is dismayed to see that the piano has been locked up, and as he tries to find another way to express the music in his head, he breaks the window after tapping emphatically on it, slicing his hand. His parents allow him to play once more, but this happiness would soon be interrupted.

Young Tchaikovsky (Rex Hill) being read the story of Sleeping Beauty by his governess, played by Lilyan Chauvin

“…contentment was never to be Peter’s fate for very long,” the narrator warns the audience. “Soon, he was to suffer the heaviest blow of his young life. His parents decided to prepare him for a government career at school in St. Petersburg.” Tchaikovsky is seen crying as his mother wishes him farewell, telling him to be a good boy and study hard. As she leaves, the audience is told that Tchaikovsky never saw his mother again, for she died soon after. After this crushing blow, “his musical genius withdrew deep inside him. It went to sleep, like Sleeping Beauty in the fairytale. And, strange to say, like Sleeping Beauty, it would stay dormant for a long time before something wonderful happened to awaken it again.” Seventeen years later, we see Tchaikovsky grown up, working as a lowly copy clerk. He toils away, feeling his life lacks meaning, until he sees an advertisement in the newspaper: the opening of a new conservatory of music, led by the great composer, Anton Rubinstein. This stirs something inside him, and Tchaikovsky decides to enroll in the evening classes for piano and composition.

One evening, as he improvises tunes of his own, he is spotted by Rubinstein himself. The composer asks Tchaikovsky if he wishes to make a career of music, to which Tchaikovsky admits he has dreamed of it, but needs to earn his bread. “Bread! Did Bach, Mozart, Beethoven think of bread?” the composer cries. “For music, an artist must be willing to starve.” He gives the young man a test: he plays a theme, and asks him to write variations on it, telling him that not only quality, but quantity counts as well. Inspired, Tchaikovsky works all night on his variations, which unfortunately gets him in trouble at work when he accidentally writes on an official decree with the signature of the prime minister. Immediately dismissed, Tchaikovsky goes back to Rubinstein to submit his variations – all 215 of them. Rubinstein offers to take Tchaikovsky under his wing, an offer Tchaikovsky immediately accepts.

Anton Rubinstein, played by Leon Askin, asks Tchaikovsky, now played by Grant Williams, about his plans in music

Tchaikovsky’s true awakening, the narrator states, was at a performance of the traveling Italian Opera Company, starring a beautiful soprano named Desiree Artot. To try to win her affections, Tchaikovsky writes her a song, which begins a relationship leading to an engagement between the two. This engagement is broken, however, by a letter from Desiree, addressing Tchaikovsky as her dearest friend and informing him that she has married a man in her troupe. Deeply wounded, he vows to never write another note of music, but this was not to be: his genius was too strong to be shut away again. Instead, his love for Desiree was replaced by a new love for the ballet. His first ballet was entitled Swan Lake, and although Tchaikovsky had great hopes for its success, it was a dismal failure. Unable to handle the criticism, Tchaikovsky fled to Europe. He was unable to find any solace while traveling, and so from Naples, he took a steamer back to Russia, where he was troubled by a dream of a memory. He remembered the time in his childhood when his governess soothed him by reading him a fairytale, and how he immediately set to work composing it. Waking with a start, he rummages through his belongings to find the manuscript of Sleeping Beauty someone had sent him, thinking it would be a good idea for a ballet. Inspired once again, he sat down to compose the entire ballet before arriving back in Russia. “And this time,” the narrator says, “his creation was headed for the bright future that was in store for all his wonderful works.”

Tchaikovsky conducting the Sleeping Beauty Ballet. The orchestra scenes used are actually reused footage from Fantasia

The rest of the episode is basically an advertisement for the upcoming film version of the story of Sleeping Beauty. “Imagine your living room is a theater,” Disney urges the audience, “and your television set is the theater’s wide screen, as we bring you this romantic sequence from Sleeping Beauty.” In fact, two scenes are played for the audience: the Once Upon a Time sequence, and the rescue of Prince Phillip from the evil clutches of Maleficent, which ends as the evil fairy turns into the dragon. “Well, there’s much more to Sleeping Beauty than the few brief scenes we’ve shown you on this program,” Disney reassures us. “But I can tell you this: like all good fairytales, true love does win out.”

Although not a truly accurate depiction of Tchaikovsky’s life, the episode is a rather good watch, especially to capture the excitement of audiences seeing a new technological advancement when it came to movies. This story of Tchaikovsky’s life is a good story, and told well, even though it comes at the cost of the omission of some facts that may not have been suitable for audiences in that time period.

January 29

January 29, 1915 – Birth of Disney Legend and Storyman Bill Peet

“As Bill Peet himself once said, ‘There were 40 people who were assigned to these jobs in the golden age of Disney animation. Now they were all being performed by one man…me, Bill Peet.’” – Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination.

Bill Peet was born on January 29, 1915, in Grandview, Indiana. He showed promise as an artist at an early age, never imagining he could make a living out of bringing fanciful stories to life. “My favorite room in the house was the attic,” Peet wrote in his autobiography, “where I enjoyed filling fat five-cent tablets with a hodgepodge of drawings. Drawing became my number one hobby as soon as I could manipulate a crayon or pencil well enough to put my favorite things on paper…I must have drawn fairly well or I couldn’t have enjoyed it so much.” His drawing hobby, however, got him in trouble at school—he recalled that his margins were so full of drawings, he obviously didn’t pay a lot of attention to his teachers. During high school, he won a scholarship to the Herron Art Institute, now part of Indiana University.

In 1937, Peet moved out West to find work. Jobs were scarce as this was the middle of the Great Depression, but he heard that Disney was looking for artists, so he tried his luck. Peet was hired to be an in-betweener artist, which meant he assisted with the final drawings of characters for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Being an in-betweener meant one was at the bottom rung of the animating ladder, and Peet was very frustrated. He was driven, and he knew that his place was in the story department. He was given his chance about a year later, and the chances he got were highly regarded. One of his scenes was in Dumbo, where the baby elephant is bathed by his mother, and it is regarded as one the best early examples of Peet’s work. From that time, he was one of Disney’s main storymen. As animator Will Finn put it, “[Peet’s] fingerprints are all over the Disney classics as a storyman, from pretty much Pinocchio on.”

Peet working on a scene in the film Dumbo

Whenever there was a story problem in the feature films, Walt Disney would bring it to Peet to fix. Peet’s ability to handle the story department helped free Disney’s interests when he began to diversify between the new medium of television, the parks, and the live action films. While Peet worked on story for films, starting on Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty, his best work was on the film One Hundred and One Dalmatians, where he was the sole developer of the story. Compared to the newer films, like Beauty and the Beast, where there were fifteen people working on the story and storyboards, Peet did all the work by himself. Disney Historian Brian Sibley noted that “Peet was a master storyteller, and he structured [One Hundred and One Dalmatians] to make it a story that is so focused, so controlled…that you follow the story with an effortlessness…so much so, in fact, that Dodie Smith wrote to Bill Peet and said that he had, in fact, improved on her book. Which is quite a complement when you think about it.”

There was always a contentious relationship between Disney and Peet. Peet brought in the 1938 novel The Sword in the Stone to Disney’s attention, and Disney asked Peet to write the screenplay. After Peet complied, Disney approved the film for production. The film, however, did not do very well, which caused Disney to become more critical of Peet’s methods. When Peet began to work on The Jungle Book, which he also had proposed to Disney, he read and reread the book, coming up with the story sketches. The version of the film Peet came up with, however, was not the kind of film Disney wanted to see. The two men, both highly imaginative and stubborn, could not reach an agreement on the film, and after twenty-seven years together, Peet left the studio and never returned.

Peet with the storyboards for the last film he worked on, The Jungle Book

After leaving Disney, Peet began a successful career as a children’s book author. “When it came time for the used book sales,” Peet wrote in his autobiography, “my illustrated [schoolbooks] were best sellers. The kids loved my drawings and I suppose those books could be considered the very first ones I ever illustrated for children.” He wrote over thirty-five stories, which were translated into several languages. In 1989, he released his autobiography, which won several awards, including being named a Caldecott Honor Book. Peet was inducted into the Disney Legends at the October 16, 1996 ceremony. Bill Peet died in 2002 at the age of 87.

A young Peet working with a maquette of the main character Dumbo

Peet had an amazing ability to structure a story. While researching the sketches for One Hundred and One Dalmatians, animator Andreas Deja remarked that he “follow[ed] the sketches and you go, ‘Well, I’ll be…this is impossible. They didn’t change a thing.’ [The scenes] are exactly the way Bill Peet had envisioned it.” Coming from humble beginnings and rising through the ranks at a brisk pace, it’s interesting to see not only the talent that Peet had been born with, but how innate his instincts were when it came to story. Without Peet’s skills to carry on while Walt Disney’s interests diversified, there probably wouldn’t have been Disney animation in the ’60s, which led to the Disney Renaissance. Based on all of the influence Bill Peet had, one could argue that he helped keep the story of Disney animation alive for decades to come.

January 28

January 28, 1944 – Goofy Short Subject How to Be a Sailor is Released.

“Star light, star bright – gosh, I wish I knew where I was tonight.”

On January 28, 1944, the short How to Be a Sailor was released to theaters. Following in the tradition of the How-To series starring Goofy, the short is an entertaining quick run-through of sailing throughout the ages. The surprising thing about this short is that the ending does deal with World War II, where it is Goofy against the entire Japanese fleet. This section, coupled with the rest of the short, not only gives the audience a good laugh, but also helps establish the feeling of invincibility in the face of fear when it came to the Japanese soldiers and the war. It’s also notable for being the only short of the war shorts to deal with the Navy, as the rest were mostly dealt with Army settings. The short was directed by Jack Kinney, and stars Pinto Colvig as the voice of Goofy, with John McLeish as the narrator.

“In the beginning,” the narrator starts off, “the world was all wet. Today, it is still four-fifths wet.” We are introduced to early man – or, early Goofy, as the case would be – who tromps through the woods and through shallow water, before falling into a deep section. Struggling to swim, he comes across a log; he’s unsteady on it, but manages to gain some stability and float along, until he comes across a method of propulsion: a wooden board. Excited, Caveman Goofy takes the board and happily steers himself around in circles.

Caveman Goofy gets an idea of how to propel himself on his log

We fast-forward to Egypt, where we see a boat rowing down the Nile river, and find that Goofy is rowing it by his lonesome, with a contraption that allows him to row the at least twenty oars needed to propel the ship. Soon after, we are sent to visit Viking Goofy, who used the stars as his compass. As Goofy laments that he wish he knew where he was, a constellation of Goofy with a bow and arrow hears his plea and shoots the star arrow, sending Viking Goofy and his boat flying across the ocean to their destination.

The next sequence addresses how 13th Century people viewed the world, and wondered what shape it was in, and the audience sees various shaped globes, ranging from diamonds to cylinders. We then see one of their theories in action: sail West far enough, you would sail off the edge of the world. A Goofy version of King Neptune and two fish peek out from the edge of the world, watching the ship fall, and shake their heads.

Scarier than Pirates of the Caribbean were the Goofy Pirates

“From the earliest days, sailors were preyed upon by…pirates!” the narrator yelps as the pirate flag is raised. Goofy, a perfect pirate captain with peg-leg and eye-patch, is the victim of a mutiny. His crew pushes out a board, and he is sent to walk the plank, or “feed the sharks.” But a storm hits the next boat the audience sees, and the waves play a game of passing the ship from wave to wave. “For safety’s sake,” the narrator explains, “sailors would lash themselves to the mast.” We then see Goofy tied tightly to the mast, which is unfortunately is struck by lightning and sent crashing through the ship.

The most famous sequence of the short is the flag sequence, where we are taught the alphabet through semaphoring and wigwagging. Goofy tries to keep up with the fast pace of the narrator, but unfortunately wigs where he should have wagged, and his trousers fall around his feet. After hiding behind a sail to fix his situation, he comes out and begins to dance the traditional dances of the sea, including a dance of hoisting the sail, rowing, and being a look out, only he isn’t looking out where he is going. We also see Goofy tying knots, with some literal interpretations by the animators: Goofy ties a square knot (the knots make the shape of a square), then a sheepshank (which “baas” when he pulls on it), and as he slips on the next knot, he knocks himself in the jaw, to which the narrator explains is the “slipknot.”

Goofy finds that knots are a little more complicated than he thought

“And now, through trial and error, the sailor has at last, mastered the sea.” We see sailors on a Navy vessel, dreaming of pin-up girls, when the call to attack is sounded. Goofy picks up a missile to fire, only he slips and is sent out of the ship instead of the weapon, and is seen single-handedly destroying the Japanese fleet, as well as the symbol of the Rising Sun, saving the day.

The real gem of this short is the music, with the use of sea tunes to add humor to the situations. For instance, in the Egypt scene, when Goofy is struggling to row by himself, there is a teasing version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat playing in the background. Goofy, when dancing, also keeps in time with a xylophone version of The Sailor’s Hornpipe, which gives a whimsical addition to the already humorous dancing.

Although considered one of the war shorts, the short can stand up well on its own without the association. The pace is quick, but not overwhelmingly so, and gives the audience one laugh after another. This short is a highly enjoyable piece, and one of the best gems of Goofy’s career.

January 27

January 27, 1917 – Screening of the play Snow White starring Marguerite Clark

Poster for film. Image credit: wikipedia

“The world of make-believe has always delighted and absorbed me, ever since I was a little boy.” – Walt Disney

When recalling his early years in many of his interviews, Walt Disney seemed to have a wealth of inspiration as a child, from the fairy tales his grandmother read him, to touring productions of plays, such as Peter Pan, starring Maude Adams. The biggest inspiration for Disney’s choosing Snow White, it has been said, is the film version of the play Snow White, starring silent screen actress Marguerite Clark.

Walt as a young boy

The film, released December 25, 1916, is a silent black and white film, directed by J. Searle Dawley and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Snow White is played by Marguerite Clark, who was well known for her roles as waifs and children; the Queen was played by Dorothy Cumming, with the Prince played by Creighton Hale, and the Witch played by Alice Washburn.

On January 27 and January 28, 1917, a film version of the story was featured in the Kansas City Convention Hall, sponsored by the Kansas City Star. Disney was a newsboy for the paper at that time, and the paper decided to reward their newsboys with a screening in the hall, with 67,000 people eventually showing up. The film was presented on four different screens to oblige the crowd; unfortunately, the projections were hand-cranked, and the projectionists were not in sync. Disney later recalled that he could see on one screen what was going to happen on one of the other screens, but this still left a magical impression on the fifteen-year-old. “My impression of the picture has stayed with me through the years and I know it played a big part in selecting Snow White for my first feature production,” he explained.

A cel and background for the "folly", Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White had always been a favorite story of Disney’s. As he said in a 1953 magazine article in the now-defunct Brief Magazine, Disney’s fascination with fairy tales and make-believe “began when I was a child. Every evening after supper my grandmother would take down from the shelf the well-worn volumes of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen. We would gather around her and listen to the stories that we knew so well that we could repeat them word for word. Of all the characters in the fairy tales, I loved Snow White best. And when I planned my first full length cartoon, she inevitably was the heroine.” These readings and this film of Snow White no doubt influenced Disney to pick the fantastical story as his first film, or his “folly,” as his critics put it.

 

January 26

January 26, 1955 – Davy Crockett Goes to Congress Premieres on ABC.

“Now, again from Davy’s own journal, we’d like to present another story of Davy’s fabulous life. This one is called, ‘Davy Crockett Goes to Congress.’” – Walt Disney.

On the evening of January 26, 1955, the second installment of The Adventures of Davy Crockett premiered on the Disneyland television show on ABC. Shown a little over a month after the first installment, the series continued the Davy Crockett craze that had taken over the youth of America. This episode, entitled Davy Crockett Goes to Congress, was directed by Norman Foster, and written by Tom Blackburn. It stars Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, Buddy Ebsen as Georgie Russel, Basil Ruysdael as Andrew Jackson, William Bakewell as Tobias Norton, and former professional wrestler Mike Mazurki as Bigfoot Mason.

A page from Davy's own journal, as seen in the show, which introduces the story of Davy's political career

The show opens with Davy and his pal Georgie setting out to find a new piece of land to settle. Although they find the perfect spot, Georgie reminds Davy that they need to file a claim for the land. As they approach the settlement, looking for the judge to file their claim, they stumble upon a shooting match. Ever competitive, Davy challenges a man named Bigfoot Mason, wagering $15, the estimated price of the prize cow. They tie with the first round, but with their second shots, Bigfoot believes he won, as it appears that Davy completely missed the target. When it’s discovered that Davy hit the exact spot twice, he makes an unintentional enemy out of Bigfoot. The judge, discovering who Davy is, is thrilled that Davy is in town, as he may be the man that can stop Bigfoot’s schemes. The judge informs Davy and Georgie that Bigfoot and his gang have been running the Indians off of their land and selling it to newcomers who have no idea that the land has been stolen. Davy reminds the judge that there’s a treaty that guarantees the Indians their land, but the judge says that Bigfoot disregards any treaty of that nature. The few people who have tried to stop Bigfoot have disappeared, presumed dead. The judge, knowing Davy’s reputation, asks Davy to be the magistrate and serve a warrant on Bigfoot and his gang. Davy says he’d have to think about it. It doesn’t take long for Davy to decide, as he finds that the Cherokee Charlie Two Shirts has been beaten and run off his land. Davy confronts Bigfoot, and it turns into a no-holds-barred fistfight. Davy emerges victorious, and peace comes over the settlement again as the gang is brought to justice.

During one of the celebrations in town, the judge tells Davy that since the settlement is experiencing a lot of growth, they’ll be getting someone to represent them in Nashville, and the town has picked Davy as the man they want to run for the state legislature. Davy responds, “I’m plumb flutterated by the honor, but, well, I ain’t no politician.” When the judge informs him that his competition is Amos Thorpe – the lawyer who tried to get Bigfoot off, and made a lot of money from the illegal Indian land grabs – Davy considers running. The thing that sets him on his political path, however, is the sad news that his wife, Polly, came down with a fever and died. Consumed by grief and needing a distraction, he decides to run for the spot in the state legislature, proclaiming that he’ll represent the town as honestly as he can. Davy wins by a landslide.

Davy in formal clothes after he's been elected to the state legislature

Davy’s political career has been watched closely by his old Major, Tobias Norton, and General Andrew Jackson. Jackson is preparing to run for the presidency, and both he and Norton want Davy to have a seat in Congress. As Jackson puts it to Davy, “I want men I can trust, men I know are with me, men that can get the rest of the country behind me.” Davy responds, “Well, if I was to do what you asked, and I did get in, I wouldn’t be taking orders from you, General. I’d be taking them from them that elected me.” Thanks to a set of books Georgie has been publishing about their adventures together, Davy is able to win the seat in Congress, and surprises the members by showing up in buckskins. Georgie is there to greet him, and Davy tells him off about having to show up as the “king of the wild frontier, thanks to you.” He introduces himself with a strange speech, but promises that he won’t be one of those politicians who doesn’t do anything more than listen, and the next time he stands before them, he’ll “have something to say worth saying.”

Davy’s career hits a snag when Norton tells Davy he’s to go on a speaking tour, calling it a “great service for the country.” Norton adds that people want to make Davy the next president of the United States. Georgie, ever suspicious of Norton, finds out the truth: Norton sent Davy out of the way so he wouldn’t be able to vote against a bill meant to take away all lands from the Indians. Georgie and Davy race back to Washington, where Davy punches Norton out as the former major tries to stall him, and storms in to Congress, giving the last great speech of his political career.

Davy giving a speech in Congress, dressed in his buckskins

Compared to most of the shows on television at the time that featured cowboys and Indians, the Davy Crockett serial was very well made, especially when it came to the matte paintings of Nashville and Washington, D.C., painted by Peter Ellenshaw. Walt Disney sent crews to picturesque areas in North Carolina to do research of the landscape, and it made the serial stand out against all the other shows. There’s also no denying the charm of Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. The last impassioned speech he gives as Congressman Davy Crockett is one that will be remembered.

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January 25

January 25, 1961 – One Hundred and One Dalmatians Released to Theaters

“One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the most modern Disney animated movie ever made. [It’s]the one that has the most guts, that says, ‘This is art,’ but it’s entertainment at the same time…it’s Picasso coming in to Disney.” – Andreas Deja, Supervising Animator, Walt Disney Studios.

On January 25, 1961, the Disney animated feature One Hundred and One Dalmatians was released to theaters. Based on the 1956 bestselling children’s book by Dodie Smith, the story caught Walt Disney’s attention in 1957, and he soon bought the rights to the story of two Dalmatians who travel great lengths to save their stolen puppies from being turned into fur coats by the evil Cruella De Vil. Costing $4 million to make, the film was an enormous success upon release, and is known as a technical and stylistic innovation for the studio. The feature was directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luke, and Clyde Geronimi, with story by Bill Peet, musical score by George Bruns, and songs by Mel Leven. Voice actors include Rod Taylor as Pongo, Cate Bauer as Perdita, Ben Wright as Roger, Lisa David as Anita, and Betty Lou Gerson as Cruella.

The story opens with narration by Pongo, who introduces his “pet,” Roger, a songwriter, and laments that a bachelor’s life is not as glamorous as one would think. Pongo comes up with an idea to set Roger up with a mate, and after spying many not-so-ideal candidates, he spots a female Dalmatian with her owner, Anita, and tricks Roger into following them into the park. After tying Roger and Anita together quite literally, the two happy couples move into a quiet flat in London, and Perdita lets Pongo know she is pregnant. Everyone in the household is excited about the prospect of puppies, including Anita’s old school mate, Cruella De Vil, whose curiosity about the puppies makes Pongo suspicious. Roger, who has been working on a new melody at this point, teases Anita with lyrics about Cruella, calling her a “vampire bat” and an “inhuman beast,” among other things.

Our first viewing of Cruella De Vil, whose shadow even produces fear

Three weeks later, the puppies are born, and Cruella appears in the doorway, wishing to purchase the puppies. When Roger stands up to her and says she will not be getting a single puppy, Cruella flies into a rage and departs. Unbeknown to the two couples, Cruella hires two thugs, Horace and Jasper, who go into the house when Anita and Roger are taking Perdita and Pongo for a walk, and steal the puppies. Although Anita and Roger call Scotland Yard, Pongo concludes that the humans have failed, and the only solution left is the Twilight Bark.  While Perdita dismisses it as a gossip chain, Pongo convinces her that they have to try, and begins the barking chain while in Regents Park. The chain travels fast, causing all of the dogs in London to bark madly, much to the annoyance of all the humans.

The chain makes its way to the countryside, to an old sheepdog named the Colonel, a horse known as the Captain, and a cat called Sergeant Tibs. The Colonel interprets the message, with Tibs letting the two know that he heard barking two nights before at the abandoned Hell Hall. As he makes his way into the dilapidated mansion, Tibs makes the startling discovery that there are ninety-nine Dalmatian puppies occupying Hell Hall. Although Tibs is chased out of the mansion, he reports his findings to the Colonel, who passes the message back to Pongo. Pongo and Perdita decide that the only option is to go retrieve the puppies themselves, with help along the way by dogs in the chain. “If you lose your way,” the Great Dane reminds them, “contact the barking chain. They’ll be standing by!” The two Dalmatians brave treacherous weather, Cruella’s two bungling henchmen, and Cruella herself to bring all of the puppies back to their home in London.

Pongo and Perdita traveling through the snow in order to save their puppies

When Walt Disney contacted Dodie Smith about turning her book into a film, she responded enthusiastically, “To be quite honest, I always hoped you might – so much so that, when I was writing it, I often found myself visualizing the scenes as they would be in cartoon.” Dodie’s story was a contemporary tale, and the Disney animators took a big leap from the stylizing of the old classics like Cinderella and even Sleeping Beauty that they’d only finished two years earlier. Indeed, the movie still has a contemporary feel, with 20th century style rather than the classic romantic look favored by Disney. Even the characters were different; for example, Cruella De Vil was seen smoking cigarettes, and the puppies were seen watching television. “At this point, we feel it is going to be one of the most interesting things we have done in the cartoon feature field,” Disney wrote in one of his correspondences with Smith. “Dalmatians…has met enthusiastic audience approval. I feel we have a very successful picture.”

The biggest change in the film was the implementation of the Xerox process when it came to cel animation (see January 21st entry for more information). Created by Ub Iwerks, the process had been tested on the short film Goliath II, and created excitement among the animators, as they were seeing their own drawings up on the screen, as they had originally envisioned them. One problem, however, was the presence of what is known as construction lines – the original sketch lines when beginning to draw a character. In many instances in the film, one can tell when Milt Kahl animated a scene, as the construction lines would still be present, as he was very militant about having people come in and clean up his sketches, as sometimes they would disturb the final drawing. However, one main reason that the Xerox process worked so well for this picture is because the Dalmatians were basically black and white, and all that was needed was just a clear outline of the dogs. This also helped when it came to creating the spots of all 101 Dalmatians.

The Xerox prccess was also tested on models of the vehicles, including Cruella's car, Horace and Jasper's car, and the truck back to London

Another interesting aspect of the Xerox process were the vehicles. Iwerks had the idea that if a drawing could be copied straight to a cel, he would be able to use the same process to take a picture of a line that was drawn on the edge of a model. The animators built the cars as models out of cardboard, tracing the edges with a black line. To make the wheels move believably, they suspended the model from a kite string, and pulled it across a piece of fabric placed over wooden dowling rods. The clips of the models were then transferred directly to a Xerox plate, and were painted. In the final print, what you are seeing is the model on the screen, rather than a straight animation of a car. It was one of the many fascinating technological advances of the film.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians also has the distinction of being one of the first Disney animated features that wasn’t really a musical. This is surprising, as Roger is a songwriter by trade, which could have easily led to many musical numbers. There are only three songs in the film: Cruella De Vil, Dalmatian Plantation, and Kanine Krunchies. Mel Leven had written a different piece before before the final version of Cruella De Vil. As told by Disney Historian Russell Schroeder, “Driving to work one day, Mel thought, ‘You know, a blues tempo would really fit that character.’ So he came up with the melody line…he replaced his prior song himself.” Dalmatian Plantation had also been replaced, as story man Bill Peet came to Leven and asked him to have the song have more emphasis on rhyming. Kanine Krunchies is a delight, as it is an exaggerated spoof of the commercials played on television in those days.

Kanine Krunchies was a spoof of commercials in the early '60s, taken to its absolute silliest

Overall, the film is a delightful piece of pop culture, and while considered a contemporary piece in the early ’60s, the film hasn’t grown stale or shown its age. It was a wonderful turning point in the studio stylistically and technically, and would continue to be a success in each of its reissues into theaters.