December 17, 1961 – The Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color Episode “Backstage Party” Premieres
“Oh, the party hasn’t started yet. By the way, folks, these are some of the babes from Babes in Toyland.”
On December 17, 1961, the episode “Backstage Party” from the Disney anthology series Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color premiered on television. The episode takes viewers backstage at the Disney Studios, to the celebration of the completion of the upcoming feature film Babes in Toyland, starring Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. The episode was directed by Jack Donohue and Hamilton S. Luske, with teleplay by Larry Clemmons.
The episode begins with the audience at the front gate, receiving directions to Stage Four, where the party is held. Unfortunately, there are many twists and turns on the way there; the audience progresses through a set with lavish homes, an Old West setting, then the set for the Zorro series, and finally finds Stage Four. Walt greets the audience warmly, and brings them inside to see some of the Babes in Toyland sets. He shows a set with an accompanying film scene, and explains how the set was invented to destroy itself. Moving to another set, Walt explains the music of Babes in Toyland, which was based on Victor Herbert’s original operetta from 1903. After a scene with music, a toy soldier directs the audience to where Walt has gone: to the Forest of No Return. Walt then explains how every piece in the forest was made for the film, including all the rocks and trees. A tree lets Walt know it’s time to head to Stage Two for the shooting of the final scene, and Walt brings us along.
On Stage Two, Walt points out the important people, from the director, to a stagehand in the rafters who is about to retire, to the actors waiting to shoot the scene. They then shoot the gypsy scene from the film, with Walt and the child actors watching. When the scene is shot, the party begins. A giant cake is brought to the set, along with other tables of food. Walt explains that the backstage party is very democratic – everyone celebrates the wrap of the film together. Annette Funicello comes over to Walt and offers him a glass of lemonade. Walt introduces Annette as Mary Quite Contrary, and Tommy Sands, who plays her romantic interest, Tom the Piper’s Son. Walt then asks Annette to play the hostess while he goes to do some chores. Annette introduces us to Ray Bolger (best known as the Scarecrow in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz), and asks him to perform the old soft-shoe dance he’s well known for: Ida. Many members of the cast and crew begin to dance in the background, although Bolger claims that he’s the “only one in the world who can perform the dance.” He introduces his character in the film as the villain, Barnaby, and Annette introduces Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon, who play Barnaby’s henchmen, Gonzorgo and Roderigo.
Annette also introduces Ed Wynn, whom she calls “one of the all-time greats of show business.” Wynn entertains the crowd, pulling props from his bag and presenting accompanying jokes. Tommy Kirk (Grumio in the film) presents Wynn with a statue called a “Mousecar,” the Disney version of an Oscar. Annette then introduces Tommy Sands, and many members of the band that are having a jam session on the set. Sands begins to play the bongo drums, much to the amusement of the cast and crew, and sings “Jeepers Creepers.” He introduces Ann Jillian, who serenades the crowd with Henry Calvin. After their song, Annette points out the choreographer, Tommy Mahoney. After a small dance routine, the director Jack Donohue is brought to the middle of the set for a surprise. The whole cast and crew serenade him about the filming experience, then present him with a “jack-in-the-box,” with the model of his own head popping out from the box. The episode ends with one more song about the end of filming.