Friday, January 24, 2014

The blog will be updated again next Friday.
I mentioned earlier this week this exciting documentary which will soon be released in Italy. Can't wait to see it in a few months when it gets released in DVD. In the meantime I had the pleasure of interviewing its director.

Didier Ghez: Please tell us about the genesis of this project. How did it start and why?

Marco Spagnoli: I was asked from Disney Theatrical CEO in Italy Stefano Bethlen to suggest a special project in order to launch 'Saving Mr.Banks' in Italy.
I'm a consultant with many Hollywood Studios in Rome where  I work. I told him: "I usually give disinterested advices. This time I will give an interested one. Why don't we do a documentary about Walt Disney special relationship with Italy and Italians? Why don't we put together all footage regarding Disney's travels to Italy and we blend it with witnesses from the past and testimonials from the present?"
Walt Disney in Italy is like Leonardo DaVinci. Everybody knows him, his work is like a fundament of our society. Every child sees his movies and we learn to read on Topolino that is Mickey Mouse Magazine.
Stefano, and I must underline the cleverness and courage of this executive, decided to bring to his bosses this crazy idea and they all liked it because I promised to bring intellectuals as well as fashion designer and Italian movie Star to talk about WD. And I did it.
We worked very closely with Disney in order to have them with us in every step and they have been wonderful and incredibly supportive and nice.
I was incredibly honored and flattered to have the responsibility of directing a documentary on Walt Disney and Italy.
Even tough I'm too involved, I must say I admire Disney's people who, instead of buying some P&A for supporting 'Saving Mr.Banks' they took the 'risk' of producing a documentary with the same money.
They were brave and smart, and they were 'visionaries' in a strict disneyan sense: starting from Italy Country Manager Daniel Frigo, the already mentioned Stefano Bethlen and all the others.
My documentary is also a homage to all the Disney people in Italy and all over the world who are trying to bring on this incredible legacy.

DG: What were the most exciting things you learned about Disney history while working on this project?

MS: His generosity: his pure curiosity and his love for art and Nature. That's why, I guess, he loved Italy so much. For its simplicity and its immediate connection with his vision.
Nobody could stop his art and the beauty of his work. Not even Mussolini could forbade Topolino Magazine and after almost 50 years from his death, Walt Disney is still alive and well in our culture. Like all great artists.
As somebody states in our documentary 'Walt Disney is considered an Italian: his work belong to this country like pizza and Vespa. Are you saying we are wrong? Think again..."
Walt Disney is an Icon. We bow to his greatness and we respect him as a family friend or member.
Giacomo Scarpelli who's been Academy Award nominated for Il Postino's screenplay told us an incredible anecdote about his personal meeting
with Disney in Hollywood when he was nine.

DG: What are the key surprises Disney History enthusiasts can expect?

MS: I hope that everybody will share the feeling of the love of Italian people for Walt Disney and viceversa. Plus I think they will see altogether some very interesting (and moving...) footage.  I do hope they will like Fellini remembering his meeting with Disney and other stuff like this...
For the first time we'll show Fellini's sketches of him and Disney at Disneyland in HD.
I don't know...maybe this is a pop documentary on the imaginary collective of Italy on Walt Disney...somebody might not discover anything he doesn't know, but my hope is everybody will cry in the end of the documentary, because we show something, maybe unexpected....we'll see.

DG: For people outside of Italy... Are there any plans yet to release the documentary on DVD?

MS: It depends on Disney, of course. Hopefully they might like and do it worldwide. It will probably play on iTunes and we are working on developing a special Italian Edition.

DG: Are you planning to tackle any other Disney-related project after this one?

MS: No. I'm working on developing other documentaries related to Movies or Entertainment, but I don't think that I could add more on Disney, altough I'm puzzled why nobody tackled his artistry and his special friendships with Eisenstein, Dalì and Hitchcock. That would be nice, but it should be done from somebody who would have direct access to documents and papers of all these artists.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

And so, apparently, there is not just one, but two movies in the making about the early days of Walt! Here is a link to the website of the second one.

Paul Perrello, who sent me the heads up, wrote the following article about the project:

["I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."—Walt Disney

One thing that we are certainly not going to lose sight of in the weeks, months and year ahead is Walt Disney.  First up is Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the iconic showman in “Saving Mr. Banks” arriving in theaters this month.  Uncle Walt will continue to get the star treatment in 2014 with word that a major feature film is in the works.

Filming is scheduled to begin on “Walt Before Mickey,” a big screen flick about the life and times of a simple man with a big dream: Walt Disney.  Set in the 1900’s, the film is based on the 2011 book “Walt Before Mickey, Disney’s Early Years 1919-1928” by author and lawyer Tim Susanin.  The book by the suburban Philadelphia writer chronicled Walt’s early years and his rise to success. The foreword to Susanin’s book was written by the late Diane Disney Miller.

The movie version of Walt’s life before the Mouse is being produced by actor and Florida native Armando Gutierrez with filming commencing this month in the Sunshine State. Gutierrez says the movie will offer a “fresh take on a classic American ideal, exploring a part of Walt Disney’s life that little is known about.”

An avid baseball and movie fan Gutierrez, a Harvard graduate, just finished serving as executive producer of “Henry & Me,” a feature film with a star-studded cast of actors, singers and athletes including Richard Gere, Chazz Palminteri, Lucie Arnaz, Danny Aiello, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez and Yogi Berra.

If the Disney movie holds true to Susanin’s book, audiences will get a chance to see a different side to the man who came into our living rooms each week on television to introduce “The Wonderful World of Disney.”  When promoting the release of his book in 2011 Susanin said “if you are looking to understand the creative mind, who was firing on so many cylinders in so many different ways through the 30’s and the 60’s, it is all right there in the first decade.”

For Susanin, a former federal prosecutor, Navy JAG and television legal commentator, his interest in Disney was the result of a family vacation to “the Happiest Place on Earth.”  The author says a 2003 trip to the Walt Disney World Resort with his wife and their three children was an eye-opening experience for him, one that he confesses he never saw coming.  He said at the conclusion of the trip he “couldn’t figure out what hit him,” but left Florida wanting to know more about Disney and as Susanin says “who was this guy who put this together?”

He picked up a biography of Walt and read it on the plane trip home, admitting that he just could not put the book down. He quickly realized that there was very little, detailed information about Walt’s return from World War One and what came next in Disney’s world. “There was no record so I wanted to learn more about that” he recounts.

“I guess it was a good break from the law. It turned out to be a great hobby,” Susanin concedes. “I really liked the guy a lot that I got to know in doing this.” Hopefully that experience will spill over to the movie version of the project.  Other producers signing onto the project include Jeff Rice, who was executive producer of “End Before Watch” and “Lone Survivor” and Christian Vogeler of “Silver Linings Playbook.” The movie will be directed by Ari Taub and could be released by the end of 2014.]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For all the French speakers reading this blog, Histoire du Dessin Anime Français Entre 1936 et 1940 une Politique Curlturelle d'Etat by Sebastien Roffat will most certainly be a must-have. This will be the best history of French cartoons and while the book is not directly related to Disney history, it looks as if it will still contain a few fascinating sections about Disney in France. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This just in from Garry Apgar:

[In light of the recent, often ill-informed negativity about Walt Disney, it might be well to recall what Walt Kelly had to say about his former boss:

    Disney’s demand for creativity in his workers has won him a reputation as one of Hollywood’s major tyrants. “He can’t stand people who don’t produce, people who are stupid,” says one of his old-time workers. According to one of Disney’s famous cartoonist graduates, Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo, Disney’s reputation as a “tyrant” comes from those who “didn’t measure up.”

    “I’d never say he was a tyrant,” says Kelly. “He’s an easy man to work for, if you’re putting out. He is very demanding, there’s no doubt about it. He can be fairly sharp-tempered and tough, if people are stupid or unproductive, and this causes griping among those who don’t live up to his standards. But if you are hard-working, he’s an amazing man to work for. You learn an enormous amount, artistically. He helped to groom me, and I appreciated the experience enormously. I thought of him as a genius.”

    Edith Efron, “Still Attacking His Ancient Enemy—Conformity,” TV Guide, July 17-23, 1965, pp. 12-13]

Monday, January 20, 2014

And now Michael Sporn!

The last three months have really been awful. First Diane in November, then Robin Allan earlier this month and yesterday Michael Sporn (1946 -2014). You can read Michael Barrier's and John Canemaker's homages here.

Rita and I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Sporn at his studio in New York during our last trip to New York a few years ago. I knew Michael as a dedicated animation historian, through his blog, which I read every day and through many exchanges of emails about Disney history. After that trip I also discovered all his animated masterpieces.

This is all happening too fast. I am, once again, shocked and on the verge of crying.

Rest in Peace Michael.

I would love to be able to go to Italy in February to catch this upcoming documentary about Walt Disney and Italy. You can see a trailer at this link. I guess I will have to wait until the DVD release. Oh well...

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Kindle version of Disney's Grand Tour is now available on Amazon. Hurray!

Jack Kinney's autobiography has always been one of my favorite books about life at the Disney Studio. Over the years I have heard rumors that the initial manuscript was much longer that what ended up in the published book. Would anyone have access to the uncut version of the manuscript?

[Update: I just received an email from Bill Cotter who saw the original manuscript and confirmed that all that was publishable was actually published. This is therefore a dead end. Please forget this post.]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

As Dreamers Do is an independent film about the life of young Walt Disney to be released in Spring 2014. The project scares me. I hope that the people behind it have at least read Tim Susanin's book... I hope that my fears are unfounded.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I am really looking forward to the upcoming catalog of the Mary Blair Walt Disney Family Museum exhibition, Magic Color Flair: The World of Mary Blair by John Canemaker.

I asked John: "Is the text brand new or is it very similar to the text which was included in The Art and Flair of Mary Blair? Will we discover many illustrations that we had never seen before?"

To which he answered: "Thank you for asking re the Mary Blair exhibition catalog.
It is a beauty, well designed by the Weldon Owen publishing team, who created the Snow White and Tyrus Wong exhibit catalogs.
"The text, written by me especially for this exhibition and catalog, is new and focuses on the artwork.  There are familiar pieces, but within this comprehensive show of 200 artworks -- from private loaners as well as the WDFM's extensive collection  -- viewers will no doubt find art and photos new to them or rarely seen in person from all areas of Mary Blair's long and varied career."

Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This just in from Jim Korkis:

[Note from P.L. Travers after she finally signed the contract for Walt to make the film.]

Monday, January 13, 2014

Do not miss the second part of my interview with Tim Callaway about the making of Disney's Grand Tour and about my future Disney-related projects.

This just in from Jim Korkis:

[One of my joys when I was younger was visiting the "Walt Disney Story" at Disneyland.  As part of the pre-show exhibit was a letter from silent screen actress Mary Pickford who was a huge Mickey Mouse fan.  I was fascinated.  The letter is currently being displayed at a new D23 exhibit in Chicago.  I thought that there may be other people besides myself that would love to see a copy of that 1930 letter.  A few years later United Artists (run by Pickford) would distribute the Mickey Mouse shorts.  I wish I had thought to include it in The Book of Mouse but I just didn't have room for anything more.]

Friday, January 10, 2014

I just stumbled today upon this rare footage of Walt and Lillian visiting the Swiss Expo64 in Lausanne on June 21, 1964. Not to be missed.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

I will spend a big part of the next few weeks focused on the editing of the recently re-discovered "lost" autobiography of Disney's Golden Age story artist Homer Brightman (center).

As always, I am getting help from quite a few people for this project, including Michael Barrier, Alberto Becattini and Homer's daughters.

With some luck the book should be released by Theme Park Press in March or April this year. I will keep you all updated.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

This just in from Michael Goldberg:

[Brian Sibley just sent me the UK edition of Paul Simpson’s A Brief Guide to Oz.

It will be published in the US in Feb 2014!

I have just started reading it, and it includes information on Walt’s buying the rights to the Oz Books, excluding the Wizard of Oz, and his attempts at producing a film in the 1950s!

I find it fascinating, being an Oz fan, along with my brother Jerry, since we were given a dozen or so of the Oz books in the late 1950s!]

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Do not miss this new interview about Disney's Grand Tour in which I discuss both the content of the book and the research process.

Christian Renaut was kind enough to forward me his homage to the late Robin Allan.

[Robin is gone. For anyone who was lucky to have known him, it means that a humble, passionate, generous man has left us. I may not be one of the people who knew him best, but I had the opportunity to meet his wife and him, and even be invited at his home in England, although we hardly knew each other. I had always wanted to meet the man who had written such a wonderful book as «Disney and Europe.» I have never read anything so clever and informed. I know all the odds he had to overcome to work it out. Some of us have had to get over the same ordeals. But he never gave up and now we are privileged to be able to own this precious book on our shelves.

He was no greedy man, he was not full of himself, he only cared for putting forward what Walt Disney had done , not trying to blow his own horn. He could have made a lot of money selling all the cels he had been given when Disney cels were not worth much then, but he simply gave them to the library of his University as a kind of grateful gesture for the years he had spent there. Who would do that ?

He kept congratulating the others on their achievements and I tried many times to tell him that he was unmatched.

I’m thinking about his wife and family.

Bye Robin, and thanks a lot for being who you were.]
One of the weirdest Disney-related books released in 2013... One I will definitely not pick up...

[After reading a cartoon in which Mickey and Minnie Mouse visit an art museum, Paris-based artist Bertrand Lavier (born 1949) decided to create a series of sculptures and paintings that replicate its contents. This publication presents his playful but critical works.]

Monday, January 06, 2014

My dear friend and fellow Disney historian, Robin Allan, author of the seminal book Disney and Europe, died peacefully last night after a long illness.

Once again, I can't get myself to write a real tribute as this strikes way too close to home.

Rest in Peace, Robin, A million thanks for your kindness and friendship throughout all these years.

Looking forward to the release of this CD on January 15th!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Help Needed in Alabama and in Washington D.C.

Now that Disney's Grand Tour has been released, prompted by reader of the blog John Meder, I have decided to investigate in detail the subject of Disney and Space.

The best documents are stored at the Walt Disney Archives, of course, but also in Huntsville, Alabama (the papers of Werhner Von Braun) and in Washington D.C. (the papers of Willy Ley).

Will I be lucky enough to find volunteers willing to help me dig up those documents in Huntsville and in Washington D.C.? If so, could you please email me at:

[UPDATE: I found a volunteer for Washington D.C., but still need one for Huntsville, Alabama!]

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Is there a better way to start the new year than with some never-seen-before photos of Disney artists, courtesy of Julie Svendsen and John Emerson?

Above: Julius Svendsen and Bill Peet.

Below: Ward Kimball and Julius Svendsen.
Below: Carletta Clemmons, Betty and Ward Kimball, Carol and Julius Svendsen and Larry Clemmons.

Thanks to Joe Campana for identifying everyone.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

 Happy New Year to all of you!