Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bring 'em Back Alive!

It is likely there are very few people under the age of sixty for whom the name Frank Buck would have any degree of meaning or recognition. A early-20th century adventurer, world traveler, animal collector, author and filmmaker, Buck would become forever associated with his famous mantra,"bring 'em back alive." For our purposes here, Buck would inspire tribute and parody in Disney-produced cartoons of the era.

Buck earned his reputation not so much as a big game hunter but as a big game collector. "Bring 'em back alive" was more than just a catchy motto, it was the basis of Buck's very own business model. His goal was not wall trophies but actual live specimens that he could sell to zoos and circuses. In the early 1930s, he became world famous when his animal collecting adventures were chronicled in both books and films. In an interesting contrast, his second movie, Wild Cargo, shared the screen with Disney's Silly Symphony Funny Little Bunnies at Radio City Music Hall during the spring of 1934.

Disney cartoon makers translated Buck and his adventures via gag and parody into the 1946 Donald Duck-Goofy short Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive. Donald assumes the Frank Buck persona as he heads deep into exotic jungles in search of a "wild man" that can be returned to the mainland for eventual circus sideshow display. The Goof plays the distinctly crazy yet still very clever quarry. The ensuing contest would be recycled shortly thereafter in 1947 when Donald would similarly chase the Aracuan Bird in Clown of the Jungle. Those cartoons, along with Goofy's own 1945 short African Diary, made spoof of Hollywood's then very popular jungle movies and serials, a genre that was inspired in part by Buck's early productions.

Buck was very popular with young people who were thrilled by his globe trotting exploits. He was especially proud of the elementary school reader he wrote entitled On Jungle Trails. Evidence of this juvenile-based popularity can be found in the treehouse hideout of Huey, Dewey and Louie in the 1949 Donald Duck cartoon Donald's Happy Birthday. Pinned on the wall is a poster emblazoned with a tiger and proudly advertising the Frank Duck Circus, a clever aside to both Buck and the earlier Frank Duck cartoon. Buck was the proprietor of animal attractions at both 1934 and 1939 World's Fairs, and he also established a combination base camp and zoo on Long Island in the mid 1930s that was famous for its Monkey Mountain habitat. Buck worked briefly for Ringling Brother and Barnum and Bailey in the late 1930s. Just prior to his death in 1950, he appeared as himself in the Abbott and Costello comedy Africa Screams.

Cartoon Images © Walt Disney Company

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From the Mailroom - Too Many Anniversaries?

From the Mailroom this week, reader Marci Cameron made this inquiry regarding Disney's efforts in commemorating character anniversaries:

Mickey Mouse's 80th birthday is coming up this November 18th (the release of "Steamboat Willie") and it's got me curious. You see, Disney had a big celebration for him on his 60th, but they didn't make too big a deal for his 75th and most recently from what I've seen on the 'net, they didn't seem to care about Goofy's 75th birthday either. So, I was wondering, is Disney planning something big for Mickey's 80th birthday or don't they seem to care about characters' birthdays anymore?

Thanks for writing, Marci. Let's face it, Disney fans and enthusiasts love to celebrate. And they tend to be very disappointed when it appears that a notable birthday or anniversary will go unheralded. Last year's response by fans to an initial lack of recognition for EPCOT's 25th anniversary certainly bears that observation out. But while fans tend to perceive these celebrations as sincere and necessary commemorations of benchmarks in Disney history, from a company standpoint they have always been largely seen as the basis for marketing campaigns and consumer products initiatives. In that context, especially following Disneyland's recent Happiest Celebration on Earth, there are many individuals within Disney who feel that they may be overplaying the birthday/anniversary dynamic.

In that regard, most recent initiatives have been generally low key and typically limited to consumer products marketed to Disneyana collectors. Goofy's 75th Anniversary last year was marked by the release of a commemorative pin, a piece in the very high end Walt Disney Classic Collection of figurines, an art print by artist Randy Noble and little else.

In 2003, the focal point of the company's efforts in celebrating Mickey 75th Birthday was the Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations event. The Walt Disney Company commissioned 75 notable individuals, among them celebrities, athletes, artists and corporate executives, to each custom design their very own Mickey Mouse statue. The statues were unveiled at Walt Disney World on November 18, 2003, Mickey's 75th birthday. The statues were subsequently taken on a cross-country tour lasting two years before ultimately being auctioned at Sotheby's in November of 2005, with proceeds going to charities selected by the individual designers.

The vast majority of 75th merchandise was directed at Disneyana collectors and took the form of limited edition pins, watches and figurines. The most mainstream item produced was likely the Mickey Mouse Monopoly game that featured a 75 Years brand logo. A few other products bore that same logo including playing cards and a trading cards set.

While the efforts put forth to celebrate Mickey's 75th were by no means minor, they paled in comparison to what transpired fifteen years earlier in 1988. The celebrations surrounding Mickey's 60th Birthday encompassed a marketing and promotional bonanza that was widespread and involved nearly every division of the Walt Disney Company. The company's consumer products division mounted a campaign that was comparable to efforts given to contemporary product juggernauts such as High School Musical and Hannah Montana. Mouse-related merchandise was displayed prominently in mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us, all featuring 60th Birthday branding. Anniversary specials aired on both network and cable channels, and year-long celebrations took place at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Most significant was the construction of Mickey's Birthdayland at Florida's Magic Kingdom, a new area that was centered completely around the anniversary celebration.

Mickey and Donald Duck both enjoyed 50th birthday commemorations in 1978 and 1984 respectively, but neither were of the magnitude of the 1988 festivities. One of the more memorable elements of Donald's 1984 birthday activities was the Walt Disney World parade that featured Donald, accompanied by fifty live ducks in party hats, all waddling down Main Street U.S.A. When Donald celebrated his 60th birthday in 1994, the only evidence of commemoration I was able to personally find was a number of products at the Disney Store, all featuring an exclusive 60 Years brand logo.

Character-based anniversary celebrations in fact stretch back all the way to the very early years of Mickey Mouse, when theater owners would hold birthday parties to draw young children to special weekend matinée showings.

As to Mickey's 80th Birthday that arrives this November 18th? So far we have seen a PEZ candy product featuring an 80 Years brand, but little else. Disney Parks executives have voiced an inclination to steer clear of anniversary-based marketing promotions, so any theme park related celebrations will likely range from low key to non-existent. In the dynamic of anniversary commemorations, eighty doesn't seem to have the glamor of a fifty, sixty or seventy-five mark. We may very well have to wait until Mickey's 2028 centennial for the next truly extensive and far reaching birthday celebration.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snapshot! - Villains in Deco

The Beverly Sunset Sweet Spells shop in Disney's Hollywood Studios is an odd but effective and sometimes stunning mixture of Gothic and Art Deco styles that extends to the nearby Villains in Vogue location as well. Often missed due to the store's attractive and tempting assortment of candy and pastries is a series of high perched reliefs that serve as a hall of fame of Disney villains.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Styling That Never Grows Old!

What do the characters from Disney's animated feature Peter Pan have to do with televisions and refrigerators?

Nothing, really. But that didn't prevent Walt Disney and appliance manufacturer Admiral from engaging in an extensive campaign of advertising cross-promotion during the movie's original release during the late winter and early spring of 1953. Even rather secondary characters such as lost boy Foxy and Princess Tiger Lily were prominently featured in print advertising, as well as in-store promotional displays. While Peter's endorsement of appliances would prove short-lived, his legacy in peanut butter would be farther reaching, and at least to this day, everlasting.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Celebrating Disney's First Academy Awards

My good friend and fellow Disney blogger David Lesjak has just posted an excellent and very extensive article at Vintage Disney Collectibles on the 1932 Academy Awards ceremony where Walt Disney received his very first awards. One especially notable part of the evenings festivities was the presentation of the Disney Studios-produced Parade of the Award Nominees, a short cartoon that featured Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters leading a parade of animated incarnations of that years acting nominees. Disney was presented with two awards that year; one honoring the creation of Mickey Mouse; the other recognizing the achievement of Flowers and Trees, the first Technicolor Silly Symphony.

David's post is a wonderful snapshot in time from Hollywood's golden age and a real treat for Disney historians and enthusiasts alike. Don't miss it!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Roadside Disney: Cartoon Crazy and Studios Programmatic

"At the beginning of the automobile age, in that most car crazy of places, Southern California, roadways were dotted with eye-catching beacons for travelers. Diners shaped like chili bowls, pigs, and coffee pots; hotels and theaters in Aztec and Mayan motifs; and all matter of oddly shaped buildings were part of the western architectural landscape--a trend that spread across the country."

From the book California Crazy and Beyond by Jim Heimann

Programmatic architecture, more commonly referred to as "California Crazy," was a visual mainstay along the roads and highways of southern California for much of the early half of the 20th century. It was not surprising then when Disney cartoon makers drew inspiration from programmatic design when creating the 1949 Donald Duck short All in a Nutshell.

In the cartoon, Donald Duck is the proprietor of a roadside stand called Don's Nut Butter. Shaped like a giant walnut, the stand is not just simply a background element--it is the gag that propels the story. Coveting this huge "nut," Chip and Dale set about attempting to crack its shell. When they breech an opening near the top, they discover its non-organic nature, but then decide to instead dedicate their efforts to pirating off as much of the duck's nut butter as they can possibly manage.

Don's giant walnut was inspired by numerous roadside establishments that were typically produce stands or counter service cafes. Very similar in appearance and style to the Nut Butter stand was the Jumbo Lemon, one of a chain of drink stands with locations throughout California. Other notable examples included the Chili Bowl, the Mushroom Cafe and the Tamale, all small diners that sprang up in southern California during the 1920s and 1930s.

Two years prior to All in a Nutshell, Disney animators made reference to one of the most famous examples of programmatic architecture, in the 1947 feature film Fun and Fancy Free. At the end of film, Willie the Giant is seen walking through the Hollywood landscape, searching for a "teensy-weensy little mouse." He spies the famous bowler hat architecture of the Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant, picks it up and places it on his head. This very funny and then quite topical gag poked fun at the original Hollywood Brown Derby on Wilshire Avenue and its over the top California Crazy design.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, it could be said that it was in many ways an extension of California Crazy, taken to a much more sophisticated level of design and execution. But the Walt Disney Company would in fact revisit programmatic architecture in the style's more historic context when, in 1989, the company recreated an idealistic golden age of Hollywood as part of the theming for Disney-MGM Studios. Included in the park's initial design were two very distinct homages to 1930s era California Crazy motifs. Both were located into the Echo Lake area of park; both were counter service food establishments (as were the vast majority of vintage-era programmatic buildings), and they both bore thematic connections to early Hollywood productions.

Dinosaur Gertie's Ice Cream of Extinction paid homage to the star of Windsor McKay's landmark animated cartoon from 1914. Dinosaurs have long been a popular subject for novelty architects and Gertie is similar in design and scale to other roadside dinosaur structures. Other creature-inspired establishments ran the gamut from dogs and chickens to pigs and fish.

Min and Bill's Dockside Diner was inspired by the 1930 film Min and Bill starring Wallace Berry and Marie Dressler. Imagineers drew on the movie's waterfront setting to create the counter service venue that takes the form of a vintage tramp steamer. Nautical design was an especially popular theme of California Crazy, distinguished typically by land-bound ships, boats and even inspired interpretations of Noah's Ark.

In an interesting, and somewhat ironic twist, Imagineers did not reproduce the original bowler hat design when they recreated the Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant at the Studios park. Instead they based the signature eatery's design on the Hollywood Brown Derby location that was built near the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. But Imagineers did recreate the storefront facade of the Darkroom, a well known Hollywood retail store, for the park's own camera shop on Hollywood Boulevard. And it certainly could be argued that the oft-debated giant Sorcerer's Hat that has become the icon of the Studios is but another shining example of programmatic architecture.

One final interesting Disney-California Crazy connection to make note of: comics writer-illustrator Dave Stevens incorporated one of the more famous programmatic structures, the Bulldog Cafe, into his graphic novel The Rocketeer. Disney recreated the cafe when it adapted the work into a film in 1991, and that particular set piece resided for a number of years on the back lot at Disney-MGM Studios. The original Bulldog Cafe dated back to the 1920s and was located on West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. A very similar building, called the Pup Cafe, was a popular hot dog stand and served the citizens of Venice, California during the early 1930s.

Screenshots © Walt Disney Company

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Adventurers Almanac: Execs Award Excal

Despite its exotic nature, the Adventurer's Club remains firmly rooted in the geography of central Florida. In this entry from Volume No. 55, Issue No. 9, a somewhat mundane map of the Orlando area becomes, albeit briefly, a part of the club's permanent collection.

Execs Award Excal

We are proud to announce that the title of 'Adventurers Excalibur" has been awarded by the Executive Committee to Mary-Lou and Richard Reed in honor of their donation to the Club's Permanent Collection. Lord and Lady Reed claim the aeronautical chart which they presented to the Club was responsible for navigating them to safety, in their makeshift airplane, after they had been shipwrecked off the coast of Sumatra. The amazing aspect of this accomplishment is that this map shows only the Orlando Metropolitan area. "We just imagined what the rest of the world looked like and kept heading east!" said the plucky couple. Before their splendid gift (and winner of our last "New Artifact Contest") could be ceremonially displayed, Otis T. Wren, chairman of the Framing Committee, sadly reported that the fragile chart had mysteriously disintegrated.

The Almanac, however, has received an emergency cable from fellow member Derwin "Digger" Quimby, deep in the jungles of the Yucatan, that sheds new light on this mystery. "Digger" contacted us in order to question the significance of the word Kissimmee in the southwest corner of a map that Prof. Wren had sold him. The good Professor had claimed it was a diagram of the interior of the Great Pyramid of Chich'en Itz'a. "Digger" also wanted to know where the tombs of the high priests were in relation to "Winter Park"

Regardless of the fate of the chart, many thanks to the Reeds for their gracious gift and the best of luck to you, too, Digger, old boy, wherever you are. And remember to take your medication.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Disney's Hollywood: The Pan-Pacific Auditorium

I must admit I have a very strong sentimental attachment to the moniker Disney-MGM Studios. But I'm really warming up quickly to its new Hollywood identification.

Let's face it, there is a lot more Hollywood than MGM in the Disney Studios at Walt Disney World. Much of the theming of the resorts third gate is embodied in idealized architecture that is rooted in the southern California environment from which Disney entertainment emerged. When Walt Disney created a letterhead in 1923 that listed his uncle Robert Disney's Hollywood address at 4406 Kingswell Avenue, it was the genesis of a geographical dynamic that would inspire the elaborate design of a central Florida theme park nearly sixty-five years later.

As part of a new ongoing series here at 2719 Hyperion, we are going to show you the true Hollywood behind Disney's Hollywood Studios. And we are going to begin this parkeological expedition at the recently rechristened front entrance to the park.

The entrance area to Disney's Hollywood Studios and the architecture surrounding the ticket kiosks were inspired by the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, an arena-entertainment venue that served the Los Angeles area for close to forty years. The Studio's entrance facade recreates that building's own front entrance and its distinctive four towers. The towers reflected a sleek, aircraft-inspired look, and each was crowned with a high-reaching flagpole and corresponding flag or pennant. It opened on May 18, 1935 and was the first major commission for architecture partners Walter Wurdeman, Charles F. Plummer and Welton Becket. Three decades later, Becket would partner with United States Steel and Disney in creating the design for the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World.

The Pan-Pacific was one of the more famous examples of Steamline Moderne design, an extension of Art Deco that became prominent during the mid-1930s. The style proved especially popular for much of the architecture created for the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. The style's influence could be seen in the art direction of films such as Lost Horizon and The Wizard of Oz, and also in the designs of consumers products including appliances, automobiles and trailers.

Up until the opening of the Los Angeles Convention Center in 1972, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was the primary indoor venue for the city and its surrounding population. The interior itself encompassed 100,000 square feet and could seat close to 6,000 individuals. It played host to trade and consumer shows, circuses, concerts, ice shows and political functions, and was also a home for sporting events including basketball, hockey, tennis and wrestling. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley were among the many notable figures that appeared there.

Following its closing in 1972, the building sat vacant and neglected. It gained a temporary degree of notoriety in 1980 when it was featured in the film Xanadu, but quickly faded again from public notice shortly thereafter. Its deterioration continued nearly unchecked for almost another decade. Then on May 25, 1989, just three weeks after the debut of Disney-MGM Studios and its Pan-Pacific-inspired entrance, the once famous southern California landmark was destroyed in a spectacular fire. The location has since become the Pan-Pacific Park, administered by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The architecture of the facilities recreation center recreates in part the auditorium's entrance design, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium entrance design will be recreated again in the near future at Disney's California Adventure. The look of its front entrance area will soon emulate that of Disney's Hollywood Studios, in a re-imagining that is intended to evoke the setting of southern California in the 1920s and 1930s.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snapshot! - Say Cheese

Minnie keeps her Westingmouse Refrigerator well stocked with all the necessary staples--Cheese Relish, Cheese-Chip Ice Cream, and my favorite, Golly Cheese Whiz. Minnie's House in Mickey's Toontown Fair is dense with details and the kitchen area is overflowing with sight gags and visuals puns.

The Catalina Eddy behind Catalina Eddie's

To follow up on the recent post concerning the origins of the name Catalina Eddie's, Werner Weiss provided some additional enlightenment:

I have a comment about the origin of the name Catalina Eddie's at the Studios park, which was the subject of your February 17 blog entry. Catalina Eddie's is a play on the Southern California weather condition known as the Catalina Eddy — at least that's what I've always assumed. I have to believe that the WDI folks in Glendale had the Catalina Eddy in mind when they coined Catalina Eddie's as one of the food service counters of the Sunset Ranch Market.

When I grew up in Southern California, TV weathercasters would often describe how a Catalina Eddy condition would bring cooling winds to the Los Angeles basin. The Pacific Ocean off the Los Angeles basin is the Catalina Channel because of Catalina Island. An eddy is usually defined as a circular movement of water, counter to a main current. But I believe the Catalina Eddy is a movement of air, not water. I assume that Southern California TV weathercasters still talk about the Catalina Eddy. With the ridiculously perfect summer weather in the Los Angeles area, they don't have much else to talk about.

Thanks, Werner!

Werner is one of the true pioneers of the Disney online community. If you haven't checked out his amazing and wonderful Yesterland, what are you waiting for?

Monday, February 18, 2008

What a Character! - The Aracuan Bird

A 1940s era Disney cartoon star that breaks the fourth wall and circumnavigates the borders of the movie screen, engaging in inspired insanity that ranges from mischievous pranks to over-the-top attempts at suicide.

Wow . . . . what a character!

Born out of the 1945 animated feature The Three Caballeros, the Aracuan is that rare bird that at times was more akin to his Warner Brothers or Walter Lantz counterparts than to his slightly more benign Disney cartoon costars. His antics bears strong associations with avian cartoon cousins Daffy Duck and Woody Woodpecker, but with a South of the Border sensibility owing to his origins in the Disney Latin American film canon.

The Aracuan Bird debuted in the Rare Birds segment of The Three Caballeros, memorably emerging from a home movie screen and crawling up the projector beam to shake hands with a befuddled Donald Duck. He reappears later in the film to derail the train taking Donald and Jose Carioca to Baia. As the train travels through a stunning chalk drawing-inspired landscape, the Aracuan cleverly uses his own piece of chalk to draw new rails that split apart the engine, its cars and the caboose.

Studio veteran and Disney Legend Eric Larson created and animated the Aracuan Bird for The Three Caballeros. Despite the character's relatively brief appearances, Larson infused the Aracuan with a frantic, mischievous personality, yet combined it with an innocent, endearing nature that ultimately made him both entertaining and very memorable. In his book Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation, author John Canemaker observed:

"Larson animated the the mad bird like a mechanical doll, puttering along, turning an occasional cartwheel as it goes on its giddy way. The Aracuan is a spirit of the film medium itself and its elements . . . he toys with the substance of film itself and its mechanics, literally running off the film frames as they race by--thus affecting the audience's perception of what they are watching."

So great was the character's impact that he was brought back in two subsequent productions. He returned first in the 1947 Donald Duck cartoon Clown of the Jungle, and appeared again with Donald and Jose Caricoa in the Blame It On the Samba segment of 1948 package film Melody Time. He would also bear a distinct physical resemblance to another Larson-created character: Sasha, the little bird with a similar red tuft of hair from the Peter and the Wolf segment of Make Mine Music.

Clown of the Jungle extended the premise first visited in The Three Caballeros, as the Aracuan disrupts another South American birdwatching vignette. But the cartoon quickly spins away from the prior film's generally benign trappings into a fast paced outing very reminiscent of earlier Elmer Fudd-Daffy Duck confrontations. Director Jack Hannah recreated the bird's trademark song and the here-there-and-everywhere popping in and out of frame innovated by Larson. But suddenly, and hilariously, the short exhibits somewhat darker humor. Responding to Donald's rebuff, the Aracuan becomes the centerpiece of a suicide gag where the bird engages in the plausible impossible act of hanging himself from his own arm. The gags continue fast and furious, culminating in an uber-violent machine gun attack by Donald that the Aracuan naturally, and quite casually dodges. The escape results in Donald losing hold of his own sanity, and the cartoon ends with him mimicking the Aracuan's now very familiar song and dance.

While his crazy nature remains intact in Melody Time, the Aracuan's malicious mischievousness is replaced with the more noble purpose of cheering up forlorn friends Donald and Jose. As Disney character scholar John Grant notes, ". . . they are in this feature really less like characters and more like 'experiencing objects,' battered around by the whims of the turbulent, pulsing music." The sequence is clearly a return to the style and presentation of The Three Caballeros, but this time making the Aracuan Bird the catalyst for the eye-popping visuals and stunning mixes of live action and animation. The climactic exploding organ sequence featuring Ethel Smith remains one of the most amazing moments in a Disney film, and it was the Aracuan Bird who planted the dynamite stick under the foot pedal.

While Melody Time would be the Aracuan's last big screen appearance, he would return in a 2002 episode of the television show "House of Mouse." But more significantly, like his Samba costar Jose Carioca, the Aracuan would go on to enjoy a successful incarnation in comic books produced in Brazil. Beginning in the mid-1980s, he would be a featured character in a series entitled Os Adolescentes (translated Disney Teens).

Images © Walt Disney Company

Sunday, February 17, 2008

From the Mailroom - Catalina Eddie's and the Sunset Market Ranch

Our virtual Mailroom here at 2719 Hyperion recently received this inquiry from a reader:

In (then) MGM / (now) Hollywood Studios there is a building directly outside of Rock N Rollercoaster grouped with all of the counter services. It is called Catalina Eddies (I belive they serve pizza or something). Is this in reference to Eddie Valiant (of Roger Rabbit) always making a point of returning to Catalina with Delores? I have asked many of people but can never seem to get an answer. I'm pretty sure that is the origin of this counter service but I simply just need some vindication and figured that you could get me some answers. Thanks and keep up the good work. I really love the site.


Thanks for writing, Ian. Your question gives me the opportunity to briefly showcase an area of Disney's Hollywood Studios that is often overlooked in regard to its architectural inspiration and historical references.

Catalina Eddie's is part of the Sunset Market Ranch that is located along the left side of Sunset Boulevard as you approach the Hollywood Tower Hotel. The area consists of counter service food venues that, in addition to Catalina Eddie's, includes Rosie's All American Cafe, Anaheim Produce, Hollywood Scoops and the Toluca Legs Turkey Company.

The Sunset Market Ranch was inspired by the original Farmers Market located at the intersection of 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles. During the summer of 1934, a group of farmers set up an informal market at that location. The idea for the market originated with two individuals, Roger Dahlhjelm, a businessman, and Fred Beck, an advertising copywriter. The two asked the owners of the former Gilmore dairy farm at 3rd and Fairfax if local farmers could park trucks on the land as a means of selling their fresh produce. A complex of stalls and buildings quickly grew out of the formerly vacant area. The market's now iconic clock tower was built in 1941 and remains a part of the complex to this day. The buzz-phrase "Meet me at 3rd and Fairfax" has become ingrained in southern California popular culture. One interesting notation on the Market's web site states:

"When Walt Disney was preparing his early designs for a place called Disneyland, he did some of his work while dining on one of the Farmers Market patios. Elements of the Market’s unique design - it is said - are incorporated into his original drawings."

The Sunset Market Ranch at Disney's Hollywood Studios is distinctly themed to World War II-era southern California. Anaheim Produce alludes to a pre-Disneyland time frame when Anaheim consisted mostly of farmland, primarily orange groves. Rosie's All American Cafe pays homage to the iconic character of Rosie the Riveter, who symbolically represented the country's women who became the nation's blue collar workforce during the war years. A Victory Garden can be found adjacent to Rosie's Cafe.

Which brings us back to Catalina Eddie's. Was the name of this restaurant inspired by the characters from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Seeing that there is no documentation that can be found that validates this theory, I would have to say that in the end it appears that the name Catalina Eddie's is simply an interesting coincidence. But to be sure, I put the question to Disney historian and Imagineering expert Jeff Kurtti, author of numerous books about Disney theme parks, including Since the World Began: Walt Disney World The First 25 Years and the upcoming Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park.

Jeff responded, agreeing that there likely was not a Catalina Eddie's-Who Framed Roger Rabbit connection. He explains:

I think the reference to Catalina is self-evident: a nostalgic, romantic island, closely linked geographically and culturally with old Los Angeles. The idea of a "beach shack" probably relates most closely to the culture that began to evolve in the early 20th century around the lifestyle of beach living and surfing. It grew even stronger after the war, when returning GIs brought back the ideas and paraphernalia of the South Pacific islands.

Catalina Eddie's is no doubt an evocation of the California "beach bum," of which Wikipedia says, "The members of this subculture are typically ocean and beach-going people who enjoy spending spare time sitting or relaxing on a beach. As such, the life of a beach bum is usually one of leisure. This holds true if the particular beach bum is a local, a retiree, a vacationer, or just someone who enjoys life by the ocean."

It appears Ian, that I can't give you the vindication you were seeking. But while there may be no direct Disney connection to Catalina Eddie's, its design and execution still reflect the Imagineers' passion for detail and authenticity to the theme they are presenting.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Freeze Frame! - The Edwin Parks Trophy

In the 1949 Goofy cartoon Tennis Racquet, the victor is awarded the Edwin Parks Trophy. But just who is Edwin Parks? The answer is not rooted in the sport of tennis, but in the ever mischievous antics of Disney Studio staffers.

Ed Parks was an animation veteran who began his career at the Hyperion Avenue studio in the 1930s. According to Parks' son Gary, his father " . . . attended Yale University Art School, with the idea of being a mural painter. During this time, he answered an ad posted on a bulletin board, 'Disney Needs Artists.' This soon led to his moving to California and a job at Disney, at the original Hyperion studio location, and then at the "new" (present) studio in Burbank. As did many animators, he began as an in-betweener, then as an assistant, and spent many years as an effects animator before moving into character animation on both features and many short subjects."

In 1961, Parks left Disney to join Hanna Barbera, where he stayed until his retirement in 1978. He passed away in 1999.

David Lesjak adds:

My research indicates Ed Parks started at the Studio as an Effects Animator on March 7, 1938 and by 1941 had transferred into the Publicity Art Department. He and a couple of other artists helped Hank Porter create insignia designs when Porter was overwhelmed with requests.

Studio employment records indicate Parks left on September 3, 1942 for military service and upon his return on October 30, 1945, he was assigned to work in the Animation Department.

Parks left the Studio in 1961. His only on-screen credit that I've been able to locate was as an Effects Animator on 101 Dalmations.

Image © Walt Disney Company

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lost Imagineering: The EPCOT Transportation Lobby

Long before there was EPCOT Center, there was EPCOT--the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. Conceptual designs for EPCOT were unveiled at a press conference in February, 1967, shortly after Walt Disney's death the previous December. Press materials provided this description of the city's dynamic Transportation Lobby:

This cutaway rendering shows how differing modes of transportation will be channeled into non-conflicting traffic flows below the pedestrian level of the city. The Transportation Lobby (top half of photo) will be located at the very heart of EPCOT, directly beneath the 30-story theme hotel. This will be the central arrival-departure for all passengers using the monorail or the newly-designed "WEDway People Mover."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wilson's Cave Inn

Tucked away in a remote corner of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is an often overlooked set piece inspired by both American history and Disney entertainment. Along the edge of Tom Sawyer Island and visible only from the deck of the Liberty Square Riverboat is Wilson's Cave Inn, a combination tavern, gambling den and underground hideout for river pirates and other nefarious types.

Imagineers based Wilson's Cave Inn on a place called Cave-In-Rock that is situated on the shores of the Ohio River in southern Illinois. An imposing 55 foot wide limestone cave, it was first discovered by European explorers in the late 1720s. Following the Revolutionary War, it became a haven for criminals and pirates who preyed on travelers along the Ohio River. One individual gained especial notoriety for occupying the cave in the last few years of the eighteenth century. Jim Wilson stocked the cave with provisions and then opened up a business called Wilson's Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment. He would lure unsuspecting travelers to the cave with promises of food, shelter and gambling. Members of his gang would then typically kill the travelers and plunder the cargos of their riverboats. Samuel Mason, a former officer in the Revolutionary Army, engaged in similar criminal enterprises following Wilson's occupancy. He took over the tavern and changed its name to Cave-In-Rock. Disney Imagineers blended the two hideout names into Wilson's Cave Inn for their theme park incarnation.
The activities of those river outlaws inspired the 1955 episode of the Disneyland television program Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. The writers incorporated the historical figures of Sam Mason and the Harpe brothers into the storyline. The Harpes were notorious serial killers who had used Cave-In-Rock as a base of operations subsequent to the Mason gang. It's interesting to note that Crockett would have still been a teenager when Mason and the Harpes were plundering and killing along the Ohio River. Scenes from the show were filmed at the Cave-In-Rock location, which had become part of a 200 acre Illinois state park. Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen can be seen approaching the entrance to cave just prior to the episode's climactic battle. In the early 1960s, Hollywood filmmakers used the site again for scenes for the movie How the West Was Won.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

From the Mailroom: The Star of the Acorn Club

We are going to start visiting the Mailroom here at 2719 Hyperion on a regular basis. I've been wanting to showcase reader feedback and questions for sometime, so hopefully this will be the start of an ongoing feature.

First up, I piqued the curiosity of David Caffey when he was listening to a recent podcast:

Jeff – You just can’t toss out a name Clarice Chipmunk on WDW Radio without providing a little more info on 2719 – I’m now going acorns trying to find out more about her and see a picture. Hows about a short blog entry about this star of the Acorn Club (that’s all I could really find). Thanks for all you do!

Thanks for writing, David. Clarice, sadly, was a victim of the very era she was born into.

A new generation of characters began to emerge in Disney cartoons in 1950s. Humphrey Bear and Ranger Woodlore grew out of the Donald Duck shorts into adventures of their own, specifically In the Bag and Hooked Bear, both released in 1956. Chip 'n' Dale had also spun off into cartoons of their own, and it was in one of those efforts, Two Chips and a Miss from 1952, where we encounter the nightclub vamping Clarice in her one and only appearance. But unfortunately for all these then rising toon stars, within a few years, production of cartoon shorts would all but dissolve at Disney. Clarice was subsequently never brought back for a return engagement.

Two Chips and a Miss was an unusual outing for Chip and Dale. It was a rare instance where the two were rivals instead of partners. And for all her cuteness, Clarice was no innocent. She deliberately plays the boys against each other with competing invitations to meet her at the Acorn Club, and clearly takes pleasure when their rivalry later comes to blows. There can be little doubt that director Jack Hannah was taking inspiration from Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood series of shorts at MGM. In fact, one very funny gag has the pair's heads morphing into wolf features that, in context to the setting, bears a direct connection to Avery's "Wolfie" character from the Red shorts.

Despite her one night stand in cartoon history, Clarice lives anew, albeit just not in animated form. Her entertainment resume has recently earned her a spot as a walk around character at Disney's Hollywood Studios. She even sports her original Acorn Club costume.

Screenshots © Walt Disney Company

Monday, February 11, 2008

Snapshot! - Timon? Pumbaa?

This clever (if not a bit macabre) homage to two of the stars of The Lion King can be found on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Disney's Animal Kingdom. The display is located in the viewing area for a habitat of meerkats of the non-animated variety. Real life warthogs can be viewed on the nearby Kilimanjaro Safari attraction.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Roadside Disney: Looking for a Good Night's Sleep

One of the themes I revisit often here at 2719 Hyperion is the traces of popular culture that can be found in Disney entertainment, especially in productions from the Studio's first three decades. The emerging dominance of automobile transportation during those decades gave birth to a roadside culture that permeated the American landscape until diminishing with the advent of Interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s. Disney artists and animators would often inject their work with roadside inspirations, and its easy to understand why. Based out of southern California, they existed at a focal point of roadside Americana. The mother road, the legendary Route 66, cut a path directly through Hollywood.

Overnight lodgings became necessities for weary automobile travelers. As author John Margolies notes in his book Home Away From Home: Motels in America, "The roadside hostelries that evolved were not only creative and efficient institutions, but they became part of the ethos of American mobility and popular culture. The setting of a motel room or a tourist cabin has provided moments in movies and literature."

The 1947 Donald Duck short Wide Open Spaces is the first time that a Disney character seeks out a motel for a good night's sleep. The Hold-Up Motel is no more than an old house distinguished by its clever gun motif sign, but it evokes an archetype setting made especially famous by Hollywood in countless crime noir films of that time period. Background artist Howard Dunn did a terrific job of capturing that darker, moodier style, even though the tone of the short was generally light and comical. Seedier roadside venues were clearly the inspiration for the Hold-Up Motel and those places were often distinguished as criminal hideaways or as author Margolies remarks," . . . venues of choice for those with less than honorable intentions." Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover attacked the tourist camp industry when he wrote an expose called "Camps of Crime" for The American Magazine in 1940. Fortunately, the only supposed crime Donald encounters at the Hold-Up Hotel is the proprietor charging $16 for "the cot on the porch."

When Goofy took Two Weeks Vacation in 1952, his adventures were the cartoon equivalent of a Route 66 road trip in everything but highway name. At the beginning of the short, a desk bound Goof dreams of golfing, boating, hunting and fishing, but his reality instead becomes roadside escapades involving crooked mechanics, reckless trailer jockeys and the quest for a neon sign proclaiming VACANCY. These vignettes and gags were very much rooted in American roadside culture. Motor courts and tourist cabins were still in their heyday at the time of Two Weeks Vacation, and that is reflected in the backgrounds created by Art Riley.

In his search for lodging, Goofy encounters one of the common marketing mantras of the open road: LAST CHANCE. When countless miles often separated small towns and their roadside establishments, the term LAST CHANCE was frequently used when advertising or identifying restaurants, service stations and motels. To his horror, the Goof discovers he has passed the LAST CHANCE MOTEL and that the NEXT CHANCE MOTEL is still some 500 miles distant. He ultimately arrives at an unnamed motel claiming vacancy. Riley clearly drew inspiration from existing establishments. The motel's adobe architecture can be found in motor courts that dotted the American southwest. The cartoon design is an almost direct copy of vintage motels such as the El Vado Court in Albuquerque and the Adobe Motel in Santa Fe.

Goofy is trumped out of the last room at that particular establishment, but manages to subsequently secure a room at a motel-type that was once a mainstay of automobile travelers: the tourist cabin. In what is perhaps the cartoon's funniest gag, he walks through a quaint and picturesque cottage facade that could have been lifted from a mid-20th century linen postcard. But things are not what they seem, for a ramshackle shack is what lies behind the cottage door.

This is not just a simple cartoon gag; it represents a dynamic that Margolies describes in Home Away From Home:

By 1935, in another article in National Petroleum News, cabin camps were described as being of two types — the $1 cabin and the 50-cent cabin. The dollar cabins weren't all that bad: a bed with good springs, lavatory, toilet, tub or shower, chairs, lamp, and many had interior walls. There was usually a restaurant or a kitchen in a separate building, and some operations even had a swimming pool. The 50-cent cabin was much more spartan, offering little more than a bed with bathroom facilities and electricity, and a lunch-counter-type eating facility. Even so, James Agee, in his 1934 article in Fortune, could wax poetic about "the oddly excellent feel of a weak-springed mattress in a clapboard transient shack."

In the same article, Agee described in detail an even nicer two-dollar cabin: "In this one you find a small, clean room, perhaps ten by twelve. Typically its furniture is a double bed—a sign may have told you it is Simmons, with Beautyrest mattress — a table, two kitchen chairs, a small mirror, a row of hooks. In one corner a washbasin with cold running water; in another the half-opened door to a toilet. There is a bit of chintz curtaining over the screened windows, through which a breeze is blowing. ...Inside you have just what you need for a night's rest, neither more nor less. And you have it with a privacy your hotel could not furnish — for this night this house is your own."

It would appear that Goofy paid for a two-dollar cabin with attractive chintz curtaining, but ended up with the 50-cent transient shack. A closer examination reveals that the bed in the room is in fact an old door propped up with wood posts and bricks. While Art Riley is likely better remembered for his work on such feature films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, his efforts at bringing forth these then mundane scenes of 1950s America have in effect become artistic time capsules of a now bygone era.

While there are many who would likely consider animated incarnations of motel courts and tourist cabins to be no more than cartoon minutia, they are in fact a testament to artists such as Dunn and Riley whose efforts, especially those associated with short subjects, often go uncelebrated. For through their work, they preserved small pieces of history and popular culture that sadly, continue to fade from both memory and view.

Stay tuned for more Roadside Disney in the future, as we explore the gas stations, roadside stands and other open road ephemera of vintage Disney animation.

Screenshots © Walt Disney Company