Friday, July 17, 2015

Happy 60th, Disneyland!

It was 60 years ago today, on the afternoon of July 17th, 1955, that Walt Disney unveiled his magical theme park, Disneyland, to the world.  Ground broke on an unassuming bunch of orange groves, and neighboring houses were relocated to make room for a man with a dream of a theme park that both parents and children could enjoy together.

Walt needed funding to make his dream a reality, and he found a financier in ABC Television.  They promised to provide funds in exchange for family programming for their network.  Walt had never done television before, but it was a medium he had been curious to dabble in.  His first program was titled, "An Hour in Wonderland" and had used his new film Alice in Wonderland as the perfect subject.  ABC had encouraged, then later demanded, Walt host the program, himself.  While reluctant, we did as they requested, and a television star was born.

The park was scheduled to open a mere year after breaking ground.  It was only broadcast on ABC television, as they owned 33% of the park  at the time.  Hosts Art Linkletter, Ronald Regan and comedian Bob Cummings acted as emcees and saw the program to completion with jokes and warm commentary.  They sought out Hollywood elite who were invited to explore the park.  Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas were among the celebrities who brought their children to check out the magnificent display.  Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen were in full character from the set of Davy Crockett to introduce Fronteirland.  Those interested can search the internet for "Disneyland USA", a 2 disc DVD set from the Walt Disney Treasures Collection.

The opening was not without it's issues.  A week before opening, contractors sought out Imagineering (then called WED) approval for plumbing matters.  They hadn't funds or time to install both drinking fountains and restroom plumbing, so someone had to make the executive decision.  Engineers found Walt to decide.  It is said he was quoted, "Well, people can drink Pepsi or Coca-Cola, but they can't pee in the streets."  Concrete wasn't poured until two days before opening, and the hot summer sun kept it from curing.  Women's heels sank into the streets.  And to make matters worse, counterfeiters had forged copies of tickets to the event.  When cast members brought this to Walt's attention, he shrugged his shoulders and asked they honor the tickets.

Reviews were mixed the next day, however California residents drove in large numbers for the first public opening.  Walt was upset by the negative publicity, but the rave reviews that came in out shone the negative.  Disneyland was a success.

On this, Disneyland's 60th anniversary, I salute Mr. Disney.  He had a dream, saw it through despite a brother who tried as he could to keep an eye on out of control spending, and financiers who piled on the demands.

Without Walt, we wouldn't have Disneyland or the other 5 theme parks around the world.  I'm sure someone would eventually have had a similar idea, but I can assure you that it wouldn't have the same kind of luster.  Walt strove for attention to detail, storytelling and above all, heart.

Personally, I have a strong attachment to Disneyland.  Sure, being from the east coast, Walt Disney World was my Disney vacation destination for many years.  But it was here where Walt walked the streets.  His apartment above the firehouse remains as it was when he stayed there.  You can feel his presence when you hang around the firehouse doors.  But for me, Disneyland is also the place where I met my future bride.  I proposed to my now wife in front of the castle.  I love Disneyland.  Happy Anniversary, Walt!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Remembering Dad on July 4th

While this is a blog dedicated to cartooning and Animation, I wanted to dedicate this particular post to someone special.

A year ago today, marks a huge loss in our family.  Dad lost his battle with cancer on the night of July 4th.

He had only learned of his cancer a couple brief months beforehand.  At stage four, the doctor gave him a year- year and a half.  He wasted no time in undergoing treatments of radiation and chemotherapy.  I called him to see how he was doing, and he assured me that aside from the abdominal pain that brought him to the doctor in the first place, he promised me he didn't feel anything.  

My wife and I flew out to Boston to come see him as soon as we could, and not a moment too soon.  He was resting at home when we flew out, and seeing we landed at 5 in the morning, I showed her around Boston.   We walked the Freedom Tour, I had shown her my childhood home I lived in before we moved to Cape Cod, and visited my friends John, Jen and their little boy.  While driving to the Cape, Mom called to let us know he was admitted to the hospital with what we later learned was an infection.  We met Mom and Dad in Dad's hospital room.  He had looked better, but it was amazing to see him.  Mom looked concerned, but as always, she put on a brave face.  We had quite a lengthy discussion.  We talked about work, the house and my in laws in California.  We showed him the pictures of our old house, which brought a big smile to his face.  She told him of the great sights of Boston and the freedom tour, and Dad couldn't believe I would bore her with such things.  (When you grow up in Boston, you don't do things like that I guess)  We laughed and shared fun stories of the good old days, so that my wife could enjoy some of our past.  The medications caused him drowsiness, so he fell asleep while we visited and chatted with Mom.

It was only 6 days later when Dad would leave us.  He was expected to make a full recovery of his infection on the 1st, but with the chemo and radiation, his body just couldn't fight it off.  Early that morning, I got the call from my brother, that I should rush to the hospital because Dad wasn't expected to make it through the weekend.  He took a dramatic turn since I last left his room.  Mom was speechless as to how quickly things changed.  So there we sat.  Dad's surviving siblings came to visit.  We all caught up on eachother's lives, talked about Dad and the awesome stories of a loving goofball who loved a good cookout, wearing his red white and blue.  We laughed, teared up and regrouped for the next funny story.  We Ginnetty's deal with these things with humor.  Call it a defense mechanism all you want, it makes us feel better.  Dad was heavily medicated, but he would react to what we were saying now and again through his sleep-like demeanor.  Night fell, and we all huddled around him when he gave us the sign.  Hurricane Arthur was blowing through all the while, which brought us some comfort, as Arthur is his father's name.  Thanks for coming to pick him up, Grampy.  He was surrounded by nothing but love when it happened.

Dad was kind, thoughtful, very smart, and even more loving.  He loved his country, always unapologetically patriotic.  He always said that the 4th of July was his favorite holiday.  How fitting he joined his loved ones in Heaven that day.  He left a big hole in my heart when he left, so I can't even begin to imagine the one in Mom's.  But, he was never one to wallow, and he always felt that the party must go on.

I wish everyone a Happy 4th.  Dad would want it that way.  Love you Dad!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Walt Disney: a brief history - Part 3

Walt was on the train, heading back to California.  He was without a staff and without Oswald.  He was so angry with himself for not knowing better than to retain the rights to a character, and heartbroken that something like this could happen.

He sat in his seat with a drawing of Oswald, staring at it for ideas.  Legend says that it was then when a mouse scurried passed him on the train floor.  Whether that is fact or fiction, it was then when he saw smaller, rounder ears on Oswald and altered the drawing to match, and a mouse was born.  He had shown a new drawing of his new mouse creation.  Three round circles made his head, and a long skinny tail protruded from the back of his shorts.  He wore a great big smile and loads of enthusiasm.  He had shown it to his wife asked what she thought of Mortimer Mouse.  Lilly responded, "Mortimer?  I think he looks more like a Mickey."

 Walt presented his new character to Roy and Ub.  It was Ub's job to refine the character so that it could be animated more easily, and Mickey Mouse was born, but he was kept a secret for now.

Having to re cooperate from the dastardly Charles Minzt, Walt vowed he would never trust his film rights to anyone again.  He would distribute his films himself.  If he needed funding, he would do so through bank loans.

Ub worked on whatever cartoons were in the pipeline, and while everyone left for the day, he'd stay late and work on the Mickey cartoons in secret.  The first cartoon featured our wirey little mouse, learning to fly an airplane.  He messed his hair to mimick Charles Lindbergh and grabbed his girl, Minnie for a fun filled flight.  This zany cartoon would be titled "Plane Crazy".  It was fantastic to see.
The cartoon was one visual gag after another.  Mickey flew in loops and barrel rolls, all done in rubber hosed animation, utilizing all the benefits of squash and stretch fashion.  While the animation was in the process of ink and paint, they followed this cartoon with "The Galloping Goucho".  Animating feverishly to complete it for release until something was to happen to Hollywood and change the game forever.  Sound.  Walt saw the first  "The Jazz Singer" and knew then what he needed to do.  He had seen a Buster Keaton film called "Steamboat Bill" and saw it perfect for parody.  He imagined Mickey, captaining a steamboat, and how amazing it would be to showcase the first animated short cartoon utilizing sound.  His other two cartoons would be shelved for the time being, and they crew continued full steam ahead on this new adventure for Mickey.

"Steamboat Willie" premiered at the Colony Theater in New York on November 18, 1928.  Walt and a small team of his staff performed music, sound effects and character sounds.  (Walt provided the voices of Mickey and Minnie, and would continue to perform Mickey's voice until 1947)  The short was a huge success.  Walt took the two shelved cartoons and added sound to those as well.  Mickey mouse would soon become a household name, and the Disney Brothers cartoon studio was on it's way to great stardom.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Walt Disney: a brief history - Part 2

Walt and his brother Roy moved to Hollywood California in the fall of 1923.  They gathered up their earnings from Kansas City and started Disney Brothers Studio.  Ub Iwerks soon followed.  They began their studio, creating a series of shorts called the Alice Comedies.  In these films, a child actress would be placed inside animated worlds, carrying on fantastical adventures with animated characters.

Walt and Roy, needing a distributer for their films, found one in Margret Winkler in New York.  She was very fond of Walt and the quality of their short cartoons.  The Alice Comedies proved to be somewhat successful, but the earnings really only kept the studio afloat.

Margret's husband was Charles Mintz, a producer in New York.  He grew tired of the Alice gimmick and ordered a fresh cartoon concept.  Ub responded with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  The cartoons were quite succesful, yet the earnings were still not enough for the studio to make a profit.  Walt had written telegraphs asking for a raise for the studio, and was answered with an invitation to a meeting in New York.

Roy was very apprehensive toward this trip to New York, but Walt had nothing but a positive feeling about this meeting and was certain he was going to get the studio a higher wage per cartoon.  However when Walt arrived in New York and met with Charles Mintz, it was another story.

It has been said that Walt laid out the perfect pitch for how successful their studio's creation was and how they should be granted a raise per picture.  Mintz counter offered with a lower rate.  Walt responded that he can barely pay his staff and keep lights on as it is, and that a drop in pay will ruin his studio.  Mintz then informed Walt that it was Universal that owned the rights to Oswald and all of the cartoons produced, and that he had most of Walt's animators under contract with Mintz (except for Ub who refused to betray the Disneys).  If Walt didn't agree to the lower rates, he was taking Oswald from Disney Brothers Studio.  Walt declined and left the meeting without a character, a staff or a paycheck.

Walt sent a telegram to his brother Roy and got onto the train, back to Hollywood.