Friday, August 14, 2015

Walt - c.1926

Here's a photo I recently acquired from the files of Movie Star News. Walt's wearing the same sweater as he does in staff and Alice production photos published several Disney books. It would be about 1926 when it was taken, possibly at Hyperion or an Alice location.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Walt's First Polo Game? by Garry Apgar

It's been awhile in getting this up, but, I am happy to present this guest post by author and Disney historian Garry Apgar in follow up to my December 23, 2014 post about Walt's polo team:

Regarding the photograph posted last month on TagToonz of “Charlie Farrell’s Cats” and Walt Disney’s “Mickey Mouse” polo team (the four men in white on the right), shot— presumably — before the match won by the Cats by a score of 8-4 … Ace Disney animator Norman Ferguson, who penciled the much-admired flypaper sequence in Playful Pluto (1934), must indeed have been the person who inscribed the back of the picture.

Compare (below) the “Mickey Mouse” lineup noted by Ferguson on the reverse of the photo with the team’s roster for another match published in the May 21, 1933 issue of the Los Angeles Times. 

In both instances, the teams competed against each other at the Riviera Country Club in Santa Monica. Two screen actors, Leslie Howard (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Gone With the Wind) and Charles Farrell, participated in the Cats’ trouncing of the Mickey Mouses, although unfortunately Norm Ferguson did not say when what he called in the inscription “our first big game” took place. In the Cats’ lineup for the May 21, 1933 match, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, were two different actors, Spencer Tracy and cowboy star Johnny Mack Brown. Disney’s lineup was the same each time: Ferguson and fellow animator Dick Lundy, polo professional Gil Procter, and Walt himself.

Charles Farrell, incidentally, was later elected mayor of Palm Springs, California, but is best remembered as Gale Storm’s father on the 1950s TV sitcom My Little Margie. Farrell’s teammate, Reginald “Snowy” Baker, was an Olympic-class athlete from Sydney, Australia, who excelled in swimming, rugby, and boxing as well as polo. Baker moved to California in the 1920s where he became equestrian director of the Riviera C. C., won parts big and small in a handful of films, including the Spencer Tracy vehicle of 1937, Big City, and coached actors like Errol Flynn and the young Elizabeth Taylor in horseback riding, fencing, and swimming.

All fascinating stuff in its own right. But, from a purely Disney standpoint, two questions arise: When was the 8-4 loss recorded by Ferguson played? And more importantly, was the Mickey Mouse team’s “first big game,” Walt’s first “official” polo match?  

Neither of these questions can be satisfactorily resolved yet. But we know this much:

In his 1976 biography Walt Disney, An American Original, Bob Thomas, a veteran Hollywood reporter who interviewed his subject many times over the years, said that by the end of 1932 “Walt was beginning to make a modest venture into Hollywood society, through polo.” He enlisted animators Jack Cutting, Ferguson, Lundy and Les Clark, the studio’s attorney Gunther Lessing, and Bill Cottrell, a former cameraman and member of the story department. “The eight poloists, Thomas said, “began practice sessions at a riding academy in the San Fernando Valley.”

A lighthearted squib in the July 1932 issue of New Movie Magazine, kindly provided by Disney historian David Lesjak, indicates that Walt had gotten “into” polo months before the end of the year:

HOSPITAL NOTE: Walt Disney, the man who makes Mickey Mouse, has taken up polo. Horace Horse-Collar is not mentioned in the dispatch.

A start date of summer 1932 for Walt’s nascent interest in polo was confirmed (after a fashion) by the journalist and Hollywood publicist Harry Mines in the August 25, 1935 issue of the Riviera Chukker (also posted in December on TagToonz), who said that “exactly three years ago Mr. Disney climbed on his first horse and with a tense doubtful expression on his face started off over a trail.”

These three sources, together, suggest that circa July 1932 Walt was beginning to get the hang of the rudiments of polo (basic things like, ahem, riding a horse), and that by around November he and the men he’d recruited were scrimmaging with other players.

Then, as Neal Gabler wrote in his Disney biography, “by the spring of 1933 ... Walt was ready to play matches at the ... Riviera Country Club.” The source given by Gabler as the basis for this statement was an article in the Los Angeles Herald & Express from April 14, 1933. Michael Barrier tells me that the Herald & Express story “is consistent with” the following item printed by the Los Angeles Times, also on April 14, 1933, a Friday:

   As a prelude to the polo game featuring the University of Arizona and a Riviera team on Sunday, an all-movie battle was scheduled yesterday. This will be between the Mickey Mouses and Perkins’s Kats. Both games will be played on the Riviera field.

    The Mickey Mouses will have Ray [Roy] Disney, Walt Disney, Johnny Mack Brown, former Alabama football star, and Will Rogers in the lineup. The Kats will line up with Leslie Howard, Charley Farrell, Spencer Tracy and Arthur Perkins from No. 1 to back, respectively.

    The Disneys have been playing polo about six months and are the latest movie colony players to show their mallet wares in public. Lewis Brown, former Arizona college player, is “alternate” for the Mickey Mouses, and may replace any of the players upon signs of approaching collapse.

David Lesjak says he knows of no earlier newspaper account of Walt playing polo. Interestingly, the next-t-last sentence here about the Disney brothers playing the game for “about six months” corroborates Bob Thomas’s comment that by the end of 1932 “Walt was beginning to make a modest venture into Hollywood society, through polo.”

We don’t know who won this “all-movie battle” between the “Mickey Mouses” and the Cats (assuming it ultimately took place), or what the score was. However, the squads on both sides — unless the rosters were changed between Friday and game day — were clearly not the ones who participated in the two matches mentioned at the top of this post.

Reading between the lines of the Los Angeles Times report, the contest slated for Sunday, April 16, 1933, may well have marked Walt Disney’s formal debut in a scheduled polo match — we know of no other publicly announced event that predates it. But, because of the discrepancy in lineups, it cannot, in all likelihood, be the “first big game” for Walt and his mates, whatever Norm Ferguson meant by those momentous words.

Note: I am grateful to Michael Barrier and David Lesjak for their generosity in providing vital information on this topic, including transcriptions and pdfs of articles, and to Jim Korkis for reviewing a draft version of this text.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Defining The Mouse

Mickey Mouse was born in 1928 out of economic desperation  and went on to far exceeded the humble dreams of his creator Walt Disney. Mickey put Walt on the map and allowed him to fulfill his potential has a creative and entrepreneurial genius.

Mickey is more than a cartoon star, he's a cultural icon who remains the corporate identity of the studio he made famous. Although there were Disney cartoons before Mickey, Walt was certainly on the mark when he said "It all started with a mouse." Quite frankly, with Mickey's success it did.

But what made Mickey so special? What's his story? What is the appeal? Writers since day one have asked that question, Walt himself often seemed to struggle to define his greatest breakthrough. Garry Apgar opens up the vault as it were, on the discussion.

In A MICKEY MOUSE READER you will hear from Walt Disney himself  to contemporary journalists, artists and historians about Mickey's appeal, his history and his future. You will journey through time and very literally witness the cultural evolution of the greatest cartoon star of all time. It's an entertaining journey, one to savor.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Walt the Polo Player

As we all know Walt was very passionate about polo in the 30s as were many male Hollywood producers and stars. I recently stumbled on this photo at auction:

Written on the reverse:

Here y'are Ma - our

(signed off by) NORMAN

I'm not sure but could that be Norm Ferguson(the author) next Walt?

The photo came with a copy of #14 of the RIVIERA CHUKKER dated August 25, 1935. Inside is an article about Walt:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Walt and Staff - c.1933

Walt and staff pose for a staff photo holding Post Toasties Cereal boxes, sometime in 1933.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Walt at the Colonel Swope Memorial

 It's been a long time since I've posted, I've been busy working on storyboards and squeezing time into my film inbetween leaving me with very little time for anything else.

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about Walt's early days and got to thinking about the photos I have and which we've seen many of him and the Laugh-O-grams staff clowning in Swope Park Kansas. I typed Swope Park into the e-bay search and immediately found the above 1919 post card of the Colonel Swope Memorial also the grave site of Colonel Thomas Hunton Swope (Kansas real estate magnate) who passed away in 1909 under mysterious circumstances and was finally laid to rest in Swope Park (land which he donated in 1896) on April 8, 1918.

Here was an easy landmark to identify from the Laugh-O-gram photos which would have been taken around 1922 probably the fall since the trees are bare yet no snow is visible. The photos look like they've been inscribed with a date April 1922. Seems kind of odd to be playing on what's essentially a tomb, yet I've seen photos of weddings being held on the tomb itself which is at the foot of the plaque.
 I'm still not sure who is sitting on the lion which  is to the left of the memorial. My guess is Red Lyon.
 Here's Walt, I'm not sure if this is at the memorial, seems like it could be.

 My favorite photo with Walt and Mary? (unknown) on the forth step from the top in front of the plaque.

 Walt with friend  up high, possibly somewhere near the memorial which I should add is on a hill overlooking the Swope Park Zoo.
Walt stands on the left side urn.

Looking at some of the photos I found on Google it's easy to imagine, Walt, Red Lyon, Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising playing and posing around the place on a long forgotten afternoon before any of them were ever known to the world.

 THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH, now this is utter speculation but could the photo below be the location? The slope of the ground behind the boys could be a clue, there is also a trail visible behind them which can be seen in the modern day photo. There are trees nearby as in the modern photo, obviously 90 years of history would have seen them grow.

It's possible, the modern day photo would have been taken from the right side of the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH photo. Fun to imagine.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy Birthday Walt - Thanks For The Joy

One the many facets of Walt beyond his accomplishments that I find enduring was his genuine love of animals. This nice photo was taken in 1954 by photographer Tom Blau shows Walt in Paris feeding pigeons. A tender image to mark Walt's 112th birthday.

A few days ago I was thinking about how would we have made it through the 20th Century without Walt and the many talents who joined him? Sure somebody would eventually have lifted animation to an art form, but would it have had such joy as Walt's work gave to Depression weary audiences? or would it have been cynical like much of today's stuff?

There is so much that followed Mickey, the growth of Looney Tunes and MGM Cartoons which along with Walt's films  helped audiences through the dark years of World War II. We take so much of our culture for granted now, much of it has been a direct and indirect offshoot of Walt's push to elevate animation to another level as well as the creation of family entertainment and indeed the all important theme park which every conglomerate wants these days but cannot really duplicate.

Walt's work, his animated films were genuine, not corporate. To watch Snow White, to watch Bambi and many others you get a glimpse at Walt's soul. He lives through his work.

Happy Birthday Walt, thanks for the magic and showing dreams come true.