Saturday, May 31, 2008

Walt Disney, the Silver Buffalo and the Boy Scouts of America

On May 16, 1946, Walt Disney and his wife Lillian arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, after a brief stopover in Walt's boyhood town of Marceline. Walt had traveled to St. Louis in order to attend an awards ceremony.

On May 17, 1946, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America awarded Disney and eight other recipients the
prestigious Silver Buffalo.
The Boy Scouts of America "Silver Buffalo." Image courtesy

The Silver Buffalo is awarded annually by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America for "distinguished service to boyhood." Created in 1925, the award is Scouting's highest commendation.

Besides Walt Disney, other notables represented at the 1946 ceremony included Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson; United Service Organizations co-founder Frank Well; and World War II veterans Dwight David Eisenhower, Commander of all Allied troops in Europe and chief planner of the D-Day invasion; and Chester William Nimitz, Chief of Naval Operations and United States Signator to the Japanese Surrender Treaty.

According to the May 17, 1946 Monitor Index and Daily Democrat:

"The awards to Eisenhower and Nimitz were for their wartime exploits. Disney, a former scout, was honored for contributing 'to the joy of youth in every land...and the elevation of their standards of good taste."

The May 18, 1946 Joplin Globe reported Disney had quit the Scout movement as a so-called Tenderfoot, the first rank earned as a Boy Scout. The newspaper stated Disney:

"...joined 'in 1914 or 15' in Kansas City. He doesn't remember what troop. It was headquartered in a Congregational Church. He doesn't remember what Congregational Church. He quit - frustrated when his family moved to Chicago.

In fact [Disney] blushed a bit when his scouting record was mentioned by an interviewer. 'I didn't bring up the fact I was a Scout,' Disney said. 'They did [the committee].' The committee of selection was headed by Richard E. Byrd, Antarctic explorer and retired rear admiral."

Interestingly enough, Disney had been a supporter of the Boy Scout movement during the mid-1940s, when he had artist Hank Porter create at least two pieces of related artwork.

One illustration was designed as a presentation piece for Chief Scout Executive Dr. Elbert K. Fretwell, who visited the west coast for the first time in the spring of 1944. While in California Fretwell attended Scout events in Oakland, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara and Long Beach. While in Long Beach the Chief Scout Executive was presented with a piece of art that featured an image of Fretwell, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

The Hank Porter illustration of Fretwell, Donald and Mickey appeared on a Scout Region Twelve newsletter. The salutation reads, "Best wishes to Dr. Fretwell. Walt Disney and staff 1944."

A letter to Hank Porter from Roland Dye, the Deputy Regional Executive of Region Twelve stated:

"We can never tell you how much we owe you for the very excellent sketch you made for Dr. Fretwell while he was here recently. He was actually at a loss for words when he found himself in the sketch, which a Scout was presenting to him before that large group in Long Beach.

I really feel it is going to be one of his prized possessions...we are u
sing the reproduction of it for the cover of our News Letter going to our key leaders in these four Western States [California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah], and the Hawaiian Islands. I thought you might be interested in a copy of it to see how it came out when printed."

Close-up of art before Porter added the salutation and signature. Image courtesy the Porter family.

During his trip to California Fretwell also toured the Walt Disney Studio, where he actually met with Hank Porter. As evidenced by his May 9, 1944 thank-you letter, Fretwell had no idea Porter had created a piece of art he would be presented with just one day later.

"My dear Hank Porter.

This is all about the Mickey Mouse - Donald Duck Chief Scout Executive sketch. The afternoon I had the privilege of calling on you...I was completely and utterly delighted with those sketches that take the place of pin-up girls on your wall. I really meant it when I said I hoped at some time I could come back, and you would do a sketch of a Scout for us that had all the 'whatever it is' that makes Donald Duck the only Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse the only Mickey Mouse, and the Seven Dwarfs the only dwarfs, etc. I do not know what this intangible thing is, but it is something.

Now when I was visiting you, I did not have any notion at all about this sketch you had done, and which the next day was presented to me at a luncheon of the Scout people at Long Beach.

Many delightful things happened to me and were done for me in this, my first official trip for Scouting to the West Coast, but nothing stayed with me and delighted me quite so much as this sketch. It is framed here in my office now and is going to stay here. When the going gets tough and rough and the world gets a bit sour, somehow it gives me an upswing.

I am grateful to the good Lord for giving you whatever it is - the genius and stick-to-it-iveness - to work and develop your own art...I am grateful to you, and although I thanked you before, I want you to know that the flavor of my all too brief visit at your workshop lingers delightfully, and I was really very pleased with Donald, and Mickey, and myself as you brought us together."

The second piece of art created by Porter for the Boy Scouts featured Donald Duck and his three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie dressed as Scouts saluting a member of the Boy Scouts.

Image of Donald and his nephews courtesy the Porter family.

I'm not sure when this second piece of art was created or when it was used, but given the fact Porter was extremely sick from 1950 onward, I am sure this piece was also created in the 1940s. If any of my readers have further background information on this particular illustration, I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

General Foods Post Toasties Cut-Outs

In early 1932, Herman "Kay" Kamen left his home in Kansas City for a business meeting in Hollywood, California. The man he was going to meet had made a similar journey west almost a decade earlier. The purpose of Kamen's trip west was to discuss merchandising ideas with Walt and Roy Disney.

At their first meeting, Kamen presented his ideas for increasing the Studio's revenue stream through the sale of character merchandise. The brothers were suitably impressed and on July 1, 1932, they awarded Kamen his first contract. After the agreements with the George Borgfeldt and William Levy B. Levy companies expired, Kamen assumed control of all Disney merchandise licensing agreements.

Through a well thought out and brilliantly executed marketing plan, Kamen quickly established Disney characters as the dominant product on the shelves of toy departments across

At the height of the Great Depression, Kamen negotiated deals with some of America's largest manufacturers including Ingersoll and Lionel. In 1934 Kamen inked an unheard of 1.5 million dollar deal with General Foods. The agreement gave the cereal producer the right to reproduce Disney characters on boxes of Post Toasties. Adjusted for inflation, that contract would be worth almost $24 million dollars in 2008.
Counter top or window point of sale display sign. Courtesy Hake's Americana.

The so-called cereal "cut-outs" were huge hits. After children finished their box of cereal, the images printed on the box were cut-out and became instant playthings. At a time when thousands of Americans found themselves out of work and with no disposable income, these cut-outs were undoubtedly the only toys some children had.
This newspaper advertisement announced the Mickey Mouse Cut-Out promotion. The ad appeared in hundreds of newspapers across America - the only part of the copy that changed was the insertion of the name of the city. This particular ad appeared in the Paris News on May 11, 1934.

In mid-May 1934, Kamen and General Foods launched a nationwide newspaper advertising campaign announcing, "Post Toasties with Mickey Mouse Cut-Outs." The ad stated in part:

"What marvelous toys for children! - these new Post Toasties Cut-Outs. What fun for boys and girls to cut them right off the play with these beloved 'movie stars!' On some boxes you get Mickey Mouse and his pals - Minnie Mouse...Pluto the Pup...Horace Horsecollar...or the Goof. On other boxes there are dandy Cut-Outs of The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. Get some Post Toasties today. Eat it often. It's full of quick, new energy. And remember - Post Toasties is the only cereal that gives you, absolutely free, these wonderful Walt Disney Cut-Outs for the youngsters."
This shipping box was recently offered on eBay.

Besides Mickey, Minnie and Donald, many of the Studio's Silly Symphony characters also appeared on the cereal boxes. Here is a representative sampling of just a few including Old King Cole, Little Red Riding Hood, Max Hare and the Pied Piper:

A short article in the May 18, 1934, the Chillicothe Constitution Tribune announced Mickey's new role:
"A mouse with your breakfast food? Sure- but it's Mickey Mouse, and that makes a difference! Mickey - yes and Minnie - have figured in many pleasant episodes and somehow are always mighty welcome visitors. And one of their newest and most pleasant jobs is posing on the new Post Toasties boxes along with other Walt Disney cut-outs...the kids are in for a great time cutting out their favorite Disney characters."

Detail from circa 1934 General Foods stationary. Courtesy Hake's Americana.

Kamen often wrote press releases, which were run by many media outlets as factual news stories. These articles carry no by-line, but their style and substance is pure Kamen marketing at its best. One such "story" ran in the September 20, 1934 Oakland Tribune:

"Walt Disney seems to be the only producer in Hollywood who realizes the importance of by-products, or at least he is the only producer who, having realized it, made an effort to capitalize on the knowledge. Through summarization in the Film Daily, it is disclosed that merchandise to the extent of more than $20,000,000.00 has been sold in the last year through the use of the Mickey Mouse trademark.

This figure is exclusive of the work done by the Disney characters in recent months for General Foods and National Dairy Products. At present Mickey is working for 142 manufacturers including 75 in the United States, 45 in England, 20 in Canada, six
in France, six in Spain and Portugal. It should be a long time before the Big Bad Wolf effects entrance to the Disney house of bricks."

The Chronicle Telegram, June 15, 1934.

Characters from the Academy Award winning film
Three Little Pigs were also printed on boxes. A June 15, 1934 Chronicle Telegram ad featured a box with all of the pigs and the wolf. The ad copy stated in part:

"Here they are - right on the sides of Post toasties packages. The famous 'movie stars' of Walt Disney's Silly Symphony...the characters the whole country has been singing and talking about!"

Perhaps the most interesting ad campaign associated with the Disney / General Foods agreement came out of the state of Texas. On June 10, 1935, G.S. Robison, General Foods' Texas district sales manager, announced a $250 dollar cash prize to the Texan who originated the best new name for Mickey's pal "the Goof."
A "name the Goof" contest advertisement. Paris News, June 1935.

Robison stated, "The contest is unique in that it is limited to residents of [Texas] - Walt Disney thus honoring Texans in his search for a better name for poor old 'Goof'." More than 100 prizes were offered for a new name for "the lanky dog catcher who has tickled the ribs of millions in Mickey Mouse comedies."
The contest's second place winner received a $100 prize, while 100 other entrants were given $5 each. As an incentive to grocers to stock more product during the contest, prizes of between $5 and $50 were awarded to stores.General Foods ran several large newspaper ads over the course of the contest, which lasted from June through September. One ad stated, "Walt Disney calls him the 'Goof,' but Mickey wants a better name. Here are some suggestions: Dizzy McMutt, Boppo, Mr. Tousle, Snoozle. You can beat these easily!"

The September 9, 1935 Paris News announced the contest winner: Captain W.H. Scott of Corpus Christi suggested "Nobby Noddle," and was awarded the first prize of $250.

General Foods association with Disney lasted until 1941. Over the course of their partnership, hundreds of thousands if not millions of boxes of cereal imprinted with Disney character images were sold.

As far as I know, there is no complete record of how many different images were printed. The cut-outs and the occasional cereal and packing box do appear from time to time for sale on various internet sites.

Cut-out images courtesy the collection of Dennis books.