Monday, February 16, 2009

Walt Disney and the Writer's Club, 1933

By 1933 Walt Disney had gained prominence in Hollywood as the premiere producer of cartoon films. Mickey Mouse was phenomenally popular, (the 1930s Mickey Mouse theater clubs boasted more members than the boy and girl scouts combined), the Silly Symphonies were successful in their own right, (Three Little Pigs, released in the spring of 1933 won the 1934 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoon), and Disney himself was the owner of two Motion Picture Arts and Sciences statuettes.

As his stature amongst fellow Hollywood artists increased, so too did the number of invites to special events. On September 28, 1933, Walt Disney was invited to be the guest at a special dinner organized by the Writer's Club.

The Writer's Club was a social organization, which I think was formed in 1920 by members of the Author's League. I haven't been able to locate much about the Writer's Club. If anyone can provide some more info on how often or where the members met, what the Club's purpose was, etc., I'd be happy to add the details to this post.

Will Rogers and Walt Disney share a laugh at the Writer's Club dinner honoring the cartoon producer. The evening's toastmaster, Rupert Hughes, is seated on Disney's left, (right side of the photo).

Regardless, Disney attended the dinner held in his honor, as did many other Hollywood notables. The image in this post shows Disney sharing a humorous moment with his friend, the immensely popular actor, comedian, and social commentator Will Rogers. Disney and Rogers had become friends through their mutual interest in polo - Disney often practiced his game at Rogers' Santa Monica ranch, and Disney was set to include a caricature of the famed horseman in the Mickey Mouse short cartoon, Mickey's Polo Team, but pulled the sequence following Rogers' death in 1935.

Charles Chaplin and actress Paulette Goddard were also seated at the head table.

Also in attendance at the dinner was Disney's boyhood idol, Charlie Chaplin. While he was living in Kansas City, Disney had often parodied Chaplin, even going so far as to enter Chaplin impersonation contests. The famed actor attended the dinner with actress Paulette Goddard, who lived with Chaplin in his Beverly Hills home. During their time together Chaplin and Goddard refused to comment on their marital status, which in turn provided subject matter for Hollywood's gossip columnists.

Other notables attending the dinner included Joseph Schenck, (the head of United Artists - in June 1932 Roy Disney signed a contract giving UA the distribution rights to the Studio's cartoons), film pioneer Rupert Hughes, (uncle to Howard Hughes), actress Mae Robson, vaudeville, Broadway and film writer Edgar Allan Woolf, and University of Southern California president Dr. Rufus von KleinSmid.

The October 7, 1933 San Mateo Times carried a short story about the dinner:

Behind the Scenes in Hollywood

"The season's most embarrassed guest of honor was Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, at the dinner given him by the Writer's Club. All the big-wigs were there...

Speaker Joe Schenck twitted Disney: 'Walt used to make twenty-six pictures a year, then he joined United Artists, and the influence got him. He's taken up polo and now he's only going to make eighten pictures. Next year he'll probably do only eight.' "

The October 15, 1933 edition of the Lincoln Star also carried a report about the dinner, but this one had a more personal touch as the story was written by none other than Will Rogers:

"We were all down to a mighty fine dinner they gave to Walter Disney. He is the sire and dam of that gift to the world, 'Mickey Mouse.' Now if there wasn't two geniuses at one table, Disney and Charley.

One took a derby hat and a pair of big shoes, and captured the laughs of the world, the other one took a lead pencil and a mouse and he has the whole world crawling in a rat hole, if necessary, just to see the antics of these rodents. But there was more than just shoes and pencils and derby hats and drawing boards there. Both had a God given gift of human nature, These professors base it all on psychology of some kind and breed, but it's something human inside these two ducks that even psychology hasn't a name for. Why that Three Little Pigs, why I would have given my life just to have played one of them. That's the best picture ever made.

That night at the dinner the Writer's Club gave...outside of a non stop speech of mine it was a wonderful dinner. Chaplin wouldn't talk, but he did two fo the cleverest pantomime sketches I ever saw. Then Disney wouldn't talk much. Everybody that does things I have noiced they don't talk at public gatherings but boy us other old windbags, we just gas up and go till the lights are turned off. Rupert Hughes, that clever writer, is a wonderful toastmaster."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dennis Books' collection

"No further shall weaklings' virtue triumph over evil's mighty spell.
Now you deal with ME, oh Prince and all the powers of HELL!"

I have added a link to my friend Dennis Books' collection of art. I have known Dennis for close to 25 years now. I'd rate him easily in the top 10 collectors of vintage Disneyana - he has literally thousands of 1930s and 1940s pieces of Disney memorabilia: books, celluloids, dolls, bisques, and paper items.

Dennis owns letters written by Walt Disney, Roy Disney, Hal Horne and Kay Kamen. He owns Roy Williams' business card and Floyd Gottfredson's Studio pass, both from the '30s, as well as prototype dolls and even a set of character model department figurines from Fantasia, which were cast in bronze in the 1940s and later given to him by his friend Bob Jones, who headed-up the Model Department with Joe Grant.

Dennis' Disney children's book collection is, in my estimation, second to none. Dennis claims to own copies of almost all of the American edition Disney books published from 1930 to about 1945. His European collection of 1930s Disney books is absolutely astounding - just the books printed in the United Kingdom number close to 200.

What is most amazing is the size and scope of his art collection. Dennis has managed to collect around 850 pieces of original Disney art. Almost all of the pieces are from Disney's so-called "golden age."

Dennis has an affinity for original model sheets (not photostats), as well as storyboards, conceptual art, production drawings, cels and backgrounds. Artists represented in his collection include Kay Nielson, Gustaf Tenggren, Earl Hurd, Bill Tytla, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Hank Porter, William Wallet, Ferdinand Horvath, Sylvia Holland, Grim Natwick, Freddie Moore, Les Clark, James Bodrero and dozens more.

Pictured at the beginning of this post is an extremely rare Kay Nielson pastel concept created for Sleeping Beauty. This piece depicts the film's climactic battle between Maleficent and Prince Phillip and is amazing to see in person. I hope you enjoy this piece and to view more gorgeous pieces of art, please click on the link and head over to his gallery where hundreds more pieces of vintage Disney art await.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Cuba

When Walt Disney suffered a nervous breakdown in 1931, his doctor suggested a vacation to get away from the pressures of running the Studio. On his doctor's advice, Walt planned a cruise to Seattle with Lillian, followed by visits with his parents in Oregon and his wife's relatives in Idaho. The couple changed their minds and instead booked a trip to Hawaii.

The excursion to Hawaii was canceled as well. Instead, the two booked a trip that included stops in St. Louis, a voyage down the Mississippi on a riverboat, a stopover in Florida, then on to Cuba before returning home via the Panama Canal.

When faced with the disappointment of not being able to sail down
the mighty Mississippi (riverboats no longer plied her waters), the couple instead trained to Washington, D.C., where they stayed for several days, before heading to Florida and then Cuba. While in Cuba the Disney's stayed at the Hotel Nacional.

The above photo, which I imagine was taken at the Nacional, appeared in the February 29, 1932, Hamilton Daily News. The original headline and caption read:

Here's Looking At You!

Even when Walter Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse comics published in The Daily News starting today, tries to take a vacation, he can't get away from the entertaining little rodent. He's shown in the Havana, resting from the labors of inventing new adventures for Mickey, who has penetrated the barriers of all languages to become world famous.

Well, the above picture sort of appeared in the paper...with one minor variation. Seems the "entertaining little rodent" made the trip as well. This is the image that actually appeared in print:

UPDATE February 5th:

Thanks to my friend Gunnar Andreassen, who located and shared with me the manifest for the SS
California, the luxury cruise ship Walt and Lillian sailed on from Cuba to Los Angeles. The manifest, which lists Walt and Lillian as passengers, indicates California departed Havana on November 3, 1931 and arrived in the Port of Los Angeles on November 14th.

I have also been able to locate two images of the California. The first shows her in Havana Harbor, while the second shows her in one of the locks in the Panama Canal.