Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy New Year !

Wishing all my visitors a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

I'm not sure where I found the above image - it may have been an eBay auction but I can't recall. If you happen to know where the illustration was published and in what year, please drop me a line. (Or if you happen to own the image let me know and I'll give you credit.)

And if you happen to be a collector, here's hoping you find that rare treasure you've always wanted to add to your collection.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gobble, gobble...

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends from your neighbor north of the 49th.

Today's post features the original "rough" art for the November 1947 issue of Western Family magazine. The art was created by legendary Disney Publicity and Merchandise Department artist Hank Porter. Porter created well over a dozen different covers for Western Family.

An October 1947
note from Western Family Editor, Audree Lyons regarding this particular cover read in part: “Dear Hank. Just a note to express thanks from all of us over here for the fine job you did on our Thanksgiving cover. We...are very pleased with the looks of the cover...thank you – again – for an excellent job.”
A letter from the editor published in the Thanksgiving issue read, “We’re always being asked to use more Walt Disney characters on our covers. Seems that many of our readers save the covers, frame them for the walls of their children’s rooms. It’s an idea, if your child sighs for Mickey Mouse. Our friend, Hank Porter, of the Disney Studios, drew this Thanksgiving cover for us.”


Thursday, September 28, 2017

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 Walt 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, Walt attended the dinner held in his honor, as did many other Hollywood notables. The image in this post shows the cartoon producer 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 Walt was set to include a caricature of the famed horseman in the Mickey Mouse short, Mickey's Polo Team, but pulled the sequence following Rogers' death in a plane crash in 1935.

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

Also in attendance at the dinner was Walt'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."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Macy's - parade and premiums

Photo that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune, December 9, 1934

Two exceptionally rare Disney books also have a Macy's department store tie-in. In 1934 and 1935, Disney licensee Whitman published small Big Little Book-type premiums, which were handed-out exclusively by the Macy's Toy Department Santa Claus.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie at Macy's was published in 1934 and ran 144 pages. This soft-cover book told the story of the Pilgrims.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie March to Macy's
was published in 1935 and also ran 144 pages in length. This book told the story of Mickey and Minnie's trip to New York City.

The newspaper clipping comes from my own files, while the two premiums are from the collection of Dennis Books.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In the Service of the Red Cross

My new book documenting Walt Disney's time in France as a volunteer driver with the Red Cross at the end of World War I has just been released in soft-cover and e-book formats.


Check out my publisher's information page at this link for more information.

The book contains a lot of new information and photos including:

  • five never-before-published photos of Walt in his Red Cross uniform
  • the contents of a scrapbook of art Walt sent home to a school chum
  • two photographs of famous Parisian landmarks snapped by Walt himself
  • five postcards sent to friends back home
  • the contents of dozens of letters exchanged between Walt and his former canteen boss following the war, when they renewed their friendship
  • extensive use of journalist Pete Martin's landmark 1956 interview with Walt Disney - "hear" Walt speak about his many overseas adventures including the "charge of the cordwood brigade," the court martial that almost happened, doctored souvenirs, the picnic with a famous general's son, and much, much, more.

Join Walt as he celebrates his seventeenth birthday in a small French bistro, and learn about this exciting and formative time in his life that closed his childhood and set him on the path to the man he would become.

Walt stands atop an abandoned British tank overlooking the Hindenburg Line, a defensive barrier built by the Germans that ran across northeastern France. This image and many other never-before-published photos and research items make their debut in the book.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Disney and the war

My book on Disney's involvement in World War II is now available in both print and e-book formats on Amazon and through my publisher at

The book is a revised edition of Toons At War, which I self-published 13 years ago! The title of the updated and revised edition is: Service With Character. The Disney Studio and World War II.

The second edition contains a lot of new information on Disney's contributions to the home front, military training films, propaganda films, life at the studio during the war, and the Studio's creation of over 1,200 combat insignia. This book covers a huge variety of topics related to Disney during World War II.

FYI, the print version of the book does not have any images, while the e-book has over 300 images.

Click on this link to check it out.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Diane Disney Miller 1933 - 2013

I received the horribly, sad, news, today that Walt Disney's surviving daughter, Diane Disney Miller, passed away on November 19 at the family home in Napa Valley. Reports indicate the cause of death were complications due to a fall she had suffered in September.

This is devastating news on so many fronts.

I got to know Diane and her husband Ron Miller through my involvement in The Walt Disney Family Museum, which was built on the grounds of the Presidio in San Francisco. My friend Jeff Kurtti was one of three creative consultants working with the family on the Museum (the other two being Paula Lowery and the late Bruce Gordon). In 2007, Diane and the others were wondering how to approach the Museum gallery that dealt with the war years. Because of my knowledge of the topic and my related collection, Jeff recommended me to Diane.

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from Diane inviting me down to San Francisco to see what they were up to and see if I wanted to participate. Needless to say, I accepted on both counts.

I will never forget that first visit with Diane and Ron, (and their son Walter), in the family condo overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. After a glass of Silverado wine, which came from the family vineyard in Napa, the trio took me for dinner at a great little restaurant around the corner from the condo. We proceeded to spend a wonderful evening together talking about the Family Museum, and Diane's father and some of the people he worked with and whom she had come to know.

The following day I received a tour of  a small museum in an old wooden warehouse on Gorgas Avenue - the old building housed the family's collection of artifacts and mementos. The items on display were amazing. Walt Disney's Academy awards and other personal awards, the Lilly Belle train that Walt had ridden around his Holmby Hills backyard, posters, letters, and much, much more. These items would become the foundation for the new Museum, under construction at the time.

This first meeting led to a loan of 48 items from my collection for inclusion in Gallery 6 of the Museum.

That first trip also led to a wonderful friendship. Over the course of the next six years, Diane and I exchanged literally hundreds of emails and many phone calls. I sent her information related to her father and his studio covering the years 1925-1945. She always graciously responded by saying she appreciated the work I was doing for her and the Museum.

I also located items for her I thought the Museum should have in its collection and on occasion she  took my advice and purchased what I had recommended. The last item I brokered a sale for was the Mickey Mouse coat of arms that had been painted on her father's Hyperion Studio office door circa 1933. This artifact had been owned by the son of the man who had purchased one-half of the Hyperion complex, after Walt and Roy had moved their operation to Burbank in 1940.

Diane and Ron were extremely gracious to my family and I. On two separate occasions Diane arranged for comp admissions to the two Disney theme parks in California and several other perks, including a private tour of her father's apartment above the Main Street Firehall in Disneyland.

I was fortunate to have been invited by Diane to the Museum on four separate occasions. My last trip was in March of this year for a presentation I gave on the history of 2719 Hyperion Avenue - the location of her father's studio on the eastern edge of Hollywood in Los Feliz. On the second day of that trip, Ron and Diane took me out for lunch. I always enjoyed my private time with them. She always had fascinating stories to tell about her father or someone he had known or she had come to know because of him. Ron, too, always had an interesting story to tell about his father-in-law or the company he had overseen in the early to mid-1980s. Sometimes I would throw out the name of one of her father's associates and Diane would relate anything she could recall of that person. It's funny because on every trip she would ask me when I was going to bring down my wife and children for her and Ron to meet. She once remarked that she looked forward to watching our children grow up. Sadly, the rest of my family never had the opportunity to meet her, although the kids did send her home-made cards, which she said she loved receiving.

So many memories have come flooding back to me since I learned of her death this evening. I was not the only Disney researcher who had a friendship with her. I was not a confidante or a close family friend. I was just someone who had an appreciation for her father's accomplishments and who had information to share with her. And because of that, she took an interest in me. She didn't have to. But she did. And for that I will always be forever grateful.

Diane Disney Miller was gracious, humble, intelligent, and witty. I will miss all of those things about her and much, much, more.

I once read that when someone you know passes, you should not be sad that they have gone. You should be happy that they had lived. I can tell you I am happy that she lived and that I had a chance to meet her. But right now I also feel horribly sad.

Thank you, Diane, for everything you did for me and the legions of Disney fans who admire your father's accomplishments.

My condolences to Ron and the rest of the Disney-Miller family.

Here are two image of Diane I snapped on my second visit to the Museum, which was still under construction at the time. If I recall correctly, the first image was taken on the Museum's second floor - the big display case with all the Mickey Mouse memorabilia would be on the right side and when you walk through the brick opening you'd be in the gallery where the Silly Symphony cartoons are showcased and where the Ink and Paint samples are on display. The second image was taken in the basement - we were going down there to look at the theater that was under construction.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Walt Disney - the first Academy Awards

November 1932 was the hottest on record in Los Angeles. A cold snap would follow in December, but that month, those living in the Los Angeles area endured daily temperatures in the mid-80s.

On Friday, November 18, 1932, Walter Elias Disney and his wife Lillian traveled from their home on Lyric Avenue, down to the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. The four mile journey would normally take about 15 minutes, but on this day, the traffic would be much heavier.

Four years to the day of the release of the first Mickey Mouse sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, Walt and Lillian were on there way to the 5th annual Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' banquet, being held in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel.

The Ambassador Hotel as shown on an early postcard.
In addition to hosting several Academy Award ceremonies, the Hollywood landmark was also home to the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub. The hotel was demolished recently to make way for a public school.

In front of hundreds of film notables, including movie stars, directors, studio executives and state and city politicians, Walt Disney would collect the first two of his many Academy Awards. One newspaper article stated, "It was a glittering ceremonial, attended by more than 900 of the great and lesser-great of the film world."

The Fiesta Room circa 1940s.

According to another newspaper report, "The event drew thousands of spectators who blocked traffic for more than a block in front of the hotel. The crowds parted as sleek limousines drew up and discharged the feminine stars, many of them with great puffed sleeves, high neckline and fur-trimmed gowns, and accompanied by the immaculately groomed escorts."

November 18, 1932 - four Hollywood luminaries pose for a photo at the 5th Academy Awards banquet. L-R: Stan Laurel, Walt Disney, Hal Roach and Oliver Hardy.

Walt Disney socialized that evening with several of his Hollywood friends. As testimony to Disney's acceptance in Hollywood social circles, one year later he would attend a party given by fellow producer Hal Roach. Held in a sound stage at the Roach Studio, the gathering of Hollywood's who's who celebrated Roach's 20 years as a filmmaker. Besides Walt Disney, those in attendance included Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, John Weissm
uller, Jean Harlow, Darryl Zanuck, Jesse Lasky, Louis B. Mayer, Will Rogers and Sid Grauman.

The ceremony in the Fiesta Room was hosted by Conrad Nagel, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organization he and 35 other like-minded industry insiders founded in May 1927.

At some point in the banquet, a short color cartoon produced at the Disney Studio was played for those in attendance. Parade of the Award Nominees featured caricatures of those nominated in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories.

Several internet sites indicate artist Joe Grant was hired specifically to work on this short, however no production records for this film exist at the Disney Archives to confirm this. Some historians suggest Grant's first work at the Studio was on the film Mickey's Gala Premiere.

Parade of the Award Nominees is notable for the fact the film marks Mickey's first on screen appearance in color, preceding the color Mickey Mouse short The Band Concert by several years.
As Mickey Mouse led the procession the actors and actresses walked down a carpet dressed as the characters they portrayed.

Wallace Beery, (with child actor Jackie Cooper in tow holding on to Beery's coattails), was nominated for his portrayal of an alcoholic boxer trying to get his life back in order on account of his son in The Champ.

Fredric March was nominated for his dual screen appearances as Dr. Jekyll,
and Mr. Hyde.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were nominated for their screen performances in The Guardsman. Convinced his wife (Fontanne), was cheating, Lunt impersonated a Russian guard in order to seduce her. He succeeded but she claimed she knew it was him all along.
Helen Hayes was nominated for her role as a wrongly imprisoned woman who turns to prostitution in order to support her illegitimate son in The Sin of Madelon Claudet.

And Marie Dressler was nominated for her portrayal of a devoted housekeeper
in Emma, who marries her employer only to have his three children turn on her when he dies..
The Best Actress statuette was awarded to Helen Hayes and for the first time in the Academy's history, a tie was declared for Best Actor - Beery received one less vote than March, but under the rules in effect at that time, a nominee had to poll at least two votes more than his nearest competitor to win. A tie was declared and the two actors were awarded statuettes. Both men had recently adopted little girls and in his acceptance speech March reportedly delivered one of the funniest lines of the evening, when he said, "Under the circumstances, it seems a little odd that we were both given awards for the best male performance of the year."

Parade of the Award Nominees was, by all accounts, a hit that evening. One new
spaper reported the film garnered a "huge laugh."

Walt Disney knew prior to arriving at the banquet that he was going to receive two awards. Up until 1941 winners were informed beforehand
, in order to allow members of the press attending the function time to meet their filing deadlines.

It's not known at this time if Disney gave an acceptance speech. The assembled crowd though agreed with the Academy's decision to award Disney the honorary statuette. One newspaper reported, "Judging by the applause, the greatest enthusiasm was for Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, and for Helen Hayes."

A press photograph taken at the banquet shows an obviously happy Walt Disney standing beside his obviously proud wife. In the photo Lillian holds the statuette, an Honorary Special Award given to her husband for the creation of Mickey Mouse, while Walt holds the C
ertificate of Honorable Mention, awarded to him for Flowers and Trees.

The photo appeared in several newspapers and magazines in the days following the banquet. The accompanying caption in one newspaper read:

"Mickey Mouse, the hero of the comic strip...and of the animated cartoons in the movies, has won for Walt Disney, his creator, the coveted distinction of a special award by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Disney is shown in the picture above, snapped at the annual banquet...where the award was made, together with Mrs. Disney, who is holding the inscribed...statuette symbolizing the award.

At the same time Mr. Disney was honored with one of the Academy's annual awards, this one for his color shorts. This is the first time that two awards in the same year have come to one man."

The ceremony marked just the third time the Academy had bestowed an honorary award and the first time an award had been given in the newly created Cartoon Short Subject category.

Walt shows off his two awards while on the grounds of the Hyperion Studio.

The Certificate of Honorable Mention stated:
"Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Walt Disney Productions Ltd.
has been judged worthy of the Academy's
for the Cartoon Short Subject

"Flowers and Trees"

This judgment being rendered with reference to
Motion Pictures, First, Regularly Exhibited in
the Los Angeles district during the
year ending July 31, 1932."

Flowers and Trees was in production as a black and white short when the decision was made to scrap all of the completed footage. After witnessing Technicolor's newly developed three color process, Disney stated, "When I saw those three rich, true colors on one film, I wanted to shout."

Ever the visionary Disney was able to convince Technicolor to grant him an exclusive multi-year contract for the right to use their new process. As soon as Studio technicians developed new adhesive color paints, production on the short resumed.

At the urging of a mutual friend, Disney showed some of the completed short, totaling no more than one minute, to Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman's Chinese Theater. Grauman was so impressed, he requested Disney finish the film as soon as possible so he could show it at his next major film premiere. Disney rushed the short through production in order to have the short finished in time to be shown at Grauman's world premiere of Strange Interlude, a feature starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer.

The critical reviews praised Disney's venture into color: "Given its premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater..the reception was such that the next ten [Silly Symphony films] will be on rainbow diversion. [The] critics rave over Flowers and Trees has been nationwide wherever it has been shown...the reviewers as well as the industry hailing it as a revolutionary step in the progress of cinematic development." In England Flowers and Trees "broke all short subject records by running for seven solid weeks in various West End theaters."

Taken at the same time as the previous photo, Walt Disney is pictured with his two awards and a Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse doll.

At the banquet's conclusion, many of the attendees filed over to the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub. While it's not known if Walt and Lillian joined in on the festivities, there can be no doubt the couple enjoyed their drive home that evening.

Walt Disney received many congratulatory telegrams and letters following the banquet. Perhaps the most touching came from former business partner Ub Iwerks, who had left the Disney Studios in February 1930. According to Iwerks' biography, "Ub's [telegram] was reportedly one of the few [Walt] truly cherished."

The two awards bestowed upon Walt Disney that night signaled the beginning of Disney's dominance of the cartoon genre. There would be many more awards to follow in the years to come.

My thanks to Jeff Pepper at for providing me with the screen shots from Parade of the Award Nominees. Check out his site - he does great work. Thanks Jeff!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Everybody loves a parade . . .

Here are some great images from the 1934 Macy's Christmas Parade that I've gleaned from various sources over the years. Note that many of the volunteers holding onto the tethered lines of the inflatable Mickey Mouse balloon are dressed in Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes. I absolutely love the image of the Big Bad Wolf.

Here's the New York Times article with parade coverage, which was published on Friday, November 30, 1934:


Here is some related British newsreel footage. The first clip shows the finishing touches being put on the Mickey Mouse balloon. The second clip shows a minute or so of the actual parade.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Schools closed in honor of Mickey Mouse's birthday

Today is the official day The Walt Disney Company celebrates Mickey's 84th birthday. Over 50 years ago the mouse's big day was a big deal and was celebrated with birthday-related events worldwide. Now, not so much. In honor of Mickey's birthday I offer-up some publicity ads from years gone by:

The funny thing about the above ad was that schools were really closed on October 1, 1932. Just not in honor of Mickey's birthday. October 1, 1932, was a Saturday! Some clever marketing on someone's behalf, possibly Harry Hammond Beall, who was in charge of Disney Studio publicity at the time.

The following ads are from the big UA publicity campaign of 1935.

The next ad dates from 1938.

Mickey's 7th birthday bash in 1935 was a really big deal. Walt Disney's distributor, United Artists, pulled out all the stops with a huge publicity campaign. To learn more about UA's 1935 promotion and see some other cool birthday ads please visit my previous post on the topic by clicking here.

As always, click on the images to make them larger.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The most popular character in screendom . . .

One final Columbia promotion before I start to post some great Mickey Mouse publicity ads in celebration of Mickey's 84th birthday on November 18. This one is from December 1930.

The graphics, design, and layout of this ad epitomize why I like vintage 1930s Disneyana so much.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

He talks! He sings! He dances!

As promised, here's another grouping of early Columbia Pictures Mickey Mouse cartoon advertisements. These ads began appearing in trade magazines shortly after Walt Disney signed a distribution deal with Columbia in April 1930.

Respectively, the ads date from April 6, May, 27, June 3, and June 10, 1930.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mickey, Charlie, and Doug

In celebration of Mickey's upcoming birthday, I'm going to try and post a series of rare Mickey Mouse magazine advertisements from the 1930s over the course of the next week. 

Here's the first in the series - a Columbia Pictures promotion from February 1931:

In the spring of 1930, Walt Disney ended his business relationship with the shifty Pat Powers, a New York businessman who had been distributing the Mickey Mouse shorts starting with Steamboat Willie, and instead inked a new deal with Columbia Pictures. 

The interesting coincidence in the above ad is the fact Chaplin and Fairbanks were two of the four Hollywood legends that started up United Artists in February 1919, along with Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. And it just happened to be United Artists that Disney signed with to distribute his films starting in June 1932, after a falling out with Columbia.