Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Walt Disney Family Museum

This image was taken two years ago on one of my first visits to San Francisco. Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, stands amidst the renovations in barracks building 104 on the grounds of the Presidio, which now houses the new Walt Disney Family Museum.

I have been very fortunate to have been involved, in a very small way, with the new Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Last week I had the opportunity to attend two preview events that included entrance to the Museum as well as a reception.

The back courtyard of building 104, taken two years ago. A basement and new ground level glass infill building would soon occupy this space.

The back courtyard of building 104, with the newly installed glass infill building, as of September 24, 2009.

The view from the glass infill building, looking out towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

I was going to write a gallery-by-gallery review, but have instead opted to just list some of my favorite artifacts, followed by a description of some of my favorite technical / audio-visual displays. There are so many neat items to see it's hard to choose, but here goes, in no particular order:

The reception area. The awards display cases are visible in the background along the walls.

1) past the reception area you'll find nine huge display cases filled with just a sampling (just under 250 by my quick count), of the many awards, plaques, certificates, medals and sculptures given to Walt Disney over the course of his lifetime.

One of nine display cases.

2) one display case features his Academy Awards including 15 Oscar statuettes, six Award(s) for Outstanding Merit, and four Distinctive Achievement Certificate(s). Included in this case are his first two Academy Awards, given in 1932: the Honorary Special Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse, and the Certificate of Honorable Mention for the first color Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees. Also on display is the specially made Academy Award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which features one large and seven smaller statuettes and his Irving Thalberg award.

This photo, taken on one of my earlier visits to the original museum, shows the Academy Awards on display in the new museum.

3) the three page letter written to the mother of Virginia Davis in October 1923. Virginia was the little girl who starred in the so-called "Alice" comedies. In the letter, Walt asks Mrs. Davis to bring young Virginia to Hollywood so work could resume on the Alice Comedies.

4) there are several dozen three-dimensional maquettes on display in various galleries: Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, Dopey, Pinocchio, Gepetto, Stromboli, Vulcan, Ben Ali Gator, Hyacinth Hippo, Bacchus and Jacchus and even Casey Jr.

A Pinocchio maquette. Animators would refer to these models during production. This pose of Pinocchio, made in the Studio's Model Department, is believed to be the first three-dimensional maquette design to have been created.

5) a display case filled with Snow White related memorabilia including a Snow White book autographed by Walt Disney to his young daughter Diane...part of the inscription read, "from your daddy, Walt Disney."

6) animation art: spectacular production drawings of the Hag from Snow White and Chernabog from Fantasia were some of my favorites. There are also dozens of pieces of conceptual art: great watercolors of Mickey as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, two Old Mill watercolors by Tenggren, Kay Nielsen pastels from Ave Maria; pastels from the Nutcracker Suite; and watercolor backgrounds from Pinocchio and Snow White. What are believed to be one of the earliest Mickey Mouse drawings are also on display.

Old Mill watercolor conceptual art by Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren.

7) the Herman Schultheis Camera Department Process Lab notebook. This notebook is filled with photographs and notes and documents many of the special effects and film processes used in the creation of several of the golden-age classics. This notebook is a treasure trove of information, much of which was previously unknown.

The Schultheis notebook.

8) a huge display case filled with 1930s memorabilia - items related to the 1930s Mickey Mouse Club including a rare child's vest and fez, Campaign Book and pinback buttons, a merchandising rep Herman "Kay" Kamen catalog, dolls, storybooks, advertising items, bisques and more - this case is a visual treat for the eyes.

9) rare posters from the Alice comedies and the Oswald series.

10) selection of items from the strike including several issues of the trade magazine Variety.

11) three display cases filled with rare war-related items including original insignia art and home front related pieces.

12) Walt Disney's train, the Lilly Belle, and rare paper items related to his backyard railroad the Carolwood Pacific.

The Lilly Belle, as seen in the first museum.

13) a huge animated model of Disneyland, not as it was completed, but the one envisioned in Walt Disney's mind. This model is amazing and has many, many moving parts.

The detail in this model is exact and amazing!

14) Eyvind Earle conceptual art for Sleeping Beauty.

15) a display case filled with Zorro memorabilia.

16) the sculpted model bust of President Abraham Lincoln, which was used in the audio-animatronic, as well as the audio-animatronic tube frame of the President's upper torso.

17) A small gallery with display cases featuring personal objects - Walt Disney's watch, money clip, Lillian's perfume bottles, jewelry, a case of miniatures from Walt's own collection and a handwritten note from Walt detailing the types of food he enjoyed eating, complete with the remark: "Only one vegetable" with each meal. What was Walt's favorite meal you ask? Two cans of Hormel and Gebhardt's chili mixed together. Lemon Jell-O was one of his favorite desserts. Elias Disney's fiddle is also on display and there is a small vignette in the awards gallery that features pieces of furniture from Walt and Lillian's Disneyland apartment.

18) hundreds of photos and 16 mm film of Walt Disney - family pictures as well as professional images catch Walt Disney at work and play. Perhaps the most touching image was one taken by his son-in-law Ron Miller on the last family vacation - the photo shows Walt Disney sitting on a log on a beach on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Walt has a movie camera on his lap and is tipping his hat. A very moving and poignant photo before one of the last galleries, which documents the world's reaction to news of Walt's death.

This image is found in gallery one and shows Walt with his sister Ruth.

Some really neat audio-visual related notes:

1) a decision was made early on in the project to use Walt Disney's own voice to tell his story. This was one of the best decisions made. Who better than Walt Disney to tell his own story? Clips are used from many of Disney's television appearances, as well as various radio interviews, including the over 12 hours of tape captured by Pete Martin and Walt's daughter Diane for the series of articles that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

2) There are many additional audio clips to listen to: you can hear Disney employees speak on a wide range of topics.

3) There are three neat shows to see in Gallery 1 - the three separate vignettes have Walt telling the story of a) his childhood on the farm; b) growing up in Chicago; and c) volunteering for duty as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross in France. Each uses paper cut-outs in an amusing and entertainingly whimsical fashion!

4) The elevator ride to the second floor has a neat angle - it's made out to be a Santa Fe railroad car and has Walt speaking about his journey west to Hollywood.

5) The Schultheis notebook has been digitized. The original notebook is on display in a cabinet with the digitized version avalable for viewing - this was a very cool display!

6) A couple of reactrix displays (at least I think that is what they are called)...a flat horizontal screen in front of the guest displays various small images. You point and press the circle you want more info on and a detailed image appears in front of you on a vertical screen.

7) A fanciful recreation of a Moviola, where you can control the speed and forward or reverse direction of a sequence from Snow White. Very, very cool!

8) A two-storey multi-plane camera. Just an amazing piece of equipment. The camera punches up through the second floor of the Museum and gives guests an idea just how large this mechanical wonder really was.

These are just some of the wonderful things that await you on your visit. I had the opportunity to spend two very brief evenings at the Museum. I believe 4 1/2 hours is what Museum staff have calculated to be the minimum amount of time needed to see most of the exhibits. One could easily spend the whole day there.

Photography is not allowed in the Museum. The images in this post have come from photos I was allowed to take on previous visits at the old museum and other sources on the internet, including Roger Colton and his great website: