Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31: Texas John Slaughter

On this Halloween in 1958, Disney's weekly television series (at the time called Walt Disney Presents) debuted Texas John Slaughter, the first episode of a new 17-part series starring Tom Tryon in the title role.

Based on a real-life historical figure and symbol of the American west, John Horton Slaughter (who was born in Louisiana in 1841) was a cattleman, lawman, soldier, politician, and gambler. After serving during the American Civil War (in the Confederate Army), Slaughter became a member of the famed Texas Rangers (a law enforcement agency who functioned as a paramilitary force at the service of both the Republic and later the state of Texas).

This day's debut episode introduced Slaughter as a man attempting to live a simple life during the 1880s as a cattle rancher, despite problems with thieves and rustlers, who decides to join the Texas Rangers in order to pursue the criminals who stole his herd.

The popular mini-series ran for 3 seasons through 1961.

Click HERE for more October 31 Disney history.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27: And now, here's Walt Disney ...

"Welcome to a little bit of Florida right here in California. This is where the early planning is taking place for our so-called Disney World project. Now the purpose of this film is to bring you up to date about some of the plans for Disney World. But before I go into any of the details, I want to just say a word about the site of our Florida project."

Those opening words were spoken by Walt Disney on this day in 1966 as he filmed a 25-minute presentation at his studio in California. With help from animation, models, and props, he outlined for the media and interest groups his plans for a Florida theme park and a real 
community called EPCOT.
Unfortunately Walt Disney would pass away a little more than a month later and "Walt's last film" would eventually be shown in February 1967 to Florida business and government officials.

"As you can see on this map, we have a perfect location in Florida, almost in the very center of the state. In fact, we've selected this site because it's so easy for tourists and Florida residents to get here by automobile."

"Here in Florida we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland: the blessing of size. There's enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we could possibly imagine."

Click HERE for more October 27 Disney history.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 26: Tower of Terror

On this day in 1997 The Wonderful World of Disney aired a supernatural thriller film titled Tower of Terror. Based on the theme park attraction at Disney World (opened since 1994) the film actually has no connection to Rod Serling's television series The Twilight Zone.

Tower of Terror revolves around the fate of 5 people who are killed in 1939 when the elevator they are riding in is struck by a bolt of lightning at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. Sixty years later newspaper reporter Buzzy Crocker (played by Steve Guttenberg) and his niece Anna (Kirsten Dunst) investigate the mystery of the hotel. They meet up with an elderly woman named Abigail Gregory (Amzie Strickland) who informs them that if they find a belonging of each person on the elevator ... they will unlock the mystery of the hotel and allow the ghosts of the elevator mishap to ascend to a better place.

Much of the film was shot at the Florida attraction (then located in the theme park called Disney-MGM Studios) with additional footage shot at a stage in Hollywood. It was Disney's very first attempt at turning a theme park ride into a film.

Click HERE for more October 26 Disney history.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 25: WDW Formal Dedication

"Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney ... and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney's dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place ... a magic kingdom where the young heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn ... together." -Roy O. Disney's 
WDW dedication, Magic Kingdom Town Square, October 25, 1971

Click HERE to learn more about WDW's formal dedication
and other Disney events for October 25.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21: The Most Amazing Colorist of All Time

"I knew Mary very well. She was an extraordinary artist, and Walt thought very highly of her. She was the most amazing colorist of all time." -Marc Davis (Disney Legend and one of Walt's Nine Old Men)

The "Mary" Marc Davis spoke of was Mary Blair and she was born Mary Browne Robinson in Oklahoma on this day in 1911.

Although born in McAlester, Oklahoma, her family first moved to Texas while she was still very young and by the age of 7 moved again to California. After studying at the San Jose State College she was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.
Soon marrying artist Lee Everett Blair, the couple began to work in the animation industry - actually first joining the Ub Iwerks Studio. Later Lee began to work for Walt Disney first with wife Mary joining him by 1940.

Working briefly on Dumbo (and an early version of Lady and the Tramp) Mary actually left Disney for a brief time in 1941. But she soon returned, just in time to take part in a trip to South America with Walt, his wife Lillian, and a group of Disney animators and writers. She worked on concept art for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

By the 1950s, Mary Blair was an important member of Walt's staff - introducing modern art and vibrant colors to the studio while working on Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. After completing Peter Pan, Mary once again left Disney and began working as a freelance graphic artist and illustrator.
Highly regarded by Walt, he convinced her to work on the It's a Small World attraction for the 1964 New York World's Fair. In 1967 she created mural art for Disneyland's Tomorrowland Promenade and prior to 1971 a 90-foot high mural for Disney World's Contemporary Resort.

Honored a Disney Legend in 1991 (13 years after her death) Mary Blair was one of the first women to be given the honor.

Click HERE for more October 21 Disney history.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 18: Disney Celebrity of the Day

Today we celebrate the birth of actor Peter Boyle - who was born on this day in 1935 in Norristown, Pennsylvania (located some 6 miles from Philadelphia).

Known for his role of cranky Frank Barone on the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (for which he was nominated multiple times for an Emmy), Boyle's first professional acting job was playing Murray the cop in a touring version of The Odd Couple. But it was his starring role in the 1970 sleeper hit Joe that gained Boyle his first critical acclaim. Four years later he played a role that he would always be remembered for - the comical Monster in Mel Brooks' parody Young Frankenstein. Boyle went on to appear in such classics films as Taxi Driver, The Brink's Job, Outland, and While You Were Sleeping.

Boyle's Disney-connection involves The Santa Clause trilogy (starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin/Santa). In the 1994 The Santa Clause, Boyle played Mr Whittle, Scott Calvin's boss. Eight years later he portrayed Father Time in The Santa Clause 2. In 2006 he returned to the role of Father Time in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (one of his last feature film appearances before his death). The ending credits of The Santa Clause 3 includes a dedication to his memory.

Sadly Peter Boyle passed away in 2006 at age 71 in New York City. In 2007 on what would have been his 72nd birthday, his friend Bruce Springsteen - during a concert at Madison Square Garden - dedicated the songs "Meeting Across the River" and "Jungleland" to him. Boyle was also good friends with singer-songwriter John Lennon .... the ex-Beatle had actually been the best man at Boyle's October 1977 wedding!

For more October 18 Disney history - click HERE.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16: Big Day For Disney Legends

The Disney Legends awards are given annually by The Walt Disney Company to honor those who have made a notable contribution to the company. Ceremonies are typically (but not always) held sometime between September - November at the Disney Legends Plaza on the studio lot in Burbank.

On three separate occasions new Disney Legends were named on October 16.

In 1996 Bob Allen, Rex Allen, X Atencio, Betty Lou Gerson, Bill Justice, Sam McKim, Bob Matheison, Bob Moore, Bill Peet, and Joe Potter were recognized as Disney Legends.

The large Class of 1998 included 20 great names in Disney history like James Algar, Buddy Baker, Kathryn Beaumont, Virginia Davis, Roy E. Disney, Hayley Mills, Kurt Russell, and Dick Van Dyke.

Five years later in 2003 Neil Beckett, Tutti Camarata, Edna Francis Disney, Lillian Disney, Orlando Ferrante, Richard Fleischer, Floyd Gottfredson, Buddy Hackett, Harrison "Buzz" Price, Alfred Taliaferro, and Ilene Woods became Disney Legends.

To view a complete list of all Disney Legends click HERE.

For more October 16 Disney history ... please click HERE.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15: The New Site Is Florida - But The Air Is Pure Old Disney

On this day in 1971, LIFE magazine featured a cover story on the newly opened Walt Disney World in Florida. Disney fans have seen the cover photo, of 1500 Cast Members proudly posing in front of Cinderella Castle, many times.

But did you know in the same issue a pull-out poster of the Magic Kingdom was included? The image to the left is a bit rough (as it is 39 years old) but worth taking a nostalgic look at. Click on it for a larger view.

Click HERE for more October 15 Disney nostalgia.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October 9: The Long and Winding Disney Road

On this day in 1940, singer-songwriter John Lennon, who rose to worldwide fame as a founding member of The Beatles, was born in Liverpool, England. Along with Paul McCartney, Lennon formed one of the most successful songwriting teams of the 20th century. So what does the writer of such songs as "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance" have to do with Disney?
You'd be surprised ...

In August 1965 Walt Disney met with Beatles' manager Brian Epstein to discuss the possibility of the Fab Four performing songs for his upcoming animated feature The Jungle Book. The Beatles at this time were already worldwide stars with a string of top selling albums and two feature films to their credit. Supposedly Lennon himself nixed the idea of lending their songs (and or voices) to an animated feature and Walt (reportedly not really a big fan of their music) used semi-soundalikes to voice a group of vultures. In fact, Flaps the Vulture was voiced by Chad Stuart - of the English rock duo Chad & Jeremy whose early success came about during The Beatles rise to fame. (The Jungle Book was released in October 1967 ... unfortunately without The Beatles.)

In late 1973 Lennon visited Disneyland with his son Julian, girlfriend May, ex-wife Cynthia (the mother of Julian) and friends Mal Evans (once a Beatle roadie) and Jesse Ed Davis. At this time, The Beatles (still as popular as ever) had been broken up for some 3 years. Lennon, who had not seen Julian in 4 years, thought Disneyland would be a perfect place to re-connect with his 9-year-old son.

One year later Lennon along with Julian and May spent the last week of December in Central Florida - specifically at Disney's Polynesian Village Hotel (today known as Disney's Polynesian Resort). The trio enjoyed a wonderful vacation - even getting to ride in the front of the monorail on two separate occasions. But something significant took place at the Polynesian on December 29.
Although The Beatles hadn't been a band since 1970 it had taken some 4 years for the proper legal documents to be drawn-up dividing their massive earnings. The other three Beatles (Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) had already signed the voluminous documents when copies were brought down to Florida by one of Apple's lawyers. (Apple Corps Ltd - a multi-armed multimedia corporation - was first founded in 1968 by The Beatles.) When Lennon picked up his pen and signed the document, he officially ended the greatest rock band in history ... at Walt Disney World.

In the early 1990s The Disney Channel (offering massively different programming than today) showed some Beatle-themed specials. One in particular, "The Making of Sgt. Pepper" was broadcast on September 27, 1992. The program featured interviews and rare footage of the making of the group's 8th studio album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (first released in 1967).
Two years later, The Disney Channel aired The Beatles' 1964 feature film "A Hard Day's Night" in honor of the 30th anniversary of the group first coming to the U.S.

The Beatles' Disney-ties don't end there ... take a visit to Epcot and you will find The British Invasion - a tribute band performing outside of the United Kingdom pavilion, and of course a slew of Beatle merchandise to purchase.

In August 2009 Robert Zemeckis and Disney announced that a remake of The Beatles' animated classic "Yellow Submarine" would be re-made in the same style as "Disney's A Christmas Carol." It is currently slotted for a 2012 release.

Sadly John Lennon was killed in December 1980 at age 40 - October 9, 2010 marks what would have been his 70th birthday.

Click HERE for more October 9 Disney history.

For a more in-depth look at The Beatles and Disney - visit the fabulous blog Disney and the Beatles.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 5: Your Doorway to a Fascinating World of Enjoyment!

The Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim wasn't always owned and operated by Disney. Although Walt himself dreamed of a "Disney hotel" where Disneyland guests could spend a night or two ... due to the high costs of constructing Disneyland, his company was in no financial situation in 1955 to be involved in lodging. So under an agreement with Disney, the Disneyland Hotel was built, operated and on this day in 1955 opened - by entrepreneur Jack Wrather.

Wrather, a petroleum millionaire from Texas, was also a television producer and investor in broadcast stations and resort properties. In addition to the Disneyland Hotel, he also owned lodges and hotels in Las Vegas and Palm Springs.

During Disneyland's construction, Walt negotiated a deal with Wrather and his business partner Maria Helen Avarez under which Wrather-Avarez would own and operate a hotel across the street from the theme park. Originally designed by the firm of Pereira & Luckman, the Disneyland Hotel was to open with the theme park, but various problems caused delays and ultimately postponed the debut until October 5, 1955.

Under Wrather's ownership, more rooms were added to the hotel over the years and even the Disneyland monorail was extended to its front door. The Disneyland Hotel was an obvious success.

In 1984, when Michael Eisner was first running the House of Mouse, he desperately wanted to get out of Disney's agreement with Wrather and have Disney own the hotel. But Wrather refused - as he had many times since the hotel first opened. In 1989 (five years after the death of Jack Wrather) Disney bought the entire Wrather company which not only included the Disneyland Hotel, but also the RMS Queen Mary and a domed exhibit that housed the famous Spruce Goose airplane (built by Howard Hughes).

Today none of the original parts of the Disneyland Hotel remain standing, as over the years the hotel has been remodeled and expanded numerous times.

Click HERE for more October 5 Disney history.

(Interested in more history about the hotel? Today in Disney History highly recommends Disneyland Hotel The Early Years by Donald Ballard.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4: Family Gets Magic Kingdom to Themselves

On this day in 2006, a family from Ohio took an early morning stroll down Disney World's quiet and completely deserted Main Street. The family of four walked alone along a red carpet laid down in the middle of the street until they came to the intersection of Center Street ...

Suddenly trumpets blared and an announcer's voice greeted them - "Good morning Tammy, Ray, Derick, and Ashley, and welcome to your Magic Kingdom!" At that moment the family was surrounded by over 1500 cheerful Cast Members and some 80 Disney characters!

The Spangler family from Randolph, Ohio were the winners of the online "Keys to the Magic Kingdom" sweepstakes - part of the "Year of a Million Dreams" campaign. They were the first in Disney history to have the park to themselves!

With their Disney VIP leading the way, the Spanglers rode their favorite attractions (with no lines to wait on), met their favorite characters and even appeared on a segment of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America." By noon they had experienced such attractions as Space Mountain, Dumbo, and the Jungle Cruise (where 11-year-old Ashley got to drive the boat).

The Magic Kingdom opened to the public in phases that day as the Spanglers completed their tour.
Later they enjoyed a Fairytale Lunch at Cinderella's Royal Table and were named grand marshals of the Disney Dreams Comes True parade.

"This is beyond the dream. This is something that you can't even think of dreaming of, yet we have it. It's unbelievable." -Ray Spangler

Click HERE for much more October 4 Disney history.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

October 3: According to Jim

On this day in 2001, According to Jim - a new sitcom from Disney's Touchstone Television - premiered on ABC with the "Pilot" episode.

The series starred Jim Belushi as Jim, a married suburban family man who is comically abrasive, a bit lazy, but always lovable. Actress Courtney Thorne-Smith (best known for her role on Melrose Place) played his wife Cheryl the mother of five children (2 girls and a boy for most of the series' run - though twin baby boys were added in the final season). Cheryl's jolly brother Andy - portrayed by Larry Joe Campbell - was also Jim's best buddy and business partner. Their wise-cracking sister Dana - played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley (best know for her breakout role in Touchstone's Father of the Bride) frequently teamed up with Cheryl against Jim.

According to Jim ran for 8 seasons and can be seen today in syndication.

Click HERE for more October 3 Disney history.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October 2: "Time Flies Like An Arrow ... Fruit Flies Like A Banana"

He had a rapid-fire delivery of innuendo-laden patter and was famous for his work on stage, the big screen, radio and television. His name was Groucho Marx and he was born Julius Henry Marx in New York City on this day in 1890.

Groucho made a string of zany feature films along with the Marx Brothers (Chico, Harpo and sometimes Zeppo and Gummo) showcasing their unique appearances and comedic routines carried over from their days in vaudeville. Standing with an exaggerated stooped posture, Groucho's look was distinct as he appeared in thick greasepaint eyebrows and moustache, wearing glasses and always holding his trademark cigar.

All in all Grouch made 25 movies (13 with his brothers) before moving on to radio and ultimately television. But in the 1930s Groucho was easily one of the most recognized and popular characters in Hollywood ... and Walt Disney (a fan himself) knew it. Groucho was animated in at least 4 different Disney shorts.

In January 1932 Disney released the Silly Symphony cartoon The Bird Store featuring a wide variety of birds (some imaginative - some real). When a cat manages to enter the shop, the birds band together to defend their home. Among the caged birds ... the four Marx Brothers!

The following year Disney released the short Mickey's Gala Premiere in which Mickey and his pals attend the debut of the latest cartoon at Grauman's Chinese Theater. The premiere is filled with many Hollywood stars including the Marx Brothers!

In December 1938 Disney released Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, a cartoon short that takes viewers on a trip through famous rhymes with Hollywood Stars taking the place of the storybook characters. Playing the part of King Cole's Fiddlers Three ... Harpo, Chico and Groucho Marx!

Disney's The Autograph Hound was released in September 1939. This cartoon finds Donald Duck trying to collect autographs at a Hollywood Studio - while trying to avoid an angry security guard. This time it is just Groucho and his "silent" brother Harpo who make an appearance.

Fast-forward to March 18, 1954 ... Groucho's television quiz show You Bet Your Life is one of the most popular programs on the air. On that particular day Disney animator Ward Kimball (who ironically had worked on some of the shorts featuring Groucho) appeared as a contestant.

Awarded with an honorary Academy Award in 1974, Groucho passed away three years later (the last living brother of the popular trio - although Zeppo outlived all of them). Groucho's wit and style is still loved today as the Marx Brothers continue to make generations of film fans laugh.

"Although it is generally known, I think it's about time to announce that I was born at a very early age." -Groucho Marx

Click HERE for more October 2 Disney history.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October 1: Magical Day in Disney History

October 1 has become synonymous with Disney park celebrations and debuts ever since 1971 - when Walt Disney World in Florida first opened.
Here's a quick rundown of famous events for October 1:

1971 - Magic Kingdom debuts in Florida
1981 - WDW begins its very first anniversary celebration
1982 - EPCOT Center first opens
1986 - WDW's second anniversary celebration in honor of its 15th anniversary kicks off
1988 - The Caribbean Beach Resort at WDW opens
1991 - WDW's 20th anniversary celebration begins
1996 - WDW begins its 25th anniversary celebration
2001 - WDW takes part in the global 100 Years of Magic celebration in honor of Walt's birth
2004 - Epcot's 9th Food & Wine Festival begins
2007 - Epcot celebrates its 25th anniversary
2009 - The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco first opens
2010 - The 15th Food & Wine Festival kicks off at Epcot

For a more detailed look at this day's events - click HERE.