Monday, May 25, 2009

May 25: A Trio of Pigs Premieres

On this day in 1933, Three Little Pigs - a Silly Symphony produced by Walt Disney and released by United Artists, premiered in New York City at the Radio City Music Hall.
Generally released 2 days later, the short was a phenomenal success with audiences. (Many theaters ran the cartoon for months after its debut!)
The short even had a theme song - "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" written by Frank Churchill. It became a best-selling single on the pop charts and something of an anthem for the ongoing Great Depression.
Three Little Pigs featured the voices of Pinto Colvig as Practical Pig, Mary Moder as Fiddler Pig, Dorothy Compton as Fifer Pig, and Billy Bletcher as the Big Bad Wolf. (Colvig would be best known as the voice of Goofy.)
Disney produced several sequels to Three Little Pigs - but none were as successful. Yet the trio of pigs still to this day have a place in the world of Disney. The pigs along with the Big Bad Wolf are roaming characters in Disney theme parks, have appeared on TV's House of Mouse, are featured in Disneyland's Storybook Land Canal Boats, and can be seen in the feature Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Three Little Pigs even won an Oscar for its director Burt Gillett (the second one ever given for animation).
Printed versions of this famous fairy tale date back to the 1840s - although it is widely believed that the story is much older.

Click HERE for more May 25 Disney history.

Friday, May 22, 2009

May 22: Passing of a Legend

On this day in 2005, voice actor, singer and Disney Legend Thurl Ravenscroft passed away at his home in California at the age of 91. Forever known as the voice of television's Tony the Tiger for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, Ravenscroft was involved with Disney for over 60 years.
His theme park credits go back to Disneyland's opening day in 1955. He was the announcer for many events, including the opening of Fantasyland and the on-board narrator of the Disneyland Railroad. Over the years his voice could be heard as the First Mate on the Mark Twain Steamboat, part of the chorus singing "You Can Fly" in Peter Pan's Flight, the voices of Tangaroa & Fritz in the Enchanted Tiki Room, and several voices for the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Ravenscroft's deep baritone can be heard in the Haunted Mansion (singing "Grim Grinning Ghosts") and the Alice in Wonderland attraction (which was borrowed from the 1951 animated release).
Ravenscroft was also part of some of the best-loved Disney films. He sang as part of the chorus in Cinderella, backed up Kirk Douglas on the song "Whale of a Tale" in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, helped provide the voices of the singing dogs in Lady and the Tramp, voiced one of the knights in The Sword in the Stone, and was the voice of the Russian cat in The Aristocats.
Ravenscroft was also part of Disney television from the very beginning as a member of The Mellomen (a singing quartet). The Mellomen appeared in countless episodes of the Disneyland television series. (Along with Max Smith, Ravenscroft actually started the singing group back in 1948!)
Revenscroft also sang on and narrated countless Disney Records released between 1958 and 1977.
His non-Disney credits include singing on the soundtrack for South Pacific (which was one of the top selling albums in the 1950s) and of course as the vocalist on "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" from the television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
A few weeks after his death, an ad industry journal ran a tribute to Ravenscroft that included these words: "Behind every great character, is an even greater man"

Click here for more May 22 Disney History.

Monday, May 18, 2009

May 18: Disney Plays Ball With Autry

On this day in 1995, Gene Autry's California Angels baseball team and Disney reached an agreement for Disney to acquire 25 percent interest in the team and assume the role of managing general partner.
Autry (best known as The Singing Cowboy on radio, movies & television) had been a minority owner back in the 1950s of a minor league team named Hollywood Stars. (Love of baseball was a lifelong affair for Autry.) When Major League Baseball announced in 1960 plans to add an expansion team in Los Angeles, Autry expressed an interest in acquiring the radio broadcast rights. (Autry had purchased his first of many radio stations back in 1948.) Baseball executives were so impressed by his approach and enthusiasm that Autry was persuaded to become the owner of the team - which he named the Los Angeles Angels. When the team moved to Anaheim in 1966 the name was changed to the California Angels.
In 1995 Autry sold a quarter share to the Walt Disney Company. (Walt and Gene Autry had crossed paths many times over the years & had become friends - they both had a vision of Southern California being an entertainment giant and Walt was even named to the Angels' Board of Directors in 1960.)
In 1996 Disney took control of the team and a year later the team was re-named the Anaheim Angels. Autry remained chairman (and also served as vice president of the American League) until his death in 1998. Although Disney did not technically acquire a controlling interest until after Autry's death - Disney did run the team and extensively renovate its stadium. For Disney, owning the club insured that the team stay in Anaheim and continue to lend the area major league status. This helped to in turn protect Disney's investments in the Might Ducks National Hockey League Franchise - as well as Disneyland.
The team did well - but unfortunately Disney lost money and decided to part with both of its sports teams. In 2003 Disney sold the Angels to Arturo Moreno and the club was once again re-named to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (although the team simply refers to itself as the Angels).

Click HERE for more May 18 Disney History.

Friday, May 8, 2009

May 08: Mr Warmth

On this day in 1926 comedian/actor Don Rickles was born in Queens, New York.
One of the 20th Century's most famous funny men, Rickles has appeared live in top show rooms in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Reno Lake Tahoe. A good natured insult comic, he was a personal favorite of the late Frank Sinatra.
Rickles' 50-plus year career has also included television and feature films in both comedic and dramatic roles. His TV credits include guest spots on Get Smart, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show (countless times), and his own sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey. His film credits include Run Silent Run Deep, Kelly's Heroes, Casino, and Dennis the Menace Strikes Again.
Disney fans of course know Rickles as the voice of Mr Potato Head in Pixar's Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (he is slated for voice work in a 3rd Toy Story feature as well). He also voices an interactive Audio-Animatronic version of Mr Potato Head in the queue for the Toy Story Midway Mania attraction.
Rickles is also the voice of William, one of two Audio-Animatronic toucans, in The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) attraction (in both Disneyland and Disney World). William and his sidekick Morris (voiced by the late Phil Hartman) entertain waiting guests by discussing their positions as agents of the new Tiki Room.

"I've been hot, I've been lukewarm, I've been freezing, but I've always been a headliner. The young comedians always ask me, what's the secret for staying around. I tell them, there is no secret - just stay around. Longevity is the most important thing." -Don Rickles

Click HERE for more May 08 Disney history.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May 05: Happiest Homecoming on Earth

On this day in 2005, an eighteen-month long celebration for the 50th anniversary of Disneyland officially began in all Disney parks (although the Anaheim park's true 50th birthday wouldn't be until July 17).
The Happiest Homecoming on Earth ceremony started with a dedication at Disneyland in California from Michael Eisner (at that time CEO of Disney) - "The dawn of the theme park industry rose from one man's dream."
The special ceremony also featured fireworks, and speeches from Julie Andrews (official ambassador for the 50th anniversary & star of Disney's Mary Poppins) and Art Linkletter (one of the original TV anchorman for Disneyland's TV debut in 1955). Singers Christine Aguilera (one time Mouseketeer) sang "When You Wish Upon a Star" and LeAnn Rimes performed "Remember When" - the official 50th anniversary theme song (penned by Richard Marx).
A video conference enabled connections from all Disney theme parks around the world (Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, and the construction site of Hong Kong Disneyland). The only live feed - via Walt Disney World in Florida - was hosted by Wayne Brady.
In Florida, all 4 theme parks debuted new attractions:
Magic Kingdom's It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean received face-lifts and a temporary stage show called "Cinderellabration" debuted in front of the castle.
Soarin' and a Hong Kong Disneyland Preview Center both opened at Epcot.
Disney-MGM Studios featured Lights, Motor, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and Disney's Animal Kingdom temporarily exhibited Lucky the Dinosaur (a free-roving audio-animatronic figure).
At Tokyo Disneyland, the Rock Around the Mouse stage show (a tribute to rock 'n' roll and California culture) debuted.
Over at Disneyland Resort Paris, their Space Mountain received a makeover and Wishes (a fireworks show via Disney World) debuted.
During the course of the 18 months, more attractions and special shows were added to many parks and by September 2005 Hong Kong Disneyland became the 11th Disney park in the world to take part in the 50th anniversary. (Even the Disney Cruise Line celebrated with a first-ever West Coast itinerary.)
The Happiest Celebration on Earth ran until September 30, 2006.

Click HERE for more May 05 Disney history.

Monday, May 4, 2009

May 04: New Guy in Pixar Town

On this day in 2000, Pixar Animation Studios announced that writer-director Brad Bird had joined the company.
Born in Kalispell, Montana in 1957, Bird knew at a very young age that he wanted to be an animator. At just 14-years of age, he was mentored by one of Disney's Nine Old Men Milt Kahl (after Bird sent Disney an animated film he had been working on since he was 11)! After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts, he began working for Disney. Bird's Disney days were brief and he only worked on the 1981 The Fox and the Hound.
Bird next ventured into the world of animated television series. He created an episode for Steven Speilberg's Amazing Stories, helped develop The Simpsons from one-minute shorts (on The Tracey Ullman Show) into a hit series of 30-minute programs, and worked on such shows as The Critic and King of the Hill.
His next project The Iron Giant, an animated science fiction feature (through Warner Brothers) received glowing reviews from critics ... but did not initially do well at the box office. The film, which tells the story of a lonely boy who discovers a giant iron man from space, did impress Bird's old friend John Lasseter (founder of Pixar).
Bird pitched his next animated idea - about a family of superheroes - to Pixar, and so was born The Incredibles and a new career opportunity. The film became a financial success and Bird won his first Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Bird went on to direct Ratatouille - which earned him a second Academy Award.

Click HERE for more May 04 Disney history.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

May 03: Pongo's Real Owner

On this day in 1896, Dorothy "Dodie" Gladys Smith was born in Lancashire, England. A novelist and playwright, she is known to Disney fans as the author of the 1956 story The Hundred and One Dalmatians (which was later adapted into the 1961 Disney animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians).
As an adult Dodie had pet Dalmatians and one of them was actually named Pongo. (Pongo would be the first of the Dalmatians - voiced by Rod Taylor - in Disney's version.) Upon Pongo's death in 1940, she and her husband acquired two more Dalmatians named Folly and Buzz. In 1943 these two new pets became the proud parents of 15 pups! It is easy to understand her inspiration for her most famous novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Dodie wrote a sequel titled The Starlight Barking, but it bears no resemblance to the Disney sequel 102 Dalmatians.
Her other well-known works include I Capture the Castle, The Town in Bloom and The Midnight Kittens.
Although she passed in 1990, Dodie Smith will be remembered as one of the few successful women dramatists in England and America during the first half of the 20th century.

Click HERE for more May 03 Disney history.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May 02: "This is Carlton your doorman"

On this day in 1937, Gerald David Music - an actor, voice actor, musician, writer & television producer - better known as Lorenzo Music, was born in Brooklyn, New York.
Raised in Duluth, Minnesota, he broke into the business in 1962 - providing voices for the animated TV series The Jetsons. By 1968 he was a writer and a regular performer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Two years later he was writing for the hit series The Mary Tyler Moore Show when an opportunity came to create his own series. Music's television creation The Bob Newhart Show (which first aired in 1972) went on to run for six years and became a classic CBS sitcom. Music even wrote the musical theme for the show along with his wife Henrietta.
When a Mary Tyler Moore spin-off sitcom called Rhoda was casting, producers were looking for a voice actor to play the role of a character that would be heard - but never seen. The comedic part of Carlton the doorman went to Music because of his sleepy, husky voice. That classic role made Music one of the most recognizable voice actors in the business. His unique voice was comforting ... and yet curious.
By 1982, Music found himself as the voice of Garfield - a lazy, oafish, and demanding animated cat (first created by Jim Davis). Music's voice became an American staple and soon he was in demand by many including Hanna-Barbera ... and Disney.
Music provided the voice for Tummi Gummi in Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears (which first aired in 1985).
That program led to work 5 years later on Disney's TV series TaleSpin, as the voice of Sgt. Dunder.
By 1991, Music could be heard as the voice of Mole in Disney's Darkwing Duck animated series.
A two-time Emmy Award-winner, Music passed away in August 2001. But many fans of classic TV will forever remember Lorenzo Music as the voice of Carlton the doorman.

Click HERE for more May 02 Disney history.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May 01: Last Card Dealt

On this day in 1983, Esmond Cardon Walker - better known as Card Walker - stepped down as Chairman of Disney.
Born in Idaho in 1916, Walker moved to Los Angeles, California in 1924. After graduating from UCLA he began his career at Disney in 1938 as a mailroom clerk. He soon found himself working in the camera department and eventually a unit manager for short subjects. World War II forced Walker to temporarily put his career on hold as he served in the U.S. Navy.
By 1956 he was vice president of advertising and sales at Disney, before being elected to the Board of Directors in 1960. After the death of Walt Disney (in 1966), Walker became executive vice president and chief operating officer. When Walt's brother Roy O. Disney passed away in December 1971, Walker became company president (serving under Chairman and CEO Donn Tatum). Five years later Walker took over chief executive officer duties from Tatum, and finally in 1980 became Chairman of the Board upon Tatum's retirement.
As a top executive Card Walker played a major role in the early development of Disney World, Epcot, and Tokyo Disneyland, and helped found The Disney Channel. In fact although he stepped down on this day in 1983, Walker had actually retired as CEO three years earlier. He stayed on as Chairman until May 1 to oversee the opening of Tokyo Disneyland. (Raymond Watson took over as Chairman upon Walker's exit.)
Card Walker would continue to to serve as a consultant to Disney through 1990. He was later inducted a Disney Legend 3 years later.

Click HERE for more May 01 Disney history.

Happy 20th Disney's Hollywood Studios!