Sunday, June 28, 2009

June 28: A Tribute

On this day in 1975, screenwriter and TV producer Rodman Edward Serling passed away at age 50. Better known as simply Rod Serling, he was the creator and narrator of The Twilight Zone, a CBS-TV series which first aired in 1959.
Born on Christmas Day 1924 in Syracuse, New York, Serling was raised in Binghamton, a city located in the southern tier of the Empire State. Even after his "Hollywood success," Serling kept a summer home on Cayuga Lake, in New York's Finger Lakes region (which inspired the name "Cayuga Productions" for use on his Twilight Zone productions).

Originally a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition specialist (he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), Serling broke into television in 1951. He wrote scripts for such early series as
The Doctor, Fireside Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lux Video Theater, Kraft Television Theatre, and Studio One. One script in particular in 1955 for Kraft Television Theatre propelled Serling into the limelight. His episode titled Patterns became a hit and was re-aired a week after its original showing (unheard of in the early days of TV). It established Serling as a television playwright.
Although successful, he was tired of seeing his scripts censored and so decided to create his own show.
The Twilight Zone, an anthology series, first premiered on October 2, 1959. It ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964 (and remains syndicated to this day). Serling served as executive producer/head writer and wrote 92 of the show's 156 episodes. He also served as the show's host, delivering on-and-off-screen monologues at the beginning and end of each episode. While having a loyal fan base, the program never had huge ratings and was surprisingly canceled twice ... only to be revived. But after 5 years, Serling decided to let the third cancellation be final. (Today even Disney fans who were born years after the show ended know of Serling's supernatural series through the popular park attraction The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.)
Serling went on to have success in the early 1970s with another similar TV series called
Night Gallery. It focused more on Gothic horror and the occult (while The Twilight Zone had a more paranormal/futuristic theme). Over his professional career, Serling won 6 Emmy Awards, 3 Hugo Awards, 2 Sylvania Awards, and a Golden Globe. He was also a communications professor at Ithaca College in New York.
A chain smoker, Serling had survived two heart attacks prior to entering Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for heart bypass surgery on June 27, 1975.
Sadly he had a third heart attack during the operation and died the following day, June 28. He is interred at the cemetery in Interlaken, New York.

"Imagination... its limits are only those of the mind itself." -Rod Serling

HERE for more June 28 Disney History.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24: Not That Phil Harris!

These days the name Phil Harris is recognized by fans of the TV series Deadliest Catch, but years before Discovery Channel made a star out of the fishing boat captain, there was another Phil Harris ... one that Disney fans might recall.
On this day in 1904 Phil Harris - a singer, songwriter, musician, comedian and actor - was born in Linton, Indiana. Though successful as an orchestra leader, Harris is remembered today for his recordings as a vocalist, the radio comedy series in which he co-starred with his second wife,
singer-actress Alice Faye, his countless TV appearances, and of course for his voice work in animation.
His first Disney animated feature was the 1967 The Jungle Book, in which he voiced the easygoing and fun-loving bear Baloo. As Baloo, Harris sang "The Bare Necessities," a performance that introduced him to a new generation of young fans who had no awareness of his versatility. He also joined Louis Prima (the voice of King Louie) in "I Wanna Be Like You," delivering a memorable scat-singing performance. (In fact it was record producer & Disney Legend Tutti Camarata who encouraged Harris and Prima to take part in the animated feature.)
The 1970 The Aristocats featured Harris as alley cat Thomas O'Malley. Harris sang the signature tune "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat," with Scatman Crothers - the voice of Scat Cat. (Harris and Crothers had known each other since the 1940s!) A few years after the release of the The Aristocats, the two reunited on a Disney television special to sing that very same feline number.
Harris voiced another bear in 1973, this time named Little John in the animated Robin Hood. He sang the popular anti-Prince John tune "The Phony King of England" (written by the legendary Johnny Mercer).
In 1989, Harris briefly returned to Disney to once again voice Baloo, this time for the cartoon series TaleSpin.
A long time resident and benefactor of Palm Springs, California, Phil Harris passes away in that very town at age 91 in 1995.

Click HERE for more June 24 Disney History.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17: The Man Behind "The Bare Necessities"

On this day in 1916, singer-songwriter Terry Gilkyson was born in Pennsylvania. His name may not sound familiar to you - but there's a good chance you've heard his music.
Gilkyson formed a folk group called The Easy Riders with songwriting friends Rick Dehr and Frank Miller in the mid-1950s. Unlike most folk groups, they avoided political controversy and wrote and chose songs with commercial appeal. Their version of the calypso standard "Marianne" went to number 4 on the U.S. charts. One of the group's earliest penned hits was "Memories Are Made of This," made wildly popular in 1956 by Dean Martin (with The Easy Riders providing backup). The group had a few more years of commercial success including scoring the feature film The Windjammer in 1958.
As he preferred to be a songwriter over a performer, Gilkyson left the group and spent the 1960s writing ... mostly for Disney-oriented projects. (The Easy Riders continued through the decade without him.)
Gilkyson composed the song "My Heart Was An Island" for the 1960 Swiss Family Robinson, the theme for The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (first shown on Disney's television series in 1963), "The Moon-Spinners" for the 1964 feature The Moon-Spinners, and "Thomas O'Malley Cat" for the 1970 The Aristocats.
But Gilkyson will always be remembered by Disney fans for his song "The Bare Necessities" from the 1967 classic animated feature The Jungle Book. The only song from the feature not written by the Sherman Brothers, it was nominated for an Academy Award. The song is first sung in the film by Phil Harris as Baloo and Bruce Reitherman as Mowgli, and later by Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera. Supposedly "The Bare Necessities" was originally rejected for the film but later kept ... on the request of the Sherman Brothers!
Since then, many artists have recorded their own version of Gilkyson's "The Bare Necessities," including Louis Armstrong, Julie Andrews, and Bowling for Soup.
By the 1970s, Gilkyson was at a loss with the music of the day and so retired to New Mexico - living on the royalties from over 300 published songs. (His children went on to have success in the music business as well.) Terry Gilkyson passed in October 1999.

Click HERE for more June 17 Disney History.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 13: A Great Big Day of Disney Birthdays

Born today June 13 -

1892: British actor Basil Rathbone - one of the narrators of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Best remembered for his movie roles of Sherlock Holmes and various swashbuckling villains. A Tony-Award winner (for his Broadway performance in The Heiress), Rathbone was considered the greatest swordsman in Hollywood! Disney's The Great Mouse Detective features a cameo of the character of Sherlock Holmes - using an early voice recording of Rathbone.

1910: Character actress Mary Wickes - known for her comedic roles on TV and in feature films. She portrayed the jocular maid Katie in the Mickey Mouse Club serial "Annette," was the animators' live-action model for Cruella De Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, appeared as Miss Wigginton in the live-action comedy Snowball Express, and provided the voice for the wise-cracking gargoyle Laverne in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You may also recognize Wickes for her role of Sister Mary Lazarus in Touchstone's
Sister Act and Sister Act 2.

1920: Film and musical theater actor Rex Everhart - the voice of Maurice,

Belle's father in Disney's 1991 animated feature Beauty and the Beast. He is known to fans of the horror flicks Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2 as Enos the truck driver. Everhart's stage credits include 1776, Anything Goes, and Chicago.

1926: Comedian and actor Paul Lynde - who had a small role in Disney's 1963 Son of Flubber as a sportscaster. A noted character actor, fans of classic TV will know him from the series Bewitched, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie and as a regular on the game show Hollywood Squares. He also appeared in both the Broadway stage version and the feature adaptation of the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

1948: Film executive, producer, and film director Joe Roth - who was chairman of Walt Disney Studios between 1994-2000. First beginning as a production assistant in the 1970s, Roth replaced Jeffery Katzenberg as Disney's CEO in September 1994.

1949: En
glish actor, writer, and theater director Simon Callow - the voice of the Grasshopper in Disney's musical fantasy James and the Giant Peach. Film fans will recognize Callow from such features as Amadeus, Howards End, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

1953: Comedian & actor Tim Allen - the voice of Buzz Lightyear for Disney/Pixar's
Toy S
tory films. Known to fans of the hit sitcom Home Improvement as Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor (which ran between 1991-1999), Allen stars in The Santa Clause series of feature films. His Disney credits also include Jungle 2 Jungle and The Shaggy Dog.

Click HERE for more June 13 Disney History.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 09: Donald's Debut

On this day in 1934, Disney's Silly Symphony short The Wise Little Hen was released. Because it marks the film debut of Donald Duck, June 9 is considered by Disney to be Donald's birthday.
The Wise Little Hen
was loosely based on an old folk tale titled "The Little Red Hen." In that tale, a red hen asks for help from other farm animals to plant wheat. When no animal volunteers, the red hen does the planting herself. When her task is completed and she asks who will help her eat her bread ... every animal suddenly and eagerly volunteers! In the end, she chooses not to share her bread ... except with her own baby chicks.
The Wise Little Hen
finds Donald Duck and his lazy friend Peter Pig avoiding farm work. When Mrs Hen (a.k.a. the wise little hen) asks for help in planting her corn, Donald and Peter pretend to have belly aches. Mrs. Hen and her baby chicks do all the work themselves. When it's time to harvest the corn ... the duo once again come down with belly aches! Yet, when all is finished and various types of corn delicacies are served, Donald and Peter are suddenly very hungry. Now on to them, Mrs. Hen does not invite them to partake in the feast! In the end, Mrs. Hen presents them with a bottle of "tasty Castor oil for tummy aches" instead of corn on the cob, muffins and corn bread. The short ends with Donald and Peter appropriately taking turns kicking each other in the backside!
Voice actor Clarence Nash voiced Donald (and he would continue to do so for more than 50 years). English voice actor Florence Gill was the singing voice of Mrs. Hen and Pinto Colvig (later the original voice of Goofy) voiced Peter Pig.
The Wise Little Hen was animated by Art Babbitt, Dick Huemer, Dick Lundy and a new kid on the block by the name of Ward Kimball (who acted as an inbetweener). According to Disney, the short was directed by Wilfred Jackson (although some resources list Bert Gillett as the director).

HERE for more June 09 Disney History.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 06: Same Site - Different Theme

On this day in 1959, the Submarine Voyage opened in Disneyland.
An attraction inspired by the Disney live-action feature 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it was one of the first rides to require an E-ticket. The original 8 gray-colored subs carried guests "under the Arctic Ocean's polar ice cap." The vessels - not actual submarines as they did not technically submerge - carried 38 passengers at a time. Portholes allowed guests to view fantastic "Disney-fied" underwater sights.
Submarine Voyage closed in September 1998 - although Disney promised it would open again in 2003 (and possibly be based on the animated Atlantis: The Lost Empire) - it never did.
Fast forward to this day in 2007: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (based on the Disney/Pixar feature Finding Nemo) opened on the same lagoon where Submarine Voyage once sailed! Although this day's opening was really a sneak peak preview for Annual Passholders. The attraction would begin soft openings on June 9 and officially debut June 11.
At Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, guests board one of 8 yellow Nemo research subs and set out in search of an active underwater volcano. Once again, through portholes guests can see a spectacular underwater environment filled with colorful coral reefs and Nemo characters. Nemo uses the same sub vehicles as Submarine Voyage - but unlike the subs in Submarine Voyage which used diesel engines, the Nemo subs use a non-polluting electric-based technology called inductive power transfer.
Walt Disney always believed that our oceans were the "Last Frontier" and these submarine attractions continue to reinforce a little piece of that belief.

Click HERE for more June 06 Disney History.

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 05: The Man Behind Alweg

On this day in 1881, Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, a Swedish entrepreneur was born in Uddevalla, Sweden. One of the wealthiest men in the world during the 1930s, his fortune can be traced back to the domestic vacuum cleaner! Working for a company named Electrolux (then a Swedish lighting company specializing in outdoor kerosene lamps), Wenner-Gren persuaded his employee to buy a patent to a cleaner ... and pay him for sales in company stock. By the early 1930s, Electrolux was owned by Wenner-Gren and the company was a leading brand in both vacuum cleaner and refrigeration technology. By 1933 Electrolux established their first American plant in Connecticut. What does a wealthy business manager and his successful vacuum company have to do with Disney?
Among Wenner-Gren's many interests were also monorail train systems. (Believe it or not, the first monorail was made in Russia back in 1820.) The talented industrial magnate used his Electrolux wealth to start a company called Alweg in January 1953. (Alweg is an acronym of Wenner-Gren's name: Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren.) In 1957 a monorail prototype accidentally caught the attention of Walt Disney while in Europe. Disney liked what he saw and Wenner-Gren's company went on to help Disney designers build the original Disneyland Monorail System, which debuted in June 1959. Alweg later built the Seattle Center Monorail which opened in 1962. Both U.S. systems remain in operation to this day! Although the Alweg Monorail made history, it was also unfortunately type-cast in the U.S. as a theme park ride only. Wenner-Gren had hoped that the city of Los Angeles would embrace his monorail as the basis for a public transportation system, but he was turned down.
His monorail venture was not his only project that looked to the future of technology. Wenner-Gren is considered to be one of the pioneers of the computer industry. He sponsored computer research and production especially to be able to someday use computers to control his monorails!
Although he lived to see Disneyland's great success with his futuristic transportation system, Axel Wenner-Gren passed away in 1961 never knowing he would later influence another monorail system 10 years later ... in Florida.

Click HERE for more June 05 Disney History.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

June 04: History of the "Columbia"

On this day in 1958, Disneyland's ship Columbia was officially christened on the Rivers of America. Disneyland's construction supervisor Joe Fowler (a former naval admiral) took part in the christening by dressing up as a sailing captain of the 1700s. Even television's Mouseketeers joined in as his crew! (The attraction would open 10 days later to the public.)
The Columbia is a full-scale replica of the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. When constructed in 1958, it was the first three-masted windjammer to be built in the U.S. in more than 100 years. (A windjammer was a popular type of ship built to carry cargo.) Even the U.S. flag on the ship's stern is a version of a U.S. flag that would have been flown in the 1770s.
It was actually Joe Fowler who suggested to Walt Disney that the Disneyland ship be modeled after a real ship called the Columbia Rediviva. (Although it is often reported that due to a lack of detailed pictures and plans - the Columbia is actually based a bit on the HMS Bounty - another three-masted cargo ship.)
The real Columbia Rediviva (or Columbia) was a privately owned ship under Captain Robert Gray (a merchant ship captain from Rhode Island). Because the ship was privately owned, it did not carry the common prefix designation "USS." First built in 1773 in Massachusetts, she became the first ship in 1790 to circumnavigate the globe. In fact Captain Gray upon entering the Columbia River for the first time named the ship after the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. Gray was the first recorded European to navigate the Columbia River!
Although the ship was decommissioned and salvaged in 1806, Disneyland's Columbia continues to sail the Rivers of America (usually on the park's busiest days).

Click HERE for more June 04 Disney History.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June 02: "Reflection" of Mulan

On this day in 1998, Mulan: An Original Walt Disney Soundtrack was released. (The animated film itself wouldn't be released until June 19.)
The soundtrack featured songs written by Matthew Wilder and Dave Zippel and a score composed and conducted by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith. Vocalists featured on the release included Lea Salonga, Donny Osmond, 98 Degrees, Jaz Coleman, Stevie Wonder, and former Disney Channel Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera.
Among the 13 tracks were two versions of the hit song "Reflection" - one sung by Salonga (the singing voice of Mulan) and a more "radio friendly" version sung by Aguilera. (The pop version was so well received that Aguilera scored a recording contract with RCA records.) Other highlights included "True to Your Heart" sung by Wonder and 98 Degrees, and "I'll Make a Man Out of You" featuring Osmond (the singing voice of Shang).
The album went on to peak at #24 on the Billboard 200 and was later nominated for an Academy Award.
Singer-songwriter Matthew Wilder is probably best remembered for his 1983 Top 5 hit "Break My Stride." Today he is known as a songwriter and producer - working with such acts as No Doubt, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, and Miley Cyrus.
Tony Award-winning lyricist Dave Zippel had worked with composer Alan Menken on Disney's 1997 Hercules. He would go on to collaborate with Phil Collins for Disney's Tarzan two years later.
Veteran film composer Jerry Goldsmith (known for countless television and feature film scores) would go on to supply the music for Disney's popular theme park attraction Soarin'.

Click HERE for more June 02 Disney history.