Sunday, August 30, 2009

August 30: Birth of Disney Legend #1

On this day in 1908, actor Fred MacMurray was born Frederick Martin MacMurray in Kankakee, Illinois (although he was raised in Wisconsin).
Widely known for his television role of Steve Douglas on the long-running sitcom My Three Sons, Disney fans know MacMurray for the 7 feature films he starred in between 1959 and 1973. Although he began appearing on Broadway and in films back in the 1930s, his career received a boost when he was cast as the father in the 1959 Disney comedy The Shaggy Dog.
MacMurray was honored for his Disney work on October 13, 1987 when he was inducted as the very first Disney Legend.
Learn more about MacMurray and his Disney contributions HERE.

For more August 30 Disney History, please click HERE.

Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28: Introducing Lucky

On this day in 2003 - Lucky the Dinosaur, the first Audio-Animatronic figure to walk freely and interact with park guests, debuted as a test in Disney's California Adventure.
Approximately 8 feet tall, Lucky was a green biped dinosaur who pulled a flower-covered cart and was led by Chandler the Dinosaur Handler (a fellow dressed as a wizard). The dinosaur was the very first free-roving creation dreamed up by Disney's Imagineers. The flower cart Lucky pulled actually concealed a computer and power source. Lucky was capable of moving, vocalizing (in Dinosaur language), and responding to guests! Imagineers went as far as adding thumping sounds that were in sync with Lucky's feet to simulate what a heavy dinosaur may have sounded like when moving.
In Summer 2005, Lucky made appearances at Disney's Animal Kingdom (in DinoLand USA of course). He was then moved to Hong Kong Disneyland for the park's grand opening.
Lucky wouldn't be spotted again until the D23 Expo in 2009 - but his technology enabled another free-roving attraction - Muppet Mobile Lab to wow park guests at various Disney theme parks around the world.
Advances in computers, software, miniaturization, and electronics have enabled Disney Imagineers to create some amazing things. What will the future hold?

Click HERE for more August 28 Disney history.

Monday, August 24, 2009

August 24: I Wanna Be Like You

Entertainer, singer, actor, songwriter, and trumpeter Louis Prima passed away on this day in 1978.
Disney fans will recognize his distinctive voice as the raucous orangutan King Louie in the 1967 animated classic The Jungle Book. In the film Prima's character sang the memorable "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" written by Robert and Richard Sherman. It was actually Disney record producer Tutti Camarata who convinced Prima to take part in the animated film. ("I Wanna Be Like You" has been re-recorded countless times by such artists as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Smash Mouth, and the Jonas Brothers.)
Born into a musical family in New Orleans, Prima started playing professionally in his late teens. His trumpet and singing style was directly influenced by growing up in New Orleans - a city oozing with musical diversity. Like jazz great Louis Armstrong (also a New Orleans singing trumpet player) Prima developed a distinct scat singing style.
Throughout his professional life, he rode the musical trends of his time. Prima started out with a New Orleans jazz band in the 1920s, then led a swing combo in the 1930s, a big band in the 1940s, a hip Vegas act in the 1950s, and a pop rock band in the 1960s. As a songwriter, Prima's 1936 composition "Sing, Sing, Sing" became one of the biggest hits of the swing era (first made famous by Benny Goodman).
Prima is probably best remembered for his 1950s Vegas act with singer Keely Smith (his fourth wife), saxophonist Sam Butera and his band The Witnesses. A mix of humor and swing/blues/boogie-woogie music, Smith and Prima were the model for Sonny & Cher - a wise-cracking Italian musician and an exotic serious singer. Throughout the 1950s they tirelessly performed to sold-out audiences at The Sahara in Las Vegas and released a string of record albums. Prima and Smith even won a Grammy in 1959 for their single "That Old Black Magic."
Prima's legacy continues today as his influence can be heard in recordings by Brian Setzer (who recorded a version of Prima's "Jump Jive and Wail") and David Lee Roth (who had a huge hit with a version of "Just a Gigolo"/"I Ain't Got Nobody"). Many of his old recordings have been used on television (The Sopranos and Gilmore Girls) and in feature films (Mission Impossible III and Elf).
Sadly in 1973, Louis Prima suffered a mild heart attack. Two years later he complained of headaches and had bouts of memory loss. Unfortunately it was discovered that he had a stem brain tumor. Following surgery (to remove the tumor) he went into a coma and never recovered. He spent the last few years of his life in a New Orleans nursing home until his death at the age of 67 on this day in 1978.
He is buried in Metaire Cemetery in his hometown. Prima's gray marble crypt features a figure of the angel Gabriel playing a trumpet. The inscription on the crypt's door quotes the lyrics from one of his biggest hit songs:
"When the end comes I know, they'll say just a gigolo, and life goes on without me."

Click HERE for more August 24 Disney history.

Friday, August 21, 2009

August 21: "Silly Old Bear"

On this day in 1920, Christopher Robin Milne was born to Dorothy and Alan Alexander Milne at 11 Mallord Street in Chelsea, London, England.
Just a year later Christopher was given a teddy bear (which he called Edward) for his first birthday. The stuffed animal, along with a real bear named "Winnie" from the London Zoo, became the inspiration for the character of Winnie-the-Pooh. Christopher's father Alan, was a noted writer and playwright long before he dreamed up Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

Click HERE for more August 21 Disney History.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 20: Annual Tribute To Winnie

On this day in 2004, Winnie's Hometown Festival kicked off for 3 days in White River, Ontario, Canada. An annual event (held every third week in August) since 1988, the festival celebrates the real bear who was the inspiration for A. A. Milne's lovable character Winnie the Pooh.
On August 24, 1914 (during World War I) troops from Winnipeg were being transported to eastern Canada when the train made a stop in White River. Aboard the train was a lieutenant named Harry Colebourn who, during the stop in White River, purchased a small female black bear cub for $20. It wasn't uncommon for soldiers to purchase mascots and Colebourn (also a veterinarian) felt sorry for the little bear as its mother had been killed by a hunter. Colebourn named the bear Winnie - after his hometown of Winnipeg.
Winnie became the mascot of the 34th Fort Gary Horse of Winnipeg, Canadian Infantry Brigade and traveled to Britain with the soldiers. When Colebourn was ordered to go to the battlefields of France, he took Winnie to live at the London Zoo. While living at the zoo, Winnie became very popular .... especially with a young boy named Christopher Robin - the son of A. A. Milne. Milne went on to write a series of stories about Winnie the Pooh, Chrisopher Robin, and all their friiends in the 100-Acre-Wood. (Winnie passed away at the zoo at the ripe old age of 20 in 1934.)
Winnie's Hometown Festival (organized by the White River Historical Society and the community of White River) features a different theme every year. Themes have included "Winnie Looks to the Future," "Winnie Goes to Vegas," and "Winnie's Four Seasons."
The theme for 2004 - which kicked off on this day - was "Winnie Goes Hawaiian."

Click HERE for more August 20 Disney history.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August 19: Walt's Passport

On this day in 1965, Walt Disney was issued a U.S. passport (for an upcoming trip to London, England).

At one time up for sale on ebay, the passport was eventually sold in April 2007 for $28,680.

Click HERE for more August 19 Disney History.

Monday, August 17, 2009

August 17: The Voice of Stromboli

On this day in 1882 stage & screen actor Charles Judels was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A film actor who appeared in over 130 films, Judels is best known to Disney fans as the voice of Stromboli and the Coachman in the 1940 animated feature Pinocchio. His expertise with dialects served him well during his 50-plus year career and certainly gave the character of Stromboli the puppeteer a villainous quality. Despite his limited screen time, Stromboli is often cited as one of Disney's greatest villains!

Click HERE for more August 17 Disney History.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 15: Influencing Walt

On this day in 1843, Tivoli Gardens one of the world's oldest and Europe's most famous amusement park and garden first opened in Copenhagen, Denmark.
From the very beginning, Tivoli included buildings in the exotic style of an imaginary Orient, a theater, band stands, restaurants, shops, flower gardens, mechanical amusement rides, fireworks, and a primitive scenic railway. Sound familiar?
Walt Disney visited Tivoli at least two times (first in 1951 and then in 1964) and was obviously greatly influenced and inspired by what it had to offer guests. Although Tivoli is much smaller than Disneyland (it's more of an urban park as it sits in the middle of Copenhagen) it has all the elements that later made Walt's parks successful.
Tivoli's popular rides range from the historic - a traditional wooden roller coaster that requires an operator to sit in the last car to break when the ride goes too fast, to modern extreme thrills - The Star Flyer, the world's tallest carousel.
Tivoli really shines at night when the park's 100,000 custom-made soft glow light bulbs and a million standard ones get turned on. (No neon lights at this old-world icon.)
Rumor has it that Michale Jackson loved the park so much that he once offered to buy it!
Charming, cozy, and thrilling at the same time, Tivoli is a unique and historical amusement park whose legacy inspired a Disney empire.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 13: U.S. Premiere of Bambi

On this day in 1942, Disney's 5th full-length animated feature Bambi had its U.S. debut at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (The film had premiered 5 days earlier in London, England.)
Based on the book "Bambi, A Life in the Woods" by Austrian author Felix Salten, the film rights had actually been purchased in 1933 by Sidney Franklin a producer-director at MGM. He had originally wanted to make the story of Bambi into a live-action feature, but realizing the difficulties involved - he in turn sold the film rights to Walt Disney in 1937. Disney began immediately crafting the story into an animated adaptation (along with director David Hand) hoping for it to be the studio's second animated feature. But due to its slow progress, other projects (like Fantasia) took precedence.
Disney's Bambi tells the story of a young white-tailed deer who is hailed as the "Prince of the Forest" at birth. As Bambi grows he makes friends with other animals (a rabbit named Thumper and a skunk named Flower) and learns the skills needed to survive in the woods. As he grows, Bambi experiences the death of his mother at the hands of a hunter, falling in love with a doe named Faline, and rescuing his friends from a raging forest fire. As he matures, Bambi assumes his proper place as the "Prince of the Forest."
Bambi was voiced by 4 different actors - Bobby Stewart as baby Bambi, Donnie Dunagan as young Bambi, Hardie Albright as adolescent Bambi, and John Sutherland as adult Bambi. Other notable voice contributions included Sam Edwards as adult Thumper and Sterling Holloway as adult Flower. (Edwards later worked for Disney voicing many characters for LP record releases and Holloway later became the first voice of Winnie the Pooh.)
Believe it or not Bambi lost money at the box office during its first release. Although the film received good reviews, the timing of the release during World War II, hurt the film's box office numbers. Despite the initial financial loss to the studio, Bambi did teach Walt and his animators much about the art of production. Because of the film, the animators now had a broader spectrum of styles and an expanded knowledge of the multiplane camera. Also Disney's paint lab developed hundreds of new colors for Bambi that would later be used on other projects.
Today the film is considered a classic (and has obviously made a large profit due to its multiple theater re-releases and home video/DVD releases).

Click HERE for more August 13 Disney History.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 09: Welcome Foolish Mortals

On this day in 1969, Disneyland's Haunted Mansion opened to the public for the first time in the park's New Orleans Square! A dark ride attraction, its roots date back to even before the completion of Disneyland in 1955.
Walt Disney himself always wanted to include a haunted house in his park and asked some of his first Imagineers (such as Harper Goff, Ken Anderson, Marc Davis and Claude Coats) to create it. It took many years to develop and finally build just the structure of the mansion. As of 1963, the Haunted Mansion sat visible to guests - but completely empty on the inside! It took another 6 years to flesh-out the storyline and complete the attraction (and unfortunately during that time Walt passed away).
Among the attraction's most important components ... the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song)" written by Buddy Baker and Xavier Atencio. The music for the theme song was written Baker (already an accomplished composer who scored may of Disney's films). Baker's "Grim Grinning Ghosts" melody is used in a wide variety of variations throughout the attraction. The now-famous lyrics were penned by Francis Xavier Atencio (an Imagineer who originally started as an animator).
The Haunted Mansion quickly became a favorite of park guests and versions were later added to Disney's other parks around the world.

Click HERE for more August 09 Disney History.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 06: Bumper Cars on an Air Hockey Table

On this day in 1961, the last attraction to open in Disneyland's
original Tomorrowland - the Flying Saucers - debuted.
Held on a 16,000 sq. ft. metal floor, 16 saucers "flew" guests while another 16 were being loaded. Air valves allowed the saucers to float about an inch off the ground while guests shifted their body weight to control their flight. Similar to bumper cars, guests would often ram each other with their saucers!
The attraction was an immediate hit (even making the cover of National Geographic) but it was also plagued with technical problems. If a guest weighed too much - the saucer wouldn't move, if too light - the saucer would just hover. The saucers were also expensive to operate and did not fit the normal Disneyland guest-flow as only a relatively small number were able to ride per hour. The attraction was designed by Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan from Arrow Development, who helped create many of the earliest ride systems for Disneyland. The Flying Saucers were cutting edge for their time, but Disney paid for it with constant breakdowns.
The Flying Saucers only lasted five years and were replaced by the Tomorrowland Stage in 1967 and eventually Space Mountain in 1977. Still a much talked-about attraction among Disney fans, rumor has it that a similar ride themed to the animated film Cars may be part of the expansion of Disney's California Adventure.

Click HERE for more August 06 Disney History.