Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27: The Voice of a Mouse

On this day in 1895, character actor Edward Brophy was born in New York City. With a raucous voice and a chubby face, he was often cast as gangsters in both dramatic and comedic films. Although most of Brophy's career was spent at MGM, in 1941 he voiced the character of Timothy Q. Mouse for Disney's animated Dumbo (Brophy's only animated film credit).

A self-appointed protector and mentor, Timothy Q. Mouse was Dumbo's sympathetic and only friend. Throughout the film, Timothy's goal was to make Dumbo rich and famous and of course rescue his mother.

"All we gotta do is build an act. Make ya a star. A headliner! Dumbo the Great!" -Timothy Q. Mouse

Click HERE for more February 27 Disney history.

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 26: Time's Up

On this day in 2006, the Disney World attraction The Timekeeper (originally called From Time to Time) officially closed. The Magic Kingdom attraction first opened back in November 1994 in Tomorrowland, but due to low attendance was put on a seasonable schedule of operation in April 2001 (as was Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress).
The Timekeeper was a Circle-Vision 360° film that for the first time also incorporated Audio-Animatronics. Before the actual show, guests were introduced to the invention responsible for the film, 9-Eye (voiced by Rhea Perlman). The nine eyes represented the nine cameras used in filming the show in the round. 9-Eye was the invention of The Timekeeper (voiced by Robin Williams) who "loved to take the time to take you through time."
An interesting concept with an international cast, beautifully shot scenes from around the world and music by acclaimed composer Bruce Broughton, The Timekeeper never really caught on with Magic Kingdom guests. The attraction's Tomorrowland home was an inconspicuous building that today hosts Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Although The Timekeeper hadn't operated since late 2005, it was permanently closed on February 26, 2006.
Not the first of its kind, The Timekeeper originally opened in Disneyland Paris in April 1992 (but closed in September 2004) and then in Tokyo Disneyland in April 1993 (ending its run in September 2002). A version was planned for Disneyland as well, but The Timekeeper never made it beyond planning stages.
When it closed at WDW, it was the last Timekeeper still entertaining guests.

Travel back in time by clicking HERE for more February 26 Disney history.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23: The First of the Nine Old Men

On this day in 1927, a 19-year-old high school graduate named Leslie James Clark began his first day of work at the Disney Studio.
Les Clark had first met Walt Disney while working at a confectionery in Hollywood in the summer of 1925 (in fact Walt complimented the youngster on the lettering he had made for the shop's window menus). A shy high school student who loved art, Clark was waiting tables part-time to help his family pay the bills. The Clark family, originally from Salt Lake City, had come to Los Angeles in search of a better life. But times were tough for many everywhere and Les and his brothers and sisters did what they could to contribute.
In 1927 when Clark was about to graduate from Venice High School, he mustered up the nerve to ask Disney for a job. He was encouraged to bring some of his drawings to the Hyperion Avenue studio and ... amazingly was hired! (Disney's success with his Alice Comedies had allowed Walt and Roy to slowly add a staff of animators.) Walt warned Clark that the "job might be temporary." Les Clark's job at Disney lasted nearly a half a century (until 1975).
During those years Clark, who started out with very little training but was determined to succeed, not only became a senior animator & director, but also one of Walt's legendary Nine Old Men. He entered the field of animation at a crucial time and took part in events that shaped Disney's future and the history of the art form itself. The job at Disney changed Clark's life and he in return paid Walt with loyalty and an unquenchable enthusiasm for learning and detail.
Clark's credits include the later Alice Comedies, the Silly Symphony shorts, many of the Mickey Mouse cartoons, and all of the classic animated features (beginning with Snow White). His career began in the silent film era and continued right through to the age of television!
When Les Clark retired on September 30, 1975, he was the longest continuously employed member of Walt Disney Productions.

Click HERE for more February 23 Disney history.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 21: 4017 Disneya

On this day in 1980, a Main-belt Asteroid was discovered by a Soviet/Ukrainian astronomer. Called "4017 Disneya" it is named for Walt Disney! (True fact - unlike the fun photo to the left.)
A Main-belt Asteroid is an asteroid found in the region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Visit NASA to see where 4017 Disneyana is - and for the technical-minded visit this link for more INFO.
The closest the Asteroid will approach Earth will be in June 2010 - so keep your eyes on the skies!

Click HERE for more down-to-earth February 21 Disney history.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20: Sandy & Disney

Sandy Duncan, a singer, dancer and actress of stage and television known for her cute pixie blond hairdo and perky personality, was born Sandra Kay "Sandy" Duncan on this day in 1946 in Texas.

For you younger readers not familiar with Duncan, she was known for playing the title role in the Broadway production of Peter Pan (a role often played by women and first made famous on stage by Mary Martin in 1954). When the show (not a Disney production) was revived in 1979 on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater (ironically years later the long-time home for Beauty and the Beast), Duncan was chosen for the role of Peter and later nominated for the Best Actress Tony.

During the 1970s, one couldn't watch television without being aware of the multi-talented Duncan. Named "one of the most promising faces of tomorrow" by Time magazine, Duncan starred in the series Funny Girl, had her own variety show simply titled The Sandy Duncan Show, was featured in the ground-breaking mini-series Roots, and guest-starred on various programs (like The Muppet Show).

But Disney fans will know Duncan for her roles in the feature films The Million Dollar Duck and The Cat from Outer Space, and from the television specials Sandy in Disneyland and Christmas in Disneyland. Fans of the animated The Fox and the Hound may not realize it is Duncan voicing the character of Vixey.

The 1971 Disney comedy The Million Dollar Duck centered on the family of a scientist named Albert Dooley (played by Dean Jones) who struggles to pay the bills. Duncan portrayed his wife Katie, who gets a recipe for applesauce wrong and gives it to her husband to take to work for lunch. In a humorous chain reaction, the animals Albert is working with eat up the applesauce. One duck in particular wanders into the radiation lab after enjoying the applesauce and becomes irradiated. When Albert is ordered to get rid of the duck, he takes it home as a pet for his son only to later discover that the duck can lay golden eggs!

Sandy in Disneyland aired on CBS-TV in 1974. Actually shot in the Anaheim park, the program featured musicals numbers and comedic bits all while promoting the great Disney attractions. It featured the all-star lineup of Ernest Borgnine, Ruth Buzzi, Ted Knight, John Davidson, Lorne Greene, Kenny Loggins & Jim Messina, and the Jackson Five!
Two years later in 1976, Duncan hosted the television program Christmas in Disneyland. She was joined by veteran Art Carney and singer Glen Campbell.

In 1978 Duncan portrayed Dr. Elizabeth 'Liz' Bartlett in the 1978 The Cat from Outer Space. When a UFO is stranded on earth, its pilot - a cat with special powers (voiced by Ronnie Schell) - must elude the authorities long enough to repair his spacecraft and return home. The cat gets some help from Dr. Franklin Wilson (played by Ken Berry), his girlfriend Dr. Bartlett and her cat Lucy.

Disney's 1981 animated release The Fox and the Hound featured the voices of Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Pearl Bailey, Jack Albertson, John Fiedler, Paul Winchell, and of course Sandy Duncan. Loosely based on the novel of the same name, it centers on the story of two unlikely friends - a hound dog and a red fox. Duncan voiced a female fox named Vixey.

In 1987 Duncan joined the cast of Valerie's Family, later titled The Hogan Family (when actress Valerie Harper left the series) which lasted until 1991. Since then Duncan has returned to the stage appearing in many shows including a traveling production of The King and I and most recently the lead role in the play Driving Miss Daisy and the classic Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie.

Happy B-day Miss Duncan!

Jump on over HERE for even more February 20 Disney history.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 15: Midnight Never Strikes When You're In Love

"Cinderella" or "The Little Glass Slipper" is a classic folk tale (loved by generations of children) whose origins can actually be traced back to the 1st Century BC. The tale as we know it today is based on versions published by Charles Perrault (in 1697) and the Brothers Grimm (during the early 1800s).
Over the decades hundreds of films have been made that are either direct adaptations from Cinderella or have plots loosely based on the fairytale. The first ever filmed version was an 1899 production produced by Georges Méliès (a French filmmaker best remembered for his 1902 A Trip to the Moon). When a young Walt Disney was producing shorts through his Laugh-O-Gram studio, he too released a black & white version of Cinderella back in 1922. The fairytale must have made a mark on the young animator because many years later on This Day in 1950 ... Disney's classic animated color feature Cinderella was first released.
Twelfth in the Walt Disney animated classic series, the film had a limited release (through RKO Pictures) on February 15, 1950. With a great voice cast and memorable songs, Cinderella was the first full-bodied feature since Bambi in 1942 (as World War II and low box office returns had forced the studio to produce inexpensive films like Make Mine Music).
The film received 3 Academy Award nominations for Best Sound, Original Music Score, and Best Song for "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (which later became a hit single 4 times). Cinderella was generally released a few weeks later on March 4 and the profits from the film, record sales, and merchandising allowed Walt to finance other projects ... including a little theme park in Anaheim.
Cinderella was released theatrically another 5 times through 1987 and made its VHS debut in 1988. When the film was released on a Platinum Edition DVD ... it ironically included a copy of Walt's 1922 Laugh-O-Gram version!
In June 2008, the American Film Institute acknowledged Cinderella as the 9th greatest animated film of all time.

Click HERE for more February 15 Disney history.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 11: Birth of a Disney Legend

If you've experienced such park attractions as It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The American Adventure or marveled at the "Partners" statue of Walt holding Mickey's hand, then you have seen the work of Disney Legend Blaine Gibson - born this day in 1918.
First introduced to the general public by Walt himself on the 1960s television episode "Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair," (pictured left) Gibson (originally from Colorado) started his career with Disney back in May 1939 as an animator. He worked on Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp and One Hundred and One Dalmatians before being asked to relocate to Walt's "new place" in Glendale, California. This new division was called WED Enterprises and Gibson and other artists were plucked from the studio to become Imagineers.
Already sculpting as a hobby since he was young, Gibson was moved to the newly-created sculpture department where he went on to create hundreds of sculptures from which Audio Animatronic figures and bronzes were produced. His earliest work was featured in the exhibits at the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York. Today one can't visit a theme park without seeing Gibson's work as his credits include the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room and of course WDW's Hall of Presidents.
Although retired since 1983, he continued to consult on such projects as The Great Movie Ride and later created the iconic life-size bronze of Walt and Mickey (displayed first in Disneyland and eventually in Tokyo, Paris and Florida too).
Happy birthday Mr. Gibson!

Click HERE for much more February 11 Disney history.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10: KnowhutImean?

On this day in 2000, character actor and comedian Jim Varney passed away at age 50.
Best known for his "Ernest P. Worell" character (first created in 1980 by an advertising agency), Varney also lent his voice to many animated television shows and feature films.
Varney's television commercial career began with a 1980 advertisement, featuring Ernest, for an amusement park in Kentucky. The character was then franchised for use in markets all over the country and Ernest's catch-phrase "KnowhutImean?" became almost as popular as the character itself.
Varney once described this about his beloved Ernest: "Ernest is a neighbor or relative that we've all had at one time. He's abrasive, but he doesn't mean to be. He gets excited and ends up standing on your toes."
Ernest proved to be such a popular cult figure, that he appeared his own TV series Hey Verne, It's Ernest! and later a series of feature films (the first 4 of which were distributed by Disney's Touchstone Pictures). This led Varney to be the voice of Slinky Dog in the first two Toy Story films and later the voice of Cookie Farnsworth for Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire (released the year after his death). Varney as Ernest can be spotted on the Disney TV special Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration.
The next time you are in front of The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios, look down ... you'll see Varney's hand prints!
Generous and thoughtful, Varney was known to visit sick children (through the Make-A-Wish Foundation) dressed as Ernest.
Well spoken and intelligent, people were always surprised that Varney was nothing like his alter-ego.
A heavy smoker all his life, he died of lung cancer on this day in 2000 at his home in Tennessee.

Click HERE for more February 10 Disney history.

Friday, February 5, 2010

February 05: ImageMovers Digital

On this day in 2007, Disney announced the start of a new company called ImageMovers Digital with the producers of Polar Express. The state of the art digital film studio would be run by director Robert Zemeckis and owned by The Walt Disney Company.

The studio's beginnings though can be traced back to 1997 when it was simply called ImageMovers. Writer-producer-director Zemeckis formed the studio along with film producers Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey. Under the creative eye of Zemeckis, ImageMovers turned out such hits as Cast Away, What Lies Beneath, The Polar Express, and Beowulf. Always interested in cutting edge technology, Zemeckis used the process of performance capture to create a unique animated look for both The Polar Express and Beowulf.

Performance capture (or motion capture) is used to describe the process of recording movement and translating that movement onto a digital model. When used in film making, movements of an actor are sampled many times per second and later mapped to a 3D model - so that the model performs the same actions as the actor. A computer processes this information allowing not only the movements of the actor, but the desired camera positioning as well.

ImagerMovers Digital's first project was the 2009 A Christmas Carol (starring Jim Carrey).
Future films planned include Mars Needs Moms! and a remake of Yellow Submarine.

Click HERE for more history captured events in Disney history.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February 02: One Of A Kind

He was the only animator to work on all of the first 4 animated feature cartoons in history - Snow White in 1937, Gulliver's Travels in 1939, Pinocchio in 1940, and Mr. Bug Goes To Town in 1941. Who was he?
A pioneering animator named Shamus Culhane.

On this day in 1996, Mr. James "Shamus" Culhane passed away at his home in Manhattan, New York at age 87. Born in Massachusetts in 1908, he began drawing as a young teen, winning medals for his work while still in high school. In a career that spanned six decades, Culhane worked for 18 cartoon studios ... including his own!
First joining the Disney Studio in 1935, he worked on many shorts such as Hawaiian Holiday. But his big moment at Disney came when he was asked to devise the dwarf's musical march ("Heigh-ho!") from diamond mine to cottage home. This was followed by animating the fox and cat selling Pinocchio to the Pleasure Island coachman in Pinocchio (though Culhane left the studio before the feature was released and his scene was revised).
Meanwhile the success of Snow White had inspired the Fleischer brothers to setup an animation studio in Florida to embark on their own feature Gulliver's Travels. A former Fleischer employee, Culhane rejoined the brothers' studio to help them - later directing the opening sequence to Mr. Bug Goes To Town (the Fleischer's last feature film, released in 1941).
Culhane's career included animating such famous characters as Betty Boop, Popeye, and Woody Woodpecker and writing and directing television commercials.
At Expo 67 (the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal) the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome, which was the site of the American pavilion, contained artifacts including Culhane's celebrated Seven Dwarfs film sequence. (Ironically this geodesic would be the inspiration for Epcot's Spaceship Earth.)
Later in life he authored two books - "Talking Animals and Other People" and "Animation From Script to Screen." Culhane was also one of the first teachers at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (then called the Cartoonists and Illustrators School).

Click HERE for more February 02 Disney history.

Monday, February 1, 2010

February 01: Awarded This Day

On this day in 2003, the Winsor McCay Award - given to individuals for a lifetime of achievement in animation - was awarded during the 30th Annual Annie Awards (honoring work for the year 2002) at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California. First established in 1972 (and given every year since), it is named in honor of pioneer animator Winsor McCay (pictured left) - best known for creating the newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland and the cartoon Gertie the Dinosaur.
The recipients of the Winsor McCay on this day were Gene Hazelton, Floyd Norman, and the Sherman Brothers.

Animator and artist of newspaper comics, Gene Hazelton was hired by the Walt Disney Studios in 1939. He first worked on character designs for Wind in the Willows and later animated cherubs for Fantasia and the boys in the Pleasure Island sequence of Pinocchio. Following the 1941 labor strike at Disney, Hazelton went to work for Warner Brothers which in turn led to work at MGM and Hanna-Barbera (where he first oversaw the creation of the comic strips based on The Flintstones and Yogi Bear). While at Hanna-Barbera, he also created Pebbles and Bamm Bamm (modeled after his own son Wes) for The Flintstones. His work was not limited to cartoons, as he also designed TV spots such as the animated title for I Love Lucy. Retired since the 1990s, Gene Hazelton passed away 2 years after being honored with the Winsor McCay Award.

Animator Floyd Norman is no stranger to Disney fans and historians. First working at Disney during the late 1950s into the mid-1960s, he contributed to such classics as Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone and The Jungle Book (the last film Walt personally supervised). Following the death of Walt Disney in 1966, Norman left the Disney Studios and co-founded an animation studio with animator/director Leo Sullivan. They worked on various projects together, including the original Hey! Hey! Hey! It's Fat Albert 1969 television special. During the early 1970s, Norman briefly returned to Disney to work on Robin Hood (released in 1973). The rest of the decade found Norman writing and producing animated segments for Sesame Street and supervising animation layout at Hanna-Barbera. Norman returned to Disney in the 1980s to join the Disney Publishing Group where he wrote the syndicated Mickey Mouse comic strip and contributed stories for Disney Comics. After a ten year absence from animation he returned to Disney to work on such modern day classics as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, The Tigger Movie and even Pixar's Toy Story 2 (as a storyboard artist). Some 7 years after being awarded the Winsor McCay, Disney Legend Floyd Norman continues today to share his humor and knowledge of animation through appearances and his always entertaining blog Mr. Fun.

Even if you've never seen a Disney film or visited a Disney theme park, it would practically still be impossible to escape hearing the wonderful work of Robert and Richard Sherman, also known as the Academy Award-winning songwriting duo the Sherman Brothers. First writing together in 1951, Robert began a music publishing company seven years later called Music World Corporation. This was followed by their first top-ten hit "Tall Paul" sung my Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. The success of the song yielded the attention of Walt Disney who hired them as staff songwriters. This began an amazing career filled with some of the most memorable songs ever written. Probably best know for their "It's a Small World (after all)" originally written for the 1964 World's Fair, during Walt's life the Sherman Brothers also penned songs for such features as Mary Poppins ("Feed The Birds," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "Chim Chim Cher-ee"), The Jungle Book, and the soundtracks for The Happiest Millionaire and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band. Following Walt's death, the brothers left to work as freelance songwriters, but returned to Disney briefly in 1970 to work on The Aristocats and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Seven years later their music was heard in The Many Adventures of Winne the Pooh (which included the song "The Wonderful Things About Tiggers"). Their non-Disney music includes the hit "You're Sixteen" (made famous by Ringo Starr in the 1970s) and music for the feature Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Some 3 years after receiving the Winsor McCay, Disney Legends Richard and Robert Sherman were thrust into the limelight once again when their music was used for a stage version of Mary Poppins.

Click HERE for more exciting February 01 Disney history.