Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30: Silly Symphonies Go Color

On this day in 1932, Disney's 29th Silly Symphony short Flowers and Trees premiered at Sid Graummann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, playing in front of the Clark Gable film Strange Interlude. The first to be produced in three-strip Technicolor and considered a landmark in animation, Flowers and Trees was not the first color cartoon (that honor went to The Debut of Thomas the Cat produced some 12 years earlier for the Bray Studios).

Walt Disney's reason to use three-strip Technicolor (a very expensive process at the time) was to boost interest in his Silly Symphony shorts. At the time, Walt's Mickey Mouse cartoons - although black & white - were doing great ... but his Silly Symphonies needed a push. Flowers and Trees was already in production as a black & white short when the choice was made to go color. Walt also signed a two-year agreement with Technicolor giving him sole rights to the process for animated shorts ... and a head start over all the other cartoon studios. This made Flowers and Trees the first commercial film to use the 3-color dye transfer system.

A simple story featuring two trees in love who are threatened by an angry old tree stump that sets the woods on fire, the long list of animators who worked on Flowers and Trees include such famous names in Disney history as Les Clark, Norm Ferguson, Dave Hand, Hardie Gramatky, Fred Moore and Dick Lundy.

Directed by Burt Gillett, Flowers and Trees was a commercial success and earned Disney the first Academy Award ever given for Best Short Subjects - Cartoons. Every Silly Symphony that followed was produced in color.

"When I first saw those three rich, true colors on one film, I wanted to shout." -Walt Disney

Click HERE for more July 30 Disney history.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29: Belle Takes A Final Bow

On this day in 2007, Disney's first Broadway musical Beauty and the Beast played its final performance at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City. Including this last Sunday afternoon show, the Broadway production played 46 previews and 5,464 regular performances since 1994 (when it debuted at the Palace Theatre)!

The cast on this day included Anneliese van der Pol (as Belle), Steve Blanchard (as the Beast) and special guest Donny Osmond (reprising his role of Gaston). The sixth longest-running show in Broadway history, Beauty and the Beast featured a score by Alan Menken, Time Rice and the late Howard Ashman.

The show closed to make room for Disney's newest musical The Little Mermaid (which began previews November 3, 2007 ... but unfortunately closed in August 2009).

Click HERE for much more July 29 Disney history.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27: Birth of a Character Actor

Born Frances Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn in New York City to vaudeville comedian great Ed Wynn and Hilda Keenan on this day in 1927 ... you may know him better as Keenan Wynn, character actor.

He appeared in hundreds of movies and television shows between 1934 and 1986, following in the footsteps of his famous dad Ed (whose Disney credits included Mary Poppins as Uncle Albert).
Usually playing villains, Keenan's Disney live-action credits include: The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber as Alonzo P. Hawk, Snowball Express as Martin Ridgeway, Herbie Rides Again once again playing a character named Alonzo Hawk, and The Shaggy D.A. as John Slade.

If you still can't place Keenan's face ... you've probably heard his voice in such animated projects as The Last Unicorn and Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. His non-Disney credits also include the features Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate and Finian's Rainbow and television episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Love Boat and Taxi.

Interesting to note - Keenan was initially cast to play Perry White in the 1978 Superman: The Movie, but due to health issues, he was replaced by Jackie Cooper.
Keenan remained active in show business until his death in October 1986.

"My billing has always been; 'and', or 'with', or 'including'. That's alright; let the stars take the blame." - Keenan Wynn

Click HERE for much more July 27 Disney history.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18: Paying Guests!

"I remember the first day we had paying guests in the park and Walt was over at the Fire Station looking out the window. And I heard him say, 'Paying guests I love you' ... and threw them a big kiss." -Hank Dains (original Disneyland Cast Member)

On this day in 1955, Disneyland opened to the general public for the very first time. The park's gates opened at 10 a.m. and admission was a $1!
Click HERE to learn about a 22-year-old college student named Dave who made Disney history on that humid Monday morning in July.

Then click HERE for much more July 18 Disney history.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17: Where Were You?

As many Disney fans know, Disneyland (Walt's very first theme park) debuted in Anaheim, California on this day in 1955. We've all read about the chaos that ensued on that hot July day when the park premiered to over 28,000 guests and many more on live television.

Here's a bit of a run-down of where certain famous names (and certain not-so-famous names) in Disney history were on that "Black Sunday" in Anaheim:

An 18-year-old Cast Member named Bob Penfield operated the King Arthur Carousel on opening day. He was to operate Peter Pan's Flight ... but it kept breaking down! Penfield went on to become the longest working Cast Member in Disneyland history.
"I remember the first day, seeing Walt Disney walking down Main Street. I'm an 18-year-old Iowa farm boy, and I'm watching Walt Disney walk down the street." -Bob Penfield

Reporter Charlie Ridgway was covering the opening for the Los Angeles-Mirror News. He later went on to work for Disney as a publicist before relocating to Florida to run Disney World's public-relations department (for 30 years)! Retired since 1994, Ridgway's career can be traced in his book Spinning Disney's World. He was named a Disney Legend in 1999.
"I arrived with my wife at 9:00 a.m. and I don't think they were happy to see me show up that early. I picked up the press credentials and wandered round and had a wonderful time." -Charlie Ridgway

Cast Member Ron Dominguez was working as a ticket taker at the park's main gate on July 17. He would spend his entire career at Disney, eventually becoming vice president of Walt Disney Attractions (through 1994). Interestingly he grew up on one of the Anaheim orange groves that became Disneyland! The Dominguez family home originally sat just about where Pirates of the Caribbean is today. Dominguez was inducted a Disney Legend in 2000.
"We were actually the last people to leave the property. Our new house wasn't quite ready, so we didn't move until August of 1954." -Ron Dominguez

A nine-year-old named Bonnie Williams was one of the lucky youngsters to be in the park on opening day. A member of a church youth group who had been invited to Disneyland, Williams was among the first children to cross the drawbridge into Fantasyland!
"I remember seeing Walt. He looked like a giant. I told him - I saw you on TV! The whole day was magical." -Bonnie Williams

Also among the first children to run through Sleeping Beauty Castle ... a young boy named Robb Fischle. Today he is a park security officer!
"On opening day they had the ceremony in front of the castle ... Walt dedicated Fantasyland. They dropped the drawbridge for the first time. Fortunately I was one of the kids that got to run across the drawbridge into Fantasyland." -Robb Fischle

A rusty-haired 12-year-old named Tom Nabbe stood outside the park's entrance on July 17 with his mom seeking autographs from visiting Hollywood stars. After striking up a conversation with entertainer Danny Thomas ... they were actually given two extra admission tickets that Thomas didn't need! Two days later young Nabbe landed a job as a "newsie" hawking Disneyland News on Main Street. In 1956 he became the park's first Tom Sawyer ... and in 1971 became Disney World's monorail manager! Forty-eight years later in June 2003, 60-year-old Nabbe retired. He was the last working member of Club 55 (a group of original Disneyland Cast members). Nabbe was named a Disney Legend in 2005.
"I used to approach Walt everytime I saw him around the park." -Tom Nabbe

Disney consultant Harrison "Buzz" Price attended opening day too. A few years earlier he had chosen the then sleepy-agricultural town of Anaheim as the location for Disneyland.
"I was on the bridge that led to Sleeping Beauty Castle, and it was full of people. We couldn't move. I looked down and saw Frank Sinatra, and he was cursing." -Buzz Price

Future Disneyland President Jack Lindquist was at the park ... but as a guest! He was working for an ad agency and one of his clients Kelvinator (an appliance company) invited him. Originally a child actor, Lindquist began working for Disney in late-1955 and stayed with the company until his retirement in 1993. A year later he was named a Disney Legend.
"It was so crowded, and I think it was 105. I don't know, but it was very hot." -Jack Lindquist

A Long Beach College student named Dave MacPherson watched the Disneyland grand opening on ABC-TV. During the broadcast, he hatched a plan ...
"I decided I wanted to be the first in line. The first person to go into the park who wasn't a relative of Walt's or some celebrity. The first regular guy to go in through the front door." -Dave MacPherson
So around midnight MacPherson got on his motorbike and made the 10-mile trek from Long Beach to Anaheim. When he reached Disneyland, he walked over to the nearest ticket booth and started a line. On the morning of July 18 he purchased the first ticket to be sold to the general public - thus becoming the very first person to enter Disneyland on its very first regular day in business!

Of course we all know Walt Disney himself was there on July 17, keeping extremely busy along with actor (and future U.S. President) Ronald Reagan, radio/TV host Art Linkletter (who celebrated his 43rd birthday on July 17), actor Fess Parker (dressed as Davy Crockett) and nearly 30,000 guests!

Happy 55th Anniversary Disneyland.

Click HERE for much more July 17 Disney history.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16: R U Stuck in the Suburbs?

On this day in 2004, Disney Channel premiered the Disney Channel Original Movie Stuck in the Suburbs.  The comedy centers on middle school student Brittany (played by Danielle Panabaker) who accidentally exchanges cell phones with a popular teen singer named Jordan Cahill (Taran Killam). When Brittany's friend Natasha (Brenda Song) convinces her that it might be fun to mess with Jordan's "glamorous" career ... they learn that his life isn't as carefree as it appears.

Panabaker's acting career in 2004 was still in its infancy, but she would go on to appear in other Disney films such as Read It and Weep and Sky High. (Her credits also include the feature film Yours, Mine and Ours, guest television roles on Medium and Grey's Anatomy and the short-lived series Summerland.)

Starting out as a child fashion model, singer-actress Brenda Song had already appeared in Disney Channel's Get a Clue and episodes of That's So Raven. Today she is best known for her character of London Tipton on Disney's The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its spin-off The Suite Life on Deck.

Comic, actor and singer Taran Killam had made his first film appearance in the 1994 feature Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult before joining the cast of MADtv. Today his credits include Big Fat Liar and appearances on such sitcoms as How I Met Your Mother and Drake & Josh.

Animator and director Savage Steve Holland (already known for his comedy cult films Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer) directed Stuck in the Suburbs. A few years earlier in 1998 he had directed the comedy Safety Patrol a direct-to-TV movie released by Disney starring Leslie Nielsen.

Stuck in the Suburbs gathered 3.7 million viewers - making it the most-watched telecast in its time period. It was also one of the first made-for-television movies by Disney that had its own soundtrack. Stuck in the Suburbs - Original Soundtrack was released 3 days earlier (on July 13) and featured tracks by Hilary Duff, Jesse McCartney, and Taran Killam.

Click HERE for much more July 16 Disney history.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15: Welcome Space Travelers

On this day in 2005 Disneyland's Space Mountain officially reopened (after nearly a 2 1/2 year refurbishment) with a special 13-minute morning ceremony. (Ironically construction had begun on Space Mountain on this very day in 1975.)

Space Mountain's track was completely rebuilt (although it is the exact same layout first designed back in the 1970s), the foundation was laid 30 feet deeper (making the ride safer), and the floor of the building was also lowered some 10 feet. Space Mountain also received new rocket sleds, a new queue, new music by Michael Giacchino, new special effects and a new storyline.

Reopening only two days before Disneyland's big 50th anniversary celebration, Disneyland guests were surprised as the projected debut date had been originally set for November 2005. What was also surprising to guests on this day was the appearance of space traveler Neil Armstrong.

The first person to set foot on the Moon (in July 1969), Armstrong was also an aviator, aerospace engineer and professor. His very first space flight had been in 1966 aboard Gemini 8 as the command pilot, but he will always be remembered as the mission commander of Apollo 11 whose historic moon landing forever changed the world.

The Disneyland ceremony began with Disneyland Resort Ambassador Becky Phelps welcoming the crowd of invited guests and introducing Resort President Matt Ouimet. Ouimet spoke about "the ultimate E-ticket ride" and Disney's involvement with space travel.

He then introduced Armstrong who was escorted in by Mickey Mouse (dressed as an astronaut of course). Armstrong spoke of his early days in the U.S. Navy, Disney's television segments on space travel, and his illustrious career at NASA. Together Armstrong and Mickey unveiled a plaque given to Armstrong featuring an early drawing of Space Mountain and these words:

Presented to Mr. Neil Armstrong for his courage and adventurous spirit that continues to inspire all mankind to reach for the stars.

Click HERE for more out of this world Disney history.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12: Kurt Russell Turns Invisible

On this day in 1972 the Disney live-action comedy feature Now You See Him, Now You Don't was released.
A sequel to the 1969 The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Kurt Russell returned to the role of Dexter Reilly - a chemistry student who invents a spray that makes it wearer invisible! Unfortunately A. J. Arno (a crook played by Cesar Romero) wants to steal it for himself.
The film also featured comedy-great Joe Flynn (as Eugene Higgins, the dean of Medfield College) and character actor Jim Backus (as Timothy Forsythe). In 1975 Now You See Him, Now You Don't became the first Disney film to be shown on television in a two-hour time slot. Previous Disney films had either been edited or split into two one-hour time slots.

Click HERE for more visible July 12 Disney history.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 08: Let Freedom Ring

Tradition tells of a chime that changed the world on this day in 1776 ... the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of the State House (now known as Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania summoning citizens to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. A prominent symbol of the American Revolution, it represents independence, liberty and justice.
Although the Liberty Bell had pealed prior to July 8, contrary to popular belief it did not ring out on July 4, 1776. Much of the bell's history is shroud in tradition and is not always factual - most historians doubt this day's event really took place as the bell's steeple had deteriorated by 1776 and needed work.
What is factual is that the Liberty Bell replica at Walt Disney World was cast from the actual mold of the real bell! It is one of 50 authentically cast and molded in 1976 for the U.S.A.'s 200th birthday. First hoisted into its present location in 1989, the bell (which anchors Liberty Square) stands 8 feet tall and weighs two and a half tons.

Click HERE for more July 08 Disney history.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 04: Walt in Marceline

On this day in 1956 Walt and his brother Roy spent the Fourth of July visiting Marceline, Missouri - their childhood town and inspiration for Main Street USA. (Though born in Chicago, Walt had always considered Marceline his hometown.)

The Disney brothers and their wives had arrived in Marceline (about 120 miles northeast of Kansas City) the day before - being greeted by hundreds of guests at the Santa Fe Country Club. But on this day Walt and Roy visited locations of some of their childhood experiences (the Disney family spent 5 years in Marceline).

The brothers stopped at the railroad depot, Park School (today known as Walt Disney Elementary School), their old family farm, and Yellow Creek (a favorite fishing spot). In the afternoon, the Midwest premiere of Disney's The Great Locomotive Chase took place at the Uptown Theater - with Walt and Roy personally greeting every child who entered the theater.

Later in the day the Disneys attended the dedication (along with 6,000 other local guests) of the Walt Disney Municipal Park and Swimming Pool. A U.S. Senator and the local Mayor took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by 50 local boys who christened the pool by all jumping in at the same time. Appropriately, the day finished with a fireworks show.

"Everything connected to Marceline was a thrill to us, coming as we did from a city the size of Chicago. I'm glad I'm a small town boy and I'm glad Marceline was my town." -Walt Disney

Click HERE for more July 04 Disney history ... and Happy Independence Day!

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 02: The 8th Nine Old Man

A member of Walt Disney's inner circle of animators known as "Nine Old Men," John Lounsbery began his very first day of work at the Disney Studios on this day in 1935.

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Lounsbery's family relocated to Colorado when he was very young. As a young adult he moved to California after attending the Art Institute of Denver and began working as a commercial artist while attending classes at the Art Center School of Design. It was one of his instructors who recommended he apply for a job at the Disney Studios.

Lounsbery's earliest work included various Pluto shorts and assisting on the animation of the Witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. By 1940 he was a full-fledged animator creating such memorable characters as J. Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon in Pinocchio and Ben Ali Gator in the Fantasia segment "Dance of the Hours."

This was just the beginning of a 40-plus year career that included Dumbo, Victory Through Air Power, Song of the South, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and The Jungle Book. During this time Lounsbery also became a master of the animated technique known as "squash and stretch" - which gives an animated object dimension and volume, making it more lifelike.

Sadly he was midway through his third directorial project The Rescuers, when he passed away on February 13, 1976 of heart failure during surgery.

"John was not a pretentious man, but very much a teacher. Very kind and very sharing  with all of his information." -animator Don Bluth

Click HERE for more July 02 Disney history.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 01: A Journey Through Time & Space

The WEDway PeopleMover, a transit system in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World debuted on this day in 1975. Themed as an urban transportation system of the future, guests depart from Rockettower Plaza (located beneath Star Jets - today known as Astro Orbiter) and are taken for a 10-minute mile long ride around the second floor of many Tomorrowland attractions (such as Space Mountain).

Unlike the People Mover at Disneyland, which used the propulsion system of rotating tires, WEDway PeopleMover uses linear synchronous motors (similar to many rapid transit systems in airports). The Edison Electric Institute, the association of share-holder owned electric companies, was the attraction's original sponsor back in 1975. The attraction's original narration was supplied by Jack Wagner, the voice of Disney parks (today a new narration features the voice of Mike Brassell).

Now known as Tomorrowland Transit Authority (since 1994), WEDway PeopleMover is also sometimes referred to as Blue Line, TTA and Tomorrwland's Super-Skyway. Its leisurely pace and lack of queue lines makes this continuous loading ride a favorite among park guests.

"The Edison Electric Institute, for America's investor-owned electric companies, welcomes you aboard the WEDway PeopleMover. On this clean, quiet electric powered ride of tomorrow, the PeopleMover will be your front row seat for a grand circle tour of Tomorrowland." -Jack Wagner

Journey HERE for much more July 01 Disney history.