A look at how the 1961 feature sent Disney’s animation studio—and its record company—careening into the 1960’s with fresh techniques and lower budgets.
Walt Disney Presents
101 DALMATIANS in Story and Song
Disneyland Records ST-1908 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono / 1960)
Reissues: Disneyland DQ-1308 (1961); DisneyRama ST-4903 (with Pop-Up Book, 1963); Disneyland Storyteller ST-3934 (1965).
Executive Producer/Story Adaptation: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Musical Director: Camarata. Running Time: 24 minutes.
Voices: Ginny Tyler (Rolly/Narrator); Betty Lou Gerson (Cruella De Vil, Nanny Cook); J. Pat O’Malley (Jasper, The Colonel, Labrador): Dal McKennon (Sgt. Tibs, Collie); Teri York (Vocals); Jimmy Macdonald (Announcer); The Mellomen: Bill Lee, Max Smith, Bob Stevens and Thurl Ravenscroft.
Songs: “Playful Melody” by George Bruns and William D. “By” Dunham; “Kanine Krunchies Kommercial”, “Cruella De Ville”, “Dalmatian Plantation” by Mel Leven.
Considerable change was in the air as the first half of the 20th century gave way to the second at the Walt Disney Studios. Walt, at the time absorbed in the new challenges of Disneyland Park, television and live-action films, was ambivalent about the future of animated features. Sleeping Beauty had not met expectations and the genre had become prohibitively expensive.
On a smaller, but no less notable scale, the new Disneyland /Buena Vista Records division was struggling to keep afloat, mostly sustained by Annette Funicello’s hit singles and albums. Back when hopes were high for Sleeping Beauty, fourteen different records had been released; only a few of those survived in the ensuing years.
Disney record production, manufacturing and distribution were dramatically retooled. The feature soundtracks were changed from premium products, marketed to adults, to $1.98 albums designed for children. The “Storyteller” book and record series was stepped up and the push was on to increase the number of catalog titles by spreading shrinking budgets thinly over more records.
By the time 101 Dalmatians was produced for records, the days of fully orchestrated, in-house-produced Sleeping Beauty records were past. The modest sound of small combos, happy harpsichords and even cool jazz became the house style. Most story albums contained little or no music beyond what accompanied the songs. Even sound effects were sparse.
But just as 101 Dalmatians the film benefitted from the modern Xerox process and a fresh, jaunty attitude, so did the story record. Even though the LP offers no original soundtrack material (that would not happen until the CD release in 1998), the story album of 101 Dalmatians is a pleasure nonetheless.
It’s dished up with spirited flair—just like a classic radio show, a genre mastered by all the actors involved. Ginny Tyler, at the brink of her long association with the label, narrates in her “boy voice” as Rolly (the puppy who was always hungry in the film). There is no attempt to duplicate the actual child’s voice in the movie. Tyler employs the vocal style she continued to such great advantage in cartoons and records of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (It is not clear why, when she first mentions Horace and Jasper, she refers to them as “dognappahs”, since her Rolly voice otherwise has no trace of Brooklynese. Those two links were definitely not “like buttah”.)
The rest of the cast either approximates a voice from the film or recreates roles they played in the film. Fortunately for listeners, the spectacular Betty Lou Gerson recreates her landmark role as Cruella De Vil. (On all Disneyland Records, her last name is spelled “De Ville” and “Hell Hall” is called “Old Hall”.) Gerson puts no less verve and élan into her vinyl performance than she did in her animated one. She also voices Nanny Cook (instead of Martha Wentworth from the film). Also from the movie cast is J. Pat O’Malley in his Colonel and Jasper roles, also substituting for Ramsay Hall as the Labrador.
For the recording, Dal McKennon (another Disneyland Records regular) plays Sgt. Tibs (originally David Frankham) and the Collie (in place of Tom Conway). The only voices that cannot be verified at this writing are that of Horace (though it sounds a lot like O’Malley) and, even more perplexing, Pongo. His vinyl voice is so familiar, yet difficult to pin down. Could it be Jack Cassidy, using a vocal approach similar to his take on Bob Cratchit in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol? Few Disney story records of this period included cast credits. One has to piece the voice actors’ identities together from hearing them on other records from the same label or time period.
The 101 Dalmatians story album was released in the short-lived “DisneyRama” album series, which accounts for the disjointed, cut-and-paste look of the illustrations as converted for the standard 2-D books. When the album was repackaged in the ‘70s with the white top border on the cover, it stated that the material was from “the original soundtrack.” A longtime enthusiast pointed out the misprint and it was changed to “Story and Songs.”
All four songs produced for this album are historically significant. “Playful Melody” is George Bruns’ background theme with lyrics; the “Cruella De Ville” song has a twangy pop twist on the bluesy number; and “Kanine Krunchies Kommercial” is presented as a radio spot rather than a commercial jingle (as a 7-year-old hearing this spoof for the first time in a school library, this author practically laughed himself out of his chair at the wry comic accuracy of the musical arrangement and the relentlessly perky vocal by Teri York).
Most interesting is Mel Leven’s original—and completely different—version of “Dalmatian Plantation,” a song totally rewritten for the final film to feature a proliferation of “-tion” words. The movie version was unavailable on recordings until Randy Thornton produced the 1998 CD soundtrack.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Cruella Crashes and The Puppies Come Home
Enjoy a short sampling of Cruella, Nanny, Rolly, Pongo, Teri York and the Mellomen from the album. The skid and crash sound effect was a staple of film, records and TV in the ‘60s and ‘70s. One of the album’s few shortcomings was the overuse of the same skid sound every time Cruella drove into the scene.
Walt Disney’s Story of the
101 DALMATIANS with Songs from the Film
Disneyland Records LLP-305 (7” 33 1/3 RPM with 24-Page Book / Mono)
Released in 1965. Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Musical Director: Camarata. Running Time: 8 minutes.
Voices: Robie Lester (Disneyland Story Reader); The Mellomen: Bill Lee, Max Smith, Bob Stevens and Thurl Ravenscroft; Studio Chorus.
Songs: “Cruella De Ville” by Mel Leven; “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
This is one of the earliest Disneyland book and record read-alongs ever created by the studio. Many other labels had already introduced books with records—some in which kids followed numbered pictures (such as on Capitol Records) and a burgeoning catalog of 78 and 45 rpm sets from Golden Records. Virtually all labels with children’s titles offered books with recordings.
Disneyland had a very specific format for read-alongs from 1965 to 1977. Singer/actress Robie Lester read the lion’s share, replaced by British singer/actress Lois Lane (she actually changed her name to that). Side one (and sometimes part of side two) offered the reading with a “Tinker Bell” chime signal to turn the page. Side two contained one or two songs either from the film or related to the story. Only one Lester title had background music from beginning to end: Peter and the Wolf.
Youngsters who eagerly played this particular Disney read-along were startled to find that it did not match the movie story at all. It was instead a reprint of the Little Golden Book, “Lucky Puppy”. The early Disney read-along titles leaned heavily on Golden Book reprints, and they were limited to an “offshoot” story based on the film. Some might have been disappointed, but it’s actually a fine little tale that calls out the puppies’ names and foreshadows the basic storyline of the 2003 direct-to-video animated feature, Patch’s London Adventure.
The cool thing about some of these early read-alongs is that they contained songs either exclusive to the series or hard to find elsewhere. One of the latter is “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”, which appeared on 1961’s Dog Songs album. Dog Songs was out of print for most of the label’s history (it popped up briefly in the “Disneyland Double Feature” two-record series).
In 1977, Producer Jymn Magon changed the read-along format to include a cast, sound effects and background music, starting with The Rescuers. Each previous classic title was revised and eventually the “no music” titles dwindled out.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“One Hundred and One Dalmatians”
The Sherman brothers wrote a title song for the 1961 film that would have marked the first time one of their tunes was used in an animated feature. However, an instrumental of “Playful Melody” is heard over most of the titles. One of the bemused observations about 101 Dalmatians is that it isn’t a musical, even though Roger Radcliffe is a songwriter. No one sings except when Roger plays piano, otherwise the songs occur organically—a major departure for pre-1960’s Disney animated features.