This week we listen to a cover version from the Disney studio’s follow up to Mary Poppins – and from the soundtrack of the big-screen swan song of the original Warner Bros. animation unit, a fishy little film starring Don Knotts. Both get the spinning vinyl treatment on today’s Animation Spin.
Songs from Walt Disney Productions’ BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS
Disneyland Records STER-1326 (Stereo)
(12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1971)
Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Conductor: Camarata. Orchestrations: Brian Fahey. Running Time: 26 minutes.
Performers: Mike Sammes, Judy Carne, The Mike Sammes Singers (Enid Heard, Irene King, Marion Madden, Mike Redway, Mike Sammes, Ross Gilmour, Valerie Bain).
Songs: “The Old Home Guard,” “A Step in the Right Direction,” “The Age of Not Believing,” “With a Flair,” “Eglantine,” “Portobello Road,” “The Beautiful Briny,” “Substitutiary Locomotion,” “The Old Home Guard (Reprise)” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
Because of the type of conflict suggested in Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney bought the rights to Mary Norton’s Bed-knob and Broomstick in case the tense negotiations with prickly Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers broke down. Norton wrote the adventures of Miss Price, the three children and Emelius Browne originally as two books The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks (for some reason, the Disney film’s credits only mention the former) before they were combined into one volume. She is also the author of The Borrowers, most recently adapted for Studio Ghibli as The Secret World of Arriety.
Mary Poppins, of course, made it to the big screen, but there were several sequences considered along the way that did not make it to the screen, including an adventure with a magic compass. The Sherman Brothers’ proposed song for this Poppins sequence was adapted for use in Bedknobs and Broomsticks—as “The Beautiful Briny”.
Such circumstances keep Bedknobs inextricably linked to Poppins, therefore constantly subjecting it to comparison. Like Cubby Broccoli/United Artists’ adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), key members of the Poppins team linked the films. Indeed, several magazines and newspapers referred to Chitty as a Disney film. But unlike Chitty, Bedknobs featured an animated sequence, leaning it more into Poppins’ shadow.
It is doubtful any film could duplicate the alchemy of creative forces that came together for Mary Poppins, Walt Disney’s presence chief among them. After his passing, apparently there was no one with the power to insist that every detail be perfect, regardless of time or cost. The very length of Bedknobs and Broomsticks might have been different had Walt been around to stand up to Radio City Music Hall management that insisted the film be trimmed by 26 minutes to allow for more playing times (causing the loss of still-lost audio and an entire song and dance number (“A Step in the Right Direction”). In a way, we will never really see the finished film as it was meant to be seen, but what we have is still impressive.
The Disney organization was already in the throes of an identity crisis when production began on Bedknobs. The Shermans were no longer under contract. The general atmosphere was very different, with various factions in their respective corners and the infamous invocation of “What would Walt have done?” a common phrase (even actor/singer John Davidson attests to hearing this frequently as Disney staffers filmed that 1968 musical, The One & Only, Genuine, Original Family Band — he says this in the DVD commentary track).
The entertainment business had also transformed by 1971. The Hollywood that embraced Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music had been burned by less successful big-screen musicals, virtually leaving family fare for the “new realism” of emerging filmmakers.
All things considered, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a memorable, entertaining movie spectacle with an intriguing storyline (almost completely independent of the book) that places fantasy in wartime England during the Blitz, much like the Narnia stories and Disney’s Return to Never Land. Every adventure in the movie is firmly tied to the central goal of Miss Price’s (Angela Lansbury) efforts to help the War effort with her gift for magic, much as others on the home front saved household fats and rolled bandages.
It will be interesting to see how Bedknobs looks on the upcoming Blu-ray release (along with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Hercules, Tarzan, and Mickey, Donald & Goofy in The Three Musketeers). As for the soundtrack album, it was released on CD a few years ago and is now available for download on iTunes and amazon.
For this week’s Spin, however, the emphasis is on what Disneyland Records called a “second cast” recording, and what some other labels call a “studio cast.” These are not soundtracks, but separate audio productions with some or none of the actual cast members. “Cover versions” were very common in the early to mid-20th century, as stage and screen musicals spawned songs just as popular when recorded by favorite singers and orchestras as those in the originals themselves.
Disneyland and Buena Vista Records had great success in creating a variety of vinyl products from a single film, Park attraction or TV show. The soundtrack album could be available as several single 45 RPM records, the “second cast” would appear on a budget album, Storyteller album, read-along record and more singles. This allows for coverage in other store areas in addition to the record department (particularly alongside toys and books).
“Songs from Bedknobs and Broomsticks” was the very last Disney album for Disney Legend Tutti Camarata and for the prolific British vocal group, The Mike Sammes Singers (who had been recording for Disney at Abbey Road since the mid-‘60s).
An interesting note about this LP: when Bedknobs was first released to theaters, Walt Disney World was recently opened. The first three-dimensional Emporium window dioramas ever to appear on Main Street, U.S.A. in Florida told the story of the film. Inside the Emporium, the sheet music book for the Sherman score was on sale, but the soundtrack album was not. This “Songs From” LP was the only Bedknobs album available at Walt Disney World.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Actress/singer Judy Carne was an up-and-coming star in the 1960’s, gaining international fame as the “Sock-It-To-Me Girl” on the mod, mod Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Carne was among the leading ladies in the running for the role of Eglantine Price. Somewhere during this period she recorded this song. Note the additional lyrics and the wonderful progressive build of the arrangement—which to my mind suggests a much more elaborate treatment as a production number.
I WISH I WERE A FISH From THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET
Arthur Godfrey and The Richard Wolfe Children’s Chorus
Arranged and Conducted by Richard Wolfe
Music by Sammy Fain / Lyrics by Harold Adamson
Contempo Records C-908 (7” 45 RPM / Mono / 1964)
(b/w Hootenanny Dixie Band)
Baby Boomers who loved the combination of live action and animation enjoyed a plethora of big and small screen attempts. Even if they weren’t all as successful as Mary Poppins, many of us cherish these films and shows to this day.
Like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Incredible Mr. Limpet was a fantasy with a World War II setting, also based on a book. It was the swan song of the Warner animation unit involving such major artists as Bill Tytla, Maurice Noble, Phil Roman and Art Babbitt.
The film had a premiere at Florida’s Weeki Wachee — one of the last remaining classicly kitschy Sunshine State attractions—in which live “mermaids” cavort in a huge tank “stage.” Limpet was projected into the water for members of the press and the cast. (This event is on the DVD, too—check out Carole Cook’s flaming orange Marge Simpson beehive.) Not a major hit at the box office, Limpet gained its following as a TV staple of the ‘60s and ‘70s, amassing an affectionate circle of fans.
Sadly, there was no soundtrack album released with the fine songs by Sammy Fain and Harold Adamson, Hopefully someday a plucky independent label will locate the music tracks and grace the world with such a treasure. Don Knotts did record a single version of “I Wish I Were a Fish” for Warner Brothers Records (which may have only been released as a promo disc). It popped up later on a now-discontinued multi-disc CD set called “Warner Bros: 75 Years of Film Music” from Rhino.
Here are some extra Harold Adamson lyrics for “I Wish I Were a Fish” I found on lyricsbox.com. The film gives only a little screen time to the song, cutting it off when Henry’s aquarium overflows.
I wish I were a fish.
I’d spend most every winter in Bermuda
And mingle with the bass and barracuda.
I’d swim and sway
And splash the time away.
And I’d be free to roam around and see
The wonders at the bottom of the ocean.
I’d love to be a porpoise
That would really be a lark,
If I were an electric eel
You’d really see me spark,
And what a meal I’d make of you
If I were a shark!
I wish, I wish I were a fish (wish I were a fish)
I wish (I wish) I wish (I wish)
I wish I were a fish (a fish)
‘Cuz fishes have a better life than people (people)
They don’t have all the care and strife
of people (people)
A fish can swim, that’s all they ask of him.
A fish (a fish) is free (is free)
To roam around the sea (the sea)
And look for love wherever he can find it (find it)
He flirts with every lady fish
As she goes swimming by
And if she gives her tail a swish
And winks a fishy eye
A minnow all at once can be a whale of a guy.
I wish (I wish)
I wish (I wish)
I wish I were a fish (I wish)
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“I Wish I Were a Fish”
You can see Arthur Godfrey promoting this single—with the record literally spinning on an archetypical early ‘60s record player—in one of the Limpet DVD bonus features. This was recorded some years after Godfrey had a Columbia Records contrast that tied in with his ubiquitous presence on radio and TV in the 1950’s. (Think Ryan Seacrest with many times the relative media exposure.)