Everybody’s A Critic. In a 1994 biography of actress Marlene Dietrich written by her daughter, Maria Riva, Maria recalls her mother’s reaction to being at the premiere for Disney Snow White in 1937 : “Now, tell me one thing! Who is going to see that? A full length picture of nothing but ‘cutesy-poo’? Except for the wonderful stepmother….it is for two year olds! And, all those ugly little men, like the midgets, and that Prince—looks queer…You can’t allow somebody who does Mickey Mouse to become a movie producer! Sweetheart, you have to see it! There’s a ‘cleaning scene’….I nearly peed in my pants! Little ‘birdies’ and fluffy squirrels, all helping the village idiot! And that terrible music. All sugarty doodle-doo…They can’t allow such things and then even have premieres for them. And for this abortion, I had to dress up! Sweetheart, I tell you one thing…it will never make any money!”
The Duck Cure. In 1991, a news story from Sweden stated that a 23 year old man named Nils Wirten found a way to stop his seizures. His miracle cure was the voice of Daffy Duck, which was on television one day during one of his attacks. “Now I keep a small cassette player with me all the time and whenever I feel funny, I just snap on a Daffy tape. It always works like a charm,” claimed Wirten. His doctor responded, “It’s a remarkable effect and I can’t explain how it works.”
Disney Spin. The Disney spin machine went into hyperdrive when at an early screening of the animated feature, “Aladdin” (1992), it was suggested that the evil Jafar was modeled after First Lady Nancy Reagan. “I wanted him to have a face like a mask,” responded supervising animator Andreas Deja. “I made him very, very skinny like a fashion drawing.”
That Disney Humor. Walt Disney was well known for having fun at his employees’ expense. Donald Duck director Jack Hannah wanted to go into live action directing (even eventually writing a comedy screenplay about the misadventures of some Army recruits who had to secretly move a barracks building that Ron Miller liked so much he almost “greenlit” the film with Hannah as director) but Walt was more than content to leave Jack doing shorts and some work for the television series. One day, Hannah was wandering around the Disney backlot looking at the set for a new live action feature. Suddenly, Walt walked by and Hannah asked who was directing the film. “Oh,” replied Walt. ”A new guy named Yensid.” Jack smiled and thought nothing about it and went back to his office. Later, he heard from a friend that Walt had gone to a story meeting and regaled the storymen by telling them that he had told Hannah that Yensid (Disney spelled backwards) was the director and Jack had responded, “Yeah, he’s a good man.” Apparently it was a gag Walt used on others as well.
Stern Humor. Fans of Howard Stern know that his long time producer is Gary Dell’Abate whose is nicknamed “Baba Booey”. How did he get that unusual nickname? Well, Dell’Abate at the time was a collector of animation art and had several framed cels hanging in his living room. One day, he was trying to tell Stern about Quick Draw McGraw’s Mexican burro sidekick, Baba Looey. But, he mispronounced the name of the Hanna-Barbera character as “Baba Booey” and the unforgiving Stern dubbed his unfortunate producer with the mispronunciation.
Beauty and the Beast Took Forever. In Newsweek for February 16, 1953, there is a big feature article on the Disney studios and their latest hit “Peter Pan”. At the end of the article, it is announced that after the completion of the next Disney animated feature, “Lady and the Tramp”, the studio is considering doing Beauty and the Beast and that Walt Kelly’s Pogo the Possum was another possibility.
The Secret of Bullwinkle’s Gloves. When a young boy wrote to ask why Bullwinkle Moose wore gloves, Jay Ward’s widow responded, “I always figured the gloves just came in handy when Bullwinkle was trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Things can get kind of messy in there, you know.”
Dinner Guest. In 1990, J&B Scotch polled 1,000 people and found that more of them would like to have dinner with cartoon brat Bart Simpson than with President George Bush. However, given the choice between Bart and Barbara Bush, most of them selected the First Lady hands down.
That Disney Dummy. Howdy Doody, the famous puppet, was in trouble. His original owner, Frank Paris, left the television show and took his puppet’s head with him, leaving the Howdy Doody show with a bandaged puppet who supposedly had had plastic surgery. A new puppet was needed quickly. NBC programming manager Norm Blackburn put Buffalo Bob Smith in contact with two Disney artists who submitted drawings of what the new Howdy Doody could look like after the bandages were removed. Choosing a composite from the sketches, NBC and Smith then contacted a young puppet artist in Los Angeles named Velma Dawson who had also done some work for Disney. She made some additional sketches and one of those was approved for the final puppet that people today know and love as Howdy Doody. Despite all these Disney connections, Howdy was knocked off the air when Disney premiered the original Mickey Mouse Club television show in the same time slot. Even the son of the director and writer of The Howdy Doody Show told a reporter that he preferred watching the Disney show. Another Disney connection was Disney artist Milt Neil designed a lot of the marketing material and worked on the newspaper comic strip.
That Disney Dummy, Too. In the Twilight Zone episode, “The Dummy” that originally appeared in 1962, the script called for a ventriloquist doll whose face would be a caricature of actor Cliff Robertson who was portraying the performer. The show bought a dummy with all the mechanics already in it and decided to build the caricature over the existing dummy, but they needed artwork as a guideline. William Tuttle remembered seeing the work of an extremely talented man actually named T. Hee, who had worked at Disney as a storyman. Thornton Hee passed away in 1988 but had a rich career in animation. He was a caricaturist at Warner Brothers, was discovered by Friz Freleng who used his work in a number of cartoons. Hee also worked at UPA and Terrytoons in addition to Disney.