Suspended Animation #307
Disney had a prominent presence at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair that had some elements that many think influenced some aspects of Epcot.
The 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, located on the current site of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was also the location of the later 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, and was one of the largest world’s fairs of all time. More than 44 million people attended its exhibits in its two seasons.
There was also the competing Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Sponsored by eleven of the Western states of the United States and 28 foreign countries, this “World’s Fair of the West” was built on Treasure Island, a man-made island in San Francisco Bay.
The 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco was the first known World’s Fair that Walt Disney attended. He visited at least four others during his lifetime, including the 1962 one in Seattle. Walt said there would be “Space Needles cropping up all over after the success of this one,” proving that even Walt was not always right.
A round pin for the 1939 New York World’s Fair was issued with Mickey walking and waving in front of the Trylon and Perisphere and a Mickey Mouse wristwatch was buried in the time capsule.
Mickey Mouse and Nabisco
Both of the 1939 New York World’s Fair venues had exhibits sponsored by the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) that presented a very special Technicolor Mickey Mouse short cartoon titled Mickey’s Surprise Party.
The N.B.C. National Biscuit Company Magazine issue of January-February 1939 (Volume 26, Number 1) has an article titled “N.B.C. Theaters at New York and San Francisco World’s Fairs.”
Here is an excerpt:“In New York, we have a circular space in Food Building North, and are erecting an air-conditioned motion picture theater seating approximately 266 persons.
“On Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay our Company has erected a modern motion picture theatre in the Food and Beverages building. The theatre is rectangular in shape with rounded corners, and seats about 130 persons. There will be no charge to either theatre. At both Fairs, the N. B. C. screen program will be the same.”
Mickey’s Surprise Party produced for National Biscuit Company might be considered one of the very first “infomercials.”
Obviously a lot of money was spent on this cartoon, since the color is much richer than some of the other Mickey cartoons at the time and when Mickey first appears on Minnie’s front porch there is shadowing (even around Mickey’s nose) that doesn’t appear in other Mickey cartoons of the time because of the labor and expense. It helped make the characters look more three-dimensional.
When Minnie leaves the room, Fifi barks to shoo away an annoying fly from the batter. When Fifi gives chase, she accidentally knocks an entire box of uncooked popcorn into the batter.
Mickey is curious what surprise Minnie has planned as she sits coyly at the piano.
Suddenly, there is the smell of smoke of burning cookies.
Mickey scoops up a bug sprayer and fills it with water from the gold fish bowl, leaving just enough for the poor fish. Using the sprayer and hiding behind an overturned table, Mickey battles valiantly against the exploding (because the popcorn inside them is now popping) and burnt cookies.
Minnie is distraught and collapses into tears on the living room couch while Fifi howls. Her surprise party for Mickey is ruined.
Minnie cries that “I wanted to make them the way your mother did.” Mickey tries to comfort her with his flippant response: “Aw, my mother used to burn the whole batch all the time!”
They return shortly with a variety of Nabisco cookies: Lorna Doones, Fig Newtons, Social Tea Biscuits, Ritz Crackers, Oreos, and Animal Crackers.
Pluto has even brought Milk Bone Dog Biscuits for Fifi.
“Mother used to buy them all the time and here’s my favorite!” says a happy Mickey as he offers Minnie a Fig Newton. Minnie smothers Mickey with kisses and the film fades out on the Nabisco logo. It’s the only cartoon that talks about Mickey’s mother or gives concrete evidence that he eats other things than cheese.
A censored version of this cartoon eliminating specific product references appears on The Spirit of Mickey video although an uncensored one appears on the Disney Treasures Mickey Mouse in Living Color DVD.
The roughly five-minute cartoon was directed by Ham Luske with animation by Ollie Johnston, Walt Kelly (yes, the father of Pogo), Riley Thompson, Charles Nichols and, of course, Walt Disney doing the voice of Mickey.
While The Pointer (1939) is officially credited as the first appearance of pupils in Mickey’s eyes, this film released several months before that film features Mickey with pupils.
For more production information on Mickey’s Surprise Party, see J.B. Kaufman’s excellent post on Cartoon Research here.
Donald Duck Day
Not to be outdone, Donald Duck made an appearance at the fair was well. He was especially flown in from Hollywood for a special Donald Duck Day event held August 14, 1939.
Since this was in the years before Disney developed costumed walk-around characters, Donald was a 3-foot-tall model that was occasionally used for public appearances.
He arrived at the Fair at noon that day. He was just in time to attend the official premiere of his latest cartoon, Donald’s Penguin (1939), even though the short had been released to theaters three days earlier.
Admiral Byrd (spelled as “Bird” in the cartoon as a gag) ships Donald a gift of a baby penguin from the South Pole and, of course, the cute penguin proves to be nothing but trouble. This cartoon and its showing at the fair were meant to tie in with the Admiral Byrd Penguin Island exhibit in the Amusement Zone at the fair.
That day, the short was shown every half hour from noon to 6 p.m. at the National Biscuit Theatre in the Food Pavilion in place of Mickey’s Surprise Party.
At 12:15 p.m., Donald’s helpers handed out gifts to the first 500 lucky children and met comedienne and singer Judy Canova (picture below).
At 12:30 p.m., Donald was paraded past the Perisphere accompanied by marching bands and other entertainers.
The parade concluded at 1 p.m. at Carnivaland, where a special luncheon was held at the Children’s World Restaurant for Donald and international children.
Carnivaland was located in the Fair’s amusement area zone that was adjacent to Fountain Lake.
At 2 p.m., Donald was presented with a honorary degree of Doctor of International Friendship from Dr. Frank Monaghan, a professor of American History at Yale University.
In his speech, Monaghan noted that Donald, “never pretended to be a statesman, nor an ambassador nor even a politician; he has only wanted to be and has only been himself. But his antics and his quacks are more sensible and inspired than the grave nonsense of many who pretend to higher things. He has given the world joy through laughter; he is the ambassador extraordinary of good will to the world.”