A twist of the magic bedknob takes us around the world for 50 years of the Disney classic in story and song, on gleaming vinyl.
From Walt Disney Productions’
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS
The Story and Songs
Disneyland Records – Storyteller Series STER-3804 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)
Released in August, 1971. Executive Producer/Writer: Jimmy Johnson, adapted from the screenplay by Bill Walsh, Don DaGradi, based on The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton. Producer/Musical Director: Tutti Camarata. Orchestrations: Brian Fahey. Recorded at Sunset Sound, Hollywood and Abbey Road, London. Running Time: 38 minutes.
Performers: Dal McKennon (Emelius Browne/Narrator); Mike Sammes (Emelius Browne/Singing Voice); Judy Carne (Eglantine Price/Singing Voice); The Mike Sammes Singers (with Enid Heard, Irene King, Marion Madden, Mike Redway, Ross Gilmour and Valerie Bain). Orchestrations: Brian Fahey.
Songs: “With a Flair,” “The Age of Not Believing,” “Eglantine,” “Portobello Road,” “The Beautiful Briny,” “Substitutiary Locomotion,” “The Old Home Guard” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman.
Fifty years has been more than enough time for Bedknobs and Broomsticks to beam outside the shadow of its spectacularly successful 1964 predecessor, Mary Poppins. For years after its premiere in late 1971 (a limited release followed by a wide release in Spring 1972), Bedknobs attracted comparisons, as did 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, because of the similarities. Time has allowed it to gain a life of its own.
Certainly it has found a comfortable berth among the Harry Potter stories and numerous family-friendly fantasy films and TV shows of the years since. It has become as much an Angela Lansbury movie as a Disney film, since its star has amassed such acclaim on stage, screen and television, cementing her Disney Legend status as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast.
The broomstick rides to get Bedknobs on the screen were bumpy for almost all concerned, and much of this was discussed in this Animation Spin about the soundtrack album and this one about the “second cast” album (this was Disney’s term for a “studio cast,” or a non-soundtrack version of a film story or musical score). This is a look from the perspective of Disney Storyteller albums, 12-inch long-playing records with gatefold covers containing storybooks, to provide yet another insight, into how one creative product evolves on a parallel track with another creative project while each keep changing, how well those challenges are met–and how the seams sometimes show.
When a project as big as Bedknobs and Broomsticks goes into motion, thousands of other activities go into action for months (sometimes years) before the cameras roll. Printing, publishing, manufacturing and all forms of production have to be planning far in advance, sometimes when there are limited support materials available, like scripts and visual references.
That’s one of the reasons there were some elements missing from various Disneyland Records. No background music? It may not have been scored in time. A character looks different? It might have been redesigned between the print deadline and the film’s final cut.
Often there are scenes and songs that never end up in a film. In the case of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, these circumstances seemed to multiply, much to the fascination of enthusiasts for years as “lost” elements were researched. Our colleague Jim Fanning, an authority on the film, shared some of his vast knowledge here.
Disneyland and Buena Vista Records were part of the massive merchandising and promotional plans for the original release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It turned out to be the last Disney project to receive the full treatment (“original cast sound track” album on Buena Vista Records to “second cast” album, Storyteller book and LP, read-along book and 7” LP and two four-song 7” LPs) by the original founding team behind Disney’s in-house record label.
Several songs were cut from the film but were already included on the records. In the case of the Disneyland second cast album, the songs “With a Flair” and “A Step in the Right Direction” are included (“With a Flair” begins the Storyteller). All of the intervening months of changes took place while the albums were being made and distributed.
One of the most curious mysteries is the image of Eglantine Price on the cover of the storyteller, seen with short, dark hair and glasses (more like “Diana Prince” of Wonder Woman than Miss Price), while Emelius Browne strongly resembles David Tomlinson. Inside, the costume and hair style for Miss Price is more accurate, though her hair is darker.
In this video, Jim Fanning explains the various recordings and mentions the appearance of the mysterious Miss Price on the Storyteller. He suggests that Miss Price may not look the same because Lansbury does not appear on the album. This is very true of “cover” versions of most musical score albums on other labels. With few exceptions, the art or models on the cover may suggest but not look exactly like the real people. However, the Miss Price on the Disneyland album Songs from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (STER-1326) bears more of a resemblance to the film character than the image on the Storyteller, plus that LP has actual film stills on the back cover.
The reasons for this are so complicated and varied they could be only be pieced together through research that would have to be tracked on a timeline based on contracts, approvals, revisions and other variables. The record company had to have something on the store shelves; they had to use what was available to meet demand and deadlines.
Jim told me that both Lansbury and Tomlinson were signed to star in the film long before the albums were released. It is possible that it was painted when several lead actors were being considered for Eglantine, including Julie Andrews, Lynn Redgrave and Laugh-In TV star Judy Carne (who did appear on the song album and Storyteller versions as, in effect, Miss Price’s singing voice). Another possibility is that, sometime during the process, there may have been hesitation to have illustrations of Miss Price resemble Lansbury at all until they had permission. (obviously they already had clearance for Tomlinson). In addition, the Eglantine costume (which by the way, was modeled on stage on the Academy Awards telecast as the Best Costume awards were being read) may not have been completed between the drawing of the cover art and the interior book, as both are created separately (there is even a movie poster in which Lansbury is dressed in contemporary garb).
For those of us so deeply immersed in the chronology of Disney records that they seem serialized, the Storyteller for Bedknobs holds a certain touch of melancholy. It is the final collaboration between the founder of the division, Jimmy Johnson, who also wrote the script; musical director/producer Tutti Camarata; The Mike Sammes Singers; and narrator Dal McKennon, who had become a fixture of Disneyland Records since 1957.
As Emelius Browne, Dal narrates in first person (just as he did for Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Jungle Book and many other albums) for the last time. He gives his customary energetic, genial performance, but is not afforded a few moments to recreate his film voice role as the Bear on Naboombu island. He also makes a faux pas that must have been missed, saying “Substitutiary Locomotion” correctly throughout the story except for the first time, when he calls it “Substitue-shrue-rarey Locomotion.” Also curious in Johnson’s script, is the reference to ‘the age of non-believing” rather than “not believing.”
Like the film, the Storyteller LP of Bedknobs and Broomsticks reflects the foggy transition period in which it was created. In hindsight, the image of a misty landscape with hundreds of suits of armor moving steadily forward, with no one apparently inside them, conjures all manner of metaphoric elaboration.
Special thanks to Stacia Martin and Jim Fanning for their assistance with this article.