January 26, 2023 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Old King Cole Display Company: Christmas Promotional Campaign (1935)

In Thunderbean News:

Work takes over a lot of our lives sometimes, and these weeks here at the school have been a pretty heavy lift. Happily there’s a weekly history class where I get to show early 30s cartoons on film (and from some of the things we’ve worked on). I always find it to be a joy to show this stuff to people who have never seen it. In an odd way, it’s now a new film since there’s new eyes experiencing it- and, these days, many people haven’t experienced a 16mm film being shown at all!

Since school has owned me, there’s not much new to report in the land of Thunderbean. The coming weeks are definitely much more exciting. The Little King insists on being one of my best friends over these last weeks, but that particular adventure is wrapping up soon as films get cleaned and the two last films get scanned. It’s sort of a dessert set here after the heavy lifting on Flip the Frog and other things – but I’m really enjoying comparing prints and getting the last films cleaned up for it. Getting reacquainted with the whole series , especially the musical ideas – is pretty enjoyable. The team is doing such a good job on it. The materials we’re working on for the Max Fleischer cartoon restoration program are coming along as well. Each of these helps balance the others out in one way or another. I’m looking forward to getting Rainbow Parades volume 2 in full production soon.

Now — one of my favorite things ever (really!

I was talking with Eric Grayson earlier today about this “Cinema Gems” set from last year- and how much fun it was to work on it. It has on it one of my favorite things ever- a promotional film made by the Old King Cole Display company in Canton, Ohio. This particular film is promoting their Disney-themed displays created for larger department stores, and it’s an astonishing look back in time that you’ve probably never seen. Stills of these displays are not so unusual- and, after seeing this film, I feel like they do the actual displays a huge injustice. Seeing them actually in motion is magical- and must have been for the children seeing them in windows and walking through the various ‘Toylands’ at the department stores. While this film was never intended for public display I think it’s a pretty important in the history of department store displays (and the history of animation-related merchandise honestly). I literally teared up watching it for the first time.

Film archivist and collector Dennis Atkinson had a special love for moving displays, and especially loved his giant Laughing Sal’ made by the Old King Cole display company. She laughed proudly at the back of his arcade, a fixture in downtown Frankenmuth Michigan for many years. Dennis was able to get to know the owners of the Old King Cole Display company, and this film was one of the things he acquired from them. It appears on the set courtesy of Dennis and Dennis Atkinson Jr.

This film was shot at the end of 1934. I wonder if, somewhere, there is similar documentation of the displays form other years, or stills shots by the company (perhaps some even in color). I do hope these show up someday.

The actual displays in this film that survived are among the most highly sought-after Disney collectables. Mel Birnkrant has an amazing collection of figures and dolls and, well, everything, and you can see some of the Old King Cole Displays figures here on his website. They’re lovely to see in color (click this brochure cover below):

I was lucky enough to work on getting this little film tidied up for the Cinema Gems from the Vault of Dr. Film Blu-ray set, produced by Eric Grayson.  This set features other really cool films too, including the thought-lost “Monsters of the Moon” pitch film. It’s available on Amazon [click HERE] and at his website store.

I hope you enjoy this little film and it’s wonderful view back in time.

Have a good week everyone!


  • What an enchanting film! I can imagine crowds of pedestrians gathering around the window displays, parents hoisting their kids up to get a better look. I note the print ad for the Lazarus department store; I remember going Christmas shopping at Lazarus in downtown Cincinnati in the 1980s, by which time the store had seen better days. Whole floors were closed off, and there was a lot of empty space on the ones that were still open. Funny how downtown department store suffered during the booming economy of the 1980s, yet apparently were going gangbusters in the middle of the Great Depression.

    That delightful recording of “Winter Wonderland” was made by Ted Weems and his orchestra for the Columbia label in 1934. The singer is Parker Gibbs, who also played saxophone in the band. The song had been introduced in the Ziegfeld Follies earlier that year and immediately became very popular. Guy Lombardo’s recording of it for the Decca label was one of the top hits of the year, but I prefer Weems’s version.

  • Fascinating! Not only an amazing find for Disney buffs, but it evokes so any memories of a bygone era, when even decades later, larger East Coast department stores used to set aside large rooms for animated Toyland character displays of elves working in Santa’s workshop (such as, if I recall correctly, Jordan Marsh in Boston, and when the Northshore Shopping Center would have a half-block of animated windows and an outdoor entrance plaza flanked with brigades of ten foot tall toy soldiers. What ever happened to such creativity and extravagance? And to think, it already existed in the height of a Depression! “Animatronics” before there were animatronics. Some of these displays look more creative than similar set pieces created decades later for Disney World’s “Mickey Mouse Revue”, and maybe even move better as well. Is there any information as to any degree of help in design provided by the Disney studio itself in creating these gems? Or were they all out of the imagination of Old Kind Cole itself? I was particularly struck with their prominent use of “Dippy Dawg”, and the unique featuring of the Orphans in two tableaus – characters I’d never seen exploited outside of the films and possible comics. Talk about making the most of your resources. I loved also some of the displays that seemed to evoke particular cartoons, including the “Mickey’s Orphans” appearance of Mickey as Santa, the car full of characters that looked like a shot that should have opened “Camping Out”, and Mickey appearing with the polar lights and arctic fowl of “Peculiar Penguins”. Sheer unadulterated genius!

  • It’s very telling to note the characters most representative of Disney in the public eye in those early days–Mickey, Minnie, Goofy (presumably still Dippy in those days), Horace, Clarabelle, the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Old King Cole, Little Red Riding Hood, and the dozens of little mice who later morphed into Mickey’s nephews Morty and Ferdie. Fascinating how these displays had so much movement in the era before audio-animatronics. I also found the misspelling of “Sacramento” to be rather quaint.

    Thank you, Steve, for sharing this. As you suggested, it is definitely worth seeing!

  • Those store displays were neat. I guess these were the precursors of the Audio-Animatronics in the Disney parks some thirty years later.

  • Sacremento, huh? Well, at least they spelled the other city names correctly. I suppose California still seemed like the Wild West to many at the time; no urgent need to spell-check.

    Those store displays are incredible. It’s like looking at a world that never was, at least by today’s standards where the shopping experience has been whittled down to one word: Amazon.

    Those relief sculptures are stunning. Star Mickey for the win!

    Thanks Steve!

  • Love this just as much as you Steve! May Dennis rest in peace, a much loved donator to LOC. Hopefully more of these displays surface someday

  • I’m curious regarding the distribution of this film, how it was shown to stores. Do we know anything regarding this? My guess is that this silent film was played in a loop at a convention or trade show exhibit several months prior to Christmas. Perhaps there are clues in surviving copies of whatever department store or retail buyer trade magazines or newsletters were published at the time.

  • Along with misspelling “Sacramento,” I noticed the opening title says the film is “Copywright Walt Disney.” I’m also not impressed by the Cleveland display, which says it’s the “Walt Disney Review” instead of “Revue.”

  • The simplicity of the movements – simple repetitive actions, run by electric motors and some basic cams – inspired creativity I think. What can we do to bring this scene to life?

    My family made the pilgrimage to Jordan Marsh every Christmas season to see the Enchanted World of Saint Nicholas. It was okay, but I think having three dimensional figures doing these repetitive movements was actually less effective than the flat displays seen here. At least the flat cutouts look like the cartoons they’re based on, and you can have Horace bang a hammer over and over and it doesn’t look creepy, like some of the doll figures did. Probably easier to maintain too.

  • The Mel Birnkrant link doesn’t work, but here’s his main page:

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