The Other Disney Cartoons
November 28, 2018 posted by JB Kaufman

The Mickey Mouse “Rambler” Commercial

I love the hidden corners of Disney history, and for many years, no corner was better hidden than the story of the Disney TV commercials. The studio’s program of commercial production operated “under the radar” even during its short lifespan in the 1950s, and after it was dissolved, the commercials themselves were quietly forgotten. In recent years, with a resurgence of widespread interest in the broad canvas of Disney history, the commercials have begun to resurface—thanks in no small part to our friend Steve Stanchfield at Thunderbean Animation, who has resurrected some of the most fascinating specimens on DVD.

Today we know that the commercials were technically produced, not by the Disney studio, but by Walt’s niece Phyllis Bounds and her husband George Hurrell, whose company, Hurrell Productions, operated on the Disney lot (at first) and drew on Disney artists and Disney resources to produce its TV spots. The new Volume 4 in Didier Ghez’s remarkable series, They Drew as They Pleased, offers a useful capsule history of the Hurrells’ operation (see also Jim Korkis’s account in Walt’s People, Vol. 9).

The Hurrells had access, not only to Disney talent, but also to the well-known Disney characters—including the best known of all, Mickey Mouse, who became a spokesman for American Motors. Tom Oreb, recognized today as one of the exponents of midcentury modern style in animation, executed new designs of the Disney characters for their TV incarnations, and no one got a more thorough makeover than Mickey. In Oreb’s hands Mickey became a new creature, scarcely recognizable as the same Mouse who had appeared in more than one hundred theatrical cartoons since 1928. He was, in fact, utterly unlike the Mickey who headlined the Mickey Mouse Club, appearing on television concurrently with these commercials. (For excellent biographies of Oreb see Didier’s Vol. 4, as well as Devon Baxter’s column here on Cartoon Research.)

One of the Hurrells’ earliest commercials started development in October 1954 with a script describing a “family man, well dressed, talking to framed picture on living room wall.” “Boy, oh boy,” he enthused, “is she a dream! What style!” The figure in the picture came to life and responded: “A good looker, eh?” Their dialogue was cut short when “she” arrived, and turned out to be the new 1955 four-door Rambler. Within a month this script had been rewritten, retaining the same dialogue but replacing the “family man” with Oreb’s newly redesigned Mickey Mouse, and the framed picture with a mirror.

MICKEY MOUSE 1955 RAMBLER COMMERCIAL
5902-13

Director: Nick Nichols
Layout: Tom Oreb

Animation: Jerry Hathcock (Mickey and reflection in opening scenes)
George Nicholas (Mickey, Minnie, Marty and Morty ride in Rambler)

Assistant director: Russ Haverick
Unit secretary: Mercedes Mulhern

Needless to say, the Disney studio in 1954–55 was still capable of the full, smooth animation that had become its hallmark. The year 1955, when this Rambler commercial appeared on home screens, also marked the theatrical release of Lady and the Tramp, a traditional, lavishly mounted Disney animated feature. But the studio had also begun to experiment with fashionable limited-animation techniques, in theatrical shorts like Melody and Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom as well as animated inserts for TV’s Disneyland. Tom Oreb’s version of Mickey Mouse, all straight lines and sharp angles, was very much a part of that midcentury world—and for this commercial, Oreb’s design concept was extended to include Minnie Mouse and the two nephews as well.

Even Peg-Leg Pete got a stylized do-over for these commercials.

Studio cutting records indicate that Mickey’s voice was provided by sound-effects wizard Jim Macdonald, while Ruth Clifford voiced the two nephews, making their first animated appearance in more than a decade. (As every Disney fan knows, the nephews were named Morty and Ferdie, but internal production documents for this commercial refer to them as “Marty and Morty”!)

The Hurrells’ arrangement with the Disney studio gave them access, not only to Disney characters and animation talent, but also to the studio’s physical resources. For this commercial they took full advantage of those resources. Live-action footage was filmed on one of the Disney sound stages, “posing” the car against a black background. The parallel-parking scenes were also shot on the Disney lot; and the overhead shot, demonstrating the car’s tight turning radius, was filmed from the roof of one of the sound stages.

Hurrell Productions followed this commercial with another, featuring Mickey and Pluto, for the ’55 Nash. And that was only the beginning: Donald Duck, Jiminy Cricket, Chip ’n’ Dale, the Three Little Pigs, and even Cinderella and Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) likewise appeared on behalf of major sponsors. The Disney (or quasi-Disney) TV commercial program was not destined for a long life, but while it lasted, it produced some memorable novelties. Happily, many of them have been preserved so that we can still see them today.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s give another special shout out to J.B. Kaufman and David Gerstein, along with editor Daniel Kothenschulte, and their new gigantic Taschen volume Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Ultimate History.

Loaded with rare art and newly discovered information via unlimited access to Disney’s Archives, as well as numerous public and private collections around the world. Concept art, story sketches, background paintings, animation drawings, as well as unfinished projects, presented for the first time through rare original storyboard drawings. Extensive archival research shedding light on little-known chapters of Mickey’s career, such as his pioneering radio shows, the origins of the Mickey Mouse Club, and his use as a patriotic icon during World War II.

The book is published by Taschen – and you know what that means: It’s a huge 496 pages, weighs over ten pounds, and is sold in a strong cardboard box with a handle! Thank you J.B. for filling in for Devon on these past Wednesdays (Devon will return next week). Till then, buy this book! – Jerry Beck

14 Comments

  • The Hurrells got in right at the start of American Motors, which was formed when Nash and Hudson merged in 1954.

    • And of course, Nash-Rambler merged became, in the early 60s,:
      AMERICAN MOTORS.

      They now are just the JEEP guys..I’m familiar with these ads, have seen them on one of the quite popular Facebook pages. Not at all Mickey Mouse, now is there

    • Whoa..just now I noticed your mention of American Motors. I noticed, also, that Ruth Clifford is the voice of Ferdy and Morty the mice..not surprisingly since she’d already established herself as Minnie Mouse.

  • Thanks to locating an interview with George Hurrell, I discovered even more information about the Disney commercials and especially Phyllis Bounds’ involvement. For anyone interested, that new information is in my October article for MousePlanet:
    https://www.mouseplanet.com/12208/Who_Was_Phyllis_Bounds

    The commercials were produced from January 5, 1951 to May 8, 1959, There were several reasons for the ending of the commercials including Bounds’ divorce from Hurrell, Walt’s unhappiness with the use of limited animation of the classic Disney characters and Walt’s unhappiness with dealing with sponsors who would constantly try to overrule him even after the work was done to their specifications.

    Hurrell Productions produced two different tracks of commercials. First, they did commercials featuring the classic Disney characters primarily for sponsors of the Disney television programs.

    These commercials featured the classic Disney animated characters including Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck, Tinker Bell, Jiminy Cricket, Alice and the Cheshire Cat and many others. Clients included Peter Pan Peanut Butter, American Motors, Jello, Canada Dry and more.

    The second track of commercials created memorable new advertising character icons from Tommy Mohawk for Mohawk Carpets to Fresh Up Freddie for the 7-Up soft drink.

    Bounds was later married to David Detiege and even later Milt Kahl (who used her as his reference for Madame Medusa).

  • Gotta chuckle at “rattle-proof” as a selling point…

  • Oreb’s Mickey design briefly shows up as a gag in one of the recent Paul Rudish shorts (Entombed).

  • I notice Mickey, in the commercial featuring Pluto, has a trash incinerator in his back yard. In 40’s to 50’s era Los Angeles many in LA got rid of their garbage by burning it. The practice was stopped due to pollution concerns. This web site gives a brief history of the practice:
    https://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2016/08/history-keepers-backyard-residential.html

  • The resurfacing *really* is from the preservation efforts of our good friend Mark Kausler- lending these rare spots for scanning now *twice*– once in standard definition, and now in 2k (the quality of the original material). I’m happy to have helped make them available, but it would be a blank screen without him!!

    Many of these spots now appear on Mid Century Modern, Volume 1 in a new Blu-ray edition.

    • Good point, Steve, and I certainly didn’t mean to slight Mark’s part in this. I’m grateful for the contributions you’ve both made!

  • A good chunk of background on Tom Oreb can also be found in Amid Amidi’s book “Cartoon Modern” if I remember correctly: https://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-Modern-Style-Design-Animation/dp/0811847314

  • Looking at that model sheet for Pete, I wonder if it could in any way have influenced the design for Ratigan in ‘The Great Mouse Detective’.

  • Now *those* designs are a Mickey and Pegleg Pete I’d share a beer with…

  • Actually, Nash and Hudson merged in 1954 to form American Motors. For the 1954 and 1955 model years, Ramblers were sold at Nash and Hudson dealerships with appropriate badges.

    In 1957, Rambler became a separate make and after that model year, AMC retired Nash and Hudson.

    • I meant the 1955 and 1956 model years for Nash and Hudson Ramblers.

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