Disney & Fox Week: 1923

When we last left off, it was 1923 and William Fox was expanding his empire while Walt Disney was barely eking  out an existence. In any case, Fox was already well established in show business while Disney was trying to start up something- Anything.

While we can’t definitively say that Walt Disney had visited Fox to try to sell his first project- the Alice Comedies- he most likely did just that; after all, he was trying to drum up interest in his project everywhere he could. If such a meeting ever took place, it is doubtful that the Fox representatives present would have ever thought that this rumpled, fresh off the train Midwesterner would ever found a company that would eventually buy theirs. They probably couldn’t even have imagined that their company would ever be interested in buying anything he had to sell.

Walt Disney’s 1923 “Studio”

William Fox’s 1923 Studio

Eventually Walt Disney’s project would find a home with Margaret Winkler’s entertainment operation which was closely aligned with Universal Pictures. His trajectory was on the rise. Amazingly, William Fox’s fortunes would take the opposite course and he’d find himself on the outside of Hollywood looking in. Neither man knew it yet, but Walt Disney would soon soar while William Fox would take a catastrophic hit to his career courtesy of Louis B. Mayer.

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Congratulations, Richard and Robert Sherman!

Today, the legendary Sherman Brothers will join Annette Funicello and Julie Andrews in receiving the honor of having a soundstage named after them at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.

Together, the Sherman Brothers wrote some of Disney’s most memorable and legendary songs, including “It’s a Small World,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and Walt Disney’s personal favorite, “Feed The Birds”. Originally hired to produce bubblegum pop for Annette Funicello, “the boys” as they were known around the studio, quickly took on a greater role in the organization, earning Oscars for their work on the classic Mary Poppins soundtrack. 

Their amazing work not only earned them accolades beyond their wildest dreams, it inspired practically everyone who came after them. Their contributions to both Disney and the entertainment industry in general are immeasurable. Sadly, Robert Sherman passed away in 2012, but his brother Richard is alive and well and will be able to accept this newest accolade. Congratulations, Messers Sherman- your work will live on forever in the hearts of those who have been lucky enough to enjoy it and even in generations not yet born.

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Disney & Fox Week: Two Different Worlds

Last Friday the shareholders of both The Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox voted to approve a deal in which The Walt Disney Company will purchase most of 21st Century Fox. The mega deal surprised many in Hollywood, who believed that current majority 21st Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch would never sell the studio to anyone. This week we’ll take a look at the history of both studios and examine their respective paths to this momentous deal.

William Fox

William Fox was an immigrant from Hungary who came from an entrepreneurial background. He had formed his first company in 1900- a year before Walt Disney was born- but quickly sold it to purchase a nickelodeon, which was the precursor to movie theaters. For the next ten years he would build his company which eventually got into the movie theater business itself. It would be Mr. Fox’s difficulty in finding adequate product for his theaters that would lead him to setup his own movie studio- The Fox Film Corporation- in 1915. Originally established in New Jersey, the studio would join the show business exodus to Southern California in 1917, setting up a state of the art studio in Los Angeles.

Walt Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois to a family that struggled to make ends meet. His father was constantly starting up new businesses but none of them were ever really successful. It seemed that Walt would follow in his footsteps. His first enterprise- Laugh-o-Grams Films- which aimed to make cartoons for advertisers and local movie theaters had filed for bankruptcy. Walt was left with just $40 and the original negative to a live action/cartoon hybrid film that he wanted to turn into a series. With just these few items, Walt Disney hopped onto a train and headed out to Southern California to follow his dreams.

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Freaky Fridays: The Moving Entrance

When DISNEYLAND first opened, the city of Anaheim had offered to rename Katella Avenue, which was located at the southernmost boundary of Disney’s Anaheim property, after DISNEYLAND. Walt Disney declined, as the street had been named after two sisters whose family had originally owned most of the land that became DISNEYLAND. Mr. Disney felt that the two Anaheim pioneers should remain a part of history. Besides- at that time, DISNEYLAND’s Main Parking Entrance was on Harbor Blvd. Renaming the street would not only be a slap in the face of Anaheim history, it would confuse tourists. As DISNEYLAND expanded, it finally did open an auxiliary entrance on Katella Ave. In 1960, the Entrance sat between the then new Heidi Motel and the Alpine Inn. In the picture below, you can see the entrance at the bottom of the picture between the two square shaped buildings.

In the above matchbook, the location of the motel is shown in relation to the South Gate. In the late 1960’s, DISNEYLAND purchased the Heidi Motel and shifted the Katella entrance to the west of it. The original driveway into the parking lot became a restaurant. The south entrance stood for the next 30 years, beckoning overflow crowds into the Magic Kingdom.

Both the toll plaza and the Heidi Motel were demolished in 1997 to make way for Disney California Adventure.

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Theme Park Thursdays: DISNEYLAND’s Chicken Plantation

When DISNEYLAND opened in 1955, it wasn’t quite as isolated as many people seemed to think it was. For many in Los Angeles, Anaheim was some far off hicktown on the road to San Diego. The rest had probably never heard of it. Orange County, however, already had a kitschy roadside attraction- Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, northwest of DISNEYLAND. The attraction began life as a roadside fruit stand, selling fresh fruit and preserves to people heading to the beaches of Orange County. After adding a fried chicken restaurant to the farm, crowds descended upon it, forcing its owner- Walter Knott- to expand the attraction, adding a ghost town to give his guests something to do during the long waits for a table.

Some people thought that DISNEYLAND would obliterate its competition, though both Walters- Knott and Disney- had a great relationship. Walter Knott saw DISNEYLAND as a place that would bring more people to Orange County and thus more people to his attractions. While Walt Disney did want a symbiotic relationship between the neighboring attractions, he did want to keep as much business within the Magic Kingdom as possible, so the park opened up the Chicken Plantation on the edge of Frontierland.

The Chicken Plantation, located roughly where Pirates of the Caribbean stands today, served fried chicken dinners in a casual, walk up environment. Despite the park’s best intentions, the Chicken Plantation was not seen as being the equal of Knott’s Chicken Restaurant and Southern California locals began a tradition of stopping by Knott’s Berry Farm after their yearly visit to DISNEYLAND. In fact, DISNEYLAND’s food service was seen by many as being subpar. Due to budgetary constraints, many of the park’s food service locations had been run by outside concessionaires who Walt Disney felt hadn’t provided the high quality he expected. By the time that practically all of the food services had been taken in-house, Walt Disney had already passed away.

The Chicken Plantation was demolished to make way for New Orleans Square, which featured the restaurant that Walt Disney hoped would change the public’s opinion of DISNEYLAND’s restaurants- The Blue Bayou. It would do just that. Today, DISNEYLAND guests looking for a chicken dinner inside the park can head to the Plaza Inn on Main Street. Some say the fried chicken is better there than at Knott’s Berry Farm. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the chicken is quite good; good enough to make Walt Disney proud.

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Walt Wednesdays: The Queen Mary

It was the grandest ship on the seven seas- the RMS Queen Mary was truly an amazing jewel, regularly traveling back and forth between London and New York City from 1934 until 1967. The grand ship hosted a number of famous celebrities on its many journeys, including Walt Disney himself.

During a time when transatlantic airplane flights were expensive and uncomfortable, cruise ships like the RMS Queen Mary were a luxurious and regal way to hop across the pond. Mr. Disney enjoyed multiple trips on the ship, taking trips with his wife and sometimes his entire family.

In 1967, the ship was decommissioned and purchased by the city of Long Beach as a possible attraction. Jack Wrather, who owned and operated the DISNEYLAND Hotel, leased the ship, which was docked on the California Coast, and restored it. The ship was opened to the public as the ultimate themed hotel and an attraction that could be toured during the day. When the Wrather Corporation was purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 1988, the ship was temporarily controlled by Disney. Today, it still operates as a hotel and tourist attraction, still welcoming guests almost 100 years after its construction.

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Toontown Tuesdays: Cleo

One of the rare Disney characters who doesn’t speak or even make much noise is Cleo, kindly Geppetto’s Beautiful goldfish, who he introduces to Pinocchio as his “water baby”. Cleo is always aware of her surroundings and participates in the highs and lows of the film in her own way.  

Despite having a “brother” who would most likely be a natural predator, Cleo’s quiet charm and loving personality warms even Figaro’s heart. At one point, he leaps into Cleo’s bowl- not to devour her, but to plant a huge kiss on her lips. Cleo has apparently charmed her way into even Figaro’s heart. While Figaro would go on to star in his own cartoon series as a cat owned by Minnie Mouse, Cleo would make few appearances outside of Pinocchio.

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Mickey Mondays: Mickey at 25- A Tradition Begins

Walt Disney had always felt a personal connection to his “son”, Mickey Mouse. When Mickey started to get overshadowed by Donald Duck, Walt Disney tried quite a few things to divert attention back to Mickey, like casting him in the feature length film Fantasia. In 1953, Walt Disney was made aware that Mickey Mouse’s 25th birthday would take place that year. He decided that for the first time, the company would officially celebrate the occasion and commissioned Disney artist John Hench to create an official 25th birthday portrait. The portrait would be placed in Walt Disney’s formal office, which was replicated for the DISNEYLAND television show.

The tradition would be continued on Mickey’s 50th birthday in 1978 and on subsequent anniversaries including his 90th birthday this year.

The portrait depicts Mickey Mouse still spreading magic everywhere he goes; a friendly face in an increasingly unfriendly world. One of the biggest and best character traits handed down from Mr. Disney to Mickey Mouse was his endless optimism and belief that a great big beautiful tomorrow lay ahead.

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