Tag Archives: Disney

Look What I Found: 2015 Catch-Up

Spread from Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man showing his 1940s bullfighting art.

Spread from Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man showing his 1940s bullfighting art.

The theme of this post is “More,” as in – More books! More visual inspiration! More occupied shelf space! In my last post from a month ago, I wrote about my plans to spend each month of 2015 buying a different beautiful, visually-oriented book at a budget price. With a couple of exceptions, I’ve kept true to the plan. I’ve already shared the May book – Sing for America, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. The June book has also been enjoyed, and will become the subject of its own post later on. In the meantime, I’m taking this space to write a few bits about the books from January through April. Let’s begin!

In January, something that had been on my want-list for some time. Published in 1959,The Golden Book of Myths and Legends was illustrated in striking primitive-modern style by Alice and Martin Provensen. The Provensens lent their talents to many different projects over a long, long period of time. Myths and Legends comes from a particularly excellent, creative time when they applied vibrant textures and stylization to traditional subjects like The First Noel (1959) and The Iliad and the Odyssey (1956). More recently, I picked up the Provensens’ 1978 children’s book A Year at Maple Farm at a thrift store, a sweet look at the seasons changing at their farm.

The Golden Book of Myths and Legends (1959).

The Golden Book of Myths and Legends (1959).

Echo and Narcissus, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Echo and Narcissus, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Heracles: The Twelve Labors, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Heracles: The Twelve Labors, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

February signaled the annual arrival of the huge VSNA Used Book Sale, held mere steps from our house. This year, I splurged a bit on a beaten-up yet nice ’50s-era copy of The Passport, an illustrated volume of doodles, cartoons and observations from the famous New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg. One of my fondest childhood memories was checking out a reprint of this book from the local library – it was literally one of the main things that influenced me in becoming an artist. Steinberg’s images of exotic locales, skyscrapers, mismatched couples and exaggerated Americana remain as delightful as ever. What a treasure!

Saul Steinberg - The Passport (1954).

Saul Steinberg – The Passport (1954).

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In March, I caught wind of this stupendous auction at Van Eaton Galleries of vintage Disneyland stuff – posters, props, costumes, souvenirs. Although the items were listed at well above my price range, I ended up blind-buying the auction catalog in luxurious hardback. It turned out to be well worth the money, since the book’s colorful photography and detailed descriptions serve as a wonderful general-purpose guide to vintage Disney theme park items. Organized by land, the book is full of fantastic stuff that even my Disneyland-saturated eyes had never seen before. The top sale from this two-day auction was lot #357, a green animatronic bird from The Enchanted Tiki Room, which fetched $153,400.

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Van Eaton spread of Main Street, USA items.

Van Eaton spread of Main Street, USA items.

Chapter headers with map diagram and vintage snapshots - nifty!

Chapter headers with map diagram and vintage snapshots – nifty!

Van Eaton catalog spread of Matterhorn/Fantasyland items.

Van Eaton catalog spread of Matterhorn/Fantasyland items.

Continuing along the same lines, April‘s selection came from our long-awaited tour of the Disney Studios in Burbank, California. At the studio’s Disney Store (yeah, they have a complete Disney Store location right there on the backlot!), I picked up a lovely tribute to one of the studio’s icons – animator and imagineer Marc Davis. This gorgeous looking large-format volume is divided into ten chapters, each headed by a sincere testimony from a Davis friend or admirer on a specific aspect of his life. The topics include not only the expected animation and theme park attractions, but non-Disney things like Davis’ illustrated trips to Papua New Guinea, personal art, and instruction. Although the book omits a few projects (there’s nothing at all on the Country Bear Jamboree attraction, for instance), I appreciated the space given important areas like the never-produced 1960 film Chanticleer and Davis’ biggest supporter – his widow, Alice (a talented artist in her own right).

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man was published by Disney Editions in 2014. Buy at Amazon.com here.

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Marc Davis concept art from Chanticleer.

Marc Davis concept art from Chanticleer.

Marc Davis concept art for America Sings Disneyland attraction, 1970s.

Marc Davis concept art for America Sings Disneyland attraction, 1970s.

Poster Art of the Disney Theme Parks

I have very specific memories connected with the posters at Disneyland – approaching the park, driving into the no-longer-there parking lot, striding towards the gingerbread ticket booths, the first concrete thing I’d see of our adventures ahead would be those iconic posters, affixed to the bases of the Monorail pylons and inside the tunnels leading to Main Street U.S.A. Each poster was a trip in itself – the vine-entrenched intrigue of the Jungle Cruise, the topsy-turvy whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the hitchhiking ghosts of The Haunted Mansion, the kinetic energy of the PeopleMover’s Superspeed Tunnel – a gallery of future memories waiting to be experienced.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks, a coffee table book published by Disney and written by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, comprehensively explores this angle of that pixie dust-strewn universe. As Tony Baxter’s intro explains, poster art is an integral part of the Disney theme park experience. The book’s 11″x14″ size gives ample space to the best posters, with many getting a full page to themselves (although one of my personal faves, the Columbia sailing ship, gets a mere quarter page). Divided into “lands,” the book includes nearly every poster created not just for Disneyland but for all of the Magic Kingdom theme parks (Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are absent). It’s interesting to note the different ways Disney uses to approach the same attraction in each park, with some intriguing little differences – such as the Euro Disneyland train engine sporting a pair of antlers. The book also contains separate chapters reproducing the Art Noveau influenced designs used for Tokyo DisneySea and the optimistic 1920s to ’50s era throwbacks employed on Disney California Adventure’s recent overhaul.

Two things in particular impressed me about this one. Firstly, they give credit to the unsung artists behind these posters (hooray for that). Secondly, they include lots of fascinating unused poster concept art. Before getting this, I never realized that most of the iconic poster designs from Disneyland’s early years were tied into one talented man – Bjorn Aronson. Aronson’s playful, cleanly modern, eclectic yet unified poster art probably did more to establish Disneyland’s visual identity than anything else. It’s astonishing stuff, and this book reproduces them with vivid clarity.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks can be purchased here at Amazon.com.

Side-by-side poster comparison for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Bjorn Aronson’s illustration skill is evident on this close-up of his fantastic Red Wagon Inn poster.

Casa de Fritos and the Lucky Nugget Saloon (Disneyland Paris) in the Frontierland section.

Not a good photo, but at least it gives you an idea of the chapter openings (using another excellent Aronson poster).

An undeveloped Adventureland poster concept is shown next to a printed one.

A demo of the silk screen color-layering process (that looks familiar).

Oh, how I wish they would have made Aronson’s Candy Palace poster design a reality!

Tomorrowland: all about the primary colors.

It’s Kind of a Cute Story

Within the pages of the colorful, fun It’s Kind of a Cute Story, legendary Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump shares memories of an extraordinary life with the help of MiceChat.com writer Jeff Heimbuch. Since Rolly was heavily involved with the planning of Disneyland landmarks like the Enchanted Tiki Room, it’s a small world, and the Haunted Mansion, I knew I was going to enjoy it (and I wasn’t disappointed). What really makes the book special, however, lies in how it gives a sense of Crump’s enthusiastic personality and eclectic interests – interests that have taken him well beyond the Disney company.

Prior to reading this book, I was vaguely aware that Rolly Crump was one of the more interesting guys at Disney. For proof, one needs to look no further than his interviews on the Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic DVD, where Rolly is seen (presumably in his home) with tasteful framed art of a naked woman hanging in the background. Boobies on a Disney DVD! The artwork in question, a portrait of entertainer Josephine Baker (reproduced in this book), sums up Crump’s funky, laid-back California vibe pretty well. That casual/cool feeling is reflected in the imagery generously spread throughout this book’s pages – and in the chatty, “cute” stories Rolly shares within. And what memories! Whether it’s being a grunt in the Disney animation department in the ’50s or overseeing massive projects for Jacques Cousteau and gambling titan Steve Wynn, he’s had an extraordinary career.

Were I to sum up the Crump aesthetic, I’d say it’s a little bit Disney, a little bit ’60s surf/beatnik culture, a little bit midcentury modern, and a whole lot of charm. One can definitely see the appeal his work had for Walt Disney in developing Disneyland (Disney obviously valued the younger, funkier insights Rolly had over his fellow imagineers). It kind of surprised me to read how much of Crump’s handiwork is around at Disneyland, even today – not just the obvious such as the still awe-inspiring small world façade or the charming statuary in the Tiki Room forecourt, but little things as well like the trash cans (and those themed figures churning the butter in the park’s popcorn machines? Crump’s idea.) Elsewhere, Crump delightully recounts his ideas for the earliest incarnation of the Haunted Mansion (when it was conceived as a walk-through attraction), preparations for the 1964 New York Worlds Fair, and his contributions toward various pavilions at EPCOT. While the Disney stuff is fascinating in itself, Crump also goes into detail on various projects involving other theme parks – and the efforts of his own company, Design 27 (this book is not authorized by the Disney company, which is a huge asset in my opinion).

Although the printing on this book leaves a little to be desired (the paper is thin), I would recommend It’s Kind of a Cute Story not only for Disney fans, but also for those who’d enjoy getting to know a unique guy who marches to his own, propeller-festooned drummer. The book is available here at Amazon.com.

The Happiest Planters on Earth, atop Tomorrowland’s stylish bandstand.

Crump’s layout of the Knott’s Bear-y Tales attraction.

The it’s a small world happy face clock? That’s Rolly’s, too!

Crump’s more recent stuff gets a lot of play here as well.

The funky Crump style in full flower.

A detail from the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room chapter.

Fun chapter headers and page footage mirror the Crump style nicely.

“One day his mother was gone.”

Bambi title spread, Junior Deluxe Edition (1956).

My bedside reading table is mostly stocked up with non-fiction, but sometimes pieces of classic literature get fit in from time to time. Felix Salten’s short, bracingly realistic Bambi, A Life in the Woods is the latest. The copy I read (pictured above) might have been an abridged version of the 1928 original. One thing’s for certain, however – this isn’t the Disney version, not by a long shot. In describing the title deer’s maturity in a deceptively calm forest, Salten’s elegant, plain-spoken prose takes on a grimly factual outlook that makes the animated version look, well, cartoonish. In the book, animals are born, seasons change, predators kill, and the things that the forest creatures admire or fear turn out to be expertly constructed illusions (no wonder the Nazis hated this book).

There are many other differences between the book and screen Bambis. Thumper and Flower are absent; Faline is more prominent and they have another deer friend named Gobo (who becomes the deer equivalent of an Uncle Tom after he’s domesticated by He, the human). And the relatively sedate hunting scenes from the movie are depicted as a devastating, full-blown massacre in print. Cool. Below are some nice images from various incarnations of Bambi in book form – including the Disney version (can’t help it, the film’s imagery is lovely if overly cute-ified).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods German first edition cover (1926).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods U.S. first edition detail (1928).

Bambi first U.S. paperback edition (1939).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods illustration by Mirko Hanak (1967).

“Bambi Finds the Meadow” illustration by Charles Harper (1963).

Walt Disney’s Bambi, page from film tie-in storybook (1941).

Happy 4th of July

Dear readers: be safe and try to resist having the oversized dolls from Disney’s America on Parade (1976) haunt your dreams.

The Who What Why Where When And How Day

Nostalgia time: The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World was a 1977 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney starring the jump suited, semi-forgotten ’70s edition of the Mickey Mouse Club — you know, the one with Blair from The Facts of Life in the cast. As a tyke, I was obsessed with the mouseketeers and afternoons would find me a) watching the show, or b) reenacting skits from the show with the kids who lived across the street. We also owned the record album (which contained a white-bread rendition of “Walking the Dog,” I recall) and wore it out.

This Disney World outing was a special memory for me, since the Florida park seemed like such a mystical, faraway place. Disneyland was semi-accessible, but Disney World might as well have been Paris or London. Watching the show now, it looks like one long (and cheesy) commercial. Three years ago, I finally got to go. Didn’t see River Country, however.