Jul 31, 2007

Happy Birthday J. K. Rowling & Harry Potter

The first book was an instant hit with kids. The original popularity of the young Harry Potter series was not due to it's extensive ad budget or endless television commercials, the popularity was due to kids [and adults] who loved the story and shared their enthusiasm with other readers. It was this unintentional literary grass roots movement that caught the media's attention.

In the first few years, Harry's popularity was fueled by a huge readers circle involving a few countries and in this day and age, that's intimate compared to the world wide media storm that circled around the last few books in the series.

As a lark and well before any author could imagine how her writing was going to change her life, J.K. Rowling made Harry Potter's birthday the same day as her own. She will share July 31 with her fictional creation forever. I'm sure it will be both a blessing and a curse. As Rowling enters her octogenarian years and Harry reaches middle age, new reporters will seek her out to ask the same old questions. They'll use a shared birthday as the story hook and bang on her door right around her birthday for the rest of her life. Rowling will always be able to gauge the popularity of her book by the amount of e-mail she receives in July.

Now that the series is finished, a new Harry story begins and it's this next chapter in the saga I'm interested in. Where does it all go from here? Where will the community of Harry Potter fans find it's level? Will it's numbers increase after the ending like those of Star Wars or Star Trek? Will there be giant Harry Conventions or will it simply blend with current fantasy culture? As time moves on will the culture of the books or the movies become most dominant? Will these cultures be forced to split or will they share the same space and jab at each other only in fun? Will the box office of the last two films increase or will the intensity fade now that the story is over in it's original medium?

Harry Potter is not a fad, at least by my definition. Sure, the media spotlight and the gossip around the author will fade [thankfully], but the book series will take it's place on the classics shelf and be mentioned with Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz for the next century. How the movies are accepted is another story.

Nearly 15 hours of a story that grows darker every episode doesn't seem like a recipe for a family film favorite. You don't see Old Yeller as the center of many film festivals. Young goths of the future who see Harry as the poster child for their own misunderstood youth, will give it a cult following, but I have trouble seeing the middle of America accepting the entire body of work as a pop culture classic. Mass culture will likely cull the first movie from the herd and ignore the rest.

After the final film, the Harry Potter community has a big problem. Everything they feed on will now be up to them. Rowling has no plans for further Harry stories and she has stated that no one else will write about her characters. The communities of fans that are largest & strongest are those with something new to explore. Mickey Mouse, Luke Skywalker and James T. Kirk survive because they are professionally reinvented in new mediums. Excellent fictional characters who are kept from those opportunities [Bozo and Calvin & Hobbes come to mind], become fond footnotes only to be explored by those who remember and those who accidentally stumble across them.

On the plus side, creating a strong fan community has never been easier. The social nature of the Internet has given creative people a place to share their visions. It's easy for me to envision a world wide group of fans creating excellent new content for each other using the original characters creating by Rowling. Sure, it's already taking place with tens of thousands of fan stories and drawings and hundreds of Hogwart's sites and role playing venues where people come to chat in character, but what I'm talking about is quality over quantity, I see a sort of semi - pro movement where small pockets of Internet space is reserved only for the best of the best. I see excellent writers and artists contributing without payment because it's a great outlet for their talent.

Blogs have shown that there are hundreds of thousands of people who can and do create content as good or better than what you already consume [present company excluded]. It's already happening all over the net. I think the fan communities that will survive in the future will intentionally adopt this model for their own. Since Harry's fandom has spent it's whole life on the web, it could easily be carving that wave, but what they actually do remains to be seen.

No matter what, the first saga of Harry Potter is finished and Rowling's writing has never been stronger. The author is on to a new chapter in her own life and I wish her well. Amid all the current signings and readings I hope she has a moment to stop and realize just what a wide open year she has ahead of her. If I had been in her place the last nine years, I would tell my family to take this year off and don't wake me until July 2008. I suspect she will choose a different way to celebrate.

Jul 27, 2007

Safety Card Friday #3

Why would you choose the horse to ride a bike?. You'd think Quick Draw has the horsepower to get there pretty quick on foot. If you're a horse on a bike I'm pretty sure there's an Elmer's factory in your immediate future. Wouldn't big lumbering Yogi or Wally Gator be a better choice? [Yes, I am attempting to apply a strangely twisted logic to cartoon characters drawn over 40 years ago. These thoughts spill out naturally for me and the very reason I have ample medication and a blog.]

Today, Quicky would be wearing a helmet under the 10 gallon hat, but in the 60's nobody cared if children or horses were brain damaged.

Could the art have been done in-house at Hanna Barbera? Did they have a consumer product dept? Was it freelanced by an HB artist? The drawings are on model but who colored these things? Quick Draw is usually white with a brown hat. His hat and his hide should be switched. Is this his twin brother Quick Tan? Cousin Brick Jaw? I have so many unanswered questions.

Have a great weekend everybody.

Thank You Scott Corbett

You may not have heard of him but Scott Corbett changed my life.

It was early in my 2nd grade year and we were in the school library. Miss Sporky had given us 15 minutes to find something to read and time was running out. [I've forgotten my teachers real last name. I remember she was young and I had a crush.] I was in one of those kid panics, running through the stacks trying to find something before the librarian or Sporky gave me something off of the teacher approved reading list. The literary equivalent of brussel sprouts.

I don't know what caught my eye but in the last few seconds as Miss Sporky was using her teacher voice to get kids to the checkout line, I finally settled on "Ever Ride A Dinosaur?" by Scott Corbett. I'm sure it was the dinosaur cover that cinched it. Last minute as it was, it was one of the best choices I ever made.

I laughed out loud while I was reading the book which got me in trouble during free time and when it was time to do my oral report, my favorite anecdote had me laughing too hard to talk. Of course that got the class laughing and Miss Sporky had me sit down before I was through. That book traveled through a lot of 2nd grade hands that year.

I don't know why I connected with this book. I liked reading comic books, I liked reading comic strips and I didn't even mind reading textbooks but this was like a reading vacation; a sort of reading road trip. Most of my reading was for getting from here to there but Corbett's book was like finding the open road, the trip was light and relaxing. Recreational reading became a lifelong habit.

Like all kids that lock on to something good, I went searching for more Scott Corbett and the old boy didn't disappoint. I found "The Lemonade Trick, the first in a series of a dozen books that Corbett started in 1960 and finished in 1977. "The Limerick Trick" [4th in the series] was and still is, a personal favorite.

Corbett was born July 27 1913. He had a degree in journalism and was a free lance magazine writer in NY. During WWII, he was a reporter for Stars & Stripes magazine and an editor of Yank, an armed service magazine based in Paris. After the war, he taught at Moses Brown, a private school for K-12. He would teach during the day and write late afternoons. He wrote five adult novels before turning to kids literature. Corbett died last year at the age of 93 . He's not a media darling but with over 80 books to his credit and 30 years of kid lit, Scott Corbett leaves a legacy any author would be proud of.

Jul 25, 2007

Ding-A-Ling Robots Topper Toys

At the end of the 1960's Topper Toys released a series of 6 inch tall robots known as the Ding-A-Lings. Each Ding had it's own personality which usually revolved around their occupation. They also had some manual function they performed, usually by pushing down on their heads. [For instance, the fireman squirted water, the chef shook salt, the boxer would punch etc.]

The thing that makes this small line of robots stand out is the track. Topper designed a suspended track system that let the Ding-A-Lings run both over and under their track. Dings ran right side up on the top and traveled upside down on the bottom. Three separate playsets could combine to create a sort of robot train layout in infinite combinations.

While you could just roll your Dings across the kitchen floor for imaginary adventures, getting them to run on the track required a little juice. The traveling Dings were powered by 2 AA batteries from a power pack purchased separately. You could run as many robots on the track as you wanted as long as you had a power pack for each one. It wasn't long before tykes like me were begging for more than one power pack and more track.

Toy catalogs of 1971 reveal that Topper had bigger plans for the robot line with more Dings and more accessories, but Topper's president was charged with mismanagement of funds and the company was forced to file bankruptcy. It wasn't long before Topper closed down completely.

In it's short run, the Ding-A-Lings series produced approximately a dozen robots, three playsets, the Ding-A-Lingmobile and a huge King Ding the Ding-A-Ling king. There are also a few Ding-A-Lings that were only available overseas.

Usually a toys name has something to do with it's function, but in the case of the Ding-A-Lings, I don't know the connection. What makes them dingy-lingy? Did they have some bell that rang in the prototype stage? Is it something incredibly obvious I've missed? Above are five of the 12 to 15 dings still in their individual packages. Every Ding-A-Ling came in it's own packaging and one or two also came in the playsets.

This big guy is King Ding, leader of the Ding-A-Lings. King is run by Brain one of the small Ding-A-Ling's who fits inside. He had his own elevator that slowly took him up into King Dings big empty head. This was the guy you wanted to see under the tree.

If you're interested in this line of toys, I'd start with these three sites:

Big Red Toybox is one cool site for vintage toy collectors. Besides selling reproduction parts for hard to find toys, it's got a great encyclopedia of toys.

Toppersdingalings.com & the dingalings.com have a lot of info as well.

This last tidbit is a link to a 4 minute Ding-A-Ling commercial. I tried to embed it here but my computer skills suck. It was created to get retailers excited about the new Ding-A-Lings and track. If you had these toys in your youth, you may notice a few old favorites look different. That's because they were using prototypes for the commercial. Prototypes are the Holy Grail of collecting. It's every collectors dream to find an early edition of a prized toy.

Jul 20, 2007

Safety Card Friday #2

----------------------------- ----C'mon, pull my finger!

Safety card #2 has some very good advice but in this case, where would the kids sit? This guy's got his steering wheel in the middle of his dashboard in a really small car. They couldn't even sit in his lap, with Pebbles big head, the guy couldn't see to drive.

Where are they going at that age anyway? Did Fred send them to the store for a pack of Winstons? Are the kids running away [again]? At least Pebbles was smart enough to bring Bamm-Bamm. The guy in the car is in a lot more danger than the kids.

Jul 18, 2007

Disneyland Opening Factoids

Disneyland opened to the public for it's first full day of operation on July 18, 1955 . Below are a few facts about the park and the times.


US President: Dwight D. Eisenhower
US Vice President: Richard M. Nixon

Stamp: 3 cents
Bread: 18 cents a loaf
Gas: 29 cents a gal
Coffee 79 cents a lb.
Eggs: 79 cents a doz.
Milk: 92 cents a gal

Population of the US is 165,931,2024.
Avg.Income: $4,962/yr
Min. Wage: 75 cents an hr.


June 7 - The $64,000 Question #1 show of the year
Sept 10 - Gunsmoke
Oct 3 - Captain Kangaroo
Oct 3 - The Mickey Mouse Club

64% of all homes in America have a television


Anaheim had five hotels and two motels for a total of 87 rooms. There were 34 restaurants in the city and forty-two Policemen

To build Disneyland, the Disney Studio purchased Seventeen parcels of land for an approx total of 160 acres.

At the time Disneyland began construction there were 4,000 orange trees on the property and less than 20 houses. Two or three of these houses were saved to become Disneyland offices.

Construction required:
3.5 million boardfeet of lumber
1 million sq. feet of asphalt
5,000 cubic yards of concrete
35,000 cubic yards of dirt for the Main Street Railroad Station berm.
1200 full size trees & 9,000 shrubs.

At it's opening Disneyland employed 850 people

Walt Disney was 53 years old.

"Some eager guests were waiting for admission as early as 2 a.m. today for the 10 a.m. opening of gates to the artful combination of world's fair and amusement park. By 9 a.m., Disney officials said there were thousands parked and waiting at the gates." -- article, Santa Ana Register.

Police were kept busy looking for "stolen" vehicles, which were merely misplaced in the 100 acre Disneyland parking lot and an all-points bulletin was issued to be on the lookout for a 16 year-old boy who ran away from Utah to see Disneyland. [Insert your own Utah joke here)

Disneyland opens to the general public at 10 a.m. with admission costing $1.

The first ticket, is purchased by Walt's brother Roy

Dave MacPherson of Long Beach, Ca. waits all night to be the first guest in Disneyland. The wait is worth a lifetime pass.

Being young & cute is worth a pair of lifetime passes for Michael Schwartner and Christine Vess. They're the first two kids in the park and get their picture taken with Walt.

Each attraction had to be paid for individually, with prices ranging from ten to thirty-five cents.

Parking was a quarter.

The park is open till 10 P.M.



The Disneyland Band may be the longest temporary gig in the history of music. Originally scheduled to be there for the fist two weeks, they still play daily.

The Fire Wagon - Horse-Drawn Street Cars & Surreys. - The horses had been trained in four hour shifts while music, chatter, crowd noise, car horns and shouts were blasted from speakers.

Main Street Cinema - Playing Steamboat Willy since day one

Main Street Penny Arcade

The Santa Fe / Disneyland Railroad: -The one idea that was in every plan for a Disney park.


The Jungle Cruise - The Cruise was originally going to be a ride down famous rivers in America but Art Director Harper Goff loved the movie "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. He talked Walt into the jungle theme.


Canal Boats of the World - Quickly becomes Storybook Land

King Arthur Carrousel- Disneyland's oldest ride. The carousel was made by the William Dentzel Company in the 1920s. Some of the horses date back as far as the 1880s

Mad Tea Party

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Peter Pan's Flight

Snow White's Scary Adventures


Golden Horseshoe Review

The Mark Twain- The hull was made at the Todd Shipyards in Long Beach Ca. while the upper decks were made at the Disney studio. Both pieces were moved to Disneyland where miracle of miracles, they fit together perfectly.

Mule Pack

Stage Coaches

TOMORROWLAND - [Tomorrowland was originally designed as a view of what life would be like in 1986, the year Halley's comet would return.]

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - This exhibit of props from Walt's feature film wasn't open on July 17. It's the only ride premiering on the 18th

Space Station X-1



Jul 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Disneyland

The first day of Disneyland's operation was an invitation only event. The idea was to have a light day of 10 to 12 thousand guests to break in all the new rides and attractions. During this light opening, Walt and a few celebrities would host a live 2 hour television show to introduce the American public to Walt's new park. It sounds simple enough, but when Mother Nature, Father Time and Murphy [the guy with the laws] conspire against you, the best laid plans of a man and his mouse will often go awry.

Disneyland's race to completion was as dramatic as it could be. For the last two weeks, temperatures hovered near three digits. Crews working round the clock were being slow roasted as they finished "Walt's Folly". An earlier plumbers strike had forced Disney to choose between finishing all the water fountains or finishing the bathrooms. Walt chose bathrooms saying "Folks can drink a Coke but they can't pee in the streets." [Unless it's in the parking lot as you'll see a little later.] Now with only days to go and with temperatures and temperments soaring, asphalt workers were going on strike as well.

It was nothing personal, the strike was two counties wide. Disney and construction boss Joe Fowler made an impassioned plea and asphalt workers agreed to finish the park. Problem was, the truck drivers who delivered the asphalt refused to cross picket lines to pick it up so Disney had it hauled up from San Diego a hundred miles to the south. Just what every big project needs near the end is a big expensive delay. Legend has it, workers were laying the black stuff the morning of the grand opening. New blacktop and hot weather. You can see where this is going to go, right?

The guests were employees from the studio, the families of those that built the park, sponsors, a thousand reporters and a few hundred celebrity friends. Food & drink was free, compliments of Disney. The new food service department was busy preparing meals for the crowd of 10,000.

What they hadn't anticipated was just how many people wanted to see Disneyland. It seems, the way the tickets were worded, people thought you could bring your whole family with only one ticket. It's also been said that the tickets were easy to forge. I'm sure you can see where this is going as well.

Dateline Disneyland was going to be the largest live telecast ever. TV cameras of the day were massive pieces of machinery that didn't move easily. Twenty nine cameras were placed around the park to cover the event. Where ABC got 29 cameras on the west coast in 1955, I don't know.
To emcee his live show Walt called on his friend Art Linkletter. Art was a radio and television vet with many live broadcasts to his credit. He had been a master of ceremonies for at least two world's fairs and the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. Linkletter picked Bob Cummings and some guy by the name of Ronald Reagan as his co-anchors. Unfortunately history has lost all track of anything Reagan did after the TV special. [Lighten up people, I'm just kidding].

The show wasn't scripted. Where the emcees were going to go was planned in advance, with only a general idea of what they were going to say when they got there. All three hosts were playing it off the cuff, which is part of the reason the show is still fun to watch over 50 years later.

Disneyland's opening was on a Sunday. Even in a Devils playground like Southern California, most people had started their Sunday morning attending church. Dressing up on Sunday was still a national habit. Add to that a live taping where people might be seen by friends and relatives across the country and the crowd dressed to impress. It's going to be over 90 degrees and yet men were in ties and coats and women in high heels and slips. High heels at Disneyland. You gotta love the 50's fashion ethic.

Walt's brother Roy was driving to Disneyland from his Los Angeles home. When he got close to the park, the traffic on Firestone Blvd was pretty bad. Since traffic in So Cal wasn't a big surprise even in 1955, it didn't dawn on Roy that the problem was caused by folks coming to see Disneyland. Traffic to the park was backed up for two miles in every direction, a new phenomenon for Anaheim and it's 43 man police force. The traffic jam was avoided by a few people who had slept in their cars overnight.

Once he parked, Roy was approached by a panicked new parking lot employee who didn't know what to do about kids relieving themselves next to the cars. These kids had been in the traffic jam for hours. Roy's solution to the problem? "God bless 'em, let 'em pee"

Disneyland opened around noon just as the temperature was starting to peak. The "official" main gate numbers set the crowd at over 28,000 guests and that didn't include those that paid a guy 5 bucks to climb over the back fence on his ladder (true story). The hot weather combined with new asphalt meant sticky streets and women in heels walked right out of their shoes

The food & drink that had been planned for 10 thousand begin to dry up and the lack of drinking fountains meant even getting a drink of water had a line. The hot, thirsty and irritable mob began to swarm the rides and overwhelm the fresh faced new ride operators. Ride capacities were set on the spot and some rides were shut down over & over, stretched to their new limits.

The stories of opening day are legend. Fantasyland was closed down for a while when they thought they had a gas leak. Exhausted animator Ken Anderson had had been painting rides all night and fell asleep backstage missing the official opening. Crowds almost flipped the Mark Twain as they swarmed on board and ran from one side of the ship to the other looking for points of interest. Kids used the Autopia like a demolition derby and left a nearly weeping Bob Gurr to fix the automotive mess before the public opening the next day. For a few hours, it was a complete madhouse.

By 5 o'clock the new park had quieted down. Heat, lack of food, long lines for the drinking fountain and rides breaking down had sent most people packing. Charles Ridgeway who was a reporter at the time called his wife back to the park to ride the new rides. She had gone home when she realized what kind of a day it was going to be. Those that stuck it out were able to truly enjoy what Disneyland had to offer. They were able to see the park the way Walt had seen it in his dreamy little skull. The funny part is, Walt had no idea what was happening. He was busy running from place to place to dedicate each of the lands on live television. Getting to each site to make his speeches was his main job.

The Disneyland that 90 million people saw on television thaty day [that's over half of the US population at the time!] was closer to what Walt envisioned than what was actually going on in the park on opening day and while it didn't take very long for the Disney company to get the two images to match, the opening day damage had been done. Many reviewers slammed Disneyland.

After the opening, Walt kept shaping his dream. He wasted no time improving his park and he invited reporters back explaining what had gone wrong and showing them how much had already changed. In spite of the first day reviews, most of the general public believed in what they saw on TV and came in big numbers. Seven weeks into the unseasonably hot summer, Disneyland had topped one million guests, a surprising milestone of success.

Now at the beginning of it's 53rd year of operation, Disneyland has survived critics, political dignitaries, occasional bad management and a love-in. It is the rally point for American celebrations and occasionally, it suffers it's own tragedies. Disneyland's castle is an iconic image eternally burned into the brains of baby boomers and one of the most photographed structures in the world. Disney's little theme park is an American Institution.

We here at the treehouse want to say happy birthday and tip our souvenir Disneyland hard hat in gratitude. We hope 'The Happiest Place on Earth" gets to live up to it's motto for many generations to come

This photo is probably from opening day. It shows a group of local kids who were hand picked to run across the drawbridge into Fantasyland. You know it's a rehearsal because there are kids above the castle looking down, the guys on the right of the photo are caught off guard and my favorite part of the photo is Alice sitting and the construction guy smoking next to her. [close-up below]

If the photo is from opening day, the myth of the drawbridge being opened only twice is malarkey. [It's malarkey anyways. They ran it up & down for local commercials for the "New Fantasyland" in the 80's.] I also wonder how many times they ran the kids through the tunnel. Was it just for a camera test or were they burning the energy off the kids? Did they get to ride the carousel while they waited for their turn on television?

The rehearsal brings up another question I have. You've may have seen the opening day newspaper photos of kids running through those very gates to ride the rides. Were those pictures taken during rehearsals, during the live TV show or were they taken the next day when the park opened to the public? If you were one of those Anaheim kids chosen to run through the castle on opening day, or a newspaper photographer, let me know what you remember.

Jul 14, 2007

William Hanna Animation Pioneer

He didn't start out to be an animation pioneer, he was just looking for a job during the depression.

William Hanna was born in Melrose New Mexico July 14, 1910. His father was a construction supervisor for the Santa Fe railroad which meant the family went where Santa Fe needed construction.

The Hanna's finally settled in Los angeles where Bill became active in the boy scouts. In college he majored in Engineering and when the depression hit, he quit school to take a job building the Pantages theater in Hollywood . Through his brother in law, Hanna heard about a job at the Harmon Ising animation studio. He started there painting cels and within a year was head of the tracing and painting department. Soon he was contributing gags to the cartoons and writing music and lyrics.

Hanna moved to MGM when they started their own animation studio and that's where he met Joe Barbera. The two collaboated on a few cartoons before they got the idea for Tom & Jerry. By 1955 the pair were running MGM's animation department but 2 years later, MGM decided they didn't need any more new cartoons and closed up animation.

Not wasting any time, Hanna & Barbera started their own studio and instead of competing in the ever shrinking field of movie theater cartoons, they decided to try their luck with the new medium of television.

You would think that cartoons for TV was a no-brainer but that wasn't the case in 1957. Getting someone from a network to say yes to a cartoon was a hard sell. Hanna & Barbera had come up with the comedy team of Ruff & Reddy and the story of getting the show on air is left for another time, but luck and persistance paid off and the comedy duo aired on NBC. The rest is history.

While the animation and story of Space Ghost doesn't hold up as well as the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons of Hanna's early years, Saturday mornings would not have been as much fun wiithout Hanna Barbera cartoons. The studio constantly created original comedians and heroes I could call my own and that was important. As an adult I wince at the plot holes and endless use of the same animation cycles in Sampson and Goliath or Jonny Quest, but the kid in me still remembers the thrill of the theme songs and the rapt attention I paid to every adventure.

Those slightly smarmy shows [okay, okay, they aren't just slightly smarmy, they're reeeeeeally smarmy] are an indelible part of my childhood and I treasure the memories of many Saturday mornings sitting in front of the idiot box. While there's no telling what kind of things Hanna could have created as an engineer, I'm selfishly thankful he decided to paint a few cels.

Hanna died from throat cancer in 2001.

Jul 13, 2007

Safety Card Friday #1 Wilma & Pebbles

What did your teachers hang on the wall in elementary school? Did you have charts with gold stars? Did your teacher hang students art work around the classroom? If Hanna Barbera safety cards had been in any of my classes, I would have remembered them.

I remember lame generic safety cards and I seem to remember a Jiminy Cricket set, but imagine having a set of cool Hanna Barbera cards in your classroom in 1965. It would have elevated the reputation of any teacher who used them.

There's 36 cards in the set I have and most of them have strange color choices like this one does. [I had skin that color one summer when I tried using that indoor tanning goop] . I'll put one up each Friday for a while to remind you that safety should be your number one priority on the weekends. Remember, first the Toro, then the six pack. Please don't drink and mow.

Oh, and Wilma honey? I love you like a sister, but Pebbles is still too young to be going anywhere by herself.

Jul 12, 2007

America on Parade & Bob Jani

Don't you just love an internet adventure? I do, at least when they end up with me learning a little something. This one started with a swing by Daveland blog last night. I love lurking at vintage Disney sites on the web and there's a few I surf on a regular basis. Last night I was looking at Daveland's post with pictures from America on Parade.

During the Bicentennial back in 1976, Disney had a huge parade that was a celebration of 200 years of American popular culture. It was one of the larger parades Disney has put together with a lot of floats and extras dancing down Main Street. What's the thing that made the parade unique?

All the performers wore huge heads.

This was one of those love it or hate it type of gimmicks. I thought they were pretty cool at the time, but now they do seem a little silly and yeah, maybe a little creepy, but no more so than the same type of heads in Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans or Carnival in Brasil. Anyway, the post reminded me I had some pix of the concept models. It's still July, what the heck, be a little patriotic. I found the pictures and went to Dave Smith's Disney A to Z to see what he said about the parade. Smith mentioned the name Bob Jani.

I'm one of those Disney fans who knows just enough to be dangerous. On a good day I can name a half dozen animators and another half dozen Imagineers and some of those names would overlap. Who is Bob Jani?

Google. Google. Google. Wow! This guy had a short but amazing career. Someday I might put together a bio but in a half hour I found a few high points.

Outside of Disney, he produced two Super Bowl half times, the current Rockettes Christmas Show which has been playing since 1979 and Jani was responsible for Traveler, the USC mascot that's been charging down field after every touchdown since 1969.

For the Disney company, he produced and directed Disney on Parade, created the Electric Water Pageant down in WDW, America on Parade and the cherry on top? Main Street's Electrical Parade. Not a bad run at all. If he hadn't lost the battle with Lou Gherig's disease, I can only imagine what kind of high tech stuff Jani would have created.

These photos are small 3-d models of the parade floats and costumes. They were probably built using xerox copies of the original concept art. The models are made to understand just what a float is going to look like and to see if there's going to be any problems with the design when it lumbers down Main Street. Cheaper to fix it here than when it's a big ol' parade float

I especially like this giant turkey, because it's just as scary in the model as it is in the parade photos on Daveland's blog. I can only imagine the screams as kids stare up from their strollers into the long cavernous beak of the turkey from hell. Poor people still don't know why Thanksgiving fills them with a sense of fear and dread.

P.S. The web site Walt Dated World has some cool pix and info on AOP here

Jul 11, 2007

E.B. White July 11 1899 - Oct. 1 1985

"Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn't have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn't blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act." --E.B. White

3rd grade was a miserable year for me. My family had moved from California to Minnesota and as far as I was concerned, it was like moving to the moon. The move started as a cross country summer trip with my mom, my grandmother and our three cats. The idea was for our little family to see the US and then visit relatives, the bulk of our family tree then living in the small town of Cloquet, Minnesota. After the visit with hundreds of people I've never met pinching my cheeks and talking to me like they had always lived next door, we were supposed to return to sunny California.

The return trip didn't happen.

I got my first taste of snow that year. The first flurry was pretty cool and watching my cats adjust was funny but by January, the novelty had worn off. Going outside to play was like preparing for a NASA mission with thermals, boots and bulky gloves. 90 percent of the US lives with this but up to this point, I had never been outside in anything heavier than a sweater
I couldn't seem to find a rhythm. I wasn't the teachers pet or the class wise-ass. I didn't feel close to any kids at school and being from California didn't give me any street cred. To top it all off, My grandmother had a heart attack and my mom had to get a second job and leave me with a baby sitter.

One of the high spots of the year was my teacher reading out loud to the class. The two books I remember her reading were Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, both by E.B. White.

I hadn't been read to in school since Kindergarten. Listening to the story in silence in my classroom was the same experience you get by seeing a good movie in the theater. Sure, you may have surround sound and a plasma screen at home but sitting in the dark and collectively experiencing the surprises with an audience is very different. The experience of first listening to these two books has made them a personal favorite and I think maybe it's time for me to reread them.

In 1945 when Stuart Little came out, E. B. [Elwyn Brooks] White was known as an essayist. He had been a contributing editor for the New Yorker for twenty years. Born in Mount Vernon, NY he graduated from Cornell University, tried his hand at newspaper writing and copy editing before writing essays for the New Yorker. The idea for Stuart came out of a vivid dream while on a train trip.

He wrote Charlotte's Web as a present for a niece. The idea came from his farm where White lived with his wife, ducks, geese, pigs, cows and an occasional rat and spider. Not a quick writer [a trait I can really relate to] White said his niece had outgrown the book when it was released in 1952.

White's last book for kids was the Trumpeter Swan released in 1970. The year of it's release E. B. [Andy to his friends], was given the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal the medal is in recognition of " books that make a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." Since 60 years after their publication all three books have become media classics spawning, movies, cartoons and merchandise, I'd say the award was an understatement

White died on October 1, 1985 at his farm in Maine.

Jul 10, 2007

Fred Gwynne

Fred Gwynne was a modern renaissance man.
With his deep baritone voice, he was an accomplished actor and singer performing in plays and musicals on and off Broadway. He was a sculptor and painter holding a one man exhibition of his art and he also wrote and illustrated nearly a dozen children's books. With all of this talent, it's funny to think he's best remembered as TV's Frankendad.

Frederick Hubbard Gwynne was born on July 10, 1926 in New York City. His father was a stockbroker, his mother a former cartoonist. His father died from complications during routine surgery when Fred was five .

He attended a prep school where he got his first taste of the stage, enlisted in the Navy after graduation and entered Harvard on the G.I.Bill.

Gwynne took full advantage of his years at Harvard. He majored in English, studied art, became a founding member of the Krokodiloes [Harvard's oldest a capella group], wrote and illustrated for the Harvard Lampoon and was a member of the Hasty Pudding Club. It was the wacky Hasty Pudding productions that kindled his interest in theater.

In 1951 he graduated Harvard, married his first wife Jean Reynard and moved to New York to pursue an acting career.

Gwynne got a job at the J Walter Thompson Advertising Agency and worked there for the next five years writing copy by day and acting in theater and television in the evenings. He made his movie debut as an uncredited punk in "On the Waterfront" in 1954.

In 1955, Gwynne made a guest appearance on The Phil Silvers Show as Private Honigan. The character was well liked and Gwynne was called back to guest star in a few more episodes. When Phil Silvers producer Nat Hiken was casting for a new show, he offered Gwynne the role of police officer Francis Muldoon in "Car 54 Where Are You?". The police sitcom ran two seasons.

When Car 54 was cancelled, Six foot five inch Fred Gwynne was cast as Herman Munster, the green tinted head of the Munster clan. A 15 minute color pilot was pitched to the networks and the show got a strong maybe from CBS.

In the pilot episode, Gwynne plays a rather skinny Herman with a different cast. Adjustments were made to the show and it's cast, a second short pilot episode was shot in black & white to show to sponsors and the show was finally put into production.

The Munsters premiered Sept. 24, 1965 and ran for two seasons. For 70 episodes, Fred Gwynne endured hours of daily makeup, four inch lifts and pounds of padding to help transform him into one of the goofiest, dads in sitcom history.

While the all black & white show has become an enduring classic, the role was Hollywood poison for Gwynne who couldn't seem to shake Herman loose. Casting directors said he was married too closely to his Munster persona in the public eye. Fred turned back to the stage and his art and rode out the short sightedness of Hollywood.

In 1981, when he was called to do a reunion show for The Munsters, he asked for a huge amount of cash and surprisingly, the producers said yes. Gwynne played Herman one last time in Revenge of the Munsters.

In the 80's Gwynne delivered some great character performances in Cotton Club [1984], The Boy Who Could Fly [1986], Fatal Attraction [1986], Pet Sematary [1989] and his final role as a southern judge trying Joe Pesci's case in My Cousin Vinny [1992].

After My Cousin Vinny, Gwynne purchased a farm in Maryland and was in semi retirement when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died on July 2, 1993 just a week away from his 67th birthday.

While there was a decade or more where Gwynne wouldn't talk about the Munsters, the silence was more of a career move than an outright hatred of the character. In a 1979 interview after a career of successes in other fields, Gwynne summed up his Munsters experience; "Funny thing, yesterday morning I found my youngest son and daughter watching the rerun of an old [Munsters] episode and I said, 'My God, THAT'S not still on, is it?' Well, even so, I was very lucky and it was great fun to be as much of a household product as something like Rinso. I almost wish I could do it all over again."

There isn't a fan of the Munsters who doesn't feel the same way

Jul 2, 2007

40th Anniversary Carousel of Progress - Peoplemover - Rocket Jets

Carousel of Progress, Rocket Jets and the Peoplemover and all opened on July 2, 1967 and outside of premiering on the same day and all being in Tomorrowland, they don't seem to have too much in common. But these three rides do share a common thread. All three attractions started as a sort of round peg in a square hole idea.

Carousel of Progress

When Disneyland opened in 1955 there were hundreds of good ideas that didn't make the final cut. Some were just ahead of their time while others needed more money. One of these ideas waiting for a bigger budget was Edison Square.

Edison Square was originally designed as a separate crossroad adjacent to Main Street that showcased household inventions from the turn of the century to modern times. You know it was an idea Walt truly loved because it appeared on the first Disneyland Souvenir map.

As Edison waited for an influx of cash, the idea kept expanding and Disneyland real estate was shrinking. It wasn't long before the square had outgrown it's intended space and the idea had to be shelved. Fortunately, this was not the kind of idea that goes gently into the night.

The Edison concept was adapted to become General Electrics "Carousel of Progress" introduced at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. The attraction featured three generations of an animatronic American family showing off the "newest" inventions in their homes. The lifelike animatronic figures coupled with the novel idea of a permanent stage and a rotating audience made the ride one of the top 5 at the fair.

When Carousel was through with it's New York run, Disney packed up his electric puppets and rebuilt the round rotating theater in Disneyland. The show ran until 1973 when it was shipped to WDW to make way for America Sings.

By the way, Carousel of Progress wasn't Walt's only World's Fair ride. He built four different rides for four major sponsors. While on a fact finding mission for Ford's ride, Disney accidentally inspires a new transportation system.


Walt and Imagineer John Hench are visiting the Ford steel plant in Detroit Michigan. They are there to better understand the company and get ideas for Ford's 1964 World's Fair attraction. The huge ingots of steel are being worked, heated and pressed and it's all moving from station to station on a long track of rollers. Walt turns to John and asks, "Do you think we could put a seat on something like this?"

That simple question evolves into the Wedway Peoplemover; a low maintenance continually moving transportation system that uses magnets to propel the cars. The concept is so successful, it's offered to communities and industries outside of Disneyland. Sadly, very few ever take Imagineering up on the offer but the Disney version still lives at WDW and the Orlando Airport.

Rocket Jets

The Astro Jets first opened at Disneyland in 1956. When Walt decides to redesign Tomorrow-land in the 60's, he wants to keep the popular little ride, but finding a place for it in the new expansion is problematic.

In 1965, while four of Walt Disney's new rides are wowing audiences at the World's Fair, Walt and his band of merry men are secretly criss-crossing the United States looking for a site for a bigger better Disneyland. This is giving much of Disney's top staff a lot of air time aboard the company plane. It also means a lot of impromptu strategy sessions are happening in the friendly skies.

In one of these meetings, Walt gets the idea to move the AstroJets to the top of the new Peoplemover. He's so excited he actually gets out pen & paper and sketches the thing himself. If I'm not mistaken [and I usually am; I know just enough to be dangerous], Walt's sketch included the 3 story gantry guests used to board the three story rockets.

The new design now makes the ride even more popular than before with both adults and kids waiting to see a new Tomorrowland from 30 feet up. It also creates a ride loading nightmare and three hour lines but that's a tale for another time.

So what's the moral to the three little stories Kids? [I know nobody asked for a moral to the stories but it's my blog not yours. Sit down and stop complaining.]

The moral here kids is to always remember that the best ideas are made of clay, not chiseled in stone. No. I didn't say stoned, I said stone. You know, like a rock.

Jeez people, stay focused. This is a family blog.

Dave Thomas July 2 1932 - Jan 8 2002

At the time Dave Thomas opened his first Wendy's in Columbus Ohio, he wasn't looking to be the third largest burger chain in the US. He had been in the restaurant business over 20 years and his dream was to have a place of his own with a few franchises for his kids to run. He turned a profit in only six weeks and Wendy's was off and running.

Below is a few highlights of Dave Thomas's life. An ordinary guy doing
extraordinary things

He was born July 2 1932 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Adopted six weeks later by Rex and Aluva Thomas of Kalamazoo Michigan.

In 1937 Aluva dies of rheumatic fever and Dave's life changes forever. His dad moves a lot as he looks for satisfying work, eventually remarrying three times.

The stable influence in his life is his grandmother Minnie Sinclair who had a small farm in Michigan. He spent many summers with her learning the value of an honest days work.

At the age of 13 it's Minnie who tells Dave he was adopted. "It really hurt that nobody told me before, " he recalled "Life with my new parents was not easy….Yet without a permanent family of my own, I know I would not be where I am today, " he wrote in Parade Magazine. Finding orphaned kids a loving home becomes increasingly important to the Wendy's founder.

At 15, Dave lies about his age and becomes a busboy at the Hobby House restaurant in Fort Wayne Indiana. Phil Clauss, the owner of the restaurant becomes an important mentor. When his dad wants to move again, Dave refuses. He quits school to work at the restaurant full time and moves in with the Clauss family. (He called quitting school the worst mistake of his life)

Thomas volunteers for the army during the Korean Conflict. [fancy name for a war they don't want to call a war] He's transferred to Cook & Bakers School at Fort Benning before being shipped to Germany as a mess sergeant. Honorably discharged in 1953 as a staff sergeant, Thomas returns to Hobby House as a short order cook where he meets 18 year old waitress Lorraine Buskirk. They are married 7 months later.

Clauss owns a few Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Columbus Ohio that aren't as profitable as they should be. He offers Thomas a 45 percent cut in the restaurants if he returns them to profitability. The KFC turnarounds gets Thomas noticed by the hard working Colonel Sanders who becomes a mentor for many years.

Thomas eventually buys out Clauss and sells his chicken biz back to KFC for a nice profit. His next job is for Arthur Treachers Fish & Chips but Thomas is a burger guy and wants to run his own store.

The first Wendy's opens in Columbus Ohio Novemeber 15, 1969. He opens the second store in less than a year.

The Wendy's corporate site claims Thomas opened the first "modern" drive-thru window in 1971. Since eateries have had drive-thru food since the 30's you figure out what they mean.

Wendy's opens store number 500 and goes public in 1976.

1979 - Tries the salad bar. This signals the beginning of the end times [authors opinion purely speculative]

Dave tries his first stint as television pitchman in 1981 with poor results.

1983 - First of the big three burger joints with a baked potato

1984 - "Where's the Beef" campaign improves sales but George Bush uses the slogan as part of his presidential campaign and makes it insanely popular.

1989 - Dave finds his commercial voice and starts his successful television career as the face of Wendy's. He eventually stars in over 800

1992 - Dave establishes the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

1993 - always having said that leaving school was a mistake, Thomas enrolls in high school and earns his GED. According to his company biography, his classmates voted him "Most Likely to Succeed"

1996 - undergoes bypass surgery.

Thomas dies jan 8, 2002.