Steve Jobs’ Double Feature

ratajobs.jpg

You gotta think that this Friday, June 29th, just might be the most significant day in Steve Jobs’ life. On one hand, Apple and AT&T will release the iPhone, a product that we already know will go down in technology history as one of the most-hyped ever–and which stands a pretty good chance of being as profoundly influential a device as the Apple II, the Macintosh, and the iPod.

On the other hand, Friday wil also see the premiere of Pixar’s Ratatouille. Jobs may no longer be Pixar’s owner and chairman, but as a Disney board member and the company’s largest stockholder, he has a lot riding on the film.

Me, I can’t wait to see Ratatouille; absurdly enough, I missed the sneak preview because I was attending a performance of Disney in Deutschland. But duty (in the form of my PC World work) is probably going to call–chances are I’ll spend my Friday evening attempting to acquire an iPhone…and, if I snag one, writing about it for our site. Ratatouille will have to wait until at least Saturday, and maybe longer.

Jobs has an iPhone and has presumably seen Ratatouille. I wonder how he’ll spend his weekend?

More and More Walt’s People

waltspeople5.jpgWalt’s People, Didier Ghez’s ambitious and important series of anthologies of interviews with folks who worked with Walt Disney, has been published and is available from Xlibris. I’m pleased to say that it includes my 1991 talk with Maurice Noble, along with interviews with James Algar, Bill Anderson, Buddy Baker, Jack Bradbury, George Bruns, Alice Davis, Marc Davis, Al Dempster, Bill Evans, Vance Gerry, Hugh Harman, T. Hee, Winston Hibler, Lynn Karp, Ward Kimball, Dave Michener, Nadine Missakian, John Musker and Ron Clements, Fess Parker, Walt Peregoy, Walt Stanchfield, Erwin Verity, and Bill Walsh. Among the interviewers are Mike Barrier, Dave Smith, Jim Korkis, and Bob Miller; the introduction is by Mark Mayerson. I don’t have a copy yet, but I’m excited just thinking about it–just about everything in it, other than the chat I conducted myself, will be new to me.

And no, it doesn’t include interviews with Adolf Hitler or Leni Riefenstahl…

Dick Huemer and Mussolini

As long as we’re talking about animation personages getting ideas from Axis dictators in the 1930s…

Dr. Richard Huemer, son of Dick Huemer, was nice enough to give me copies of some clippings his father had tucked away. Here’s one from a Baton Rouge paper (undated, but presumably from 1930 or 1931) about Dick and Toby the Pup, the character who’s most famous for being even more obscure than Scrappy. A few notes:

1) You’ve gotta love an article with the line “Dick Heumor, who’s [sic] real name is Dick Huemer…”

2) The uncredited author of the story wasn’t all that excited about interviewing the creator of Toby, apparently–in both his lede and conclusion, he or she makes an ungainly attempt to associate Dick with Mickey Mouse, well before Huemer did join the Disney organization.

3) Scrappy cartoons often have a postmodern, self-referential quality, as if they’re parodies of 1930s animation. I see something of the same tone in Dick’s tale of how Toby had been inspired by a dog he’d owned named Toby, who saved his life. In France.

4) Whether or not the shocking truth about Walt Disney and Adolf Hitler’s relationship is ever uncovered, at least we’ve learned this: Il Duce had a hand in the creation of Toby. Who knew?

toby1.jpg
toby2.jpg

Deutschland Dispute

Normally, I think of this blog as a refuge from controversy, not a hotbed of it. But John J. Powers, author of the play about Walt Disney and Hitler I reviewed recently, has written to me and Mike Barrier to protest our posts about his work. (I first learned about the play over at Mike’s site; Mike has already commented on Mr. Powers’ communications.)

Mr. Powers disputes some of the things I said and asks, “Please, McCracken, do your research, and have the responsibility to correct yourself to those who would pay attention to your blog. ” Okay, I’ll try.

Mr. Powers on evidence that Disney met Hitler:

Firstly, the evidence for the meeting of Disney and Hitler is in the Disney
Archives and in the Volkische Beobachter, the German Nazi newspaper. The
Archives point out that Munich newspapers, in the summer of 1935, welcomed
Disney (with headlines, no less) as “the great white hope against the Jews
of Hollywood.” Disney’s anti-Semitism and anti-unionism were well known in
Hollywood, and Leni Riefenstahl came to Hollywood in 1938 and was wined and
dined by Disney while all other studio heads boycotted her. For
information on Disney’s anti-Semitism, please read DISNEY’S WORLD by
Leonard Mosley or WALT DISNEY: HOLLYWOOD’S DARK PRINCE by Marc Elliot, or
again, WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION by Neal
Gabler.

Mike has responded to the above better than I ever could; Mr. Powers hasn’t, of course, provided proof of a Disney-Hitler meeting. If he has any specific evidence that one took place, I think that every Disney historian worth his or her salt would love to hear about it.

Mr. Powers also says “There was no bar code on the book onstage (you have a vivid imagination).” There were several books onstage; sitting in the audience, I thought I saw a bar code on one, in a stack under a table. After the play ended, I walked over to look more closely–and it sure looked like a bar code to me.

Mr. Powers: “Incidentally, the Grimm tale “The Jew in the Thornbush” (not AND the Thornbush) is contained in the original complete Grimm tales (not the abridged collection most Americans know).” Point taken: I misheard the name of the tale.

When I responded to Mr. Powers and expressed my distaste for Marc Eliot’s Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince and Leonard Mosley’s Disney’s World–which, as Mike said, are the worst Disney biographies ever written– and said the latter was riddled with basic errors, he responded, in part, “No one but you seems to be suggesting Mosley’s factual errors. If you could bother to cite them and back up what you say that would be different.”

Lemme try to cite some errors, which I’ll do by reprinting the cover story we published in Animato #10 (Summer 1986) in its entirety below. As for backing up the contention that Mosley made mistakes, anyone out there want to confirm that the mistakes Gary Hoo mentions are indeed mistakes? Alternatively, anyone want to argue, for instance, that Fred Moore did work on Snow White, or that Summer Magic and The Incredible Journey are cartoons? (Side note: When Mosley’s book was published, Dave Smith of the Disney Archives sent me a very, very long list of the mistakes it contained.)

mosleycover.jpg
mosley1.jpg
mosley2.jpg
mosley3.jpg
mosley4.jpg
mosley5.jpg

A Disney Desecration

disneyindeutschland.jpg

SPOILER ALERT! If you plan on seeing Disney in Deutschland at San Francisco’s Next Stage Theater–or simply have a weak stomach–read no further…

I’m just a slave to temptation: After reading about John J. Powers’ play at MichaelBarrier.com, I spent my Saturday night sitting through it. (The theater, incidentally, is in a church about a mile and a half from my house; I’m used to the fact that when bizarre things involving animation happen, they usually happen in close proximity to me.)

As Mike pointed out, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Disney ever met the Fuehrer. You wouldn’t know that from the materials handed out at the performance, though. Actually, they suggest the opposite, without ever quite definitively stating that the meeting is known to have happened: “Goebbels may have insisted that Hitler meet with Disney, the latter being the only contact with the major center of motion picture distribution at that time (Hollywood).”

And inevitably, they knowingly discuss Walt’s legendary anti-Semitism: “Mr. Disney…thought of himself as a bulwark against the Jews who controlled many of the major studios.” (You know you’re in trouble when the handout at a theatrical performance involving Walt Disney cites Leonard Mosley and Marc Eliot’s Disney biographies.)

The piece takes place in 1935 at Hitler’s Berchtesgaden mountain home, with a set that sports such authentic decorations as a “gramophone” with an LCD display and a book with a bar code on the jacket. Hitler (John Strain) is there with Leni Riefenstahl (Donna K. Moore)–they can’t keep their hands off each other, which, as far as I know, is an alternate-reality touch in itself–and they’re anticipating Disney’s visit.

They’re quite excited about it: “Disney’s our mensch!,” burbles Adolf. Leni, however, does point out that “his films were banned here for years because some animal–a duck, I think–ridiculed the Kaiser.”

Walt arrives; as played by Brendan Scoggin, he looks and behaves more like Hal “The Great Gildersleeve” Peary than the Disney we know. “Goebbels tells me that you make pictures for children,” comments Hitler by way of conversation.

“Herr Hitler, I don’t know if you know this, but you have quite a following in America,” says Walt genially, mentioning that he’s attended Nazi rallies in Los Angeles. He spews hatred at Hollywood rivals like “that damned Jew at Universal.” And boasts that he manages to avoid interaction with the Jews because “we create, produce, and distribute–we do everything ourselves!” (Apparently, Buena Vista existed in 1935; we just didn’t know it.)

Suddenly inspired to play storyman, Adolf attempts to convince Walt to make a cartoon based on a Brothers Grimm tale called “The Jew and the Thornbush,” but Walt seems skeptical of its potential. Even so, they’re kindred spirits, and Walt recognizes it: “Herr Hitler, we’re doing the same thing, but in different ways.”

And then they really bond when Walt confides in Adolf that he remains tormented by how Elias stripped him naked and beat him as a child; a compassionate Adolf tells Walt that his father loved him even so.

All along, both Walt and Adolf have been admiring a large scale model of Germania, Hitler’s planned renewal project for Berlin. Walt loves it, seeing it as a place with interesting buildings, attractions, and things for families to do together. You almost expect him to start talking about E tickets and churros.

Finally, Walt gets to the point of his visit: He wants Adolf to allow the distribution of Disney cartoons in Germany. Adolf agrees, on one condition: that if anything happens to him, Walt will see to it that Germania is built in some form or fashion. We see an image of Germany’s fairytale-like Neuschwanstein castle, famous for inspiring the Disneyland castle, projected behind them as “It’s a Small World” begins to play. The performance ends.

(OK, I made up the part about “It’s a Small World.” But only that part.)

I may sound lighthearted, but it’s all an act–I’m appalled. Depressed, even.

Nowhere in the handouts I received does playwright/director Powers say that his work is even slightly speculative. A couple of dozen well-meaning San Franciscans attended the performance I saw; I may well have been the only one who left the theater not believing that it’s historical fact that Walt Disney was a vicious anti-Semite who met Hitler and got along famously with him. And dozens more will see the play before it closes, at least some of who will presumably spread the word about Walt’s hatred and Adolf Hitler’s little-known involvement in the creation of Disneyland.

I’m beginning to feel a little queasy just thinking about all this. So let’s end with a cartoon which, when it was released in 1942, must have disappointed Walt’s buddy the Fuehrer no end….

Mr. Wizard is Dead, and I’m Confused

mrwizard.jpg

Sad news from Southern California: Don “Mr. Wizard” Herbert, who taught several generations of kids to mix beakers of liquids together to produce strange and educational results, has passed away at the age of 89.

When I heard the news, what came to mind was the same thing that always comes to my mind when I think of Mr. Wizard: that one of my high school science teachers had told us that he had taken science classes from Herbert. I’ve kinda taken a certain pride in the notion that I studied science with one of Mr. Wizard’s students–which is an odd thing to take pride in, given that I was a truly terrible science student.

But Herbert’s obit, or at least the one in the LA Times, seems to suggest that he was an actor, not a teacher. I’m now confronted with the possibility that my teacher was one of millions of Mr. Wizard fans, and was speaking metaphorically. Or I had a false memory. Or something.

(Actually, I think it’s possible that many of my memories of my school days are groundless: For years, I had vivid memories of watching the first moon landing at kindergarten in 1969. Until someone gently pointed out to me that I wouldn’t have been in class in July…)

More on the Des Moines Peanuts Artist

dmpeanuts.jpg

Back in 2005, I posted an online reprint of a very, very unusual Des Moines Register and Tribune supplement, in which Charlie Brown and Lucy pay a visit to that newspaper’s headquarters. It was probably one of the most-read items I’ve ever published here–among other things, I got Boing Boinged.

In the original post, I guessed that the artist, Bob Davenport, was a staff artist at the paper. Now his nephew–also a Bob Davenport, by the way–has posted a comment on my original piece confirming my guess and providing some details about the man behind the supplement and his other work.