Saturday, December 27, 2008

Small Wonder
Scale models for Disneyland's Very Merry Christmas Parade, lined up backstage, 1977.

It was the most wonderful time of the year, and the year was 1977.  I was eleven, in the 5th grade, and finally man enough to see my first non-"G" rated movie, Star Wars with my Dad!

Our family spent the Christmas holiday at my grandparents' house in California, and on December 27, we all went to Disneyland together.  That day we stood in front of Main Street's Penny Arcade to see the Park's newest holiday spectacle, The Very Merry Christmas.  With its pop-up book floats, glockenspiel girls, and, yes, silly reindeer, my imagination was inspired! 

A decade later, I became a Disneyland parade designer myself, and I never forgot the enchantment I felt with my family that December day in 1977.

In the late 1980s, I worked at the off-site Disney art facility on Olive Street in Anaheim. In our building there was a warehouse aisle of stacked crates containing some of the most beautiful miniature models you've ever seen, some harkening back to the early 1960s and the time of Walt Disney himself.  There were parade floats, tiny stage sets, photo locations, miniature puppets and architectural details spanning the entire history of Disneyland's in-Park live entertainment... 

...including the original hand-made models for 1977's Very Merry Christmas Parade!  At the time, these 3/4 inch-scale works of art were still in marvelous shape, and I photographed them all for reference. 
(Note: This turned out to be a very smart thing to do, because now these photographs are the only way to view this body of work. Tragically, due to extreme short-sightedness, Disneyland destroyed and discarded their entire archive of entertainment models to create room in the warehouse for other things.  I'm sure someone there regrets this now!)

The iconic Gingerbread house popping out of an open-book would become the symbol of the parade, its image appeared in advertising and on tickets.

Disneyland Christmas Parade 1977

In the final parade, Chip and Dale busied themselves making sweets at the candy kitchen table, while surrounded by happy, dancing gingerbread cookie people.

At the North Pole Post Office, letters are pouring in from children around the world, all addressed to Old Saint Nick, himself.

Meanwhile on the workshop float, toys of all kinds are being manufactured.  This toy factory is actually made of toys!

These drum units were rolling stages for various characters and dancers, and were also packed with speakers for the parade's musical soundtrack.  Make sure to click on all these photos to appreciate the details.

Some of these environments seem empty without the performers.  Here is an implied cottage for the Seven Dwarfs.  Grumpy played the pipe organ, while Dopey pumped the giant air bellows. 

Incidentally, this seems to be the spot in the parade where I recall the newest Disney animated characters made their appearance.   I had seen the film The Rescuers earlier that summer and I was totally obsessed with it - even more than Star Wars, I have to admit.  Orville the albatross was my favorite character in the movie, and the Park costume was a nice interpretation.  Evinrude the dragonfly looked pretty strange to me as a kid, though, with his huge eyes and shapely feminine legs.  Nevertheless, I loved them all.

Disney characters of all kinds, including Pooh, Tigger, the Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, appeared with this unit, carrying prop gifts and decorating the Christmas Tree.  Snowmen and Snowladies bopped along behind.

And finally, Santa!  Led by his team of reindeer, and surrounded by the famous Disneyland "Glock Girls" Santa wished everyone "a very merry Christmas" from his sleigh above a landscape of snowy rooftops!  If you'd like to see a GREAT BIG photograph of this very float in the final 1977 parade, check out "Disney on Parole's" fascinating blog here!

To all of you who follow this blog throughout the year, thanks!  I hope it's been as enjoyable for you, as it's been for me putting it together.  Here's wishing you a very merry 2009! And more merriment to come!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Silly Buffalo

Those Silly Reindeer at Disneyland appear to have a not-too-distant cousin. This comical critter is yet another creation of Disney artist Bill Justice,  and appeared in the Golden Horseshoe Revue episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1962.

On the show, the "Silly Buffalo" demonstrated the Buffalo Roundup, a four-legged eccentric square dance, with faux-Indian princess Annette!

And if you think you can stand it, here's the clip, courtesy of YouTube...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Silly Reindeer

I miss those Silly Reindeer at Disneyland, do you?  It's not quite Christmas without their lolling tongues, crossed eyes that blinked and winked, and especially that begging-dog prance as they led Santa's sleigh for four decades of holiday parades.

Disneyland Christmas Parade Flyer, 1962
The silliness began in the early 1960s, with designs by artist Bill Justice. 

Prancing around on television in "Disneyland Around the Seasons", December 1966.

Silly Reindeer - Paper Models
Vintage Paper Models from Disneyland's Entertainment Art Department

Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the holiday parade changed names a few times (Christmas In Many Lands Parade, Fantasy on Parade, Very Merry Christmas Parade, Disneyland Christmas Fantasy...) but the Silly Reindeer remained their same silly selves.

Silly Reindeer Model CU
Disneyland Parade Model from the early 1980s.

Silly Reindeer Model

In 2003, Santa got himself a brand hew herd. More attractive, perhaps. But 100% un-silly.  As blank as a you-know-what in the headlights.

Oh, Silly Reindeer, wherever you are now....I miss your silly reindeer games.

Disneyland Christmas Parade, 1966
The Silly Reindeer were shouted out with glee in this 1966 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine. Click to Enlarge.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ghosts of Christmas Past

This year I spent several days in the small German town of Lauscha with my friend, American folk artist Debbee Thibault. Besides being incredibly quaint, with little structures that look like real-life gingerbread cookie houses, Lauscha is the birthplace of blown-glass Christmas ornaments.

Debbee has been collaborating with a small company there to produce an assortment of delicate hand-painted glass lanterns using original antique molds - some designs reaching back to Christmases in the 1840s.

My favorite is this delightfully maniacal antique clown.

Antique glass lanterns and ornaments by Debbee Thibault.

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15, 1963

Forty-five years ago, two movie-star-attractive people threw a wedding and invited everyone they knew. I wasn't there, but that's understandable because I hadn't met them yet. But someday when I get my time machine, I plan to show up and introduce myself.

Anyway, being married was a new concept for both of them back then, and now they're about as skilled at it as two people can get. The only mistake they've ever made was getting rid of that Thunderbird.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! I love you!

Merry and Bright

It's Christmas at our house

Speaking of priceless heirlooms and exquisite trash, it's Christmas at our house once again! Everything that bakes in the attic heat all summer is allowed a month-long recess in the living room. (Some sad news: those little candles shaped like choir kids didn't make it this year.)

The driftwood/lamp creation on the mantelpiece is a thrift store score, as is all of our furniture and, well, everything else we own.

It's Christmas at our house
In keeping with the traditional "no room at the inn" theme, there's no room to walk or sit down in here.

It's Christmas at our house! Vintage wrapping paper? You betcha, we use it, but only for our friends who really appreciate it, which is all of them...

Friday, December 12, 2008

1957 Castle Keepsake

Disneyland Castle souvenir book cover 1956

In 1957, Disneyland guests could purchase a lavish full-color booklet as a souvenir of their visit to the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through dioramas.  Copies sold for a mere 25¢...

book cover art - full painting
The cover art is not a background painting seen in the final animated film, but a concept from the early stages of production.

Disneyland Castle Souvenir Book Centerfold, 1957
Inside, the book's panoramic centerfold spans four pages.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sleeping Beauty Rare

Sleeping Beauty "Big Golden Book" Art by Eyvind Earle, 1957

Eyvind Earle's exquisite cover painting for the 1957 Sleeping Beauty storybook published by Golden Press.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ninth Day of Dasara!
Paper Sculpture Illustration by Kevin Kidney
This smiling Indian elephant is being decked out for the Hindu fall festival Dasara.  It's a new piece I completed for a little group show at the LAGUNA COLLEGE OF ART & DESIGN.  The show also includes some amazing new works by Jody Daily and Jason Bahret!

Artists' Reception Tonight  (Thurs Nov 6)  6 to 9PM.

The show is open to everybody through December 8, 2008 in LCAD's Ettinger Gallery.

2222 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92561
(949) 376-6000

Mon– Fri 9-5 and Sat 9-4 Closed Sunday
Free Admission  - and parking is free, too!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ronald Searle Gets Bewitched

Bewitched Illustration by Ronald Searle

To set the stage for a day of spooks and spirits, I'm excited to share with you some really rare illustrations by artist Ronald Searle. In 1966 Searle was commissioned by TV Guide magazine to conjure up a series of images based on the Screen Gems television show Bewitched.  The tableaux above of Elizabeth Montgomery, Agnes Moorehead, and baby Tabitha appeared on the cover of TV Guide for the week of June 18-24.

Bewitched Illustration by Ronald Searle
The technical staff on Bewitched conspires to inspire.

Bewitched Illustration by Ronald Searle 
Dick York as the original - and best -Darrin!

In spite of the obvious fun Searle had with these, the show itself apparently failed to cast a spell over the artist. "I know that the canned laughter underscoring those mournful lines in Bewitched is the laughter of lost souls," Searle wrote. "Who else would applaud so hysterically the words: "What's for breakfast, Sam?"

Bewitched Illustration by Ronald Searle
An extreme makeover!

Nevertheless, Searle knew his craft so well. His sense of humor and skill at caricature really sparkle in these illustrations.

Bewitched Illustration by Ronald Searle

And now, as you prepare to head out the door this evening with treat bag in tow... 
twitch your nose, and click the YouTube window below, for a musical send-off by Samantha Stevens herself... 
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Angus MacBadger Day

Today, October 29th 2008, marks the twentieth anniversary of Angus MacBadger Day! To those of you out there who celebrate the occasion (the number grows every year) I raise my glass to you with pride and plaid unfurled. Happy A. Mac B. Day!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Annette!

Win a Phone Call From Annette, 1958

Good golly, I almost forgot to wish Annette Funicello a happy birthday this week. Yesterday was the day, October 22, and I hope it was a special one for her.

Do I love Annette? Oh you bet! And what's not to admire about this living treasure of pop-Americana, who is also one of the most lovely and sincerely nice people you'd ever have the privilege to meet? Absolutely nothing, that's what, so today let's enjoy some fun images in honor of Annette.

Annette at home, 1958
From a 1958 article in "Walt Disney's Magazine":
 "Annette listens to records in the living room with her brothers, Mike, 6, and Joey, 12. Her record collection includes Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Little Richard, and her own recordings such as the 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' story-teller album seen here. Her littlest brother, Mike, likes show business, and would like to follow in Annette's footsteps. However, brother Joey pretends to be unimpressed by his popular sister. He snorts, "You should see her when she gets up in the morning!" "

(Do I even need to point out that sofa? I mean, look at that SOFA!!)

Phone Call from Annette - Winners, 1958

By the time she had reached her mid teens, Annette was a total phenomenon.  In 1958 the Disney Studios held a contest in which ten lucky kids received a personal phone call from the 15 year old brunette, with publicity designed to whip young fans into a frenzy: 
"If Annette were to call you on the telephone, what would you say?  Would you ask her about Hollywood or about herself?  Would you talk about hobbies, movies, TV or the Mouseketeers?
This is your chance. Be the first in your town to talk personally with Annette.  Act now!"

Annette the Ballerina, 1950s

Annette's talent first became apparent at Carpenter Grade School in the San Fernando Valley, where the principal suggested she take up drums. From drumming she went to dancing. Walt Disney first saw Annette in a special performance of Swan Lake in Burbank's Starlight Bowl.

Her millions of fans seemed to want to know everything about her, and the Disney studio was happy to oblige.

On October 22, 1992, Annette's 50th birthday coincided with her being named a Disney Legend by the Walt Disney Company. At the ceremony, Annette and other honorees pressed their handprints into cement and received a special Disney Legend award. I was the art department coordinator for the event that year and got to wish her a happy birthday in person. It's a great memory for me!

So, Annette, if you're reading this, love and cheers to you this week!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Paper Parade

I've been relentlessly busy the past month with a mix of projects, but here's a peep at one currently in the works.  The happy elephant is a detail cropped from a bigger piece I'm doing for an approaching-way-too-fast gallery show.  The full image to be revealed when I decide to quit fussing with it...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ghosts in my Neighborhood

There are ghosts in my neighborhood. They’re invisible, but they’re everywhere, all around. Everyday I walk right through bunches of them – I even drive my car through them. And, as I live in an old house, I know that their ghost furniture fills my rooms... their vaporous ghost clothing hangs in the closet with my shirts and jeans.

My favorite thing about living in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles is that the past lies beneath a wax paper-thin overlay of the present. I wonder especially about those long-gone citizens who once occupied our space. They were certainly different – if you doubt it, look at what they were wearing on a summer day in 1909! – but these strange people breathed the same air we’re breathing now.

I enjoy looking for any connection between our time and theirs. My friends wearily endure conversations with me hung on hypothetical musings, such as: “If an Angelino of 1929 were to suddenly quantum leap into 2009, don’t you think it’s neat that he or she would still be able to give you directions from South Pasadena to the Hollywood Bowl?”

This photo from 1909 depicts the then-brand-new electric incline railway that once lifted residents and visitors to the summit of Mount Washington in Los Angeles. The hillside streets were too steep for most automobiles of the period to climb without overheating, so a cablecar system run by a 40-horse power induction motor (built by Westinghouse) was installed.

That's all gone now.

My current home is near the top of Mt Washington, and several times a week I jog down this same street to catch the Metro Rail at the bottom of the hill. As I hike back up, panting, I sometimes imagine I'm being passed by one of the iron cars of the Los Angeles and Mount Washington Railway. Inside, the passengers in their colorless hats and collars sit on wooden benches gazing out at the passing front yards. And as they go by, I realize not one of them can see me.