Monday, December 28, 2015

Small Wonder: Disneyland's 1977 Christmas Parade

All lined up: float models for Disneyland's Very Merry Christmas Parade 1977.
In the late 1980s, I was a designer 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.
This turned out to be a rather smart thing to do, just a few years later Disneyland discarded their entire archive of entertainment models to create room in the warehouse for other things. I believe these photographs are the only way we can view this body of work today.

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.

In the final parade, Chip and Dale made sweets at the kitchen table,  
surrounded by happy, dancing gingerbread cookie people.

At the North Pole Post Office, letters are pouring in 
from children around the world for Old Saint Nick.

Meanwhile on the toy factory float, toys of all kinds are being manufactured.
Even the factory itself is 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.

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 was the spot in the parade where the characters from
Disney's newest animated film The Rescuers made their appearance.

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 silly reindeer, and surrounded by the famous Disneyland Glockenspiel Girls,  Santa wished everyone "a very merry Christmas" from his sleigh above a landscape of snowy rooftops! 

To all of you who've follow this blog throughout the years, 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 2016! And more merriment to come!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


"I've made quite a name for myself doing this act...
And I don't like it."
-Wally Boag

(Paint doodle by Jody Daily)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Disneyland's Unknown Muppet Parade

"Here Come The Muppets" Parade models, 1990.
With the Muppets' recent comeback for a new generation, I was reminded of my brief brush with Muppetdom in early 1990. "Here Come The Muppets" was the title for a proposed Disneyland parade that would have featured giant inflatable characters rolling down Main Street on floats, similar to the balloons in the Pardi Gras parade (also 1990). Disney had just purchased the Muppets from Jim Henson for an estimated 150 million dollars, and the company was speedily making big (and wild) plans for Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. 

Disneyland President Jack Lindquist had an idea of sending Mickey and the other Disney characters  on a year-long "vacation" away from the Park while the Muppets took over for the duration. Some of the concept sketches we saw at the time included draping the Disneyland marquee on Harbor Blvd with a big banner reading "Muppetland", painting the Matterhorn green, and replacing the Mickey flower bed in front of the Train Station with Kermit's face.  You think I'm joking?

Thankfully, none of this came to pass, but the Disneyland Art Department certainly enjoyed working on several Muppet parade models. In the photo above, Kermit, Sweetums, Dr. Teeth, and Animal were all sculpted by Rich Collins. I did Fozzie and Beaker. Miss Piggy was done by Scott Sinclair, and Jackie Perreault sculpted Swedish Chef. One other model I'd started but never completed: Gonzo in his super-hero cape and red tennis shoes.

Beaker and Fozzie sculptures in Plasticine. In the final ver-
sion, Fozzie sat on a steamer trunk full of vaudeville props.
On May 16th, 1990, Jim Henson died unexpectedly of pneumonia. I heard the news on KCRW while driving to work that morning. It was a terrible shock, made even more surreal because of the project we had been immersed in for months. With Henson gone, Disneyland's Muppet deal immediately floundered, and we were told to stop working on the parade. Any artwork that we had done featuring Muppets was packed onto a truck and taken away (possibly to the Henson company?) Maybe there's a warehouse somewhere with all our models packed away in crates. At any rate, I'm glad we snapped a few photos while we had the chance!

TV's "Magical World of Disney" welcomed the Muppets to the family. (1990)

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Ghastly Hatter

"The room they were in was an unfinished attic, and as they turned to run out the door, another ghostly manifestation appeared and blocked their way. He was a cloaked figure with an evil, grinning face. A hat box hung from his hand…"

In 2009, Jody and I fabricated a reincarnation of the original Disneyland 1969 Hatbox Ghost for the first D23 Expo in Anaheim.  The figure turned out pretty swell (if we do say so ourselves) and a short time later we were emailed by a well-known film director who at the time was writing a screenplay for an upcoming movie that, we believe, will make even the grimmest ghost grin.  In the blink of an eerie eye we were commissioned to build a second Hatbox Ghost, but this one slightly different from our first—more detailed and much more spooky.

We were inspired by the  famous publicity shot of Disney Imagineer Yale Gracey with the early mock-up of the ghost for the Disneyland attraction:

Gracey's early version had more facial "decay", frazzled hair, and irises in his eyes, unlike the final ghost that appeared briefly in the attraction.  We started with the head and went from there.

Working late at night in our studio became increasingly unsettling as this new visitor took shape.

We sculpted his stick body over a steel armature and stitched together his daft disguise entirely by hand.

Lastly, a custom brass name plate for his base…

…and the finishing touch.

What's next for old Hattie? We've heard rumors that his restless bones may soon re-etherialize in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, just as the moon climbs high for the Park's 60th Anniversary.  Although Jody and I had nothing to do with his long-awaited comeback, we are very anxious to see what may soon materialize in that dark attic corner.  Aren't you?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

To the Moon with Frank Soltesz

Hey Kids!   Write your name here!

Impress your earthbound friends with a souvenir of your round-trip flight to the moon aboard Disneyland's TWA Rocket!  This exciting illustration of the Moonliner exiting the Earth's atmosphere with its tripod gear retracted, was created by artist Frank Soltesz.  

Artist Frank Soltesz in his studio, circa 1947

I've been spacing out over the dynamic work of Frank Soltesz for a long time, even before I knew who he was.  His magazine ads for TWA, and especially his complex "cut-away" images will floor you.

Ken Soltesz, Frank's son, has shared with me the original TWA magazine ad that Disney used for the certificate.  The text is fun to read, as well!

Visit the Frank Soltesz Gallery on Flickr!

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Hawaiian Eye" Tiki

Way back in 2006, as the collectible tiki mug craze was reaching its height, I made a special mug just for myself based on a (then) fifty-year-old television program that I was completely obsessed with.  Hawaiian Eye, produced by Warner Brothers in Burbank and originally broadcast on ABC-TV from 1959 to 1963, was a "private eye" adventure in modern Honolulu, with murder and mayhem set against the tropical scenery of the islands. 

The show had a vacation-like atmosphere with plots rum-infused with luaus, surfing, ukuleles, and Navy Grogs.  Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad were the private investigators working from their stylish poolside office at the famed Hilton Hawaiian Village. Pretty nightclub singer Connie Stevens performed each week in the adjacent Shell Bar, and Hawaiian-born Poncie Ponce added to the fun as a colorful cab driver. Even the villains on the show each week seemed to be on vacation.

The most familiar icon of Hawaiian Eye, however, was the tiki seen at the opening and closing of every episode. Conceived by Art Director Perry Ferguson (best known for his production design on Citizen Kane, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, and the live-action sequences in Walt Disney's Song of the South), the tiki also stood in the Hawaiian Eye headquarters and served as a sort of good-luck charm for the private eyes. 

Standing nearly 4 feet tall, the grimacing deity was reportedly carved from palm wood by an actor named Malcolm Mealey.  Mealey trained weightlifters here in Anaheim and chiseled tikis out of palm logs as a hobby.  Most of his tikis were purchased by Stephen Crane (Lana Turner's ex-boyfriend) who built hotels with themed restaurants, such as "The Luau" in Beverly Hills.

The tiki became the show's logo, both behind the scenes, and on the handful of rare (and highly collectible) merchandise items based on the series.

I've been told by Book of Tiki author Sven Kirsten that after the show closed in 1963, the tiki prop was taken as a memento by one of its cast members Doug Mossman, but it has since rotted away in his yard in Waikiki.

By the way...Jody and I are currently hard at work on our online store set to debut in about a month.  It's a lot of work, but as it evolves there will be some nifty stuff you probably won't  find anywhere else.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Steaks and Chops

Let's journey back to "grandmother's day" with some wonderful artwork—part of an original pencil layout—created in 1955 for a rare full-color newspaper section presenting some of the "many delights and wonders that are yours to enjoy at Disneyland."

The text written to accompany this page:
"The Red Wagon Inn is one of several charming eating places in Disneyland. It is resplendent in the elegance of a by-gone era reminiscent of the famed eating houses of yesterday. All appointments are authentic mementos of the gay and glamorous 90's--including the stained glass ceiling, entrance hall and foyer taken from the S. James home in Los Angeles, one of the West's most noted old mansions. Atmosphere, however, is not confined to the building alone. The menu itself brings back visions of historic good eating --featuring steaks and chops."

"Grandmother shopped in a store like Swift's Market House on Disneyland's Main Street. Here we find the old-fashioned butcher in straw hat and cuffs, the pot-bellied stove and shelves lined with authentic old-time meat and grocery products. Swift & Company, whose quality meats are served exclusively in Disneyland, is the sponsor of this exhibit."

"The Chicken Plantation at Disneyland is a gay antebellum river plantation house, reproduced in every nostalgic detail. French Provincial decor and old Southern Hospitality make the Chicken Plantation a memorable spot. You'll want to visit the Plantation soon and enjoy tender grown Swift's Premium Chicken."