Friday 31 December 2010


It's New Year's Eve: the perfect night for a mad party! And if only we could turn the clock back to 1951, we might be able to get a hold of a box of Barratt's Alice in Wonderland party crackers!

This is an artist's 'rough' for the packaging art-work used by the British novelty company and featuring Alice, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Cheshire Cat.


Whatever you do tonight, I hope it goes off with a real––


Happy New Year!

Saturday 25 December 2010


Today: just a couple of my Disney Christmas Tree decorations to accompany...

to all
decidedly disney
blog readers

Mickey Tree Decorations

Friday 24 December 2010


...when all through the house, not a creature was stirring except–––


I recently posted a collection of Christmas cards by Disney artist and Imagineer, John Hench and the original drawing above decorated the envelope containing John's 1987 card.

John created five official portraits of Mickey to commemorate the Mouse's 25th, 50th, 60th, 70th and 75th birthdays, so it is altogether appropriate to mark the Christmas holiday with this seasonal portrait of Mickey as Santa Claus!

John Hench Christmas Card 1987 (envelope)

"...Happy Christmas to all,
and to all a good-night

Thursday 23 December 2010


A couple of weeks ago, I posted images from the personal Christmas cards of veteran Disney artist, John Hench. Today, I am posting some more seasonal greetings, this time from one of Disney's legendary 'Nine Old Men', Marc Davis and his Disney-designer wife, Alice Davis.

Marc began his career at the studio as an apprentice animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and went on to become one of Disney's leading draughtsmen, animating such memorable characters as Thumper in Bambi, Brer Rabbit in Song of the South, the eponymous Cinderella and Alice (in Wonderland), Tinker Bell in Peter Pan, Aurora and Melificent in Sleeping Beauty and the gloriously funny (and monstrous) Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians.

Marc also worked on the creation of many Disneyland attractions including the Enchanted Tiki Room, The Jungle Cruise, It's A Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. Alice Davis' work for the Disney studio included researching and designing the costumes for Small World and Pirates as well as contributions to two other attractions: Carousel of Progress and Flight to the Moon.

I first met Marc and Alice in 1986, when I was working on a BBC radio series on the Disney company entitled, Ain't No Mickey Mouse Business. With my producer, Malcolm Prince, I visited the Davis' home where – a fantastic treat when you are living in hotel and diners – we were given a wonderful home-cooked meal and were then allowed to see examples of Marc's 'serious' art: amazing drawings and paintings of the people and culture of New Guinea.

It was the first of a number of get-togethers in Los Angeles and London and we exchanged Christmas cards from that year through to Marc's death. Every one had a personal message on the reverse, often detailing the various exploits they were getting up to in what was a lively period for all the veteran Disney animators as, for the first time in their careers with the Mouse Factory, they began taking centre stage and started sharing their memories and recollections of working on the Disney classics with a new generation of Disney fans.

On a later visit to Chez Davis, I mentioned how much I enjoyed getting their cards and Marc went off and came back with a handful of early cards that I hadn't received. Here they all are for your enjoyment. As you will see, they feature not just Marc and Alice but also a number of their 'four-legged friends' (whose arrivals and departures are chronicled) along with references to their globe-trotting for Disney and their ambitious plans for remodeling of their home which went on for some time.

Above all they are a small insight into the private life of one of Disney's Old Masters and a couple whose friendship it was a joy and privilege to share.

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1972

Marc Davis Christmas Card -  1973

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1980

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1983

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1985

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1986

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1987

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1988

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1989

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1990

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1991

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1992

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1993

Marc's 1993 card contained the following invitation to a Davis exhibition...

Marc Davis Exhibition - 1993/4 (Front)

Marc Davis Exhibition -1993/94 (Back)

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1994

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1995

Marc DavisChristmas Card - 1996

Marc's card, this year, arrived in an embellished envelope...

Marc Davis Decorated Envelope

Marc Davis Christmas Crd - 1997

Marc Davis Christmas Card - 1998

Tuesday 21 December 2010


Seventy-three years ago, tonight, radio listeners across America tuned in to hear a very special broadcast, hosted by Don Wilson, that reported on the premiere of Walt Disney's highly-anticipated debut feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Rather more recently – a mere twenty-three years ago – to mark the 50th anniversary of that ground-breaking film, I wrote and presented a radio feature for the BBC World Service that sketched the story of the making of a picture that Hollywood had initially dismissed as 'Disney's Folly', but which would become a milestone in the combined histories of animation, American cinema and the Disney corporation.

So, sit back and let me take you to The Carthay Circle Theatre on San Vicente Boulevard on the evening of 21 December 1937: the night Hollywood turned out to see a cartoon!

My programme, which includes contributions from some of those who worked on the film, was called...


Monday 20 December 2010


If you haven't written that letter yet, now's the time to do it – and here's the perfect pen to write it with...

Mickey Santa Pen

Sunday 19 December 2010


Readers of some of my other blogs will know that I am a devoted admirer of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and have written a book, articles, radio programmes on the subject as well as making (and appearing in) my own theatrical adaptation.

One of my favourite movie versions of A Christmas Carol - actually, there's not many that aren't favourites! - is Mickey's Christmas Carol.

Produced in 1983, the film featured – as you will all be aware – Donald Duck's uncle, Scrooge McDuck, in the Ebenezer Scrooge role and Mickey as the old skinflint's put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit.

Other familiar Disney characters involved included Daisy Duck as the love of Scrooge's younger self and Goofy as an accident-prone Ghost of Jacob Marley providing more laughs than frights...

The Ghost of Christmas Present (below right) was played by Willie the Giant who had previously appeared in another Mouse cartoon, 'Mickey and the Beanstalk', in the 1947 Disney feature, Fun and Fancy Free. The other Ghosts - of Christmas Past and Future - were played by Pinocchio's pint-sized conscience, Jiminy Cricket, and Black Pete (aka Peg Leg Pete), Mickey's arch-Nemesis from the early cartoons and comic strips.


The film, which picked up an Academy Award nomination was animated by a new generation of Disney artists who would go on to become future stars of animation including Glen Keane (responsible for the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and the title character in Tarzan) and Pixar founder, John Lasseter.

The film received a lot of publicity at the time since it was Mickey's first film appearance in 30 years. Indeed, I appeared on BBC TV's Newsnight (wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater) where I was interviewed about Mickey's career and come-back.

What I knew at the time (being an anorakish Disney nerd) was that this wasn't the first time Mickey Mouse and Co had had a bash at A Christmas Carol.

In 1975, the Disney company had released a gramophone record on the Disneyland Storyteller label entitled An Adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol Presented by the Popular Repertory Company, The Walt Disney Players.

The cast was a little different: the Ghost of Christmas Past and Future were played by Merlin from The Sword in the Stone and the Wicked Witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


I loved the conceit of Disney characters belonging to a rep company - a similar idea to that previously used in the 1962 TV show, Mr Magoo's Christmas Carol and which would be later revisited in 1994 for A Flintstones Christmas Carol.

The Disney album was written and co-produced by the Scottish-born actor, Alan Young (well known as the human lead in the classic TV sit-com about a talking horse, Mister Ed) and this record later became the inspiration for the movie, although Alan Young (who had also spoken for Mickey Mouse and Merlin) almost didn't get to reprise the role of Scrooge McDuck.

For some reason - the studio said they thought Young wouldn't want to play the part - were auditioning another actor who just happened to know Alan Young and showed him the script. Young immediately realised that it was, in fact, a version of his script and the part he had created on record! A request to be auditioned led to some embarrassed back-peddling by the studio and Young, once again, got to play the miserly, curmudgeonly Scrooge.

What is fascinating is to discover - courtesy of Disney History - that years before the film or the record Donald Duck had played all the parts in a comic-strip version of A Christmas Carol published in the December 1949 edition of The Rexall Magazine, given away by the Rexall Drug Company. Although Uncle Scrooge had made his comic book debut two years earlier, in 1947, this version of Dickens' story features his nephew, Donald and an all-duck cast!


And now I find that there was yet another Dickens-inspired piece of Disneyana somewhere between the appearance of the Rexall version and the release of the long-playing record.

Entitled Walt Disney's Christmas Carol, it featured a mouse not called Mickey, but Cedric, and was published in a Christmas number of McCalls magazine in the 1950s.

You'll find this charming little story with its original illustrations at 2719 Hyperion.

So, there you are: four Carols for the price of one blog!


You can find out why and how Charles Dickens came to write his famous seasonal tale (and how it has been variously interpreted across the years) over at my other blog in a post entitled Christmas Brought to Book.

Friday 17 December 2010


Christmas is coming and as you haul out the box of holiday decorations and begin the torturous task of once again untangling the tree lights, let me remind you of an era when Christmas Trees were lit with real candles.

This is a piece of original advertising art from the 1930s for 'Mickey Mouse Christmas Tree Candles' (which actually look pretty much like regular candles!) made by London's most famous candle-makers, Prices, whose former factory is only a couple of miles from where I am now writing these words...


Wednesday 15 December 2010


I am recalling an event that happened almost forty-five years ago today...

I am getting ready for school and, suddenly, there is my father calling up the stairs: "Brian, Walt Disney has died..."

Downstairs I heard the murmuring drone of radio voices as my father - busy brewing early morning tea - listens, as he does every morning, to the BBC news programme, Today.

I ought, perhaps, to have dashed downstairs to listen to the reports, absorb the details, gather up the tributes. After all, Walt Disney was my hero. A strange idol for a teenage lad, maybe - but that is what he was.

I collected every book, magazine and trivial snippet that I could find about Disney and his studio. I was forever copying pictures of Disney characters in my sketch-books - in fact my youthful ambition was to be a Disney artist, to animate those fabulous beings that appeared in his films. I longed to be a part of that mystical process that created characters out of ink and paint and then imbue them with a power to move people to laughter or tears. I was, I admit, obsessed by the man and his movies.

Later that morning, on my way to school, I would buy the daily newspapers and - in a corner of the playground at morning break - pore over the obituaries; but, at the moment of first hearing the news, I had only one response: I sat on the edge of my bed and wept.

For the first time in my young life I experienced that bizarre phenomenon: a feeling of overwhelming grief at the death of someone whom I did not really know. Not only had I never met Walt Disney, I had - rather surprisingly - never even written him a fan-letter. Yet, I felt - as doubtless many others have felt on hearing of the death of some public figure, president or pop-star - that I had lost a friend, been bereaved of someone who held a unique place in my affections. The loss felt achingly huge; a void had yawned open in my life that I doubted could ever be filled...

In the almost four-and-a-half decades since that day, I have continued to study - and occasionally write about - Disney's life and work. I have also had the privilege of meeting many of those who knew, worked with, loved and loathed the man. Such encounters have brought me very close to feeling that I understand at least something of the unique personality and character that was Walter Elias Disney.

But I have never been - never shall be - as close to him as I was on that morning when my father called upstairs to tell me the news that Walt Disney had died...

Thursday 9 December 2010


Well, the Christmas cards are already pouring in and, shame on us, we haven't done a single one! This is partly due to the pressure of work deadlines coupled with the fact that we are having to prepare to move out of our home of many years occupation. So, apologies to friends for the lack of seasonal greetings this year...

Anyway, the daily influx of images of robins, snowmen and stagecoaches reminded me that for some twenty years my Christmas was given an extra Disney dimension of pleasure through the receipt of personal greetings cards from some of the great Disney animators and artists: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, Marc and Alice Davis, Joe Grant and, the subject of today's post, John Hench.

I first met John, legendary artist and Imagineer, early in 1982 when I visited Glendale, California, and Orlando, Florida, to research a BBC TV documentary on Disney's EPCOT which was, finally, under construction at Walt Disney World.

I was thrilled to visit the studios and workshops of Disney Imagineering and quickly made what would prove to be long-lasting friendships with a number of the creative personnel and, in particular, the unit's President, Marty Sklar, and Senior Vice President John Hench.

John was a true 'Renaissance Man' as all who know of his work will agree: his contribution to animated films from Fantasia through to Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan; his influential work in shaping the Disney theme park experience in Disneyland, Walt Disney World or any of the other parks where his philosophy of entertaining and managing people is still followed; his illustrations to Disney picture books or his 'official portraits' of Mickey Mouse painted for the studio over a number of years.

The opening of EPCOT Center in October 1982, was marked by – amongst many media events – my TV programme, Waltopia. Two months later, I received my first Christmas card from John celebrating the EPCOT achievement...

John Hench signed Christmas Card 1982 (front)

John Hench signed Christmas Card 1982 (inside)
Click on any image to see larger versions

John and I renewed our friendship a few years later, in 1985, when I was back in Los Angeles making the first of several radio series and specials on Disney subjects.

That year, we began exchanging Christmas cards and continued to do so until shortly before his death in 2004 at the age of 95.

Here for your enjoyment are eighteen years of seasonal Hench artwork demonstrating his diverse skills as a draughtsman and his wide-ranging interest in art...


John Hench Christmas Card 1985


John Hench Christmas Card 1986

John's 1886 design is inspired by the woodcuts of the German Renaissance artist, Hans Weiditz the Younger (1495–c.1537), also known as The Petrarch Master


John Hench Christmas Card 1987

The 'Friends' depicted on either side of John and his wife, Lowry, are (to the left) Salvador Dali (with whom John had worked on the planned Disney film, Destino), Henri Matisse and René Magritte; and (to the right) Pierre Bonnard and the young and old Pablo Picasso. As the inscription in the bottom left hand corner explains, the piece is also a tribute to the 19th Century French caricaturist, Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, known by the pseudonym, J J Grandville.


John Hench Christmas Card 1988

This card is a tribute to the magic of the 18th Century French conjuror, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who illusions included the magic portfolio from which all kinds of wonders would be produced. John and Lowry's cat is AII: both a paper-size and short for Arabella II, the first Arabella having departed the previous year (hence her appearance in angel-form on the puppet booth in the previous card)


John Hench Christmas Card 1989

A magic lantern tribute to Salvador Dali. The emblematic head is a pastiche of one created by Dali for the Disney film Destino


John Hench Christmas Card 1990

This card is in the style of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (now in the Morgan Library and Museum), an ornately illuminated manuscript in the Gothic style, made in about 1440 by the anonymous Dutch artist known as the 'Master of Catherine of Cleves'



John Hench Christmas Card 1992


John Hench Christmas Card 1993

John celebrates 'the best spaghetti factory': Fratelli De Cecco di Filippo in Arbruzzo, Italy


John Hench Christmas Card 1994

Salvador Dali (this time his museum in Figueres, Catalonia) once again provides the inspiration for a Hench Christmas card


John Hench Christmas Card 1995

Port Lligat was the location of Salvador Dali's home on the Costa Brava. On the reverse John acknowledged receipt of a copy of the book Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs': The Making of the Classic Film which I wrote with Richard Holliss

John Hench Christmas Card 1995 (back)


John Hench Christmas Card 1996


John Hench Christmas Card 1997

The card carries the message, 'Les Heureux Presages' – The lucky Omens


John Hench Christmas Card 1998

On his 1998 card, John renders the artist and his cat as Magritte-like windows onto a sea-scape


John Hench Christmas Card 1999

A Chaucerian feast for Christmas 1999


John Hench Christmas Card 2000

An inscription on the reverse explains John's 2000 design...

John Hench Christmas Card 2000 (back)


John Hench Christmas Card 2001

The caption reads: 'A stimulating environment produces neurogenesis!' Neurogenesis (birth of neurons) is the process by which neurons are generated. Most active during pre-natal development, neurogenesis is responsible for populating the growing brain with neurons. In addition to bells, trumpets, candy canes and holly, the imagery on this 2001 card features a Dali lobster-telephone


John Hench Christmas Card 2002
Click on any image to see larger versions