Friday, January 23, 2015

Dear Miss Ford...

I recently came across a reposting of the Mary V. Ford letter, which actresses and activists have been using to take Walt Disney to task for a string of accusations, most ending in some sort of "-ism".

While researching what prevailing attitudes in America were towards women in the late 1930's, I came across something by Mickey Moran which was selected by the Loyola University Department of History as the Outstanding Paper for their 1988-89 academic year, entitled 1930's America - Feminist Void?

In six, well written, pages and three dozen footnotes, Moran explored then current attitudes regarding women's rights. Several paragraphs were quite relevant.

Pointing out a widespread lack of support for the ERA, government and commercial regulations restricting working hours, or the type of labor women could perform, declining economic conditions causing intense competition for jobs, a widespread belief that a woman's primary role was to civilize her husband, family and society at home, and a sharp decline in the number of women obtaining advanced college degrees, Moran sums the decade up with these words:

"But while the number of married women in the work force actually increased by 50 percent between 1930 and 1940 - despite the Depression -women found enormous obstacles blocking their entry into certain fields. Most women found work in factory and clerical jobs, as traditional barriers against women in professional fields loomed higher. Instead of "glamorous" professions, 36 percent of working wives entered domestic and personal services, while another 20 percent were in apparel and canning factories. Those who were in lower-level professions, such as elementary and high school teaching, found men displacing them for higher pay. In 1939, the median salary of a male teacher was $1,953 a year, while female teachers received only $1,394."

With this backdrop, Walt's opinion, whatever it was, was probably at least mainstream for the time.

With an understanding of Disney's process of making feature length animated films the letter to Mary Ford - actually penned by Mary Cleare - begins to take on a distinctly different tone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a massive undertaking. An article by Andrew Boone in the January 1938 issue of Modern Mechanix estimated the effort at more than 1,500,000 individual pen and ink drawings.  Six months was expended by the animation team before the illustrations used in the film were even begun. Then the actual cells were produced, at the rate of 1960 per day, to create the master reel. Boon explains:

“Ink and paint” represents the manufacturing bottle neck, for a movie cartoon can progress no more rapidly than skilled hands complete the multitude of drawings. Since this cartoon required an average of twenty-two individual painted cels for each foot of completed picture, 166,352 finished paintings were exposed to the camera.

Movie|fone reported; "The film's production took nearly five years. It took at least 570 crew members (some sources say 750), most of them animators or water-color artists. As many as 2 million sketches and paintings were created, though only about 166,000 of them can be seen in the finished film."

The list of visual artists who worked on Snow White is impressive. In addition to most of Walt's Nine Old Men, it includes hundreds of women including Claire Weeks, Jeanne Lee Keil and Rae McSpadden. The group of Assistant Animators included Marc Davis and Ollie Johnston, then in their mid 20's, who were certainly, as Ms. Cleare factually stated, "young men".

Note also that Mary Cleare didn't turn Mary Ford away. Rather, she suggests that Miss Ford show up with samples of her pen, ink and watercolor work, and points out that competition for the openings is stiff.

It appears that the letter was somewhat of a template, as another, sent to Frances Brerer of Van Nuys about a year later has a familiar ring. Again the closing message is that they'd be happy to talk with Frances, if she shows up and brings her portfolio;

By the way, we probably also shouldn't overlook the fact that there was probably lots of support for the Ink and Paint girls coming from another quarter. At this point, Walt had been married to a former Ink and Paint Department girl for over a decade and had made her sister head of the department.

Here is a link to a much more interesting take on the story of being one of Disney's 100+ Ink and Paint Girls, from the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair; Coloring the Kingdom.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A New Opening Day Story - Walt Eyes the Skies

There are dozens of stories about all of the things which weren't ready or didn't work on Opening Day, from the lack of drinking fountains to high heals breaking off in the asphalt and "milking the elephant" to get rid of Dumbo's Hydraulic Shaving Cream.

Walt was a stickler for detail.  Disney was, and still is, legendary for timing story elements to fractions of a second. Missing the mark or gag timing was bad show.  Then actor Ronald Regan, announcer for the Opening Day parade knew about timing and, on que, he'd announced something about the show to the millions of viewers in the TV audience, but Walt was the only one who's gaze was elevated.

What Walt was anxiously anticipating was a flyover by jets from the 146th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard, stationed at nearby Van Nuys Army Airfield. It was probably supposed to happen during the closing bar of The Star Spangled Banner, just as the Marine Band launched into their opening number.

17 Minutes into the show Walt anxiously scans the skies

A full minute minute later the unmistakable sound of jets was heard. The TV cameras caught nothing as they panned up. We'll probably never know what thoughts were going thru Walt's mind, but I'm pretty sure that if the lead pilot could have seen his face, the legendary raised eyebrow would have been there.

It may have been too much to ask to get a flock of screaming, six ton, 670 mile per hour, fighter jets to pass over the flagpole in time with the music, but it apparently wasn't out of the question for the man who made elephants fly.

A visual record of the the moment has probably been lost forever, but here is a guess at what the scene may have been as the flight formed up for their pass.

Come right to 180 and descend to 1000 feet... Shucks! We're late!

I think they should have come right over the Castle and directly down Main Street.

Castle Blues

Today the flyover tradition continues, but I'll bet the Blue Angels don't miss their mark.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Crossing Blurred Lines

Disney's California Adventure
I was reviewing some material I used in one of my Arrow Development postings and came across these quotes from Walt;

"I'm not Disney any more. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is something we've built up in the pubic mind over the years.  It stands for something and you don't have to explain what it is to the public. They know what Disney is when they hear about our films or go to Disneyland. They know they're gonna get a certain quality of entertainment. And that is what Disney is."

"What is the difference between our product and the other?...  The thing that makes us different is our way of thinking, our judgement and experience acquired over the years.  Giving it 'heart.' Others haven't understood the pubic.  We developed a psychological approach to everything we do here. We seem to know how to 'tap the heart.' Others have hit the intellect. We can hit them in an emotional way. Those who appeal to the intellect only appeal to a very limited group."

Walt Disney Productions Stock Certificate Image

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Small Reminder to a much bigger world

Sometime in 1953 a prospectus for a place called Disneyland was prepared. In twelve pages it outlined the purpose and form of a new type of gathering place, one for people of all ages and backgrounds. It was to be a place to find happiness and knowledge, teach and be taught, share hopes and dreams and be a source of courage and inspiration for all the world. 

It remains the voice of the man who dictated it and the place which followed and bears his name.

Holographic Re-creation

Friday, July 11, 2014

Walt's Estate and Legacy

An article in the December 22nd, 1966 Times Record offers some details on the disposition of Walt's estate.  Fourty-five percent went to the family; Lillian, Diane, Sharon and their children. 

Another fourty-five percent went to the Disney Foundation. Five percent of that (2.13% of the total) was reserved for charitable organizations, at the discretion of the foundation. The remaining portion of the second fund (42.87% of the total) went to the California Institute of the Arts.

According to online sources; "The Walt Disney Company Foundation was established in 1951 by Walt and Roy O. Disney to serve The Walt Disney Company's philanthropic needs and interests. It does so today along with Disney Worldwide Outreach, part of The Walt Disney Company.

The Walt Disney Company's outreach initiatives are dedicated to making the wishes of families and children a reality through public service initiatives, community outreach and volunteerism in the areas of compassion, learning, the arts and the environment.

To learn more about The Walt Disney Company Foundation and Disney's outreach programs, visit" In 2013, the Disney Company donated $369.5 million in strategic philanthropy.

Disney Will Leaves Three Trust Funds

Los Angeles (AP) - The will of Walt Disney - leaving three major trust funds - was filed for probate yesterday, naming his widow, Lilian, as a trustee and executor of the estate.

The document, dated March 18, disposes of Disney’s separate property and his half of community property. No estimate of the estate’s value was given except to note that the moviemaker left “substantial real and personal property.”

Disney, 65, died last Thursday.

Also named trustees and executors were attorney Herbert F. Sturdy and United California Bank.

The first of the trusts was named the Disney Family Trust, leaving 45 percent of the estate to Mrs. Disney and two daughters and grandchildren. The daughters are Mrs. Ron Miller, Encino, Calif. and Mrs. Robert Brown, Tarzna Calif.

The second trust <was> another 45 percent of the estate, which went to the Disney Foundation. The will said five percent of this is to remain in the foundation to be earmarked for charitable organizations, at the discretion of the foundation.

The remaining 95 percent of the second fund goes to the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Disney was instrumental in founding the institute, a college level professional school for the creative and performing arts. It now has a student body of 950.

The third fund (10% of the total?) went to benefit three nieces and a sister. The nieces are Marjorie Davis, of Beverly Hills, Calif., Dorothy Disney Puder, Bakersfield, Calif., and Phyllis Bounds, Los Angeles. The sister is Ruth Flora Beecher of Portland Ore.

Disney is also survived by two brothers, Roy O. Disney and Raymond A. Disney, who received no bequests.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Walt's Kind of Employee

One of the things I've noticed in my reading about Walt is the type of people he would hire. Particularly in the early days, he seemed to be looking for potential more than skills.  I suspect that part of the reason for that came from the fact that Disney was doing things which had never been done before, so looking for someone with experience was a waste of time. As far back as Laugh-O-Grams Walt would hire people and then train them. In those days, he was probably learning how to do what he wanted at nearly the same time.

Walt, Buzz and C. V. Wood
There are stories which come to mind which illustrate this. The first has to do with Harrison (Buzz) Price of SRI, who was frequently asked to evaluate the viability of ideas and projects.  Buzz had an approach that suited Walt and Roy’s needs perfectly. When answering one of Walt's frequent questions, Buzz would reply; “Yes, if...”  Regarding this Price said; “Yes if…" is the approach of a deal maker.  It points to what needs to be done to make the possible plausible. ‘No because…" is the language of a deal killer. Creative people thrive on ‘Yes if.” To which Buzz added; “Walt liked this language.”

Fowler points out details of Disneyland to King Hussein
Two other examples of this are told by Harry Wessel of The Orlando Sentinel in Joe Fowler's Obituary;

''Can do'' was both Fowler's trademark attribute and his favorite expression. When he was directing construction of Disney World, ''The last thing he'd always say is 'Can do.' '' Frank Hubbard, retired president of Hubbard Construction Co., recalled; ''That meant, 'Get out, I've got somebody else to see. Get this done as soon as you can.' ''

Bob Matheison
Disney Vice President Bob Matheison, vividly recalled a conversation between Joe and Walt in the early days of Disneyland. They were looking at a performing stage that featured a waterfall, with a dressing room off to the side. ''Walt turned to Joe and said, 'I'd like to part the water and let the entertainers come out, and then have the waterfall close behind them.' ''Joe never batted an eye,'' Matheison recounted. ''He just said, 'Can do, can do.' I know he had no idea how he was going to part the water, but he said it without hesitation - 'Can do.' And, by golly, he went ahead and did it. He parted the water and closed it back up again.'' In a later interview Fowler recalled; ''Walt said to me a couple of days after I was hired, 'Now look, I will try to have the ideas, and you make the engineering realities of them.' ''

Walt, Joe and a Curtain Waterfall (Mashup)
Can Do!
I'm pretty sure that was the same attitude Walt had when he was dealing with Arrow. He trusted them to deliver on what he wanted, and as long as he was happy with your work, he let you do it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Three Walt's and Three Rooms

Two of the big questions many people have about being creative are; How do you do it?, and Is there a recipe?  I'm not sure anyone has fully answered either yet. Part of the difficulty in doing so is that it's one thing to study creativity and another to practice it.  Some of the most famous designers have maintained that you can't do both; that you can study or practice creativity, but not at the same time.

I recently posted about the similarities between Imagineering and Design Thinking after studying the lives of very creative people and looking for common themes between them. That turned out to be much more difficult than I expected, not only because of the sheer volume of reading material, but also because Walt and the Imagineers and Arrow's Development's founder's didn't really talk much about their methods. Even when they did, their vocabularies were quite different. Disney spoke in the context of telling stories and making movies while Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan were speaking as engineers and ride designers and others like William Lear and Tomas Edison were speaking in the context of their specialties.

Today we're going to look at a creative method that hasn't gotten much press. I'm talking about the idea of the Three Walts or Walt's Three Rooms.

Oliver Johnston was born on Oct. 31, 1912, in Palo Alto, Ca. where his father was a professor at Stanford. "Ollie"was one of Disney's "Nine Old Men".  Many feel that the two most accomplished of the group were Ollie and his close friend Frank Thomas. The pair met at Stanford in the 1930s and after graduation were hired by Disney for $17 a week when the studio was expanding to produce full-length feature films.

Ollie once noted that he and Frank "were bound to be thrown together" at Stanford, since they were two of only six students in the art department at the time. When not in class, they painted landscapes and sold them at a local speakeasy for meal money. 

Ollie also commented about Walt that there were actually three of him and that you never knew which one was coming to your meeting;;
  • First was Walt the Dreamer.
  • Second was Walt the Realist.
  • Third was Walt the Critic. 
Not only were there three Walts, when ideas were being developed there were three different rooms which were used to investigate, discuss and refine them.
  • Room 1 was for brainstorming, where all ideas were presented - no naysaying allowed.
  • Room 2 was for storyboarding & sketches of potential characters for the story.
  • Room 3 was for putting the project under the microscope. 
Room 3 was called the Sweatbox and it was there that the entire project was presented, not only to the team, but to the Devil’s Advocates, the most famous one being Walt.  In these "Critic"meetings no one was personally attacked, but it was where things either became a reality or were put on hold for later, sometimes much later!

Here are some detailed descriptions of what happened in each phase and room:

DREAMER - Dreamers spin innumerable fantasies, wishes, outrageous hunches and bold and absurd ideas, without limits or judgment. Nothing is censored. Nothing is too absurd or silly. All things are possible for the dreamer. Dreamers ask: If I could wave a magic wand  and do anything I want – what would I create? (Pixie Dust - df) How would it look? What could I do with it? How would it make you feel? What is the most absurd idea I can conceive? The Dream-storming in Room 1 was the space for asking "What if?" and "Why not?"

REALIST - The realist builds the dreamer’s ideas into something realistic and feasible. They try to figure out how to make the ideas work and sort them into an executable plan. To be a realist, ask: How can I make this happen? What are the main features and aspects of the idea? Can I build on ideas from the features or aspects? What is the essence of the idea? Can I extract the principle of the idea? Can I make analogical-metaphorical connections with the principle and something dissimilar to create something tangible? (Inversion, Forced Association- df) How can I use the essence of the idea to create a more realistic one?

CRITIC - The critic reviews all the ideas and tries to find flaws in them by playing the devil’s advocate. Critics, ask: How do I really feel about it? Is this the best we can do? How can we make it better? Does this make sense? How does it look to a customer? A client? An expert? A guest? Is it worth our time to work on this idea? This was also where Walt was when he suggested "plussing"things up.

For example; Suppose someone wanted a better way to water their garden.  The dreamer might suggest  teaching the plants how to talk, so they can tell you when they are dry. The realist develops this into an animated bird that monitors the moisture content of the soil. The realist refines the idea by exploring various sensors, hardware and software. Finally, the critic evaluates the idea for all possible flaws and problems.

Organizing these into process steps you get;

Step 1 - “WHAT are we going to do?”

Dream big. Any idea, no matter how absurd, can and should be suggested. Defining the big, bold objectives that will shape your project.

The Room Setup: Open, airy rooms with lots of light and high-ceilings are the best for thinking big. The team should sit in a circle facing each other to promote collaboration and creative flow.

Mindset: Any idea is fair game. This step is not about feasibility, it’s about surprise. Set aside your assumptions and push yourself to think in new ways.

Step 2 - “HOW are we going to do it?”

Here the focus is on creative execution. How will the idea be implemented? Who’s doing which tasks? What’s the timeline? In Disney’s case, this phase would involve sketching out characters, discussing plot, (storytelling - df) and populating storyboards.

Room Setup: A practical room with a large dry-erase board or wall which facilitates strategic planning. The team should sit in a semi-circle facing the board as everyone participates in the planning process.

Mindset: This is where you roll up your sleeves and fill in the blanks. You may find a gem of an idea from the first step that needs to be fleshed out. During this phase, seek to resolve every uncertainty around timing, logistics, and feasibility. When something doesn’t make sense, question it.

Goals: Seek to resolve every uncertainty around timing, logistics, and feasibility.

Step 3 - “WHY are we doing this?”

Ask “Is this the right approach?” In this final phase, the critic enters the fray, asking the hard questions. Is the plan really doable? Are there unwieldy aspects that need to be cut? Are you meeting the overall project objective? The process shifts from dream-storming, to subsequently practical. The environments in the various “rooms” prompt us to adopt the best mindset at the right time, ultimately giving great ideas the thoughtful consideration they require to ultimately be implemented.

Room Setup: Analytical thinking is best done in smaller, more constrained spaces. (The Disney crew used a small room under the stairs.) The team sits in a single row facing the project plan, which promotes criticism of the project, but not individual people.

Mindset: Pose the difficult questions and share the earth-shattering doubts.  In considering How, you’re likely to get lost in the weeds. The Why? step provides the perspective from the balcony as opposed to the dance floor. In this phase, consider the plan in the context of your business and your long-term mission.

Where traditional brainstorming approaches would probably have us patting ourselves on the back and adjourning the meeting, Imagineering, and Design Thinking, go deep: they are methodical, disciplined, and time-intensive up front.

Here are some possible Disney Mascots or Characters for Walt's three rooms:

The Realist - Ludwig Von Drake is the analyst.
The Dreamer - Mickey has the vision, heart and empathy.
The Critic - Donald Duck has the eye for what's missing or just plain wrong.

Realist, Dreamer and Critic