Tue, 22 March 2016
There’s been a lot written about the birth of Disneyland and how Walt’s eponymous theme park emerged from the Anaheim orange groves in the 1950s. We’ve all heard the myth-making official version: Walt visualizing his dream from a Griffith Park bench, the struggles to finance Disneyland, the struggles to build it, and especially the chaotic, near-disastrous opening day. But, have we ever really gotten the complete story? Disney historian Todd James Pierce sets out to do that in his fascinating new book, Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C.V. Wood, and the Making of the Great American Theme Park.
Todd’s book digs deep to chronicle the evolution of Disneyland from its humble early concept as a family park adjoining the Walt Disney Studios to its ultimate success as a one-of-a-kind themed destination. Along the way, we meet the people who made Disneyland a reality: Walt and Roy Disney certainly, but also an often overlooked character, C. V. Wood, or “Woody” as he was known to his friends. Woody was Disneyland’s first general manager and a key player in the park’s development. He was a shrewd and energetic entrepreneur, but also a charlatan of questionable ethics. His approach to business would help guarantee Disneyland’s success, but would also ensure Wood’s personal downfall with the Disney brothers a mere six months after grand opening.
Todd spent nine years researching his book, with much of the content culled from more than 150 interviews. He’s an English professor and co-director of the creative writing program at Cal Poly University. A long-time Disney fan, Todd is a contributor to the Disney History Institute website as well as the Walt’s People book series. He’s published a number of fiction and non-fiction works that have nothing to do with Disney and you can find out more about them at his website, www.ToddJamesPierce.com.
Please welcome Todd Pierce, my guest today in The Mouse Castle Lounge.
Wed, 16 March 2016
A few weeks ago, it was my pleasure to have filmmaker Pamela Tom in the Lounge to talk about her documentary Tyrus, the story of Chinese-American artist and Disney Legend Tyrus Wong. Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to finally see Tyrus on the big screen. The film opened CAAMFest, an annual film festival in the San Francisco Bay Area that supports and celebrates Asian art and culture.
It was a delightful evening, with the screening held at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. It was followed by a gala at the Asian Art Museum. On display at the event was an 80-year old watercolor masterpiece by Tyrus Wong called "Chinese Jesus." It depicts an ethereal Christ-like figure floating in a partially clouded sky. For decades, the painting was thought to have been lost, only to be rediscovered a few years ago stashed away in a San Francisco church. The painting came full circle on March 9, when, during a ceremony designating the day as “Tyrus Wong Day” in San Francisco, Tyrus Wong, at 105-years old, signed the painting.
Last Friday, since I was in the neighborhood, I dropped by the Walt Disney Family Museum and spent time with Michael Labrie, the museum’s director of collections. In 2013, Michael curated Water to Paper, Paint to Sky an exhibition of Tyrus Wong’s work. In our conversation, Michael and I talked about Tyrus, as well as a contemporary of Tyrus’s at Disney, Mel Shaw. Mel is the subject of a current retrospective at the Museum, Mel Shaw: An Animator on Horseback.
After talking with Michael, imagine my surprise to run into none other than Tyrus Wong at the Museum. He was the guest of honor at a member event later that evening, but he had arrived early to take in the Mel Shaw exhibition. We only chatted briefly, but as always, Tyrus was charming, good humored and an absolute pleasure to talk with.
CAAMFest runs through March 20, so if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area this week, I highly recommend seeing one of the many fascinating films screening during the festival. In fact, the Walt Disney Family Museum, in celebration of Tyrus Wong, is showing Bambi this Saturday and Sunday. Plus, you can catch an encore showing of Tyrus at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland also on Sunday. For times and ticket information, visit caamfest.com/2016/schedule.
Sat, 5 March 2016
I first learned about Scott Zone from a recent article in the Orange County Register detailing his 20-year association with the Walt Disney Family Foundation and the Disney family. Through Scott’s work as a film archivist, he has restored and preserved 18 hours of home movies shot during Walt Disney’s lifetime. That in itself is an interesting topic of conversation. But, when I finally sat down to talk with Scott, I quickly learned that his Disney connection is just a small part of his successful career in the motion picture industry, a career that Scott began as a special effects cameraman on The Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Scott also has close ties to the Golden Age of Hollywood. His Aunt, Beryl Wallace, was the headline performer at the Earl Carroll Theatre, a renowned supper club on Sunset Boulevard in the 1930s and 40s. It was a Hollywood landmark with a 20-foot high neon portrait of Beryl proclaiming, “Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.”
Scott and I met at the Off Vine Restaurant, not far from where the Earl Carroll Theatre used to be. This converted craftsman-style home also has a connection to Beryl Wallace and Earl Carroll, but I’ll let Scott explain that story. It’s Walt Disney, Star Wars and Old Hollywood with my guest Scott Zone in The Mouse Castle Lounge.