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Sunday, June 12, 2011

WDFM – The Art of Tyrus Wong

The session today (June 11, 2011) at the Walt Disney Family Museum was “The Art of Tyrus Wong.”  While Tyrus’ tenure at the Disney Brothers’ Studio, later to become the Walt Disney Studio, was short, it has had a lasting impact on artists and animators to this day.

Disney Legend Tyrus Wong was born on October 25, 1910, and we are fortunate that he is still with us today at 100.  So fortunate, so, that we were actually graced with his presences at today presentation.  While waiting outside the Museum theater, waiting for the afternoon program to start, those of us who arrive early to secure good seats – actually there are no bad seats at this venue, but we do like to get down front – were treated to an early appearance by Mr. Wong as he entered the theater.  Crowd of a about a dozen and half people erupted in applause has Tyrus enter lobby to theater.  At 100, he walked in with the help of a cane, but walking just the same.  Alert and attentive Tyrus, seeming somewhat surprised by this show of affection, stopped momentarily to acknowledge this small crowd before enter the theater proper.  I hope that I am lucky enough at age 70, an event that is not too far off for me, to be as vital as Tyrus appears at 100.  All I can say is, “WOW!!!”  For a little more in-depth profile of Tyrus Wong; Tyrus worked at the Disney Studio for a very short time (1938 to 1941), with his primary contribution being the inspiration artist for the “Bambi” feature.  He started at studio as an Inbetweener.  Inbetweeners will draw in whatever frames are still missing in between the other animators' drawings, and Tyrus noted during an earlier interview with Charles, that he did not enjoy this work.  But, after one of the other animators saw some of Tyrus artwork and took it to Walt, Walt decided that this was exactly the look he wanted for Bambi which was currently in production.  Interestingly, Tyrus was no recollection of ever actually meeting Walt.  After leaving Disney, Tyrus went on to design greeting and Christmas cards, and worked at Warner Bros. from 1942 to 1968 as a production illustrator drawing set designs and storyboard for several movies. Including a few John Wayne movies, which will no doubt please my youngest daughter.  I will repeat what I say earlier;  at 100 Tyrus is an amazingly alert and vibrant individual, the only thing I can say is WOW!!!

Waiting for the theater to open, I got the opportunity to visit with some of the friend I’ve made as a Museum member, like Jeff from Mousetalgia.  Jeff was the 25% of the Mousetalgia crew who made it to this session, as the other 75%, Dave, Becky, and Kristen were at a meet-up at Disneyland.  Thank you Jeff for penning me for the second time, Kristen will always be my first, but, yours’ is just as special.  But to make our wait in line even better, I discovered that the gentleman standing right beside me in line was none other than Disney authority Don Peri, author of such books as Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists, Walt Disney's First Lady of Imagineering Harriet Burns with Harriet’s daughter Pam Burns-Clair, and most recently, Working with Disney: Interviews with Animators, Producers, and Artists.  Getting the chance to spend time talking with a Disney authority of Don’s caliber was just one more amazing opportunity in what has become a seeming less string of amazing opportunities.  Thanks Don for spending a few minutes few me, and thank you Michael for introducing me.

The afternoon’s presentation started off with, the Museum’s Director of Visitor Experience and Interpretation, Donna Tuggle introducing the session Moderation, Charles Solomon, and announcing to the audience – for those not lucky enough to be in the lobby early – that Tyrus Wong and his daughter were special attendees for today’s session.  Charles Solomon is a prominent critic and authority on Animation and its history, and considered a notable and very knowledgeable Disney authority.  We had the honor of attending another session moderated by Charles, where Disney Legends Alice Davis and Marge Champion this last December.

After his foreword; Charles proceeded to introduce the two guest panelists, joining him on the dais – Ralph Eggleston, and Paul Felix.  While you may not recognize the names, I am sure you will be acquainted with their works.  These are two truly talented artist.

Ralph’s filmography includes such Pixar productions as:
·   Up (2009 - Art Director)
·   WALL-E (2008 - Art Director / Production Designer)
·   The Incredibles (2004 - Art Director)
·   Finding Nemo (2003 - Production Designer)
·   Monsters, Inc. (2001 - Visual Development / Story)
·   For the Birds (2000 - Director / voice of Bird)
·   Toy Story (1995 - Art Director)

Paul worked in animation at the Disney Channel, his credits include such programs as:
·   Aladdin (TV series)
·   The Little Mermaid (TV series)
·   Darkwing Duck (TV series)
·   TaleSpin (TV series)
And in Features Animation at Disney, his credits include:
·   Winnie the Pooh (2011 - Art Director)
·   Bolt (2008 – Art Director)
·   Lilo & Stitch (2002 – Production Designer)
·   Brother Bear (2003 - Visual Development Artist)
·   The Emperor's New Groove (2000 – Production Designer)
·   Tarzan (1999 - Principal Location Designer)
·   Mulan (1998 - Character Designer/Visual Development) 

Charles started the session, talking about some of Tyrus’ inspiration as an artist, and show some slides of the Chinese art.  This is where writing becomes difficult; it is a challenge to describe for you the breath taking images that appeared on the screen throughout this session.  I have always been a fan of the Oriental art forms, there is, for me, a natural serenity in the images portrayed, images that emphasize nature and the environment and minimize the importance or dominance of humankind in nature.  Charles went on to display some of Tyrus’ drawings, and any attempt by me to sufficiently describe these works, would be feeble at best.  While these images that, at first blush, may appear to be simple and lacking in detail, they are full of color, depth, and action, with your eye draw right to artist’s desired location in the frame.  It is a truly amazing talent and even more amazing to me, the effect on one’s mind as you observe these creations.  But, instead of this meager attempt to describe this man’s art, I’ve managed to find a web link for Tyrus Wong images where you can see it for yourself.

As the presentation proceeded, Ralph and Paul both spoke of Tyrus’ use of color (warm and cold) and framing a scene to perfection with the use of voids and negative space.  They have both been inspired by Tyrus in their own art, and display examples of where they were inspired.  Ralph even relate how he, and his director of photography on Finding Nemo, made many Xerox copies of Tyrus’ Bambi drawings and hung this all round their office.  They were not sure how they were going to show their underwater world, and studied these Bambi drawings trying to figure out how Tyrus conveyed his images.  Ralph then show us some of his drawings and clips from Nemo, demonstrating how he tried (quite successfully IMO) to emulate Ty’s work.  Paul showed us some of his work, including a watercolor of his from Lilo and Stitch.  Charles pointed out how, when using watercolors or pastels, one wrong stroke and you have to start over.  These are not easy mediums to work in, and again, these are two truly talented artists, as well as the amazing Tyrus Wong.

I believe I have said this before, but it bears repeating;  I now watch animated features and cartoons with a completely new appreciation, know the real effort and talent it takes to bring them to us.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Enter Stage Right, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells

I started this piece about a month ago…  Then my live aside of my Disney passions intervened. Do not fear, I have not lost that passion, I am still reading, researching, and recreating the Disney life.  But, until I can find a way to earn a living with my passion, I must find other ways to support my family, and my Disney obsession.  Since I’ve been pursuing those efforts, it has significantly reduced the time available for my writing.

I’m going to go ahead and post this piece, but, you should know, there’s more to come on the Disney hostile takeover attempt ’84.  I was recently been pointed to some additional documentation I did not have when I originally wrote the takeover pieces… Thank You Joseph, I am really looking forward to reading this new material.   

So in 1984, after a fending off a hostile takeover attempt which caused uproar with other stockholders, Ray Watson and Ron Miller were shown the door in favor of the management team of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.  Michael Eisner was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chairman of the Board (COB), with Frank Wells coming on board as the President and  Chief Operating Officer (COO).  And finally, Roy E. Disney was appointed to the position of Vice Chairman of the Board.  While it is not a publicly confirmed or acknowledged fact, I believe the appointment of Roy to Vice COB was an effort designed to provide some stability and cohesion in the organization as a tie back to the founding family of the company, after having just transited a very tumultuous period in the company’s history.

For a few brief profiles of the principles in this new era of Disney management:
Michael Eisner worked briefly at NBC and CBS before being hired at ABC by then VP of Prime Time Programming, Barry Diller.  When Diller left ABC to become the Chairman of Paramount Pictures, he recruited Eisner away from ABC to become the movie studio’s president and CEO.  Under Eisner’s leadership, the studio produced such movie hits as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, the Star Trek film franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Beverly Hills Cop, and hit TV shows such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers and Family Ties.  After Diller left Paramount in 1984, Eisner was expecting to be promoted to the studio chief’s position.  When that did not happen, Michael left Paramount as well to pursue other opportunities.  That new opportunity turned out to be head of Walt Disney Productions.

Frank Wells, a 1953 Rhodes Scholar obtaining his BA at Oxford University, had worked for Warner Brothers as Vice President, President, and Vice Chairman until his departure in 1982.  Frank, ever the adventurer and avid mountain climber, missed his goal of climbing the Seven Summits by one.  Bad weather had forced in climbing party to give up one day before reaching the summit of Mount Everest.  One thing that I learned in researching Frank Wells, Frank’s love of mountain climbing has been honored at the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim.  Scattered around a scene at the beginning of the ride is exploration equipment marked with the words “Wells Expedition.” Frank’s life was cut short Easter of 1994 in a helicopter crash while returning from a Nevada ski trip.

And finally, as he will become even more instrumental the Disney story, now is a good time to give a brief profile of Roy E. Disney.  Roy E. is the only child of company co- founder Roy O. Disney and his wife Edna.  Roy E. joined Walt Disney Productions in 1954 as an assistant editor working on the “True Life Adventures” Film series.  Roy also worked and a writer, director, and producer on many other Disney productions.  But, he is probably most well known for the two significant changes in management at the company his father and uncle founded.  He was instrumental in Eisner’s ascension to the top of what has become The Walt Disney Company, and as essential in Michael Eisner being shown the exit.

I’ll be doing a more in depth profile of each of these gentlemen in later as I explore this period of the Disney history, along with a few other notable individuals from the Eisner era.  What I have seen to date, reads like a corporate soapbox, and is quite interesting, at least in my opinion.  I’ve also recently acquire two new tomes on Walt Disney himself, one about rarely heard stories, which I am looking forward to reading.  And, one that gives me hope as a writer that I too may someday be able to publish a book on my passion.  So you can expect some revisiting Walt’s story.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to catch up on some of the recent events at the Walt Disney Family Museum as time is available, and you can expect a couple of reports on Disney events coming this summer.  But, the time requirements of my other endeavors will still affect the time available of my writing, so I ask for your patience. If you like to keep up to date on the post to this blog, you can join the Facebook group I created for you, Discovering Disney History on FB

Thanks, and have a Disney-rific Day!  J

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Monday, June 6, 2011

Two More Legends reunite with Walt

This week two more Disney Legends are reuniting with Walt.  On Friday, June 3rd, the perennial funny man of the Golden Horseshoe Revue, and voice of Jose in the Enchanted Tiki Room, Wally Boag passed away at the age of 90.  Then on Saturday, June 4th, Betty Taylor, Sluefoot Sue, also from the Golden Horseshoe Revue, passed away at the age of 91.

It is truly a sad weekend in the Wonderful World of Disney.  L

Wallace Vincent “Wally” Boag was born in Portland, Oregon in 1920, and was in dance troupe by the age of 9.  By the age of 19 Wally was pursuing his comic chops in nightclub, theaters, and hotels around the world.  It was during an appearance at London’s Hippodrome that Wally brought a young girl on stage to help with his balloon act.  The girl, 12 year-old Julie Andrews, amazed the audience with voice, and was ultimately kept in the show.

After learn of auditions at Disneyland and winning the role in the Golden Horseshoe Revue, Wally joined the Disney Cast in 1955.  With his Pecos Bill character, and an almost infinite supply of broken teeth spit out during his act, and his signature balloon animals (Boagaloons), Wally and the Golden Horseshoe Revue are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most performances (number) of any theatrical presentation.   In 1963, Wally and Julie Andrews reunited on the Golden Horseshoe stage, along with the Dapper Dans, for a press-only event to promote the coming release of “Mary Poppins.” 

Along with his role as Pecos Bill, Wally also provided the voice of Jose, in The Enchanted Tiki Room, as well as writing the script for most of the show.  Boag also participated in the development of the “Haunted Mansion” in Disneyland, and Walt Disney had small roles written for him in “The Absent Minded Professor” and “Son of Flubber.”  Wally took Pecos Bill to Walt Disney World in 1971 and the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, re-crafting the show into a faster and funnier Diamond Horseshoe Revue.  Wally returned to Disneyland 3 years later and finished his career entertaining guests at the Golden Horseshoe, retiring in 1982.  Wally was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1995, and has a window on Main Street in Disneyland.  The window above The Blue Ribbon Bakery reads, “Theatrical Agency – Golden Vaudeville Routines – Wally Boag, Prop.”

Betty Taylor joined the cast of the Golden Horseshoe Revue as “Slue Foot Sue,” in 1956, the spirited head of a group of dance hall girls, harkening back to the turn of the century saloons and dance halls that peppered to old west.  This saloon happened to be the Golden Horseshoe Saloon in Disneyland’s Frontierland.  Slue Foot Sue was the Saloon Owner and Co-host of the Golden Horseshoe Revue, a show she did, 3 times a day, 5 days a week, for over 30 years.  In almost 45,000 performances, she was the effervescent blond who never lost her youthful passion for playing Pecos Bill’s sweetheart.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Betty started taking dance lesson at the age of 3, and by 12 was appearing in her first professional production. At 18, Betty led her own band called “Betty and Her Beaus,” a band comprised of herself and 16 male musicians.  Betty also performed with “Sons of the Pioneers”, and western band formed by one of my other childhood heros, Leonard Slye.  Don’t recognized the name?  You may remember him better as Roy Rogers.  As well, Betty travel with big band leaders Les Brown, Henry Bussey, and Red Nichols, even doing a short stint in Las Vegas, with Frank Sinatra.

In 1956, readying to go out on the road again, Betty heard about auditions for a singer/dancer job at Disneyland, and she threw her garter onto to stage.  Betty was hired to play the role of “Slue Foot Sue,” a character she described as, “not a hard character, but rather like a Mae West or a Kitty on the vintage television series ‘Gunsmoke.’”  Betty, and the ten-person Revue troupe, even performed outside of the Disneyland on a few occasions, doing a USO tour of Greenland and Newfoundland in 1968, and even a performance at the White House for President Richard Nixon in 1970.  Walt Disney even asked her to do a variant of her Golden Horseshoe routine with Ed Wynn in an episode of the “Wonderful World of Color” television series.   Betty was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1995, alongside her Golden Horseshoe sweetheart Wally “Pecos Bill” Boag.

Wally Boag and Betty Taylor, as Pecos Bill and Slue Foot Sue, are but two of the many cast members who have helped Walt Disney create the magic that is Disneyland over the years.  But, they are two of Walt’s originals, and two who have set the standards for others to come.  They have left an indelible image on Disneyland that will be hard to match.  I only remember seeing the Golden Horseshoe Revue once in 1970, as I was unfortunately away from the Park from 1971 to 1997, but I can tell you that it is a performance that I remember to this day.  I am saddened by the fact that my children never got the chance to see these two magical entertainers perform, and too by their passing.  But, that sadness is tempered my memories of the joy and magic they created, if even briefly, in my life, and the thought that they have reunited with the man who brought them to us.

Here is to the hope that you all experiencing as much magic and amazement now as you created here.  

Wally, Betty, and Walt, thank you!!! 

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at