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Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell

Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell

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"The view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly. I paint life as I would like it to be."
- Norman Rockwell

This is a philosophy that mirrors Walt Disney's beliefs as well.

Rockwell's obituary in TIME magazine, in 1978, read: "Rockwell shared with Walt Disney the extraordinary distinction of being one of two artists familiar to nearly everyone in the U.S., rich or poor, black or white, museum go-er or not, illiterate or Ph.D."

Walt and Norman Rockwell shared many of the same honors. The Silver Buffalo Award for distinguished service to youth from the Boy Scouts of America was given to both Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney. The Silver Buffalo Award is presented annually to adults who generously dedicate their time and resources for the benefit of youth. This award, Scouting's highest commendation for service to youth, recognizes the invaluable contributions American men and women have made to our nation's young people. Walt and Rockwell also share space in the Art Director's Hall of Fame.

In the minds of many, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST and Norman Rockwell are synonymous. His legendary association with the magazine spanned forty-seven years, from 1916 to 1963. During his forty-seven year affiliation with the publication he produced 323 SATURDAY EVENING POST covers. (He produced cover work for another ten years for LOOK magazine.)

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST cover of March 1, 1941 illustrated by Rockwell is entitled GIRL READING THE POST (also called DOUBLE TAKE) and depicts a coming-of-age school girl in bobby sox, saddle shoes, and a plaid skirt with her face hidden, engrossed in a fictitious issue of THE POST, whose cover features a close-up head shot of an elegant lady the bobby soxer is hoping to become.

THE POST's legions of avid readers demanded to see the face behind the imaginary magazine, and, in a subsequent issue, THE POST printed a photo of Rockwell's sixteen-year-old model, Millicent Mattison. Costumed and striking a pose similar to the original, the smiling face of the Arlington, Vermont, girl was seen looking around the left of the issue featuring GIRL READING THE POST.

Millicent Mattison Riker (who also posed for HAT CHECK GIRL and other Rockwell illustrations) now living in Georgia remembered, "Well, I was used to posing for Norman Rockwell. It seems everyone in Arlington did. Even though he only paid something like twenty-five cents an hour, he was always so very nice. But, oh, I was very surprised at the nationwide clamor to see my face."

Rockwell gave GIRL READING THE POST to Walt Disney in 1943, during the illustrator's short residence in Alhambra, California. The original oil is inscribed, "To Walt Disney, one of the really great artists, from an admirer, Norman Rockwell." In appreciation, Walt wrote to Rockwell: "I can't begin to thank you...my entire staff have been traipsing up to my office to look at it...minutely they inspect it...to all of them, you are some sort of god." To accompany the note, Walt sent the illustrator a set of ceramic figurines featuring characters from PINOCCHIO, BAMBI and FANTASIA. GIRL READING THE POST hung in Disney's office for decades, then later, in the home of his daughter, Diane.

In August, 2001, Diane Disney Miller donated GIRL READING THE POST to the Norman Rockwell Museum: "I visited your museum last year, loved it, and am pleased to know that the painting will hang where it belongs."

"Our appreciation for her kind, significant, historic gift is as boundless as the esteem that Rockwell and generations of Americans have had for her father's work," said Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt. "We are so grateful to Mrs. Miller for her extremely generous gift. GIRL READING THE POST is an important addition to our collection."

Founded in 1969 with the help of Norman and Molly Rockwell, the Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Glendale Rd. Stockbridge, MA 01262 (413) 298-4100) is dedicated to the enjoyment and study of the work of one of America's favorite artists. The Museum houses the world's largest and most significant collection of Rockwell's work, including 574 original paintings and drawings. The Museum also houses the Norman Rockwell Archives, a collection of more than 100,000 items, including working photographs, letters, personal calendars, fan mail, and business documents. Internationally renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern (who also designed the Walt Disney World Casting Building and the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts) designed the Museum gallery building.

Walt's brother-in-law and Disney Studio storyman, Bill Cottrell remembered Walt's first meeting with Norman Rockwell: "We were traveling in New England and stopped for lunch in a little tea room. It had pictures by Norman Rockwell all over the walls. Walt said, 'Rockwell lives around here, doesn't he?' The waitress answered that he did and told him to go back three miles down the road and turn at the covered bridge. Walt and I, along with our wives, ended up spending a couple of hours with Rockwell. We just dropped in on him-it was nothing formal. He was mowing the grass when we drove up. He told us how he photographed people of the village and used them in his painting as he needed them. He showed us SATURDAY EVENING POST covers and several other paintings. Later, he did a commissioned portrait of Walt's daughters."

Amusingly, the name of the creator of Mickey Mouse was not recognized by Rockwell's cook and he initially refused admittance to Walt and his entourage. This incident probably explains why some of Disney's correspondence to Rockwell is humorously signed: "Walt WHO?"

Diane and Sharon did sit for portrait sketches that Rockwell did for Walt and Lillian and for many years those sketches hung side by side in Walt's formal office. When asked about it, Diane laughed, "I was about ten years old and a real brat about it."

In one of the letters that Walt Disney wrote to Norman Rockwell, he stated that: "I thought your FOUR FREEDOMS were great. I especially loved FREEDOM OF WORSHIP and the composition and symbolism expressed in it."

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech about the "Four Freedoms" everyone should have: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech, and freedom of worship. Norman Rockwell painted these FOUR FREEDOMS. These paintings in a touring exhibition succeeded in raising almost $133 million in war-bond purchases. Norman Rockwell said the FOUR FREEDOMS were "serious paintings which sucked the energy right out of me, leaving me dazed and thoroughly weary."

However, the most remembered Walt and Rockwell connection took place over a decade after Walt's death.

Rockwell's TRIPLE SELF PORTRAIT was painted by the artist when he was sixty-six years old and is one of his most famous paintings. (Yes, that is a glass of Coca-Cola sitting there on the chair.) Norman Rockwell admired the work of other artists, among them Durer, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Van Gogh. Their self-portraits are tacked to Rockwell's canvas for inspiration. While self-portraits are common, multiple self-portraits are not. This is a glimpse of not only how Rockwell saw himself but how millions of Americans thought of him as friendly and unpretentious. The patriotic color scheme also emphasizes that American influence in his many paintings.

For the cover of the Summer 1978 issue of BACKSTAGE magazine for Disneyland cast members, Creative Services Department artist Charles Boyer created WALT'S SELF PORTRAIT as an homage to Rockwell's famous painting.

Charles Boyer began his Disney career in 1960 as a portrait sketch artist at Disneyland Park. His work was so well received that after just six months he was transferred to Marketing to conceptualize and create all phases of graphics for the Park. In the thirty-nine years he was with Disneyland, he produced nearly fifty collectible lithographs as well as a diverse range of artwork for magazine covers, flyers, in-Park packaging, merchandise and corporate sponsored oil portraits for retiring employees. His tremendous work earned him the title of Disneyland's first full-time illustrator and subsequently was elevated to the Park's only Master Illustrator. On June 18, 1999 he officially retired and on Disneyland's 44th birthday on July 17,1999, artist Charles Boyer got his window on Main Street at Disneyland which states: "Partners Portrait Gallery. Charles Boyer, Master Illustrator."

WALT'S SELF PORTRAIT was so popular that it was made into a limited edition lithograph to be sold to Disney cast members and instantly sold out. The original painting is on display at Walt Disney Hall at the exclusive Smoke Tree Ranch, Walt's Palm Spring Vacation home.

The popularity of the painting resulted in Boyer doing another variation, MICKEY'S SELF PORTRAIT, which was later merchandised on postcards, embroidery kits and sculptures. A three-dimensional window display based on the original painting was showcased at the Suspended Animation store at Pleasure Island when it opened in 1989. That display was later replaced with a display based on another of Boyer's inspirational "borrowings" from Rockwell, BARBERSHOP QUARTET.

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