Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

The Really Small World of Walt Disney

The Really Small World of Walt Disney

  • Comments 2

In 1939, Walt Disney attended the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and saw his first collection of miniatures. They were from the collection of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Mrs. Thorne (who was married to the cofounder of Montgomery Wards) had no formal training in art or architecture yet created close to one hundred rooms over a ten-year period and managed to set what became the world standard for workmanship and detail in miniature display.

She was quite fond of dollhouses and her uncle sent her miniatures from his travels around the world. It was sometime during the 1920s that Mrs. Thorne conceived the idea of creating miniature rooms. The rooms were to serve an educational purpose of capturing European and American interior design in a small package that could easily be displayed even in limited space. (Royal dollhouses were intended to serve as a three-dimensional catalogue of an owner's possessions. They were never intended to be playthings for children. Children were intended to learn lessons about manners and proper attitudes from the display.)

In 1932 the first set of Thorne Rooms (a total of thirty) was put on display at the Chicago Historical Society for a benefit for the Architectural Students' League. One year later, the same thirty rooms were displayed to a much larger audience when they were installed in their own special building at Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up to see them. The second set of rooms was shown along with the first set at the World's Fairs in San Francisco and New York, in 1939 and 1940, respectively. Extensive publicity accompanied the rooms, including major articles in newspapers and magazines and the rooms toured several cities.

The impact of this miniature exhibition was certainly an influence on Walt. Walt had had a brief exposure to miniatures when he helped build a Lionel train layout for his nephew, Roy E. Disney. That experience led Walt to create his own small scale railroad to operate in the backyard of his home in the Holmby Hills on Carolwood Drive in the late Forties.

Walt helped build the "Carolwood Pacific" railroad and was quite proud that he completed the yellow caboose for the train all by himself. It was complete with tiny oil lamps and brass door knobs that had working spring latches.

To add to the authenticity, Walt made a potbellied stove for it. "I had a pattern made up and it turned out so cute with the grate, shaker, and door and al the little working parts, I became intrigued with the idea, and had a few made up-one was bronze, another black and, I even made a gold one! Then we made more and started painting them in motifs that fitted the period at the turn of the century," wrote Walt.

Each of the stoves had a different design and roughly one hundred of them were eventually made. Walt gave some of them to friends and in a bold move, sent some of them to an antique gift shop in New York where they were sold on consignment for twenty-five dollars each. Walt was delighted to discover that two of them had been purchased by Mrs. James Ward Thorne for her collection.

Walt made no special effort to market them or to make a profit. He was just curious to see if there was any interest in them and by 1957, the supply was depleted and the stoves had become a collector's item. "It has been fun making them and others appreciate them, too, so, all in all, I feel well repaid," wrote Walt.

( The Carolwood Pacific Historical Society located at <http://www.carolwood.com/> under their "Carolwood Freight Consist" are currently offering for sale "Walt's one-eighth scale caboose potbellied stove cast from the original patterns, limited and numbered edition of 173 for $150.")

Walt became more and more fascinated by miniatures and began to collect them during his travels to Europe. He spent many hundreds of dollars and his collection grew to include tiny books, small objects of glass, china and silver. In a letter to a friend in 1951, Walt wrote: "When I work with these small objects, I become so absorbed that the cares of the studio fade away...at least for a time."

One day in the early Fifties, he told animator Ken Anderson: "I'm tired of having everybody else around here do the drawing and the painting; I'm going to do something creative myself. I'm going to do something creative myself. I'm going to put you on my personal payroll, and I want you to draw twenty-four scenes of life in an old Western town. Then I'll carve the figures and make the scenes in miniature. When we get enough of them made, we'll send them out as a traveling exhibit. We'll get an office here at the studio and you and I will be the only ones who'll have keys."

Walt immediately put advertisements in newspapers and hobby magazines seeking vintage miniatures of all kinds. However, Walt was clever enough to know that he shouldn't let people know he was the one interested in obtaining miniatures because prices would soar. So he asked his two secretaries at the time, Kathryn Gordon and Dolores Voght to advertise under their names.

Many newspapers and HOBBIES magazine ran the following advertisement in 1951: "WANTED: Anything in miniatures to a scale of 1 ½" to the foot or under. Up to and including early 1900's. Give full description and price. Private collector. K. Gordon (and her address)."

Besides furniture, Walt sought miniature tableware. His final collection included Limoges, Havilland (two tea services with floral and fruit designs), small Toby jugs and Wedgewood pitchers as well as washing bowls of Willowware, Bennington Crocks and jars. He also had a large group of wine and perfume bottles and drinking glasses to go with several sets of silverware, silver tea services and a candelabra.

Walt began work on building the first of the scenes which is known as "Granny Kincaid's cabin" based on a set from the Disney live action feature SO DEAR TO MY HEART. The completed project is currently on display at Disney/MGM Studios in the "One Man's Dream" attraction. Walt included everything from a spinning wheel to a rag rug on the plank floor to a flintlock rifle on the wall. There was a washbowl and pitcher, guitar and even a family Bible on the center table. For the chimney, he picked up pebbles at his vacation home, the Smoketree Ranch in Palm Springs.

It was Walt's plan that there would be no human figures. Viewers would hear the voice of Granny (recorded by actress Beulah Bondi who had played Granny in the movie) describing the scene.

The completed cabin was exhibited at the Festival of California Living at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles from November 28 to December 7, 1952. A publicity release at the time said that the cabin was the beginning of Walt's new miniature Americana to be called Disneylandia. It's purpose was to teach people about how life in the United States developed to the present.

"This little cabin is part of a project I am working on and it was exhibited merely as a test to obtain the public's reaction to my plans for a complete village of which the cabin is but a small part," said Walt in early 1953 when questioned about it.

Walt began work on two more small tableaus. One was a frontier music hall stage with a dancing man (which is also showcased at the "One Man's Dream" attraction and was the birth of audio-animatronics) and another was a miniature barbershop quartet which would sing "Sweet Adeline". Unfortunately, Walt came to the realization that the small size of the exhibit would not allow enough volume of viewers to make it profitable and to pay for the upkeep.

A renowned California sculptor, Charles Clarence Cristadoro worked for Disney briefly in the late 1930s, doing animator's models for Pinocchio (1940). Later in 1950 he returned to the Disney studios to sculpt the figures for Walt's Disneylandia project. Frederick Stark who was by profession a conductor and orchestra manager had a hobby of working in wood and in 1953 made Walt a beautiful organ in miniature as a gift.

A room was built in Walt Disney's office suite at the Disney Studio to showcase the miniature collection. Shelves were built on two walls and enclosed by glass doors. After Walt's death, they remained there on those shelves until custody for the collection was transferred to the Walt Disney Archives in 1970.

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • This is the wonderful post i saw today.

  • There are online webpage to hack anyone whatsapp account completely free of  cost.

Page 1 of 1 (2 items)