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Wednesdays with Wade: More Obscure Disney Books

Wednesdays with Wade: More Obscure Disney Books

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I found some time to go back to my bookshelf and look at some more obscure Disney related books that readers might want to add to their libraries. When it comes to collecting Disney books, it can be frustrating for the collector. I am sure that most of you have a copy of the Bob Thomas edition of "Walt Disney: An American Original". But how many of you realize there was a British edition and that edition was larger in size and had different photos and some of the photos from the American edition were cropped differently so you could see more in the picture?

How many of you are confused when you go to ebay and a book from the Disney version of "Pinocchio" is advertised and is from 1940 and you suddenly realize there were at least a half dozen different Disney storybook versions published? Thank heavens for pictures on ebay. If you saw a "Dumbo" book from 1940 advertised, would you have been as sharp as Disney Historian Jim Korkis and been able to identify it as the limited edition of the original story by Helen Aberson? I wouldn't have been able to do so.

And that's just the books you know are Disney books you want. I am going to try to devote these "obscure Disney books" columns to those limited printings, out of print, or closely related to Disney books that you might not even know existed. Again, I highly recommend you check out the Ultimate Disney Books Network site even though I don't always agree with all of Didier's short reviews. After all, one man's trash is another man's treasure and there have been an occasional book that Didier didn't care for that has found a welcome home in my collection.

So let's take a look at three obscure Disney books:

Ether and Me (or "Just Relax") by Will Rogers (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1927) Within three years, there were ten different reprintings of this book so there should be plenty of copies around if you'd really like to find one. This book is of interest to Disney collectors because of the illustrations by Grim Natwick. Natwick is the artist who is credited with designing Betty Boop and later Disney's Snow White. "Ether and Me" is more or less a short monologue in book form about the medical misadventures of one of America's greatest humorists, Will Rogers. (Rogers is not as well known to today's audiences. The original plans for Epcot's American Adventure was to have Benjamin Franklin as the spokesman for the 18th century, Mark Twain as the spokesman for the 19th century and Will Rogers as the spokesman for the 20th century....until the Disney Imagineers went to several colleges and found that college students didn't know who Rogers was.) The book is seventy-seven pages long and features fourteen pen and ink illustrations by Natwick and unless you knew Natwick's animation background, it would be natural to assume the cartoons were done by any of the run of the mill cartoonists of the day. The drawings often feature small heads on large, angular bodies with a lot of "fussy" details like extensive crosshatching. Natwick was also illustrating sheet music covers around the same time this book appeared. One of my fondest memories is attending Natwick's 100th birthday celebration (thanks to the kindness of animation producer and writer John Cawley whose many acts of kindness throughout the years have gone unrecognized and unappreciated by those who know better. Treat yourself and visit his website at www.cataroo.com.). Actually, the most memorable moment at that celebration was hearing an aging Walter Lantz, who was perhaps a decade younger than Natwick, and suddenly realizing how sharp and funny Lantz could be.

ABC'S of Hand Tools (Public Relations Staff, General Motors Corporation, 1945). Even into the Seventies, it was possible to receive a copy of this pamphlet free from General Motors but as soon as a book entitled "Things You Can Get for Free" was published, the supply was quickly depleted. The pamphlet is about fifty pages long, and concentrates on the correct usage and care of hand tools. That doesn't sound interesting until you realize that this is the companion pamphlet to a Disney education film of the same name. The problems are demonstrated through the use of a little cartoon character called Primitive Pete who looks a lot like a caricature of Ward Kimball or at least a close cousin to a similar character in the Disney propaganda short, "Reason and Emotion." All drawings of Primitive Pete contained in this booklet are copyrighted 1943 by Walt Disney Productions" proclaims the first page as we are introduced to this little unshaven caveman in a leopard skin carrying a stone hammer. Originally the book was prepared in a slightly different form for use by the U.S. Armed Forces. It was supplied in large quantities to help the training of mechanics. The revised booklet which was given away through the Seventies was prepared to help out the civilian mechanic with similar problems (like using the right size screwdriver and how dangerous it is to use a file without a handle). There is at least one and many times two pictures on each page of Pete getting into all sorts of predicaments, his baby face sometimes looking sheepishly at the reader.

Walt Disney's Surprise Package (Simon and Schuster, 1944, stories adapted by H. Marion Palmer). Helen Marion Palmer was the wife of Ted "Dr. Seuss" Geisel and authored some Disney related books during this time period. By 1945, the demand for this book was so great it had already gone through three different printings. With World War II preventing Walt from developing new animated features and limiting his ability to produce animated shorts, it is not surprising that this book appears to be first draft story concepts for later Disney projects. For instance, one story is entitled "Lady" and is about the famous Lady of "Lady and the Tramp". However, Tramp does not appear in this story. The two Siamese cats appear and it is Lady who rescues the new baby from the cats' claws, is wrongly accused of threatening the baby and finally vindicated. The story is told from Lady's point of view and is obviously the basis for the later famous animated feature. SURPRISE PACKAGE is an anthology of twelve stories: "Through the Picture Frame" (based on Hans Christian Andersen), "B'rer Rabbit en His Stachel uv Gold," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Little Fir Tree" (another Andersen tale perhaps developed for the unmade Andersen film project), "Lady" (one of two stories credited specifically to the Walt Disney Studio), "Chicken Little," "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "The Wind in the Willows," "Peter Pan and the Pirates," "Peter and the Wolf," "The Square World" (the other story credited solely to the Disney Studio and it is the work of "Dumbo" 's storyteam *** Huemer and Joe Grant to the best of my knowledge...a tribute to Joe Grant in the Florida Disney Feature Animation lobby had some examples of this artwork credited to Grant), and "Happy Valley" (credited as "from an English Folk Tale"). This is the Mickey, Donald and Goofy in the famous "Mickey and the Beanstalk").

Many of these stories were in some form of production when this book appeared and some of the illustrations that accompany them seem to be concept sketches, pencil sketches or slightly reworked storyboard sketches. The drawings for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" are based on the famous Tenniel drawings. The sketches for "Peter Pan" and "Lady" have the loose feel of colored pencil sketches. Interestingly, one of the poorest drawn stories in my opinion is "Happy Valley" with an disproportional Mickey with small ears and a pointed rather than rounded face. By the way, the original story, "The Square World" tells the story of a land run by a square dictator who insists that everything and everyone in his land be made square. He finally orders that only square babies can be born but there are some things even a dictator cannot control and when he sees all the normal babies, he promptly commits suicide.

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  • Hi, Mr. Korkis. In response to your post 2/22/2005:I'm working with Jennifer Grant Castrup to develop a presentation for the Hyperion Historical Alliance about the WW2 propaganda films from Disney. We're especially interested in locating Joe Grant's story sketches and DIck Huemer's original narrative verse on The Square World. Aside from the Surprise Package book, have you seen any reprinted or original material about the story? Did you check the Disney archives? Jennifer seems to think we will find everything there. Anyhow, if you have further info, please let me know, and of course your assistance will be acknowledged. BTW, I saw another blog by you in which you said Walt returned to Harvard for the second time, in 1943, to visit anthropologist Earnest Hooten in relation to the Nazis' bogus radial theories. Harvard noted the visit. When was the FIRST visit, and whom did he visit that time? One presumes The Square World is closely tied to Walt's conversation with Hooten.

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