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Wednesdays with Wade: 50 years of "Lady and the Tramp"

Wednesdays with Wade: 50 years of "Lady and the Tramp"

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I am going to celebrate a special 50 year birthday tomorrow. Not the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. There are a lot of Disney 50th celebrations and one of them takes place tomorrow.

On June 16, 1955 about one month before the opening of Disneyland, the Disney Studios released my second favorite Disney animated feature, "Lady and the Tramp." (My first favorite is "Dumbo.") Since its setting was the turn of the century, it influenced the design and color of Disneyland's Main Street, especially since some of the same artists who worked on the film were pulled in to finish up Disneyland including Ken Anderson.

How did this classic animated feature start? Well, it may surprise readers that Walt was actually considering the story as far back as 1937.

The late Joe Grant described it this way:

"The inspiration for 'Lady', the story, was my dog, a springer spaniel with championship credentials and the official name of 'Lady Nell the Second'. Lady was entered in a number of dog shows, but her strange antics made it clear that show business was not her thing. Although she managed to win a small cup, it became clear that domestic life suited her better.

By this time, our first born child had arrived, and we soon discovered that Lady was a natural nanny. In the years that followed, Lady was showered with affection (not to mention baby food, pabulum, and assorted crockery from the high chair).

With Lady at the mercy of the baby, ideas began to flow in form of drawings and story situations. One drawing in particular was especially poignant and I showed it to Walt. He gave us a big 'OK' to develop Lady's story into a feature, with the addition of Tramp to give the story a touch of romance. She was too busy annying and being a full-time family member. Lady never realized that her role was played by a cocker spaniel. I don't think she would have minded. She had a generous heart."

Walt told a journalist that "we were not satisfied, so the project was put on the shelf" when asked why he didn't develop the project sooner. If you'd like to see Joe Grant's version of the tale, then pick up a copy of "Walt Disney's Surprise Package" (July 1944, Simon & Schuster) and you'll see that the core of the story is there.

Lady is the dog of "Mister Fred and Missis" and the story starts with the the baby being there for six months. Yes, the Mother brings her two Siamese cats that stir up trouble forcing Lady to rescue Trilby the canary who flees for its life when attacked by the cats. Lady gets blamed for eating the canary! Later, she gets blamed for attacking the baby and tossed out into the rain. She gets saved at the last minute when "Mister" discovers lace and blue ribbon in the cats's claws and realizes that they are the true villains. The cats and the Mother are shown the door and Lady is welcomed back into the house.

Walt was right that the story wasn't strong enough to support a feature and was too involved for a short. Ward Greene was editor and general manager of King Features newspaper syndicate which published the Disney comic strips. During the time he worked for King Features, Greene eventually produced seven novels, two plays, a children's book and a scenario for a Walt Disney film. Walt met with Greene in the mid-Forties concerning a short story that Greene had written.

In 1953, Simon and Schuster published the first editon of "Lady and the Tramp" with illustrations by Joe Rinaldi who worked on the story for the feature film. Even though elements of Grant's story (including Lady's personality) ended up in this version, Greene was credited as the sole writer.

Here is Walt Disney's introduction to that volume that Walt hoped would get audiences excited about the upcoming film:

"This is how Lady and the Tramp came to be written. My studio staff and I had been thinking about a dog story in which a pretty little debutante cocker spaniel was to be the heroine--a story in which a human family would be seen and judged through the eyes of ther pet. We called her Lady.

But we discovered during our preliminary story conferences that we had only half the story we wanted. Our prim, well-bred, and house-sheltered little Lady when confronted with a crisis in our story just up and ran away and all our cajoleries couldn't lure her back again. We had forgotten one all-important thing--no person or family can ever completely 'own' an animal. Any dog worth room and keep in a household has a life of his own. He's a dog; entitled to some natural animal life aside from being man's best friend and his most tolerant critic. It was when we ignored this that we got into trouble storywise and dogwise.

It was then that I came across Ward Greene's raffish short story "Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog'. It seemed to me that Ward's roguish mutt might be just the fellow for Lady and it was obvious that Ward Greene knew a lot about household pets as well as those alley rovers who wear no man's collar.

I lost no time in contacting Ward. He knew in a moment what ailed our precious Lady. So we conferred and palavared and exchanged doggish anecdotes and family experiences involving our own pets. It wasn't long before Ward had whistled up the Tramp. In a minute, the gay dog was calling our shy Lady 'little pigeon' and the two hit it off together wonderfully. Once these two canine characters had been introduced, it didn't take much urging to incite Ward to write a book about them.

From then on, their amazing adventures were in Ward's literary hands. Eventually, after the Tramp had shown the fascinated Lady the wonders of a free world during a marvelous night of wandering when she had run away from the horrors of a muzzle and leash, she brought him back home for the most exciting adventure of all.

And so, the gallant mutt settled down with Mrs. Lady, envied and respected by all the pedigreed neighborhood dogs--to whistle and wink no more--even to accept the collar of the family of Jim Dear, Darling, and the Baby...but here I am tipping off a part of Ward's story, which is his alone to relate in the following pages."

Walt was being uncharacteristically modest. It was Walt who named the dog "Tramp". In early drafts, Tramp was called Homer, Rags and even Bozo. It was Walt who came up with the name "Tramp" against the objections of Greene and the strong objections of the distributors who felt the title "Lady and the Tramp" was a little too "adult" for a Disney product.

Of course, Walt wasn't always right, he was the one who cut the scene of the dogs eating spaghetti feeling it would be "distasteful". Thankfully, Frank Thomas did some sketches and changed Walt's mind just as he had done about the ice skating scene in "Bambi".

As a special 50th birthday treat, I phoned Disney Historian Jim Korkis to see if he had a behind-the-scenes secret to share. Interestingly, Jim was
already writing an article on the film for the Disney Vacation Club newsletter. While he was reluctant to share many secrets that he would reveal in the article, he did agree to share one:

"Driving home one night, story artist Erdman Penner spotted what he felt would be a perfect live action reference model for the Tramp dashing past his headlights and into the bushes. It took some hunting but he finally located the dog in a nearby dog pound just hours before the poor pooch was to take the 'long walk' to the gas chamber. He rescued the dog and everyone at the Disney Studio agreed that the dog, less than a year old, had just the right look for the roguish Tramp.

But here's a secret, the dog was female!

And here's another: After she served as a live action model, that dog lived out the rest of her days at Disneyland's Pony Farm with Owen Pope and his wife, Dolly. The Popes actually lived at Disneyland in one of the houses that remained on the land that Walt purchased for Disneyland. To the best of my knowledge, the Popes were the only people who actually lived at Disneyland. Anyway, the 'real" Tramp lived at Disneyland and guests never knew. How cool is that?"

Pretty cool, Jim, and thanks for sharing with us one of those secrets behind the film as we all wish our lives were as romantic as Lady and the Tramp when they were eating spaghetti and meatballs during this special 50th birthday.

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