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Wednesdays with Wade: Little Disney mysteries solved

Wednesdays with Wade: Little Disney mysteries solved

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Longtime Disney fan Kim Eggink recently asked where I come up with ideas for my JHM columns. I explained that Jim Hill allows me great freedom to write about whatever Disney history item catches my interest.

Sometimes, an idea is triggered by research I am doing on another article. Sometimes an idea is triggered by something that is happening currently that has a Disney historical reference. And sometimes -- as I try to desperately organize my collection -- I run across oddball things that are little Disney mysteries that I try to solve.

Take -- for example -- the latest copy of the "Disney Fake Book." Which contains a popular 1950s song "Shrimp Boats" that was played endlessly on "Your Hit Parade." However, the most interesting thing to me is that it is copyrighted by the Walt Disney Music Company.

Did Walt have plans to make "Forrest Gump" in 1951 or at least a live action film on shrimp boats coming in? Or perhaps it was a song intended for a groundbreaking Disney animated cartoon or attraction at Disneyland? The song was co-written by Paul Mason Howard who also wrote the song "A Cowboy Needs a Horse" used in the 1956 Disney short cartoon special of the same name so there definitely was a slight Disney connection between the composer and the studio.

Disney Archivist Dave Smith solved the mystery for me:

"Fred Raphael, who started Disney Records, was trying to build up the Walt Disney Music Company song catalog quickly, and thought that we should be a hit parade competitor, so in the early 50s he added to our song catalog not only 'Shrimp Boats' but the popular 'Mule Train' among many others. These songs had absolutely no connection to Disney in any way, other than we owned the licensing rights."

Here's another little Disney mystery: The Art of Disney Galleries recently premiered an Armani figurine of the little black baby flying pony from "Fantasia" and the base proclaims it to be "Peter Pegasus." There was a family of winged horses that frolicked in the fields and gracefully floated in the rivers during Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony segment of Disney's "Fantasia". The family consisted of a black stallion who was the father and a white mare who was the mother. The four baby foals were colored pink, blue, yellow and black.

If you check the books related to "Fantasia" including the Deems Taylor one from the Forties or John Culhane's

extensive book devoted to the film from the Eighties or even Dave Smith's "Disney A-Z" or John Grant's "Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters," there is no mention of a "Peter Pegasus". It takes some research to discover that during the Forties in order to keep some of his animators working between projects, Walt suggested developing some shorts featuring the flying black pony and it was at that time on the concept drawings that the name "Peter Pegasus" first appeared. One short would have brought back the dancing mushrooms from the "Nutcracker" segment of "Fantasia" while another involved Peter sneaking out of his nest and following a family of ducks and accidentally disturbing an angry bee. None of these stories progressed beyond the rough storyboard stage.

Why Peter? Well, besides the fact that it is alliterative, remember the Disney Studio was also developing at the time the story of "Peter Pan", the flying boy. Pegasus is a generic name and would be difficult to copyright but "Peter Pegasus" is specific and can be copyrighted. (Similar to when Disney was developing "The Gremlins" during World War II and decided to focus on "Gremlin Gus" since the name could be copyrighted and recognized as an exclusive Disney character.)

Having fun? Here's another little Disney mystery: In June 1972, the American Film Institute hosted a presentation in Washington D.C. devoted to "50 Years of American Animation". There were eight different programs including "Anatomy of Humor", "Sex and Violence and General Bad Taste" (the most popular show), "Persuasion and Politics" and one entitled "Dots, Lines, Curves and Angles" examining the different styles of animation from rounded shapes to the more angular experiments of UPA. Three Disney cartoons were shown in this presentation and after showing "Melody" and right before intermission, it was announced that a special cartoon entitled "Uncle Walt" would be shown.

Supposedly the film was done by Disney animators in 1954 and not meant for general release but the Disney Studios was allowing it to be shown if it was not listed in the official program nor advertised. Pictures of Walt Disney at various ages were followed by a pan across a graveyard showing the graves of hundreds of Perris (Disney produced in 1957 a live action fantasy about the life of squirrels entitled "Perri"), then there are scenes with very early style Mickey and Minnie Mouse with racial caricatures and outhouse gags, a "Fantasia" sequence including the female centaurettes working a red light district with Goofy as a pimp, a scene of frightened little rabbit children looking at scenes from Disney cartoons like the transformation of the queen into the old hag in "Snow White", and a scene of the seven dwarfs gathering to worship Mickey Mouse in a "Mouse-ka-mausoleum" reminiscent of a similar scene in "Snow White".

Sounds like one of the many infamous and legendary gag reels put together by tired or disgruntled Disney animators that people have claimed to see at private screenings? However, the truth behind this mystery is that the film, "Uncle Walt", was not made at Disney but was an independent film made in 1964 (not 1954) by Bob Swarthe who started working on the film while he was in high school and was part of the UCLA Animation Workshop. The film certainly seems to have disappeared from sight since that screening just like another non-Disney made animated film entitled "Mickey Mouse in Vietnam" where a classic black and white Mickey Mouse is drafted and sent to Vietnam where he is promptly shot and killed within his first few seconds there.

Since Walt loved the Fourth of July, how come Disney never came up with a song celebrating the holiday? There are Disney songs celebrating Halloween and Christmas. Well, while digging through my mountains of paper, I even discovered a forgotten Disney Fourth of July song written by the Sherman Brothers in 1975 for the big celebration the following year celebrating two hundred years of America:

"The Glorious Fourth"
by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

There's excitement in the air; It's a feeling we all share,
The day that Yankee Doodle throws his hat into the air!

Nobody's workin' today, you bet,
Family's are out promenadin'
Picnic tables are being set

The day's made for Disney paradin'
Bunting and banners are everywhere
Hot dogs and fresh apple pie

It's our historical proudly uproarical fourth, the fourth of July.

A million sky rockets and roman candles zing zoomin' on high,
Red, white, and blue sparklers and spinnin' pinwheels raise cain in the sky,
And white flags wave?and the bands all play

You can't be sad if you try?on the bang-up uproarious, flag waving, glorious fourth, the fourth of July

Well, even the Sherman Brothers can't always compose huge hits, can they? However, the reason I treasure this copy of sheet music is that there is a color picture of Walt and this quote credited to him from July 4, 1964 that I have never seen reprinted anywhere else:

"The Spirit of America is never more clearly seen than in those precious moments of public displays of patriotic feelings. As a child, I remember the intense wonder and awe with which I was left after singing the National Anthem or after fireworks on the Fourth of July. It is my hope that these feelings spring eternal in the minds and hearts of all Americans."

To me, it was worth digging through piles of paper just to find that forgotten gem from Walt. Disney detectives never know what surprises they might find once they start investigating.

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