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An Olympic-sized Why For

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

An Olympic-sized Why For

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First up, Davis P. writes to ask about JHM’s American International Toy Fair coverage this week:

I thought that Jim Hill Media was a website that mostly covered Disney’s theme parks and animated films. What made you decide to go to New York and cover Toy Fair this year?

Dear Davis P.

Why did Nancy and I go to Toy Fair this year? Well, it wasn’t to go eyeball the celebrities (which ran the gamut from Disney’s original mermaid, Daryl Hannah AKA Madison from “Splash” …

Darryl Hannah talks to a fan before signing a copy of the new game Liebrary at Toy Fair 2010
Photo by Nancy Stadler

… to current “Saturday Night Live” cast members Kenan Thompson and Fred Armisen

Saturday Night Live castmembers Kean Thompson and Fred Armisen
Photo by Nancy Stadler

…to reality TV stars like Mauro Castano. Who’s Buddy Valastro’s right hand man on TLC’s hit show, “Cake Boss.” Mauro came by the Javits Center this past Tuesday to deliver a cake that Carlo’s Bakery had custom-built for Odyssey Books. Which depicted the publisher’s granddaughter in bed surrounded by many of the characters featured in Odyssey’s publications.

Odyssey Books brought in a custom cake from Carlo's Bakery to their booth at Toy Fair 2010
Photo by Nancy Stadler

Mauro was not only on hand to make sure that this cake arrived safely & was then presented properly at the event. Castano also supervised the cutting of the sheet cake that was to be served to all the reporters & retailers who were on hand for this unusual Toy Fair promotional event).

Mauro from Carlo's Bakery in NJ supervises the cutting of the sheet cake that will feed the hungry reporters and passers-by
Photo by Nancy Stadler

No, the reason that Nancy and I try to go to the American International Toy Fair every year is that because -- at a show like this -- you often hear things at an event like this that you won’t ever hear in Burbank, Anaheim or Orlando.

Take – for example – Sunday’s “Toy Story 3” preview at Gotham Hall. As Mary Beech (i.e. Vice President and General Manager of Global Studio Franchise Development for Disney Consumer Products) talked about all the wonderful things that are in the works to promote this Pixar sequel, she let slip that a “Toy Story 3” overlay is in the works for the “Toy Story Mania!” attractions at the Disney Parks.

Woody and Buzz look down from the huge Toy Story 3 banner at Toy Fair 2010
Photo by Nancy Stadler

Likewise, when I sat in on Lane Merrifield (i.e. the co-founder of Club Penguin, now the Executive Vice President of Disney Online Studios)’s keynote address at the Engage! Expo (which was basically a convention within a convention that was held at this year’s Toy Fair) … Lane revealed that there will be a component of DCA’s now-under-construction Cars Land addition that will then allow subscribers to Disney Pixar The World of Cars Online to have a truly unique experience. Something that will make their visit to Radiator Springs distinctly different from the one that the typical Disneyland Resort Guest experiences.

And speaking of distinctly different, Grape Ape wrote in to ask about a recent online campaign that took a distinctly different approach towards raising money for a family that was in trouble. I’m referring to (of course) the Help the Hodges effort.

Here’s Grape Ape’s note:

I was just wondering if you have a status report on how that Help the Hodges fund-raising effort went? Did they meet their financial goal?

Dear Grape Ape:

According to statements made by Chad Frye (i.e. one of the organizers of Help the Hodges), this online auction has already “ … been a tremendous help to the Hodge family.” So thanks to all of you who bid on items so far.

The Helo the Hodges Logo
Copyright 2010 Help the Hodges. All Rights Reserved

That said, this isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few hiccups along the way. Take – for instance – last Friday. When eBay (without any warning, mind you) suddenly ended 150 of the auctions that Help the Hodges had going at that time.

But the good news is … After a little back-and-forth with eBay, any and all issues related to this online fund-raising effort have been resolved. And starting on Saturday, February 27th, the Help the Hodges auction will begin anew. Once again giving you all a shot at winning some amazing sculptures, cartoons, and collectibles.

It’s all for a really good cause, folks. So be sure and mark your calendars – again, that’s Saturday, February 27th – for the restart of the Head the Hodges online fund-raising effort. Where you’ll then be able to bid on some truly cool one-of-a-kind items like this “Pocahontas” animation drawing.

A Pocahontas drawing by Glen Keane is only one of the many great pieces of art to be found in the Help the Hodges auction
Copyright 2010 Help the Hodges. All Rights Reserved

You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to own an amazing piece of art like that, do you? Especially since Chad reportedly plans on making good use of this unexpected downtime by getting “Pocahontas” supervising animator Glen Keane to sign this particular drawing. So please make a point of checking out the Help the Hodges online fund-raising effort out when it starts back up next Saturday, okay?

And – finally – Born2Luge writes in to say:

I’ve really been enjoying NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver this past week. But being a Disney fan, I’ve always wondered about those Winter Olympics that Walt Disney Productions supposedly played such a big part in. And that would be the one that were held in Squaw Valley back in 1960. Do you have any stories that you could share about this event? I’ve heard that Walt personally supervised the opening & closing ceremonies.

A ski jumper graces the poster for the 1960 Olympic winter games
Copyright Walt Disney Family Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Dear Born2Luge,

To be honest, I don’t have all that many stories when it comes to the 1960 Winter Olympics. But sometimes-JHM-contributor Leo N. Holzer does. And he’s written this great piece for Roger Colton (You folks remember Roger, right? He used to write for JHM back in the day before Mr. Colton headed out to start up his own website, The Blue Parrot) which goes into great detail about what happened at Squaw Valley.

Take – for example – this excerpt. Which explains how Walt Disney got recruited to handle the pageantry at this particular event.

Prentis Cobb Hale Jr. led the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics organizing committee and he’s the one who approached Walt Disney.

Walt and Lillian Disney in Squaw Valley during the winter of 1960
Walt and Lillian Disney in Squaw Valley during the winter of 1960.
Copyright Walt Disney Family Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Prentis Hale ... was “a very big personality in San Francisco,” chairman of Carter Hawley Hale and Broadway Department Stores, (Ron) Miller said.

Sometime in 1959, Hale “asked Walt to do all the pageantry, all the ceremonies -- victory ceremonies and everything else — and to entertain the athletes. Prentis brought Walt in and rightfully so,” Miller said. “Walt really wanted to do about the best he could possibly do in the form of entertaining not only all the people but in entertaining all the athletes themselves.”

For Walt, the Olympics gave him a chance to shine on an international stage long before the World’s Fair and the Florida project.

The Olympic torch at the 1960 Winter Olympics
The torch blazed bright at the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Copyright Walt Disney Family Foundation. All Rights Reserved

At one point, Olympic officials complained about the costs for the elaborate decorations and entertainment, but Walt silenced those complaints when he declared, “Either we’re going to do it the right way or Disney will pull out.”

Key members on Walt’s team included Miller as the pagentry coordinator and chief on-site operations manager, Art Linkletter and Imagineer John Hench.

Linkletter helped plan a star-studded lineup that included Danny Kaye, Esther Williams and her swimsuit girls, Hollywood stars and popular crooners. There was also a film festival and Disneyland brought up the Golden Horseshoe show, complete with Wally Boag, that ended with a major barroom brawl featuring several Hollywood stuntmen.

The PArade of Champions at the 1960 Winter Olympics
The Parade of Nations at the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Copyright Walt Disney Family Foundation. All Rights Reserved

“You know, I think the athletes really enjoyed every evening we had because we had such a diversification of talent,” Miller said.

Hench was tapped to handle site decorations and Walt sent him to Dartmouth, N.H., and Quebec, Canada to look at decorating the Olympic site with snow sculptures. Hench eventually created 32 massive sculptures for the event. Thirty of them towered 16 feet tall and were placed along the “Avenue of the Athletes.” The two remaining statues, which stood roughly 24 feet tall, were placed alongside Hench’s Tower of Nations as the centerpiece of the medals presentation area. The sculptures featured male and female athletes competing in Olympic events such as skiing, hockey and skating. For spectators and athletes alike, they were among the highlights of the Games.

Hench also redesigned the Olympic Torch for the Squaw Valley games, which set a new standard for subsequent torches. The 1960 torch is on display at The Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio of San Francisco, along with a pennant, poster and Olympic pins.

The 1960 Winter Olympics
Copyright Walt Disney Family Museum. All Rights Reserved

You can read the rest of Leo’s fascinating article by heading on over to The Blue Parrot. Which – given the number of great stories that Roger Colton has recently written about The Walt Disney Family Museum -- should probably be on your Favorites list anyway.

Okay. That’s it for this week at JHM. If you’d like to see your own Disney-related question answered as part of an upcoming “Why For” column, please send those queries along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.cm.

Have a great weekend, okay?

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