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Nate D. Sanders' auction throws a spotlight on Ray Bradbury's long association with The Walt Disney Company

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Nate D. Sanders' auction throws a spotlight on Ray Bradbury's long association with The Walt Disney Company

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When I dropped by Disneyland earlier this month, I made a point of walking through Frontierland. Not so much to check out the "Legends of Frontierland: Gold Rush" game ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... which -- I have to admit -- given all the Guests crowded around the telegraph station that afternoon looked wildly popular / like a lot of fun.


Photo by Jim Hill

No, the reason I was there was to check out the Halloween Tree. But because I was there on September 8th and Disneyland's Halloween Time didn't officially get underway 'til September 12th, this seasonal tribute to Ray Bradbury had yet to be decorated.

Here's a picture of the 2013 version of Disneyland's Halloween Tree ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... as well as a few close-ups of the jack-o-lanterns that decorated its branches.


Photo by Jim Hill


Photo by Jim Hill

For those of you who don't know the history behind Disneyland's Halloween Tree, this seasonal display actually started some seven years ago. Appropriately enough on October 31, 2007. Ray himself was on hand for the occasion ...


Disney Legend Tony Baxter (L) looks on as Ray Bradbury flips the switch and lights up
Disneyland's Halloween Tree on October 31, 2007. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved


... and was gifted a copy of the plaque that's always on display in Frontierland whenever the Halloween Tree is lit up.


Photo by Jim Hill

Now if you were to ask the folks who were at the Halloween Tree's official dedication on Halloween night 2007, they tell you that the main reason that this presentation was done at that time was to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the publication of Bradbury's "Halloween Tree" book.

But there was another unsaid reason for holding this specific event at that specific time. You see, Ray (who was 87 at that time) was in declining health. And the folks at Imagineering wanted to let Bradbury know how important he was to them. How much all of his years of hard work for WED / WDI had been appreciated.

See, that's what a lot of Disney fans don't understand about Ray Bradbury's relationship with the Mouse House. Sure, they may know the stories about Ray's meeting with Walt in the early 1960s. Or about the feature film version of Bradbury's magnum opus, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" ...


Ray (center of photo, in a powder-blue suit) waves to the camera along the rest of the
cast of this Jack Clayton film. Copyright 1983 Walt Disney Productions.
All rights reserved

... that Walt Disney Productions released to theaters back in 1983.

No, I'm talking about the first real project-of-size that Ray worked on for the Mouse House. Which -- according to Marty Sklar's memoir, "Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms" (Disney Editions, August 2013) -- was ...

... a show for Monsanto (a diversified company that has evolved into the food biotech company of today). He worked with Marc Davis, one of the greatest animators in the Disney studio. Ray wrote the treatment and the script for the show. It had to do with the birth of the universe, and it was spectacular. They used audio-animatronics and dimensional sets, but Ray was so disappointed that no one had the imagination to be able to see what it was. Ray would paint a word picture and Marc would draw the visuals. It was such a spectacular undertaking that people in the business world couldn't see why they should sponsor it.


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

Davis & Bradbury worked together on this project off & on throughout much of 1970. And while his "birth-of-the-Universe" show for Monsanto never really got off the ground, the folks at WED had so enjoyed working with Ray that when Card Walker finally allowed them to begin developing Epcot-the-theme-park, the Imagineers immediately asked Bradbury to come back to 1401 Flower Street and help them dream up some rides, shows and attractions for the place.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now I've previously written about Ray's work on the core concept & original script for Future World's signature attraction, Spaceship Earth. Which is why -- today -- I'd like to talk about the other pavilion that Bradbury did a lot of work on. You can see it to the right in the photo above.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

That's the original version of Epcot's Space pavilion. It was supposed to be the attraction that Ray hoped would reignite American's interest in exploring the cosmos. Which seemed to be on the wane in the 1970s, what with NASA abandoning its Apollo program in favor of what-was-thought-to-be-far-more-cost-effective-by-Congress-anyway Skylab & Space Shuttle programs.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

What Bradbury wanted every Epcot visitor to be able to do was take a walk in an astronaut's shoes. Which is why the exterior queue of this pavilion was deliberately supposed to have resembled those enormous gantries that you used to see standing next to the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo rockets prior to launch. 


Ray Bradbury holding the Titan 1 Model. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Once these WDW visitors had climbed aboard the Titan 1 (which -- according the description of this proposed Future World attraction that was printed up in Walt Disney Production's annual report of 1977 -- was supposed to have been this "huge, interstellar 'Space Vehicle' [that would] transport passengers to the outer frontiers of the universe, highlighting man's efforts to reach out for the stars around him"), that's when the Wizards of WED would have really begun work their magic.


Designer John De Cuir (L) views the interior of the Titan 1 model with Ray Bradbury.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

You see, the Imagineers really wanted to give Epcot visitors the impression that they were actually floating out in space. Which is why the ride compartment that WDW Guests were supposed to sit in while they were experiencing the Space pavilion was supposed to built on this massive cantilever. Which -- because it hung out over this massive futuristic structure which was ringed with faux windows that were supposed to show these synchronized pieces of FX footage of starfields -- would have given people the impression that they were in fact in deep space, spinning among the stars.


Concept art for the interior of the original version of Epcot's Space pavilion.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Unfortunately, what with all of the cuts that the U.S. Government had made to its space program, none of the aerospace corporations which WED approached to possibly sponsor this Future World pavilion were actually in a position to fund construction of the version of Space that Ray Bradbury & John De Cuir dreamed up in the late 1970s / early 1980s. In fact, it wasn't 'til the late 1990s / early 2000s -- that the Imagineers finally found a corporation that was willing to underwrite the cost of constructing a spaceflight ride at Epcot. And that was Compaq / Hewlett-Packard.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Speaking of flight, it is one of the supreme ironies of Ray Bradbury's life that, for most of the time that he was on this planet -- in spite of the fact that this acclaimed author spending decades telling his readers to reach for the stars / let their dreams take flight -- he was deathly afraid of flying.

Don't believe me? Then check out this excerpt from  Sam Weller's excellent "Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews" (Stop Smiling Books, June 2010). Which reveals that ...


Copyright Stop Smiling Books. All rights reserved

Ray didn't fly in an airplane until 1982, when he was 62. Prior to that, he had always crossed the country by passenger rail, and he ventured to Europe by ocean liner. But in 1982, while celebrating the opening of EPCOT Center in Orlando, his train was unexpectedly cancelled. Needing desperately to return home to work, he acquiesced to his aviophobia and told his Disney hosts to buy him a plane ticket, give him three double martinis and "pour him on the airplane."


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

From that moment on, Bradbury conquered his fear of flying. "I discovered that I wasn't afraid of flying," he remarked. "I was afraid of me. I was afraid that I would run up and down the aisles screaming for them to stop the plane." When his fear did not come to fruition, Bradbury embraced the airplane, and from that point forward, he became a frequent flyer.


Ray Bradbury speaking at a meeting of Imagineers in the late 1970s.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights

Yeah, the Imagineers had insisted that Ray be on hand for the grand opening of EPCOT Center. Bradbury had not just been one of the key creative voices during the realy developmental phase of the project, he had also been one of the project's biggest cheerleaders as this science-and-discovery theme park moved into its steel-and-concrete phase. The Wizards of WED just loved Ray for saying things like ...

... the way I look at the EPCOT project, if we build it beautifully, if we set an example for the world, we can change the whole damn country. That's how important you are. That's how important I feel, working with you.


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

Which is why the Imagineers (because they knew that Bradbury had a love of Disney that went back for decades) always made sure to send swell swag Ray's way. Whether it was a lithograph of Mickey's official 60th anniversary portrait (which then showed the Mouse posing in front of the exact same picture of EPCOT Center that Bradbury had been photographed in front of) or the lithograph that Harry N. Abrams had created back in 1973 to celebrate the publication of "The Art of Walt Disney."


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

What's great about the above Al Hirschfeld-produced litho is that it apes one that the King of Caricature did in 1962 to pay tribute to the famed Algonquin Roundtable. Only this time around, you don't have Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield and Frank Case lurking in the background.


Copyright Al Hirschfeld Group. All rights reserved

But rather Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov, a very young Walt Disney ...


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

... and Annette Funicello are looking on as Mickey, Donald & Pluto sit in for Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and George S. Kaufman.


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

Anyway ... The Imagineers did this all the time for Mr. Bradbury. Gifting him with things to let him know how special he was to WED, how much this man & his writings meant to their collective creative community. Take -- for example -- this poster for Disneyland Paris' Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune.


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

Tim Delaney (i.e., the then-Vice President of Show Design at Walt Disney Imagineering. Not to mention the show producer of Disneyland Paris' Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune) made a point of signing this poster before sending it off to Mr. Bradbury. I've posted a photo of that inscription below ...


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

... which reads:

Ray,

I dedicated Paris' Space Mountain to my favorite visionaries - Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury. Thanks for being in my life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  -- Tim Delaney

Insert Bradbury 39. jpeg here -- Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So how do I know all of these stories about Ray's dealings with Disney? Well, I'm not just a Mouse House historian. I'm also a lover of Bradbury's work. Which is why -- earlier this week -- I found myself thumbing through the online catalog that Nate D. Sanders has created for his auction of the Ray Bradbury estate.


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

Nate has put together 462 lots loaded with absolutely amazing items. Things that Ray himself kept around his desk and/or had on display in his home to help inspire him. Me personally, I'm just hoping that someone bids on Lot 456. Which is a bunch of hats that Ray personally owned. Just so this particular set of Halloween-themed set of Mouse Ears can then be worn by someone willing to visit Disneyland Park ...


Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders. All rights reserved

... so that a little bit of Ray can make one last trip to see the Halloween Tree.

Nate D. Sanders' auction of the Ray Bradbury estate ends on Thursday, September 25th at 5 p.m. PT.

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