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Is Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland" movie about that "UFOs are real" TV show which Walt Disney Productions almost made back in the 1950s?

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Is Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland" movie about that "UFOs are real" TV show which Walt Disney Productions almost made back in the 1950s?

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For  three weeks now, photos of a mysterious bankers box have been making the rounds on the Web. Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof reportedly deliberately put these images out there to help whet people's appetites for "Tomorrowland," the sci-fi -themed project that these two wrote which is based on a concept that Lindelof and "Entertainment Weekly" writer Jeff Jensen originally came up with.

"So what's this motion picture actually supposed to be about?," you ask. Well, as Matthew Jackson recounted in his October 2012 article for Blastr, "Tomorrowland" 's origin can be traced back to ...

... a 2011 meeting between Lindelof and Disney exec Sean Bailey. During that meeting, Bailey apparently brought out a box dating back to the days of WED Enterprises, Walt Disney's personal development lab that later gave birth to Disney's "Imagineers." The box was originally labeled "That Darn Cat ," but had been relabeled "1952." Inside were materials related to some long since abandoned Disney project (maybe a movie, maybe a ride) about aliens.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Earlier this week over on the D23 website, Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline took a closer look at that photograph of the contents of this box which Brad & Damon had put out there. And she then identified several specific items which I've highlighted below:

  • On the top there are some old photos. The three that I can see are of Walt with visitors, probably taken here at the studio. The one on top is in our photo collection and I was able to identify the man with him as Major Woodlief of the U.S. Army Reserve General Fund. It was taken in September 1943.

  • There is a blue paperback book in the box.

  • The magazine that appears along with this curious collection of documents and objects provides more clues. It is a copy of the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories from August 1928.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

  • There are two slide boxes in the box, one features the Technicolor logo; the writing on the other white slide box is indecipherable.

  • There is a 45 rpm record that appears to be a master disc. It is probably from the '40s or early '50s (these type of records pre-date magnetic tape recording). It's definitely not the kind of record that is pressed and sold to the public. Unfortunately, its handwritten label is too blurry to decipher.

So let's review those clues again. We have a picture of Walt Disney meeting with a senior U.S. military official. We have a blue book. We have a science fiction magazine entitled "Amazing Stories." And we have a mystery box with a "1952" label stuck on its side that's filled with photographs & recordings from the late 1940s / early 1950s.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To borrow a phrase that's heard most every night on "Wheel of Fortune," "I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat." Based on the evidence in this photograph as well as info that has previously leaked out about this Brad Bird / Damon Lindelof project, I believe that "Tomorrowland" has something to do with Project Blue Book, the program that the U.S. Air Force launched in late 1952 / early 1953 for the investigation of unidentified flying objects.

And to now get really, really specific here, I believe that this upcoming Walt Disney Pictures release (which is due to hit theaters on December 19, 2014) uses a  behind-the-scenes story that the late Ward Kimball loved to tell as its jumping-off point. Where -- during the mid-1950s -- the U.S. government supposedly approached Walt Disney and then asked for his help in producing a TV show that would eventually be used to break the news to the American public that UFOS are real.

Which -- I know -- sounds kind of bizarre. But you have to remember that -- back during World War II -- Walt Disney Studios made all sorts of training films for the U.S. military. And many of these movies made use of classified material. And given the care & discretion that Disney staffers had shown while working on these super-secret training films ... Well, it would only stand to reason that -- were military officials looking for someone in Hollywood to help produce a television program of a highly sensitive nature which would then have to be shot in utter secrecy ... Given that the brass at the Pentagon already had this history / working relationship with Walt, it would only make sense that they'd reach out to Walt Disney Productions when it came to a super-secret project like this.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I know, I know. This all sounds rather far fetched. But you have to understand -- when it comes to the really-for-real history of The Walt Disney Company during the mid-1950s -- truth is often stranger than fiction. Take -- for example -- the stories that Ward Kimball used to tell about his interaction with senior military officials while he was working on those "Man in Space" episodes for the "Disneyland" TV series.

FYI: If you'd like to read an exact transcript of this UFO-related, you can find it in Volume 11 of  "Walt's  People." Which is Didier Ghez's excellent series of books which has made hundreds of rare interviews with Disney Legends available to the general public to read.

Anyway ... The interview that we're talking about today was done by noted animation historian John Canemaker. And as Ward was talking with John, Kimball recalled the time when he was working with German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun on three space travel-themed episodes of the "Disneyland" television series. Which -- just to re-enforce the connective tissue here between the way-out story that Ward loved to tell and the film that Brad & Damon are now making -- that trio of episodes (i.e. "Man in Space," "Man and the Moon" and "Mars and Beyond") -- were initially presented to the public under that TV show's "Tomorrowland" banner.

Copyright 2012 Xlibris Corp. All rights reserved

When "Man in Space" -- the first of these Tomorrowland inspired episodes -- aired on ABC back in March of 1955, it racked up enormous ratings. Over 42 million people tuned in to watch this  speculative documentary about how man might eventually travel into space. In fact, to hear some members of the Eisenhower administration talk, this particular episode of the "Disneyland" television show actually played a key role in America's decision to finally enter the space race.

Anywho ... Getting back now to those ridiculously  high ratings that the initial airing of "Man in Space" racked up. As  Kimball recounted to Canemaker, this ...

... did not go unnoticed by Al Meyers and (Edward) Heinemann, two big shots in Douglas Aircraft, plus George Hoover, who was head of the office of naval research. (They) came to me and wanted Disney to do a UFO picture.

Ward Kimball introducing the "Man in Space" episode of the
"Disneyland" TV show. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

(These three) all knew that UFOs were for real. They had proof, they had everything. And I said, "Sure." I'd been collecting material on UFOs for years anyway, and I had a cupboard full of stuff there. Every report and all the books, you name it. I was a student of Charles Fort, and that was my dream to end the ("Disneyland" television series of outer space documentaries) with (a fourth film about UFOs).

Walt sort of went along with it. But we never had any payoff footage. You've got to end up that last ten minutes with some real stuff.

Our disappointment came when we talked to Colonel Miranda from the Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base]. Bill Bosché (i.e. the writer that Walt had assigned to work with Ward on these outer space documentaries for the "Disneyland" television series) never believed in UFOs even though Clyde Tombaugh, the guy that discovered the planet Pluto, had seen four or five in Arizona  ... 

The commissary at Walt Disney Studios in the late 1940s / early
1950s. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So we're having lunch with this Colonel Miranda over in the commissary, and he, at Wright-Patterson, had all the footage shot from fighter pilots, everything, and most of it classified. He told us what we could have for our picture and what we couldn't have.

And so Bosché ... He gets a smile on his face and he says, "What about flying saucers? I don't suppose you have anything on that?"  (And then Miranda replies by saying) "Oh, hundreds of feet!" (And) Old Bosché looked like he'd faint.

(The Colonel continues by saying) "We've got all sorts of film that we can't show you, it's secret, and it's going to remain classified until we can take one apart and analyze it."

File photograph from one of Project Blue Book's public meetings

And he [Bosché] says, "Well, how come?" And that's when (Miranda) taught us our lesson, he says, "Look! Everyone would ask the Air Force, 'What are these things?' And if we couldn't answer that question, we would be in trouble. We could have a war start. They would accuse the Russians of doing it, they're ahead of us." He went through a whole line of reasons why this couldn't be divulged.

(Which was endlessly frustrating for Kimball. Especially since the Colonel then went on to say that)  "We have shots (of UFOS) taken from gun cameras, we have beautiful footage. We've got 'em all shapes and size, port holes, lights ...  (But) We don't know what they are yet. Until we can dissect (one), and give a reasonable explanation without our society coming unglued, we can't. It's going to remain classified."

Which kind of drove Kimball nuts. Given that Ward had already done a lot of the research necessary for this proposed fourth outer space documentary for the "Disneyland" TV series.  As Kimball recalled to Canemaker:

Do these Egyptian hieroglyphics depict unidentified flying objects?

And I had everything up to the last ten minutes (of that show) ... We had these drawings that people have made (of)  the spaceships that had passed for a good part of a day over the Egyptian army in Egypt in 2000 B.C. They described the stench and the fumes, the whole thing; it was even done in hieroglyphics. We wanted to bring that to life (through animation). Great thing, you know. Pictorially, it (would have been)  a wonderful thing to do.

But without the last 10 minutes of that show, which was to have featured the Air Force's footage proving that UFOs were in fact real ... This proposed fourth installment of the outer space documentary series just had no pay-off.

So what if the contents of this "1952" box that we've all seen around the Web over the past three weeks was all of that research material which Ward supposedly pulled together for this never-produced fourth "Man in Space" episode? And what if someone working at Walt Disney Studios today were to have suddenly come across this stuff? A box full of slides & recordings which proved that the Company had, back in the 1950s, almost made a television show that would have proven to the American people that UFOs are real? Wouldn't that be a great MacGuffin to build a motion picture around?

"Tomorrowland" writer / producer Damon Lindelof

There's only one problem with this theory.  Given the numerous questions that Damon Lindelof had been getting about the mysterious contents of this "1952" box and what they all might possibly mean, he took to Twitter back on January 28th to say:

[Brad and I] won't tell you what [our movie is] about (yet), but we will tell you what it's NOT about. And that would be ALIENS. #Tomorrowland

Of course, if "Tomorrowland" does in fact touch on the history of Project Blue Book (i.e. that investigative group which the U.S. Air Force set up in early 1953 after UFOs had repeatedly been seen in the night sky over Washington DC during the Summer of 1952), wouldn't it stand to reason that -- were Damon looking to throw would-be cinema sleuths off the scent here --  Lindelof would then channel his inner Air Force Officer and, in the spirit of Project Blue Book, insist that "Tomorrowland" had absolutely nothing to do with aliens?

Cover of an actual Project Blue Book report

That said, to give Damon some plausible deniability to this scenario, please note that -- in his posting on Twitter -- Lindelof said that "Tomorrowland" is not about ALIENS. At no time does Damon say that this December 2014 Walt Disney Pictures release isn't investigating the possible existence of unidentified flying objects.

Okay. That's a fine distinction to make. But it is worth noting.

It's also worth noting here that -- right after he graduated from the California Institute of the Arts -- Brad Bird's very first job in animation was at Walt Disney Studios. Where Brad worked (albeit briefly) on WDAS's 1981 release, "The Fox and the Hound ."

Brad Bird behind the camera onset for "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost
Protocol." Copyright 2011 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

And given what Walt Disney Productions was like back during those pre-Michael Eisner days (i.e. a smallish movie studio whose best years really seemed to be behind it. A sleepy collection of 1940s-era administrative buildings & soundstages hidden behind high walls in the quiet corner of Burbank) ... It's not all hard to imagine that a young Brad Bird might have spent a lot of his free time wandering the halls of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Maybe opening a few closets and coming across a couple of bankers boxes just  like the one that he & Damon Tweeted pictures of back in late January.

More to the point, Brad did actually know Ward. In the foreword that Bird wrote for Amid Amidi's yet-to-be-released biography of Kimball, "Full Steam Ahead: The Life and Art of Ward Kimball" (Chronicle Books, Summer 2013), he mentions that ...

Over the years I saw Kimball at various events and talked to him many times ...

Copyright 2013 Chronicles Books. All rights reserved

So who knows? Maybe Ward himself told Brad about Disney's never-produced "UFOs are real" television show? And maybe Bird then shared this story with Lindelof?

Either way, given the specific items that Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline spotted in that bankers box as well as that Sean Bailey / long lost WED box story that Matthew Jackson shared with Blastr readers back in October of last year, I'm thinking that -- at this point -- the evidence at hand  strongly suggests that this soon-to-begin-shooting George Clooney movie is going to be using this seemingly forgotten, fantastic piece of Walt Disney Company history as the jumping-off point for a brand-new sci-fi adventure.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But what do you folks think? Have I properly interpreted the clues that Damon & Brad have placed before us? Or do you have a theory of your own what "1952 / Tomorrowland" might be about?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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  • Re Damon Lindelof deniying it being about aliens... NEVER forget about his show LOST, which regularly denied the cast were all ghosts/dead, when the end came, that is exactly what they were!

  • In the same vain, how about that TERRIBLE aliens-are-real-umentary hosted by Eisner that was aired in '93 or so to commemorate WDW's new tomorrowland? Is there some unspoken E.T. fascination within the D corp that we must have overlooked for the past 20 years?

  • In the box, the object below the slide box in the lower right appears to be a vernier nozzle, one of the small steering rockets off a larger craft.

  • Even if it doesn't assume real aliens, the idea of a Disney project to prepare the public could be a dandy movie -- perhaps even a comedy. Years ago read about a televangelist planning live coverage of the rapture, which he expected imminently, and having surreal meetings with his staff to discuss the technical aspects.

    Better yet, what if the government wanted Disney to create a film that explained mankind TO the aliens?

  • Obviously just a grand PR stunt that they knew would go viral to start building interest in the movie.  What no one seems to be mentioning is that 1952 (July to be exact) was when there was supposedly UFO's over Washington, D.C.  So in a way I think Jim is right that somehow it is all tied into the UFO, Man in Space, Ward Kimball story, etc. Exactly how is the big question.

  • Let's not forget, Brad Bird is no stranger to making movies about aliens of mysterious origin landing on Earth in the 1950s...

  • Could you imagine if Jim has this right, and they can get Tom Hanks to do a cameo as Walt in the film.

  • I clicked on my Amazon bookmarked link to the Ward Kimball biography and it's no longer listed.  Nor is it listed at Chronicle Publishing.  Has Disney killed the book?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think that "killed" is the proper term for what's been going on with Amid's Ward Kimball bio. Long story short: Mr. Amidi & Chronicle Books wants to use some Disney art as illustrations for "Full Steam Ahead." Folks on the contracts side of things at Disney Publishing will only grant Amidi & the crew at Chronicle Books permission to use this artwork *IF* they make certain changes to the manuscript of this book. According to blog posts that Amid made over on CartoonBrew.com back in November of last year, among the changes that Disney Publishing is asking for is the removal of stories that touch on Ward's youthful (as in: when this Disney Legend was 11) because these tales aren't Disney enough.

    As you might expect, Mr. Amidi and the folks at Chronicle Books think that the changes to "Full Steam Ahead" that the contracts team at Disney has been requesting are silly and basically amount to censorship. Meanwhile the folks at Disney Publishing have reportedly dug in their heels. And unless the changes that they request are made to Amid's manuscript, they're not going to give Chronicle Books permission to use official Disney Company artwork as illustrations for "Full Steam Ahead." And since these illustrations are considered absolutely essential when it comes to the telling of Ward Kimball's life story ... Well, things are kind of at a stalemate right now. And no one knows when or if  the publication of"Full Steam Ahead" will go forward at this point.

    Mind you, Amid & I exchanged e-mails about this book late last month. And at that time, Mr. Amidi said that " ... negotiations continue on the Kimball book." So maybe Amid, Chronicle Books and Disney Publishing will eventually be able to sort this all out. I certainly hope so. Given the stellar work that Mr. Amidi has done with his previous animation history books (i.e. "Cartoon Modern," "Inside UPA" and "The Art of Pixar" to name just a few), I'm sure that "Full Steam Ahead" is not only going to be a fantastic read but that this new Chronicle Book is then going to go straight into my Disney reference library. Because I'll undoubtedly be pulling stories and anecdotes out of this yet-to-officially-be-published book for JHM & HuffPost articles for years yet to come.

    So all I can tell you, Lou, is that have a little patience and to keep checking back with Amazon.com & Chronicle Books. Hopefully at some point Mr. Amidi and the contracts side of Disney Publishing will be able to come to some sort of amiable resolution. And then -- at that point -- Amid & Chronicle Books will get the rights to use those pieces of official Disney art as illustrations for "Full Steam Ahead." And publication of this Ward Kimball biography can then finally go forward.

  • This is the exact theory I had about it. It threw me off when I read about Lindelof's tweet. It could be about UFOs and not who's driving them.

  • But why did they photoshop Walt's head onto this picture of Cary Grant and Amelia Earhart?: awesomepeoplehangingouttogether.tumblr.com/.../cary-grant-and-amelia-earhart

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I can't get the photo that you're talking about here to open. But that "Awesome people hanging together" tumblr site is great fun to poke around in. There's some really fun photographs to be found there

  • Here's another link to the Grant/Earhart photo: oldhollywood.tumblr.com/.../144873836

  • I think they are intending to say that the Grant/Earhart picture over on tumblr was edited and the one in the box above is Disney and Earhart.

    Looks similar. And would certainly lends credence to the whole Flying Objects story, Unidentified or otherwise.

  • The premise of the movie could be about humans from the far future of Earth who have been travelling back in time to during the 1940s and 50s on exploratory missions and then somehow a person or group of people from the present get transported (from the Disneyland site known as "Tomorrowland" to that future place, a place where human civilization has been transformed beyond our wildest imagination, a place that some may describe as an actual Tomorrowland.

  • More research on that doctored Walt Disney/Cary Grant/Amelia Earhart. It was taken as part of promotional materials for the 1935 film "Wings of the Dark" starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy (who was also there that day in other pics). It seems that they are pointing towards Amelia Earhart, perhaps the little believed but turned into a Star Trek episode theory that Amelia was kidnapped by aliens???


  • Peter Taylor wrote:

    "Re Damon Lindelof denying it being about aliens... NEVER forget about his show LOST, which regularly denied the cast were all ghosts/dead, when the end came, that is exactly what they were!"

    That is incorrect -- for Seasons 1-5, and the real-time" episodes of Season 6... they were indeed alive.

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