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Never mind about Meryl & Emma. What about Julie & Audrey’s epic battle for Best Actress back in 1965?



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Okay. I know. You’re feeling kind of blue because members of the Academy didn’t show “Saving Mr. Banks” all that much love last week. There’s also a number of you out there who are really, really angry at Meryl Streep right now. Mostly because you believe that her ill-considered remarks at the National Board of Review awards gala is what wound up costing Emma Thompson a Best Actress nomination.

Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson at the 2014 Board of National Review Awards Gala

Well, look. As I already proved with last week’s “Wizard of Oz” article, I wasn’t all that thrilled with Meryl calling Walt “a hideous anti-Semite,” a “gender bigot” as well as a person who “didn’t trust women or cats.” But that said, I also don’t think that Streep’s comments at this awards dinner wound up costing Emma an Oscar nomination.

“And why is that?,” you ask. Because the dates don’t line up. To explain: Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences could start voting on their choices for Oscar nominees on Friday, December 27th. Meryl gave her ill-conceived speech on the night of Tuesday, January 7th. And then voting closed for this year’s Oscar nominees on Wednesday, January 8th at 5 p.m. PT.

You get what I’m saying here? Given that there were less than 20 hours between when Ms. Streep spoke at that awards gala and when voting for this year’s Oscar nominees officially closed, it’s doubtful that Meryl’s comments about Walt could have had all that big an impact on the vote. After all, the nearly 6000 members of the Academy had already had 12 days to cast their ballots prior to this point. So it stands to reason that most members had already made up their mind about “Saving Mr. Banks” prior to the social media firestorm that erupted in the wake of Streep’s speech. Or — for that matter — the second wave of online outrage that followed when Abigail Disney jumped on Facebook & then insisted that Meryl Streep was right about her grand uncle.

Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn backstage at the 1965 Academy Awards in front of the Hollywood press corps. Copyright AMPAS. All rights reserved

Still, all of this talk of one actress possibly costing another an Oscar nomination reminds me of what happened back in February 1965. When the Los Angeles Times actually ran a banner headline on its front page which read “”JULIE ANDREWS CHOSEN, AUDREY HEPBURN OMITTED” on the day when the Academy Award nominations for “Mary Poppins ” & “My Fair Lady ” were announced.

Nearly a half century later, few film fans can recall the outrage that ensued when Jack L. Warner announced that — rather than Julie Andrews — he had cast Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza Doolittle in his studio’s $12 million production of “My Fair Lady” (which — at that time — made this movie musical the most expensive motion picture ever produced).

Mind you, back in June of 1961 when Warner initially snatched the screen rights for this Tony Award-winning musical away from MGM for $5.5 million, Jack was still open to the idea of hiring Julie. In  “Audrey Hepburn” (Putnum Adult, October 1996) ” — Barry Paris talks about how Warner & Andrews initially spoke on the phone about this project.

Copyright Putnum Adult. All rights reserved

“I’d love to do it,” she reportedly told him. “When do we start?” Warner asked when she could come out for a screen test, to which Andrews replied, “Screen test? You’ve seen me do the part and you know I can do a good job.” He said, “Miss Andrews, you’re only known in London and New York. I have to be sure you photograph and project well. Film is a different medium.”

So sometime in 1962, Julie supposedly flew out to LA and screen-tested for the role of Eliza Doolittle. And according to Hollywood legend, this test did not go well. What exactly went wrong? Well, to be blunt, even back when she was playing this part on Broadway, Julie found portraying Eliza tremendously challenging. As Matthew Kennedy revealed in “Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s ” (Oxford University Press, January 2014), Ms. Andrews felt that …

“I never quite got that part under control.”

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in the original Broadway production of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady”

Which is why Julie …

… was never costar Rex Harrison’s first choice on stage or screen. He found her wooden, and (“My Fair Lady” stage director) Moss Hart shouted insults to that effect in rehearsals.

Which is why — when Walt Disney went backstage after a performance of “Camelot ” to offer Andrews the role of “Mary Poppins” — Leonard Mosley, in “Disney’s World ” (Scarborough House, October 1990) reported that …

Julie Andrews as Queen Guinevere in Lerner & Loewe’s “Camelot”

… Julie hesitated. Though (Walt) did not realize it at the time, she had lost her nerve, particularly about starring in the movies. After her triumph on the stage opposite Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady,” she had done a test for Warner Brothers, who proposed to make a film version of the musical, and it had turned out badly. Someone told her that she was unphotogenic. As a result, there was a strong rumor around that Warner would give the Eliza Doolittle role to Audrey Hepburn instead, and a depressed Julie had become convinced that she was not the cinematic type.

Once Walt realized why she was holding back, he called in (“Mary Poppins” producer Bill) Walsh and (the film’s director Robert) Stevenson and told them to offer the part to Julie Andrews without giving her a test. “To hell with screen tests,” he said. “I just know she’ll be good. She bubbles away inside like a stockpot. She has just the presence we need for the role.”

And over the next six months, Walt, Bill & Robert were eventually able to convince her that she could in fact be a movie star. Even so, when Andrews did finally agree to play Poppins, she did have …

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke shooting the “Jolly Holiday” sequence during the first week of production on Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins.” Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

… one stipulation (in her contract). If Warner Brothers did change their minds and consent to star her in “My Fair Lady,” she would be allowed to drop out of “Mary Poppins.” Walt was so sure Audrey Hepburn has already been signed for the role that he agreed.

Now what Julie didn’t understand is that … Well, if Jack Warner had gotten his way, she wouldn’t have been the only member of the Broadway cast of “My Fair Lady” who had been replaced once the cameras finally began rolling on the big screen version of this acclaimed stage musical.

You see, the movie version of “My Fair Lady” was initially supposed to have been Jack Warner’s swan song to the studio that he & his brothers had formed back in 1910. Which is why — when it came to the big screen version of this acclaimed stage musical — Jack wanted to load this project up with as many movie stars as possible.

Copyright 1942 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

So for the role of Professor Henry Higgins, Warner’s first choice was Cary Grant. Likewise for Alfred P. Doolittle (i.e., Eliza’s father), Jack wanted to cast screen legend James Cagney. And as for the guttersnipe that Higgins transformed into a duchess … Well, Warner did want Audrey Hepburn. But if she wasn’t available, Jack was ready to move to his second choice. Which was Academy Award-winner Elizabeth Taylor.

There was only one problem with Jack Warner’s plan for a star-studded version of “My Fair Lady.” The stars that he wanted to cast kept saying “No.” Take — for instance — Cary Grant. As Nancy Nelson recounts in “Evenings with Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and Those Who Knew Him Best ” (Citadel Press, December 2002) :

When Jack Warner asked Cary to do “My Fair Lady,” he said, “You don’t understand. My accent is cockney! I sound the way ‘Liza does at the beginning of the film. How could I play Henry Higgins?” Cary said, “Not only won’t I play Professor Higgins, but if Rex doesn’t, I won’t even see it.”

Cary Grant

To be fair here, in the latter part of his film career, Cary Grant turned an awful lot of great roles down. He was Jack Warner’s first choice to play Professor Harold Hill in Warner’s 1962 version of “The Music Man .” And United Artists offered Cary a million dollars to play Don Quixote in their 1972 big screen version of “Man of La Mancha .” Then in 1978, Warren Beatty did everything he come think of to try & persuade Grant to end his retirement from film-making so that he could then play Mr. Jordan in “Heaven Can Wait .” But Cary said “No” to Warren as well.

And here’s a neat bit of trivia for all you Disney fans out there: When The Walt Disney Company was getting ready to launch “The Disney Sunday Night Movie” on ABC in February of 1986, Michael Eisner felt that this TV show needed a host. So who did Disney ask? Well, as you probably guessed by now, Cary Grant was on their short list. And he — of course — said “No.” But Walter Cronkite, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and even Roy E. Disney were also approached about this part. And they all said “No” as well.

But you want to know who else was asked about whether he’d be interested in playing the exact same role that Walt Disney did on “Disneyland,” “Walt Disney Presents” and “The Wonderful World of Color” ? Tom Hanks. Seriously. 26 years before he’d actually shoot a scene for “Saving Mr. Banks” where he’d then recreate a moment where Walt Disney was introducing an episode of his Sunday night television show, Hanks was actually asked to host the 1980s version of this very same anthology series. And why did Tom turn the part? At the time, Hanks thought that he was just too young to play this role.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.” Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Getting  back to the casting of Warner Brothers’ version of “My Fair Lady” now … James Cagney turned down the part of Alfred P Doolittle for a variety of reasons. Chief among these was that Cagney had said he was officially retiring from film-making after working on “One, Two, Three ” with Billy Wilder back in 1961. But the other reason is that — having worked at Warner Brothers for the bulk of his career — James had had one too many run-ins with Jack. So as tempting as it might have been for this Academy Award-winning hoofer to get the chance to perform such boffo Broadway numbers as “With A Little Bit of Luck” & “Get Me to the Church on Time,” Cagney till said “No.”

So almost by default, Warner found himself having to cast the Broadway versions of Professor Henry Higgins & Alfred P. Doolittle in his big screen version of “My Fair Lady.” Which then made it all the more galling to the fans of the original stage version of this musical (who — let’s remember — had purchased over 32 million copies of the original cast recording of “My Fair Lady.” More to the point, this very same recording sat at No. 1 for nineteen consecutive weeks and was the best-selling album for the year in 1958. So there were obviously a lot of people out there who were familiar with / fond of Julie Andrew’s work)  when Jack decided to cast Audrey as Eliza.

Mind you, Warner had four million rgood easons to cast Hepburn instead of Andrews. According to an survey of would-be “My Fair Lady” moviegoers that the studio had commissioned, having Julie play the part of Eliza would have bumped this production’s box office potential up by a million dollars. Whereas casting Audrey — an already established movie star in that exact same role — would have supposedly translated into a $5 million bump at the box office. So strictly working off of those box office projections, casting Hepburn instead of Andrews in “My Fair Lady” made more sense. At least as far as Jack Warner was concerned.

Copyright 1964 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

So — with considerable hoopla — Warner Brothers announced that it had cast Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.” What’s more, Audrey would be paid one million dollars to play this part, while Rex Harrison would receive just $250,000 to reprise his role as Professor Henry Higgins.

But before this 15 week shoot could get underway in August of 1963, there was the matter of Audrey Hepburn’s voice to deal with. Though she had a lovely low-toned singing voice, Hepburn simply didn’t have the range that Julie Andrews did. So — in order to do justice to Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe‘s songs — it was decided that Marni Nixon would be brought in to ghost a lot of Audrey’s numbers in this movie musical.

Now these days, most Disney fans probably know Ms. Nixon for the work she did on 1998’s “Mulan ” (where Marni provided the singing voice for Grandmother Fa, the fiesty character that animation legend June Foray then did the talking for). But back in the 1950s & 1960s, Nixon was the “Ghostess with the Mostest.” She sang for Deborah Kerr in 1956 while the film version of Rodgers & Hammerstein‘s “The King and I ” was in production. And in 1961, when Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins were shooting the movie version of “West Side Story ” all over New York City, it was Marni who got behind the mike and then did the warbling for both Natalie Wood & Rita Moreno.

“The King and I” star Deborah Kerr and her vocal ghost Marni Nixon

So as you can see, by the early 1960s, Nixon had kind of made a name for herself. She was the singer that you turned to if your star wasn’t quite up the challenge of performing all of the songs that were featured in your film. And the best part about Marni is that she was discreet. Nixob slipped in the recording studio, dubbed the necessary numbers and then stepped back into the shadows. Which guaranteed that your movie’s star would then get all sorts of accolades fore her beautiful singing voice when your film finally opened in theaters.

Mind you, if you listen close to the movie soundtrack of “My Fair Lady,” you can clearly hear some of Hepburn’s singing in this film. As André Previn (who adapted Lerner & Loewe’s score for the screen) told Barry Paris:

There’s a lot of Audrey Hepburn in “Just You Wait, ‘enry ‘Iggins,” Every time it was humanly feasible, I would cut her into the finished track. In “Loverly,” there are a couple of things, on and off in “Show Me,” we used as much as we could.

Copyright 1964 CBS. All rights reserved

And Hepburn — being the pro that she was — was very philosophical when it came to Nixon having to cover for her on “My Fair Lady.” Marni — again talking with Barry Paris — recalled working side-by-side with Audrey at that film’s recording sessions, where the actress wouldthen  turn to Nixon and say:

“I know this is not good enough, I want to keep trying myself,” but (Hepburn) had to accept that (her singing) wasn’t quite what it should be.

But given that Marni had been sworn to secrecy about all of her dubbing work on “My Fair Lady,” this shouldn’t have been an issue with moviegoers. Except that — in the weeks between “Mary Poppins” ‘s world premiere on August 1964 and “My Fair Lady” ‘s world premiere in late October of that same year — word did begin to circulate in show business circles about how little singing Audrey Hepburn actually wound up doing in this Warner Brothers production.

Audrey Hepburn and Jeremy Brett performing “Show Me” in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.” Copyright 1964 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

And once word got out about Marni’s dubbing, many columnists in Hollywood used this as an excuse to attack Audrey’s performance in “My Fair Lady.” As Barry Paris recounted in his Hepburn bio:

“With Marni Mixon doing the singing,” wrote Hedda Hopper. “Audrey Hepburn gives only a half performance.” Others criticized not so much the dubbing itself as the fact that Nixon received no screen credit for it and the implication that Warner Brothers was trying to hide the truth. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Jack Warner replied. “We’ve been doing it for years. We even dubbed Rin-Tin Tin.”

Which brings us back to February of 1965 when that year’s Academy Award nominees were announced. And when Hepburn’s name was nowhere to be found among that year’s Best Actress nominees, “Variety” was very straightforward as to why Audrey hadn’t gotten a nod:

Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn and Wilfrid-Hyde White performing “The Rain in Spain” in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.” Copyright 1964 Warner Bros. All rights reserved

“Hepburn did the acting, Marni Nixon subbed for her in the singing department and that’s what undoubtedly led to her (not getting a nomination).”

As you might expect, when word broke about Hepburn’s omission, the folks at Warner Bros. were livid. As Barry Paris reported:

Warner called (Audrey not being nominated) “outrageous” and took (her omission) as a personal affront. In typically quirky fashion, he thought it was due to the quality of Nixon’s singing and released a statement saying, “The next time we have some star-dubbing to do, we’ll hire Maria Callas.” Julie (Andrews), when tracked down by the press, said “I think that Audrey should have been nominated. I’m very sorry that she wasn’t.” Rex Harrison said the same.

André Previn and Audrey Hepburn on the cover of his “My Fair Lady” -inspired jazz album. Copyright CBS. All rights reserved

Now comes the interesting question. Which is who exactly leaked the news that Marni Nixon had ghosted most of Audrey Hepburn’s singing in “My Fair Lady” ? For decades, Nixon was the one who got the blame for this leak. As André Previn told Barry Paris:

“Marni blabbed all over town that she was going to more or less ‘save’ the movie. George Cukor (i.e. the director of the film version of ‘My Fair Lady’), who along with all of us worshipped Audrey got very angry. He (reportedly told Nixon), ‘Listen, you’re getting a lot of money for this and you’re going to get a lot of money from the recording. Why don’t you shut up about it?’ “

But to this day, Marni Nixon insisted that she wasn’t the one who let the cat out of the bag. I mean, to hear her talk about “My Fair Lady,” you’d swear that she is still …

Copyright 2006 Billboard Books. All rights reserved

… upset that people thought Audrey didn’t nominated because I did the dubbing and [that] I was purposefully trying to push that knowledge out.

Truth be told, if there was anyone who leaked that Marni was doing most of Audrey’s singing in “My Fair Lady,” it was probably one or more of Julie Andrews’ show business buddies.  As Bob Paris pointed out in “Audrey Hepburn” :

No one particularly cared when Nixon (had) dubbed Deborah Kerr or Natalie Wood; but they cared when she dubbed Hepburn, considering it insult to injury of depriving Andrews of her rightful role. In any case, the beneficiary of the dubbing fracas was Julie Andrews (herself), now the highly favored Oscar nominee for her performance in … Mary Poppins.

Copyright 1990 Scarborough House. All rights reserved

And Julie … Well, she clearly enjoyed pulling Jack Warner’s chain when it came to him not casting her as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” Take — for example — this story that Leonard Mosley shares in “Disney’s World” :

At a celebratory dinner (following the world premiere of “Mary Poppins,” producer) Bill Walsh introduced a happy Julie Andrews to Jack Warner. “Dear Mr. Warner!” Julie gushed. “Did you know I had a clause in my Disney contract allowing me to drop out of Mary Poppins if you chose me for Eliza Doolittle? How thoughtful of you not to allow to do it and picking dear Audrey instead! I’ll never forget you for giving me this chance!”

Andrews even made a point of bringing this casting issue up again at the 1965 Academy Award ceremony. Where backstage after she’d won that year’s Best Actress Oscar, as she was chatting with reporters, Julie supposedly held the statue aloft and — with tongue firmly in cheek — was alleged to have said: “My thanks to Mr. Jack L. Warner, who made this all possible.”

(L to R) Richard M Sherman, Julie Andrews and Robert B Sherman with the Oscars that they won at the 1965 Academy Awards. Copyright AMPAS. All rights reserved

Looking back on this pivotal moment in her career nearly three decades later, Andrews had to admit that:

“I’ll never know to this day whether it was sentiment (over Audrey being cast as Eliza instead of me) that won (that Oscar) for me or whether the performance in ‘Poppins’ really did,” she said in 1993, adding with a smile, “I think it was sentiment, myself.”

It’s worth noting here that — when Rex Harrison won for his performance in “My Fair Lady” that same night — he was diplomatic as he could possibly be. First by saying that ” … I feel, in a way, that I should split (this statue) in half” so that he then could then share this professional recognition with Audrey Hepburn. But that said, recognizing that he had to do something to acknowledge Julie’s win as Best Actress, Rex closed out his remarks by admitting he had “… deep love for two fair ladies.” With the TV camera then cutting away to Julie Andrews in the audience, beaming & applauding as Harrison exited the stage.

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison backstage at the 1965 Academy Awards with their Oscars. Copyright AMPAS. All rights reserved

Now where this gets interesting is — in the wake of all this brouhaha which erupted when Julie Andrews wasn’t cast to play Eliza Doolittle alongside Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins — Hollywood then went into overdrive looking for projects that these performers could then co-star in. Take — for example — MGM’s musical remake of their 1939 Academy Award-winner, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” This production was originally envisioned as the film that would finally bring Andrews & Harrison together onscreen.

But when preproduction problems delayed the development of this MGM musical … Well, as Mark Harris revealed in his “Pictures at the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood ” (Penguin Press, February 2008)

Julie Andrews … had been (producer) Arthur Jacobs‘s first choice for (“Doctor) Dolittle ” ‘s female lead

Copyright 1967 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved

Now where this gets even stranger is when Andrews became unavailable to do “Dolittle,” Jacobs then turned to another veteran Disney Studios performer, the then-19 years-old Hayley Mills, and offered her the part of Harrison’s love interest. Thankfully, it was eventually decided that the nearly 40 year age difference between Hayley & Rex would be just a little hard for audiences to swallow. So Mills was replaced by the then-28 year-old Samantha Eggar. Who went on play the role of Emma Fairfax in “Doctor Dolittle.”

Which isn’t to say that Julie Andrews never had anything to do with “Doctor Dolittle.” How many of you recall the stage version of this Leslie Bricusse musical which ran in London’s West End for a year back in 1998? Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created all sorts of animatronic animals for Phillip Schofield (who played the Doctor in the stage adaptation of that 20th Century Fox film) to interact with. And who precorded dialogue for Polynesia the Parrot (i.e. that wise old bird who taught Doctor Dolittle to talk to the animals)? You guessed it. Julie Andrews.

That pretty much wraps up the “Mary Poppins” / “My Fair Lady” movie story. Except for this interesting bit of video from the debut of “The Julie Andrews Hour,” a short lived variety show that began its run on ABC back on September 13, 1972. In this footage, you actually get to see Julie Andrews AND Eliza Doolittle AND Mary Poppins all together in the exact same scene. And let me blunt here: Mary & Eliza don’t exactly get along.


Anyway … Compared to what Audrey Hepburn & Julie Andrews went through back in the late Winter / early Spring of 1965, what Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson are dealing with right now is pretty much a walk in the park.

That said, I have to admit that I find it kind of intriguing that — while Thompson didn’t get a Best Actress nomination for “Saving Mr. Banks” — both Meryl Streep & Judi Dench did.

“And what’s so intriguing about that?,” you ask. Well, back in February of 2012, when The Walt Disney Company first acquired Kelly Marcel‘s screenplay for “Saving Mr. Banks,” who were the three actresses on Disney Studio’s short list for P L Travers? Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep and Judi Dench.

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in “Philomena.” Copyright 2013 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved

Mind you, Dame Judi (because she already physically resembled Pamela) was initially thought to have the inside track. But then someone at the Studio supposedly pointed out that Dench was only 5 foot 1 whereas Tom Hanks was 6 foot even. And given these performers’ differences in height … Well, if Walt were towering over Pamela, it might then seem as though the Company’s founder was using his physical advantage over this troublesome author to bully her into signing away the screen rights to “Mary Poppins.” Which is why Walt Disney Pictures supposedly opted to go with Emma Thompson. Who — given that she’s 5 foot 7 — would then be a better physical match for Mr. Hanks.

Anyway, that’s the story as I was told by studio insiders earlier this year.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Film & Movies

Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?



Will Metro Ever Get Made?
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First came “Cars” in June of 2006.

This Pixar Animation Studios production did so well (Of all the high grossing films released that year, “Cars” was No. 2 at the box office. Only “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” sold more tickets in 2006) that Disney execs asked John Lasseter to develop a sequel.

“Cars 2” came out in June of 2011 and also did quite well at the box office (It took the No. 7 slot in the Top-Ten-for-ticket-sales that year). Which is why Disney then asked Pixar to prep a follow-up film.

“Cars 3” would eventually arrive in theaters in June of 2017. But in the meantime, Disney & Pixar began exploring the idea of expanding this film franchise. Largely because the amount of money that the Mouse was making off of the sales of “Cars” -related merchandise was … To be blunt here, mind boggling.

Don’t believe me? Well, then consider this: In just the first five years that the “Cars” film franchise existed, global retail sales of merchandise related to these Pixar movies approached $10 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”

So is it any wonder that – while Pixar was still trying to get a handle on what “Cars 3” would actually be about – the Mouse (through its DisneyToon Studios arm. Which produced home premieres like those “TinkerBell” movies) began actively looking into ways to expand this lucrative franchise?

“Planes” – The First “Cars” Spin-Off

The first “Cars” spin-off to arrive in the marketplace was “Planes.” This Klay Hall film (which was set in “The World Above Cars”) was released theatrically in August of 2013, with the Blu-ray & DVD version of “Planes” hitting store shelves in November of that same year.

“Planes: Fire and Rescue” followed in the Summer of 2014. And while a “Planes 3” was definitely put in development (At the Disney Animation panel at the 2017 D23 Expo, John Lasseter not only shared a clip from this film. But he also revealed that this project – which, at that time, was entitled “Space” – was slated to be released theatrically in April of 2019) … This animated feature was abruptly cancelled when DisneyToon Studios was shuttered in June of 2018.

But wait. There’s more … In addition to the aborted “Planes 3,”  Disney had other “Cars” spin-offs in the works. One was supposed to be built around boats. While yet another was supposed to have shined a spotlight on trucks.

“Metro” – The World Below Cars

And then there was “Metro.” Which was supposed to have been set in the inner city and focused on what went on in “The World Below Cars.” As in: Down in the subway system.

Just in the past week or so, a few pieces of concept art for “Metro” have surfaced online. Giving us all an intriguing look at what might have been. These preproduction paintings suggest that this “Cars” spin-off would be far grittier than … Say … the sort of adventures that Lightning McQueen & Mater would typically have out in Radiator Springs.

Metro - Cars Spin-Off Movie Poster
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney

That said, it’s worth noting here that – just in the past year or so – we’ve seen Disney & Pixar attempt to expand the turf that these two characters could comfortably cover. Take – for example — “Cars on the Road,” that nine-part series which debuted on Disney+ back in September of last year. This collection of animated shorts literally sent Lightning McQueen & Mater off on a road trip.

So who knows?

Given that Bob Iger (at Disney’s quarterly earnings call held earlier this week) revealed that the Company now has sequels in the works for “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Zootopia” … Well, is it really all that far-fetched to think that – at some point further on down the road – Disney & Pixar will put yet another sequel to “Cars” in the works?

One that might send Lightning McQueen & Mater off to explore the gritty inner-city world that we glimpsed in all that concept art for “Metro,” that never-produced “Cars” spin-off.

Time will tell.

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Film & Movies

Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland



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This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.

John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.

Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.

Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.

What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.

Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

When Did Disneyland Start Opening 7-Days a Week?

It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.

Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Early Disneyland Operations – Ticket Books and Ticket Booths

So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.

So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.

Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.

Disney Parks Getting Too Expensive

Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.

Walt Fixes “Expensive” Impression

What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.

Lightning Lane – Raising Prices

Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).

And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.

Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.

“Spend Dollars to Get People Back” – Disney Cutting Corners on Projects

Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”

That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.

Disneyland Parking Closing on Mondays & Tuesdays

Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:

While the gross income of Disneyland was greater this year than in any prior year, the operating expenses for this family fun park were likewise up substantially primarily to two factors.
(1) Operating a seven-day week throughout the 1957 – 1958 week against a six-day week the year before.

(2) Increased costs due to rising salaries and the
inauguration of a 40-hour week. This resulted in lower net profits compared to the prior year.

So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.

Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.

Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:

This current year, we are operating the park during the winter months on a five-day schedule with resulting savings in operating costs and in the hope that a full week’s business can be compressed within the five days.

So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:

Again this year, as in each year since Disneyland Park first opened in 1955, new records were set for total attendance and per capita spending of park visitors.
The change to a five-day operating week during the 1958 – 1959 winter season from the seven-day schedule in effect the previous year has worked out very well. Reduced operating hours helped to control operating costs in the face of increased wage rates and other rising costs.

Making it Right for the Disneyland Hotel

Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?

What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.

It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”

Extending the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel

And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.

And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).


Magic Kingdom Golf Course at Disneyland Hotel

That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.

  • Hole No. Three was Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • Hole No. Five was Matterhorn Mountain

Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.

This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.

Additional Disneyland Hotel Expansion and Offerings

It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sort of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.

All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.

It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.

Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have ALL of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.

Walley World Shooting Locations

And back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation”… The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions.

The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track).

Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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Film & Movies

“Build It” – How the Swiss Family Treehouse Ended up in Disneyland



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Things get built at the Disney Theme Parks – but not always for the reasons that you might think.

Case in point: The Swiss Family Treehouse, which first opened at Disneyland Park back in November of 1962.

Swiss Family Robinson – 1960 Disney Film

Back then, Walt Disney Studios just had a hit film that was based on Johann David Wyss’ famous adventure novel of 1812. And at that time, Walt was justly proud of this project.

Out ahead of the release of this Ken Annakin film (Walt’s go-to director in the 1950s), Walt talked up this project in the Company’s annual report for 1959, saying that Swiss Family Robinson is …

… photographed on the island of Tobago in the West Indies and that it is shaping up into such an exciting and thrilling picture that the ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ shows every promise of equaling or surpassing every production our Company has ever put out.

Okay. Walt may have been overselling things a little here.

But when Disney’s version of Swiss Family Robinson finally arrived in theaters in December of 1960, it did quite well at the box office. It was No. 4 at the box office that year, behind “Spartacus,” “Psycho,” and “Exodus.”

And one of the main reasons that this Walt Disney Productions release did so well at the box office that year was … Well, Swiss Family Robinson looked great.

It had all of this lush shot-on-location footage (Though – to be fair here – I guess we should mention that this movie’s interiors were shot over in London at Pinewood Studios). One of the sequences from this Disney film that people most fondly remember is that montage where the Robinsons salvage what they can of their wrecked ship, the Swallow, and then use that same material to construct this amazing treehouse on an uninhabited island off the shore of New Guinea.

The Swiss Family. Robinson Tree was Real

By the way, the tree that appears in this Disney film is real. John Howell – who was the art director on “Swiss Family Robinson” – was out scouting locations for this movie in 1958. He had stopped work for the day and drinking with friends at a cricket match. When – out of the corner of his eye (through a gap in the fence that surrounded this cricket pitch) – John spied this beautiful Samaan tree with a huge 200 foot-wide canopy of leaves.

It’s still there, by the way. If you ever want to journey to the town of Goldsborough on the Caribbean island of Tobago.

Success at the Movies – Helping Disneyland Attendance

Anyway … Like I said, Disney’s movie version of Swiss Family Robinson comes out in December of 1960 and does quite well at the box office (Fourth highest grossing film of the year domestically).  Walt keenly remembers what happened when he last built an attraction at Disneyland that was based on a Ken Annakin film (Matterhorn Bobsleds inspired by Third Man on the Mountain). 1959 was Disneyland’s greatest year attendance-wise. Largely because so many people came out to the Park that Summer to experience Disneyland’s heavily hyped brand-new attractions – which included the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland

The Matterhorn at Disneyland was largely inspired by research that the Studio did in Zermatt, Switzerland in late 1957 / early 1958 out ahead of the location shooting that was done for Third Man on the Mountain – which officially got underway in June of 1958).

There’s a famous story about the origin of the Matterhorn-at-Disneyland project. Walt was over in Switzerland for the start of shooting on Third Man on the Mountain in 1958 and evidently really liked what he saw. So be bought a postcard of the actual Matterhorn and then mailed it to Dick Irvine (who – at that time – was the Company’s lead Imagineer). Beyond Dick’s address at WDI, Walt reportedly only wrote two words on this postcard.

And those words supposedly were “Build this.”

It’s now the Spring of 1961 and attendance at Disneyland Park has actually fallen off from the previous year by 200,000 people. (You can read all about this in Walt Disney Productions’ annual report for 1961. Which was published on December 14th of that year. There’s a full scan of that annual report over on And Walt now wants to turn that attendance deficit around.

So what spurred Disneyland’s attendance surge in the Summer of 1959 was Walt pumping $6 million into the place for the construction of new attractions (Matterhorn Bobsleds, Submarine Voyage, & Monorail). So that’s now the plan for 1962 & 1963. Only this time around, it’ll be $7 million worth of new attractions. More to the point, since Disneyland’s 1959 expansion project was largely focused on Tomorrowland … This time around, the work will largely be focused on the other side of the Park. To be specific, Frontierland & Adventureland.

Adventureland Upgrades

Attendance had been dropping on the Jungle River Cruise attraction because it was largely unchanged from when Disneyland Park first opened back in July of 1955.

There’s a famous story of Walt observing a Mom pulling her kid away from the entrance of the “Jungle Cruise.” Saying words to the effect “We’ve already seen that ride. We went on it the last time we went to Disneyland.” This is what then inspired Disney to develop the practice of plussing the attractions at his theme parks.

This was what led Walt to bring Marc Davis over to WED from Feature Animation in October of 1960 and effectively say “Help me make Disneyland better. Let’s look for ways to make the rides there funnier. Better staged.” This is when Marc came up with the idea for the Sacred Elephant Bathing Pool and the Africa Veldt sequences for “The Jungle Cruise.” Not to mention the Trapped Safari.

How the Trapped Safari Vignette Ended Up in “The Jungle Cruise”

Interesting story about that vignette that Marc created for “The Jungle Cruise.” It originally wasn’t supposed to be part of that ride. Guests were supposed to see it alongside the side of the tracks as they rode the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad from Main Street Station over to Frontierland. The Trapped Safari was basically supposed to be something that made Guests think “Ooh, I need to get over to Adventureland while I’m here at the Park and go check out that new, improved version of the Jungle River Cruise that everyone’s talking about.”

That was the original plan, anyway. But as soon as Walt saw Marc’s art for the Trapped Safari, he basically said “That’s too good a gag to waste on the people who are riding Disneyland’s train. That’s gotta go inside of the actual Jungle Cruise.” So – at Walt’s insistence – the Trapped Safari then became the tag gag for the African Veldt section of that Adventureland attraction.

In fact, Walt so loved this gag that – after the Africa Veldt section first opened at Disneyland Park in June of 1964 – he actually made the Imagineers go back in this portion of that Adventureland attraction and restage it. Build up the cave that was behind that pride of lions which was watching over that sleeping zebra so that the Trapped Safari would then have a stronger reveal. Would get a bigger reaction / stronger laugh largely because Guests now wouldn’t see the Trapped Safari until they then floated by the lion’s cave.

Draining Jungle River Cruise and Rivers of America

Anyway … Now what made this redo / expansion of the Jungle River Cruise complicated is that this Adventureland attraction shared a water system with the Rivers of America (Guests who were headed to Disneyland’s old Chicken Plantation Restaurant for lunch or dinner used to have to walk over a bridge in Frontierland. Under which flowed the water that traveled from the Jungle River Cruise into the Rivers of America).

If the Jungle Cruise was being drained for months so that the Imagineers could then install the Sacred Elephant Bathing Pool sequence in that Adventureland attraction, that meant the Rivers of America had to be drained as well.

Drained Jungle Cruise – Credit:

The Rivers of America were now going to be dry for months at a time from January of 1962 through June of that same year, this is when the Imagineers decided to tackle two projects that were well below Disneyland’s waterline – which was digging out the basement space in New Orleans Square (which was originally supposed to house the walk-thru tour version of “Pirates of the Caribbean”) as well as carving out that below-grade space over at the Haunted Mansion. Which was going to be necessary for the two elevators that would then make that attraction’s “stretching room” scenes possible.

While this work was being done along the shore of the Rivers of America, over towards the entrance of Adventureland, the Imagineers were reconfiguring that restaurant that faced out towards Disneyland’s Hub. They were using the temporary closure of the Jungle Cruise to revamp that operation. Carving out the space for the Tahitian Terrace as well as the Enchanted Tiki Room.

As you can see by all of the projects that I’ve just described – this was a hugely complex addition to the Parks with lots of moving parts.

This redo of Adventureland & Frontierland (which then set the stage for Disneyland’s New Orleans Square) was moving through its final design phase – the Imagineers were startled when Walt pointed to the very center of this incredibly ambitious $7 million construction project (the very spot where Adventureland bumped up against Frontierland) and said:

“Here. This is where I want you guys to build Disneyland’s version of the Swiss Family Treehouse.”

“Build It” – Swiss Family Treehouse in Disneyland

It wasn’t that easy.

The Imagineers explained “But Walt. That’s the piece of land that the pipe which connects the Jungle Cruise and the Rivers of America runs through. We’d have to rip that up and then reroute that water system.”

Walt said “I don’t care. Build it.”

The Imagineers then said “But Walt. If we built a Swiss Family Treehouse in the Park … Well, that then means a steep set of stairs first going up into that tree and then a second steep set of stairs coming down out of that tree. People aren’t going to like doing all of that climbing.”

Walt said “You’re wrong. Build it.”

Imagineers continued “An attraction like that’s only going to appeal to kids. And we’ve already got Tom Sawyer Island across the way.”

Walt “ Again, you’re wrong. Build it.

So that’s what the Imagineers did. Not happily, I might add. Because the concrete foundation that supported this six ton structure had to go down some 42 feet … Well, that totally screwed up the water system that previously connected Disneyland’s Jungle River Cruise to the Rivers of America.

Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse Construction (1962) – Credit:

And as for those steep sets of stairs … While work was underway on this 70-foot-tall faux tree, Walt persuaded Betty Taylor (who was playing Sue Foot Sue over at the Golden Horseshoe at that time) to come over to the Swiss Family Treehouse construction site one afternoon. Betty was wearing a dress and high heels at the time. But she & Walt put on hard hats. And then the two of them made multiple trips up & down the stairs that had already been installed in & around Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse. Just so Walt could then be certain that this attraction’s stairways weren’t too steep. More importantly, that they’d also be safe for ladies who were wearing skirts & dressed in heels to use.

The Opening of Swiss Family Treehouse at Disneyland

This 70-foot-tall faux tree (with its 80 foot-wide canopy of 300,000 pink plastic leaves) opened just in time for Thanksgiving of 1962. John Mills (the male lead of Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” film) was on hand for the dedication of this Adventureland attraction. FYI: He brought along his daughter, Hayley (As in Hayley Mills, the star of Disney’s “Pollyana” and “The Parent Trap”).

There’s this great 3-minutes-and-41-second video over on YouTube that shows Walt leading the Mills family (John, Hayley & Mary Mills, John’s wife) around Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse in the Fall of 1962. You can see Disney proudly showing off the elaborate water wheel system at the heart of this Adventureland attraction, which send 200 gallons of water high up into that faux tree.

How Much Did it Cost to Build the Swiss Family Treehouse at Disneyland?

Disneyland spent $254,900 on the construction of that theme park’s version of Swiss Family Treehouse. Which the Imagineers (back then, anyway) felt was money wasted. Because no one was ever going to climb up the 68 steps that then led to the three rooms in this Adventureland attraction (The parents bedroom, the boys bedroom [up in the crow’s next] and then the common area / kitchen / dining room) and then the 69 steps back down to the ground.

This is where the Imagineers were wrong.

Don’t Bet Against Walt – Success of Swiss Family Treehouse

Swiss Family Treehouse quickly became one of the more popular attractions in the Park. Back then, this Adventureland attraction was a C Ticket (35 cents apiece). And since it only took three Disneyland employees to safely staff & operate the Treehouse (i.e., one person to take tickets at the entrance, a second staffer patrolling upstairs in the tree to make sure the Guests were behaving themselves / not touching the props, and then a third Cast Member down by the exit making sure that Guests aren’t sneaking up the back stairs to experience the Swiss Family Treehouse without first surrendering a C Ticket), it also became one of the more profitable attractions in the Park.

200 people up in the tree at any one time. 1200 people an hour. Killer views of New Orleans Square construction / the Jungle Cruise ride just below.

Oh, and that only appeal to kids thing? Out of every four Guests who came through the turnstile / surrounded that 35 cent C ticket, only one was a kid under 10. The other three were adults.

To be specific here:  Once construction of Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse was complete in the Fall of 1962, it only cost $21,000 to staff & operate annually. An additional $16,000 to maintain each year. In 1965, this Adventureland Attraction – even after taking those costs into consideration – still managed to turn a profit of $313,000.

Long story short: It was never a smart thing to bet against Walt. At least when it came to how popular an attraction would be with Guests (The Mickey Mouse Club Circus fiasco of the holiday season of 1955 being the exception, of course).

Ken Annakin – Film Director

Disney Legend Ken Annakin – Credit: D23

Sadly, the Imagineers weren’t able to base any other theme park attractions on Ken Annakin movies. “Swiss Family Robinson” was the very last film that he directed for Disney Studios.

Annakin went on to direct several very popular family films in the 1960s & 1970s, among them “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” and “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.” And the Walt Disney Company went out of its way to recognize Ken’s contribution to the overall success of Disney Studio & the Company’s theme parks by naming him a Disney Legend in 2002.

Sadly, Ken passed away at his home in Beverly Hills back in April of 2009 at the ripe old age of 94. Worth noting here that – in the late 1960s / early 1970s – when Walt Disney Animation Studios was fumbling around for an idea for a project to tackle after “The Aristocats” (That was the last animated feature that Walt Disney personally put into production / greenlit) – someone asks that classic question “What would Walt do?”

And in this case, the thinking was … Walt really liked those live-action movies that Ken Annakin directed for the Studio. Maybe we should look at those. So they then screened the very first movie that Ken directed for Disney, which was “The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men” from 1952. And since people in Feature Animation thought that that was a pretty solid story … Well, that’s how we wound up with Disney’s animated version of “Robin Hood” in November of 1973.

New Robin Hood on Disney+?

Back in April of 2020, Disney announced that it was working on a CG version of Disney’s 1973 hand-drawn version of “Robin Hood.” Which is eventually supposed to show up on Disney+. Carlos Lopez Estrada had been signed to helm this film. Kari Granlund was writing the screenplay for this “Robin Hood” reboot. An  Justin Springer, who helped get “Tron: Legacy” off the ground back in 2010, would be producing.

So the Ken Annakin corona effect lives on at Disney.

So does Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse. Which – after being renamed / rethemed as the Tarzan Treehouse in June of 1999 – will revert to being the Adventureland Treehouse later this year. With a loose retheming that then allows this Disneyland attraction to become home to characters from Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Tarzan,” and “Encanto.”

This article is based on research for The Disney Dish Podcast “Episode 412”, published on January 30, 2023. The Disney Dish Podcast is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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