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Stage version of “Mary Poppins” draws a lot of its inspiration from … Well, drawings

Jim Hill looks back at the development of this Disney / Cameron Mackintosh production. Which is not just based on the 1964 film, but also draws its inspiration from P.L. Travers’ stories and Mary Shepard’s illustrations



When the North American National Tour of “Mary Poppins” opens in Chicago in March of 2009 …

Copyright 2007 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

… both Disneyana & theater fans are sure to be thrilled. After all, this road company will not only feature Ashley Brown (i.e. the actress who originated the title role in the Broadway version of this Disney / Cameron Mackintosh musical) but also Gavin Lee (i.e. the Drama Desk Award-winning actor who portrayed Bert in both the New York & London productions of “Mary Poppins”).

Gavin Lee and Ashley Brown enjoy a spot of tea in the original Broadway version
of “Mary Poppins.” Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

That said, fans of the original 1964 film

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

… might be a little confused by the stage version of “Mary Poppins.” Which doesn’t feature a tea party on the ceiling …

(L to R) Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Ed Wynn and Dick Van
Dyke in the Academy Award-winning movie version of “Mary Poppins.”
Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

… and / or Bert & Mary “larking about” in the show’s “Jolly Holiday” number.

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, it’s not that Bob Crowley — “Poppins” Tony Award-winning set & costume designer — didn’t want to incorporate particularly memorable elements of that movie into this stage show. Take — for example — the smoke staircase that you see in that film.

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

For the London production of “Mary Poppins,” Crowley actually did design a set that would have replicated that moment from the motion picture.

Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

But in the end, this proposed setting for the stage version of “Mary Poppins” was deemed to be impractical. And given that the production team was looking to deliver a “Practically Perfect” musical here … Well, that’s why this particular element got dropped from the show.

More to the point, the creative team behind this “Mary Poppins” musical (i.e. director Richard Eyre, choreographer Matthew Bourne and librettist Julian Fellowes) weren’t out to create just some stage-bound clone of the Academy Award-winning film. They had something far more ambitious in mind.

You see, the goal here was to create an entirely new entertainment experience. Something that would merge familiar elements from the “Mary Poppins” movie with scenes & characters that had been drawn from the eight books that P.L. Travers wrote.

Which is why — if you only know Mary Poppins through the 1964 Disney film — some of the characters that you’ll see in this new stage show will be unfamiliar to you. Take — for example — Robertson Ay, that accident-prone footman who is featured prominently in this musical’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” number.

Mark Price as “Robertson Ay” in the Broadway production
of MARY POPPINS at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

Though this character doesn’t appear at all in the Disney film, Ay has been a part of the “Mary Poppins” universe ever since the very first book in the series was published back in 1934. Where — on Page 2 — Travers lists his household duties as …

” … to cut the lawn and clean the knives and polish the shoes and, as Mr. Banks always said, ‘to waste his time and my money.’ “

Robertson’s other notable skill from the “Mary Poppins” book was his ability to fall asleep practically anywhere in the middle of whatever task Ay had just been assigned.

Copyright 2006 Harcourt, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, other characters featured in the stage version of “Mary Poppins” may be somewhat familiar to fans of the film. You may recall Mrs. Corry and her daughters, Annie and Fannie …

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

… who make a very brief appearance in the opening moments of that movie. You may remember that Bert — as he’s busking in the park — makes up a comical poem about this odd-looking trio.

“Ah, Mrs. Corry. A story for you.
Your daughters was shorter than you.
But they grew.”

And that’s pretty much all you ever see of the Corry family in that motion picture.

Which is really a shame. For in the “Mary Poppins” books, Mrs. Corry and her two “great galumphing giraffes” of daughters Annie & Fannie …

Copyright 2006 Harcourt, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… are rather magical creatures. You see, these three not only run a bake shop which sells pieces of ” … gingerbread (that are) so studded with gilt stars that the shop itself seemed to be faintly lit by them,” but then …

Copyright 1981 P.L. Travers

… under cover of darkness, the Corrys — with Mary Poppins’ help — paste these very same Gingerbread Stars up into the night sky.

The creative team behind the stage version of “Mary Poppins” just loved this vignette from the book. And they labored mightily to try & find a practical way to fit the Corrys-star-pasting routine into their show. Using Mary Shepard’s original illustration, Crowley first worked up a concept drawing …

Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

… and then even had a model made of this proposed set.

Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

But in the end, this proposed setting for the stage version of “Mary Poppins” was also deemed to be impractical. Which is why this particular sequence was eventually dropped from the show.

But as for the Corrys themselves … At this point in the development of the show, the “Mary Poppins” production team had really grown quite fond of Annie, Fannie and their diminutive mother. Which is why it was decided that the Corrys’ sweet shop would now become the setting for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The cast of the
Broadway production of MARY POPPINS at the New Amsterdam
Theatre. Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

In the stage show, Mary, Bert, Jane and Michael suddenly find that they’re running out of conversation. Which is why they then drop by Mrs. Corry’s “Talking shop” and pick out the letters for ” … the greatest word you ever heard.”

Mind you, to reinforce the idea that Mrs. Corry’s establishment is actually a bake shop, Crowley actually designed this character’s dress so that it would resemble the sort of display rack that a baker might place cakes, cookies and pies on.

Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

Please note that — in the above drawings — Mrs. Corry has exceptionally long fingers. That’s because — in the original P.L. Travers story — this character’s fingers were actually made of barley-sugar. Which Mrs. Corry could then snap off and hand out as treats to the children who were visiting her store.

Which — I know — is a kind of dark & weird idea. But if you’ll actually go back and re-read the original “Mary Poppins” books, you’ll find that P.L. Travers slips lots of these sorts of touches into her stories.

In fact, the creators of the stage show took one of P.L. ‘s darker ideas (i.e. The “Bad Wednesday” chapter from “Mary Poppins Comes Back,”  where Jane — as she’s throwing a temper tantrum in the nursery — accidentally cracks the Royal Doulton Bowl up that’s on the mantelpiece …

Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers

… The next thing Jane knows, she’s been magically sucked into the illustration that decorates the inside of this bowl. Where the characters depicted there then take Jane to task for creating that crack) …

Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers

… as the inspiration for an entirely new number for this stage show. George Stiles & Anthony Drewe (i.e. the song-writing team that Disney & Cameron Mackintosh hired to supplement the Sherman Bros. Academy Award-winning score) used “Bad Wednesday” as their jumping-off point when they created “Temper Temper.” Which shows what can happen to bad little children who mistreat their toys.

Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

Speaking of those dark moments that you’ll sometimes find in the original “Mary Poppins” books … To add a bit of conflict & tension to the second act of their show, the creative team brought to the stage perhaps the scariest character that P.L. Travers ever created: Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks’ original governess.

Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers

Played in the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins” by Ruth Gottschall, Miss Andrew is a terrific comic villain. Who — instead of following Mary Poppins’ “Spoonful of Sugar” approach — tries to keep the Banks children in line by feeding them ” … brimstone and treacle and cod liver oil.”

(L to R) Henry Hodges as ‘Micheal Banks’ and Ruth Gottschall as ‘Miss Andrew’ in
the original Broadway company of MARY POPPINS at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

When I recently spoke with Ruth about this role, Ms. Gottschall explained her take on the character:

“I can’t play Miss Andrew as bad. She’s just a nanny who’s not up on these new-fangled methods. She still believes that children should be seen and not heard.

But that said, I still know how this character comes across in the show. Sometimes when I’m up on stage, I actually hear the kids out in the audience say ‘Scary, Mommy.’ “

Anyway … As you might expect, these two wildly different approaches to child-rearing eventually lead to a magical showdown between Mary Poppins & Miss Andrew. And once again, the show’s creative team tried to bring one of P.L. Travers’ original ideas to life. In that Mary dispatches the nastiest nanny in the world by first downsizing Miss Andrew and then sticking her inside of the birdcage in which Miss Andrew used to imprison a wild lark.

Copyright 1963 P. L. Travers

And while it’s obviously not possible to shrink a live performer on stage and then stuff them into a birdcage, the “Mary Poppins” creative team did come up a rather clever way to replicate this moment from “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Which is why Miss Andrew’s comeuppance is one of the real highlights of this show’s second act.

Speaking of the second act … The “Mary Poppins” creative team wanted to give their title character a spectacular entrance in this part of the show. So once again borrowing an idea from one of Mary Shepard’s illustrations …

Copyright 1963 P. L. Travers

… they had this Practically Perfect nanny descend from the heavens on the end of Jane & Michael’s kite string, while the cast of “Mary Poppins” sang (what else?) “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

Which — I know — changes the film’s finale into the second act’s opening number. But let’s remember that the “Mary Poppins” creative team wasn’t out to create an exact clone of the motion picture. But — rather — they wanted to make a stage show that would blend all of this source material together (i.e. Walt Disney’s film, P.L. Travers’ stories) to create something new that still felt familiar.

Which brings us to perhaps the most entertaining sequence in the stage version of “Mary Poppins,” the “Jolly Holiday” number. Which — just as it does in the 1964 film — begins with Mary, Jane and Michael meeting Bert at the entrance of the park.

Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

But instead of having this quartet jump into a chalk sidewalk painting and then having Bert cavort with some cartoon penguins …

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

… the “Mary Poppins” creative team opted to go an entirely different way with their stage show.  Borrowing a story idea from Travers’ 1943 book, “Mary Poppins Opens the Door,” this sequence now starts off with Mary taking the Banks children to the park …

Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers

… Jane & Michael then complain (in a new contra punctual refrain that Stiles & Drewe wrote for this old Sherman Bros. tune) that Ms. Poppins is …

“Boring, just like other nannies
Thinking parks are good for us
It’s just statues, ducks and grannies
I don’t understand all the fuss.”

Of course, what the Banks children don’t realize is that Neleus — a statue that’s been in the park for ages …

Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers

— is about to step down off of his plinth …

Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers

… to begin cavorting with these kids.

Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers

Well, the “Mary Poppins” creative team took one look at Mary Shepard’s charming illustrations for the “Marble Boy” chapter in “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” and then they wondered: What if it wasn’t just one statue in the park that was effected by Mary Poppins’ magic? But — rather — all of the statues in that park?

The original Broadway company of MARY POPPINS performs “Jolly Holiday.”
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

Choreographer Matthew Bourne even used Shepard’s illustration as the inspiration for some comic relief in this production number.

Copyright 1971 P.L. Travers

In that — during this dance sequence — the park-keeper just can’t understand why or how the statues in his park keep winding up in different positions.

And did I mention that — as a capper to “Jolly Holiday” — the Queen herself drops by the park and then briefly dances with Mary & Bert?

(L to R) Ashley Brown, Ruth Gottschall and Gavin Lee dance with the cast
of the original Broadway company of MARY POPPINS.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML.
Photo by Joan Marcus

FYI: If the Queen in the above photo looks somewhat familiar… Well, there’s a good reason for that. You see, that part in the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins” is played by Ruth Gottschall. The same actress who plays Miss Andrew in Act Two.

Getting back to “Jolly Holiday” … Now I know that there are a number of die-hard “Mary Poppins” movie fans out there who may feel that Cameron Mackintosh & the folks at Disney Theatrical went too far and took far too many liberties with their favorite film. With the end result being this “Poppins” stage show that they don’t quite recognize.

Well, whenever the “Mary” movie fans out there bring this issue up … I just point to the number of times that the “Mary Poppins” creative team actually went out of their way to include elements from that movie. Take — for example — the Pearlies who appear in that film’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius” number.

Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions

Bob Crowley remembered those animated characters as he was designing the Starlighter costumes for the stage version of “Mary Poppins.”

Copyright 2004 Disney / CML. All Rights Reserved

Though — to be fair — I guess I should also point out that Crowley took a lot of his inspiration for these costumes from the illustrations that Mary Shepard drew for “Mary Poppins Comes Back” ‘s “Evening Out” chapter. Where the constellations themselves (i.e. characters who are literally made up of stars) perform in a special circus for Ms. Poppins.

Copyright 1963 P.L. Travers

You see what I’m saying here, folks ? The “Mary Poppins” creative team was always looking for ways to mix elements of the movie in with scenes & characters from the Travers books to create an entirely new entertainment experience. That’s why the show’s poster actually features this line:

“Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film”

Mind you, some of the creative compromises that the “Mary Poppins” production team made may seem — in hindsight — a trifle bizarre. Take — for example — that Mary-and-the-Corrys-paste-Gingerbread-Stars-up-into-the-night-sky sequence that I mentioned toward the top of this article. Because the ladder concept was eventually deemed to be unworkable for this stage show, what Crowley & his designers decided to go with instead was a giant light-up umbrella. Which Mary, Bert and the rest of the cast now dance around as they all sing a new Stiles & Drewe tune, “Anything Can Happen If You Let It.”

Ashley Brown and the original Broadway cast of MARY POPPINS
at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Copyright 2006 Disney / CML. Photo by Joan Marcus

Which — I know — once again seems like a departure from the “Mary Poppins” movie. But if you’re a fan of the P.L. Travers books … Well, then you already know that Travers just loved scenes like this. Where all of the characters that she’d created for her “Poppins” stories would suddenly come together and dance.

Take — for example — the illustration below from “Mary Poppins in the Park.” Which shows Mary Poppins & Mrs. Corry dancing with the shadows of characters from various P.L. Travers books.

Copyright 1980 P.L. Travers

Which is why (I guess) if you want a full appreciation of what Richard Eyre, Julian Fellowes, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe, Bob Crowley and Matthew Bourne have done with the stage version of “Mary Poppins,” you first need to revisit the 1964 Disney film as well as reread the eight P.L. Travers books.

Once you do that, you can then finally fully understand how the various elements of these earlier “Poppins” projects were woven together to create a brand new entertainment experience. Which is now being presented 8 times at a week at NYC’s New Amsterdam Theatre as well as entertaining theater goers in England (The UK tour of “Mary Poppins” got underway earlier this month at the Theatre Royal Plymouth). Not to mention the show’s North American National Tour, which kicks off at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre in March 11, 2009.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

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.

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

How Disney’s “Bambi” led to the creation of Smokey Bear



When people talk about Disney’s “Bambi,” the scene that they typically cite as being the one from this 1942 film which then scarred them for life is – of course – the moment in this movie where Bambi’s mother gets shot by hunters.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that – if you watch this animated feature today – you’ll see that a lot of this ruined-my-childhood scene actually happens off-camera. I mean, you hear the rifle shot that takes down Bambi’s Mom. But you don’t actually see that Mama Deer get clipped.

Now for the scariest part of that movie that you actually see on-camera … Hands down, that has to be the forest fire sequence in “Bambi.” As the grown-up Bambi & his bride, Faline, desperately race through those woods, trying to find a path to safety as literally everything around them is ablaze … That sequence is literally nightmare fuel.


Mind you, the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios had lots of inspiration for the forest fire sequence in “Bambi.” You see, in a typical year, the United States experiences – due to either natural phenomenon like lightning strikes or human carelessness – 100 forest fires. Whereas in 1940 (i.e., the year that Disney Studios began working in earnest of a movie version of Felix Salten’s best-selling movie), America found itself battling a record 360 forest fires.

Which greatly concerned the U.S. Forest Service. But not for the reason you might think.

Protecting the Forest for World War II

I mean, yes. Sure. Officials over in the Agricultural Department (That’s the arm of the U.S. government that manages the Forest Service) were obviously concerned about the impact that this record number of forest fires in 1940 had had on citizens. Not to mention all of the wildlife habitat that was now lost.

But to be honest, what really concerned government officials was those hundreds of thousands of acres of raw timber that had been consumed by these blazes. You see, by 1940, the world was on the cusp of the next world war. A conflict that the U.S. would inevitably  be pulled into. And all that now-lost timber? It could have been used to fuel the U.S. war machine.

So with this in mind (and U.S. government officials now seeing an urgent need to preserve & protect this precious resource) … Which is why – in 1942 (just a few months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor) – the U.S. Forest Service rolls out its first-ever forest fire prevention program.

Which – given that this was the early days of World War II – the slogan that the U.S. Forest Service initially chose for its forest fire prevention program is very in that era’s we’re-all-in-this-together / so-let’s-do-what-we-can-to-help-America’s war-effort esthetic – made a direct appeal to all those folks who were taking part in scrap metal drives: “Forest Defense is National Defense.”

Source: Northwestern

And the poster that the U.S. Forest Service had created to support this campaign? … Well, it was well-meaning as well.  It was done in the WPA style and showed men out in the forest, wielding shovels to ditch a ditch. They were trying to construct a fire break, which would then supposedly slow the forest fire that was directly behind them.

But the downside was … That “Forest Defense is National Defense” slogan – along with that poster which the U.S. Forest Service had created to support their new forest fire prevention program didn’t exactly capture America’s attention.

I mean, it was the War Years after all. A lot was going in the country at that time. But long story short: the U.S. Forest Service’s first attempt at launching a successful forest fire prevention program sank without a trace.

So what do you do in a situation like this? You regroup. You try something different.

Disney & Bambi to the Rescue

And within the U.S. government, the thinking now was “Well, what if we got a celebrity to serve as the spokesman for our new forest fire prevention program? Maybe that would then grab the public’s attention.”

The only problem was … Well, again, these are the War Years. And a lot of that era’s A-listers (people like Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, even Mel Brooks) had already enlisted. So there weren’t really a lot of big-name celebrities to choose from.

But then some enterprising official at the U.S. Forest Service came up with an interesting idea. He supposedly said “Hey, have you seen that new Disney movie? You know, the one with the deer? That movie has a forest fire in it. Maybe we should go talk with Walt Disney? Maybe he has some ideas about how we can better capture the public’s attention when it comes to our new forest fire prevention program?”

And it turns Walt did have an idea. Which was to use this government initiative as a way to cross-promote Disney Studio’s latest full-length animated feature, “Bambi.” Which been first released to theaters in August of 1942.

So Walt had artists at Disney Studio work up a poster that featured the grown-up versions of Bambi the Deer, Thumper the Rabbit & Flower the Skunk. As this trio stood in some tall grasses, they looked imploring out at whoever was standing in front of this poster. Above them was a piece of text that read “Please Mister, Don’t Be Careless.” And below these three cartoon characters was an additional line that read “Prevent Forest Fires. Greater Danger Than Ever!”

Source: USDA

According to folks I’ve spoken with at Disney’s Corporate Archives, this “Bambi” -based promotional campaign for the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention campaign was a huge success. So much so that – as 1943 drew to a close – this division of the Department of Agriculture reportedly reached out to Walt to see if he’d be willing to let the U.S. Forest Service continue to use these cartoon characters to help raise the public’s awareness of fire safety.

Walt – for reasons known only to Mr. Disney – declined. Some have suggested that — because “Bambi” had actually lost money during its initial theatrical release in North America – that Walt was now looking to put that project behind him. And if there were posters plastered all over the place that then used the “Bambi” characters that then promoted the U.S.’s forest fire prevention efforts … Well, it would then be far harder for Mr. Disney to put this particular animated feature in the rear view mirror.

Introducing Smokey Bear

Long story short: Walt said “No” when it came to reusing the “Bambi” characters to promote the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program. But given how successful the previous cartoon-based promotional campaign had been … Well, some enterprising employee at the Department of Agriculture reportedly said “Why don’t we come up with a cartoon character of our own?”

So – for the Summer of 1944 – the U.S. Forest Service (with the help of the Ad Council and the National Association of State Foresters) came up with a character to help promote the prevention of forest fires. And his name is Smokey Bear.

Now a lot of thought had gone into Smokey’s creation. Right from the get-go, it was decided that he would be an American black bear (NOT a brown bear or a grizzly). To make this character seem approachable, Smokey was outfitted with a ranger’s hat. He also wore a pair of blue jeans & carried a bucket.

As for his debut poster, Smokey was depicted as pouring water over a still-smoldering campfire. And below this cartoon character was printed Smokey’s initial catchphrase. Which was “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!”

Source: NPR

Which makes me think that this slogan was written by the very advertising executive who wrote “Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”

Anyway … By the Summer of 1947, Smokey got a brand-new slogan. The one that he uses even today. Which is “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

The Real Smokey Bear

Now where this gets interesting is – in the Summer of 1950 – there was a terrible forest fire up in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. And over the course of this blaze, a bear cub climbed high up into a tree to try & escape those flames.

Firefighters were finally able to rescue that cub. But he was so badly injured in that fire that he was shipped off to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and nursed back to health. And since this bear really couldn’t be released back in the wild at this point, he was then put on exhibit.

And what does this bear’s keepers decide to call him? You guessed it: Smokey.

Source: USDA

And due to all the news coverage that this orphaned bear got, he eventually became the living symbol of the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program. Which then meant that this particular Smokey Bear got hit with a ton of fan mail. So much so that the National Zoo in Washington D.C. wound up with its own Zip Code.

“Smokey the Bear” Hit Song

And on the heels of a really-for-real Smokey Bear taking up residence in our nation’s capital, Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins decide to write a song that shined a spotlight on this fire-fightin’ bruin. Here’s the opening stanza:

With a ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees,
You will find him in the forest always sniffin’ at the breeze,
People stop and pay attention when he tells them to beware
Because everybody knows that he’s the fire-preventin’ bear

Believe or not, even with lyrics like these, “Smokey the Bear” briefly topped the Country charts in the Summer of 1950. Thanks to a version of this song that was recorded by Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy.

By the way, it was this song that started all of the confusion in regards to Smokey Bear’s now. You see, Nelson & Rollins – because they need the lyrics of their song to scan properly – opted to call this fire-fightin’-bruin Smokey THE Bear. Rather than Smokey Bear. Which has been this cartoon character’s official name since the U.S. Forest Service first introduced him back in 1944.

“The Ballad of Smokey the Bear”

Further complicating this issue was “The Ballad of Smokey the Bear,” which was a stop-motion animated special that debuted on NBC in late November of 1966. Produced by Rankin-Bass as a follow-up to their hugely popular “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which premiered on the Peacock Network in December of 1964) … This hour-long TV show also put a “THE” in the middle of Smokey Bear’s name because the folks at Rankin-Bass thought his name sounded better that way.

And speaking of animation … Disney’s “Bambi” made a brief return to the promotional campaign for the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program in the late 1980s. This was because the Company’s home entertainment division had decided to release this full-length animated feature on VHS.

What’s kind of interesting, though, is the language used on the “Bambi” poster is a wee different than the language that’s used on Smokey’s poster. It reads “Protect Our Forest Friends. Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” NOT “Forest Fires.”

Anyway, that’s how Disney’s “Bambi” led to the creation of Smokey Bear. Thanks for bearin’ with me as I clawed my way through this grizzly tale.

Jim Hill

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

“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”



News came late last week that NBC was cancelling the “Magnum PI” remake. This series (which obviously took its inspiration from the Tom Selleck show that originally debuted on CBS back in December of 1980 and then went on run on that network for 8 seasons. With its final episode airing on May 8, 1988).

Anyway … Over 30 years later, CBS decided to remake “Magnum.” This version of the action drama debuted on September 24, 2018 and ran for four seasons before then being cancelled. NBC picked up the “Magnum” remake where it ran for one more season before word came down on June 23rd that this action drama was being cancelled yet again.

FYI: The second half of Season 5 of “Magnum” (10 episodes) has yet to air on NBC. It will be interesting to see when that final set of shows / the series finale gets scheduled.

This all comes to mind this week – out ahead of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” because … Well, if CBS execs had been a bit more flexible back in 1980, the star of the original version of “Magnum PI” (Tom Selleck) would have played the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which was released to theaters back on June 12, 1981.

That’s the part of the Indiana Jones story that the folks at Lucasfilm often opt to skim over.

That Harrison Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice to play Doctor Jones.

Auditions for Indiana Jones – Harrison’s Not on the List

Mind you, Steven Spielberg – right from the get-go – had pushed for Ford to play this part. The way I hear it, Lucas showed Spielberg a work-in-progress cut of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And Steven was so taken with Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in that Irwin Kershner film that he immediately began pushing for Ford to be cast as Doctor Jones.

Whereas Mr. Lucas … I mean, it wasn’t that George had anything against Harrison. What with Ford’s performances first in “American Grafitti” and then in “A New Hope,” these two already had a comfortable working relationship.

But that said, Lucas was genuinely leery of … Well, the sort of creative collaboration that Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. Where one actor & one director repeatedly worked together. To George’s way of thinking, that was a risky path to follow. Hitching your wagon to a single star.

Which is why – when auditions got underway for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1979 — Mike Fenton basically brought in every big performer of that era to read for Dr. Jones except Harrison Ford. We’re talking:

  • Steve Martin
  • Chevy Chase
  • Bill Murray
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Peter Coyote
  • Nick Nolte
  • Sam Elliot
  • Tim Matheson
  • and Harry Hamlin

Casting a Comedian for Indiana Jones

Please note that there are a lot of comedians on this list. That’s because – while “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in development — Spielberg was directed his epic WWII comedy, “1941.” And for a while there, Steve & George were genuinely uncertain about whether the movie that they were about to make would be a sincere valentine to the movie serials of the 1930s & the 1940s or more of a spoof.

It’s worth noting here that three of the more ridiculous set pieces found in “Temple of Doom” …

  • the shoot-out at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai
  • Indy, Willie & Short Round surviving that plane crash by throwing an inflatable life raft out of the cargo hatch
  • and that film’s mine cart chase (which was not only inspired by Disney theme park favorites the Matterhorn Bobsleds & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but some of the sound effects that you hear in this portion of “Temple of Doom” were actually recorded after hours at Disneyland inside of these very same attractions)

…  all originally supposed to be in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I’ve actually got a copy of the very first version of the screenplay that Lawrence Kasdan wrote for the first “Indy” movie where all three of these big action set pieces were supposed to be part of the story that “Raiders” told. And I have to tell you that this early iteration of the “Raiders” screenplay really does read more like a spoof of serials than a sincere, loving salute to this specific style of cinema.

Casting Indiana Jones – Jeff or Tom

Anyway … Back now to the casting of the male lead for “Raiders” … After seeing virtually every actor out in LA while looking for just the right performer to portray Indiana Jones, it all came down to two guys:

  • Jeff Bridges
  • and Tom Selleck

Jeff Bridges as Indiana Jones

Mike Fenton was heavily pushing for Jeff Bridges. Having already appeared with Clint Eastwood in 1974’s “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (Not to mention that “King Kong” remake from 1976), Bridges was a known quantity. But what Fenton liked especially liked about Bridges when it came to “Raiders” was … Well, at that time, Jeff was just coming off “Heaven’s Gate.”

Mind you, nowadays, because we’ve all now had the luxury of seeing the director’s cut of this Michael Cimino movie, we recognize “Heaven’s Gate” for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But 40+ years ago, that honestly wasn’t the case. All audiences had to judge this movie by was the severely truncated version that United Artists sent out into theaters. Which – because “Heaven’s Gate” had cost $44 million to make and only sold $3.5 million of tickets – then became the textbook example of Hollywood excess.


Long story short: Given that being associated with “Heaven’s Gate” had somewhat dinged Bridges’ reputation for being a marketable star (i.e., a performer that people would pay good money to see up on the big screen), Jeff was now looking to appear in something highly commercial. And the idea of playing the lead in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (the “Jaws” & “Close Encounter” guy) and produced by George Lucas (Mr. “Star Wars”) was very, very appealing at that time. Bridges was even willing to sign a contract with Spielberg & Lucas that would have then roped him into not only playing Indiana Jones in “Raider of the Lost Ark” but also to appear as this very same character in two yet-to-be-written sequels.

Better yet, because “Heaven’s Gate” had temporarily dimmed Bridges’ star status, Jeff was also willing to sign on to do the first “Indy” film for well below his usual quote. With the understanding that – should “Raiders of the Lost Ark” succeed at the box office – Bridges would then be paid far more to appear in this film’s two sequels.

That seemed like a very solid plan for “Raiders.” Landing a known movie star to play the lead in this action-adventure at a bargain price.

Ah, but standing in Mike Fenton’s way was Marcia Lucas.

Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones

Marcia Lucas, who had seen Tom Selleck’s audition for “Raiders” (And you can see it as well. Just go to Google and type in “Tom Selleck” and “Indiana Jones.” And if you dig around for a bit, you’ll then see a feature that Lucas & Spielberg shot for “Entertainment Tonight” back in 2008 [This story was done in support of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”]. And as part of this piece, George and Steve share Tom’s original audition for “Raiders.” And what’s genuinely fascinating about this footage is that Selleck’s scene partner is Sean Young. Who – at that time, anyway – was up for the role of Marion Ravenwood) and kept telling her husband, “You should cast this guy. He’s going to be a big star someday.”

And given that George was smart enough to regularly heed Marcia Lucas’ advice (She had made invaluable suggestions when it came to the editing of “American Graffiti” and the original “Star Wars.” Not to downplay George Lucas’ cinematic legacy, but Marcia Lucas was a world-class storyteller in and of her own right), Lucas then reached out to Spielberg and persuaded him that they should cast relative unknown Tom Selleck as Doctor Jones over the already well-known Jeff Bridges.

Now don’t feel too bad for Jeff Bridges. When he lost out on playing the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Jeff then accepted a role in the very next, high profile, sure-to-be-commercial project that came along. Which turned out to be Disney’s very first “TRON” movie. Which was eventually released to theaters on July 9, 1982.

Back to Tom Selleck now … You have to remember that – back then – Selleck was the handsome guy who’d already shot pilots for six different shows that then hadn’t gone to series. Which was why Tom was stuck being the guest star on shows like “The Fall Guy” and “Taxi.” Whereas once word got out around town that Selleck was supposed to play the lead in a project that Spielberg was directed & Lucas was producing … Well, this is when CBS decided that they’d now take the most recent pilot that Tom had shot and then go to series with this show.

That program was – of course – the original “Magnum PI.” And it’s at this point where our story started to get complicated.

“Magnum PI” – Two Out of Three Say “Yes”

Okay. During the first season of a TV show, it’s traditionally the network – rather than the production company (which – in this case – was Glen A. Larson Productions. The company behind the original versions of “Battlestar Galactica” & “Knight Rider”) or the studio where this series is actually being shot (which – in this case – was Universal Television) that has all the power. And in this particular case, the network execs who were pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes worked for CBS.

And when it came to the first season of “Magnum PI,” CBS had a deal with Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television which stated that the talent which had been contracted to appear in this new action drama would then be available for the production of at least 13 episodes with an option to shoot an additional 9 episodes (This is known in the industry as the back nine. As in: the last nine holes of a golf course).

Anyway, if you take those initial 13 episodes and then tack on the back nine, you then get 22 episodes total. Which – back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, anyway – was what a full season of a network television show typically consisted of.

Anyway … The contract that Selleck had signed with Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television & CBS stated that he had to be available when production of Season One of “Magnum PI” began in March of 1980. More to the point, Tom also had to be available should CBS exercise its option to air 22 episodes of this new series on that television network over the course of “Magnum PI” ‘s first season.  

Which then made things complicated for George Lucas & Steven Spielberg because … Well, in order for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to make its June 12, 1981 release date, that then meant that production of the first “Indy” movie would have to get underway no later than June 23, 1980.

But here’s the thing: Production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was scheduled to run through the first week of July of that same year (1980). So in order for Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” he was going to need to be wrapped on production of “Magnum PI” by June 22, 1980 at the absolute latest.

So Spielberg & Lucas went to Glen A. Larsons Productions and asked if Selleck could please be sprung from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligations by June 22nd. And they said “Yes.” Then Steven & George went to Universal Television and asked executives there for their help  in clearing Tom’s schedule so that he’d then be available to start work on “Raiders.” And they say “Yes” as well.

Spielberg & Lucas now go to CBS. But instead of the quick “Yeses” that they got from officials at Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television, it takes those suits at the Tiffany Network weeks before they then decided to say “No, they couldn’t release Tom Selleck early to go work on ‘Raiders’ “ because …

I’ve never really been able to get a straight answer here as to why CBS execs dug in their heels here. Why they flat-out refused to release Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation and allow him to go shoot “Raiders.”

Payback from “The Star Wars Holiday Special” Trash Talk

That said, it is worth noting that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS back in November of 1978. And given that – in the years that followed —  Lucas wasn’t exactly shy when it came to saying how much he hated that two hour-long presentation (Or – for that matter – how George really regretted caving into the requests of CBS execs. Who had insisted that television stars long associated with the Tiffany Network – people like Art Carney, Harvey Korman & Bea Arthur – be given prominent guest starring roles in “The Star Wars Holiday Special”). And I’ve heard whispers over the years that CBS executives preventing Tom Selleck from appearing in “Raiders” could be interpreted as the Tiffany Network getting some payback for what George had said publicly about the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Harrison Ford Comes to Rescue “Indiana Jones”

Anyway … It’s now literally just weeks before production of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is supposed to begin and Spielberg & Lucas have just learned that that they’ve lost their film’s star. CBS is flat-out refusing to release Tom Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation. So Steven & George now have to find someone else to play Indy … and fast.

The real irony here is … The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in the Summer of 1980. Which then shut prematurely shut down production of the first season of “Magnum PI.” (As a direct result, the first full season of this action drama to air on CBS only had 18 episodes, rather than the usual 22). And because this job action lasted ‘til October 23rd of that same year … Well, this meant that Tom Selleck would have actually been free to start shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on June 23, 1980 because production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was already shut down by then due to that AFTRA strike.

But no one knew – in May of 1980, anyway – that this job action was going to happen in just a few weeks. All that Steven Spielberg & George Lucas knew was that they now needed a new lead actor for “Raiders.” And circling back on Jeff Bridges was no longer an option. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff had agreed to do “TRON” for Disney. And – in the interim – Bridges gone off to shoot “Cutter’s Way” for MGM / UA.

Credit: EW

So this is where Harrison Ford enters the equation. As he recalls:

In May of 1980, I get a call from George Lucas. Who says ‘I’m messaging a script over to you this morning. As soon as it gets there, I need you to immediately read this script. Then – as soon as you’re done – I need you to call.

So the script arrives and it’s for ‘Raiders.’ I read it and it’s good. So I call George back and say ‘It’s good.’ And he then says ‘Would you be interested in playing Indy?’ I say that it looks like it would be a fun part to play.

George then says ‘ That’s great to hear. Because we start shooting in four weeks. Now I need you to meet with Steven Spielberg today and convince him that you’re the right guy to play Indy.’

Of course, given that Spielberg had been pushing for Ford to pay Indy ever since he had first seen that work-in-progress version of “The Empire Strikes Back” … Well, Harrison’s meeting with Steven was very, very short. And just a few weeks later, Spielberg, Lucas & Ford were all at the Port de la Pallice in La Rochelle. Where – on the very first day of shooting on “Raiders” (which – again – was June 23, 1980)– the scene that was shot was the one where that Nazi sub (the one that Indy had lashed himself to its periscope by using his bullwhip as a rope) was arriving at its secret base.

And all of this happened because Harrison immediately agreed to do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the part of Indy was first offered to him in mid-May of 1980.  

Before “Star Wars” was “Star Wars”

So why such a quick yes? Well, you have to remember that “Empire Strikes Back” wouldn’t be released to theaters ‘til May 21, 1980. And no one knew at that time whether this sequel to the original “Star Wars” would do as well at the box office as “A New Hope” had back in 1977 (FYI: “Empire” would eventually sell over $500 million worth of tickets worldwide. Which is roughly two thirds of what the original “Star Wars” earned three years earlier).

More to the point, the four films that Harrison had shot right after “A New Hope” / prior to “Empire Strikes Back” (i.e., “Heroes” AND “Force 10 from Navarone” AND “Hanover Street” AND “The Frisco Kid”) had all under-performed at the box office. So to Ford’s way of thinking, taking on a role that Tom Selleck was no longer available to play – one that had the potential of spawning two sequels – seemed like a very smart thing to do. Especially after three years of cinematic stumbles.

By the way, whenever this topic ever comes up, Harrison Ford is very gracious. He always makes a point of saying that he’s grateful to have gotten this career opportunity. More to the point, that he still feels kind of bad that Tom Selleck never got the chance to play this part.

Tom Selleck After “Indiana Jones”

That said, we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Selleck. After all, the original “Magnum PI” proved to be a long running hit for CBS. And in an effort to smooth over any residual bad feelings that may have resulted from Tom being forced to give up “Raiders” back in May of 1980, Selleck was eventually allowed to create his own production company (i.e., T.W.S. Productions, Inc. As in Thomas William Selleck Productions). Which – after the fact – was then cut in on some of those “Magnum PI” -related revenue streams.

More to the point, while “Magnum PI” was on hiatus following its second year in production, Selleck flew off to Yugoslavia. Where he then shot his own Indiana Jones-esque film for theatrical release. Which was called “High Road to China” in the States, but – overseas – was promoted as “Raiders of the End of the World.”

FYI: Warner Bros. released “High Road to China” stateside 40 years ago this year. On March 18, 1983, to be exact. It didn’t do all that great at the box office. $28 million in ticket sales versus $15 million in production costs.

And over the years, there’s even been some talk of finding a way to maybe set things right here. By that I mean: Finally finding a way to officially fold Tom Selleck into the world of Indiana Jones.

Could Tom Selleck Work with Indiana Jones?

The way I hear it, between the time when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was theatrically released in May of 1989 and when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” debuted in May of 2008, there were a number of ideas for Indiana Jones sequels tossed around. And from what I’ve been told, there was at least one treatment for a fourth Indiana Jones film written that proposed pairing up Harrison Ford & Tom Selleck. With the idea here being that Selleck was supposed to have played Ford’s brother.

Obviously that film was never made. And – no – I don’t know what state Indiana Jones’ brother was supposed to be named after.

This article is based on research for Looking at Lucasfilm “Episode 80”, published on June 29, 2023. Looking at Lucasfilm is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

Jim Hill

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?

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.

Jim Hill

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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