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The Ub Iwerks Story — Part II

Jim Korkis concludes his two part story about Ub Iwerks, the secret genius of Walt Disney Studios.

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When I had the opportunity to interview Peter Ellenshaw, the Disney master of matte painting, who worked on several projects with Ub Iwerks about what Iwerks was really like, Ellenshaw very diplomatically answered “He was amazing. He was a genius. But it was obvious we had very different senses of humor.” Even the easy going Ellenshaw obviously had some challenges dealing with the secret genius of the Disney Studio.

According to the book WALT DISNEY: A BIOGRAPHY by Barbara Ford, “In spite of his skills, Ub remained the same shy, inarticulate, serious young man he had been when Walt first met him. He was extremely nervous around young women. Ub’s personality made him a natural foil for confident Walt’s practical jokes. At Kansas City Film Ad Company, Walt would send Ub postcards signed with girls’ names, lock him in the washroom so that he had to hammer on the door to get out, and smuggle animals into his desk and locker. Ub never complained.”

Ub never complained not necessarily because he was a good sport but because he seemed to have difficult expressing emotion and it would sometimes bubble up in a temper to rival Walt’s. So when an opportunity came up in 1930 to run his own studio his own way without any interference from Walt and at a salary double what he was currently making, Ub decided it was time to move on and avoid his growing frustration at Disney.

Walt, who was in New York at the time, was taken completely by surprise and felt betrayed by his longtime friend’s decision to leave the Disney Studio. Even worse, Ub was going to be a competitor.

To be fair, Ub didn’t feel his leaving would put the studio in jeopardy since a process had been established to produce the Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons and the studio had expanded with more than enough other animators like Les Clark capable of doing the work. Roy Disney even sent a note to Walt explaining that there was no evidence of malice in Ub’s action and that he was always a little naïve when it came to business dealings. The Disneys paid Ub less than $3,000 for his 20% partnership in the company which was a substantial amount in 1930. (That 20% would have been worth billions today.)

Under the banner of Celebrity Productions, Iwerks produced three cartoon series from 1930 to approximately 1936: Flip the Frog, Willie Whopper and the ComiColor cartoon fables.

After the first two cartoons, Flip was modified to be less froglike and with new short pants, white shoes and gloves, he resembled nothing more than one of the several Mickey Mouse wannabes like Warners’ Foxy which were prevalent at the time. The cartoons did resemble the early Mickey Mouse cartoons with several similar plots like a dark house mystery and building a robot but although they featured strong animation, the stories meandered at a slow pace and never took advantage of the opportunities for gags.

The ComiColor Cartoon series were primarily adaptations of classic folklore stories like Jack and the Beanstalk, the Headless Horseman and Sindbad the Sailor. They were produced in Cinecolor, a two color process using a combination of red and blue hues . Many of the cartoons were filmed in a three dimensional effect using a crude multiplane camera Iwerks had built using parts from an old Chevrolet automobile for about $300. These technical improvements never compensated for the lack of a strong story and charismatic characters.

The Willie the Whopper series recounted the adventures of a pudgy young boy (voiced by a seven year old Jane Withers in one of her first professional jobs) who told tall tales known as “whoppers” and who at the end of each cartoon encouraged audiences to tell one of their own.

The studio was staffed by soon to be legendary animators like Grim Natwick, Shamus Culhane, Virgil Ross and Rudy Zamora as well as a young man just starting his career, Chuck Jones, who was employed to wash the ink and paint off cels so they could be re-used. (Chuck also got a chance to get to know Ub’s secretary, Dorothy, who would later become Chuck’s first wife.) However, while Iwerks was an inspiration as an animator, his laconic manner, often misunderstood by others as being sullen, was unable to provide the leadership needed to guide these talented individuals to creative heights.

It quickly became obvious that Iwerks was unable or unwilling to adapt his cartoons to changes happening in the cartoons of the Thirties which ironically were sparked by the rapid advances in Disney animation. Just as apparent was the fact that Ub was becoming less interested in animation and the day-to-day running of the studio and more interested in technology and was happiest when tinkering with mechanical problems.

Rich production values could not compensate for lead characters who were passive and lacked clear, charismatic personalities nor for unfocused stories so the studio laid off much of its staff in 1935 and shifted from independent production to subcontracting. Ub directed two Porky Pig cartoons and directed some of the Color Rhapsodies series for Columbia.

Iwerks became progressively more and more unhappy about his situation and on September 9, 1940, he returned to the Disney Studio and became Walt’s creative technical director for the studio’s new Optical Print Department. Iwerks stayed at the studio for the next three decades as a technical troubleshooter until his death in 1971 and his credit of “special processes” appears on numerous Disney films.

Ub’s rehiring was done by Ben Sharpsteen and Walt pointedly did not want to know the details even though it was highly unusual for the Disney Studio to rehire someone who left to become a competitor. Walt dealt with Ub at a professional distance with no revival of the social connections of the past. They respected each other and publicly praised each other but a definite chill existed that was sensed by all who worked at the studio.

However, Walt recognized how valuable Ub was to the Studio and left him alone to explore his own instincts regarding technological matters. Ub designed and built the first multi-head optical printer which made possible the combination of live action and animation in THE THREE CABALLEROS (and later modifications he made on this device were responsible for the more intricate combinations of live action and animation in MARY POPPINS).

He assisted in the development of a xerography process that allowed animator’s artwork as in 101 DALMATIANS (1961) to be transferred directed to xerox cels and thus eliminated the inking process.

Although Ub was no longer involved in animation, Dave Smith of the Disney Archives has revealed that Ub slipped in at least one drawing in every picture he worked on. For example, he did the art work for a coral reef in a process shot in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and he did a lot of uncredited artwork in the training films that the studio did for the military during World War II as well as animated an unused segment for Danny Kaye’s film, UP IN ARMS.

He designed many of the effects for such Disneyland attractions as “it’s a small world” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and did the design for the film presentation for the “Hall of Presidents” attraction for Walt Disney World. In 1962, Ub was loaned out to Alfred Hitchcock and put in more than three hundred hours on special effects for THE BIRDS.

Ub was a collector of mechanical things, firearms and early cameras and related material like glass slides. Professionally, he was a member of several organizations including the Motion Picture Research Council, the American Society of Cinematographers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

In 1959, Ub received an Academy Award for the design of an improved optical printer for special effects and matte shots. He received another Oscar in 1964 on the conception and perfection of techniques for color traveling matte composite cinematography. (Iwerks and his staff perfected the traveling matte system in MARY POPPINS to create the scenes where characters danced with animated penguins and the “Feed the Birds” sequence in which hundreds of pigeons flocked around St. Paul’s Cathedral.) He also received the Herbert T. Kalmus Cold Medal Award for his outstanding contributions to the industry.

“My granddad was a quiet man. His house in Sherman Oaks was studious and modern, with Mozart playing all the time. Grandma Mildred liked flower-arranging – simple designs like ikebana,” commented Kathie Iwerks Stark, Ub’s granddaughter.

According to Stark, her grandfather taught himself to bowl but stopped once he’d bowled 300, a perfect game. He also abandoned archery once he’d perfected that sport. To relax, Ub Iwerks played poker with Ben “Bugs” Hardaway, one of the creators of Bugs Bunny and one of the creators of Woody Woodpecker.

Ub passed away in 1971, five years after Walt Disney. Don Iwerks, one of Ub’s sons, spent thirty-five years at the Walt Disney Companies and some of that time working with his dad. Don and his team designed and manufactured unique film systems for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Ub’s other son, David, also worked at the Disney Studios in special effects. In 1986, Don left Disney to help start Iwerks Entertainment which became one of the world’s leading providers of location-based entertainment attractions with over 250 installations operating or contracted worldwide. It continues Ub’s spirit of innovation in technology.

Walt and Ub were a great team. Iwerks was able to develop and perfect technical processes that supported Walt’s creative ideas and was content to remain in Walt’s shadow even after Walt’s death. Ub was a quiet and unassuming man who many felt could have followed the same path as Walt but their paths diverged yet eerily remained parallel and now decades later, thanks to his granddaughter’s book and film documentary, Disney’s secret genius is beginning to receive some belated recognition for his many accomplishments. He was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 1989.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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