Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Showdown at Castle Court...

From the early 70s Walt Disney World pictorial souvenirs, comes this, one of the strangest, most memorable images ever to grace the interior of one of those little treasure troves of Disney photography...

Fantasyland was never quite the same... after Dixie-Leigh rode into town!

It may be just a photograph of a kid facing down a dwarf, you say, but I say: look closer. The strange distance. The slanting shadows. The Stimmung. What unspoken past history lies between these two? Is the child here to avenge her family? Is it pistols at dawn? So much of early Walt Disney World photography is memorably opaque such as this, photographs just suggestive enough of some unspoken larger context that you'll always remember, say, the cool guy speeding past a blurry Contemporary Resort in his Grand Prix racecar - the wind in his afro - or the girl walking, all alone through Frontierland, tentatively tugging down the edges of her massive gift shop Sombrero. The old guy, leaning out of a Persianesque window in the heart of old Adventureland, to admire a "Magic Carpet". Or the Dad with the thick rimmed glasses - who looks like Gene Hackman - spinning merrily in a yet-to-be-covered Mad Tea Party. They're strange and memorable and sort of dopey, just like real guests at Walt Disney World still are.

So go ahead. Write your own caption for this immortal bit of early Walt Disney World weirdness I affectionately call Child Vs. Dwarf.

You know you want to.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Snapshot: Olde World Antiques

"The furniture, tools, paintings, and other authentic European relics of the shop remind Disney guests of the tremendous foreign influence prevalent in our nation since its birth. These antiques, and the goods in all of the Liberty Square shops, reflect the mood of America's struggling years to independence, when immigrants from all over the world settled in the new colonies and brought with them their respective cultures and traditions." - 'Liberty Square's Yesteryear Shops', Walt Disney World Vacationland, Summer 1975
Add Image
Truthfully, we would all be very blessed if every seemingly minor aspect of early Walt Disney World were as well documented as that longtime mainstay of Liberty Square, Olde World Antiques. It gets rather extensive coverage in almost every Walt Disney World souvenir publication up until the early 1990s, usually warranting at least an interior picture and a mention in the body of the text, an honor which was rarely granted to attractions such as If You Had Wings or Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. And while Disney apparently never bothered to publish photographs of the early interiors of something like the Heritage House or the Magic Shop, it's startlingly easy to find documented evidence of what Olde World Antiques was all about.

In a way, this may be a reflection of the prestige Disney attached to this shop in particular. David Koenig relates in Realityland: "Resort-wide, the [Merchandise] department was led by Jack Olsen, a heavy-set old-timer, who usually dressed in shorts and a golf shirt and constantly preached that his stores were not factories. He wanted them operated first and foremost as part of the show, rather than designed and operated to maximize profit. Even though souvenirs imprinted with Mickey Mouse and other characters were the best selling merchandise in the park, none were sold in Adventureland, Frontierland, or Liberty Square. Everything had to be themed to the period."

Koenig then quotes a manager of one of these shops, who says: "Disney had very little business knowledge. Anything Jack Olsen wanted was okay. It didn't matter what it cost.... The antique shop in Liberty Square made about $100,000 a year - but spent $1 million! Money didn't mean a thing. They were movie people, there to put on a show."

So obviously some of the prestige of Olde World Antiques comes from its status as "part of the show", if a very elaborate and fanciful version of the show. Some of the emphasis may also be placed because of the shop's connection to the Disneyland original, the One-of-a-Kind Shop, apparently a Walt Disney creation. Stories of Walt Disney scouring the Crescent City for real antiques for his miniature New Orleans circulate to this day, and his haul apparently included furnishings for Club 33 and a big brass espresso machine for the Creole Cafe (Kevin Yee tells funny stories about being assigned to polish the huge and totally inoperable thing). Being in the antiques business even became something of a tradition for Disney, which at one point operated three distinct antiques shops - The One-of-a-Kind Shop, Olde World Antiques, and Von Otto's Antiques at the Walt Disney World Village. The Liberty Square shop outlasted them all.

Olde World Antiques was really three compact shops in one - Mlle Lafayett's Parfumerie, accessable directly from the rear of the shop facing Main Street, the Silversmith to the West, with the antiques shop rambling between and into them both. Vacationland had this to say about the Parfumerie in 1975:

"Time has not softened the desire of ladies and gentlemen to dab on a essences of imported perfumes and colonges. Sweet and spicy scents, drifting into Olde World Antiques from Mlle Lafayett's Parfumerie, entice guests into this little French-decor shop.

Among the crystal and china atomizers, soaps, pressed powder sachets and potpourri, are hundreds of popular and hard-to-find perfume products, including famous French lines. Yet, if a guest prefers a more personal fragrance, the hostess will custom-blend a perfume, choosing from the shop's seven basic perfume oils, ranging from the sweeter floral and citrus notes to the more heady scents of spice and musk. Then, each custom blend is numbered and recorded so that the guest may later re-order that same perfume without being present."
In light of this sort of thing, perhaps it's more understandable now why Disney once offered Shopping-Only passes to the Magic Kingdom around Christmastime. I have no photos showing the full interior of this cramped little nook, but here's an unusual image of the exterior entryway from the backside of the building, photographed totally by accident as part of the background of a picture of the Fife and Drum Band The Ancients doing their show:

The Silversmith, of course, existed mostly to lend atmosphere to the square, and any long-time Magic Kingdom visitor who remembers the beautiful silver pieces lined up in the windows, glinting in the Florida sun, will likely best understand the tactile loss this shop represented when it switched to generic Christmas items. Aside from that rather abstract addition, the Silversmith also name-dropped Johnny Tremain as the proprietor, which forged a very strong link to the nearby Liberty Tree via the fictional history of Tremain's apprenticeship, hanging of the lanterns in the liberty tree in Boston, and of course the Disney film made from it.

(Of course this detail may also have brought consternation for those of us forced to read through that book in elementary school, since obviously Johnny Tremain could hardly own his own silver shop because his hand was totally crippled in the first third of the book and most of us stopped reading it halfway through and cheated on the test. Either way, you remembered it when you were a kid, which can't be said of every detail you'd run past on your way to the Haunted Mansion.)

As for the antiques themselves, Disney took their stead quite seriously, and even hired an antiques buyer especially for their three shops: Otto Rabby (left), who was interviewed for Walt Disney World Vacationland in 1973. You may find the opinions expressed so long ago by Rabby and by the Disney company themselves to be refreshing and just a bit saddening:
"The antique shop at Walt Disney World deals exclusively in objects from abroad. Once, and sometimes twice, a year, Otto spends eight weeks searching for unusual items in Italy, France, England, Denmark, Holland, Austria, Spain and Germany. He deals only with reputable agents who, through long association, have learned to anticipate his requirements.

'Primarily,' he explained, 'I try to find objects that will interest, amuse, and attract as wide a variety of people as possible. The joy of my work is in finding the truly unique item that one sees perhaps once in a lifetime. Of course, I always look for certain qualities in a piece - good design, craftsmanship, authenticity, and an intangible thing I call "personality." An antique, by its very nature, in intriguing. It has a story to tell. I try to find out the personal history of every item I buy - who made it and for whom? Why was it sold? What happened to the original owners? If antiques could talk, they would put novelists out of business.'

Well, possibly. But as one looks at the bronze, 18th-century chandelier, complete with coiling cobras and gruesome gargoyles, that hangs in the shop, fantasies reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe are brought to mind. And the gay but silent rocking horse from England, still bearing the scuff marks of its tiny rider in 1780, stirs up memories of Jane Austen nurseries and comfortable nannies.

'Our shops are essentially attractions for our guests,' continues Otto. 'We want people to feel free to visit and to browse, to ask questions and to share antique anecdotes with the shop host and hostesses. It isn't nessicary to buy antiques to enjoy them. We have many guests who return time and again, simply to look at an item that has struck their fancy.'

Guests not only return to visit with Otto and his associates but telephone from as far away as Australia to order antiques they have seen and can't forget. The shops have excellent shipping and crating facilities and will deliver anywhere in the world. Any antique purchased at Walt Disney World is guaranteed to be exactly what it purports to be - and that includes place and year of origin, quality of craftsmanship, and authenticity."

Olde World Antiques continued to meander along until the mid 90s, when the plug was finally pulled to make way for an expanded version of a shop which had been operating in Fantasyland under the name Mickey's Christmas Carol since the late 80s. The Mickey's Christmas Carol location became Sir Mickey's at the same time and so Otto's antique collection, all the silver, the perfume, and the antique rocking horse left the Magic Kingdom forever.

(look to the right for another view of Otto's 1780 rocking horse)

(This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Click to enjoy an onslaught of Disney news and info!!)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Art of the Hall of Presidents

"The skills of the sculptor, the talents of the artist, and marvels of space-age electronics make history 'live' inside The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. Sculptors spent two years creating life-size heads of all 36 American Presidents; a dozen artists painted 82 scenes in the style of famous painters of the period portrayed. Walt Disney originated the show concept in 1956, searching for 'a different and exciting way' to dramatize our American heritage." - The Story of Walt Disney World
"Literally hundreds of Disney artisans, designers, craftsmen, and technicians collaborated on 'The Hall of Presidents' attraction. Painstaking research, exacting execution, and technical innovations were required in order to achieve the degree of perfection demanded by Walt Disney.

A new five-screen, 70mm cinematic process was created which literally places the audience at the center of the action, sweeping it into the historical arena where the ethical, idealistic, and constitutional conflicts of the nation were raised and resolved.

More than a dozen internationally renowned artists working under the direction of four-time Academy Award winner John DeCuir worked daily for two years to create 85 masterpieces - some more than 40 feet long - in the style of the period when each specific action takes place.

Music, narration, and special sound effects accompany the images on the 'wrap-around' screen. For example, as an impressive composition of the Founding Fathers, based on a historical painting of the period, fills the screen, the words of George Washington echo through the theater..." - Walt Disney World Vacationland, Spring 1973

The following is a direct transcription of a seven-page memo intended for Walt Disney World Hostesses working at the brand new Hall of Presidents attraction. Although for the last decade or so the "Rotunda" waiting area of the attraction has featured portraiture of the Presidents, originally framed, mounted reproductions of the original WED art for the attraction hung on the walls. To this I have added notes, visuals of the artists and art styles noted for comparison, and, whenever possible, the original WED art itself. Click on the WED paintings for high resolution versions.






SEPTEMBER 27, 1971



(Note: although the painting I have reproduced above is not the one that this paragraph refers to, it is representative of the style of art depicted in this segment of the 1971 film. The actual WED portrait in question can still be seen in the 2009 version of the show.)

The location is the East Room, (Assembly Room) of the Pennsylvania State House – now known as Independence Hall. Both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787) were signed in this same room.

On September 17, 1787, four months after the Convention had assembled, the finished Constitution was signed “By unanimous consent of the States present”. Fifty-five members of the Convention signed the Constitution.

The moment depicted in the painting is one of great satisfaction to those assembled. A confederation of sovereign states have banded together to form a Federal Union.

The painting is in the style of colonial artists like John Trumball, John Singleton Copley and Charles Willson Peale.

"Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull.

(High Resolution version may be seen here, via Wikipedia)


The State House circa 1778 (taken from background of Charles Willson Peale painting of Conrad Alexandre Gerard). The State House became famous as Independence Hall (see #1).

George Washington at Princeton (1779) by Charles Willson Peale (via Wikipedia)


In the style of the French Artist, Joseph S. Duplessis (1725 – 1802). Duplessis actually painted Franklin in 1783.

Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) played a pivotal role in the Constitutional Convention. Already over 80, Franklin’s humor and willingness to act as an alder statesman helped the Convention over many rough spots. Probably his two most famous quotes during the Constitutional Convention are as follows:

1) At the signing – pointing to the gilded half-sun on the back of Washington’s chair, Franklin said, “I have often and often, in the course of the sessions and vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, not a setting, sun.”

2) Urging all delegates to sign the proposed draft, “In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government is necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution; for when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such as assembly can a perfect production be expected?...

On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it would, with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility."

Benjamin Franklin by J. Duplessis

A portrait of Abraham Lincoln – this painting shows Lincoln as he appeared in 1858 at age 49 during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. At this time, Lincoln was running for U. S. Senator from Illinois – an election which he lost. However, the debates he conducted with Stephen A. Douglas during this campaign propelled him into national prominence.


In this painting President Lincoln stands in the East Room of the White House. He has just been inaugurated and war clouds swirl about the United States. Will the southern states make good on their threat to secede from the Union?

The painting is accomplished in the style of Winslow Homer. Homer represented the school of naturalism, the realistic picturing of the contemporary scene. Homer painted by eye more than by tradition and he was an independent American pioneer of the impressionistic vision, then developing also in France.

"Artists Sketching in the White Mountains" by Winslow Homer


A panoramic view of the City of Philadelphia in 1787. Shows the Delaware River in the foreground – with windmills and vessels – main bldgs (sic) shown are the Pennsylvania State House (site of the Constitutional Convention), Christ Church and Carpenter’s Hall.

Christ Church was completed in 1753-4 when the tower and steeple were built. During the time that Congress and the Federal Government were in Philadelphia a pew was retained for the Presidents of the U. S. – Washington and Adams. Franklin had a pew at Christ Church for many years as did Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution.

Carpenter’s Hall – the first Continental Congress met here in 1774. This hall was built in 1771, by a guild of carpenters and architects, for the accommodation of its members.

Windmill Island – so called because of the windmills upon it.

This painting shows the influence of the colonial artist, Charles Willson Peale.


The painting depicts the lower house in session during the Nullification controversy of the early 1830’s.

The south under the leadership of Robert Hayne and John C. Calhoun, both of South Carolina, attacked high tariffs and the land stakes as discriminatory against their section. The doctrine of Nullification they prepared claimed that each state retained the right to interpose and nullify “unconstitutional” acts of the national government. When Andrew Jackson was re-elected in 1832, he found himself facing a Nullification Crisis regarding South Carolina. The state declared that federal tariff laws would not be enforced. Jackson in his “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina” asserted that no state had the right to annul a federal law. “To say that any state may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation”. With the passage of the Force Bill, Congress made ready to employ military means to collect Tariff duties. South Carolina, faced with the might of the U.S., backed down.

This painting is based upon one of Samuel F. B. Morse’s works “The Old House of Representatives” completed in 1822. Morse (1781 – 1872), perhaps best-known as a portrait artist, actually had all of the 88 assembled legislators pose for their portraits. At age 41 Morse turned to tinkering with electricity.


This painting showing a pensive Abraham Lincoln shows him in either his study or the cabinet room. As is true of painting #5 the loneliness of responsibility and command decision seems to fill the canvas.

(The painting described here did not appear in the original version of the attraction and may have been one of the many paintings of Lincoln Sam McKim executed for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.)


This cameo of Franklin and Hamilton talking at the signing of the Constitution is based on a Trumbull painting.

The personalities of Franklin and Hamilton provide an interesting counterpoint. Franklin was experienced, warm, philosophical, reasonable and homey while Hamilton was young, brilliant, cold, absolute and ambitious.