Donald Duck And His Crappy Cars

For all the progress we’ve made, there are still unsolvable challenges:

  • What is the biological basis of consciousness?
  • Can the laws of physics ever be unified?
  • Can no one design a toy car driven by Donald Duck that doesn’t look completely stupid?

Car not cartoonish; large head makes windshield pointless

Impractical wheel-bearing unit load ratio uses singular-row angular-contact ball bearings

Beret-wearing duck strains credulity

Not Disney authorized; Duck seems severely injured from previous rollover

Horizontal steering wheel; Duck still recovering from serious sawmill accident

Insufficient budget/expertise: paint

Duck appears to be bathing in pool of red liquid; Driver unidentified

Macrocephaly, Inexplicable cricket; Duck poised for Isadora Duncan-like death
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Best Part – They Stopped Smelling Like Hot Dogs About Six Months Ago

The Official Guide To Disney Collectibles by Ted Hake says that the Disney Johnny Tremain Silver plastic coins (shown above in all their original dazzling 1957 beauty) were “cereal box inserts.” Ah, if only ’twere true. You had to buy a package of Armour hot dogs to get one of these babies. The Gerber Plastics Corporation of St. Louis made 13 million of these, and at least seven survive. (I have doubles of Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride).

And this is no silly, thought-up-on-the-moment premium. You see, in the novel Johnny Tremain, Jehu, Mr. Hancock’s slave boy, gives Johnny a purse with a silver coin in it. Johnny goes from tavern to tavern, looking for the perfect place to satisfy his hunger. He finally ends up at a tavern called “The Afric Queen,” where he spends the silver coin on a feast where he has both coffee and chocolate for the first time. Then, on the caffeine rush, Johnny goes out and single-handedly wins the revolutionary war.

Disney shot this scene, but didn’t want to show Johnny in a establishment where liquor was served, so it was cut from the final production. All that remains is one still:

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D.C. Heath, Purveyor Of Disney Books Par Excellence

Carl Barks didn’t get to sign his comics, and his readers referred to his stories as the ones “drawn by the good artist.”

I had the same exact feeling about the D.C. Heath Walt Disney Story Books.

The first four were published in 1939: Donald Duck and His Friends, Little Pig’s Picnic and Other Stories, School Days in Disneyville, and Mickey Never Fails. By the time I got my hands on these books, they had been in and out of the school library hundreds of times and were a bit worse for the wear. But there was something about these books, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

(That’s D.C. Heath on the right, by the way. I never knew what he looked like until this evening).

The drawings in the Heath books seemed to “pop.” Something about them seemed so real… and so right. Being perhaps 5 or 6 at the time, I understood little about animation. But I sensed, and I’m betting hundreds of other kids did as well, that these were real Walt Disney drawings that made all the other books look like crude knock-offs… in the much the same way Carl Barks Duck stories made the non-Barks stories pale and uninteresting by comparison.

There was a simple explanation, of course: the art in the D.C. Heath books was not only prepared by the Walt Disney studio, but prepared on cels that were inked and painted just the way they were in the cartoons. (Most of them, anyway. D. C. Heath’s Bambi doesn’t use cels at all. And remind me to come back to Bambi some time.)

They weren’t cels used in the features and shorts; they were cels made especially for the books. For once, the characters looked exactly right, exactly the way they did on the screen. For once, the color was nearly as vivid as an IB Tech print, something else I didn’t know about back then. Some color films were just better than others.

And at a dollar a piece (Donald Duck And His Friends, the first in the series was 68 cents) and 100+ pages, these things must have flown off the shelves. Schools bought them because they were carefully sequenced in reading difficulty. Here They Are might have had a much more interesting title if its vocabulary had not been so severely limited. Donald Duck Sees South America, the most challenging title, is still just a bit beyond me.

My favorite was, and is, Mickey Sees The USA, which used the trailer last seen in the cartoon Mickey’s Trailer (looks like a ‘36 Drayer and Hansen to me). Yes, a bit didactic at times, but when Mickey stops in Washington D.C., the President himself helps find the lost Pluto. After the President scolds Pluto, he asks something of Mickey, Minnie and Donald in return: “I want you to be my good-will messengers and carry my greetings to everybody in the United States. We have a wonderful country. But it’s up to every one of us to make it still finer and better.” Say, that guy could get elected today.

Every once in a while, a cel created for a D. C. Heath book goes up for auction somewhere. The last one I spotted was this one, the opening spread for Chapter 1 of Pinocchio.

This wasn’t some book pretending to be Pinocchio, this book was Pinocchio. It still punches through 67 years of yellowing in my copy.

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Fans Come Full Circle

About seventy Carl Barks fans would be surprised to know that the letters they sent to Unca Carl are up for bids on eBay.

What else might they experience? Pleasure that Carl kept them? Outrage that they’re now for sale to the highest bidder?

A bigger question: who might possibly be interested in buying these? A marketer eager to get 70 name and address leads? No, too old.

A blackmailer might be able to create some sort of return on them, however, by selling individual letters back to the people who wrote them. Why they might want them back is also a question; but if I were the guy who sent Mr. Barks a picture of myself dumping coins on my head ala’ Uncle Scrooge’s ‘Money Baths’ (tiny, blurry detail at right) – and I’m not – I might think about a better-safe-than-sorry buyback.

The implication of this estate auction is clear: put everything up for sale. Would it give you a warm glow to know that those ugly Hummels now despoiling the artistic sensibility of your home once did the same thing at the Barks residence? How about a ripped and dirty artist’s smock that pre-dates the invention of the zip code? Hey, forget that, how about some used paint brushes? Would you like a roll of original Barks toilet paper? Since the ‘dust bunnies’ that collected in the corners of the Barks Studio are not listed here, I’m guessing they were sold to a private collector prior to the public auction.

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Mickey In A Merryweather

This gorgeous, large-format, full-color hardcover book reprints three “classic stories from the 1930s, Walt Disney’s Donald Duck (1935), Walt Disney’s Clock Cleaners (1938), and The Mickey Mouse Fire Brigade (1936).” All three stories are based on cartoons, but some strange liberties and notable revisions are made.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck was the first book to feature the Duck, who thus appears here in his long-billed incarnation. The original (Whitman #978) was printed on linen, which would seem to indicate it was intended for the youngest possible audience. Inexplicable, then is the one-joke premise: Mickey’s nephews “show Donald the difference between soft and HARD water” by tricking him into diving into a shallow spot.

Walt Disney’s Clock Cleaners was another “linen-like” book designed for kids who could be counted upon to treat it badly. “Scarce in Near Mint, common in lower grades” is Ted Hake’s comment on the linen-like books in The Official Price Guide to Disney Collectibles. Having even less linen-like pages to work with than Walt Disney’s Donald Duck (12 rather than 16), the original story is literally scaled down from the cartoon’s giant clock atop a skyscraper… to a cuckoo clock in an attic.

The third story, The Mickey Mouse Fire Brigade, is very faithful to the Mickey’s Fire Brigade cartoon, and the illustrations are excellent. Just one thing – Mickey’s fire helmet. Designed for a British audience that might not recognize the “backwards-baseball-hat” helmet design usually seen in the U.S., Mickey wears a Merryweather pattern brass fire helmet throughout.

If you read this one to your kids, I suggest giving Mickey a Yorkshire accent. If you need practice, the BBC is willing to help. I was going to give an Amazon link, but they don’t carry the book, show the the wrong cover picture, and spell Mickey “Micky.” Try Barnes and Noble.

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Michael Iceberg on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson

Michael Iceberg played his “Iceberg Machine” (synthesizers of all varieties, tweaked, customized, and modded) at Disneyland and at Walt Disney World. Michael was way ahead of the curve, producing sounds no one else was getting in the early 1980’s. Couple these sounds with Michael’s immense musical talent and wacky stage persona, and you’ve got the makings of an E-ticket park attraction. The Tomorrowland Terrace was huge, yet there was nary an empty seat when Michael was playing.

The Disney Channel created a special showcasing Michael Iceberg at the park, and you can find that on YouTube. This great performance comes from “The Tonight Show” just after the opening of Epcot, which should be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary at the moment, but hasn’t really done much to mark the milestone. A 3/4″ U-Matic video of Iceberg’s Carson appearance survived in my collection – and here it is.

Johnny Carson occasionally had bad nights on his show – when the audience didn’t laugh, guests didn’t talk – everything seemed to go wrong. This happened to be one of those terrible nights, as you’ll hear in Johnny’s introduction. I’m guessing that Michael overdid the fog just a little bit, because it’s a l-o-n-g time before we see anything other than the wide shot – one can practically sense the panic in the control room as they waited for the fog to clear so that they could get a medium shot or close-up.

But then, things start going right. It’s remarkable how different Johnny sounds at the conclusion of Michael’s performance – listen at the very end of the clip for his succinct review. Michael has that effect on nearly everybody.

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It wasn’t Disney, it was God

There’s pointed advice about a specific human activity in songs from both of Disney’s first two feature-length cartoons (or, if you’re Neal Gabler, animations). Truth is stranger than fiction – listen to Fr. G. Sarducci. (3m)

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Mickey Press Book up to $550.00 on eBay

Closes in about an hour. No wonder they drew Mickey standing on a mountain of money!

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More Early Cartoon Music MP3’s

Klaus Kinski ultimately portrayed the title character in Werner Herzog’s masterpiece Fitzcarraldo.

Kinski was not the director’s first choice, however. Neither was Jason Robards, who had signed on to play Fitzcarraldo and was fully four months into shooting when he contracted amoebic dysentery and left the Ecuadorian rain forest to return to the U.S. for medical care. His doctors forbade his return.

Herzog eventually gave the role to Kinski, but not before he renewed his knock-down, dragged-out fight with The Walt Disney Company, which refused to loan out Donald Duck for the role. (The duck’s success in The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos made him an obvious choice).

The still above is all that remains of the nearly two months the duck spent at the jungle location. Herzog was so enamored with the idea of an unintelligibly-voiced main character that when the duck bowed out, the decision was made to shoot the film entirely in German.

For your listening and downloading pleasure:

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf – Harry Reser and his Eskimos
What, No Mickey Mouse? – Ben Bernie and his Orchestra
Mickey Mouse and Minnie’s In Town – Don Bestor and his Orchestra
Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party – International Novelty Orchestra
Whistle While You Work – Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra
The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down – Russ Morgan and his Orchestra
Powerhouse – The Raymond Scott Quintette
It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day – Bob Zurke and his Delta Rhythm Band
and, in honor of this week’s stunning new Popeye DVD Box set (Thanks, Jerry!)…
Popeye Medley (Extended-play featuring Floyd Buckley, “Radio’s Popeye,” singing ‘I’m Popeye The Sailor Man,’ ‘Let’s Build a Bridge Today,’ ‘Hamburger Mine,’ ‘Popeye on Parade,’ ‘Won’t You Come and Climb A Mountain with Me,’ ‘Clean Shaven Man,’ and ‘Brotherly Love’)

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Early Disney Movie Music – with a British Flair

The famous march that opened TV’s “Mickey Mouse Club” had a great ‘hook’… “Mic-key-Mouse-Club, Mic-Key-Mouse-Club…” as identifiable as it is unforgettable. Written by Jimmie Dodd especially for the TV show, one would hardly expect to hear that very same ‘hook’ in a recording from 1933. But here it is.

Listen to the first few seconds of “Silly Symphony Selection,” and you will hear “Mic-key-Mouse-Club, Mic-Key-Mouse-Club…” I guess we will have to call this sheer musical coincidence. Or maybe that little musical ‘hook’ is somehow inherent in the Mickey Mouse theme song, “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo.”

Walt Disney had always refused to allow permission for records to be made from songs featured in his cartoons, but in 1933, he gave permission for a recording to be made by George Scott Wood, a British arranger and orchestra leader whose work Disney had heard and admired. Wood did an admirable job of capturing not only the Mickey Mouse theme but also a “Silly Symphony Selection” featuring music from “Funny Little Bunnies,” “Peculiar Penguins,” “The Pied Piper,” “The Grasshopper and the Ants,” “Lullabye Land,” and “The Wise Little Hen,” all “Symphonies” released in 1933 and 1934.

These British Dance Orchestras were mostly “sweet” bands, and listening to these tracks, you can easily imagine couples gliding across the polished floors of English hotels. Exceptions: the Dixieland-style treatment of “Turn on the Old Music Box,” from Pinocchio… and the jazzy treatment given to “When I See An Elephant Fly,” from Dumbo.

For your listening and downloading pleasure (All tracks 3-4m except for “Silly Symphony Selection,” 8m):

Download All

Silly Symphony Selection – Silly Symphonic Orchestra
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf – The BBC Dance Orchestra
Ferdinand The Bull – Joe Loss and his Band
Heigh-Ho – Henry Hall and his Orchestra
With A Smile and a Song – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (not a typo)
I’m Wishing – Henry Hall and his Orchestra
One Song – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Whistle While You Work – Harry Roy and his Orchestra
Some Day My Prince Will Come – Jack Harris and his Orchestra
Give A Little Whistle – Joe Loss and his Band
Little Wooden Head – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
When You Wish Upon A Star – Joe Loss and his Band
Turn On The Old Music Box – George Scott Wood and the Six Swingers
When I See An Elephant Fly – Joe Loss and his Band
Love Is A Song – The RAOC Blue Rockets

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