At the Walt Disney Company Archives with Dave Smith

For die-hard Disney fans any kind of ephemera is nice but the prime stuff has got to have a story behind it. For all you die-yards out there a big reason to take a tour of Walt Disney Studios in Burbank is the chance to peek inside the Archives.

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This building with the film reels on it houses the Disney Archives. It’s just as cool inside as it looks on the outside.

The Archives are housed in a massive building and only a small room plays host to guests, but this room is crammed full of props, sketches, and personal effects that have played a role in Disney’s Magic. Busy Bumble and I got a chance to go inside on our tour and we got a big surprise: chief archivist Dave Smith himself!

For those who don’t know Dave, he writes the popular Ask Dave articles for Disney’s magazines and websites, as well as his own books. If you have a question about Disney Dave either knows the answer or knows how to get it. For our meet and greet Dave had pulled some choice artifacts for us to take a look at.

The First Disneyland Ticket, Disneyland Books and the Prized Parking Pass

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What’s more rare than a public admission ticket from Opening Day? How about a Press Preview ticket.

Now this isn’t from when the park opened to the public. This ticket is actually from the press preview.

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Aww, it’s an ickle little admission ticket. Dave Smith shows the group a genuine Opening Day ticket, encased in plexiglass for posterity.

There’s also an Opening Day ticket. So cute and tiny. The price on it is $1.00 and that was just to get in. Obviously you had to also purchase the famous ticket books for attractions (A, B, C, D, and the coveted E tickets).

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Dave holding an intact attraction ticket booklet. Ask my father: you never had enough of the tickets you needed.
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Amazingly, this parking permit is worth quite a bit as a piece of history. Aren’t you glad you just get a printed ticket when you park at Disneyland now?

 

The parking pass is actually the rarest item that the Archive has in terms of a mass-produced item. This is the only intact one in existence. Why? Because these first ones were like postage stamps: you had to lick the back and stick it to your vehicle. At the end of the day you’d scrape it off, destroying it. This particular permit was printed just for the Premiere, so it has added value in that respect.

These permits were phased out, obviously. It’s funny that this prized artifact is something seeming so mundane.

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A close up of the Disneyland tickets and parking permit.
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Dave holding one of the promo books that went on sale when Disneyland opened. A souvenir and sleeper advertising tactic. 

Dave also had some of the promo merchandise for the park’s opening. Walt’s idea was that if people could buy cheap but nice quality books showcasing the park they’d display them in their homes or shar them with friends, which would encourage others to visit. His suppliers did not want to see the books for cheap (Walt was thinking initially of $0.25!) but he assured them they’d make their money back in park attendance.

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The page about Fantasyland has a photo of the castle before many of the plants and trees were added. On the opposite page is a sketch of the Chicken of the Sea restaurant, shaped like a pirate ship, and the old Mad Tea Party teacups.
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The page for Frontierland has no photographs! That’s because when it went to press none of the part of the park had been built yet. It would be like putting sketches of the Star Wars expansions in the park maps now.

 

Because much of the park was incomplete when the booklets were sent to press they’re filled with concept illustrations and other images that never made it into reality.

One of Disney’s Oscars

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And I’d like to thank my parents for always believing in me, and my sister for being the best, and my agent for not taking too much money, and my management team, and my…

Walt Disney holds the record for the most Academy Awards won by an individual. He’s won so much they can even let average folks like us play around with one without iron-clad security. The one Dave brought out was won for Best Documentary Short for one of the many True Life Adventure shorts. I held this guy and it is impressive. And heavy.

First Look: Walt Disney’s Stock Sale Certificate

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The last company transaction Walt made was to take care of his family.

Dave mentioned that over the years he’s made friends with the janitorial staff since they always run interesting finds by him before throwing things out. Very recently before our tour they brought him something that turned out to be very valuable.

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That is Walt Disney’s signature on that page.

As Dave told it the staff didn’t know what this was or if it meant anything, but they had a gut feeling it was more than a studio memo. They’d been clearing out some old file cabinets and found this simple set of documents. Upon inspection Dave realized this was the final sale of Walt Disney’s stake in his company, which was done while he was on his deathbed.

Walt had been working at the studio when his cancer got the better of him. He was taken across the street to what is now St. Joseph Healthcare. His daughter Diane and her husband had been planning on making their home in Northern California and were looking at an old winery and vineyard owned by the founder of See’s Candies, but they didn’t have enough money to buy the place. Worried that when he died his family would need solvent cash, Walt sold his shares in the Walt Disney Company to help Diane buy her dream home and help his family have some immediate financial security when he died.

The certificate lists Mr. Disney as the seller and the number of shares in the transaction but not the amount it was worth. Dave said someone could probably do some research to find out the stock price on the day listed, do the math to convert the price for inflation, do some quick arithmetic and there would be a very large amount of money.

If you want to see what some of that money went toward you can visit the Silverado Winery in Napa, CA, which is still owned by the family although sadly Diane has passed away.

Dave’s New Book

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Read this book if you’re a diehard Disney fan. I guarantee there will be things in here you did not know.

Before we left Dave revealed his newest book was published and for sale. Disney Facts Revealed is a fun read with lots of trivia and history you may not have known about the company. We bought a book from Dave himself and have his autograph as a memory of a great day on the lot.

Around the Archives

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A display of what an animator’s workspace would have looked like during the Golden Years. This was set up for work on Pinocchio. Notice the stagecoach maquette for the trip to Pleasure Island, and the maquettes of Stromboli, Figaro, Cleo, and Jiminy Cricket. Each piece of furniture was custom-made for the studios and made to suit the animators so they wouldn’t be fatigued.

We also got a chance to look around the guest room and take a look at what was on display. From books, to maquettes, to props this room was filled with exclamations of joy and recognition.

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Maquettes from Hercules.
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Some of the books in the library are international editions of Disney publications. Check out the German, Japanese, and Spanish books. 
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Stop motion puppets from James and the Giant Peach and Frankenweenie. These were bigger than I thought they’d be, but that makes sense considering the details that needed to show up on screen.
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An assortment of other stop motion puppets, including a few from the opening sequence of The Parent Trap (the Hayley Mills version).
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The Porcelain Girl from Oz the Great and Powerful, a pumpkin head from Return to Oz, and sea creatures from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The latter two aren’t Disney films but Disney artists helped with the effects.
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Props from some of Disney’s live action films. Here’s one of the Mad Hatter’s hats in miniature from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
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Some pear-shaped Flubber from Flubber, the poisoned apple and poisoned caramel apple from Enchanted, Sam Eagle’s CIA badge and ID from Muppets Most Wanted, and Jack the Monkey’s Asian attire from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
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Is that an Apple Watch? No, it’s the radio wristwatch from Dick Tracy. That yellow thing at the bottom is part of the flashlight that Haley Joel Osment held in The Sixth Sense when he said, “I see dead people.”
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Davey Jones’ pipe from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
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Some personal effects belonging to Walt Disney himself: his favorite brand of grease pencil for making edits, his personal camera, and even his reading glasses.
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Disneyland merchandise. Disney started it all when Walt decided to let a manufacturing company produce toys with Mickey Mouse on them. To this day no one makes brand merchandise better than Disney. The evidence: Disney practically owns my paycheck.

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Modern Day Artifacts

 

Outside in the lobby are some displays from Walt Disney Pictures more recent films. A fine display for Cinderella showed how selected artifacts are stored and the criteria for choosing items to save (artistic value, historic value, technological achievement, etc). Folks flocked to the Captain America: Civil War display which also had some other favorites from the Marvel films.

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The Cinderella display shows how artifacts are selected and preserved. This exhibit also highlights the film’s unenviable task of bringing a classic animated film to life as a live action movie.
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Ella’s peasant dress from Cinderella. You can see actress Lily James wearing the costume in the production stills on display.
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They had to make glass slippers for all purposes: special effects, close ups, you name it. Here they show two examples: artfully broken and enlarged for close up details.
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In this display they show have the shoes were actually made. The real shoes that Lily James wore weren’t as fancy as the prop shoes. These were made large and highly detailed for when the camera lingered on them.
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How do you protect a glass slipper? Soft foam, styrofoam, and plywood. 
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The glass slipper that was used when Prince Kit had Ella try it on. This one is buffed to a perfect crystal sheen. Not for wearing, but it sure looks pretty.
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Steve Rogers and his frisbee… I mean shield. Chris Evans is tall if this costume is any indication.
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Captain America and the Winter Soldier (poor Bucky) have their costumes displayed side by side. Everything is artfully weathered and worn without looking overused. To the upper right you can see some of the costume pieces worn by Black Panther.
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Black Panter and the Scarlet Witch side by side. The detail on the costumes and props is remarkable. I’d show you but everyone else was in the way.
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The Scarlet Witch, who gets the shiniest leather of all the costumes.

Also on display is one of Disney’s multiplane cameras. There are only a few left in existence. One is here in the Archives, but you can also see one in the Animation Building at California Adventure and one in the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

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These cameras were instrumental in achieving the depth the Disney’s feature animation became known for. Rather than looking like everything was on a page, it really looked like the characters and scenery were moving dimensionally, like with a live action movie.
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Pieces from a scene of Pinocchio are on display. The camera works by layering the elements on top of each other so that some pieces stay fixed in the background, while others change as the animation moves. This was very tim consuming (consider that for every frame at least one layer had to be changed) but we’ve seen that the end result was nothing short of wonderous.

There is another area of the studios that the Archives staff take care of, which I’ll detail in my next post: Walt Disney’s office.

2 Comments

  1. Bill Rodebaugh

    I am searching for a Disney/Epcot costume documentation book that has photos of the Life Size Marionettes from the Carousel from the former 1982-2005 El Rio Del Tiempo ride at Epcot.

    Like

    1. Busy Bee

      Hi Bill!

      Dave Smith has a great staff at the Archives and they answer questions pretty well. If you’re a D23 member, even just the free type to give you access to the website, you can send in your question to Ask Dave (from the home page access the Archives tab, then go to Ask Dave). They can look through their resources or point you to another expert.

      I don’t have a lot of resources myself, but check out Lost Epcot (http://www.lostepcot.com/elriodeltiempo.html) or Extinct Disney (http://www.extinctdisney.com/el-rio-del-tiempo) to see if maybe they know of a reference you can use.

      Like

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