the many failures of walt disney -- 9/14/18

Today's selection -- from Hollywood Stories by Stephen Schochet. The many failures of Walt Disney:

"Walt Disney never wished to sell stock in his company. The initial box-office failures of Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942) forced him to make a public offering. ...

"In 1942, the financially teetering Walt Disney attended the premiere of Bambi. In the dramatic scene where Bambi's mother died, the young fawn was shown wandering through the meadow shouting, 'Mother! Where are you, Mother?'

"A teenage girl seated in the balcony shouted out, 'Here I am Bambi!' The audience broke into laughter, except for the red-faced producer who concluded correctly that war time was not the best time to release a film about the love life of a deer. ...

"Disney's Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942) all failed in their first releases. World War II cut off international distribution. The national mood turned away from Walt's sentimental movies. Disney plunged four million dollars into debt and it looked like his line of credit would be cut off. In a dramatic meeting, A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America, stood up and told the board members that Disney made timeless pictures and that the war would not last forever. They voted unanimously to keep Walt afloat after the old man's speech. Giannini was proven right years later when all three films became profitable classics. ...

"After World War II, the heavily in debt Walt Disney got tired of people telling him his ventures would fail. The frustrated entrepreneur had developed a half-hour featurette called Seal Island. He was told by distributors there was no market for it. Walt was also getting flack from bankers about his plans for a feature-length animated Cinderella; make less expensive projects, they said. Then there was the scoffing about his attempt to make a fully live action version of Treasure Island, a Disney movie without cartoons would never sell. Walt ignored the doubters and completed all three endeavors. Seal Island won the Oscar for best short subject, which led to many more highly profitable nature films, Cinderella became his biggest success in a decade and Treasure Island did fine at the box office. The positive results made it far easier for Walt to dismiss the negative voices who were making fun of his amusement-park idea. ...

Original theatrical release poster for Bambi (1942).

"Building an amusement park provided perfectionist Walt Disney with a creative outlet that in many ways was more satisfying to him than making motion pictures. Disney's most expensive animated film, Sleeping Beauty, (1959) lost money in its first release. After Snow White (1937) and Cinderella (1950), perhaps he'd gone to the fairy tale well once too often. Likewise, the live-action Pollyanna (1960) made Walt cry at the studio, but failed at the box office. The heart-warming tale of a young girl trying her best to bring happiness to the crabby residents of a small town may have turned off young boys with its title. Walt also second-guessed himself over the initial failure of Alice in Wonderland (1951). His brother Roy had accused him of adapting English scholar Lewis Carroll's (1832-1898) 1865 novel about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole, simply to impress highbrow critics who looked down their noses at cartoons. The dream-like characters in Alice lacked the usual Disney warmth and were probably too strange to go over big.

"With movies, either people liked them or they didn't; once they were in circulation, there wasn't much a producer could do. And even when Walt had a hit like the submarine adventure , for the forward-looking entrepreneur the triumph was short-lived. After Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt was able to correct mistakes, and keep adding new rides and attractions, which gave him a joyful, never-ending project. ...

"Had Disneyland been a movie, it may have been pulled out of theaters after a short run. On opening day, July 17, 1955, ten thousand invitation-only tickets were sent out. They were easy to forge and over three times as many people showed up. A man stood on the side of the park with a ladder and charged five dollars to climb over the fence until the police caught him. Just a few days before, there had been a plumbers' strike. Walt chose to sacrifice the drinking fountains so that the bathrooms worked; several of his guests passed out due to the heat, which went up at one point to 101 degrees.

"Pepsi Cola sponsored the event; many of the enraged thirsty patrons assumed the water shortage was a cynical attempt to sell soda. The asphalt on Main Street was not dry; women wearing high-heeled shoes got stuck and sank. The restaurants and concession stands ran out of food early. A gas leak shut down Fantasyland. Nearly half the rides broke down. As the afternoon wore on, fights broke out between the ride operators and customers. Disney himself had been busy running around his 160-acre Magic Kingdom filming a TV show and wasn't aware of all the mishaps until he read about them in the newspaper the next day. He immediately returned to Disneyland to fix things."



Stephen Schochet


Hollywood Stories


Hollywoods Stories Publishing


Copyright 2010, 2013 by Stephen Schochet


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