Sunday, December 21, 2014

On This Date ... A Long Time Ago

Since I've lately been on a trip aboard the wayback machine anyway, let's have Prez Emeritus Sito remind us:

Dec 21,1937 - Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" had its grand premiere at the Cathay Circle Theater. The first feature length American cartoon, it became the box office champ of 1938, earning 4 times more than any other film that year, mostly with kiddie half-price matinee tickets. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and the Warner team attended the premiere, and were inspired later to create the character Sniffles.

My favorite story was that of animator Shamus Culhane. As he walked up the red carpet he passed two autograph hounds behind the rope line. They pointed at him" Hey, is that somebody? Nah, that's nobody." This bugged him as he watched the show, but after the film ended to a thunderous standing ovation, he thought "Screw you bastards. I just did something that will be around long after you both are dead. I AM SOMEBODY!"

A bunch of years ago, I picked the brains of Disney old-timers about that momentous night. They told me:

"I was plenty nervous when 'Snow White' started that night at the Carthay Circle. All I could see was the mistakes in our animation. That opening sequence had been one of the first ones complete. But the audience was caught up by Snow White and the birds right away, and I relaxed." -- Ollie Johnston

"In the year and a half we worked on the picture, the advances in animation were phenomenal. Some of the first animation of the girl has never looked good to me. Her eyes squeegee all over her face. She moves badly. But by the time we did the last stuff, for instance the scene where she's baking the pie at the dwarfs' cottage, the animation is great" -- Frank Thomas

"[The audience] even applauded background and layouts when no animation was on the screen. I was sitting near John Barrymore when the shot of the queen's castle above the mist came on, with the queen poling across the marsh in a little boat. He was bouncing up and down in his seat, he was so excited. Barrymore was an artist as well as an actor, and he knew the kind of work that went into something like that." -- Ken O'Connor

Final thought: Tom doesn't mention it above, but Shamus Culhane (for whom Mr. Sito worked) is the only animator who animated on the first three "Golden Age" features. Shamus animated on Snow White, Pinocchio and Gulliver's Travels.

Pretty nifty hat trick.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"a ended up the highest grossing feature on 1938. The film collected $9 million at the box office, which was then a record. t held the title for nineteen months, until "Gone With the Wind" filled houses at roadshow prices in 1940 and 1941, pulling down $22 million in the process. The Civil War picture remains the highest grossing movie of all time, when box office dollars are adjusted for inflation.


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