Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Invisible Bill Walsh

Now with Ellisoneque Add On.

And still more Add On.

As Saving Mr. Banks readies itself for wide release, a Hollywood trade journal recounts development of the film:

... [Alison] Owen, producer of “Elizabeth” and “Shaun of the Dead,” brought in [screenwriter Kelly] Marcel, a relatively unproven screenwriter at the time who would later be hired to adapt “50 Shades of Grey.” Marcel rewrote the script, eliminating a storyline about Travers and her son.

Marcel’s script offered a two-part narrative — one focused on Travers’ youth, the other on her lengthy battle with Disney over the film rights to her beloved Mary.

“There was always that elephant in the room, which is Disney,” Collie told TheWrap. “We knew Walt Disney was a key character in the film and we wanted to use quite a bit of the music. We knew we’d eventually have to show Disney.” ...

If and when you get around to watching Saving Mr. Banks (which I liked quite a lot), you will see a lot of Walt Disney, the Sherman Brothers, and Don DaGradi, who is referenced in the film as "the screenwriter" of Mary Poppins.

And indeed, Mr. DaGradi, a Disney veteran, was a screenwriter on the flick. One of two. The other was Disney Legend Bill Walsh, who (curiously) is never seen or mentioned in the movie. And this is more than a little odd, because Walsh was also the film's co-producer, right alongside Walter Elias Disney.

I have no idea why Bill Walsh is erased from Mr. Banks, since Walsh was a Disney pillar for decades, writing a long string of live-action hits for the company, including the #1 film of 1969, The Love Bug. Walsh, in fact, was offered the job of head of studio production after Walt's death, but declined.

So what gives? An explanation was offered by my friend, The Wise Old Animation Producer:

... Bill Walsh was the guy who had to deal with Travers when she came to the studio. It was Walsh who showed her around, not DaGradi, not Walt. He was the one who interacted with her. Walt was in Palm Springs a lot of the time. ...

(How does the Wise Old Animation producer know these things? He worked at Disney for over a decade, and his father worked on the lot for forty-plus years.)

My thinking? There's not much of a movie if it's Bill Walsh and P.L. Travers wrestling over Mary Poppins. Who the hell knows who Walsh is, anyway? And Disney was a player in the development and production of the film. Also, too, Mr. Banks is a dramedy, not a documentary.

So sure, Walt Disney and P.L. Travers butting heads is the through line. Sort of has to be. Otherwise there's no movie.

But it's still odd that Bill Walsh, producer, writer, developer of the Mickey Mouse Club (1950s version) and a string of lucrative Disney movies, is left out of Saving Mr. Banks completely. You could even call it totally bizarre.

Add On; Sci Fi master Harlan Ellison performs an Ellison rant about the movie:

I don't disagree that the flick is a bit sugar-coated, but A) Walt DID have a hard-scrabble childhood, and B) I think Saving Mr. Banks fence-straddles the issue of Travers disliking the film. In the theater-scene, she says: "I HATE cartoons," which isn't a ringing endorsement of what's on the screen.

You can make the argument that the movie tries to have it both ways. But nowhere does the author say: "WOnderful movie, Walt!"

Add On Too. And Floyd Norman in comments upends the whole post, maintaining (no doubt correctly) that Bill Walsh climbed onto the Poppins bandwagon after the events shown in the picture. Oh well ...


Floyd Norman said...

Yes, Bill Walsh was the cigar chomping screenwriter-producer of "Mary Poppins." However, "Saving Mr. Banks" takes place in 1961 and Bill did not come onto the flick as producer until it was green lit in 1962.

Walsh was also married to Hollywood actress, Ruth Roman and even wrote the Mickey Mouse comic strip for a time. He was a fun guy, and I liked him a lot. We had a ball working on the movie.

Floyd Norman said...

Dare I say it again?

If P.L. Travers didn't want Walt to make Mary Poppins she never should have signed the damn contract.

However, she did.

Steve Hulett said...


Bill might not have been the producer in '61, but wouldn't he have been on board as screenwriter at the time?

I recall that DaGradi and Walsh were often a team.

Floyd Norman said...

It's tough to remember 1961, Steve. I had my own doubts about Bill's involvement. It's true, Walsh and DaGradi often worked as a team.

However, Richard Sherman assures me that Bill Walsh did not come on board as writer-Producer until after P.L. Travers left.

Steve Hulett said...

Drat. Then the premise of the whole post is blown out of the water.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed the film. MUCH more than I thought (and that includes Tom Hanks as Disney which I was expecting to hate).
It's important to remeber that this is "based" on real events and is basically a retelling of Mary Poppins with Travers in the role of Mr Banks and Disney as Poppins. It's full of gentle humor and not very serious at all - other than those creepy flashbacks that don't really serve the film they made in anyway.
Ellison is a crank that loves to rant more than he likes to work these days and he couldn't even make a coherent argument without trailing off into his own weird obsessions

Steve Hulett said...

Ellison is also a wee bit wrong.

Travers said nice things about the picture when it was released but became increasingly sour on it as time went on. (Or so says Valerie Laswon in "Mary Poppins She Wrote.")


Unknown said...

The free book that was released on iBooks and sent digitally to all WGA members (which I assume Ellison is a member of) shows letters written by Travers after the premiere in which she praises the film...

Maybe Ellison needs to do some research before ranting, but that would ruin his reputation.

Jeff said...

Bill Walsh and Ruth Roman dated for a couple years in the late 1940s, but they were never married. In December 1950, she married Mortimer Hall, her second of four husbands.

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