Imagineering a legacy
The Walt Disney Archives exhibition at Reagan Library
By Jean Brodie 07/05/2012
On July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, Calif., Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney’s older brother and business partner, purchased admission ticket 000001 to Disneyland for $1. Matinee idol Ronald Reagan stood with Art Linkletter and Bob Cummings to host Dateline Disneyland for ABC television, celebrating the opening of this revolutionary amusement park. Very few people that day were confident the gamble would pay off as they watched the stiletto heels of women sink into the still-wet concrete.
Fast-forward almost 57 years during which that matinee idol went from actor to governor to president, the Disney empire has grown to include 11 theme parks, 10 television stations, 277 radio stations and hundreds of movies, merchandise and franchises.
Beginning Friday, July 6, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley these two worlds collide once more when D23, the official Disney Fan Club, presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives. Reagan Library staff are expecting this to be its most popular exhibit ever, and have implemented online ticketing to satisfy the demand.
The very first admission ticket purchased July 18, 1955 by Roy O. Disney.
The Walt Disney Archives were established in 1970 after executives and Disney family members decided that items pivotal in the growth of the company should be preserved. At that time they called on Dave Smith, a Disney bibliographer who had spent more than three years researching Disney publications and productions.
Since Smith’s retirement in 2010, the archives have been under the watchful eye of director Becky Cline. She and her staff have spent months compiling a collection in excess of 500 pieces, from 75,000 square feet of warehouse space, for display at the Reagan Library, more than half of which have never been seen by the public.
The first section of the exhibit allows guests to travel through time from Walt’s birth and his Midwestern boyhood, to his foray into live action movies. Here visitors can view treasures such as Walt’s baptism certificate, posters from early animation such as the Alice comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and the prop books from Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Walt Disney is quoted as saying, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse.” Mickey Mouse had become synonymous with the Disney company, appearing at parks, in movies and on T-shirts, lunch boxes and even Band-Aids.
Mickey’s first appearance was in 1928’s Steamboat Willie. Seeming to know the significance of this piece of work, Walt Disney kept the original script in his desk until his death in 1966. It is now available for all to view in this exhibit.
It is impossible not to be in awe of the multiplane camera model. A breakthrough in movie making, it allowed animators to add depth and earned Disney an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scientific and Technical Award in 1938.
A re-creation of an animator’s office from the animation building at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank is surrounded by maquettes (scale models) of Captain Hook and Pinocchio as well as items from Walt Disney’s collection of personally handcrafted miniatures.
After suffering a cardiac arrest in 1966, Walt Disney’s office at his Burbank headquarters was sealed for more than four years. The office has been re-created with extraordinary detail in this exhibition. His desk, with pens and an ashtray, is looked on by Norman Rockwell portraits of his daughters, Diane and Sharon. The baby grand piano in the opposite corner was frequently played by Richard Sherman, a Disney songwriter, and is surrounded by a bookcase that includes works signed by P.L. Travers and C.S. Lewis. Also in this office is a mechanical bird in a golden cage, which would become the inspiration for Walt’s development of Audio Animatronics, first seen in the Tiki Room at Disneyland. Opposite the office is the original drawing of the Disneyland theme park. Illustrated by Herb Ryman in 1953 over the course of a weekend, it was this piece of paper that secured financing from ABC. It is here that you can see that original ticket, 000001.
The movie props that follow are a film lover’s dream. From Nautilus, the special-effects filming model featured in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, to Mary Poppins’ traveling costume, live action movies are featured prominently in the exhibition. There is a re-creation of Flynn’s Arcade from Tron as well as an extensive section from Pirates of the Carribean, including a 26-foot-long model of the Black Pearl.
Mary Poppins’ traveling costume
Vehicles from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight can be found in the shadows of a 15-foot-long fire-breathing dragon’s head that featured nightly in Fantasmic at the Disneyland Park for 17 years.
The exhibit closes with a look at the close relationship Walt Disney had with not only Ronald Reagan, but a number of other presidents. Busts of each of the 44 presidents are shown in various stages of the animatronic process, including Barack Obama’s likeness sculpted by Valerie Edwards, director of sculpting for Walt Disney Imagineering. The previous 43 presidents were sculpted by Blaine Gibson, now 94 years old.
The final room also features presidential correspondence, including President Lyndon Johnson’s letter to Lillian Disney upon her husband’s passing, 10-year-old Amy Carter’s letter to Walt Disney Studios after seeing The Rescuers for the third time, and then-California Governor Ronald Reagan’s letter petitioning the postmaster general to issue a commemorative stamp in Walt Disney’s honor. The stamp was issued on Sept. 11, 1968 and examples of it can be seen in the exhibit postmarked from Marceline, Mo.,one of Walt’s boyhood hometowns. Items from the Reagan estate have also been included in the exhibition, including a stuffed toy dalmatian, Reagan’s alumni club membership certificate, and his very own set of Mickey Mouse ears with “Mr. President” stitched on the back.
D23 Presents Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, July 6 through April 2013. $6-$21. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, www.reaganfoundation.org.
Many people’s trash — one woman’s treasure
Local Disneyana collector shares her beloved items
by Jean Brodie
When Linda Cervon of Ventura discusses her collection of Disneyland memorabilia her eyes light up. Many of the extremely rare items in her massive collection are ephemera, or paper items such as park maps, menus and even straw wrappers.
Cervon’s first visit to Disneyland was in 1955, the year the park opened. Her father worked in the Anaheim area and he would drop Linda and her mother off at the theme park. Soon, the magic of Disneyland captured her imagination; she stopped counting her visits when she reached 300, and last visited in 1992.
Her residence, once the family home of Erle Stanley Gardner, looks as if it could have been transported from one of Walt Disney’s fairy-tale cartoons. After the long, shaded driveway there is a tranquil garden far removed from the hustle of Ventura’s East End. I was greeted by Linda and her granddaughter, who had been taking photos of some Disneyland items to be listed on eBay.
A Chesire cat from Alice in Wonderland smiled at me as I looked at original hand-drawn animation from The Aristocats, illuminated by a Tinker Bell stained glass lamp.
Cervon explained to me that while the majority of the collection had been auctioned off after the death of her husband, magician Bruce Cervon, who was also an avid collector, she had kept some pieces, which she shared with me, each item having its own story.
1985: Linda Cervon posing with just a portion of her Disneyana collection at her Los Angeles home.
A silver ticket that looks as though it were printed yesterday, invites the holder to the invitational press preview and dedication of Disneyland at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 17, 1955. Cervon also owns the parking pass that accompanies it.
One of her favorite stories is about the time she purchased a pink ticket good for a day at Disneyland for $25 from a fellow collector, only to find Walt Disney’s signature on the back. She remembers seeing Walt sitting at a sidewalk table outside the Maxwell House coffee shop; even her exuberant father was too intimidated to speak with the man responsible for creating this magic kingdom.
Among her assortment of Disneyland fast food containers, straw wrappers, paper bags and fliers are unexpected treasures: a piece of paper apologizing that Disneyland is full and suggesting Knott’s Berry Farm instead; matchbooks; pill bottles that contained vitamin samples from Upjohn Pharmacy, which was located inside the park.
Cervon speaks of a couple of items that hold a special place for her. One is an original painting that hung inside the Haunted Mansion ride, returned to the artist by Walt Disney after discovering it was signed. (Signed art was mostly forbidden in the Magic Kingdom.) Another is a watercolor painting of Adventureland by Herb Ryman, the illustrator of the first Disneyland map.
While Linda Cervon prepares much of her collection to be auctioned off by Hakes Auction House, she is filled with joy at seeing her daughter and granddaughter continue the family tradition of enjoying the happiest place on earth.
Photo by Matthew Hill Photography, ©2012
Present: Linda Cervon with some of her prized posessions at her home in East Ventura.