Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reposting:1937 Snow White Film Premiere Program

This post originally appeared in 2014. I'm reposting it for the anniversary of the debut of the film!

Program for Disney's Snow White Premiere: December 21, 1937

It was a very important moment in the history of film: the premiere of the first feature-length animated film. Walt Disney's  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first screened the night of December 21, 1937, at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles.

Someone -- I don't know who -- went to the event and brought home a copy of the program for that night.  

I found it at an estate sale the other day. It was stacked in a dusty garage with a bunch of old magazines.  

This program was a witness to film history, so I was very careful as I handled it to take pictures to show you here.

The program is in good shape for being over 75 years old.  The inside centerfold is printed on silver foil:

Other pages provide facts about the film, interspersed with congratulatory ads from local businesses and others in the film industry.

Walt Disney wrote a note of thanks to his staff.

A massive marketing campaign accompanied the debut of the film. I. Magnin & Co.'s ad in the opening night program showcased Cartier's 14k gold Snow White bracelet, a narrow gold link chain with charms representing Snow White and all seven dwarfs.  Cost: $100.  Suggestion: Christmas gift.

The program gave the history of the story of Snow White, a "paragon of girlish virtue" in Disney's version of the tale.

There were several ads for local businesses.  This one is for the Melody Lane, "the most beautiful cafe' in Los Angeles."

There was a page in the program devoted to the music of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  

And more congratulatory ads from local businesses.  It must have been tricky to print on silver foil.

Technicolor took out a full-page ad.

I wasn't able to find out the name of the person who went to the premiere of Snow White, on that December night so long ago.  Tickets were notoriously hard to come by.  Did the original owner of the program work for Walt Disney, or know someone who did?  She or he must have been aware, at some level, that the premiere was making history.  

In retrospect, we know that making Snow White was a massive gamble for Walt Disney.  There had never been a feature-length animated film before this one.  It cost a fortune to make; production took three years and the talents of 750 artists.  Hollywood gossips called it "Disney's folly." America was still reeling from the shock of the Great Depression.  Would people pay to see a full-length cartoon?  Would the dark themes in the film be considered too frightening for children to see?

The build-up to the premiere was intense. The 1500 tickets sold out quickly; the audience included Hollywood luminaries from Shirley Temple to Cary Grant to Charlie Chaplin.  Several hundred Disney animators who worked on the film bought tickets so they could see how the finished product came out.

It was reported that more than 3o,000 people who couldn't get tickets for the premiere packed the streets anyway, just to be part of the event and get tickets for later showings.  Bleachers were set up to accommodate them, and extra police were brought in for security.

The premiere of Snow White was accompanied by a number of special exhibits and activities. One was the outdoor "Dwarfland" diorama created along Wilshire Boulevard, a couple of blocks from the Carthay Circle Theatre.  It featured actors dressed as the Seven Dwarfs, complete with cottage, a working water wheel, and diamond mine.

Here's a YouTube video clip of the premiere event: 


There are several blogs dedicated to All Vintage Things Disney.  Perhaps the most comprehensive source for information on the premiere of Snow White is the blog Filmic-Light.  Here's its report, complete with lots of pictures, on the premiere:


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs lived up to, even exceeded, its hype. The History.com website summarizes:

The stunning success of “Snow White” marked a turning point in the career of Walt Disney, and established him among the world’s most celebrated filmmakers. The quality of its animation, voiceover work and musical score set a high standard for all future animated features made by Disney or any other studio. 

And the old program I found at an estate sale, was there at the premiere.

(Yes, I know.  This original program needs to be in the hands of a real collector of vintage Disney. I'm sure one will come forward, once I post this piece on the blog.)

Additional resources:

Filmic-Light (above) also has a Facebook page that features Snow White memorabilia.

Here are more web pages related to the premiere of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:"



The Disney Family  Museum website tells about the opening:

As does the official Disneyland blog:


Sidebar: I remember that my mother did a dandy impersonation of Snow White singing, "I'm wishing {echo: I'm wishing} / For the one I love...." and "Someday My Prince Will Come." Mom was a little girl when the film first came out, so she had plenty of time to practice her coloratura voice before her kids were born. "Whistle While You Work" and "Hi-Ho" were easier to remember, though.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Reposting: Vintage 1950s Christmas Catalog Images

(Originally posted December 2013)

More Vintage Christmas Catalog Images, or The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

A few days ago, I posted some pages from a 1956 Western Auto Christmas catalog that I found at an estate sale.  At the same sale were some other catalogs.  I didn't scan all those pages, but there are enough to give us another glimpse back at a mid-century Christmas.

The W.T. Grant chain of variety stores was founded in 1906 by William Thomas Grant.  The chain filed for bankruptcy in 1976.  Twenty years earlier, though, its Christmas catalog showed a variety of gift items for the whole family.

At the same estate sale were two more Christmas catalogs from 1956:  Toylane (probably a generic catalog that the individual variety store could stamp its name upon) and ToyTime from May Co. in Southern California.  

There was no question in the mind of the child looking through the day's mail, what sort of treasures waited  inside these catalogs.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Children's Christmas Illustrations by a Pioneer Comic Artist: Ethel Hays

Someone was a teacher, I thought, as I picked up the tattered, much-stapled wodge of paper at last Saturday's estate sale. 

A number of carefully-typed pages with handwritten notes; this was the script for a young children's Christmas presentation.  

At the top of the first page, written in pencil, are the words:

No. 1
Act out story using as many children as possible
Dec. 8 - 15 and 22 1948
Teacher take part of Donkey

(Like so many others before and since, Teacher used artistic license:
there is no donkey in the Scripture accounts of the birth of Jesus.
But it made a good introduction to the story.)

I looked up the dates; December 8, 15 and 22 were Wednesdays.

On the lower side of the first page, in red pencil:

All sing very softly "Away in a Manger" 

then into 2nd episode next page

On the back of one of the pages is written

Property of Florence Webster
 Written Dec. 1947

The small stack of typed pages with handwritten notes had been stapled many times to a thin paper 1941 edition of The Night Before Christmas.  The teacher read the story at the end of the Christmas program.

I peered at the illustrations and saw the name of the artist: Ethel Hays.

I'd never heard of her. Ethel Hays (1892-1989), it turns out, was not just an illustrator of children's books. She was first known as a pioneering comic strip artist in the 1920s and 30s. Her best-known character was Flapper Fanny, drawn in an Art Deco style and chronicling the era when women bobbed their hair, got jobs outside the home and played active sports.

Hays' comic strips were syndicated and printed in newspapers across the country. She also drew full-page illustrations, such as these I found online:

Eventually Hays started her own family and turned from newspaper comics and illustrations to children's books and paper dolls. 

The website Cartoonician.com says:

In the late 1930s, Hays began taking assignments from various publishers to illustrate children’s story books, coloring books and paper doll cut-out books. Perhaps with children of her own, this work had more appeal for her then her old flapper subjects. Hays’ juvenile illustration work has endured and spawned a whole culture of devoted fans. Whereas many comic-strip fans don’t recognize the name Ethel Hays, she is an icon for paper-doll collectors. Hays produced dozens of children’s books, some uncredited, well into the 1950s. 

Some of her most popular illustrations were of Raggedy Ann and Andy for the Saalfield Publishing Company of Akron, Ohio.

The artwork for The Night Before Christmas shows the hand of someone who knew her craft, and knew how important it is to allow a child to look at the pages and follow the story.  It's not hard to imagine the teacher holding the book so her students can see the illustrations and reading (probably upside down) as she goes.

The children could follow this story easily. And Hays' attention to detail is impressive.

You get the sense that the reindeer-powered sleigh is swooping around the neighborhood, looking for the best place to land. 

And of course the reindeer are smiling.

What is everyone getting for Christmas? We know before the children in the story do. 

A doll, a drum, a plane, a dollhouse, a teddy bear....

Oh, good, a model horse too.

Look at Hays' final illustration for this classic story.  

Did you notice Hays' sleight-of-hand? The fireplace stones are mostly pastel colors.

Ethel Hays eventually retired from her career in illustration, but she continued to create art for her own enjoyment. She died in 1989 at age 97.

Here's the great Cartoonician article on Ethel Hays:


Here's a Google Books page on the history of Raggedy Ann, showing Ethel Hays' connection: