Showing posts with label Disney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disney. Show all posts

12 June 2016

Muhammad Ali and (not) Me

by Leigh Lundin

When I was a kid, Cassius Clay defined hero to my friend Rawhide and me. Our little town may have been rural and 99.99% white, but we admired his exuberance, perseverance, and his modesty. You know what I’m talking about: “I’m the greatest, I’m the best.” And he really was.

In the days before multi-thousand-dollar self-improvement seminars, we recognized self-talk. If he could envision it, he could make it so, and so could we. Those lessons became diluted in adulthood, but they still hold true: imagine and make it happen.

Sting Like a Butterfly

Today’s article isn’t about me and it’s barely about Muhammad Ali. It’s really about a friend I’ll call Carla, and yes, she’s blonde, very, very blonde.

Don’t be misled, she’s smart, too, and one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever known. Among other talents, she gave seminars and for years she worked for Disney. Another characteristic was she knew virtually nothing about sports, music and movie stars. Oddly enough, those two traits, charm and lack of knowledge about the rich and famous actually qualified her for a plum job… working with celebrities.

So, by day, she ran– in fact reinvented– Disney’s Research & Documentation Department (named by yours truly in a consulting moment), the how-things-work people. But when Disney hosted ‘special visitors’ or what they call ‘celebrity events’, she’d find herself plucked off the job and assigned to a star of stage, screen, or sports, initially as a chauffeur and later as an attendant.

Disney’s maintains a ‘secure floor’ for VIPs in the Contemporary Hotel. Its attendants are selected because they, like Carla, neither fawn nor fuss. Celebrities are sort of like pets–they have to be fed and watered, played with and exercised without destroying the furniture. It’s a no-nonsense job, but done right, it earns respect. Michael Jackson used to ask for one particular manager simply because that man didn’t know who MJ was.

A Certain State of Being

Two or three times a year, Carla would pack a bag and disappear a week for a ‘celebrity event’. After her first event, we attended a small party with friends who asked who she’d been assigned to. Carla thought back and said, “It was a football guy… Joe… Joe… Oh, yes! Joe Wyoming!”

The only sound was incredulous jaws dropping. Finally one guy said, “You mean Joe Montana? Only the greatest quarterback ever?”

Did I mention Carla’s a natural blonde? She’s very smart and well educated, but she has more than her share of patented blonde ditziness, which she freely admits.

So she served as a driver or guide for the likes of Gladys Knight (“Loved her brother and Cousin Willie”), Dolly Parton (“She’s tiny except where she’s not”), and my favorite, John Lee Hooker.

Although she had to be schooled about George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, she knew who John Ritter was and found herself disappointed. (“He was mean to his wife.”) Here the adage about how one treats lesser mortals comes to the fore. Carla found Katharine Hepburn kind and considerate, but not Lauren Bacall. (“Maybe she was having a bad week.”)

A Real Disney Princess

Carla’s office was above the jewelry store and bakery on Main Street. The upper storeys of buildings are constructed with false fronts: a fa├žade and outer wall, then a narrow passage, and an inner wall that encloses modern offices.

One day the Magic Kingdom grew extremely quiet, not a visitor in sight. Carla dropped downstairs almost into the arms of a special visitor she did recognize: a mother, her two boys, and a friend. Princess Diana and her companion were browsing the shopping counters in an empty park– Disney had closed the entire Magic Kingdom for four visitors.

An Idol Moment

Carla’s regular duties required her to travel around property, Disney’s term for the entire Walt Disney World complex (roughly 30 000 acres, 12 000 hectares), to carefully document how to operate rides, resorts, and hotels. Disney uses a fleet of anonymous white vans and she phoned for one to pick her up at the Contemporary. Dispatch promised to bring a van around within a minute or two.

Carla took a moment to powder her nose. When she stepped outside, she found a Disney van idling, its door open and waiting. She climbed into the van and sat… and found herself staring at a pair of cowboy boots. When she looked up, she found a guy with spiky blond hair staring at her.

“Who are you?” he said.

“Who are you?” she asked in return.

He said, “You may know me as Billy Idol.”

“Sorry I don’t, but I’m Carla.”

As I mentioned, she’s extremely charismatic and within moments he’d opened to her, saying he was waiting for his children so they could visit Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom. (Disney spirits celebrities into back entrances so they don’t have to wait in queues with hoi polloi.) They chatted like old friends until a second van pulled up, Bill Broad’s family came out, and security figured out there’d been a mix-up.


So we come to Muhammad Ali and by now, you know what to expect. Disney was opening their Sports Complex and invited a number of stars for the– repeat after me– celebrity event. Afterwards, Carla endured our interrogation.

“Who’d you get?”

“They told me he’s a boxer plus a sportscaster’s family, Howard something. The boxer trembled a lot. He was a big black guy.”

“You’e kidding. Do you mean Howard Cosell? And Muhammad Ali? Only the greatest ever?”

Even to a white kid from a rural school.

Items in quotation mark indicate Disney terminology.

26 December 2015

Blame it on Barbie (in which we cry foul on Hollywood writers for always making the bad girls brunettes)

It's Christmas week!  Time for a fun post.  How many people will be going to movies over the holidays?  Maybe even something by Disney?  Watch out for those dark haired babes...

Here it is, the fifty-something anniversary of the birth of the Barbie doll, and I’m uncomfortable.  Coincidentally, it is also the fifty-something anniversary of me, and I’ve got to ask: is Barbie having more fun than I am?  Am I missing something by not being blond?

Okay, okay, so this smacks of insecurity.  But who wouldn’t be insecure, being brunette these days?  Did the Prince go looking for a dark-haired Sleeping Beauty?  Did Charming find a gorgeous black-haired scullery maid at the end of the glass slipper?  Face it, scullery types:  if you’re brunette, you’re going to have to find your own prince.

I blame it on Barbie.  Three quatrillion blond Barbies with bunny bodies since 1959, and no brunette bimbo in sight.   It’s enough to make you go for botox.

So what is it about us dark-haired babes?  Why are we constantly being portrayed as witches in Hollywood?  In Westerns, you can tell the bad guys from the good guys by their black hats.  In Disney, you can tell the bad girls by their dark hair.

It’s not only Disney.  The Networks are no better.  Remember Dynasty?  Sweet Linda Evans, with her blond bob.  And then there was scheming Joan Collins…

Witchy women, evil women – all of them brunette, you can bet your peroxide.  It’s a fact; a witchy brunette nearly butchered 101 darling Dalmatians for their spotted fur.  And in The Wizard of OZ, Glinda the good witch was blondie-blond.  The nasty old Witch of the West was as brunette as they come. 

That’s us – nasty.  And no wonder, the way we are always portrayed.

What can you expect, when the best role model we-of-dark-tresses had as young kids was Natasha Fatale (“Whatever you think, Darlink”) of Boris and Natasha fame on Bullwinkle.  Good Ole Bullwinkle.  I used to imagine he had a raging animal crush on the sexy, dark-haired Natasha. And who wouldn’t?  Sexy and savvy.  She was my role model.  It’s taken me years to kick the “Darlink” habit and start pronouncing Gs.

Things got better when Morticia came along.  Now, she was a classy role model.  Granted, my parents got a bit upset when I dyed my confirmation dress black and started writing poetry about graveyards. But more than one male (prince or frog) has mentioned to me that Caroline Jones was the object of many adolescent daydreams.

Well, at least they call us sexy.  In fact, “sultry” was the word Commander Riker used in a Next Generation episode on the holodeck.  “Give me sultry,” he said, and when a blonde vision popped up in the New Orleans jazz bar, “No, she’s got to be brunette.”
Thank you, Commander Riker!

Fast forward to SHERLOCK with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. A man who has no interest in women.  Except for one: THE Woman.  Irene Adler.  In the books by Arthur Conan Doyle, she may have been blond.  In the television show, she is a brunette siren.  And Nemesis for poor Sherlock.

So far we can chalk up nasty, sexy, sultry and bad.  Clever but cruel.  Usually foreign and sneaky.  Throw in green eyes, and you’ve got the classic Hollywood Evil Woman.

Evil, evil, evil.

So be a little careful before you start to criticize this column.  I might put a hex on you. 

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like the award-winning mob Goddaughter series, starting with The Goddaughter.  She is a natural brunette, so I suggest you buy them.
On sale for $2.25!  Amazon

11 September 2013

The Duck Guy

I, too, like Dale, (post of 27-Aug-2013) read a lot of Hardy Boys books. But over time, they came to seem pretty thin, and they weren't a lasting influence. The guy who was in fact an early and lasting influence is Carl Barks.

Who he? you ask, as well you might. Barks was the Duck Guy. He started in 1942, with "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold," and for the next thirty years, he wrote and illustrated the duck comics for Disney. This was a very different Donald from the animated cartoons. Barks reinvented him. He also came up with Duckburg itself, Scrooge, Gladstone, the Beagle Boys, the Junior Woodchucks, and the indispensable Woodchuck Handbook.

There were two basic storylines, the exotic and the domestic, with some variations. The exotics were adventure stories, like "The Golden Man," where Donald hares off to South America in search of the rarest stamp in the world---Barks himself was a homebody: he said he was inspired by back issues of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. The domestics were broad comedies, Donald the dogcatcher, for example, or his sudden enthusiasms for some new-found craze, like Flippism (which I can't fully explain, but Barks gets it across in a couple of quick brushstrokes).

He got better, too. Both the scripts and the draftsmanship are more and more sophisticated, moving into the 1950's. Some of the big panels are breathtaking, but often it's in the very small details, something that furnishes a room, or the way a static drawing can show Donald in full physical flight. There's a sense of plasticity, if that's a word, a shapeliness in the framing of the images, and in the lack of clutter, although everything has a specific density. I'd like to call it genius. Barks knew how to make a panel chewy, so you had to look more than once.

And the plots. The familiar taken to a level of insane abandon is a favorite device, whether it's a snowball fight or the hunt for Ali Baba's cave. And it's snappy. There isn't any wasted motion. Most of the stories were told in ten pages, six panels to the page, but there were also more elaborate, extended adventures, that took up a whole issue of the Uncle Scrooge line, which was a quarterly title, not monthly. See below.

WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES came out every month. The lead feature was a duck story, then a Li'l Bad Wolf, and last, an installment of a Mickey detective serial, usually three parts. Back in the day, a year's subscription cost a buck, and any kid could cadge that up in bottle returns. Remember bottle returns? That was when the newsstand price of a comic book was one thin dime, and so was a raspberry lime rickey at the Linnean Drug soda counter. (Showing my age.) Each issue came to the door in a paper sleeve, and it was like opening a bag of potato chips. You couldn't stop yourself. Instant gratification. And the back issues were just as much fun, too.

The thing about Barks is that you can pick up one of those duck stories today, and read it again, and get the same rush. He's that good. It stands the test of time. And in fact, this is the guy who showed me how to tell a story. We outgrow the Hardy Boys, or Nancy Drew, all due respect, but Barks will never grow old. His stuff is still as fresh as when I was in short pants.