Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888

Written for the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, Ernest Thayer’s Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 is a distinctly American comic ballad about that most distinctly American sport. Though having a very definite author and a publication date, like many of America’s faux-tales invented for newspapers and dime novels, Mudville’s ill-starred player has the quality of myth about him. Disney would go on to make him the subject of an animated short in 1946, and homage is paid to him at the Casey’s Corner counter service restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Paris Park. 
Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888
by Ernest Thayer 
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game. 
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
They'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat. 
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a fake
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat. 
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third. 
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat. 
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat. 
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip. 
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said. 
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And it's likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand. 
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two." 
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again. 
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow. 
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Walt's Era - Part 17: Walt's Last Years (1965-1966)


The end of an era is upon us, in more ways than one. With bizarre prescience, Walt Disney sold WED Enterprises to Walt Disney Productions, finally bringing the future "Imagineering" department into the Disney fold proper. To handle the royalties from his name and the Disneyland Railroad, Walt created the company RETLAW. Yet just as Walt Disney Productions acquired WED, there was talk of General Electric or Westinghouse purchasing the company. And oddly enough, as an ironic footnote, the original Hyperion Rd. studio used by Disney way back in the early days, the studio in which Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was created, was bulldozed to clear space for a supermarket. 

Yet it was also a time of beginnings. The New York World's Fair closed in 1965, and over the course of that year and the next, attractions would slowly begin their migration to Disneyland. It's a Small World opened in Fantasyland with a brand new, more dramatic exterior. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln took up the Main Street opera house. The dinosaur scenes in Ford's Magic Skyway were excised and placed alongside the DLRR as the Primeval World diorama. In 1967, the Carousel of Progress would become one of the keynote attractions of the 1967 "New Tomorrowland." New Orleans Square would also open in 1966, though absent either of its headline attractions. 

Outside of the original Magic Kingdom, newspapers rooted out that Disney was buying up property in Orlando and Uncle Walt was forced to publicly announce the Florida Project on October 25, 1965. Disney also made its ill-fated bid for the Mineral King Resort and began conceptual work. One of the concepts was an animatronic stage show of musical bears designed by Marc Davis. The last time Davis saw Walt, he had come by to look at these sketches. One particular image - a rotund bear wrapped in a tuba - sent Walt into fits of laughter, and as he finally stepped out of the door, he uncharacteristically bid "goodbye" to Davis. It was more customary for him to say that he'd see you next week or come by tomorrow or something along those lines. Parting with Walt was never final.

On November 7, 1966, Walt was diagnosed with cancerous tumours in his left lung. Even though surgery could remove the consequences of a lifetime of smoking, he was given only six months to a year to live. He didn't even make it that long. On November 30 he collapsed at home and was taken to the hospital adjacent to the studio. On December 15, at 9:30am, at the age of 65, Walt Disney passed away. 



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Walt Disney, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers

Nowadays not only is one hard-pressed to discern the difference between Country and Western music, the latter having been subsumed into the former, but one would likely be challenged to find any Country music that sounded like Country and not just weak pop music with a Southern accent. One quick way to tell Western music is the relative absence of said accent and the obligatory slide-guitar. The handiest rule of thumb is that Country music comes from east of the Mississippi while Western comes from that vast, wide country to the west. The two genres have different geographic and ethic origins, and vastly different styles when one's ear is tuned to them. 

Among the most popular Western acts of all time were the Sons of the Pioneers. They still are, as a matter of fact. Though none of the original members remain, the Sons of the Pioneers are a designated national treasure and the longest reigning commercial musical troupe. Their origins go back to 1933 when a handsome gent named Leonard Slye joined up with Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan to form "The Pioneer Trio." The announcer felt that these fresh-faced youngsters weren't old enough to pass off as pioneers, so he bestowed upon them a new nom-de-guerre. In the next three years, Hugh and Karl Farr, and Lloyd Perryman joined up. During the war, Ken Carson replaced Lloyd Perryman, who had been drafted and continued with the group thereafter. Pat Brady was brought in to replace Slye when he went off to a new career in motion pictures. You might be more familiar with Slye's stage name: Roy Rogers.

Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers

Saturday, 2 September 2017

What Makes a "Classic" Attraction?

Recently, Rob Plays posted a video in which he questioned the criteria for what makes a Disney attraction a "classic." Usually, when listing classics, there is a short list that most fans would agree upon - the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted Tiki Room, Peter Pan's Flight, Space Mountain, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Jungle Cruise, Country Bear Jamboree, etc. - but when that short list is dissected, a universal criteria of what makes a "classic" is not forthcoming. It almost seems to be a case where the concept of a "classic" can be analyzed out of existence. Cynically, in the comments to his video, I suggested that this was a follow-up to a previous video by Rob Plays in which he explained his view that no Disney attraction should be immune from vandalism or destruction. If there is no such thing as a "classic," after all, then that can't be used as an argument against whatever ill-conceived busywork Imagineering has gotten up to.

But what is a classic, REALLY?

I would agree that a "classic" is a nebulous concept... Not because there is no such thing, but because what makes a particular attraction a classic is different from what makes another attraction a classic. The way in which the Enchanted Tiki Room is a classic is different from the way in which Space Mountain is a classic. There is no universal rule that applies to all classics. Instead, I would argue, there is an interplay of different criteria in varying strengths and combinations that result in an attraction achieving classic status. Some of these criteria may sound familiar to readers of my previous articles on Imagineering... What makes an attraction a classic is not too far removed from what makes an attraction "Disney" and, more so, what makes an attraction great


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Story of Koro


Dubbed the "Midnight Dancer", poor Koro laments that his status as a statue in the Enchanted Tiki Room lanai prevents his feet from moving. Nevertheless, with his drum he entertains the other gods and helps them have a "big time." Known in Tahiti as 'Oro, he was considered the supreme deity and patron of the Arioi, a religious sect who prepared dances, dramas, and songs for the large festivals. In peacetime, 'Oro could be gracious, but his fundamental character was a god of war demanding human sacrifice.

An idol of 'Oro, wrapped in woven coconut fibre.
This type of effigy is called a To'o.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Walt's Era - Part 16: Disney's Peak? (1964)



Did Disney reach its peak in 1964?

On the WED Enterprises side of things, this year was the start of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, with its four WED-designed exhibits: Carousel of Progress, It's a Small World, the attraction that would become Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Ford's Magic Skyway which would add Primeval World to Disneyland and pioneer advancements leading to the Peoplemover and omnimover system. This was also the year that Marc Davis applied his hand to improving the Jungle Cruise, land was secretly being bought up in Florida, and the original plans for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow were being drafted. On September 14 of this year, Walt also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Not bad.

A tram shuttles passengers past It's a Small World and Rolly Crump's
Tower of the Four Windsat the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. 
Progressland, home of the Carousel of Progress, sits in the background.
Photo: Disney.

In film, 1964 was the year of the big one... Disney's best film of the period and, indeed, one of the best Disney films of all time. After years of production, Mary Poppins finally graced movie screens to universal acclaim (except by the book's author, of course). After it's 1960-61 reorientation, which had already produced a goodly sum of classic films, Disney released one that is widely regarded as Walt's own magnum opus.

Yet unlike what I considered the best year of "Walt's Era", 1954-55, the New York World's Fair and Mary Poppins were about all that happened. The remainder of the films released in 1964 are okay, generally... Decent, but not exceptional, which has been a bit of a running theme for this period. And if Mary Poppins was Walt's peak cinematic accomplishment, then what's left? It has been argued that Walt at least appeared to have lost interest in film by this point. With this film in the can, was there anything more he could do with the medium, especially in a period where the studios slipped into a reliance on relatively inexpensive live-action films? If we take Mary Poppins out of the equation, are we taking a cold, hard look at an unexceptional future for the Disney Studios?    


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan

The character of Peter Pan was first developed by J.M. Barrie in his 1902 adult novel The Little White Bird. In this semi-autobiographical tale, the narrator tells his young ward David about a week-old infant named Peter who overhears his parents discussing their future hopes for his adult life. This all sounds rather dreadful to him, so Peter absconds to Kensington Gardens where he encounters the various fairy folk who make this London park their home. These few chapters in The Little White Bird inspired Barrie to write a full theatrical play entitled Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 1904. The chapters in Little White Bird were slightly rewritten and published as the book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906. 

Though published to capitalize on the success of the play, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is not a prequel to Peter Pan. Rather, it is a first draft of sorts. Barrie would revisit many of the themes and situations in that short story, not the least of which being the flying boy who refuses to grow up. Kensington Gardens would become Neverland, though Peter does allude to having spent some time in the Gardens when he first decided not to age. Maimie, the girl who develops an affection for Peter, becomes Wendy. Finally, in 1911, Barrie rewrote his play as a novel. Peter and Wendy became the definitive literary version of the story that has inspired countless adaptations on stage and screen since.