Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bill Walsh - Disney Legend

Bill Walsh was a prolific screenwriter and producer at Walt Disney Studios and his name is probably very familiar to Disney fans because it appeared on the credits of just about every live-action film the Studio made during the 1960s. Yes, this man was busy, busy, busy! And oddly enough, quantity had no effect on quality, nor on box-office receipts….Bill was one of the most successful producers in Hollywood and each and every one of his releases were practically guaranteed “winners”. 

In 1973 Variety magazine listed seven of his features as all-time box office champions. Quite an impressive record. Some of these films were The Shaggy Dog, The Absent Minded Professor, Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat, The Love Bug and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

I don't believe in giving animals ridiculous names. I call him Cosmic Creepers, because that's the name he came with.” – Eglantine Price                                                               Bedknobs and Broomsticks 1971 


                     

Bill Walsh was very close in spirit to Walt Disney and shared all of his ideas of what kind of features and programs the Studio should release. In fact, in 1966, when Walt Disney died, the Studio executives were considering who should replace Disney at the helm and Bill Walsh was the man they selected. He had the experience, the creativity, and the operational know-how to lead the company forward, but Bill liked to work on independent projects and didn’t want to oversee the entire Studio, and so he declined.


But loyal he was to Walt Disney ….he continued to work for the Studio up until his death in 1975, in spite of numerous offers from other Hollywood motion picture studios who wanted a top producer like him on their staff.

" Good night, old woman, I can't hear a word you're saying, but whatever it is, I disagree with you one hundred percent! " - Mr.MacDougall  
                                                                            That Darn Cat 1965

Born in New York City in 1914, Bill was often known as the “Midwesterner” around the Studio because he spent his childhood and teen years in Cincinnati, Ohio and it was there, at the University of Cincinnati, that his love for writing for the stage began.

                     

After college he joined Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay’s theatre company “Tattle Tales” as a rewrite man and gained experience writing and improving on a variety of different script scenarios, from westerns to crime dramas to sophisticated comedies.

Jane – " Wanted: a nanny for two adorable children. "
Mr. Banks – " Adorable? Well, that’s debatable, I must say "

                                                         Mary Poppins 1965

He headed to Hollywood in 1934 and joined a publicity office where he worked writing press releases and copy for advertisements for such company clients as Elizabeth Arden and the Brown Derby. But it was another client, Edgar Bergen, who offered him his big break – an invitation to write gags for his comedy routines. And writing lines for puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snird soon led to writing comic book lines for that nationally famous marsupial Mickey Mouse……because Edgar Bergen just happened to be a good friend of Walt Disney’s. The hand of Fate at work!


He worked for the Studio all through the 1940s and one day in 1950 Walt asked him to write and produce One Hour in Wonderland, Disney’s very first venture into the fledgling medium of Television. As Bill recalled….

"Walt called me into his office and said he'd decided to go into television and I was the guy who was going to do it. I looked stunned and said, "But I don't know anything about television." Walt smiled back at me and said, "That's okay. Nobody does!"


Bill Walsh had a creative way with words and an ingenious talent for dreaming up new and unique ideas. During the 1950s he produced The Mickey Mouse Club ( including its numerous serials of the Hardy Boys and Annette ) and it was he who thought of dividing the show into different “lands” and choosing weekly themes. Also, it was Walsh who came up with the Mickey Mouse ears.

It was in the feature film department though, that he really made his mark, writing and co-scripting over 30 films ….from the very first Davy Crockett film in 1955 to his last motion picture, One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing,  released in 1975. 


Twenty years of movie magic with many box office successes in between and each and every one of his films are still a delight to watch.

6 comments:

  1. Wonderful to have an individual step forward out of the shimmering shadows of childhood's television world and finally be recognized for all he gave to those kids devoted to watching anything Disney. Our tvs might have been monochromatic then, but our imaginations were in living colour...

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    1. Imagination is a wonderful thing and Bill Walsh certainly had an active one.

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  2. Great profile of one of the unsung heroes of Disney's studio. I wish he had taken the top job--the studio got into a funk in the late 1970s and didn't really emerge from it until THE LITTLE MERMAID made a huge splash over a decade later.

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    1. Yes, I wonder how different Disney's direction would have been. I would have liked to see how Walsh heading up the studio would have changed Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Pete's Dragon.

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  3. Fascinating! I know his name from watching so many Disney movies, but I knew nothing about him before this.

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