In the summer of 1949, just before he traveled with his family on the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth to England, radio host Paula Stone visited Walt Disney in his studio for an interview for her show "Hollywood U.S.A." which (probably) aired later the same year. In the interview they talk about the production of Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Treasure Island (1950) and the production of animation in general.
Paula Stone: Today our broadcast called Movie Making takes us to the Walt Disney Studio to visit with the famous Walt Disney himself. Come on let's hurry! There's Walt Disney himself standing in the doorway of his office. Hi!
Walt Disney: Hello, Paula. How are you?
PS: Oh, I'm fine. Oh, don't tell me I'm late.
WD: No, no, no - but I thought maybe I could take you along here and show you some of the work that we're doing on Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. You know we're rolling at top speed on these pictures right now.
PS: Oh, I'll love to, but first before we start: won’t you tell our listeners about some of these awards here in the cabinet. You know, I have never seen so many medals and golden Oscars. Which was the first, Mr. Disney?
WD: Well this one right here - this is a special award presented in 1932 for the creation of Mickey Mouse.
PS: I see, bless his little heart. And what are all of those medals in the cases?
WD: Well there are several here from the Parents magazine and a few from Look and these others are from France and here's some from Italy and South America and so forth.
PS: Aha, and that one over there...
WD: You mean the big stein?
WD: Well that was from Russia.
WD: (laughs) Good many years ago, though.
PS: I understand they don't love you as much anymore…(laughs)
PS: Mr. Disney, is there any award you received among this many that is the most treasured?
WD: Well it's really hard to say. You know, each award has been important to us and we've been highly appreciative of all of them. But I think the winning of the Thalberg award is the most coveted honor.
PS: Oh, oh, yes. That's it right there and let me see - the plaque reads: "for the most consistent high quality of production achievement." Oh my, that is wonderful. Certainly a great honor to bestow on any producer but I would like to say I know of no producer who's given more joy to the whole world than you have with your wonderful pictures.
WD: Well, thanks Paula it's nice to hear that. By the way I might mention in connection to that Thalberg award, you know, there's a little kiss from Norma Shearer that goes with it - at least it did when I got it.
PS: You got a double award.
WD: But it is really a great award and for our work - we, I think we have a harder time doing a cartoon feature than you would with real actors. I think it's more difficult job.
PS: And now the latest is Cinderella, is that right?
WD: No, no. Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland are the latest in production.
PS: Oh, I see.
WD: But we just finished one called Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and I feel this picture has many qualities that will appeal to moviegoers of all ages. Would you like to see some of the drawings on Cinderella? And then we can talk about Ichabod on the way.
PS: Oh, yes. That would be wonderful. Who plays Ichabod and who plays Mr. Toad in the story? I mean, who are the voices?
WD: Well Bing Crosby does Ichabod and when I say he does it I mean he really does it. He tells it, and he plays Ichabod, he plays Brom Bones, and every part except Katrina, you see. And Basil Rathbone narrates Mr. Toad.
PS: And does Bing Crosby sing?
WD: Oh, yes, he does. He sings three songs - the theme song Ichabod and the ballad Katrina and then a very scary number called the Headless Horseman. When Bing sings this number it’s going to be Halloween every time he does.
PS: That's cute, very spooky! Bing Crosby combined with a Walt Disney character, now there's an unbeatable combination. You certainly are busy with production going at top speed. Ichabod and Mr. Toad finished, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland in animation, and now I hear you're leaving for England to do Treasure Island.
WD: That's true, Paula. We're pretty excited about this picture. For one thing, it's our first totally live-action feature.
PS: And absolutely no animation in the picture at all?
WD: That's right. Well for one thing I just want to prove to my artists I can do something without them. (laughs) Then, of course, Treasure Island to me is one of the world's greatest stories and I feel it should be done in live-action.
WD: Of course it'll be filmed in Technicolor.
PS: And right over in England?
WD: That's right. According to the locale of the story.
PS: That's marvelous. In my mind's eye I can see a giant theater marquee "Walt Disney presents Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Treasure Island." What a treasure of pictures for the movie fans.
WD: You don't mean all on one bill?
PS: Only in my mind's eye. (laughs)
WD: Paula, I'd like to show your listeners something that few people ever see. I'd like to take ‘em through the various rooms of the artists and the animators and try to show just how pictures like CinderellaAlice in Wonderland come to life on the screen. So…
PS: Well, that would be wonderful.
WD: ..will you step right through this door.
PS: Oh yes, and I while we pause on the threshold of this wonderful treat, let's hear a word from the announcer. This is Paula Stone again, speaking to you from the Walt Disney Studios where Mr. Disney himself is taking us on a personally conducted tour of the animation building, and... Oh, Mr. Disney, this room is breathtaking. The walls are lined with beautiful pictures in glowing colors. This is amazing!
WD: What you're looking at, Paula, is a cartoon script.
PS: Is that so?
WD: That's right. You see, it's a sort of a pictorial scenario, and each one of those little pictures is a particular development in the progress of a story like Cinderella.
PS: And this is Cinderella?
WD: This is Cinderella.
WD: You see, all of these little things are sketched up, placed on this board and into this storyline and of course these are only part of the drawings that go in the making of it. Before we get though the picture that be at least a quarter million drawings. From this point it moves down to the top animators. They do all the key drawings and then they have assistants who fill in the secondary things.
PS: I see. Then each animator, you might say, has a crew?
WD: Oh yes, a top animator will have at least 10 assistants and each one works on a certain sequence and later on scores of girls come in - we call them inkers and painters because they ink and paint the drawings. And they complete the process. They transfer, from the pencil drawings of the artists, they are transferred onto these celluloids. And these celluloids later on are place under the camera with the background underneath them and photographed by the camera. We use as high as 2,000 different colors in making our pictures.
PS: That's amazing! But to go back to the beginning: just how do you start a cartoon, Mr. Disney? I mean what are the very first essentials before you reach the point that we're seeing here today?
WD: Well, the very first essential is a good story.
PS: Well, naturally.
WD: Then as I've shown you here we develop it into a sort of a comic strip scenario form. Then we get into story conferences and everybody tears it apart and we throw stuff out, and put new stuff in, and rebuild and add and all of that until finally we get a story that we feel is right. Then it goes into the process that I was describing of the animators beginning to create the models and set up the characters. You see, we have to sort of cast with a piece of paper and a pencil. We have to find the right character to be used.
PS: And you have sheets of...
WD: Out of that comes a model sheet.
PS: Oh, that is how it's done.
WD: That's how all the artists keep the characters looking alike. I should be able to tell this better after all this years.
PS: Well, it's one thing thing to create it and draw it and build it and it's another thing to tell it.
WD: You see that little fat mouse over there in that picture?
PS: Yes, there are a lot of mice around Cinderella in the picture, but... oh, I see what you mean. The little fat mouse.
WD: Gus, we call him Gus. This is a very amusing sequence, I hope, in the film where that the other mice are trying to tell Gus what a cat is. You see Gus has been a rather sheltered mouse all his life and they're briefing him on just what he should do, heaven forbid, if a cat should come into his life.
PS: What a wonderful idea. By the way, Mr. Disney, are there songs in Cinderella? You always have such wonderful scores in all of your pictures.
WD: Oh yes, we've got many songs in Cinderella. In fact right over here, Paula, is a little series of pictures describing one of the songs.
PS: This depicts this musical sequence here. Cinderella is singing to her friends and her friends are the mice and the birds. She is trying to describe to them the way she feels about all the work she has to do and the way her sisters tread her. And the lyric of the song is that if - she says how wonderful it would be if I can live in land of fantasy with seven Cinderellas all working for me.
PS: 7 Cinderellas...
WD: And then that goes in a dream sequence, in which all these 7 Cinderellas - she feels she is the grand lady with these 7 Cinderellas all doing all the housework.
PS: How delightful. And those drawings there - they all have words under them.
WD: Well, that's the lyric of the song. You see, under each picture as it's supposed to be played on the screen in the sequence. And that way we can all follow the progress of the song and the artists then know just what their drawings are doing and everything, you know.
PS: Well, it sounds very complicated but very wonderful. And now what about the camera that photographs these pictures?
WD: Well we had to develop a camera. We developed a special camera here called a multi-plane camera. That's because it uses many planes and we have, I think, up to as high as seven levels. It gives a sort of a third dimension in the drawing. Anyways I mean, would you like to go through the camera building to see the camera?
PS: Well I would love it and it breaks my heart to say I haven't time but best aside that - you see we have so many minutes of broadcast time and now I'm afraid my time is almost up.
WD: Well it's really a shame but I'll give you a raincheck.
PS: I'll just keep that raincheck as a souvenir. And now I'm afraid I must head for my car. Thank you again so much for a thrilling visit. And now folks, this is Paula Stone saying "so long friends."
[Thanks to Peter Hale for some corrections to the transcript.]