Today audience have a sense of what the Disney name brand means, but there was a time when it came down simply to the creative touch of Walt Disney himself.
Disney’s deft instinct for lushly animated, warm all-ages stories was in full flower in 1955 when, after nearly 20 years of development and tinkering, his eponymous studio released “Lady and the Tramp,” now long acknowledged as one of the company’s enduring masterpieces. To mark the film’s debut on Blu-Ray, the inventive mogul’s daughter Diane Disney Miller gives PopcornBiz a peek into her father’s real-life Magic Kingdom.
Can you explain where 'Lady & The Tramp' stood in your dad's heart and its significance to him personally?
It was very close to his heart, and to his own experience. Everybody loves dogs and that's why, I think, this film has survived so well in the public's view. That little episode you'll see in the beginning where the wife is presented with a puppy in a hatbox – that's exactly what he did with my mother when he wanted a dog and she didn't want one. They had just moved in to their first built home. He and his brother had built homes that were side-by-side, very near the old studio in Hollywood. Dad found that there were certain breeds of dogs that didn't shed: one was a Chow, so he bought a little Chow puppy and asked his brother to keep it in his garage next door until Christmas morning. On Christmas morning he sent my mother's niece Margery, who was living with them, over to Uncle Roy's house and they had it all ready. They had the hatbox and tied a big bow on it and Margery brought it back and presented it to my mother. When mother opened it and the little dog popped out she was delighted. She loved it! My dad was great like that, when he did something really clever like that.
It’s the first film the studio did in Cinemascope, and in one of the disc’s documentaries you note that your father was a lover of gadgets and gimmicks in his personal life. Would he have easily embraced all types of new film technology?
Anything! People ask what he would think of today's digital [film]. He would love it. Actually, if you refer to his early films he was the first to put color in the animated films, in the cartoons and he got an exclusive contract with Technicolor to try out the color process, the three-color process. And then on TV, he was the first to jump in and embrace television instead of be afraid of it. He was always there, looking for everything new thing. He'd tell the old stories in a new way.
What does it mean to you to see your father's creations, a film like this and the Disneyland Park and everything else, still be so treasured and relevant today, after all the creative effort he put in to what he was doing?
It's very gratifying. This is why we had to build the museum in San Francisco. We chose a historic building that belongs to the state, to the nation. It's a part of an old Navy base, The Presidio, and now it's a national park. We chose this wonderful, old brick building – it's one of six identical buildings there – to do this in because it's for the people. He was successful because people liked what he did and bought it and supported what he did. He felt very strongly in getting this to his audience, to the people that accepted his product and bought it and sought it out. This museum I think is for my dad and for them.
The spaghetti scene in "Lady & The Tramp" is one of the most iconic in all of the Disney films. It's been imitated and tweaked. Did he have a sense of how beloved that particular scene was becoming throughout the generations?
I don't know. I didn't know it was the iconic scene – I always say that it was my favorite scene – but I have no idea. I can't answer that for you. I don't know if he was aware of that at the time of his death. He must've been. It sounds very much like something that my dad would've thought of.
Did anything you ever said or did at home make it into one of the Disney films?
Not directly, but I always had my girlfriends spending the night and we'd do these things – my sister, too – and I think that probably more in something like the Hayley Mills film, 'The Parent Trap,' you might see some of that girly interaction. Dad had a good feel for that, because part of the time he was driving us to school in a carpool with three other girls in our neighborhood. He heard all of us chatter in the back of the car. So I think that might've been one place that it might've surfaced, because everything that happened in his life found it's way into a film, somehow, at one point.
Like a lot of your father’s projects, it's interesting to learn that "Lady and the Tramp" was a notion that came up as early as the late '30's, but he didn't follow through with until the mid-'50's. It seemed like he had a real sense of timing, when to put things out.
It was a sense - he had this book for a long time. For example, I just learned that he had 'Bambi' in his hands way before he did 'Snow White.’ There was a development that went on with so many of them. I think a lot of them had to do with timing – the fiscal timing of other films, but also just sort of how it fit into their production schedule. But in his life it always seemed that he had properties that he wanted to be in, [although] he never really wanted to do 'Alice in Wonderland.' And it was a film that Dave Smith, the founder of the studio archive, said that it was the thing that everybody always said that he ought to do, but that he never wanted to do. He and his animators never really felt good about it. I, however, really liked the film. I think it's witty and colorful and fun. But 'Lady & the Tramp' was a story he loved.
What's a fun fact about your dad that most people might not suspect, even his biggest fans – something they wouldn't know was an aspect of Walt Disney?
Well, people are very surprised when they learn that he was just really an ordinary dad. He drove his two little girls to school every morning when they were younger – we both went to girl schools that were not within walking distance. He would drive us every morning and then he'd go on to the studio and I think people are very surprised when they hear that. He was just a very good dad. He helped us with school projects. He went to every father/daughter event that occurred anywhere. When we were very small, every weekend, Sunday was really ‘Daddy's Day.’ We'd go to Griffith Park. There was a carousel there and we'd ride that and then we'd go run around the studio with him. He loved to go to the Burbank studio when there was nobody there. We went into every room and saw what the guys were doing. We'd ride our bikes all around the parking lot. I don't think people realize that he was just a good family man. That's why his product worked: because he was appealing to the kind of audience that he really loved and understood.
"Lady and the Tramp" makes its debut on Blu-ray today.