Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy 100th Birthday, Marc Davis!

Yes, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marc Davis, one of "The Nine Old Men", Disney's celebrated group of veteran animators. Andreas Deja has been writing up some great posts on his blog, so I'm not about to compete with that. But I also love and admire the work that Marc did after his career as an animator, when he moved on to design and create many of the best attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Attractions such as The Haunted Mansion, It's A Small World, and The Pirates of the Caribbean were all a big part of my childhood in those early years of family road trips from Ottawa, Canada, down to the brand new Walt Disney World in Florida in the early 1970s. Actually, though, my personal favourite attraction that Marc designed was The Country Bear Jamboree, that had its debut at Walt Disney World before also being built for the Bear Country area in Disneyland.

Marc Davis concept art.....

At that time in the 70s, both my Dad and I were big fans of country music, so The Country Bear Jamboree was a well appreciated parody of Nashville's beloved Grand Ole Opry, with its caricatures of familiar character types from that era of country in the form of cartoon bears in various shapes and sizes. To this day I still love vintage country music (although not its vapid pop/rock incarnation as "New Country"), and The Country Bear Jamboree in its heyday remains a favourite of mine. Sadly, I hear that the show has been recently pared down in length by the philistines who currently run Disney, as they feel that they can get more performances crammed in per day in this abbreviated form.

....Translated into the actual show!
On a similar theme, I recall onetime going down to WDW and seeing a diorama with models on display in The Walt Disney Story on Main Street, of a new proposed attraction called The Western River Expedition. This would have been another water based ride featuring audio-animatronic characters, similar to The Pirates of the Caribbean, then only at Disneyland. Sadly, it was never to see the light of day, as they figured that it would be more cost effective to instead recreate the Pirates ride for the Florida audience.

Marc Davis working on The Western River Expedition model

Concept art for the saloon scene
Many years later, I had finally achieved my dream of working down at WDW as a character illustrator in the Marketing Art Dept in 1990. A couple years later in 1992, I took a vacation out to Disneyland to attend a convention put on by The Mouse Club, a fan club not officially associated with The Disney Company. They had quite a roster of guest speakers lined up, including Marc Davis who was to take part in a panel discussion on the creation of several of the Disneyland attractions. I was staying in the Disneyland Hotel where the convention was being held, and as I was making my way to the room where this event was to take place, I luckily bumped into Marc Davis and his wife Alice just as they were entering the hotel lobby. Since they weren't sure where the room was, I gladly offered to escort them there, taking the opportunity to chat with them along the way. 

Western desperadoes!
The room was on the second floor, but Marc, though walking slowly with a cane, did not want to take the elevator and insisted he could make it up the stairway, which fortunately had shallow wide steps. The hotel had recently been renovated, and there had been some panels of park concept art put up as decoration, so when Marc and Alice arrived at the top of the stairway, there facing them on the landing were a series of large panels featuring the above concept art from the never built Western River Expedition with the masked desperadoes on their horses, also comically wearing masks. I'll never forget Marc's reaction to seeing this art he'd created so many years before. He gazed slowly across the panels, then gradually smiled and started to quietly chuckle to himself. I could tell that he was getting some great amusement from seeing his work again and seemed quite touched that it was on display quite large for people to enjoy. I only met Marc Davis that one time, but I'll never forget witnessing that sweet moment with Marc and his wonderful cartoon art. Happy Birthday to Marc Davis, a genuine Disney Legend!


kurtwil said...

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Marc and his wife Alice a number of times in the '80's. A very kind host, Marc enjoyed chatting about Disney history and art. He is missed.

Natalie Belton said...

I remember those bears! Too bad they got torn down for a Winnie the Pooh ride.

nick said...

Love the caricature of Marc Davis! He's one of my biggest idols. You've inspired me to do my own caricature of him aha!
I'm enjoying every post, thanks,