1946: Controversial ‘Song of the South’ Opens in Theaters
A year before one of Walt Disney’s most controversial film arrived in theaters, Disney produced a Sunday morning comic strip titled, Uncle Remus: His Tales of Br’er Rabbit. Meant to be a short-lived promotion for the film Song of the South, the comic proved so popular that it continued to run through December 31, 1972. Meanwhile, back in 1946, the movie premiered on this day in 1946 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia – a move that Disney probably regretted. The movie was Disney’s first live action film that also featured about 25 minutes of animation with Uncle Remus telling his tales of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er For and Br’er Bear. The film starred James Baskett as Uncle Remus whom Disney described as “the best actor, I believe, to be discovered in years.” Unfortunately, Baskett was unable to attend the premiere since Atlanta was a racially segregated city at the time, but Baskett did win an honorary Oscar for his work on the film “for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world” in 1948. The score by Daniele Amfitheatrof, Paul J. Smith, and Charles Wolcott was nominated and the song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” written by Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert, won the award for Best Song. Though the Disney Company has faced backlash from the film’s portrayals of the African Americans in the movie, it was still re-released in U.S. theaters several times in 1956, 1972, 1973, 1980 and as late as 1986 in promotion of Disneyland’s newest ride, Splash Mountain. (The ride is now under construction to become based on The Frog Princess movie.) Still, Disney has yet to release Song of the South in full for home viewing, but during her acceptance as one of Disney’s “Legends” in July of 2017, actress Whoopie Goldberg expressed about how she wished that the movie would be re-released publicly for American audiences. (Image: Walt Disney Pictures)
1939: Bela Lugosi Strikes a Pose
The Walt Disney Company has a long history of using models to help them animate their films. On this day in 1939, actor Bela Lugosi, better known by some as Dracula, modeled for the role of Chernabog in the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of the film Fantasia. However, head animator Bill Tytla was unhappy with the results and later had director Wilfred Jackson redo the poses.
2018: Marvel’s Stan Lee Passes Away
Comic Book fans mourned on this day in 2018 when it was reported that Marvel comics’ Stan Lee had passed away at the age of 95 in Los Angeles. He was the co-creator or such superheroes as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man and more. When Lee was just 17-years-old, he became an assistant at Timely Comics where he wrote stories for comic artist like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. One year later Lee became the editor-in-chief. After his service with the army (working on training films and some cartooning) he continued as editor-in-chief until he was became a publisher in 1972. After DC Comic’s success with their Justice League of America comic books, Lee and Kirby teamed up to create the Fantastic Four which was not only an instant hit, but it helped to pave the way for more masked heroes to come about, often providing social commentary. In many ways, the older the man got, the popular and more well-known he became. He became the face of Marvel appearing in cameo roles in 26 movies including his first in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk in 1989, in animated form for Disney’s Big Hero 6 in 2014 and his last, Venom.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.