04 January 2009

"Ready when you are, W.D."

Whenever we saw Walt appear on television, some of us through archival footage years after he had passed away (due solely to the fact that we were born too many years too late), he always appeared comfortable, contented, and magnanimous. That, as it turns out, may not have always been the case when it came to appearing on screen. In the Fall 1993 issue of Disney News, Michael Mallory spoke to Paul Carlson about his experiences with Walt Disney the host, both on and off camera.

When Walt Disney was first planning to take on the new medium of television with a new show called “Disneyland,” many at the Studio felt he would make the perfect on-camera host.

All they had to do was convince Walt himself.

“He did not want to do it in the beginning,” says cartoon producer/director Paul Carlson, who 35 years ago served as assistant director for the filmed TV segments. “He was really kind of shy and he didn’t think he was any good [on camera]. But it was natural for him to be the emcee.”

Eventually Disney was persuaded and the rest is history.

Paul Carlson joined the Disney Studio in 1954 and worked his way up from mail delivery to animation. Later he became assistant to director Charles August “Nick” Nichols, who was then responsible for commercials and title sequences for “Walt Disney Presents” (formerly “Disneyland”), “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “Zorro.”

Since Nichols and Carlson worked in live-action as well as animation, the job of directing the boss in his filmed lead-ins fell to them.

“[Walt] took direction pretty well,” says Carlson. “He told us once that when he gave a guy the responsibility of a director, he also gave him the authority. Whenever I saw him work, he would always show respect to the guy he worked with.”

Yet nothing escaped Disney’ perfectionist eye, not even himself.

“He was pretty particular about the way he looked,” Carlson recalls, “I remember one time he was standing behind a desk, and he had a gun on and was talking about “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca.” Nick wanted to show some guns and a cartridge belt on the desk and we propped up the back of the desk with six-inch blocks so the angle was improved. But when Walt got on set he noticed that the desk was high and he said, ‘People will think I’m short,’ Nick explained that by the desk being flat it wouldn’t display the things he was talking about. Walt got around and took a look through the camera – ‘All right’ – and then went along with it.”

Those who had pegged him as the perfect host were right: in 1955 Walt received a personal Emmy nomination for Most Outstanding New TV Personality.

Off the set Carlson and Nichols met with Disney once a month to discuss the unit’s various projects, which included “Fresh-Up Freddie” commercials for 7-Up and “Bucky Beaver” spots for Ipana Toothpaste. Carlson also illustrated a series of “How To Draw…” character books, a job for which Walt “cast” him, he says because of his neat lettering.

Today Paul Carlson heads his own company which produces cartoons and ads feature Mr. Magoo. He has only one regret from his days as a young cartoonist with Walt Disney: “I never had a picture taken with him, I could kick myself,” he says. “But I was one of his ‘hands’ and I liked him a lot. He couldn’t do anything wrong as far as I was concerned.”

No comments: