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Disney Rarities On Auction—And On View

Auctions offering Disney artwork and memorabilia are fairly commonplace, but the material gathered for Profiles in History’s newest event, in conjunction with

The actual envelope, in Walt Disney’s handwriting.

Van Eaton Galleries, is positively staggering. There are animation and layout drawings, cels, conceptual and inspirational artwork by such great artists as Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, and Tyrus Wong, maquettes from the original Character Model Department, artifacts from Disneyland, and much, much more—including some juicy non-Disney items like title-card treatments from MGM cartoons.

But there are two headline-making Disney items of vast historical significance. One is a hand-written letter from Walt to his old Kansas City friend Ub Iwerks (whom he addresses as Ubbe, his given name), dated June 1, 1924, celebrating the news that—

Page one of Walt’s four-page missive to Ub Iwerks.

—Ub is going to join him in California. The four-page missive is even accompanied by its original envelope from Disney Brothers Studio on Kingswell Avenue. The seller points out that this is the only known hand-written piece of correspondence betweenthese two animation pioneers, and the only known hand-written letter from Walt Disney to reach public auction.

The other is a simple legal document, dated January 22, 1930, in which Iwerks agrees to relinquish all rights and ownership in the (now-renamed) Walt Disney Studio for the sum of $2,920.00. As one of Walt and Roy’s most valued colleagues, Iwerks had been given one-fifth ownership of the company, but relinquished it when P.A. “Pat” Powers offered to back him in his own cartoon studio. Animation buffs know the rest of that story: Iwerks was a prodigious animator who was largely responsible for the success of Disney’s operation, but he was not an inspired producer and his studio was short-lived. This is another document that properly belongs in a museum.

Clark Gable and Greta Garbo are caricatured in this animation drawing from the 1939 Disney cartoon The Autograph Hound.

To download a virtual copy of the full-color auction book (the “real” copies are already sold out) go to www.profilesinhistory.com. The auction will take place on May 14 and 15 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can see those letters and an array of the outstanding animation artwork from this auction on display at Van Eaton Galleries, 13613 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. Their telephone number is (818) 788-2357 and their website is www.vegalleries.com. The exhibition continues through May 13. Just one word of warning: Mike Van Eaton has great, even affordable animation artwork in his file bins, and if you start browsing (as I usually do) you’ll be hard-pressed to walk away empty-handed.


It was Joe Grant who suggested that Walt set up a character model department, where “maquettes” like this were manufactured to help the animators with their drawings of figures like Pinocchio.


A beautiful cel set-up of Brer Rabbit from Song of the South.


A typically colorful and charming Cinderella concept by Mary Blair.


One of Eyvind Earle’s stylized visual concepts for Sleeping Beauty.

5 comments

  1. Hank Zangara says:

    The Disney Family Museum in California (run by the Disney family, NOT the Disney Company) really needs some of these historical documents and early pencils and cels.

    I don’t know if they will be bidding, but it would be wonderful if some auctioned items could be donated to them.

    Any cinephile philanthropists out there?

  2. Gary Parks says:

    This simply makes me grateful for the very, very few artifacts my mother and I still have from the years my father, Ed Parks, worked at Disney (1938-1960, with some time away during WWII and a brief interlude at Paramount in the mid-50s). We once had so much more though, including cels. Mary Blair’s husband, Lee, was my parents’ commanding officer in the Navy’s Art & Animation Department, and they remained friends until Lee’s passing in the 1990s, Mary having passed in the 1970s. Lee was very kind and encouraging of my own artistic efforts.

    Gary Parks, Regional Director, Theatre Historical Society

  3. Geoff Gardner says:

    Leonard,

    Just a side note: thank you so much for your part via articles, and DVD commentaries & bonus features, in bringing such names as Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle to our attention … their work for the Disney studio and beyond is truly wonderful.

  4. DBenson says:

    Random note on Iwerks: In the “Hand Behind the Mouse” documentary, it’s revealed that Ubbe Iwerks’ father abandoned him and his mother early on. Much later, Iwerks’ own son tells how Ubbe came to his office to talk to him after the death of Walt Disney. They were both working on the Disney lot.

    It’s not remarked on, but found myself wondering if Ubbe engineered that as a way of staying close to his own son .

  5. JLewis says:

    Poor Ubbe. It must have been frustrating that Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper were never as big as Mickey Mouse & Company. I have to confess actually liking some of his thirties cartoons; they have been aging rather gracefully over the decades… and aren’t as disjointed and unappealing today as they might have been back then or even as recent as the 1980s, when so many cartoons from that decade were STILL being unfairly compared with Disney. Of course, when you watch too many Iwerks cartoons together… like in those “Cartoons That Time Forgot” DVDs, it can be a drag at times. Surprisingly, the Willie Whoppers are the ones that are most fun to watch (in a Fleischer surreal sort of way), despite their poor preservation quality compared to the pristine-looking Flip the Frog and Comicolors.

    On an unrelated note: now that many back issues of BoxOffice magazine and its forerunner issues have been scanned online: http://www.boxofficemagazine.com/the_vault#crumbs_nav , certain curiosities are springing up. I always assumed Disney joined Columbia Pictures in 1930, around the time Iwerks left… but have to go “hit the books” to be sure. Yet, surprisingly, “The Skeleton Dance” is reviewed September 28, 1929 as a Columbia release. Did the studio actually distribute that one, but maybe not the other Silly Symphonies, or is that an unusual (and far-sighted) oopsie with the reviewer? One more fun thing: in a March 18, 1930 issue, there is a full page ad for Disney and Mickey now “joining” Columbia (making the ’29 review even more strange) that even mentions Ub Iwerks as “director”, even though he was out of the studio by then. It is tempting to think (yeah, it is probably NOT true but still TEMPTING to think) that Harry Cohn had something to do with this… since he and Walt were hardly buddy buddy and it would be fun to do a “dig” at Walt as not the ONLY man in charge of Mickey’s success.

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