The Old Man of the Mountain

Max and Dave Fleischer Were the Opposite of Disney

Walt Disney was good at what he tried to do, but he was not really for adults. At the same time that Disney was animating his Mickey Mouse cartoons, Max and Dave Fleischer presented a much more adult vision of life in their Betty Boop cartoons. These were done before the Hays Office descended on Hollywood with their black pall of censorship. Yesterday, I watched their “The Old Man of the Mountain” on YouTube. It is about a luscious young thing who goes up against the Old Man of the Mountain (sung by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra) and starts getting chased by him. At one point, he rips off her dress, though all we see of Betty is the lower edge of her frilly panties as she hides behind a tree. (Holy Miscegenation!)

Watch the cartoon for yourself:

In another Boop mcartoon, Betty attempts to perform a tooth extraction on Koko the Clown. By accident, she winds up infecting the whole town with Laughing Gas. The cartoon, entitled “Ha! Ha! Ha!” was banned in Britain because of its casualness about drugs. In another cartoon, “Betty Boop’s Big Boss,” Betty appears to endorse the mauling of secretaries as sexual provender by big fat bosses. You can see these cartoons for free any time by Googling their titles, as in “YouTube Ha! Ha! Ha! Betty Boop.”

I actually like Walt Disney’s work, but I think Betty Boop is pretty hot stuff. At one point in “The Old Man of the Mountain,” a cripple on crutches espies Betty’s curvaceous legs, gives them a thorough viewing, and then leaves without his crutches, which go off by themselves.

A Club for Kids

Every Boy’s Sweetheart:  Annette Funicello

Every Boy’s Sweetheart: Annette Funicello

On October 3, 1955, I walked over a mile to Warrensville at the corner of Northfield Road and Van Aken to see a movie; but I was more interested in what was going to be on T.V. when I got home. Although I ran at what for me at the age of ten was top speed, I only missed a few minutes of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” I did not make that mistake in days to come: there were kids like me, cartoons, special guests, and various other little daily features.

And there was that ultimate sexpot of the 1950s.No, not Marilyn. The shorter one: Annette Funicello. In darkened living rooms all around the country, little boys were sighing as their hearts went pit-a-pat.

Disney really made it happen for me. That same year, he was going to open a theme park in Anaheim called Disneyland. It was to be an unattainable place of dreams.

Unattainable, at least, until the tail end of 1966, when I came out to Southern California to go to graduate school in film at UCLA. Our old neighbors from Cleveland, the Gurals, took me to a ball game in Anaheim to see the Cleveland Indians lose to the (then) California Angels, after which we went to … DISNEYLAND!

I am not one of those people who are too old and too sophisticated for Disneyland. Granted, the greasy kid stuff at Fantasyland is de trop for me, but I still love New Orleans Square and, nowadays, Toontown. I have yet to visit the Calfornia Adventure theme park next door, but I will eventually.


A True Life Adventure? Not Really!

Lemmings Committing Suicide En Masse

Lemmings Committing Suicide En Masse

We have all heard of the mass suicide of cute little Arctic lemmings, but has anyone ever seen it? You have if you’ve seen the Walt Disney True Life Adventure called White Wilderness (1958), directed by James Algar. And the reason you’ve seen it is because the filmmakers faked it. According to the Alaska Fish & Wildlife News in September 2003:

According to a 1983 investigation by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer Brian Vallee, the lemming scenes were faked. The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers. The epic “lemming migration” was staged using careful editing, tight camera angles and a few dozen lemmings running on snow covered lazy-Susan style turntable.

“White Wilderness” was filmed in Alberta, Canada, a landlocked province, and not on location in lemmings’ natural habitat. There are about 20 lemming species found in the circumpolar north—but evidently not in that area of Alberta. So the Disney people bought lemmings from Inuit children a couple provinces away in Manitoba and staged the whole sequence.

In the lemming segment, the little rodents assemble for a mass migration, scamper across the tundra and ford a tiny stream as narrator Winston Hibbler explains that, “A kind of compulsion seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny.”

That destiny is to jump into the ocean. As they approach the “sea,” (actually a river—more tight cropping) Hibbler continues, “They’ve become victims of an obsession—a one-track thought: Move on! Move on!”

The “pack of lemmings” reaches the final precipice. “This is the last chance to turn back,” Hibbler states. “Yet over they go, casting themselves out bodily into space.”

Faking documentaries is nothing new to the film industry. In the famous early documentary Nanook of the North (1922), filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty had to teach his Eskimos how to build an igloo. And the women who were supposedly the star’s wives were actually Flaherty’s common-law wives, who happened to be Inuit. So much for verisimilitude!

An Actual Lemming. Cute, Huh?

An Actual Lemming. Cute, Huh?