Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009)
and Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Coincidence? I think not ! I think so ! I think maybe

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What is it about uncovering a source of inspiration behind something that we love that gives us (some of us, anyway) so much pleasure?  We do a lot of that around here, in case you haven't noticed, so it's a pertinent question.  My guess is that finding a hitherto-unknown influence behind the thing we so admire does a couple of things.

First, it connects the isolated thing with the rest of the world, making it a point of human expression bigger than itself.  You pull on what seems superficially to be a trivial thread and find the rest of the universe attached.  It's one of the reasons I defend something as silly as doing a blog on the Haunted Mansion.  Thanks to the artistry of the dozens of contributing talents, this particular work is complex enough to open little windows right and left into the larger world of human experience.  It's an entry point, a conversation starter, and it requires no PhD to get into it.

Second, this kind of sleuthing can shed further light on the creative process that produced the thing we love.  What did the artists simply take from what went before, and what did they contribute out of their own genius?  The ability to create something new out of something old is a fascinating thing, and we love to watch.

Of course, there are occupational hazards with this sort of thing.  One pitfall is that it's easy after awhile to start acting like these artists were empty shells, unable to generate anything original.  Without thinking, you begin to assume that behind every item in the HM there must be a movie or a book or a painting, as if guys like Ken Anderson and Marc Davis couldn't come up with any entirely original ideas!  Another pitfall is that most of the time you are dealing with possibilities and probabilities rather than smoking-gun certainties, and sometimes you're just getting all jazzed up about a coincidence.  Notwithstanding the first pitfall, we must remember that the Imagineers have explicitly stated that they combed through material looking for ideas, and after all, in order for their ghostly conjurations to connect instantly with audiences there would have to be some cultural connections already in place, something that gives rise to recognition.


Notwithstanding the second pitfall, so long as one is modest in one's claims and makes liberal use of "possible," "plausible," and "probable," there is no harm in putting things out there for others to puzzle over and enjoy, even if some discussions properly end in question marks.

In this post I present some one-offs, some isolated Mansionalia and possible influences, for your consideration.

One inspiration that we have previously pointed out is "The Old Witch," an EC comics "host" character who graced the covers of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear comics in the early 1950's.  "The Old Witch" obviously served as the model for Marc Davis's Hatchet Man:


But once we know that Davis was flipping through these old comics, one can't help wondering about other items that come up...


Well, we know that the hanging-man gag goes back to Ken Anderson ('57-'58), and the stretching portrait gallery goes back to Yale and Rolly ('59-'61), all of this being before Marc Davis came on board ('64), so even if you're suspicious, it's hard to know where this one fits in.  It's old enough (1954) to have been an influence on Anderson, theoretically.  It's eyebrow raising, I'll grant you, but that's about the extent of it for moi.

Long-Forgottenista and blogger "Brother Bill" has suggested that the table in the Grand Ballroom owes something to Miss Havisham's cobweb-shrouded table in David Lean's classic 1946 film adaptation of Great Expectations.  You will recall that Miss H was a jilted bride who sorta went round the bend and kept her wedding table untouched all her life.  Quite a sad old sicko, was Miss H.  You have to wonder if the character contributed a little something to the Mansion's bride character (and also Melanie at Phantom Manor).  As for the table, take a look, and compare concept art from Davis and also Claude Coats.




I have to admit I wasn't bowled over when I first read the suggestion, but when the pix are put side-by-side, it looks mighty good.  Not a smoking gun, but definitely a possibility.

In the same comment, Brother Bill also pointed out another example of possible inspiration that others have noticed, especially the all-seeing eye of Brandon at Ghost Relations Department.  Joan Crawford was originally supposed to star in the 1964 thriller, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, but she dropped out and was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.  Some early publicity shots were released with Crawford in them, including this one:


It doesn't take an overactive imagination to see that this could well have been an inspiration for another
famous Marc Davis piece, produced not long after the above photo appeared in Life magazine.


Left to right, that's Davis's initial sketch, his own concept painting, and the basic form the painting takes today in the actual attraction (artist: Clem Hall).  As GRD points out, the plot of the movie includes an axe-murdered fiancĂ©, a mad widow, and an antebellum Louisiana mansion, among other suggestive elements.  I think this one rates rather high on the probability meter.

The credit goes to Triana (aka The Dark Lady, at Micechat) for the following one.  For some reason we seem to be trapped in the stretching portrait gallery.  This time we turn our gaze toward the Tightrope Gal...


Hall on the left, Davis on the right.  Anyway, Triana is pretty convinced that the following
sketch by John Tenniel (that's right, the guy who illustrated the Alice books) inspired our Ally Gal.


This was originally published in Punch, in 1863.  It has now been reprinted in Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians (St. Martin's; 2001), but that's obviously too late to help us.  The subject is the death of Madame Genieve, a Victorian high-wire daredevil who died when her line broke.  Hmm.  I don't know about this one.  I'll let you Forgottenistas debate it.

And finally, let's talk about what has come to be called the "Haw Branch haunting."  As the story goes, an old plantation house in Haw Branch, Virginia, was restored and reoccupied by relatives after sitting empty for half a century.  An old cousin of the new owners sent them a portrait of a distant and long-dead relative named Florence Wright.  They were told in a letter that it was a beautiful portrait in colored pastels.  When they opened the crate, they were surprised to find that it was a charcoal sketch in black and white.  Oh well.  They went ahead and hung it up.


Naturally, the house started acting haunted after that.  Strange voices, bloodcurdling screams, shadowy apparitions, strange noises and smells—the whole panoply.  Weirdest of all, the portrait slowly changed over a period of several months, ending up fully and vividly colored, beginning with the rose.  A local psychic decided that Florence's spirit was locked in the portrait, which had not been finished at the time she died (which was true), and that she had the power to drain it of color if she was unhappy with her surroundings.

Hmm.  A haunted, changing portrait, you say?  Beautiful young woman?  Did poor Florence serve as an influence on Marc Davis, you ask?


Gotcha.  The Haw Branch haunting took place late in 1969, about the same time the Mansion opened, actually.  The family completed the remodeling and moved into the house in August of that year, and the portrait arrived not long afterwards.  It could not have been an influence on the HM.  See, I warned you about coincidences.

Of course, if you believe in ghosts and strange synchronicities, you can still look for mysterious links between the near-simultaneous debuts of April-December and Florence Wright, but that takes us into very different waters.  Besides, a REAL changing portrait that colors and uncolors itself by some unseen hand?  Who could believe such things?




15 comments:

  1. Another terrific post! I especially love the Joan Crawford connection!

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  2. AMAZING POST!!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH, YOU TRULY HAVE THE BEST HAUNTED MANSION BLOG EVER!!!!

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  3. Sometimes it's good to look at the culture these guys came out of. In publishing stealing was "plagiarism", but to Art Directors in the movies it was "research". That was the old joke among them. The Art Direction process itself was doing historic research and then lifting at will the elements that would give you the look. The movies afforded little time for pure invention, so you had to be quick about it in the old studio system where films were on an assembly line. Sets were used for more than one film and cut apart and refitted, so the "Harvey" House was in part the "Psycho" House. No one cared. The "Golden Horseshoe" Theater was a copy of another movie set from Annie Oakley. No worries, just build it. The liberal use of "lifting" isn't surprising on the HM from all sides, especially the Exterior. Another direct lift. We have just deified these guys too much to accept it.

    Back then, no one ever thought there would ever be an "Art of" book that lift the curtain on the origins of all of this stuff. No one even had access to any of this "research" anyway. Herb Ryman saw it coming. He argued against the use of the Neuschenstein Castle so literally. He argued that Jet travel would make the world smaller in time and the public more aware of it's obvious roots. He thought it should be original. They scoffed and went ahead. It's probably why he turned the main portion of the model around.

    Eddie Sotto

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  4. Check that.. the Saloon was based on "Calamity Jane".

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  5. Long time lurker, and I thought I'd put up a quick post to let you know there's probably a lot more of us watching this blog -- in wonderment -- at the amount of work you put into this.

    In classical music, there was a sayings: it wasn't a crime to steal, but a crime to get caught. What this meant was that "lifting" from another musician was only bad if you didn't make it better, or make it part of something bigger, or change it to reflect yourself. Leaving it the same, or just parroting, was the way to get "caught."

    All art is built upon those that came before, and there's no shame in lifting if you create something greater with it.

    A great blog!

    [>] Brian

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  6. Thanks, Brian. As for HM borrowings, it doesn't seem to me that anyone feels disappointed by the discovery of a source of inspiration, as if the Imagineer has been discredited somehow. I don't know any Disneyland fan who actually felt let down the first time they saw a picture of Neuschenstein Castle. For one thing, with even the most direct borrowings, the Imagineers always seem to add a little something of their own. Even Ken Anderson's sketch of the Shipley-Lydecker house, for example, makes the house more gaunt and puts it in a lonely setting that creates a new sense of dereliction. For another thing, the connections create many enjoyable "two-fers." If you're a big Joan Collins fan as well as a HM fan, you can't feel anything but pleasure in knowing that Marc Davis may have modeled his widow portrait on her. If you're a fan of '50's horror comics, you're probably getting a kick out of knowing that the Ghost Host (Hatchet Guy) was modeled on "The Old Witch," etc. If you're any kind of history buff or literature lover, the stream of surprises and delights seems almost endless. We quietly congratulate the Imagineers for their good eye in seeing the possibilities that are there.

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  7. BTW, the blog hit 50,000 views today, almost exactly 7 months after the first post.

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  8. As a German, I just wanted to point out that it is "Neuschwanstein" (i.e. "New Swan Stone", whatever that means). Neuschenstein sounds really weird...

    By the way, great blog! I am a glowing reader. And the picture of Madame Genieve is really intriguing.

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  9. Ach. Entschuldigen Sie mich bitte!

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  10. Keine Ursache! ;-)

    Incidentally, Neuschwanstein is quite a fitting choice for a Disneyland inspiration, given that it was built as kind of a themepark attraction itself.
    In the nineteenth century, this kind of castles was long since out of fashion. But King Ludwig, the "fairytale king", built it as a reminiscent of the "good old times", i.e. the medieval times.
    Inside the castle, he recreated scenes from his favourite operas and legends, such as a large grotto with an artificial waterfall...

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  11. This is true. Stylistically it is a 19th Century "folly" of sorts but somehow I like it. A Steve Wynn version of the days of shining armor.

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  12. Exactly right. Years ago, one of my brothers-in-law had a big poster of Neuschwanstein on his wall, and I tried to tell him that it was itself a "Disneyland" castle. He wasn't terribly impressed. I think he was young enough for "1800's" to still qualify as ancient!

    Not to digress, but now and then it hits me and I am amazed at how young we are (America, I mean). I do some part-time caregiving at an Assisted Living center (my wife is a geriatrics nurse), and enjoyed helping a guy named Hank with his shower, etc. He was nearly 100, hailed from Oklahoma, and would tell me how he remembered as a very young child listening to his great-grandfather telling stories about his own youth. I crunched the numbers and thought, my Lord, I'm sitting here with this guy, and he's a living window into the days when Andrew Jackson was president.

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  13. The first time I rode the HM in Disneyland, my first thought was that it was like stepping into an episode of "Dark Shadows."

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  14. I just stumbled across another interesting picture:
    http://www.everypicture.com/original-art/walt-disney-studio-art/3850/snow-white-witch.html

    Could it be that Davis' "Hatchet Man" and "The Old Witch" from the comics have both another ancestor at Disney itself?
    The same mien can be found at the end of the transformation scene:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N14Ho-VVPgA

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  15. HBG2nsaid, "If you're a big Joan Collins fan as well as a HM fan, you can't feel anything but pleasure in knowing that Marc Davis may have modeled his widow portrait on her."

    Whooops! I think you meant Joan Crawford.

    BTW... the photo of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the tomb stones was taken during the filming of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. I'm beside myself with giddiness at the idea that this was the inspiration for Mrs. mary Gilbert Gracey (the traditional name for the woman on the tombstone - Master Gracey's mother).

    The idea of a late 1800's tightrope walker - especially a woman - about to meet her doom is qite an unusual subject, and I can't imagine anything else being such a blatant inspiration for Lilian O’Malley Gracey (the traditional name of the tightrope walker - Master Gracey's first wife... Emily Cavanaugh, the attic bride, being his 2nd, which is why she's in the mansion in the first place; somehow over time the HatBox Ghost became considered her husband merely because of the synchronized heartbeat and head in the hat box).

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