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: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Many Faces of the Tightrope Walker

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In our last post, we got all philosophical and theological and stuff with the stretching gallery portraits.  This time out we'll be looking at the artistic interpretations of the most popular of these Marc Davis masterpieces (for such they are widely regarded).  I'm speaking of the Tightrope Walker (aka Alligator Girl).  Recently we were given fresh proof of how much interest there is in this piece.  On December 17, 2010, a collector paid $47,500 at auction for an Ally Gal portrait actually used in the attraction.  The canvasses get worn out with continual rolling and unrolling and are replaced at regular intervals (every few years is what I've heard).  This hand-painted copy was dated in the auction catalogue to 1969-1972, based on the testimony of a Disney employee that they no longer hand-painted the portraits after 1972.


I hope the early date was not a major factor for the buyer, since the information supplied by the employee (and hence the catalogue) was wrong.  According to Brandon "Ghost Relations Department" Champlin, all of the stretchroom canvasses were hand-painted until around 2005, when they went to a large format printer.  The printed portraits can be done in about 12 minutes, and they last longer too, so it's hard to blame Disney for going to the mechanical reproduction.  It's not impossible that the auctioned painting goes back to 1972, but unless there is evidence other than the fact that it's hand-painted, the odds are not good.  Even without GRD's testimony, it is obvious that the portraits were hand-painted long past 1972, as there are variations in the style, depending on the individual artists involved.  Yes, they used a paint-by-numbers approach and cranked them out in a more-or-less assembly line fashion, but at the same time a certain leeway was allowed to the painters.


In our last  post, we dissected the joke represented by this stretching portrait (and the others).  By looking at the surprising differences among the various Tightrope Walkers produced by different artists down through the years, you can see some interesting readings of that joke, much as different performers produce different interpretations of the same material.  Hey, if somebody was willing to shell out $47,500 for one of these, you can't claim that nobody cares about the topic enough to justify a measly blog post.

The place to begin, obviously, is with Davis's concept artwork.  It isn't hard to figure out his take on the character he created...


She's just plain bats.  Utterly gone.  Look hard into those eyes, if you dare.  Dude, those circuit boards are fried.  There is no longer a connection between this chick and the world, any world.  As it stretches open, the portrait's joke is as simple as it can be:  she's oblivious to the reality of death because she's oblivious to any reality at all.

The first few generations of HM stretching portraits stayed conservatively with Davis's design, but they abandoned his bold colors (pink sky? yellow skin?) for a more "natural" look.  The result was an unsatisfactory hybrid.  Since they only followed this formula for the first few sets, these "Davis-style" canvasses are certainly the rarest in existence.  That doesn't necessarily make them good. [Edit 8-31-16: I am given to understand that Ed Kohn was the artist who did these.]



Wisely, they abandoned their efforts to rigidly preserve the look of the Davis characters and allowed artists to re-imagine their appearance.  Almost all of the stretching portrait artists are anonymous, but the more realistic style that replaced the Davis type is attributed to Clem Hall. Hall was an apt choice, since Davis held him in high regard: 

That's really something when you consider that Marc Davis was notoriously chary in handing out praise. Anyway, one set of portraits Hall produced around 1982 has been widely reproduced in books and posters.  Here's a set of three non-Davis Ally Gal heads, with the recently auctioned "1972" model on the left, Hall 1982 in the middle, and the current DL version on the right.  (In the remarks that follow, bear in mind that it's possible Hall did both left and middle.) [Edit: the "1972" canvas is now being attributed to Elmer Plummer.]


It is obvious at a glance that we are justified in speaking of a variety of interpretations of the character.  If you look closely, these three faces read quite differently, don't they?  Our '72 girl has a dreamy, far-away look in her eye, but her mind is clearly occupied.  She looks like she's remembering something.  The look is wistful but intelligent.  You might conclude that she's oblivious to the presence of death because she's not really present, she's daydreaming of some past event or person.

There are some nice details in this one.  For one thing, her mouth is open, and you can even see her teeth (very well done too).  That's unusual, maybe even unique.  Those eyes seem almost impossibly far apart, but that contributes to her look, doesn't it?  I see a certain sweetness in this one not found in most of the others.  It may not go back to '72, and I don't think I'd pay forty-seven and a half K for it, but there's no denying the collector picked up a nice piece by a talented painter.


As for Hall '82, his Ally Gal has an equally distant look in her eye, but unlike the '72 girl, she looks...stoned.  Seriously, it reminds me of the look a lot of models cop when they're trying to look blank and decadent and ready to be taken advantage of, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.  Now that I've said that, I won't exactly be covering myself with glory if I suggest that she may be the sexiest of all the Alligator Girls, so I won't suggest that.  I'll let someone else suggest that.  I won't suggest that.  Oh, and do you see the unique facial feature?  She's almost frowning.  In fact, she's on her way to a full-on pout, but I don't think she will ever get there.  Pouting takes too much energy, and she's pretty wasted.


Whereas other Ally Gals have a look of innocence about them, Hall's girl is anything but innocent.  Not with that drug problem.  With this version of the joke we have someone who isn't so much unaware of her fragile mortality as she is uncaring about it.

Then there's the current version.  No doubt about it, this girl is a lot more chipper than Hall's.  Look at the shape of the eyes.  I think the idea was to get back some of the wide-eyed innocence that Hall threw out the window.


She looks a little older to me than the others, and I guess a little more sensible, but frankly it's hard for me to tell, because for some reason this face is seriously lacking in personality.  To me, she's easily the most boring of the lot.

There are photos of other post-Davis Alligator Girls out there too, but I don't have anything high-rez enough to facilitate the kind of scrutiny we've given to the three above.  Here are two others:


If I had to render a judgment based on those inadequate photos, I'd say the one on the left looks a little p.o.'d, but again, that may be the photograph's fault.  The one on the right is very Hall-esque, but with a slightly more perplexed and disturbed look.  It's very subtle, but the Clem Hall frown almost means something here.  In some ways, she seems to me the most poignant of the Tightrope Walkers we've looked at, since you could interpret her expression as a sort of dawning realization that beauty doesn't mean much in the long run.  No, she isn't there yet, not by any means, but she may be the closest of the lot to realizing, vaguely, that she too has a hungry alligator beneath her pretty little feet, like all the rest of us.

Next up:  The other stretchroom denizens get the same treatment.
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46 comments:

  1. I like MD's concept artwork...those circuits are indeed fried.

    In the Art of the Disney Princess book, Disney Editions, 2009, artist Robert Farrell did his take on the Tightrope Walker but substituted Snow White in the lead role. I plan to do a post on it in the future, but here's a link to the image:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_AitGIGPUGkQ/TSpdb3SDQeI/AAAAAAAAJB0/ctkul_Uo8Tc/s1600/swdizprin9.jpg

    As usual, a great read HBG2!

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  2. Thanks. And yes, that's a great parody. There are quite a lot of take-offs on the Tightrope Walker. I've even done a couple myself:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/29883059@N05/4500648003/in/set-72157615705227676/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/29883059@N05/4545722379/in/set-72157615705227676/

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  3. Is it just me, or do most of them look like Carolyn Jones, aka "Morticia Addams"?

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  4. GG, I can see it too.

    http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/danolson/old%20disneyland%20bride/carolyn0000299258-82586L.jpg

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  5. Wow, I had no clue whatsoever that there were so many versions of this painting!

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  6. Once again, Dan, fascinating blog......I can't get enough! Look forward to each posting with great anticipation. Keep up the amazing work, this is my favorite Haunted Mansion blog in the entire internet!

    JohnnyBix38

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  7. Fascinating! What a difference the angle of a lip, the level of an eyelid, and the curve of a jawline can make! It changes the story from a cautionary tale against recklessness to one against daydreaming, indulgence, or any number of things.

    I wonder if the reason the latest face is less interesting is because it offers fewer clues about why the girl is unaware of her imminent fate. She looks so composed, with her clear eyes, firm chin, and Mona Lisa smile; you'd expect her to be a little more hip to what's going on under her feet.

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  8. Since now they're printed, does this mean we are doomed to have the final version become the definitive one from here on out? I mean, who at Disney would go through the trouble of reassessing the best versions of these portraits? I have to go with the 1972 version myself, it just seems the most enigmatic of the bunch....

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  9. My hunch is that the answer to your question is "yes." I can't think of any reason why the current printed version would not continue to be used ad infinitum. I doubt that they have anticipated the sort of scrutiny and historical comparison we're doing here, and consequently that anyone would ever notice or care. But as HM atrocities go, this one is on the mild side. The current version isn't bad, it's just bland, IMO.

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  10. Clem Hall didn't paint the portraits actually used in the attractions, but he did paint a master full-size set that the scenic painters and WED copied. These masters were restored in the 1998 period, as they had been attached to boards, then had soft upholstery foam glued to the back( to give padding as they were moved around)---this all rotted and made a massive mess. Cover the tops were acetate plastic gridded out so that the prop copies could be laid out. The Clem Hall masters were done prior to 1982...I think 1975. In the mid 80's however WED tested a new way of making the prop-copies for use in the mansion. They were lithographed on paper, then attached to canvas, then the front image was laminated for protection from the rolling and unrolling. They stopped this as the portraits had a glare on them from the protective coating on the front making them difficult for guests to see bellow AND they faded faster then they wore out. Howard Lowery Auction House in Burbank has sold both the laminated and painted portraits.

    The "modern" style version on the Tightrope Girl you show in your comparisons first showed up in the hand painted copies during the Disneyland rehab of 1995 period-------when the hearse was added to the outside. For a long time one gallery featured the older style look portraits and the other gallery (to the left as you enter the foyer) was the first to display the "modern" look portraits.

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  11. Great, thanks for all of that new information! I really appreciate it.
    I got the 1982 date from the "Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland" exhibit in Oakland, back in 2006. The stretch portraits on the posters were credited as: "Artist Clem Hall, 1982, after concept by Marc Davis, 1965." Of course, as we all know, they can and do make mistakes with this sort of thing. After all, the auctioned Ally Gal was dated based on a false notion. Perhaps the widely-reproduced Clem Halls were actually some of those lithographed copies of the masters (your "mid-80's" thing; actually 1982?).

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  12. And as if there isn't enough confusion with dates, I've got pix of a WDW stretchroom purportedly from 1971 (i.e. when it opened), and the "Clem Hall" style portraits are there.

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  13. Hiya again;

    Sorry this is off topic but you're more likely to know about this than me and it does seem... related.. to the Haunted Mansion.

    I'm basically doing some research on the rubber spiders. I'd like to know if the Haunted Mansion Load Area still has its' rubber spider, which of course is descended from a rubber spider which appeared in the Jungle Cruise for many years in the Sunken City scene and modeled closely on a Marc Davis illustration. So Claude Coats may not be the person to blame for all this!

    I'm especially interested in knowing if the Jungle Cruise spider or the DL Mansion spider were animated. At the WDW Mansion and Jungle Cruise, these figures were attached to a string leading to a solenoid valve which would click open and closed, jerking the spider slightly and making them appear to "wiggle". I know Jungle Cruise isn't your specialty but since you were there and I wasn't I figured it couldn't hurt to ask. :)

    Thanks!!

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  14. To the best of my knowledge, neither the DL Jungle Cruise spider nor the HM load area spider were ever animated in any way. I'm more certain of the HM spider than the JC one, naturally. I'm sure I would have noticed if it moved, plus we've got video from the early 90's that shows that it does not move. Oddly enough, I discuss these spiders two posts from now (they're in the can already). The HM spider has been gone since about 2001. Tokyo has the last giant spiders, and those babies are nicely animated. Giant spiders reappeared at the DL HM for the DL 50th Anny in 2005, anchoring the giant spiderweb on the front columns:

    http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/danolson/old%20disneyland%20bride/2006CIMG0423_0006.jpg

    http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/danolson/old%20disneyland%20bride/dddd.jpg

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  15. Very interesting. It's sort of hard to be upset about rubber spiders in a way but those things did have a real legacy. What upsets me more is that Disney has been buying off-the-shelf rubber spiders recently and painting them instead of using their WED model shop version, which is actually a pretty handsomely sculpted arachnid. The spiders that appeared in the updated Disneyland Jungle Cruise in 2005, for example, are all wrong!

    We still have two WED spiders in the temple of the Florida Jungle Cruise and they're nicely painted and move, so that's something. Also, it may be a minor innovation, but I feel confident in saying that the "twitching spider" animation is a WDW invention. It may be a minor one, but we're all about minor stuff around here. ;)

    Thanks for your help.

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  16. Makes sense to me that WDW would feel a need to "plus" the bugs a bit. Unlike DL, the Orlando spiders pretty much had the stage to themselves at that point in the ride. At DL, he was never more than a minor decor item in a room with much better things to look at.

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  17. From my own blog, about a year ago:

    http://tooold2bcool.diaryland.com/100324_82.html

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  18. Updates going on to the WDW HM queue line, there's some info and pictures here: http://johnrozum.blogspot.com/2011/03/strange-goings-on-at-wdws-haunted.html

    Apparently it should be opened within the next couple days, although a cast member told me it might be open yesterday, when I was there. Can't wait to see it. I peeked through the barrier and saw that the current tombstones are still in their place, and that there are many new pathways added.

    The hitchhiking ghosts also appear to not be working, and they're covered up by stupid looking CGI animations, which is apparently a measure taken in order to keep the ride open while they fix them.

    Why they felt the need to use grinning CGI animations of the ghosts that float by your car is beyond me. I think I would've preferred a black screen, or even stationary picture projections.

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  19. The covering of the HHG figures and mirrors with screen projections was planned. They are temporary while the new HHG figures and upgrades are installed. Rumor has it there will also be photos taken that you buy at the end, just like other rides.

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  20. It occurs to me that such a dress, parasol, and hairstyle might make a very serviceable Halloween costume...

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  21. Funny, my friend actually did this costume just last Halloween. I didn't see her walking around with the umbrella all the time so I didn't catch it at first. Shame on me....

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  22. The '72 version was done by Elmer Plummer, according to the show "Hollywood Treasure."

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  23. I'm pretty sure the original rubber spider at DL had a Hidden Mickey on it. I saw a picture.

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  24. "Hollywood Treasure" also said it is the only one in existence (not true). The "expert" didn't seem like a very knowledgeable source so how does he know Elmer Plummer is the artist or the year it was painted? Also, why go to a former CM instead of WDI to find an "expert," seems weird to me.

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  25. I think she is teasing the alligator for fun. She was standing there a long time for it to fray like that, and making the alligator wait in anticipation the whole time…for fun. She craves excitement, or else she would not have walked out there in the first place.

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  26. Hey Tikabelle, I was this for Halloween and happened upon this blog because I used the pictures here for reference: http://www.facebook.com/leslie.d.atkins

    Thanks for the fun!

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  27. I could only hope they create a tight rope gal with the like-ness of Gemma Ward.

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  28. I heard they were going to take videos instead of pictures and put them in Leota-esque crystal balls. I believe this fell through because of costs, though.

    -Mel

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  29. This is still my favorite post. Each analysis is not only humorous, but has a lot of truth in them (which is probably why I laugh each time). The same goes for the sequel with your analysis of the other stretching portraits.

    I think the '72 Plummer Ally Gal is the best. Did he do the others in '72 or was Ally Gal the only one updated around that time?

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    1. Thanks. I don't know if Plummer did others during the same time period.

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    2. I made an attempt via acrylic paint to recreate an abridged version of Plummer's Ally Gal. It's nowhere near his work and I gave her a warmer expression on her face.

      http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y232/JBOpie/VirginiaGrace/FINAL_150dpi.jpg

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  30. if you look at halls design, it's the exact one that's in the WDW mansion. I've also read the post about the other stretching portraits and all of Halls designs seem to be in the WDW mansion

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    1. Not only that, but it appears that DL has returned to the Hall designs sometime in the last year and a half.

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    2. What time period is this girl's clothing based on? It would seem like she is from the 19th century, but just to be sure.

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    3. Victorian era is the safe bet.

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  31. I don't want to sound like I'm grasping at straws, but I noticed that the tightrope walker and April-December share many characteristics and may (dare I say) be meant to be the same character. I find it noticeable that they share the same eyes (shape and color), hair color with similar styles, and also their clothes the same color scheme (pink/dark pink). Lastly, remember good ol' Gus found in both the graveyard and the hitchikers.

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    1. That's an interesting thought, but it works better with Tightrope Walkers done by artists other than Davis. His Ally Gal, in both the original concept painting and in the first stretchroom portraits (which were done in his style) does not have blue eyes. They're pale and rather colorless, or slightly yellow. Anyway, the Ally Gal portrait speaks of sudden death while still young, whereas April-December illustrates death from old age. That alone wouldn't disqualify them from being the "same" character, the point being that Death will eventually get you, one way or the other.

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  32. Hi HBG2,

    Love the article! I had no idea there were so many versions of this piece! Would you by any chance know where a one may be able to purchase a print of the 82 Hall or obtain a high res jpg so I could print one myself? I have the Davis print that Disney sells, but the Hall versions (which I prefer) seem to be more illusive. Looking for any help to get one of these framed in my home!

    Thank you sir!

    Adam

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    1. I don't know any place to buy them right now. You may want to scout around and see if you can find one of the "50 years of Magic" exhibition posters from 2006. One of those posters featured a high rez photo of the 82 Halls.

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    2. Thanks for the reply sir! On the hunt now!

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  33. She resembles Katrina from 1949's The Adventures od Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

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  34. I've viewed this page in the past and loved it! However, I just came back and many of the image links are broken. Really hoping to view them again.

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  35. That third version reminds me of the (in my opinion) unattractive style of painting they chose for the Phantom Manor in Paris.

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  36. For anyone who's interested, she is often referred to as "Lilly" by the footmen/maids of the mansion, both as a tribute to Lillian Disney and as a reference to the flower patterns on her skirt.

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