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).

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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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Many Faces of...the Other Stretching Portraits

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Following up on the Tightrope Walker post, it seems only fair to give the other portraits the same treatment.  The differences in artistic interpretations of these characters are at least as noticeable as was the case with Ally Gal, and in some cases they are even more dramatic.

Here's Connie (née "Abigale Patecleaver," her name in that same old X. Atencio script cited earlier).  Left to right we've got (1) Marc Davis's original sketch, (2) a Davis-style canvas actually used in the attraction during the first year or two, (3) Clem Hall's version ca 1982, and (4) the current DL version.  We'll use that formula with the other characters as well, displaying the same four representations in the same order.


The first thing I always notice about Marc's original is that this widow is not very old.  She's put on a few, but she's still cooking on all burners.  Secondly, there's a huge contrast between the fried-egg madness in the eyes of Marc's Tightrope Walker and the nimble intelligence of this widow.  If this is madness, it's an utterly different form of madness.  This is truly a classic Marc Davis sketch, in my opinion.  The self-confidence is there, the cold-bloodedness, the wicked edge.  She seems quite pleased with herself.  She keeps her secret without a trace of guilt feelings.  And check out the colors in that face!  Yellow skin, grayish-green shadows, pink ears—and yet, mirabile dictu, she doesn't look sickly but very much alive and well.  Unless someone had called your attention to it (like I just did), would you ever have noticed how daring and original Marc's palette is in this sketch?

As I pointed out in the Ally Gal post, the first stretching portraits tried to retain the Davis drawings, but they "naturalized" the colors.  As was the case with Ally Gal, the widow done this way isn't nearly as good.  And don't think Marc didn't notice the way they trashed his color scheme.  During an interview with Alice Davis during one of the 40th Anniversary events in 2009, she lamented that many of Marc's gags were either not used or were "overloaded."

Interviewer:  "But a lot of Marc's stuff is still in the Mansion, with—like the stretching portraits, and things like that."
Alice:  "Yes, but they're not his.  They're somebody else's, and the color is not as, uh, nice as what Marc's or Mary Blair's would be to the eye."

When we get to Clem Hall's widow, we have a real revolution.  She's quite a bit older.  She's drunk.  She's got a droopy, somewhat vacant look as a result.  But she's still got a few essential qualities remaining from the Davis original.  She's smug and self-satisfied.  She knows something that you don't know, but that woozy look keeps her from looking pompous about it.  You suspect that there's definitely something going on in there when she's sober.

And then there's the current version.  Another disappointment.  That woman has been drinking iced tea, not wine.  Too friendly, too sincere, and like the current Ally Gal, seriously lacking in personality.  Does she look to you like she's keeping a secret?  Pthh.  On to the next...



Marc's original Dynamite Guy looks like a leftover pirate from POTC, and I mean one of the mean ones.  Look at those beady eyes.  This is a look of undisguised cruelty and barely-suppressed rage.  The colors are much more natural this time, so the canvas version is not such a radical departure.  Very little difference, except that the eyes have been softened.  With those pretty blue peepers, you're tempted to think that maybe, just maybe, this guy started out in life as a nice little boy and turned bad at some point.  Davis's original, on the other hand, was born bad.

Clem Hall, once again, reinvents the character.  This guy isn't evil or angry (let alone crazy or drunk); he's just plain stupid.  It's a study in pride and vacuity.  The more you look at him, the more convinced you are that he hasn't had an interesting or intelligent thought in his life, but that apparently hasn't kept him from becoming a Somebody.  Are those eyes gazing unfocused at something in the distance, or are they gazing inward at the void where his soul should have been?  Seriously, if you were told that this is a painting of a blind man, you might well believe it.

In this case, the current version has aped Hall's version so closely that there isn't a lot to say.  So that's it.  On to the next...


What we have here is a smug toad.  He's self-satisfied and superior, but he's not threatening, not particularly vicious.  Alas, I have no color photo of the Davis-like canvas, so we are at a disadvantage there, but it looks like they botched the shape of his face a little.  The smile is not as broad, the cheeks don't bulge out as they should.  Something is definitely lost in that part of the face.

Once again Clem Hall, it seems to me, has given us a drunk.  Nose and cheeks are red, eyes are pale and watery.  He's feeling no pain.  It's another study in vacuity.  Those eyes are staring out at the world unseeing.  Remember the overall message of the stretching portraits?  The things most highly prized in this life are mere vanities that only serve to distract us from the reality of death.  That is what many would call a "sobering thought."  With Hall's characters, the state of mind untroubled by that sobering thought is represented, quite naturally, by what looks like an alcoholic haze.

As usual, the current version has sobered up the subject considerably, and as usual it has failed to fill the void with anything particularly interesting.

The remaining Quicksand Men are of less interest, since by the time you see them the joke is beginning to unfold.  As the ironic distance between the smug upper portrait and the macabre reality beneath diminishes, so also opportunities for artistic reinterpretation of the joke diminish.  Not surprisingly, then, the post-Davis versions don't reinvent the two lower Quicksand Men very radically.


The middle guy has only just now spotted the quicksand sign and has only begun to realize his dire situation.  You see pure shock in his face.  Even in this moment, he still has his sense of self-importance with him.  It's not, "This can't be happening!" so much as "This can't be happening to me!"  The bottom guy is past that.  He's been aware of the situation for several seconds by now.  Initial panic has turned into a full comprehension of the inevitable.  Hall et al have added sweat droplets to Davis's original.  Hmm.  Is that the hot sweat of exertion or the cold sweat of terror?


On a lighter note, we discussed in an earlier post the evidence that Davis looked through old EC horror comics for inspiration from time to time.  Seems to me there are enough elements in common between this Al Feldstein cover art and Davis's Quicksand Men to raise suspicions.


On the other hand, there is no need to go rummaging through old comics in search of inspiration for the basic gag in the Dynamite Guy portrait.  A plausible source can be found right under our noses, mere yards from the Mansion.



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27 comments:

  1. Another great post as always, Dan! Thank you for these, you know how long I've been waiting! LOL I did notice that for the last guy, in the quicksand paintings, the Marc Davis original and Davis look-a-like, the guy's teeth aren't showing, but in the Clem Hall and newer versions they are! Just a minute detail, but interesting.

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  2. I also need to add that the more I learn about the Marc Davis original portraits, the more I've learn to love and appreciate them. I always used to dismiss the Davis originals as too "cartoonish" and preferred the newer, more realistic styles. Now I have totally changed my mind and truly LOVE Davis' original artwork and wish they would be duplicated at the mansions in Davis' exact style and using his color palette.

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  3. The bottom quicksand man in the latest version doesn't look nearly as terrified as I think he ought to. However, the latest version of the top quicksand man is a dead ringer for my late grandfather, so that particular painting hasn't lost its unsettling factor for me!

    I had always thought that the major change in the widow's appearance was done in conjunction with the Constance retcon, but I stand corrected after seeing it side by side with the Clem Hall version. The Marc Davis version looks like a really fun Disney villainess in the vein of Ursula and Mad Madam Mim.

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  4. Perfect example of the de-evolution and draining of style that marks just about all culture in the past forty years or so. Realistic isn't better. It's bland. There are factories in China that can precisely reproduce any oil painting in quantity, reducing it to a formula. Yet Disney can't even maintain the spirit in their own designs. Very sad.

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  5. One other quick thing... Notice how all the great organic non-symetricality of the features are reduced to bland faces with left sides that mirror the right. Sucks all the personality out of the expressions.

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  6. I don't understand why you use the word sketch repeatedly. What do you think it means? These are finished paintings.

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  7. Great post!

    Notice how pointed all of Davis' male ears are? Lends and air (ear?) of insanity and evil, doesn't it?

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  8. Great post.
    I thought I was imagining things over the years when the portraits seemed different.
    Thanks for confirming that I'm not nuts.
    - Chris Lucas
    www.DisneyTopTenLists.com

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  9. Thanks for all the kind words, folks. As for using the word "sketch," some of Davis's concept sketches were not just drawn but painted, and some were awfully close to the finished form, but they are still regarded as "sketches" in that they were to serve as models for the full-sized, finished showpieces. With the stretchroom portraits the sketches are clearly not very "sketchy" but 99% of the way there.

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  10. Connie/Abigail/Whomever looks like Ethel Mertz in painting number two.

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  11. Great post! I noticed that the WDW Mansion still has the Clem Hall portraits, I'm glad for that because I much prefer them to the newest ones.

    I definitely agree that they tend to have much less personality. I think that the new portraits even tend to appear less aesthetically pleasing than the Clem Hall ones.

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  12. @Anonymous - what Dan said is correct. Many of the pieces of artwork I turn over to the vendor I take as far as I can in terms of color and detail, yet I still call them "sketches." Ultimately, they are not the final product, but rather a guide for the artisan to create the final, dimensional piece. "Sketches" is correct to most of Marc's concept art - he would usually refer to them as such, even in a case where he spent much more time on the color (as he did in the stretching portrait gags).

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  13. This is just SO much fun. Many thanks. I had the album when i was a kid and I loved it. But it scared me so I would make my big brother sit in the room with me while I listened to it! Question. When I was a kid I was obsessed with the little minnie bride that talked as you were leaving. YOU know
    "Hurry Back..." she has always been there, I assume she is just the bride now, was she always?

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  14. "Little Leota" (her official nick-name) is ambiguous. Sometimes she has looked a lot like a bride, and sometimes not so much. Some people think she's the attic bride, and some people think she's Madame Leota. She is herself. There is no really good reason to identify her with any other character in the ride.

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  15. "Little Leota" was inspired by the "arrangement hostesses" at the Whispering Glade Cemetery (a parody on Forrest Lawn) featured in the 1965 dark-comedy film "The Loved One".......I had mentioned to Marc that her tone and look was a dead-ringer for those characters...and he mentioned that that was where the idea for her originated from, but I recall him saying it may have been X's idea.

    Marc said he used to get Lot's of ideas from TV shows. I always thought the Tightrope Girl came from an episode of the WILD WILD WEST; in a black & white episode a mysterious circus is encamped on the outskirts of town and people disappear-etc, etc. Anyway James West is sent to investigate and is enticed by a tightrope walker-complete with a tiny parasol-- after hours and he follows her......and she is always just out-of-reach..at one point she walks out over a strung rope where she expects him to follow her.....and below is a muddy pond with crocodiles snapping at them above. However, I'm not entirely sure when the Wild Wild West first aired...and what year the actual stretch-portrait concepts were done---it's possible a writer for the Wild Wild West saw the Disneyland Tencennial show and remembered that set of mini-portraits Walt and Julie have Marc Show them!

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  16. Ok: That "WILD WILD WEST" episode that featured a tightrope walker girl w/ parasol and crocodiles I mentioned above aired October 1965 (it's episode #4 "The Night of the Sudden Death" ....I guess the circus is a front for killing-counterfeiters.

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  17. Those TV connections can be extremely tempting. During the first season of BEWITCHED there was an episode in which Samantha turns a Siamese cat into a woman because Darren needs an exotic-looking, Asian model for an ad campaign. Naturally, "Ling Ling" keeps exhibiting cat-like behavior throughout the episode. At one point Ling Ling, the cat woman, reclines on a sofa as part of the photo shoot, looking for all the world like Marc's cat woman. Check it out:

    http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y32/danolson/Blog%20stuff/LingLingandMarcJan65vs2-11-65.jpg

    Ordinarily, I'd call that a slam-dunk example of TV influence. But the dates are difficult. "Ling Ling" aired Feb 11, 1965, and Marc's catlady is visible on the wall in the Tencennial special (Jan 65; not sure when it was actually filmed). "Ling Ling" was filmed at the end of December 64, so I suppose it's possible that Marc was talking to some BEWITCHED producer in a bar around Christmas time, dashed home, grabbed his paint brush, and ... Nah, not worth it. I'm putting this one down to extraordinary coincidence.

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  18. Or, with the BEWITCHED thing, it could be the other way around, and Marc Davis could have shown his sketch to a BEWITCHED producer and then did it as a nod to Marc.

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  19. Wow, that IS freaky, especially if it is indeed a coincidence! Let's not forget the pic of Joan Crawford & Bette Davis sitting on gravestones!

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  20. The Crawford gravestone shot probably was an influence. It was in LIFE magazine (widely read) and it appeared at just the right time.

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  21. Don't know how I missed this post but it ROCKS!

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  22. I think there is something a bit eerie when you put all the versions side by side, because it sort of looks like the characters in the paintings are getting older along the attraction.

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    1. That could explain why Florida (a younger Mansion) still uses Clem Hall's versions. Artistic intuition may still be at play here....

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    2. Anaheim has Clem Hall style portraits once again.

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  23. Yes, but SCP-939 should replace the dynamite guy, Teslo from Mixels replaces the widow, the Trio from Oscar's Oasis replaces the quicksand men, and Rarity should replace the parasol gal.

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  24. Although I like the Davis originals better, I completely understand why they went for the boring, realistic portraits.
    The biggest reason is to tie in with the ride itself: everything looks normal until stuff gets weird. With "little-miss-lost-mind" or the smug widow, people would already think the portraits were unusual, which went against the point. Also, since the Stretching Galleries are the first time you witness supernatural activity, there needs to be a stark contrast between the boring, character-less top thirds of the portraits to make the silly middle thirds and the macabre bottom thirds more surprising and make you think "something really weird's going on here, the pictures looked so normal when I entered..."

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  25. Is that just me, or do the original Widow look like she could perfectly be an intermediary state in the original 4-stages "April-December" gag, between May and June to be precise ?

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