In 1964, Walt Disney spoke specifically about the hallway in the Haunted Mansion where we now see the changing portraits. He said that he...
. "...wanted something nice for the hall, like werewolves,
. a Medusa, marble busts that talk, and ordinary-appearing
. pictures that will change into horrors before the visitors' eyes." *
That's a pretty accurate description of the "Great Hall" as Marc Davis envisioned it. It's not likely that Walt came up with this detailed scheme and dictated it to his artists. More likely he's describing—with obvious approval—the artwork that Marc had already shown him.
Marc Davis in the 60s, with artwork for the "Great Hall"
We've posted and discussed that artwork on two separate occasions, once to show how receptive Marc Davis was at one point to Rolly Crump's notions of a surreal environment for the Haunted Mansion (A Weirder Haunted Mansion) and once to show how Davis and company planned for awhile to use massive scale to intimidate guests (Does Size Matter?). So I better have a darn good reason for pulling out that same artwork a third time and placing it at center stage. As it happens, I have three. (1) Recently I acquired some fresh copies of those paintings that are better quality than what I had, one of them MUCH better quality, so even though you've seen them before, you may never have seen them this clear and sharp, especially the first one. (2) Besides the cleaner copies, I've also got a handful of trivia about them that has been sitting patiently in my files, waiting for just such a moment, and I've decided to let them come out and play. One of them might even be charitably described as "serious history," nearly, almost. After that we'll get to the real meat of the post: (3) an entirely fresh angle on the creative genius of Marc Davis that probably justifies a third go-round with this intriguing artwork.
So you don't mind if I post them again, do you? Oh you do? You do mind? Well, as the poet says, that's just T.S., Eliot, because I'm posting them.
Triviality #1 is trivial indeed, but fun. It has to do with the date of the two paintings. They were done in either 1964 or 1965. Since Walt seems to refer to them in 1964, you would think that would fix the date. The artwork also appeared in the 1965 Disneyland souvenir guidebook, so it obviously existed before that went to press.
Nevertheless, I'm inclined to assign the two paintings to early '65. The paintings are nowhere in sight during Walt's tour of Marc's corner at WED during the January 1965 "Tencennial" television show, even though the walls are covered with Marc's and Rolly Crump's concept art, and it's possible that what Walt saw in 1964 were concept sketches of individual paintings and sculptures, along with preliminary sketches for the hall itself, like this:
But the real reason I date them to early '65 (and the only real reason this
trivial little discussion is interesting at all) is something I just recently noticed:
As for triviality #2, I noted in passing in one of the previous examinations of these paintings that they represent the two ends of the same room and should be taken together. I didn't explain how we know that. Davis left no room for doubt on this point by showing half of the Cat Lady portrait in one painting and the other half in the other painting.
This naturally encourages us to look across the Hall to see if we can identify the painting
chopped in half on that side. At first glance, the project doesn't look too promising.
But dry those eyes, and please, put down the gun. I think
this too is a real painting that can be positively identified.
On to triviality #3, wherein I note the curious circumstance that all seven of the paintings shown in the Great Hall really did make it into the finished Mansions, either at Disneyland or Orlando, but none of the sculptures made it. The paintings are Dracula (in his wolven phase), the Cat Lady, the Black Prince, and Medusa along one wall, and what we now know is Jack the Ripper, the Flying Dutchman (in its original form) and the Witch of Walpurgis along the opposite wall.
We need to take a stroll down the Hall to get to triviality #4. Guests would
have entered through those Crumpish doors at one end, off to the side...
(Look at how beautifully that armor is rendered.)
...with the portrait of Dracula right in front of them (Walt's "werewolves")...
...and a very large bust to the right. It's hard to make
out any details without moving in closer. It's creepy.
At the other end of the Hall is the fireplace. As we have seen previously, Davis did more than one concept painting of that one. Perhaps he felt that the room had enough talking marble busts and needed something different over the hearth. We've got a battle axe and medieval mace crossed behind a shield, and from the looks of it, perhaps the face in the shield was going to talk. Very Crumpish. Also very Tiki-Roomish.
And this brings us to triviality #4. It has been suggested that the fireplace was actually going to serve as the exit from the room. Weird, unexpected, and scary. Perfect, in other words. If you look at the guide ropes in the sketches, it is clear that guests either exited through the fireplace or had to return and go out the same door they came in, which seems unlikely.
The hearth opening is certainly tall and wide enough to be a doorway, and there are any number of ways the effect could have been achieved. Special effects whiz Yale Gracey could have designed something like that on his lunch hour. Most interesting to me is that this would have been yet another case of borrowing a page directly from Ken Anderson's playbook. In the original 1957-58 blueprints for his Ghost House, the "Father of the Haunted Mansion" included two rooms from which the guests would exit via secret passages revealed by moving fireplaces. In the case of the Trophy Hall, even the layout of the room resembles Marc's Great Hall, with animated animal-head trophies along each side wall (= Marc's marble busts) and the moving fireplace in the center of the end wall.
Marc the Lowbrow
More than once I've tried to debunk the stereotype of Marc Davis as a diehard jokester who had no interest in making the Mansion a scary place. Try to find anything funny in these Great Hall paintings.
There's another somewhat related stereotype that can use a little debunking as well, and that's Marc the slightly bawdy, lowbrow entertainer. Because so much of what we receive from Marc's hand in the Mansion is humorous, and so much of this humor is pretty lowbrow, it's easy to forget that he was more complex than this.
The unused "Great White Hunter" gag is a good example of the type of thing Davis is known for. At one point he conceived of a "Ghost Men's Club" in one room of the HM, and the GWH would have gone there. I've posted the concept painting before, but most of you have probably not seen Marc's sketches. The basic gag was simple: A tiger rug comes to life and bites the ghost of the man who shot him. Did I say "simple?" The joke may be simple, but don't ask me to explain the metaphysics.
(David Witt takes the whole thing several steps further.)
It would seem that Marc toyed at one point with the idea of
having the tiger bite the man's boot rather than pants bottom.
Well forget that. Biting the pants is much funnier. Marc knew and shared Walt's sense of humor, and that meant BUTT JOKES. Lots of butt jokes. Once you notice it, they're all over the place, a favorite groove in the Disney oeuvre. If you need proof, this will do as well as any: Be it known that there are 14 butt jokes in Pinocchio. That's four freakin' teen. I haven't really done a detailed count for other films. I've got other things to do, you know, and what do you think I am, anyway, some kind of PERVERT? If you really doubt that this sort of humor rang the bell with Walt and Marc, I've got two words for you: Lost Safari.
Think too of the truckload of corn Davis delivers in the Country Bear Jamboree, and then there's my favorite example from the Mansion, a guy in his unnerwear on a keg o' TNT. It's not for nothing that Marc has a reputation for lowbrow humor.
As for bawdiness and naughtiness, do we really need to go there? Hmm? Oh, we do? Okay, well, there's the obvious example . . .
But in my humble opinion, Marc's wickedest double entendre is here:
You don't see it? Oh come on, how can you not see it? There's a rooster on his tippy-toes. You still
don't get it? A rooster. And he's standing erect. NOW do you get it? Okay, let's change the subject.
Marc the Highbrow
But don't forget that there is also Davis the serious artist, well trained, highly disciplined. His knowledge of anatomy was excellent. Reportedly, there was no one at Disney better at drawing realistic animals. This Marc Davis would tell you that Mary Blair was as good a colorist as Matisse and just assume that you know enough about modern art to know what that means. He was an expert in New Guinea primitive art. In fact, he and wife Alice actually bought the house next door to their own so that he could display his impressive collection of New Guinean art there. He also moonlighted as a "serious" artist, and some of his work from the 1950's, although not groundbreaking by any measure, isn't half bad.
Horses Seeing Red (1950)
Queequeg Pursuing Moby Dick (1956)
The point I wish to make is that sometimes Marc's work on the Haunted Mansion betrays the influence of this side of the man. As a serious artist and student of the arts, Davis was certainly familiar with the great art collections of Europe, such as the Louvre, the Vatican museums, and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). The Western European collection at the latter is among the finest in the world, and those galleries are considered the heart of the Hermitage.
So what? Well, I strongly suspect that when Davis designed the Haunted Mansion's Great Hall in the form of a large art gallery, he had in mind not only Rolly Crump's surrealistic architectural environment, but also a real world art gallery: the Hermitage. Judge for yourselves.
(top photo from Viking River Cruises)
A few additional observations. You don't see it in the photo above, but
those distinctive red galleries also housed white marble statuary:
How about some purple draperies to go with those red walls?
And those toothsome wall coverings remind me somehow of the Hermitage Throne Room.
In "Does Size Matter?," I pointed out that the Great Hall was massively oversized, part of a scare strategy (subsequently abandoned) of intimidation through sheer bigness. If you think that this was simply another element of surrealistic fantasy, think again. It's very much an element of real world museums like the Hermitage. By happy accident, in our earlier photo there's a man standing in the same place as a man in Davis's painting, and the scale is not much different.
Davis was aware that real world museums sometimes overawed their guests with enormous canvases and statuary in monumental settings. It's not hard to feel like a midget walking among giants. (One could mention here that the great cathedrals evoke a strong sense of spirituality through sheer, breathtaking scale, as anyone who has ever been in one of them can testify. Perhaps that's one reason why "Gothic" and "spooky" so easily came to be synonyms?)
So there you have one more example of the richness and depth these talented artists brought to the table from their own experience. And now, we'll put these pieces to bed, unless and until such time as it seems appropriate to bring them out for a fourth discussion. Wouldn't surprise me.
*Jeff Baham, Doombuggies.com Presents the Secrets of Disney's Haunted Mansion (2006) p. 14.