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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Saturday, November 2, 2013

And Begin to Socialize

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One of the points I keep making around here is that there is very little fantasy in the Haunted Mansion.  It's not like a movie or a show depicting a make-believe world or a world remote in time and/or place.  Nor is it a world that you are watching like God from some unseen vantage point. Quite the contrary; if you stipulate that ghosts exist, everything else about the attraction is presented as if it were a real-world location that you yourself are physically visiting.  As I've said before, I've said this before.


Another, related point that I have made now and then is that the notion that ghosts are real is presented in the HM as truly a fantasy element by anyone's measure, even by people who really do believe in ghosts, since these ghosts turn out to be fun-loving spooks intent on nothing more serious than having a big party.  Even true believers don't think that the spirits of the dead gather in retirement communities and are just itching to come out and boogie.  Without giving it sufficient thought, I have suggested elsewhere that this comic twist is original.  Um . . . not quite. I've changed my mind about that, and this post explains why.


Zest in Peace

Already in "The Skeleton Dance" (1929) you had a cartoon about the dead coming out at midnight for a musical romp, and of course "Lonesome Ghosts" (1937) has impish spirits who scare people for laughs.  Those are perhaps the most famous ones, but there are other early cartoons in the same vein.  They certainly contain elements of the HM formula, but in all cases the jolly spooks are simply characters in a comical fantasy world, so the frolicking doesn't come as any big surprise. By the time the dancing skeletons and jokester ghosts show up, we've already accepted anthropomorphic cats and talking mice the same size as ducks, so it isn't much of a leap.


Besides those, we have already seen (or heard, I should say) that before the Haunted Mansion came along, the basic "silly spook" idea was already there in comic songs about midnight jamborees and swingin' séances and the like.  In my original post on the topic, I overlooked what is perhaps the oldest example of such songs and only added it to the end of the post after it was brought to my attention by faithful Forgottenista Melissa. It's "When the Night Wind Howls," or Sir Roderick's song, from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse (1887).  After adding it to the post, I didn't give it any further thought, but I should have.

The opera was originally called Ruddygore, but after complaints that this was a bit too
gruesome, G & S changed the spelling to Ruddigore.  "Ruddy," of course, means red.

Yep, I should have paid closer attention, because Ruddigore is an opera, which means it's a story, and it has a visual as well as musical presence. It's also a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, which means it's not obscure.  It isn't usually regarded as one of G & S's top tier efforts, but it's still performed regularly enough, and it's even been done as a cartoon (1966) and a TV movie (1982).


As far as I can tell at this point, Ruddigore is the earliest clear example of a popular entertainment presenting the audience with reasonably well-adjusted ghosts who carry on a social life in our world much like the living and materialize at midnight for the sole purpose of having a good time.  Importantly, they manifest themselves in a world that is supposed to mirror our own—within the conventions of comic opera, of course. Liberal as such conventions are, there are not and could not be talking animals or people blithely defying natural laws in Ruddigore. Furthermore, the ghosts are altogether frightening at first, and their predilection for merry-making comes as a surprising new revelation. We have something close to the whole formula here.

I think it not at all unlikely that the Disney Imagineers were familiar with Ruddigore and that it may well have been a seminal influence on people like X Atencio and Marc Davis.  At least in Long-Forgotten land, that qualifies as a big deal.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ruddigore, it's a comedy bordering on farce, burlesquing many of the conventions of stage melodramas.  For our purposes, all you need to know is that the plot involves a family curse that requires the head of a noble family to perform some dastardly deed every day or else die in agony.  The current baronet, Robin Murgatroyd, is too timid and too virtuous to fulfill his duty properly, and it falls to the ghosts of his ancestors to pay him a visit and see that he begins to take his destiny more seriously.  Apparently they can still suffer if the current baronet is negligent in committing his daily crime, and the spirits are prepared to torture him into compliance if necessary.

The critical scene opens with the ancestral ghosts making their appearance by stepping out of their portraits, and their spokesman is a certain Sir Roderick Murgatroyd, Robin's uncle.  After Roderick identifies himself, Robin exclaims, "Alas, poor ghost!"  Roderick's reply is our money quote:

The pity you express for nothing goes;
We spectres are a jollier crew than you, perhaps, suppose!

"We spectres are a jollier crew than you, perhaps, suppose."
Isn't that the whole Haunted Mansion show in a nutshell?
I can't think of a more succinct or a more apt summary.

From The Illustrated London News, Jan. 29, 1887 (Robin is prostrate with terror.)

Roderick and his ghastly company then break into a song about lively spooks come out to socialize.  To the best of my knowledge, it's the granddaddy of them all.  You will recall from our earlier post that this was a popular genre, with exemplars stretching down through a heyday in the 30's and 40's to a last gasp in the 60's with "The Monster Mash" and "Grim Grinning Ghosts."  The lyrics to "Sir Roderick's Song" are strikingly similar to GGG in both form and content, so you might say the genre ends where it began.  As for the tune, I have to admit that it took awhile to grow on me, but I've come to like it.  (Yo, all you guitar heroes out there: it isn't hard to imagine a Metal arrangement. Get busy.)

Sir Roderick's Song (When the Night Wind Howls)


When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, sail over the midnight skies--
When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail, and black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres' holiday--then is the ghosts' high-noon!

CHORUS. Ha! ha!
Then is the ghosts' high-noon!

As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees, and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones are gathered the bones that once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow, to the revel that ends too soon,
For cockcrow limits our holiday--the dead of the night's high-noon!

CHORUS. Ha! ha!
The dead of the night's high-noon!

And then each ghost with his ladye-toast to their churchyard beds takes flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps, and a grisly grim "good-night";
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday--the dead of the night's high-noon!

CHORUS. Ha! ha!
The dead of the night's high-noon!
Ha! ha! ha! ha!


As uncle Roderick strolls about onstage singing about "grisly grim" good-nights and "the welcome knell of the midnight bell" in a booming baritone, it's like seeing a more mobile version of "Uncle Theodore," Thurl Ravenscroft's singing bust.


There are clips of several different performances of this scene on Youtube as of this writing.  THIS ONE is particularly good and includes the entire ghost scene.  In productions like this one, it's difficult NOT to think of the graveyard jamboree in the Haunted Mansion.


For Ruddigore, Gilbert and Sullivan borrowed ideas from their own earlier work.  The device of having ancestors step out of their portraits had already been used in Ages Ago (1869), as we have seen elsewhere, and the lyrics of "When the Night Wind Howls" were inspired in part by a Gilbert poem published previously in Fun magazine:



The flowery, lovesick mood of the poem is unlike anything in the Mansion, but many of the concepts are similar, such as the idea that there are myriads of ghosts running around having a good time, and that they get a bang out of scaring people, and the idea that they greatly appreciate morbid, cold, and corrupted things that we mortals find appalling, which is milked for humorous purposes.  One recalls the Ghost Host's comments about how "delightfully unlivable" the place is, with "wall to wall creeps and hot and cold running chills."


As Puck Would Have It

Another remarkable precursor to the grim grinning premise of the Haunted Mansion can be found a few decades later.  Just as we have in the wake of Ruddigore a string of novelty songs about reveling revenants, so too we have a subsequent graphic presentation of the same basic joke, dating in this case to 1906.

(Credit for this discovery goes to Craig Conley)

We see a group of happy ghosts in 18th century attire, drinking punch and celebrating at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.  Some old walrus in then-contemporary dress is looking on, unperturbed.  His artistic function in the cartoon is to represent us the readers, not terribly different from the sketchy figures Claude Coats put in his concept sketches to represent the Disneyland guests.


There he sits, looking on from his doombuggy, as it were.
Let's crop him out, leaving only ourselves as observers.


You know, that could almost pass for a Marc Davis concept sketch (and Conley is certainly justified in calling it a precursor to Davis's work).  You can easily imagine this little group at one end or the other of the Grand Ballroom.  Of course, the Mansion is up and operating all year round, so Christmas is a poor choice for a celebratory occasion, as it is tied to one spot on the calendar (Tim Burton notwithstanding).  Anonymous celebrations without predetermined dates, like weddings or birthdays, work better in a ride, so we make that simple substitution, and voilà.


The ghost sketch is by Louis M. Glackens and appeared in the November 28, 1906 edition of Puck.  Puck
(1871-1918) was America's first successful humor and satire magazine.  Here's an outrageous cover from 1912:


The magazine featured superb work by a stable of immensely talented
artists, including Glackens, who produced many full-color covers.

(A Glackens cover)

Puck is one of those sources concerning which it is safer to assume that the Disney artists knew it and consulted it than to assume that they did not.  As for L. M. Glackens, he is a very interesting fellow.  In addition to being a great graphic artist, he was an animator for awhile, back in the 'teens, back when the art form was truly in its infancy.  Furthermore, he will forever enjoy a unique and important 
connection to joy buzzers and whoopee cushions.  Immortality indeed.


Now that you're curious, you can read more about him HERE.


Direct Influence?

Gilbert and Sullivan, and L. M. Glackens, are among the earliest talents to present to the public fun-loving ghosts of the type we find in the Haunted Mansion, and some of the details of their work are close enough to the Disney project to raise suspicions about the possibility of direct influence.  I expect that readers out there will have varying opinions about the strength of that possibility.  I don't suppose we will ever know the truth, but in any event, I no longer think that the silly spooks of the Mansion are quite as unprecedented as I once did.


*Some may argue that 1984's "Ghostbusters" qualifies as the last major example of the genre, but I think the song lacks too many of the distinctive features that most comic ghost songs share in common.