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, September 19, 2015

The Burning Miser

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I told you I'd drop in if I came across anything worth sharing. As it happens, it happened, so welcome back.

Ordinarily, I'm not inclined to lengthy discussions of a single work of Haunted Mansion concept art if it left no traces in the actual ride. For me, that veers just a little too close to trivia for its own sake. But in this case the work in question is unusually rich, and it is barely possible that it may have left a tiny fingerprint in the ride, so . . . good enough, says I.


Evolution and Intelligent Design

In 1964 Marc Davis wrote a show script for the HM which included a figure described as "the most dangerous ghost in the mansion," who later turns out to be the Ghost Host himself. Marc did a sketch showing a portrait of this ghost, who evidently stepped down into the Mansion, tearing his likeness off the canvas at the same time. We've seen this one before.


The whole concept came to nothing, but Marc salvaged the essential composition of the sketch and
reused it not long afterwards as the basis of a changing portrait, one of many that were never used.


That piece goes by various names ("Burn"; "Damned"), but I'm going to call it the Burning Miser, which describes it about as clearly as a title can do, I think. The fact that the man is a miser is suggested by the apparatus on the table next to him, which may not be immediately recognizable to everyone, so it won't hurt to describe it a little.


It's a scale and weights set, the kind of thing used by assayers to determine the weight of gold nuggets and whatnot.  Its presence here suggests a man who keeps track of every gram of wealth he possesses, and his expression tells you all you need to know about his character.



As many of you already know, this is one of those changing portraits that was intended to be
a gradual, multi-panel job, not a single back-and-forth flash. There are six sketches altogether:

1

2

3

4

5

6

. . . and for good measure, here's a delightful animated gif from Captain Halfbeard:



I Scream, "Kohn"!

This is an update of an update. The alternate version of the final panel in the Burning Miser series seen below sparked considerable debate at the time of the original post, but now, barely a month later (Nov 2015), it is no longer a mystery. We now know that Ed Kohn did a rendering of the full Burning Miser set, and that what we have here is a poor photograph of a glass slide from the Kohn set.




                          Granny's Chair

I won't pretend that the evidence is conclusive, but I can't help wondering whether the embroidery
on Granny's chair in the ballroom may have been inspired in part by the chair in the Burning Miser
series. It's not just a matter of design. For me, they radiate a very similar sense of lunatic nastiness.


Conventional wisdom has always been that the so-called "Donald Duck chair" at the Endless Hallway was inspired by Rolly Crump's talking chair from the unused Museum of the Weird, and it's just been assumed that the other chairs with faces on them (in the ballroom and in the WDW library scene) are nothing more than variations of that one.


Maybe that's all there is to it, but to my eye the chair in the Marc Davis paintings from the Burning Miser series bears
enough resemblance to Granny's rocker to at least raise the possibility of influence from there as well as from Rolly.


Threefer Madness

I think that what I admire most about the Burning Miser is how it deftly combines into a single artwork three separate narratives: the Rich Fool, the Faust legend, and the phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion. All three are laid under contribution, but the end result is seamless.


The Rich Fool

For this one, we can do no better than cite the Master Himself:

Luke 12: 16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
This theme has reappeared in many iterations, including ones in which it is the Devil himself demanding the soul
of the Rich Fool. This 1902 Frank Beard illustration from "The Ram's Horn" is very similar in some ways to Davis's version.

(Hat tip: Craig Conley)

You could almost suspect direct influence, but probably you shouldn't. I doubt that Davis spent much time sifting through old copies of obscure
religious journals like "The Ram's Horn" (although Beard was a tolerably well-known American illustrator in the late 19th century).



Faust

We're all familiar with Faust, the scholar who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for knowledge. The story never seems to grow old, and new versions of the Faust legend continue to appear. In the case of the Burning Miser, we can say with some certainty that it began life as simply another version of the Faust story, as can be seen in these Davis sketches:



Nuff said.

Spontaneous Human Combustion

It is not hard to find accounts of human beings suddenly bursting into flame and perishing, with no obvious cause present that could explain such a phenomenon. You'll usually find treatments of SHC in books dealing with the paranormal, right alongside ghosts and UFOs. One thing these discussions often mention is that Charles Dickens was apparently aware of the SHC mystery and included an instance of it in his novel, Bleak House. What we are most interested in is the illustration of the episode. Dickens used a number of illustrators during his career, and they have themselves been the subject of a good deal of attention by Dickens scholars. Most of them were very talented artists. One of them was Hablot Knight Browne (nicknamed "Phiz"), and he illustrated ten of Dickens's novels, including Bleak House. Studious artist that he was, Marc Davis may very well have been familiar with the work of any illustrator of Phiz's caliber, especially since some of Phiz's Bleak House drawings were gothic and ghostly; in other words, they were exactly the sort of thing the HM Imagineers wanted to research anyway:


Phiz's illustration of the SHC incident in the novel is interesting:


More likely than not it's a coincidence, but I note that the style of the chair is very similar to the one in
the Burning Miser portrait. I'm sure we'll never know if there's a connection, so make of it what you will.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Time to wrap this thing up.


You just gotta love this ride. Here's this pattern on a chair, easily missed and glimpsed only in passing, and it's possibly the tip of an iceberg, inspired in part by a story in pictures that you never see. That story in turn draws inspiration from the Rich Fool traditions with its money grubbing miser, from the Faust legend with the sale of his soul to the Devil, and from the eerie Spontaneous Human Combustion phenomenon with its fiery climax.

The Burning Miser is a particularly fine example of Marc Davis's ability to combine already familiar cultural fixtures into something
new, interesting, and—despite its hybrid pedigree—not the least bit confusing. Well played, sir. Once again, Mr. Davis, we salute you.


31 comments:

  1. Don't forget a somewhat similar plot about selling one's soul in Disney's "Pirates Of The Caribbean" 2 & 3. Just substitute Davy Jones for the Devil.

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  2. Wow, what a great find! I showed the "burning man" gif to my English class last year when we were reading "The Devil and Tom Walker." It immediately reminded me of this, and possibly could have been a source of inspiration, seeing as literature has inspired the Raven and "one-eyed cat" characters.

    By chance, do you know anything about a Disney Haunted Mansion card deck? I found one at a flea market, in the original packaging, with the DL logo all over it. And it glows in the dark! But I can't open it until Christmas...

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    Replies
    1. I am not familiar with the card deck. That would be a mighty fine thing.

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    2. I have a glow-in-the-dark HM Card Deck, it has Disneyland all over it like you said. It was 20 dollars on Amazon, so they aren't that rare.

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  3. I'm glad to see a new post once more, and excellent as usual ! I'd rather follow you on the Donald Duck chair/Miser chair connection. I like those two sketches of Faust that you show. The detail of the "soul" being in a BAG is a great comical idea.

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  4. I love how Mark's original(?) devil bears more than a passing resemblance to John Hench... :)

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  5. These portrait examinations are amazing. Any chance you could go this in-depth with "The Couple?" I loved the piece you did on April-December as well.

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  6. So what's the source of the "blue devil" version of the painting? Are we sure Davis really painted it? I'm mostly familiar with his pen and watercolor work, but even in a medium that I'm not wholly familiar with it seems strange that he would stray so far from the original face, which is classic Davis and wind up with a new face that is poorly proportioned. The mouth is not where it should be; it's too low on the chin. And the arms in the blue devil version no longer are anatomically correct. Even with all of the drapery of the cloak Davis has masterfully arranged the original devils arms so that they are connected to his shoulders and show his weight resting on the back of the chair. In the blue devil that structure is as absent as the consumed Miser. The more I look at the Blue Devil, the more I'm convinced that Davis didn't paint this image, and that whoever did didn't even take the care to at least trace Marc's original to forge the new version.

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    1. I checked my source, and he agrees that the blue devil could have been painted by someone other than Davis. There's no evidence to be derived either way based on the source of the artwork. I agree that it doesn't have a "Marc Davis" look to it, and I entertained the possibility that it was done by Ed Kohn. Based on my own initial reaction, what you say in your comment, and what my source says, I think it's a real possibility, and I've updated the post appropriately. Thanks for your insights.

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    2. Interesting ! I also would like to point that that doesn't necessarily mean that this second version of the devil is badly done. In my opinion, perhaps he's unrealistic to make people think that he appears under the form of the smoke of the fire… hence the blue skin by the same way.

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  7. I swear I've seen a more realistic painting of the miser in his "before" stage somewhere, and an alternate version of the "after" stage, in which a demon arm places the SOLD sign over the chair instead of the full Mephistopheles figure

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    Replies
    1. If there's anything to your recollections, that would only be further evidence that the Burning Miser concept got quite far before being dropped.

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  8. This is the second time I've heard of a Charles Dickens book having an influence on the Mansion. I've also heard that some of the descriptions from Great Expectations sound a lot like the ballroom and attic scenes. Maybe there are more?

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    Replies
    1. The heavyset man hanging on the Ballroom chandelier is officially named "Pickwick", after the Dickens character of Mr. Pickwick.

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    2. I've been told that "Pickwick" refers to the style of hat the ghost is wearing (at DL at least). The Pickwick hat did get its name from the illustrations in the Dickens novel, but in this case the Dickens-HM connection would be a very indirect influence.

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    3. No - "Pickwick Assembly Figure 24" is the name of the figure on the actual blueprint. He was the only officially named (on paper) character when the Mansion opened.

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    4. He probably had picked up the name well before that. The Marc Davis concept sketch of the chandelier ghosts shows him wearing that style of hat.

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    5. It's not just the hat. His style of dress and overall appearance look like he stepped right out of the pages of the Dickens book - minus Mr. Pickwick's spectacles. I'm sure someone somewhere along the line noticed the resemblance to the character in the illustrations.

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    6. In the summer-1969 WED official summary of the ride by Frank Allnutt, the ghosts floating into the ballroom from the hearse are described as "Dickensesque." In fact, many of the ghosts in the ballroom and the graveyard are dressed in the clothing of the Dickens era and look like they could have stepped out of a Dickens novel, but only one has an official name: the one wearing a hat in the style known as a "pickwick." He's wearing it in the concept sketch. That is almost certainly how he got his name.

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  9. Is there any chance that the Miser was the inspiration for the cast member uniform at the Mansion? That green suit looks AWFULLY familiar...

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    1. They are similar in many ways, but I'm not sure the outfit is distinctive enough for the similarities to be something other than coincidence. I don't know why they would want to make butlers look like millionaires or vice versa.

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  10. Actually, I don't know about everyone else, but I think a series of mini-features on the paintings that were never used, but some details that were recycled into the mansion could be interesting.

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  11. Love the unearthing of yet another cryptic crypt! Thanks for popping back in with a fresh body of intrigue for us to enjoy <3

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  12. Hi! I don't know how to leave a message except as a comment. I love your website and I learned a lot, and it's answered every question about the Haunted Mansion that I've ever had. Now whenever I visit it, I can't help but think of all the trivia I've read on your website.

    If you're still scrounging around for things to write about, I found something strange about the flash photos of the Beating Heart Bride -- what is her dress made of? It seems to be made out of...clear plastic? Her body structure is visible underneath. But in the dark of the ride, with the blacklighting, her dress seems opaque. What gives?

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    1. The ghosts in the graveyard (plus the original HBG and Beating Heart) are dressed for the most part in "shower curtain" clear vinyl. The AA bodies are a hard shell of a plastic known as butyrate. The Imagineers found that clear butyrate has a ghostly glow under black light, so they just left the ghosts transparent, with mostly transparent clothes. The interior mechanics are therefore not covered, but they are hard to see in the dark.

      The bride also wore shower-curtain vinyl clothes and had a butyrate body, but inside it was bluish and bubble-filled solid plastic, along with strings of pulsing lights and of course the red heart.

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    2. What effect was used on the red heart for that matter ? Was it a simple light bulb ? Or a special version of what you call the "Wall-E Bow" that was also used for the eyes of the first model ?

      (PS I'm not the same anonymous as the first one)

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    3. Just a red plastic heart with two light bulbs inside, flashing back and forth.

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  13. Marc Davis was recently a guest on a podcast, so he's apparently open to doing interviews. Why not try reaching out? You'd obviously have some amazing questions for him.

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    Replies
    1. I'm afraid my connections aren't quite that good. Marc died in 2000.

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    2. I'm...more than a little embarrassed. Sorry for being presumptuous.

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