The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on December 5, 1971 · 711
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 711

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 5, 1971
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ll----s- - l..r -II- "A Bill Walsh, fabled Disney producer-writer, displays storyboards and sketches for Walsh film project about a black coach on African recruiting trip to discover a superathlete. The coach finds his phenom, only he's white. y Times photo by Judd Gunderson Movies Mr. Success, Spelled W-A-C-K-Y, of Disney's Fantasy Factory BY WAYNE WARGA Bill Walsh is as agreeably daffy in person as the 14 pictures and uncountable television shows he has produced or written (or both) over the past 20 years at the Disney fantasy factory. Fantasy is his operative word: "It's my main contribution. There is more fantasy today than there was in the days of the Brothers Grimm. If you don't believe me, look at the number of people who root for the New York Mets. That's pure fantasy. "The fact of the matter is that I have nutty ideas which any other studio would throw me the hell on the street for, but which are very compatible here." It was Walsh who got the name of Julie Andrews stuck in his craw when "Mary Poppins" was shaping up, and he's still crazy for the lady. Some Sort of Chemistry "I just finished working with her on "The Opening of Walt Disney World" special and it was such a delight that we're all scurrying around like mad to find another vehicle for her. Julie came down to Florida and stepped right in where she left off here six years ago. There is some sort of special magic chemistry between children and Julie. She is a marvelous gifted lady with an earthy sense of humor." Miss Andrews and "Mary Poppins" not only cleaned out most of the box office money a few years ago, they both did very well indeed at the Academy Awards. It ended up the most successful of all Walsh's many pictures, all of which have turned profits but one. With a creator's perverse sense of dedication, Walsh insists that his one loser, "Scandalous John," is his favorite. "Wouldn't j'ou know they would all make money, all but my favorite. It's the only one that didn't make it, no matter how hokey they were and some were really hokey. Well, what the hell. Shakespeare used hokum. It's a lovely word implying sentiment and magic. Why people are terrified of hokum I'll never know. I'm all for it." . Presently, Walsh, with a slightly bruised ego, is trying to figure out certain discrepancies between British and American film critics. The British blasted "Mary Poppins" and the Americans loved it Now, his newest film, "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," is out and the British have responded with a conniption fit of delight. The Americans, with a few exceptions, haven't been too enthusiastic. "Someday, I'll get the British and Americans together. Hopefully on something positive, not negative. The one fairly unanimous complaint this time is the music (by the Sherman Brothers) and the unanimous compliment is the soccer game. Anyway, that's a starting point of sorts, Weird concensus and I don't really know if it's the British or Americans who are eccentric. I just know I am." "Bedknobs" by current standards is an expensive film, costing $6.1 million, a not unreasonable sum considering the considerable amount of animation and the technical troubles of working with a combination of live action and animation. Actual shooting time was 57 days, the, animation took five months and special camera effects required another five. Normally complicated films may require two filming units; "Bedknobs" required five. '. And the budget was as lean as the studio could make it. Walsh does not work in the conventional storyline-to-script-to-camera system. Walsh and his cowriters ("I almost always work with another guy, or even supervise two others, and they're all first rate. Bob Stevenson and Don Da Gradi are my most constant collaborators.") first outline the story and then, instead of a detailed script, the outline goes through a metamorphosis into storyboards. Here is where Disney has controls and theories which permit precise scheduling. It is, in effect, pre-editing. For each shot a drawing is made, showing the exact camera angle (providing a large saving in set construction and shooting schedules). Over the drawing is the name of the unit or units which wall photograph the scene. So much for logistics. Under the drawing is the dialog for it. From this comes the script, followed by actual production. ;n "The animation," of course, is the most crucial. We don't use those funny little machines from Yugoslavia because the animation comes out looking too sterile, too unsophisticated. We start from scratch and do it right. That takes a lot of time and a lot of money. But one thing we have here is an endless supply of faith. We know that the hard way is the concerned way and it's the only vvay. : J i ."That's me on animation. I've been here over 20 years and all I can draw is a dog. Look." Walsh's dog, drawn during a moment of intense concentration, looks to be some sort of hybrid Thurber animal. The charm of the Disney characters has had its effect on Walsh if the technique hasn't. According to Walsh,. "I 'started here. as a producer and worked up. to writer." He also engineered much of the early Disney television effort. Under protest. When the late Walt Disney contemplated going into television in the early 1950s, Walsh wrote what he calls "an impassioned memo against going into television. So naturally, Walt called me in and said he'd decided to go into television and I was the guy who was going to do it. " , "I remember it vividly. I looked stunned and said, 'But I don't know anything about television.' Walt smiled back at me and said, 'That's OK. Nobody ' does!' " ",. Walsh was responsible ("Not totally. I had great help.") for the first Disney Christmas shows and for all four years of the Mickey Mouse Club show. He has one special. Hey There, Hi There, Ho There memory of the series: "When the show started Annette Funicello had a figure like this," he says, waving a pen in the air, "and she got all the mail. The figure started growing and so did the amount of mail. Grew until we couldn't find a sweater loose enough for her or mail bags big enough for the mail." ' ' " ' : '""'"". . n Beefcake Shots Walsh's office, a jammed little warren in the Disney animation building ("Did you notice that all the double doors open backwards? That's because Walt couldn't get the money to build the building unless it could be instantly converted into a hospital. All hospital doors open that way.") is complete with storyboards and photographs scattered all over the cre-denza behind his desk. Since they're all beefcake shots young actors with their shirts off Walsh is in a hurry to explain. .v "We're looking for a well-built young actor who is an athlete and also has a quality of innocence.'' What for? Another predictably wacky Walsh project, as yet untitled, about a black athletic coach who, in a fit of black pride, goes to Africa in search of the supreme black athlete and ends up finding of all things an athlete who can among other gifts run faster than a gazelle and can block a rhinoceros. The trouble is he's white. : : ?I'm also at work on a science-fiction story about machines that hate people. I'm intrigued -with the fact that I think can openers hate me and that the . signal on the corner down the street is green for everyone but me. I'm convinced that it hates me. So, we're at work on a story about a broken stock ticker that hasn't been well since 1929, Just imagine the trouble that machine could cause!" He is also working on a tale about , a visit of Khrushchev to Disneyland, a sequel to "The Love Bug" and a project called "The Jorth Avenue Irregulars," about a zealous clergyman and his army of determined lady parishioners who set out to drive the mafia out of town. . . - - , . "I know it makes me sound like a fat movie producer," Walsh says, glancing at a slight paunch above the belt, "but next; to reading I like: cigars best." He lights one, then allows that his favorite authors are Mark Twain, Thurber, S.J. Perelman and Aristo-phenes ("to see if there's a good movie in it").' "Right now I'm reading this intellectual epic," he smiles, holding up a book called "Herb the Caterpillar." "It's part of my job. I read a lot.'' : 1HIRTY-7WO A .XvVKjO J,' 1.1 i

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