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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Long Story Short...  ...or: How two sheets of paper got united after some 25 years...

In truth I never thought I would see this draft completed. I had previously posted page one of it (the first image below) and noted that it was the first page of the original typed draft of Prod. CM-10, The Birthday Party, directed by Burt Gillett, released Jan. 6th, 1931. It only goes to show that it's a small world after all:

When director Burt Gillett (1891-1971) was lured away by Van Beuren in 1934 after his tremendous success with Three Little Pigs, he took with him to New York a box of drawings and notes. He gave these to a Jeannie, the 14-year old daughter of a family that Gillett and his first wife Louise had befriended. Years passed, and so did Jeannie - and the box ended up with her sister and her husband, a farmer (and very nice person) in Kentucky.

In the 70s they rediscover the box (and split it into two boxes), and try to find interest in the items, but find there isn't any. Then, in the late 80s, they happen to see an article about a New York collector in a magazine and they contact him - and sell him a stack of papers (for $800), only to read in their local newspaper a short while later that he had sold a single item from those papers at auction for $24,000. Later they find he sold many of the items through Cristie's East, selling for as much as $44,000 for a two-page item. They contact Christie's, and in 1994 and 1995 sell most of the rest of the items - for about a quarter of a million dollars: original Ub Iwerks storyboards for some of the earliest Mickeys, animation drawings and layouts, stills and even original Oswald contracts between Walt Disney and Margaret Winkler Mintz! I am certain that for Disney animation history, this was THE find of decade, though probably not many knew the source of this material.

Late last year the good folks in Kentucky find a box with the left-over materials that Christie's had sent back, as they did not think these would sell, and I am fortunate to have been able to acquire quite a few of these items through eBay - story notes, outlines, scribbles and a short stack of flippable animation drawings from the 1930 short Just Mickey. And one of the items is... page TWO (of two) of the Birthday Party draft!
It matches exactly over page one, even the stains from the paper clip match! Obviously, page one had come to me circuitously through the New York collector's purchase (eventually sold to me by a Florida seller), but both pages unquestionably started out in that same box
in Kentucky. Now, they're united and complete again after some
25 years! How about that?

Christie's did not always know what they were dealing with, as several of the items they sold cheaply had Walt Disney's handwriting on them, and they did not notice this. I now know a great deal more about Walt's handwriting, and I am certain that the red markings on this draft are in his hand. The name Flohri is also his scribble, and I now suspect it was his assignment of background painter Emil Flohri (1865-1938) to this project. Since Walt's work was his life (as Mike Barrier knows but Neil Gabler doesn't seem to, looking at their books), he was a very hands-on producer in this period, actively involved in every phase of production...

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Anonymous David says...

I was in touch with this farmer as well. I sent him a query as soon as he started listing stuff on eBay. He had quite a few nice items "left over" from all the material he once owned. Too bad about the person in New York taking advantage of them.

I too recognized some of Walt's handwriting and tried to buy a few pieces, but money was short it still is, and I instead have been trying to buy as much of the Hank Porter estate as I can afford - along with two other very good friends we have managed to buy quite a lot of material to date.

Congrats on reuniting the two pieces!

Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 12:37:00 AM PDT  

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