King of the Swingers

Yes, it seems like only yesterday. What’s it been? Fifty years? I don’t even want to think about that. In any case, this photograph brings back wonderful memories of a Walt Disney Studio that’s long since past.

Recently, I sat down to talk about Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book” with some rather special people. I was with Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller and Richard Sherman. Back in the sixties, Richard and his brother, Robert had another assignment on their table. Come up with a special, funny song to be sung by the orangutan, King Louie. We already had cast our guy. Walt had chosen popular entertainer, Louie Prima to provide the voice for the wacky, zany animated character.

Richard Sherman and his brother, Robert considered their assignment. “What do apes do,” they wondered. “Apes grunt and scratch. They leap about and swing. Maybe King Louie is the king of the swingers?” Well, that became the first line of the new song. Do you remember it? “I’m the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP! I’ve reached the top and I can’t stop and that’s what’s bothering me.”

Before the animation began, Louie Prima and his band, Sam Butera and the Witnesses came to Stage A at the Walt Disney Studio to record the song. The memories of that wild and crazy session is something I’ll never forget. You’ve seen “The Jungle Book,” but I’ll guarantee you never heard the session performed that afternoon at the mouse house in Burbank. Of course, the Old Maestro was pleased with Prima’s tracks, but they needed to be toned down a bit. Actually, they were toned down quite a bit. Louie Prima at full tilt was probably a bit much for nineteen sixties’ middle America. Walt Disney was well aware of this, so composer, George Bruns was able to dial things back just a bit.

Regretfully, I didn’t work on the King Louie sequence in “The Jungle Book.” Vance Gerry and I had enough to do storyboarding other sequences in the film. We had an entire movie to re-board in little less than a year and we couldn’t all work on everything. The story teams were divided up into teams of two in order to get the job done.

Look at the smiles on the faces of Robert and Richard Sherman. Louie Prima was having a good time as well. I think the famous entertainer was being introduced to a whole new generation of Disney fans and I’m willing to bet “I Wanna Be Like You” probably became part of Louie Prima’s lounge act in Las Vegas. In any case, we all had one heck of a time making this Disney motion picture. Today, people tell me Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book” is a classic. If that’s the case, I’m very proud to have been a part of it all.

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