Still in a bit of a haze from last evening’s “Saving Mr. Banks” premiere at the Walt Disney Studios. Not only did the amazing cast appear at the screening, but the surprise appearance of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was truly icing on the cake. I had not seen the two stars together on the studio lot since the early sixties when we worked on “Mary Poppins.” As Mr. Van Dyke walked past, I shouted, “Step in Time, Dick!” Mr. Van Dyke gave me a smile. Hopefully, he remembered how much time we spent on Stage three back in the sixties shooting that exhausting, rigorous dance number. “Step in Time” featured Dick Van Dyke and a host of chimney sweeps doing a marvelous dance routine on the rooftops of London.
However, “Mary Poppins” had no shortage of impressive musical numbers. I attended the pre-records along with the Sherman Brothers back in 1962. It was pretty awesome being on stage A at the Walt Disney Studios along with musical director, Irwin Kostal and a full studio orchestra. As the orchestra played the first melodic bars of “Chim Chim Cheri” you couldn’t help but have a smile on your face. A very young Dick Van Dyke entered the stage in a manner expected. A special goofy entrance that was the hallmark of the talented comedic actor. Julie Andrews was perky, smart and appeared to have a no nonsense attitude. She was determined to be at her best.
I attended recording sessions, dance rehearsals and filming on every sound stage on the studio lot. Once that was done, it was back to the drawing board to help create the fanciful animation that would be composited with the live-action in the final film. Most live-action musicals can wrap in six to eight weeks. However, production of Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppin” went on for the better part of a year. It was a massive production requiring the talents of actors, musicians, dancers, craftsmen and women and a host of animation talent. It was an exhausting but invigorating process that pretty much drained all of us. But, what a film we made. It was probably the culmination of a fabulous career for the Old Maestro, Walt Disney. I think for Walt, it was his finest hour.
The motion picture we celebrated last night told the beginning of that amazing journey. The challenge Walt Disney faced in convincing P.L. Travers to allow him to make the film. It’s a heart warming story that brings tears to my eyes with each viewing. It sounds corny, but I’ve sat in the Disney Studio theater more than once weeping my eyes out. This motion picture so resonates with me. Not simply because “Saving Mr. Banks” is an amazing film. It’s all that and more. No, it’s because so much of my life is wrapped up in this motion picture. Unlike most of you, I lived through this experience. I saw the struggle, pain and aggravation in the creative process. And, I was privilege to be part of the creation of this wonderful Disney motion picture. If you want a sense of what sixties Disney was like, I recommend you see “Saving Mr. Banks.” Magic has returned to the Walt Disney Studios - and we should all be grateful for that.