Science Fiction, Fifties Style

I've always felt that part of being a creative genius is also knowing how to market your product. Once again, Walt Disney proves he knew a thing or two about creating and selling.

I found these black&white photographs over the weekend in a folder in my garage. Anybody recognize this shot? Is it from some recent science fiction motion picture? Nope, these shots were from a project the Old Maestro was working on back in the fifties. As a matter of fact it was Disney's entrance into the big time. Known primarily as a cartoon maker and producer of little family films, This ambitious movie was intended to push little Walt Disney Productions into the big time.

The film was Jules Verne's epic, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and Walt Disney spared no expense in bringing this story to the big screen. And, big screen it was since the film was photographed in CinemaScope and featured big name actors such as James Mason, Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre. However, Walt had a few more tricks up his sleeve that would prove he was a master of marketing.

The weekly television program, “Disneyland” had just launched on ABC Television and one of Walt's early shows would feature a documentary of the making of this epic movie. Audiences were so fascinated by the filmed documentary of this underwater epic they forgot they were actually watching a 60 minute commercial for Disney's new movie. Heck, the show even won an Emmy in its category. Once again, Walt Disney led the way by producing a “Making Of” movie back when no one even thought of taking their cameras behind the scenes. The actors chatted about their role in the film, and we went “backstage” to see the special effects being planned and designed. Something that is common place today was pioneered back in the fifties by Walt Disney.

I was so impressed by this Disney documentary I wanted a copy of the show myself. Remember, this was the nineteen fifties long before the availability of home video and all movies were on film. Luckily, I had pals in Disney's editorial department and they were able to secure a 16mm print of the Emmy Award winning television show. I don't suppose anything like that could ever happen in today's studios where everything is regarded as a military secret.

Since the Disney Studio has been on a remake kick recently, I'm puzzled why “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” hasn't been considered for a reboot? Unlike the two “Tron” motion pictures, at least the Jules Verne novel has a story.