Darby O'Gill and the Little People

If you’re a Disney geek you were probably watching Turner Classic Movies this past Sunday evening. Leonard Maltin hosted a series of Walt Disney motion pictures and for many of us it was a trip back in time. A highlight of the evening was a special Disneyland show that featured the Old Maestro himself making a trip to Ireland to track down “King Brian” the king of the Leprechauns. Walt even talked actor, Pat O’Brian into making a special appearance on the Disneyland program. The show was written by Larry Watkin who was also the screenwriter of the feature film, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

Naturally, this was a special show for me because I was a member of the Disney team back in the day. We were busily putting the finishing touches on “Sleeping Beauty” and beginning early development on “101 Dalmatians.” However, other work was going on in the area of live-action. Should you take a short trip to the Walt Disney Studios back lot you would have found yourself in an Irish village. That’s correct, kids. Not one foot of film of Darby O’Gill was shot in Ireland. The Disney motion picture was completely crafted right here in Burbank. Much of the credit goes to the brilliant matte artist, Peter Ellenshaw. Mr. Ellenshaw created his beautiful matte paintings on glass and he did so right upstairs in the Animation Building. Once the masterful mattes were composited with the live-action, you had little doubt you had paid a visit to Ireland. I’m sure Walt Disney had a grand time creating the live-action motion picture and all of us Disney artists had a great time visiting the backlot sets and the marvelous sets constructed on the sound stages. In fact, you can see one of the back lot sets in the photograph below.

I still remember the wonderful Disney motion picture and the amazing analog effects the Disney wizards created for the film. We didn’t have digital composting back in the old days, yet we were able to create a series of totally convincing special effects. As a matter of fact, the Walt Disney Studios special effects team probably consisted of perhaps a dozen talented artists and craftsman. Today’s visual effects would probably take hundreds of people. Finally, I still remember the beautiful Janet Munro and the handsome young man whose career would take a non Disney turn as he would become agent 007. Perhaps the Old Maestro saw something special in the young actor. However, Sean Connery would never make another Disney film. In any case, 1959 was a very special time for this Disney artist. I hadn’t seen “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” since its release in the early sixties. Surprisingly enough it still hold up pretty darn well. I suppose Pat O’Brian might say, “It’s the luck of the Irish.”

Some of the back lot sets created for Walt Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." It was an amazing time to work at the Walt Disney Studio.

Some of the back lot sets created for Walt Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." It was an amazing time to work at the Walt Disney Studio.