Remembering the Disney Backlot

Okay, let’s take another trip to Disney Past. It’s the nineteen fifties and we’re on the Walt Disney Studio back lot. I’ll bet you can guess where we are, can’t you? It’s the famous Zorro set where a good deal of the Disney television series was filmed. Yes, that’s correct. Most of the television show, Zorro was filmed right here in beautiful Burbank. After all, why head out to a distant location when you can make the movie right in your very own backyard.

Filmmaking has changed a good deal since the fifties. Notice the film crew appears to be a good deal older than the young men and women working on motion pictures today. Back in the fifties, Hollywood maintained an “All Boys Club” and it was difficult or perhaps even impossible to break into the business if you didn’t know somebody or better yet, have a family member who was a union film worker. And, don’t even mention women. On occasion, there may be a script girl on set, but that was pretty much it. I’m sure these old codgers in the photograph had been making films since they were kids. Plus, they were probably going to pass that job onto one of their kids when they decided to pack it in. Like I said, if you didn’t have the inside track, good luck with getting that union card. By the way, look at the Director of Photography standing behind the big Mitchell BNC. This dapper fellow is wearing a white shirt, jacket and tie. It was not unusual to see gentlemen on set dressed this way back in the fifties. Most directors were well dressed as well. The scruffy “Steven Speilberg” look didn’t come in vogue until the seventies when directors began to sport jeans, beards and baseball caps.

Yes, the Walt Disney Studio in the fifties was another time altogether. Back then an artist could step away from his or her drawing board, head out to the back lot and watch Guy Williams covort over the rooftops of the back lot set. There were no signs reading, “Closed Set,” and one could feel free to check out all the creativitiy taking place at Walt’s Magic Factory. If you were an artist, you were part of the magic and all the other employees respected you as such. In many ways, the Walt Disney Studio was completely integrated back in the fifties. Integrated in the sense that the workers and departments often overlapped as they went about their daily activities. You’ll not find that of interaction today where It would appear the new business model demands every unit or department remain separate. More often than not, this lack of contact creates problems where one hand fails to recognize what the other is doing. This “protecting ones turf” became standard practice once the studio mophed into a corporate behemoth in the eighties. I guess I miss the old days when the “Disney Family” was exactly that. We knew what everyone was doing back then, and that's exactly the way Walt ran his studio. Today, you could have a relative working in the next building and not even know it. And, don’t tell me that size and growth is the excuse because I’m not buying that. I’m talking about an attitude. A mindset we simply didn’t have back then.

Of course, I’m rambling again. I keep remembering the Walt Disney Studio I loved. Sadly, the nineteen fifties is a long time ago. It’s just that fun photographs like these keep reminding me of a magical world that was slowly beginning to disappear even as this young kid was entering it.

Filmmakers on the Walt Disney Studio back lot. It was often a welcome break from the drawing board.

Filmmakers on the Walt Disney Studio back lot. It was often a welcome break from the drawing board.