Friday, December 5, 2008

“Careful with those candles, kids…we don’t want Uncle Walt to melt…”

Yes, everyone’s favorite cryogenically-preserved Magic Kingdom creator Walt Disney is celebrating the anniversary of his 107th birthday today...and possibly in a deep freeze near you. While I’m not completely 100% certain that TCM’s The Family Classics special this month (on Sundays) is directly related to this event, it would almost have to be.

Growing up as a young kidling, I saw many of these movies to be showcased on TCM either in the theaters or on NBC-TV’s The Wonderful World of Disney. (One thing I’ve always marveled at is how Disney set the standard for “recycling”; I saw Blackbeard’s Ghost when it was reissued in 1975 and had no idea that it premiered seven years earlier. I’m also sad to see this movie didn’t make the TCM list—it’s a really enjoyable bit of slapstick.) I’m looking forward (if I get the opportunity) to sit down and wallow in nostalgia with favorites like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970) and The Strongest Man in the World (1975—hey, it’s got both Phil Silvers and Eve Arden!), plus The Parent Trap (1961), Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Return from Witch Mountain (1978—with Bette Davis…freakin’ Bette Davis!), The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and one of my all-time favorites, The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973). (Confession time: I’ve never seen the first half-hour of Escape to Witch Mountain. We were late to the theater when it came out and as a result I was completely lost with the plot.)

TCM has been showcasing this upcoming festival with promos featuring interviews from Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran—and I gotta be honest with you…I’m not so sure that was a good idea. Speaking only for myself, that is. I’m sure Mr. C is a fine, upstanding citizen who pays his taxes and would never—ever—dream of taking up two parking spaces unless circumstances dictated he had no other choice. As a child actor, however, he was the equivalent of a root canal. Spin & Marty, Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), Moochie of the Little League, Swiss Family Robinson (1960)—any movie or TV show this whiny, mewling little horror is in makes me want to retch. Of course, I pretty much feel that way about most child actors. Sure, I could name on one hand the ones that don’t make me physically ill: Jackie Cooper, Judy Garland (though I prefer the grown-up Judy), George “Spanky” McFarland, Matthew “Stymie” Beard, Ron Howard and…well, there are probably one or two others—but I didn’t know there would be a test on this material. Of course, there are also child actors who became better adult actors—Robert Blake is the first one that immediately comes to mind, as well as Dean Stockwell.

Okay…I hadn’t planned for this to be a rant, but sometimes…anyway…happy birthday, Mr. Disney. You certainly made going to the movies an engaging part of my thrilling days of yesteryear.

On a related note, Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger also celebrate birthday anniversaries today. If they had used as many child actors as Walt, they might have been more prominently featured in this post.

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