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Obsessive Disney-related trivia: A Tyrus Wong in-joke

For those who must take note of everything (like me): inbetweener/inspirational artist Tyrus Wong (Bambi) was let go from Disney after three and a half years (1938-1941) and spent the next 25 years in the art department at Warner Bros. as a production illustrator, creating story boards and concept sketches for live action feature films.

Last night, I took a break to catch whatever movie happened to be playing on TCM. It turned out to be the star-studded wartime morale booster Thank Your Lucky Stars (Warner Bros. 1943) – and there I spotted, in one quick shot, on a wall behind actor Richard Lane (frame grab above), plaques for various businesses – including one that says “Tyrus Wong, Importer, Chinese Art“. Since Wong – who will be 101 next month – never got the proper credit he was due at Disney, I’d say this particular in-joke was poetic justice.

  • Toonio

    We all have the undeniable right to laugh at ourselves, and like voting, it should be exercised often.

    At the end happiness is the only way.

    • Is this supposed to sound like it came from a fortune cookie?

  • Jerry —

    You neglected to mention “Thank Your Lucky Stars” ‘s one flat-out mention of Walt Disney. Which was the moment in this Warner Bros. film where the two producers of this wartime benefit, Farnsworth (played by Edward Everett Horton)and Dr. Schlenna (S.z. Sakall), find themselves backstage with a zebra, an elephant and a camel. It seems that Eddie Cantor has decided to change the location of Hattie McDaniel’s “Ice Cold Katie” number from Harlem to the jungles of Africa. Which is why Cantor ordered up some background animals.

    Upon seeing this, Edward Everett Howard immediately turns to a stagehand and says “You take these wild beasts back to where they belong … Walt Disney.”

    I know, I know. Not the greatest joke. But then again “Thank Your Lucky Stars” is a pretty strange movie. Full of musical numbers by stars that you’d never, ever think would sing and dance (Errol Flynn? Ida Lupino?).

    But then again, last night was a pretty weird night for channel surfing. Deciding that I could do without watching dogs lick maple syrup off of Eddie Cantor’s feet (Seriously. This is a key plot point in “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” This is how Cantor eventually manages to escape the basement where he’s been tied up by the Indians), I changed channels just in time to catch the animated portion of “Xanadu.”

    And if I remembering correctly, this animated sequence was the very first thing that Don Bluth and his group of Disney expatriates did after they bolted from that Studio in September of 1979. Which is why “Xanadu” ‘s “Don’t Walk Away” number is just loaded with the sorts of animation effects work that Bluth claimed that the Studio’s then-management team wasn’t allowing Disney’s animators to do anymore. So you’ve got all of this glistening dew drops on flowers, on-screen blurring & rippling when the characters move through water. Effects animation piled on top of other pieces of effects animation.

    You really get the sense — while watching this one number in “Xanadu,” anyway — that the handcuffs are finally off. That here’s a bunch of former Disney animators who are just itching to show what they can do. It’s just too bad that the song that they had to animate to was such a snoozer and/or that the movie “Xanadu” is kind of a train wreck. Gene Kelly’s “Whenever You’re Away from Me” dance number with Olivia Newton-John almost makes this movie worth going out of your way to see. Almost.

    But you’re right, Jerry. Between “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and “Xanadu,” last night was a pretty good night to go channel surfing if you were an animation history fan / trivia buff.

    • Great work in “Xanadu.” Of course, it was the Bluth crew giving Disney the bird for becoming such a cheesy, cheap studio when so many artists truly wanted to do good work.

      That was the hopeless animation management of “Fast Eddie” Hanson and Don Duckwall. I remember it well.

  • Brad Constantine


  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    “We all have the undeniable right to laugh at ourselves, and like voting, it should be exercised often.
    At the end happiness is the only way.”
    … in bed. ;)

  • DB

    Great catch!

    The backgrounds in Bambi are so brilliant and add so much to the film, it is very disturbing Disney fired Mr. Wong like they did.

  • Thork Maroon

    You’d never know the shoddy way Tyrus Wong was treated by the Whitest Place on Earth by reading later studio-sanctioned works such as “The Illusion of Life”, which at least features a few of Wong’s great watercolor studies for Bambi. Mr. Wong was lucky to find gainful artistic (or at least craft level) employment in the motion picture industry after being bounced by the great corporate rodent.

  • Michael van den Bos

    I also watched THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS on TCM last night and I did catch a glimpse of the Tyrus Wong sign. It actually popped right out at me and then I immediately wondered if you, Jerry, were watching the movie and caught it, too. I thought it was pretty cool to see Wong’s name as part of the set decoration. I also caught the Walt Disney reference in the backstage scene with the menagerie of animals.

  • Robert Fiore

    Was he a union guy?

  • Nic Orizaga

    wow…I noticed this about a month ago…I totally forgot to tell anyone but the second I saw this frame I recognized it…thank goodness somebody else found it!!

  • very punny

    Wong, Wong, Wong, you’ve been gone so long, you’ve been gone, gone, gone so long.