This Day in History (13-Jan-1930) – “Mickey Mouse” comic strip 1st appears

Before there was Mickey, Walt Disney had created a character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, for film producer Charles Mintz. Oswald’s ears were longer than Mickey’s (as befitting a rabbit), as was his nose, and his feet were black and shoeless, but his face bore an unmistakable resemblance to what would become the Walt Disney Company’s most iconic image. While Oswald was Disney’s creation, Universal legally owned him. When the Disney Brothers Studio asked for more money, Mintz refused and took ownership of the character.

Determined not to make the mistake of giving up the rights to one of his creations again, Walt and his animator, Ub Iwerks, went back to the drawing board, and transformed their rabbit into a mouse. Iwerks said he was inspired to create a mouse that had the spirit of Charlie Chaplin. They produced a few shorts that didn’t get much attention, but that changed when Steamboat Willie premièred in 1928. It was the first cartoon with synchronized sound, and became an instant hit. With Disney’s genius for marketing, Mickey became a national fad by the end of the year, with his own line of merchandise. Interestingly, Mickey didn’t actually speak until 1929’s The Karnival Kid. His first words were, “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” and his voice was provided by Carl Stalling, the composer and arranger now known for his work on the legendary Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. After that, Walt Disney himself provided Mickey’s voice, up until 1946 when he could no longer squeeze it into his schedule.

American Disney comics began in 1930 when Walt Disney himself began writing a Mickey Mouse daily comic strip for newspapers with Ub Iwerks handling the art. When control of this strip shifted to the talented Floyd Gottfredson later in the year, its ensuing popularity led to the growth of an entire comic strip department within the Walt Disney studio and the production of such additional strips as Silly Symphonies and Donald Duck (the latter, and initially the former, drawn by the great Al Taliaferro). Mickey Mouse is one of the most well-known characters around the globe, surpassing even Santa Claus. Walt Disney was given a special Oscar in 1932 for the creation of Mickey Mouse where the Press tagged Mickey as the “first non-human to win an Oscar.”


This Day in History (15-Dec-1939) – Gone with the Wind Premieres in Atlanta

Gone With The Wind (1939) is often considered the most beloved, enduring and popular film of all time. Sidney Howard’s script was derived from Margaret Mitchell’s first and only published, best-selling Civil War and Reconstruction Period novel of 1,037 pages that first appeared in 1936, but was mostly written in the late 1920s. Producer David O. Selznick had acquired the film rights to Mitchell’s novel in July, 1936 for $50,000 – a record amount at the time to an unknown author for her first novel, causing some to label the film “Selznick’s Folly.” At the time of the film’s release, the fictional book had surpassed 1.5 million copies sold.

The famous film, shot in three-strip Technicolor, is cinema’s greatest, star-studded, historical epic film of the Old US South during wartime that boasts an immortal cast in a timeless, classic tale of a love-hate romance. Authenticity is enhanced by the costuming, sets, and variations on Stephen Foster songs and other excerpts from Civil War martial airs. Its opening, only a few months after WWII began in Europe, helped American audiences to identify with the war story and its theme of survival.

With three years advance publicity and Hollywood myth-making, three and one-half hours running time (with one intermission), a gala premiere in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, highest-grossing film status (eventually reaching $200 million), and Max Steiner’s sweeping musical score, the exquisitely-photographed, Technicolor film was a blockbuster in its own time. A budgeted investment of over $4 million in production costs was required – an enormous, record-breaking sum. The film (originally rough-cut at 6 hours in length) was challenging in its making, due to its controversial subject matter (including rape, drunkenness, moral dissipation and adultery) and its epic qualities, with more than 50 speaking roles and 2,400 extras.

When the Oscars rolled around the following year, Gone with the Wind received a record ten Academy Awards — a mark that would stand for 20 years. Marked for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1989, when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation, it remains the highest-grossing movie to hit theaters in history.


This Day in History (16-Aug-1958) – Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, wins the Top Five Awards at the Vancouver Film Festival

Pather Panchali, which means “Song of the Little Road”, is a Bengali film directed by legendary Indian film maker, Satyajit Ray. The film is based on a Bengali novel by the same name written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Since Ray was tight on funds, he roped in relatively inexperienced cast and crew, some of the actors  had no previous acting experience. Due to financial challanges, it took Ray three years to complete the film. After the film was made, Ray maintained that three miracles saved the film, the first that Apu’s voice did not break, Durga did not grow older and Indir Thakrun (who played the character of an elderly aunt) did not die. This film marked the debut of the film’s technical team, cinematographer Subrata Mitra had never used a movie camera before and Ray had never directed a film before this. The music of the film was composed by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was at the early stages of his career then.

Pather Panchali was part one of the Apu Triology and was followed by two more films, Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) which follow Apu’s life as an adult. These three films are today among the greatest films of all times and is considered one of the best film trilogies ever to be made. Pather Panchali won the National Film Award for Best Film and the National Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali in India in 1955,  the Vatican Award in Rome in 1956, the Golden Carbao Award in Manila in 1956,  the Golden Gate for Best Director and Golden Gate for Best Picture at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1957, the Best Film and Feature Length Motion Picture at the Vancouver Film Festival and also the Critics’ award for Best Film at the Stratford Film Festival in Canada in 1958 & awards for Best Foreign Film in the United States and Japan in 1958 and 1966 respectively. In the USA, Pather Panchali played at the 5th Avenue Playhouse for a record 36 weeks  in 1958, breaking the previous record. In 1992, twenty-four days before his death, Ray was awarded an Honourary Oscar, which he accepted while being bedridden in a seriously ill condition. Ray was the first Indian to be honoured with such an award.