Happy Birthday America!
This week marks the 136th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the birth of the United States of America and to celebrate Matt and I (Nate) take a look at one of the most patriotic films, Johnny Tremain, its ties to the unbuilt expansion to Disneyland, Liberty Street, and the Liberty Tree in Walt Disney World's Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom
Disney was no stranger to American History. Disney shorts like Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan celebrated American folklore and the Disneyland TV show featured American hero’s like Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone, but there are few Walt Disney productions more patriotic than Johnny Tremain.
The overall theme of johnny Tremain is mans quest for liberty. According to Walt it tells a vital story of the American liberty story.
The story of Johnny Tremain was published in 1943. It tells the story of a fictional character in a non-fiction world. It was written by Esther Forbes won the Newberry Award, given annually by the Association of Library Service to Children for outstanding writing for American children.
The book examines the life of a young colonist in Boston, MA set against the backdrop of the American revolution. The book looks at:
- The Boston Tea Party
- The British Blockade of Boston port
- Paul Revere’s Ride
- The Battles of Lexington and Concord
Biographers note that Forbes was probably inspired to write Johnny Tremain while she was researching and writing Paul Revere and the world he Lived in. Forbes was a bit of a Masachusetts historian and she was a volunteer and an aid during WWI. This event in her life temporarily altered her young life but inspired her to take advantage of her situation and go to college.
Two possible catalysts:
- It is thought that after Forbes witnessed reports of the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941, she began writing the story of Johnny Tremain.
- There are also reports to suggest she heard a story about a horse boy who brought word to Paul Revere that the British were ready to march while researching the Paul Revere book. She may have decided to tell his story.
The story also features many prominent forefathers
Samuel Adams - a politicla leader who spread lots of information rallying support for the revolution.
Paul Revere - a silversmith and important figure in the Whig movement.
John Hancock - One of the wealthiest men in the colonies, and ardent opponent of the British crown.
Others: James Otis, Dr. Joseph Warren, Josiah Quincy
The film may have been intended to be series or broken up into two or more parts for the Disneyland TV show, like Davy Crockett was or how The Absent Minded Professor was supposed to be, and so they essentially shot it as a two parter: 1773 and 1775.
Portions of the show were featured on the Disneyland TV show, but as "The Liberty Story" in 1957.
One of my favorite parts of the Disneyland TV show were the Walt Disney introductions. He noted that “Frontierland Shows featured Adventure, Legend and History. This program comes from the frontier of human liberty.”
An interesting thing to note about this is that in Walt’s introduction to the show makes reference to Robin Hood and how his spirit of liberty was a rallying point for his followers. Robin Hood was a symbol of the fight against oppression, and eventually that led to the Magna Charta which is the cornerstone of liberty.
The film was shot on both the Disney backlot and the outdoor shots in the San Fernando Valley. The film was written by Tom Blackburn, who had also written the script for Davey Crockett. There weren’t many Disney actors that we would recognize from other Disney films, but there were a lot of behind the scenes ppl that Disney fans will probably recognize because of their familiarity with other Disney films
- Director Robert Stevenson - This was his first film for Disney, but he went on to make Disney films for a couple of more decades including Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and dozens of others. Interestingly, Stevenson was British and was one of England’s best and most successful live-action directors in the 1930’s. He directed Jane Eyre which was a very popular English story that examined social issues. He has a tie to Alfred Hitchcock, also a Brit, in that he was signed by David Selznick in 1939, who produced Gone with the Wind and Rebecca (two best picture winners) and had worked for Paramount and MGM before starting his own studio, and brought to America. Unlike Hitchcock, however, Stevenson never made a movie for Selznick and really did not see mainstream success until he signed with Disney.
- Artist Peter Ellenshaw - Had been working for the Disney Studio since 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. he worked as production designer for Johnny Tremain, and you can see a lot of his work in the matte paintings that serve as many of the backgrounds. Most of the sets began from Ellenshaw’s imaginative designs.
Screenwriter Tom Blackburn and composer George Bruns combined their talent to create some catchy tunes for Johnny Tremain. Both men worked on the song for Davy Crockett as well.
Fifer, Boys - The music from the opening of the film. Sets the tone for
Liberty Tree- Plays as Johnny’s theme throughout the course of the film.
Liberty in the Disney Theme Parks
In 1958, Walt Disney announced on his TV show; the addition of Liberty Street to Disneyland. It replaced an earlier idea that Disney had for an International Street. According to Walt, the adddition was really a correction to the original design for the park. "After reading Johnny Tremain we realized we had overlooked one major item in the blueprint of Disneyland. A memorial to the freedoms that made it all possible.” He went on to note that “Liberty Street will be Johnny Tremains Boston of about 1775.”
It was going to run parallel and east of Main Street, and then dogleg right behind the Opera House, and was going to include some amazing new destinations fitting the theme of Liberty Street:
- Boston Observer Print Shop - The newspaper from Johnny Tremain
- Paul Revere Silversmith - A recreation of his shop
- Griffins Wharf - a small pier with a couple of tied up boats
- Glass Shoppe
- A Blacksmith
Also featured on the street would be attractions as well:
- The Miniature US Capitol
- The Hall of Presidents
- Declaration of Independence Diorama
(The Miniature US Capitol is actually in the Opera House today!)
The entrance to Liberty Street was going to marked with a large church steeple (probably to blend in with Main Street USA. Other structures included Liberty Hall, which would serve at the weenie at the end of the street. At one point Liberty Street was labeled Liberty Square.
The Liberty Tree
As we know when Disney World was constructed they did create Liberty Square, like Walt wanted for Disneyland, although it didn’t have all the same things that Disneylands Liberty Street was going to have. But, as a part of Liberty Square they did create The Liberty Tree.
The Liberty Tree was an actual tree in Boston and just like in the film it was a rallying place for the Sons of Liberty. In 1765, it was key meeting place for those who spoke out against the Stamp Act.
The story of the actual tree for WDW’s Liberty Tree is actually interesting too. It is over 100 years old and is the largest living specimen in the Magic Kingdom. It was discovered on the WDW property about 8 miles west of the Magic Kingdom, and Bill Evans, the Disneyland landscaper who was lending his hand to WDW construction helped with the moving process. It weighed 38 tons and instead of simply pulling cable to uproot the tree they actually had to invent a process to remove it as the root ball for the tree measured 18 x 16 and was 4 feet tall. Once moved the tree was re-planted and christened the Liberty Tree in Liberty Square.
It is adorned with thirteen lanterns to represent the 13 colonies of America in 1775. (Lanterns were also placed in the tree seen in the film after the Boston Tea Party).
Overall, this one of those films that we’ve all probably seen or heard of or read; but the legacy of these 1950’s and 60’s films, especially historic films, tend to have a much longer lasting legacy, especially if they have park tie-ins, like the Liberty Tree and or are steeped in Disney lore like Liberty Street.
Enjoy this show because it was a lot of fun to create, and have a great Independence Day
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