On the weekend of June 4, 1938, Walt rewarded his hard-working staff with a 2-day party at the Lake Narconian resort hotel near Palm Springs. It was a thank-you to the overworked artists (their families were invited, too), who had worked scads of unpaid overtime to turn out this milestone of a film before Christmas, 1937. Incidentally, Art Babbitt’s main contribution to the film was lead animation for the evil Queen.
Reports differ as to what went on at this party – from nothing more than prohibition-era drinking to full-blown open sex. Either way, Walt was upset by the actions of his “boys” and, with his wife Lillian, left the retreat early.
These photos are care of my friend, Willie (Willis) Pyle. Willie started at Disney’s in late 1937 as a “traffic boy.” This meant that he, along with other young entries, was a human modem. When someone needed to send a letter or have test animation developed and returned, or what have you, a traffic boy would be called to do the job. But that’s a story for another day.
“Now I must tell you that we framed Walt Disney,” said Art Babbitt in the 1987 documentary Animating Art. “He was seated at a table with friends and family, and I made an arrangement with the policeman on duty there; without Walt’s knowledge, I told the policeman to go over there and tell him to quite down, that he was making too much noise, and Walt’s reaction was, ‘I’ll have your badge,’ […] and of course then, it was finally revealed that it was all a joke, you know.”
The woman center in the flowered dress is Marge Belcher (now Marge Champion), the model for Snow White. She was a teenage dancer, and when the animators needed someone to film to inspire the movements of the princess Snow White, they hired her. At the time of this photo, she and Art Babbitt had already been married ten months. Directly behind her is Willie Pyle. Willie’s long-term memory is remarkable sharp. He told me, “this dance we all did, it was called ‘The Big Apple.'” Sure enough, on one of Art Babbitt’s many hand-scrawled notes, I found a reference to a dance called “The Big Apple,” … and that Marge had taught it to everyone.
All that dancing works up a thirst for ice-water, as Marge, on the right, is demonstrating. The objects behind her are described in Jack Kinney’s memoir, Walt Disney and Other Assorted Characters: “The event was very well organized by Hal Adelquist and his helpers, who arranged many activities for all to enjoy – swimming, horseshoes, baseball, volleyball, touch football, aquaplaning, Ping-Pong, and, of course, boozin’! Handsome cups, inscribed ‘Walt’s Field Day,’ were awarded to the winners of these various events except for boozin’, and there were just too many competitors in that last event to declare a winner.”
Stay tuned for Part II of the Snow White Wrap Party!