Monday, August 30, 2010

Double Feature: The Parent Trap & Summer Magic

Hello, everyone!  Welcome to another week.  (At least this one leads to a three-day weekend.)  Since I missed writing about another favorite of mine last Monday, I thought I would double up today.  So, let's talk Disney, Hayley Mills, and nostalgia with "The Parent Trap" (the original non-Lindsay Lohan 1961 version) and "Summer Magic" (1963).

I know I've probably mentioned this before, or you've just figured it out on your own, but I'm a Disney kid and proud of it.  Watching "The Wonderful World of Disney" every Sunday night as a family, with our dinners and TV trays set out, are some of my fondest memories of growing up.  And thanks to the creation of The Disney Channel in the 80s, I also got to watch tons of films over and over again that I might have missed.  And now, as an adult, I get to work for the Walt Disney Company.  What better way to come full circle?!  Sure, it's still a big corporation, and like all of them, they have their issues.  But they also treat their employees with fun extras every once in a while.  This summer they have started playing old Disney live-action films at the theater on the studio lot in Burbank.  And they don't skimp on the show.  I went to see "Summer Magic" a couple of weeks ago and had a blast.  The theater performed a fancy fanfare and light show to start off the evening.  An old Mickey cartoon then preceded the film.  And afterward, we got to enjoy some free ice cream (sorbet for me).  A great way to spend a warm summer night!

And a great way to share the old films with a new audience.  Most people I talk to know "The Parent Trap" well, but not "Summer Magic."  "The Parent Trap" was Hayley Mills' most successful film.   Her second film for Disney (her first was the popular "Pollyanna" (1960)), Mills plays twins Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick, sisters separated when babies by their divorcing parents.  Never knowing they had a sibling, the two meet accidentally at summer camp and decide to switch places and get their parents back together.  Walt Disney was entranced with Mills when she starred alongside her father British star John Mills in 1959's "Tiger Bay" and signed her immediately.  She was only 13 years old.  By the time she was making "Parent Trap," she was a star herself, having just received a special Oscar for her performance in "Pollyanna." 

Originally, the script for "Parent Trap" had very few scenes of Mills standing beside herself in double exposure shots.  Writer and director David Swift intended to use mainly a body double for over the shoulder shots of the twins.  However, when Disney himself saw how well the visual effects guys had blended the double shots of Mills, and how well Mills created two separate characters in those difficult scenes, he insisted they use more effects shots.  Maureen O'Hara recalled in her autobiography how impressed she was with Mills talent and professionalism, saying "It got quite confusing, and even Hayley only knew which girl she was playing by which wig she was wearing."

It was a great cast, including Mills, O'Hara and Brian Keith in his first ever romantic comedy role.  Yet one person who was never credited on screen must be mentioned - Susan Henning, Mills' unseen body double.  When she got the part in the film, she had to sign away her screen credit, even though she's in the majority of the film.  She did receive some recognition though.  At the wrap party for the film, Disney presented her with a statue of Donald Duck, called the "Duckster," for "best unseen performance."  Only two other Ducksters have ever been awarded in the history of the company.

"Summer Magic" was Mills' fourth film for Disney (she made "In Search of the Castaways" in between). This lesser-known film tells the tale of a recent widow and her three children at the turn of the century in Boston.  When finances dry up and force the family to move to a tiny apartment, the eldest daughter (Mills) takes it upon herself to inquire about a house they once all fell in love with out in the Maine countryside.  The kindly caretaker (Burl Ives) agrees that they can rent the house, and lovely lighthearted fun and music and romance fill the rest of the story.  Along with Mills and the lovable Ives, it also stars Dorothy McGuire (who also starred with Mills' father John in another Disney classic "Swiss Family Robinson") and Deborah Walley (of "Gidget Goes Hawaiian" fame).

Written by Sally Benson (whose books about childhood were turned into "Meet Me in St. Louis"), it was originally intended as a vehicle for Annette Funicello.  But Mills shines as always as the lead.  She even received a Golden Globe nomination for this film.  Also, there are some great songs in the film by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, like my favorite "Ugly Bug Ball."  I remember watching this on D-TV and Sing Alongs on the Disney Channel (see below).  So much fun!  Also, there is the beautiful "On the Front Porch" (Robert Sherman's personal favorite of all his work), and "Flitterin'" (which can be heard on Main Street at Disneyland). 

So, get out your Hayley Mills fan club cards (I know you have them) and enjoy a Mills marathon this week.  Both films can be found on DVD and you can also find "Summer Magic" here.  Until Friday.  Have a great week, everyone!

(Post-tidbit:  You may have been surprised that Maureen O'Hara didn't get top billing for "The Parent Trap."  Well, so was she, for her contract stated that no other actress would get billing over her.  Yet, when Disney decided to capitalize on Hayley Mills' popularity and bill her as "Starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills" above the title, O'Hara was bumped to after the title.  She wanted to sue, but when Disney made it clear he could destroy her, she backed off...and never worked for Disney again.)

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