Disney: An Event-ful Day with the Marvelous Mary Costa
*Another in a series on Disney events with which I’ve been involved. To read about my interview with Fess Parker (Disney’s Davy Crockett), click HERE. For songwriter Richard Sherman (Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, Small World, etc.), click HERE.
Early March, 1999: The Walt Disney Art Classics team was elbow deep into the final pre-event phase of the first-ever WDAC convention. Planning had been underway for months, limited edition products had been created, and the buzz was good. The three-day extravaganza, slated for The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, had sold out quickly. For — in addition to the cool products — we’d planned quite a show, and my friend Tim O’Day and I divided up the hosting duties among a very impressive guest list.
Marc Davis confers with Mary Costa early in the production of Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Disney Legend Marc Davis would be there with his wife (the amazing Alice Davis, an Imagineer and costume designer in her own right) to preside over a special behind-the-scenes tour of The Haunted Mansion attraction. Tim would host a seminar the next day with Marc, as well as one featuring Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Alice (in Alice in Wonderland) and Wendy in Peter Pan. I drew hosting/writing duties for the opening night trivia contest in the Hall of Presidents (for those who were there: Giclee’ to you) and “Good Morning, Art Classics,” a talk format show where I’d interview artists and executives interspersed with old Disney commercials. I knew both would be great fun, but the seminar I looked forward to the most was the one I’d host on Day Three with one of my favorite Disney people of all time: Mary Costa, voice of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.
Mary Costa with me following the interview, back when I wore suits to work
I’d worked with Mary once before — at an event in suburban Chicago — and knew she was a crowd favorite and a lot of fun. One of the challenges of interviewing the same guest multiple times is to not let your material get stale. At the show in Chicago, we’d stuck to the basics: how she got the part, when she met Walt, what it was like to work with the other voice performers. I showed multiple clips from the film, discussed them with Mary, and took questions from the crowd. It was fun, especially since it was the first time we’d appeared together.
For the convention, however, I was determined to wow the audience and surprise Mary (not necessarily in that order) by mixing in some non-Disney material as well, since she followed her early voice work on Sleeping Beauty with appearances on film and live television before settling in to a long and successful opera career. I dug for clips, and came up with these: her feature film debut in Marry Me Again (1953) with Bob Cummings, her delightful duet of “Mutual Admiration Society” with Rory Calhoun (he nearly held his own!) on the November 11, 1956 episode of Jack Benny’s “Shower of Stars,” and a clip of her singing “Ouvre ton coeur” (from Bizet’s Vasco de Gama) on the February 15, 1960 Frank Sinatra Timex special “Here’s to the Ladies.”
*JUST ADDED 6/27/08: I’ve recently located some of my old event source tapes, and HERE’S a post about Mary’s duet with Rory Calhoun featuring the video clip.
The convention began on March 19, and the opening program went well. The trivia contest turned out to be a hoot when Disney “experts” from around the country were stumped by question after question. The tour of the Mansion was a blast, and guests had a great time visiting with Marc and Alice. Day Two also went off without a hitch, with Tim’s first seminar and “Good Morning, Art Classics” playing out to a filled house.
Day Three brought the seminar I’d been waiting for. I introduced Mary to a great ovation, and we began the program. A few minutes in, I said that I had a couple of surprises in store. We rolled the Marry Me Again clip, followed by a live TV commercial she had done for Chrysler with Bill Lundigan. Finally, we rolled the song with Rory Calhoun.
Mary watching a clip of her performance in Marry Me Again on the stage monitor while it plays on one of the big screens beside us. And, yes, we are both seated on huge red velvet-covered thrones.
The look on her face as she slowly recognized the “Shower of Stars” duet made all of my research worth it. Mary confided to me later that she hadn’t seen the Marry Me or Sinatra clips in years, and couldn’t remember ever seeing the duet. It was an unforgettable moment in a delightful interview, but — like the rest of the convention — it all passed too quickly. Unfortunately, it was also the last time many Disney fans would see Marc Davis.
I’d already worked several events (and logged thousands of air miles) with Marc & Alice by the time of the convention, and we worked a final event together that June. Sadly, Marc passed away on January 12, 2000, but I had the opportunity to interview Alice as part of the 2003 convention. In addition to being an amazing artist, Marc was a delightful human being and a true gentleman. It was an honor to have known him, and to have heard first-hand his stories of working with Walt and the thousands of talented people who made the Disney Studio what it was.
I was also privileged to host several subsequent events with someone I first met at the 1999 convention: Kathryn Beaumont. Kathryn, who is as delightful in person as she seems on a movie soundtrack, became an elementary school teacher in Burbank in her post-Disney days. She always took time to inquire about my children, and we enjoyed chatting about early childhood education when we weren’t on stage discussing Alice and Peter.
But by far my favorite memory of that first convention was surprising Mary Costa. Over the next few years, I did ten other events with her in venues both large and small, but I’ll never forget her expression when Jack Benny introduced her and Rory Calhoun, and they began to sing.
Mary meets my daughter Erin (not quite two years old at the time) backstage