Happy Birthday to a Timeless Voice

If I had to choose one song in the Disney library to hear for the rest of my life, it would be Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s  “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The lyrics are incredibly moving, speaking to the hopeful child in all of us: if you wish it with all your heart, and of course on a star, your dreams can come true. The melody fits perfectly as well – one is soothed in the belief that, for at least the three plus minute duration of the song, everything is going to be wonderful. The songwriters did an amazing job, and “When You Wish…” has been covered by countless musicians, both lyrically and instrumentally.

However, the original version is the one that remains with me. It’s the version that still plays in the walkway to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. It still makes me slow my pace as I walk through, because I hear that voice, and feel… home.

That voice. Belonging to one man: Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards.

The Man…. The Cricket… The Legend

On this day (June 14th) in 1895, Cliff Edwards was born in Hannibal, Missouri. Before he was known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, as well as Jim Crow in Dumbo, and his appearances on The Mickey Mouse Club in the 50’s, he was a well known vaudevillian, singer and actor. He was the first person responsible for singing this familiar little tune on the silver screen:

Life, sadly, was not kind to Ike. Despite his resurgence as a voice fixture with Disney, he was also a drinker and drug addict with many financial difficulties, a grim reminder that dreams in the real world didn’t always come true. When he died, penniless and unknown in 1971, his body lay unclaimed for several days; no one knew who he was.

I’m hoping that today, many of you, dear readers, will remember and spread the word of who he was: A man who touched the world with his voice. Although his face may not be recognizable, any time you watch Pinocchio or Dumbo; whenever you think “I’m No Fool” as you cross the street; as you pass under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I hope you remember Ukelele Ike.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Edwards. Your life on Earth was not always the easiest, but your voice helped define generations of Disney lovers around the world. For that, we are eternally grateful.

A Thank You Note

Lately, I’ve been looking back, trying to figure out where exactly all of this DisNerdia “clicked” into place for me. I’d been a relative fan of it all my life, loving it as a kid, trying to be “cool” in junior high and not let that love show around the other kids in class. I remember seeing The Little Mermaid shortly after it was released on video, and thinking to myself, “This isn’t bad – for a kid and girl movie.” So what brought me out – what made me truly embrace the nerd within when it came to all things Disney?

Was it a movie?

Was it music?

Was it a person?

As it turns out, it was all of the above, combined into one experience, dating back to my sophmore year of high school. And I wonder if the person involved in this ever realized his actions and words had such a profound effect.

Brian and I were both involved in performing arts in high school, having been in a few shows together and in the same choir class. We knew each other, but in all honesty, that was about it. Then, there was a movie poster that changed everything:

Walt Disney’s Fantasia was going to be released into movie theaters for a limited 50th anniversary run. Last time I had seen Fantasia I was about 8, and, aside from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I remembered little from it. Yet I did want to see it again. Brian put sign ups in the choir room so we could go as a group, and I signed up. As it turned out, not too many people signed up, and it was in question whether the outing would happen. Being 15 years old at the time and having no transportation, I was prepared to not be able to go, but Brian offered me a ride to the other side of town to go see it. I must admit, I felt a little out of place on that car trip, not really knowing anyone all that much on our way across town, feeling a bit like a charity case being taken along for the ride. But it would all be worth it.

Seeing something as innovative and mind blowing as so many of the sequences were on a big screen blew me away. The idea of classical music providing the backdrop for some pretty stunning images (it still amazes me how well early hand-drawn animation has held up over the years) left me pretty speechless. I fell in love with the movie, the accompanying music, and really rekindled my appreciation for the Walt Disney Company as a whole.

The final segment, “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria,” still amazes me with its contrasts of good and evil, chaos and peace.

In Brian, I found someone who shared this appreciation, someone I could talk about the newest releases and soundtracks to, as well as discuss company history and love of theme parks with. Beyond the realm of Disney, this actually helped me realize it was okay to like things some might consider “kids’ stuff.” It was okay to be my own person, with likes and dislikes apart from others. Brian and I kept contact through the years, even turning up (unbeknownst to each other) to the same group interview for The Disney Store. (For the record, we both ended up with part time jobs there!) We have since remained in touch and continue to be friends, one of our common bonds among many being our appreciation for Disney. It’s been nothing short of amazing to see our daughters have so many interests for things such as Disney movies, music and fields such as Imagineering!

This post stands as my thank you letter. To Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski for envisioning Fantasia. To the Walt Disney Company for giving it a 50th anniversary theatrical release. And to Brian, for taking pity on a 15 year old kid and giving him a ride to the theater to see said movie. That small act of kindness meant more than you know in my life.

So, dear readers, do you have anyone to thank for your love of Disney? Parents, friends, teachers, relatives…even Walt himself? Take the opportunity to do so, whether by blog post, a note, or a salute to the “Partners” statue in Disneyland as you walk by.

And then…. feel free to pass that love on.