CC Cinema: The Cars of Walt Disney and The Movie “That Darn Cat”

Sometimes the algorithms on YouTube work in one’s favor.  Among the site’s various suggestions recently was a clip from the delightful 1965 Walt Disney movie That Darn Cat.  Curiosity prevailed, so diving down this fascinating rat hole yielded a couple of novel discoveries that tie into some recent CCs.  Thank you, algorithms.

Enough yammering.  As Disney said, “The way to get started is stop talking and begin doing.”  So let’s go.

Walter Disney was born in Chicago in 1901, the fourth son of Elias and Flora Disney.  At age 4, the Disney family moved to a farm near Marceline, Missouri, a small town that lies along current US 36 in the northern part of the state.  Small town Missouri life left a good impression on the young Disney as he would later model the Main Street of his Disney World theme parks after the business district of Marceline.  Walt discovered his drawing abilities prior to 1911 when his family moved to Kansas City.

In 1918, by which time the elder Mr. Disney had moved the family back to Chicago, Walt attempted to join the Army, helping with the World War I effort.  Being too young to join, Walt reportedly fibbed about his age, becoming an ambulance driver in France around the time of the Armistice.  After his discharge from the Army, he returned to Kansas City.

Disney started an independent illustration company but financial considerations led him to a job with Kansas City Film Ad Company.  While working there, Disney continued making animated commercials for movie theatre use.  While this didn’t provide financial success, it did inspire Disney to move to Hollywood in 1923.

In Hollywood, Disney founded a studio which was soon producing various animated short films.  Among the characters developed was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  However, when a financial discussion revealed Universal Studios owned the intellectual property rights to Oswald, Disney created a new character, named for a mouse he supposedly kept as a pet.

Disney wanted to name it Mortimer.  Disney’s wife thought the name sounded pompous and suggested Mickey.

As an aside, let’s take a moment to discuss Walt Disney himself.  By his own admission he was not the person in private he was in public, once stating “I’m not Walt Disney. I do a lot of things Walt Disney would not do. Walt Disney does not smoke. I smoke. Walt Disney does not drink. I drink.”  There are other elements of Disney that have been subjected to criticism over the years but the intent of this piece is to focus on Walt Disney’s cars and one of the last movies he was involved with along with a nod to his roots.

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon to employ sound was Steamboat Willie.  The loss of Oswald had created hard times for Disney but he was determined to finish Steamboat Willie despite his lack of cash.  Toward the end of production, Disney’s financial situation was dire.

Thus in November 1928 Disney sold his 1926 Moon roadster to meet production costs and payroll.

For those unfamiliar with Moon Motor Cars, the company was based in St. Louis, Missouri, and was in business from 1905 to 1930.  Disney’s car, seen here again in better quality, was built one year after Moon’s peak production volume of 10,271.  Moon was a medium priced car for the time and used Continental sourced six-cylinder engines.

At some point prior to this, Disney is reported as having a used Ford runabout, the car he drove when dating his future wife, Lillian.  Given the time frame, it would have undoubtedly been a Model T.

During the 1930s, Disney’s fortunes rebounded from the financial turmoil Steamboat Willie had created for him.  However, it was quite a while before he bought another new car for himself.

Reluctantly, Walt Disney served as a pitchman for DeSoto in the 1930s, appearing in a number of print advertisements.   Three different ads featuring him were found in researching this.

Some portion of the payment Disney received for appearing in these ads was a new DeSoto – that he gave to his mother.

It seemed Walt Disney loved convertibles and his brother Roy stated Walt always had the top down.

Walt would later reminisce:

We mortgaged our homes, sold our cars and went without things, for a good many years after Mickey Mouse was a big success. I still didn’t have a new car. And I think the first new car that I actually bought, I bought for Mrs. Disney. I still drove around in a little second-hand one that I had. When I got my family and the children, then I had to get a family car, so, at that time, things were going pretty good. I splurged. I got a Packard—a brand new one.

Disney’s new Packard was a 1942 model.  While no model was given, and with Walt Disney’s appearing to be a modest sort of guy, we can only speculate whether he chose the lower trim 160 Series Packard.

With these events now pushing eighty years ago – or better in some cases – the accuracy of the information can be questioned unless there is ample supporting documentation.  Why is this mentioned?

Here is a picture of Disney with what is stated to be his new 1932 Packard.  Might the “1942” found elsewhere by a typographical error?  Or might Disney have had two (or perhaps more?) Packards?

At any rate, we do know Disney had a 1948 Oldsmobile 98 convertible.

There are various gaps of information about Disney’s cars although we do know he bought his last one in 1964.  Frankly, more information is likely awaiting discovery, but online searches for anything about “Disney” and “cars” harvests a boatload of information about a particular Pixar film.  In turn, similar searches for “Disney” and “Packard” reveals Disney Corporation dealings with Hewlett-Packard.  There has been a lot of filtering and excavation to learn what we have thus far.

And the more one digs, the more they discover.  This is Mr. Disney with his 1958 Thunderbird.  How do we know it was his?

Here’s the check Disney wrote for it.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the $4,292 Disney paid for this Thunderbird is equivalent to $38,600 in August 2020.

In 1965, Disney was involved with a feature called That Darn Cat, one of the last movies produced by his studios prior to his death in 1966.  Based upon the 1963 novel Undercover Cat, the movie was hardly groundbreaking but is a solid, and perhaps more memorable, entry in the Disney collection of films.

The cast of the film is where the YouTube algorithms came into play as it ties into two CCs from earlier this year.

The nucleus of the film is two thieves who have robbed a bank and kidnapped a bank employee.  The bank employee is named Margaret Miller, played by Grayson Hall.

While forced to cook for the thieves, Miller finds a cat has entered the premises during his nightly prowl.  Miller scratches a plea for help on her watch and places it on the cat, replacing its collar.  The story unfolds from there.

As an aside, a year or so after That Darn Cat was released, Hall began her role as Dr. Julia Hoffman on ABC’s daytime serial Dark Shadows – a show I’ve been watching on Tubi.  The year prior Hall had been nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Night of the Iguana directed by John Huston.

When the watch collar is discovered by the cat’s owner, Patti, law enforcement becomes involved.  The FBI agent, named Kelso, shows up in his new 1965 Ford Fairlane sedan.

Patti’s boyfriend, Canoe, is seen driving the Ford woody.

In what was no doubt an effort to minimize car acquisition fees, and also perhaps figuring nobody would notice, Kelso’s Fairlane is later seen as belonging to a patron at a drive-in movie.

This picture is slightly prescient as the actor seen here portraying Kelso, Dean Jones, would later reappear with a different Volkswagen in another Disney movie, The Love Bug.

Many of the cars seen in the movie are featured during a scene set at a drive-in movie.  While Ford heavy, there are some notable exceptions.

Here’s an early Wagoneer.

There are some assorted imports toward the back of this picture.

What is claimed to be a Borgward can be seen here.  A second import can also be seen.

Ford is overly represented here with a ’62, ’57, ’60, and ’64 from left to right.  The same ’65 Fairlane is also seen here, just above the ’57 Ford – and next to a ’55 or ’56 Ford.

Only slightly off-topic, the YouTube algorithms presented me with That Darn Cat due to another member of the cast, Ed Wynn.  Wynn plays a jeweler Patti visits.  This was not one of Wynn’s serious roles.

To tie these two cast members to prior CCs, mention of Wynn can be found here and Dark Shadows here.  Yet there is one more piece to tie all this together.

In the movie, the character Patti had an older sister named Ingrid.  Ingrid’s boyfriend drove a white Mercedes 230SL.

This Mercedes is still in existence and, at last report, was owned by the Disney family.  They’ve owned it a long time, since 1964.

In fact, here’s a copy of the check Walter E. Disney wrote when he bought the car.  Yes, this was Disney’s personal car and he rented it to the movie for use at a reported rate of $100 per day.

Was Disney able to rent the car to the movie for 85 days so it would pay for itself?  That’s unlikely but the $8,500 Disney paid for his Mercedes is comparable to $71,500 in August 2020.

Actor Dean Jones recounted the story of Disney and this Mercedes, saying Disney saw the car and was smitten but didn’t think he could afford it.  After a few moments he realized he could indeed afford the car and bought it.  However, he rented it to the studio for movie use to feel better about having spent that much money.

It’s amazing how various pieces can be tied together with a little sleuthing.  That’s not unlike the premise of That Darn Cat.