317: Disney’s first professional motion picture camera
WALT DISNEY’S FIRST PROFESSIONAL MOTION PICTURE CAMERA - This Universal (Burke & James) 35mm Model A hand-crank motion picture camera (serial number 2388) measures approx. 11 ¼ in. x 12 in. x 4 ¾ in. and is built with a black wooden housing with heavy gauge aluminum hinged doors on both sides featuring an engine turned finish. The left door exhibits "Arabian Nights Cartoons Rudy-Max-Hugh” hand-painted in black. The three fledgling animators, Rudolf Ising, Carmen “Max” Maxwell and Hugh Harman worked at Walt Disney’s first animation company, Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. based in Kansas City. Laugh-O-Gram was started by Disney in 1922 and produced a series of fairy tale cartoons including Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Cinderella and, in the spring of 1923, the Alice’s Wonderland series which combined live action and animation. With money raised from stock, the company purchased equipment including a used Universal camera. During the declining months the company’s Universal camera was used by Walt Disney and Red Lyon to shoot news for Pathé and Universal newsreels. The company faced mounting debt and enlisted new investors and loans. Fred Schmeltz, who owned a hardware store, secured his loans with a chattel mortgage and on paper became the owner of all the company’s equipment. In 1923 Disney used $40 to move to California. Bankruptcy proceedings for Laugh-O-Gram were instituted in October 1923. In the meantime, Ising, Maxwell and Harman, still smitten by the animation bug, decided to see whether they could succeed where Laugh-O-Gram had failed. According to authors Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman in their 1992 book entitled Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney, “Fred Schmeltz was now the legal owner of the Laugh-O-Gram equipment, and Harman, Ising and Maxwell approached him early in the fall of 1923 and arranged to buy some of it. Armed with the Universal camera and its stand, two animating booths, and miscellaneous other equipment from the failed company, they tentatively launched a studio of their own under the name ‘Arabian Nights.’ Unfortunately, Arabian Nights Cartoons did not fare any better than Laugh-O-Gram, and in late 1924 Disney invited Harman and Ising to California to join him once again. Copies of the original Laugh-O-Gram bankruptcy documents obtained through the National Archives and Records Administration are included with the lot. Among the numerous pages, is a listing of assets purchased from Laugh-O-Gram by Rudolph Ising, Hugh Harman and Carman G. [“Max”] Maxwell: “…two animating booths, one punch, one camera and stand, one re-wind table, one copy-o-graph, one inking table, one steel cabinet, two chairs…” The camera is in working order and was discovered missing the hand crank and front metal panel which have been faithfully recreated. This Universal camera remains as the first professional movie camera owned by Walt Disney to produce animation. The fact that it was also used by Rudy Ising, Hugh Harman and Max Maxwell is an added bonus since they later formed the core team at Warner Bros. animation studio. Worthy of inclusion in the finest animation collections, the importance of this camera cannot be overstated.