By Kaylee Brewster
The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley is full of history and historical figures, and perhaps one the valley is most proud of is Walt Disney.
Growing up in the area, I heard many stories about how the great Walt Disney was married here. More recently, I heard a rumor shared through social media that the opening of Disney movies — the one that pans down from the sky, across a river and toward the iconic castle — was based on the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
I called baloney on that one.
Why on earth would a Disney employee decide to animate an opening sequence using the town that Disney was married in? Who would go that deep into Disney history for a 30 second sequence? After all, a river with a bridge isn’t a unique geographical or civil engineering feature, so why were Lewiston and Clarkston residents clinging to this theory?
Rather than turn to social media and the internet, I went to the source: Disney.
That’s right, I went straight to the top.
OK, so maybe not the top. I didn’t email Disney CEO Robert Iger, but I did manage to get a return email Feb. 12 from Jeffrey Epstein, director of corporate communications at the Walt Disney Company. Epstein directed me to D23, the official fan club where Disney archivist Dave Smith would answer questions. Unfortunately, Smith died Feb. 15.
However, on the forum is a question posted by Bill of Stratford, Conn., asking, “Is the castle that is shown before most Disney movies modeled after any of the Disney theme park castles or is it a combination of a few?” Smith’s reply to the question was: “It is a stylized version of the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Castles. Viewers often chuckle because the water effect makes it look as if you would have to swim to get into the castle.”
In his email to me Epstein also said, “On background, there is no recorded information as to it being inspired by any real-world places.”
Local historian Steven Branting has asked the same question.
“I have been assured by Disney archivists that the titles do not portray the valley. The scene is a compilation of many scenes from Disney feature films,” Branting said.
So there you have it. It’s not based on the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. I also attempted to contact one of the animators of the sequence, Cameron Smith, after finding his work, including the opening, on behance.net but did not receive a response. On that website Smith explains the technical aspects of the animation in the sequence, which debuted in 2006 with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” He does not go into the inspiration for the scene.
The Disney connection: Mrs. Disney
Even if the opening of Disney films isn’t based on the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, there are several Disney connections to the area, most notably Disney’s wife, Lillian (Bounds) Disney.
According to a report Branting wrote for the Disney museum, Lillian was born in Lapwai and attended high school there. Her father died while she was in high school. In 1920, she and her mother moved to Lewiston, and she attended Lewiston Business College. Her sister, Hazel (Bounds) Sewell, was living in California and told Lillian she could get a job there. That job ended up being at Disney Studios, and the rest is history.
In 1925, when the Disneys were married, they came into Lewiston on the train and were married at her brother’s home at 918 Third St., according to Branting.
“They were not married at the Episcopal church,” Branting said. “The rector of the Episcopal church came over to perform the wedding.”
The Disneys never lived in Lewiston. Although Lillian visited the valley, especially after Walt’s death in 1966, “I haven’t seen any indication that he visited,” Branting said.
Neither Walt nor his wife are buried in the valley either. Both are buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.
The Disney Connection: His name
So it looks like Disney himself didn’t actually spend much time in the area, but there is another, less well-known local Disney connection.
Disney’s full name is Walter Elias Disney, his father’s name was Elias, so who’s Walter?
According to Branting’s book “Hidden Lewiston,” Walter Parr was a minister in Chicago where Walt was from. Walt’s father, Elias Disney, and Parr were friends and both of their wives were pregnant at the same time. The men made a deal that if either had a son he would name him after the other man. When both women gave birth to boys, Walter Disney received Parr’s name.
Parr was eventually transferred to Lewiston, serving at Pilgrim Church and Orchard Church. He died of influenza and pneumonia on March 22, 1921, and is buried in Normal Hill Cemetery.
So, when Disney came to Lewiston to marry Lillian they were married “three blocks from where the man he’s named after was buried,” Branting said.
The Disney connection: His employees
Another Disney connection, cartoonist Merle Gilson, was from Lewiston and graduated from the University of Idaho. Gilson worked as a cartoonist for Disney in the early years as the chief animator of the Oswald the Rabbit shorts, according to Branting’s book “Hidden Lewiston.” He left Disney to work for Walter Lantz, known for creating Woody the Woodpecker. When Gilson retired, he returned to Lewiston and would draw personalized cartoons for local children, according to Branting. He died on Aug. 28, 1989.
Another Lewiston resident didn’t work for Disney, but her husband did. Julie Gibson (born Camille Sorey) had her own varied film career, according to a column Branting wrote for the Lewiston Tribune. Gibson met and married Charles Barton, who worked for Disney Studios directing “The Shaggy Dog” (1959) and “Toby Tyler” (1960).
While the valley might not be the inspiration for the Disney opening sequence like some residents would like to believe, it has more than enough ties to the iconic studio head to make up for it.