New evidence for retooled Mickey short?: First Draft Steamboat Willie Script

I saw an article that suggests the first draft script of ‘Steamboat Willie’ is going up for auction and it contains some interesting areas for consideration.

To recap:  It has been suggested that ‘Steamboat Willie’ was always planned to be a sound short; animation synced with recorded sound.  This is true in a sense but my conjecture is that the short started out as a typical orchestral piece (played with accompanying orchestra in the live theater as was custom in that day) but was retooled to fit into Walt Disney’s new vision of animation synchronized to sound played back from a recording.

In previous post I pointed to an Exhibit A (although technically Exhibit A might be the actual reconstructed timeline of how everything played out in the making of the film).  That exhibit was the notes to the orchestra that suggested how they should approach their music and sound (effects) to achieve the best possible theater experience for their audience.

There are at least three new items of interest revealed in this ‘first draft’ script.

The first is on the cover page where the note at the bottom appears to state “inc New Sound timing Sheets”.  I only assume the first three letters are “inc” (inclusion) as the copy I have is very pixelated.  I hope whomever purchases this script may release clearer copies.

Secondly, I note some interesting capitalization that leaves the word “timing” lower case.  This odd capitalization  continues in other places in the document and it’s hard to say whether this was largely due to general typist practices of the day.  In other words, it might have been meant to be capitalized but the editing practices of secretaries in those days might have deemed that not worth correcting.  Other typos in the document (I’ll guess they are mostly misspelled words) are visibly corrected.

So… here then is our Exhibit 2A:


So, why is the important?

Consider:  As a ‘first draft’ everything is new right?  If all is new then why do we need to take the time to specify the inclusion of “New Sound timing Sheets”?

The answer to this shouldn’t surprise us.

This first draft script isn’t the first ‘script’ of ‘Steamboat Willie’.

We’ve already seen that ‘script’ in its storyboard form (as seen in earlier post… our Exhibit A).

But let’s move on.

We’ll skip over some interesting things in the middle and head to the end of the script (that is to say from what I have currently available) and head to a familiar looking page.  We do need to return here to the middle some day however because it reveals some very important things about Walt and his approach to animation as well as his thoughts concerning staying on the cutting edge and ahead of any competition.  But please remind me about this as we don’t have time to go there today and that isn’t what we want to focus on here.

In this, an Exhibit 2B, we see that old familiar set of instructions to the orchestra but note the large red X that now removes it from production consideration.


I can almost see Walt’s red pencil going into action as if to impress upon those helping him achieve his vision, “We won’t be needing THAT anymore in our animation fellas’.

We are seeing ‘history’ in the making folks.  It’s rolling out before us on the page in real time.  Now it just needs to be further replayed, reviewed and studied.

Ladies and gentlemen.  ‘Steamboat Willie’, a Walt Disney short film which at first had been set up like it’s companion shorts to receive the orchestral accompaniment of that day was now set via this first draft script to proceed along a very different pathway.

Epilogue?:  Walt’s interest in maintaining secrecy is still a matter of interest and speculation in our discussion but we can’t wish our way to easy answers.  The fact remains that there is more to this story and hopefully we can all see that the details of how ‘Steamboat Willie’ came to be the first animated ‘talkie’ can be further studied and the film’s true provenance revealed.  This is an important a part of animation history.

Submitted for your consideration.



P.S.  The script in question (first four pages?) is reportedly being auctioned on 24 Oct 2016 (via phone) by S/R Labs and can be had for (a minimum bid of) $300,000.  LINK

About Rodney

Cartoonist and Animator! I'd tell you more but then I'll have to debrief you.
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