This letter was sent by studio public-relations employee Hazel Garner in reply to an East-Coast silversmith’s request for a Johnny Tremain publicity photo.
Garner handled many such requests, serving in the public relations department for much of the 1950s-60s. This particular request came on the heels of the Summer 1957 release of Walt Disney’s latest live-action feature, Johnny Tremain. The film, another boyish adventure in the vein of the wildly-successful Davy Crockett, would be released first to theaters, then air on the Wonderful World of Disney television program in two parts a year later. It was directed by Robert Stevenson (his first for the studio), who would go on to helm some of Disney’s most memorable films, including the Academy-Award winning Mary Poppins. The title character (played by Hal Stalmaster) is himself a would-be silversmith, apprenticing in colonial-era Boston. After a hand injury compromises his future in the trade, he is recruited by the Sons of Liberty—a secret society that helped spur the American Revolution—soon finding himself smack-dab in the middle of several key events in the colonists’ bid for freedom, including the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, and the earliest battles of the War for Independence.
Walt Disney himself was a staunch patriot and spoke often of his love and appreciation for his American heritage. In fact, he had originally planned to open a Disneyland expansion, known as Liberty Street, to coincide with the film’s opening in 1957. The colonial-era street was set to include thirteen different eighteenth-century style buildings, housing period trades such as silver and blacksmithing, glass and cabinetmaking, printing, etc. It was to also feature two attractions in a public-square area located at the end of the street: a pre-animatronic Hall-of-Presidents-style attraction called “One Nation Under God,” as well as a Declaration-of-Independence-themed show with various tableaux of sculpted figures set to narrations based on specific lines from the document. Neither street, nor square ever materialized in Disneyland, but eventually manifested themselves in altered form years later in the Magic Kingdom’s “Liberty Square” area at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. In fact, the massive live oak tree known as the “Liberty Tree,” which serves as the centerpiece of the land is based on the one featured in the film.
Hazel Garner’s hand-signed reply to Mrs. Emil H. Pflock, whose husband co-owned Wheelock Silversmiths in Newport, Rhode Island, a shop that conducted business from the late 1940s through the mid-1980s, bears bad news, in regard to Pflock’s request for a press photograph of the film’s silversmith shop-front (owned and run by the character Ephraim Lapham):
September 16, 1957
Mrs. Emil H. Pflock
95 Church Street
Newport, Rhode Island
Dear Mrs. Pflock:
We have checked through our still files and found that a shot of the front of the Silversmith’s Shop was not made in still form.
We are sorry that we cannot help you.
With sincere good wishes,
This Disneyland-era “fan-mail” reply, with accompanying Walt Disney Productions envelope, is a nice reminder of a classic feature film, as well as Walt’s enduring patriotism, evident in many of his projects and laying the foundation for an entire land dedicated to such themes and ideals in the Florida incarnation of his beloved park.