Sixty years ago, 15-year-old Dave Smith had a chance encounter with Walt Disney at Disneyland. The boy asked his hero for an autograph and, eventually, got it. But if he had known then what he knows now, he would have asked about a few other things.
That's because Smith would go on to found the archives at the Walt Disney Co. in 1970 after pitching the company with a proposal while he was an archivist at UCLA.
"I've always wondered, what if he would have realized then what I would be doing 15 years later?" Smith told my colleague Daniel Miller, in a profile of the man who has cataloged untold numbers of Disney treasures. "And what if I had realized then what I would be doing 15 years later? The questions I could have asked him. It would have saved me a lot of time!"
After 40 years, Smith retired in 2010, but he still works as a consultant for what has become a 24-person department. And in an industry whose efforts to preserve its history can leave something to be desired, he is one of a select group of in-house Hollywood historians.
Dare we say it? It's a small world of preservationists, after all.
The year 2016 hasn't been kind to fans of classic film, TV and music stars. We've lost so many, and around the holidays, the deaths of the big stars of the past feel even more melancholy.
Just over a week ago, the Broadway star who would go on to become America's mom on "The Brady Bunch" died on Thanksgiving at age 82. "She was my mom. She was everybody's mom," Chris Erskine writes in a touching remembrance. "Florence Henderson didn't just play a role, she portrayed an idealized parent few of us had but everybody wanted. Sure, her kids were a handful, but otherwise nearly perfect. She was perfect. Even that big ugly house was perfect. Talk about setting some impossible standards."
Ron Glass, who played the always stylish Det. Ron Harris on "Barney Miller," died the next day at 71. In the early 2000s, he would also gain a following as Shepherd Book in the sci-fi series "Firefly." But do you remember when he played Felix in the short-lived '80s sitcom "The New Odd Couple"?
Earlier this week, Grant Tinker — who founded MTM Enterprises with his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore, and would go on to change the course of TV — died at 90. MTM shows included "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," of course, as well as its spinoffs, "The Bob Newhart Show" and later, "Hill Street Blues." And that was just the start.
Fifty years ago, some pretty daring films would go on to become Oscar contenders. Is this year a repeat?
As Classic Hollywood guru Susan King writes:
"This year's awards contenders feature scenes of foul language, drug addiction and underage gay sex ('Moonlight'), nudity ('Nocturnal Animals,' 'Toni Erdmann'), sexual violence ('Elle') as well as graphic violence ('Hacksaw Ridge,' 'Nocturnal Animals'). The stage for such images on the big screen may have been set 50 years ago when movie audiences witnessed full-frontal female nudity in a mainstream studio film, 'Blow-Up,' as well as strong language in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' and controversial topics in 'Alfie.' "
AROUND TOWN AND ON THE TUBE
Most of the classic holiday TV specials have come and gone, but you can still catch a new "I Love Lucy Christmas Special" tonight, Dec. 2, on CBS.
On Saturday, NBC will show "It's a Wonderful Life," but that won't be the only chance to see the Frank Capra classic. Cinefamily will screen it on Dec. 23 and 24. American Cinematheque has it on Dec. 22 at the Aero in Santa Monica and Dec. 23 at the Egyptian in Hollywood. And that doesn't count the DVD screening at my friends' house where they annually pour themselves glasses of scotch and cry themselves silly.
Turner Classic Movies will show a sleigh's worth of Christmas classics this month, such as "Meet Me in St. Louis," "A Christmas Carol," "Babes in Toyland" and much more.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
— Times film critic Kenneth Turan says we're living through wonderful times and terrible times in what's come to be called "Classic Hollywood."
— He also has a review of the documentary "Mifune: The Last Samurai," in which Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and others shed light on the legendary Japanese actor.
— Susan King talks with a charming Sam Elliott about his long career and his Netflix series "The Ranch."
— Paula Prentiss returns to the screen in a film close to her heart: the ghost story "I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House."
— The remake of "Pete's Dragon" is way better than the original. Really? You decide.
— President Obama gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tom Hanks, Cicely Tyson, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Robert De Niro and many more.
— The film academy bestowed its Governors Awards on editor Anne V. Coates, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and action-comedy star Jackie Chan.
— The Directors Guild of America will honor Ridley Scott with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Direction.
— And finally, Denzel Washington will be celebrated at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival as its 2017 Maltin Modern Master. (Say that three times fast!)