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Arts & Culture

Fact-checking Saving Mr. Banks with Disney historian Jim Korkis

Live Active Cultures

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Film: Travers left Hollywood without signing the rights agreement, and Walt Disney flew after her on the next plane. Disney finally persuaded her by bonding over their mutual daddy issues.
Fact: “Walt did not immediately hop on a plane to follow her to England when she left, but the contract was quickly signed. … It is doubtful that Walt even knew anything about her father or her issues about him. There is certainly no evidence that the topic ever came up. Travers herself was prone to denial about anything unpleasant. … Walt never considered his years delivering newspapers for his father in Kansas City as traumatic, but just considered it hard work. As a skinny 9-year-old boy, he did struggle with snowdrifts higher than he was.”

Film: During the premiere, Travers covered her face, rolled her eyes and wept.
Fact: “Travers did weep during the film. She later wrote, ‘Tears ran on my cheeks because it was all so distorted … I was so shocked that I felt I would never write, let alone smile, again!’ At the end of the film, she immediately went to Walt and demanded the entire ‘Jolly Holiday’ animation segment be cut out completely. Walt responded, ‘Pamela, that ship has sailed.’”

Film: Fade out on an uplifting note, implying Travers came to terms with Disney’s adaptation.
Fact: Travers “disliked the film and often said so in interviews and private letters and then insisted that she not be quoted. She told her publisher that the film was ‘all wrapped around mediocrity of thought, poor glimmerings of understanding.’” However, in 1987, when she was in the process of writing a sequel, she watched Mary Poppins again for the first time in 20 years and “found that she liked much of the film and wanted to use some of the elements in the sequel that had been created by the Disney writers.”

Film: Walt Disney was present at Disney’s Burbank studios during the time Travers was there working on the Mary Poppins script.
Fact: “Walt Disney got fed up after the first day and went to his vacation home in Palm Springs, hoping the Sherman Brothers would ‘work something out’ with Travers.”

Film: Co-composer Robert Sherman (Novak) was combative with Travers, while his brother Richard (Schwartzman) played peacemaker.
Fact: “While Robert was less patient than his brother Richard, he was never openly combative with Travers, despite his frustration. A nice attention to detail is that he did use a cane, something most Disney fans never knew. By the way, the film used his recently released autobiography, Moose, for some of the details in the film.”

Film: During her visit to Los Angeles, Travers befriended her studio chauffeur (Paul Giamatti), who had a disabled daughter.
Fact: “The studio chauffeur was a composite character. Disney story editor Bill Dover was Travers’ ‘babysitter’ during her visit and accompanied her to the premiere so she was not alone. … A costumed Mickey did not extend his arm to march her into the theater.”

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