enormous success of the Jazz singer in early 1928 had sent Hollywood in a furore over the prospect of
talking pictures. Studios and theatre owners were divided in their
reaction to sound, but the voice of the public was clear
talkies meant big business. While many
producers debated the merits of converting to all-sound production,
Disney saw his opportunity to provide something unique: a synchronous
test was made if a scene for the third Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat
Willie. "When the picture was half finished, we had a showing
with sound" Disney later recalled. ”A couple of boys
could read music and one of them [Wilfred Jackson] could play
a mouth organ. We put them in a room where they could not see
the screen and arranged to pipe their sound into the room where
our wives and friends were going to see the picture. The boys
worked from music and sound effects score. After several false
starts, sound and action got off with the gun. The mouth organist
played the tune, the rest of us in the sound department blamed
tin pans and blew slide whistles in the beat. The
synchronism was pretty close.
effect on our little audience was nothing less an electric. They
responded almost instinctively to this union of sound and motion.
I thought they were kidding me. So they put me in the audience
and ran the action again. It was terrible, but it was wonderful!
And it was something new!"
details of this now-historic screening vary from account to the
other, but the effect was the same on every participant. Ub Iwerks
later said, "I've never been so thrilled in my life. Nothing
since has ever equalled it" The tiny Disney crew which
consisted of Walt, Roy, Ub, Les Clark, Johnny Cannon and amateur
musician Wilfred Jackson had discovered the miracle of talking pictures.
reaction to the completed Steamboat Willy duplicated the excitement
of that private test screening months earlier. The idea that make-believe
cartoon characters could talk, play instruments, and move to a
musical beat was considered nothing short of magical.
In 1932 the distinguished critic Gilbert Seldes noted: "The
great satisfaction in the first animated cartoons was that they
used sound properly the
sound was as unreal as the action; the eye and the ear were not
at war with each other, one observing a fantasy, the other a actuality.."
Edited excerpt p. 34 - 35
Mice and Magic : A History of American Animated Cartoons
by Leonard Maltin
- 485 pages Rev Rei edition (May 1990)