Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action Edition. The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We’ve done all the animated films, so we’re doing the live-action films The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band

Year: 1968

Source materials: The Family Band: from the Missouri to the Black Hills, 1881-1900 by Laura Bower Van Nuys.

Box office: $2,250,000

Plot: The Bower Family Band petitions the Democratic National Committee to sing a rally song for President Grover Cleveland at the party’s 1888 convention. On the urging of Joe Carder, a journalist and suitor to eldest Bower daughter Alice, the family decides instead to move to the Dakota Territory.

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There, Grandpa Bower, a staunch Democrat, causes trouble with his pro-Cleveland sentiments. The Dakota residents are overwhelmingly Republican, and hope to get the territory admitted as two states (North and South Dakota) rather than one (so as to send four Republican senators to Washington rather than two). Grandpa’s actions result in family strife, including nearly costing Alice her position as the town’s new school teacher. The budding romance between Joe and Alice also suffers.

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In the end, more ballots are cast for Cleveland, but Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison nonetheless wins the Electoral College vote, and the presidency. Before he leaves office, Cleveland grants statehood to both the two Dakotas, along with Montana, and Washington, evening the gains for both parties. The Dakotans, particularly the feuding young couple, resolve to live together in peace.

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Background: The film was originally planned as a two-part television show titled The Family Band. Walt Disney had asked the Sherman Brothers for their help on the project, feeling the story was too flat. The film reunited Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson as the romantic leads in a Disney musical, having previously been paired in The Happiest Millionaire. Disney hired Walter Brennan to play Grandpa Bower because the actor reminded Walt of his father.

The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Originally intended to run 156 minutes, the Music Hall requested 20 minutes of cuts. Disney responded by cutting the film to 110 minutes. Among the cuts were “Westerin'” and “I Couldn’t Have Dreamed it Better.” The 110-minute version is the only one that ever saw a release. It aired on The Wonderful World of Disney in two parts on January 23 and January 30, 1972.

Songs: The Sherman Brothers wrote eleven songs for the film

  • “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band”
  • “The Happiest Girl Alive”
  • “Let’s Put It Over with Grover”
  • “Ten Feet off the Ground”
  • “Dakota”
  • “‘Bout Time”
  • “Drummin’ Drummin’ Drummin'”
  • “West o’ the Wide Missouri”
  • “Oh, Benjamin Harrison”
  • “Westerin'” (deleted)
  • “I Couldn’t Have Dreamed it Better” (deleted)

Cast: Walter Brennan returns as Renssaeler Bower, Buddy Ebsen returns as Calvin Bower, and Richard Deacon returns as Charlie Wrenn. Goldie Hawn makes her film debut in a small role. 1

John Davidson as Joe Carder. Best known as a television host in shows like That’s Incredible!, Time Machine, Hollywood Squares, and a revival of The $100,000 Pyramid in 1991. Davidson made his film debut in The Happiest Millionaire, alongside Lesley Ann Warren. Other films include Coffee, Tea, or Me, The Concorde … Airport ’79, Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders II,. and Edward Scissorhands. He was a regular player on many anthology and variety series of the 1970s–80s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Love American Style, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Spenser: For Hire. He was a regular guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and hosted the show 87 times. Lesley Ann Warren as Alice Bower. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Victor/Victoria. She also made her film debut in The Happiest Millionaire in 1967. Her other film appearances include Clue, Burglar, Cop, Pure Country, Color of Night, and Secretary. She has also appeared in numerous television shows, including Mission: Impossible, Desperate Housewives, Will & Grace, and In Plain Sight. Recently, she appeared in the third season of Daredevil.

Janet Blair as Katie Bower. She was a big band singer and her film roles include My Sister Eileen, Tonight and Every Night, The Fabulous Dorseys, I Love Trouble and The Fuller Brush Man. Kurt Russell 2 as Sidney Bower. As a child and teen he appeared in several Disney films such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and its two sequels: Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World. In 1980, Russell was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for the made-for-television film Elvis. His many roles include Escape from New York and its sequel, Escape from L.A., The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Overboard, Silkwood, Backdraft Tombstone, Stargate, Miracle, Death Proof, The Hateful Eight, Furious 7, The Fate of the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and will appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Critical Reception:

  • Edit Renata Adler of The New York Times called the film “about as pepless and fizzled a musical as has ever come out of the Walt Disney Studios.”
  • Variety described it as “an overly-contrived feature which soon forgets its promise and premise and turns instead to a political mishmash of events which has little novelty.”
  • Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times wrote that the film “is, I am afraid, the worst Disney movie in a long time.”

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My take: I think this film could have used a little more polish to it. The songs are not up to the Sherman brothers usual standards. I think about the Dakota territory and how these hoopleheads would have faced against Al Swearagen.

Next Week: One of my favorites, The Love Bug