By James H. Burns: For Saint Patrick’s Day what could be better than remembering the classic Disney fantasy film, 1959’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, based on the stories of H.T. (Herminie Templeton) Kavanagh….?
What a lovely, wonderful surprise this move was, when I first encountered it some time in my LATE teens, in the early 1980s, on cable! I had remembered getting Darby O’Gill sticker transfers in the late 1960s, or early ’70s, when Disney did some type of re-release. The “stickers” were those neat transfers that came on a transparent sheet that you would place on something, then “rub off” the art by using something on the other side, to complete the metamorphosis! I think the transfers came in packages of Jiffy Pop. But I had never seen the movie.
(Odd, how in the era before VHS, and DVD, you could often encounter a movie years before you ever saw it, via its merchandising.)
Darby O’Gill became, in fact, one of my all-time favorite fantasy films.
And I was a bit stunned that the witches-attack scene from Jack The Giant Killer was lifted from this film. How had I seen Jack, years before? The film was almost legendary in my house, my Dad having seen it in its first release, and then mystified at its seeming disappearance… Finally, one day, in the early ’70s, it was playing about a half hour away in Westbury as a one-showing only suburban matinee… Having postponed seeing it the last time it was in the newspaper listings, about a half-hour further out on Long Island, and then waiting another year — Jack was kind of like a film that Brigadoon-ed for ages –we rushed out to see it! Ah, still in the era of single-screen movie houses….
For years, I searched around for the volume of short stories that Darby is based on by H.T. Kavanagh (Herminie Templeton Kavanagh). I’m a bit of a bibliophile, but even with the advent of the internet, this volume seemed impossible to find. I was delighted, a few years ao, when the book was finally released in paperback (a Doherty and Associates release, NOT to be confused with the movie novelization). There is much fun to be had in the other adventures of Darby, and King Brian, and Pony Sugrue, and Sheila, and the rest of the towns-folk, and the kingdom of the leprechauns.
To this day, I look twice, before throwing a bucket of water outside…
(And now, the short stories can be found in several editions.)
The DVD release of Darby O’Gill has an amazing episode of the Disney TV show, where Walt journeys to Ireland, to — if I recall correctly — directly negotiate with King Brian, for the right to tell the tale. Although in black and white, there is even more of the special charm that makes Darby O’Gill and the Little People so memorable.
And fun to remember that Disney first encountered Albert Sharpe (Darby), when he was starring in Finian’s Rainbow on Broadway. (The movie also stars the delightful Janet Munro, Sean Connery, and Estelle Winwood.)
Finian’s is another extraordinary fantasy tale and musical which, as Francis Ford Coppola admits, he did a terrible job adapting to film. There were plans afoot, at one point, years before the Warner’s movie, to lens Finian’s Rainbow as an animated feature, starring Frank Sinatra. (Tracks were recorded, and released in the past few years.)
The great film historian, John Canemaker, has a terrific article about the lost Rainbow at Michael Sporn’s wonderful animation website, with many of the film’s preproduction sketches, and designs.
But as I cozy up to my corned beef, and possibly even ponder some poteen and, of course, await the return of my fair and lovely one (“her eyes so sparkling, full of fun!”) I note:
That that’s a tale for another day!