Walt Disneys Lady and the Tramp by Ward GreeneIt’s a classic love story, isn’t it: falling in love with some one on the other side of the tracks. We read it time and time again, in classic literature … and not so classic. This time it is a musical version; in fact it was the first animated Cinemascope widescreen feature film to be made. It dates from 1955, although in many ways it is timeless. And its star-crossed lovers are dogs.
It is, of course, the film of “Lady and the Tramp” that I’m describing, and this book was written in 1955, to be distributed alongside the first release of the film. Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp”, is rated at number 95 out of the “100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time” by the American Film Institute.
Nearly everyone must know the story of the female American Cocker Spaniel (a breed similar to the original Cocker spaniel breed, which is English) called Lady. Lady is given a home by a kind, well-off couple, who call each other “Jim Dear” and “Darling”. Right from the start as a cute little puppy Lady is spoiled rotten, and has a wonderful life. She gets to know her neighbours, Jock, a Scottie, and Trusty an old bloodhound. They admire Lady, and try to look after her, realising that she doesn’t really know very much about the real world.
Into their lives strays a disreputable attractive “bad boy” mongrel, called The Tramp. He comes from the other side of town, and says he has an independent free sort of life, “footloose and collar-free”. When Lady ask him if he has a family, Tramp replies that he has, “One for every day of the week. Point is, none of them have me.” But Jock and Trusty disapprove of, and do not like The Tramp. They chase him away, whenever they can. The Tramp continues his carefree life, dining on scraps from Tony’s Italian restaurant. He regularly takes on the local dogcatcher, and with his streetwise cunning, whenever he can, he releases the stray dogs. He is especially protective of his fellow strays Peg, a Pekingese, and Bull, a bulldog, and soon becomes so of Lady, whom he affectionately calls “Pigeon” or “Kid”.
Lady is very confused and miserable, when another new favourite comes on the scene; a new baby. The other dogs shake their heads wisely. Lady will never be so cossetted ever again. The Tramp says that “when the baby moves in, the dog moves out”. Even worse, (view spoiler)[when stern Aunt Sarah comes to visit with her mean Siamese cats Si and Am, poor Lady gets blamed for all the havoc they cause. Things go from bad to worse for her, when she is banished from the house, no longer has her lovely comfortable bed, but is chained to a dog kennel, and has to wear of all things … a muzzle!
Lady manages to escape, and when all the local dogs run wildly after, following her, The Tramp comes to her rescue. Furthermore, in between creating mayhem in the chicken coop, and releasing more dogs from the dogcatcher, he gets his friends in the zoo to help Lady, and the beavers gnaw through the cruel muzzle to release her.
The story follows the two dogs, as they become more and more romantically entangled. Lady herself is even caught by the dogcatcher, and suffers the ignominy of being locked in the cellar. (hide spoiler)]
All ends happily though, as both Lady and The Tramp are given forever homes by Jim Dear and Darling, and the story ends exactly a year from the beginning, at Christmas again. Lady and The Tramp are being photographed professionally, and next to them are, a tiny toddler, and four adorable puppies; three looking remarkably like Lady, and the fourth, a spitting image of his father, The Tramp.
It’s a lovely film, and I wondered if it was solely a Disney enterprise. Quite often, Walt Disney would take his inspiration from famous stories such as J.M Barrie’s “Peter Pan” or Felix Salten’s “Bambi: a Life in the Woods”. Sure enough there is an original story which has nothing to do with Walt Disney.
“Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog”, is a short story written by Ward Greene, first published in a magazine in 1945. Walt Disney read this, and bought the rights to it. During development the cynical dog was renamed several times. “Homer”, “Rags”, and “Bozo” were all tried, before the Studios settled on “The Tramp”.
An in-house writer, Joe Grant, was asked to rewrite the story. He had been chosen because he had already had an idea for this sort of film. He had noticed that his own English Springer Spaniel, “Lady”, had been pushed aside by Joe’s new baby. He approached Walt Disney in 1937, well before Walt Disney had spotted Ward Lock’s short story, with sketches of Lady, and was commissioned to start story development on a new animated feature to be titled “Lady”. All through the late 1930s and early 1940s, Joe Grant and other artists worked on the story, but Walt Disney did not like any of them. Lady was becoming too sweet, and not very much was happening.
In 1949, Joe Grant finally left the studio, but others were still working on the idea. By 1953, the story we know had arrived. Much had been changed. Lady’s owners Jim Brown and Elizabeth were changed to highlight Lady’s point of view. They were briefly called “Mister” and “Missis”, and finally the names “Jim Dear” and “Darling” were chosen. The dog’s perspective is paramount throughout, and we never actually see the faces of “Jim Dear” and “Darling”. Many other events found their way into the story, such as the film’s opening sequence, when Darling unwraps a hat box on Christmas morning to find Lady inside. This scene is inspired by a real life incident, when Walt Disney gave his wife Lily a hat box with a Chow puppy inside, to make up for having forgotten a dinner date with her. However the whole is recognisably based on Joe Grant’s storyboards and Ward Greene’s short story.
Walt Disney had asked Ward Greene to write a novelisation of the film, which was released two years before the film itself, so that audiences would be familiar with the story. However Joe Grant did not receive any credit in the film, either for his original conception of the idea, or for the part he played in developing the story.
There are dozens of retellings of Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, but this is the first. It has plenty of accompanying stills from the film, and certainly conjures up the film as you read it. But it does not have as much verve as the film, such as the chorus of dogs in the pound, singing “Home Sweet Home” or the sentimental masterpiece scene of sharing a plate of spaghetti in a candlelit dinner at Tony’s — with its climax of an accidental kiss as they eat opposite ends of the same strand of spaghetti. (Incredibly this scene was nearly cut by Walt Disney, as he considered it was not romantic and that the dogs might look silly!)
It is an unforgettable, much-loved film. But how about this book? I think it has to remain at 3 stars. It is the one I go to, rather than more recent retellings, but in all honesty, it just makes me want to watch the film again.
Now to track down “Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog” by Ward Greene …
Lady and the Tramp OST - 03 - It Has a Ribbon/Lady to Bed/A Few Mornings Later
More by Brittany Darpino
A rich, sheltered girl falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks. He steals her heart but also introduces her to a far more dangerous world. Only a harrowing, life-threatening rescue operation can save his life and bring the two lovers back together. That description overlaps with any number of dramas about love and class divisions. While Lady And The Tramp may be one of the most grown-up entries in the Disney canon, it masks its complex themes behind lush animation and subtle storytelling.
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Many years have passed since it was on theaters for the first time in and it keeps moving hearts. The Walt Disney movie captures the essence of dogs really well. Your dog begging you to sleep on your bed? It is really interesting to learn how a movie was made and these two videos show everything about the concept, the selection of the real dogs behind the characters and how the drawings, the animation, the voices, etc. Leave a comment about your favorite part of the movie! You are commenting using your WordPress.