Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

________
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Saturday, November 2, 2013

And Begin to Socialize

.
One of the points I keep making around here is that there is very little fantasy in the Haunted Mansion.  It's not like a movie or a show depicting a make-believe world or a world remote in time and/or place.  Nor is it a world that you are watching like God from some unseen vantage point. Quite the contrary; if you stipulate that ghosts exist, everything else about the attraction is presented as if it were a real-world location that you yourself are physically visiting.  As I've said before, I've said this before.


Another, related point that I have made now and then is that the notion that ghosts are real is presented in the HM as truly a fantasy element by anyone's measure, even by people who really do believe in ghosts, since these ghosts turn out to be fun-loving spooks intent on nothing more serious than having a big party.  Even true believers don't think that the spirits of the dead gather in retirement communities and are just itching to come out and boogie.  Without giving it sufficient thought, I have suggested elsewhere that this comic twist is original.  Um . . . not quite. I've changed my mind about that, and this post explains why.


Zest in Peace

Already in "The Skeleton Dance" (1929) you had a cartoon about the dead coming out at midnight for a musical romp, and of course "Lonesome Ghosts" (1937) has impish spirits who scare people for laughs.  Those are perhaps the most famous ones, but there are other early cartoons in the same vein.  They certainly contain elements of the HM formula, but in all cases the jolly spooks are simply characters in a comical fantasy world, so the frolicking doesn't come as any big surprise. By the time the dancing skeletons and jokester ghosts show up, we've already accepted anthropomorphic cats and talking mice the same size as ducks, so it isn't much of a leap.


Besides those, we have already seen (or heard, I should say) that before the Haunted Mansion came along, the basic "silly spook" idea was already there in comic songs about midnight jamborees and swingin' séances and the like.  In my original post on the topic, I overlooked what is perhaps the oldest example of such songs and only added it to the end of the post after it was brought to my attention by faithful Forgottenista Melissa. It's "When the Night Wind Howls," or Sir Roderick's song, from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse (1887).  After adding it to the post, I didn't give it any further thought, but I should have.

The opera was originally called Ruddygore, but after complaints that this was a bit too
gruesome, G & S changed the spelling to Ruddigore.  "Ruddy," of course, means red.

Yep, I should have paid closer attention, because Ruddigore is an opera, which means it's a story, and it has a visual as well as musical presence. It's also a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, which means it's not obscure.  It isn't usually regarded as one of G & S's top tier efforts, but it's still performed regularly enough, and it's even been done as a cartoon (1966) and a TV movie (1982).


As far as I can tell at this point, Ruddigore is the earliest clear example of a popular entertainment presenting the audience with reasonably well-adjusted ghosts who carry on a social life in our world much like the living and materialize at midnight for the sole purpose of having a good time.  Importantly, they manifest themselves in a world that is supposed to mirror our own—within the conventions of comic opera, of course. Liberal as such conventions are, there are not and could not be talking animals or people blithely defying natural laws in Ruddigore. Furthermore, the ghosts are altogether frightening at first, and their predilection for merry-making comes as a surprising new revelation. We have something close to the whole formula here.

I think it not at all unlikely that the Disney Imagineers were familiar with Ruddigore and that it may well have been a seminal influence on people like X Atencio and Marc Davis.  At least in Long-Forgotten land, that qualifies as a big deal.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ruddigore, it's a comedy bordering on farce, burlesquing many of the conventions of stage melodramas.  For our purposes, all you need to know is that the plot involves a family curse that requires the head of a noble family to perform some dastardly deed every day or else die in agony.  The current baronet, Robin Murgatroyd, is too timid and too virtuous to fulfill his duty properly, and it falls to the ghosts of his ancestors to pay him a visit and see that he begins to take his destiny more seriously.  Apparently they can still suffer if the current baronet is negligent in committing his daily crime, and the spirits are prepared to torture him into compliance if necessary.

The critical scene opens with the ancestral ghosts making their appearance by stepping out of their portraits, and their spokesman is a certain Sir Roderick Murgatroyd, Robin's uncle.  After Roderick identifies himself, Robin exclaims, "Alas, poor ghost!"  Roderick's reply is our money quote:

The pity you express for nothing goes;
We spectres are a jollier crew than you, perhaps, suppose!

"We spectres are a jollier crew than you, perhaps, suppose."
Isn't that the whole Haunted Mansion show in a nutshell?
I can't think of a more succinct or a more apt summary.

From The Illustrated London News, Jan. 29, 1887 (Robin is prostrate with terror.)

Roderick and his ghastly company then break into a song about lively spooks come out to socialize.  To the best of my knowledge, it's the granddaddy of them all.  You will recall from our earlier post that this was a popular genre, with exemplars stretching down through a heyday in the 30's and 40's to a last gasp in the 60's with "The Monster Mash" and "Grim Grinning Ghosts."  The lyrics to "Sir Roderick's Song" are strikingly similar to GGG in both form and content, so you might say the genre ends where it began.  As for the tune, I have to admit that it took awhile to grow on me, but I've come to like it.  (Yo, all you guitar heroes out there: it isn't hard to imagine a Metal arrangement. Get busy.)

Sir Roderick's Song (When the Night Wind Howls)


When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, sail over the midnight skies--
When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail, and black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres' holiday--then is the ghosts' high-noon!

CHORUS. Ha! ha!
Then is the ghosts' high-noon!

As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees, and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones are gathered the bones that once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow, to the revel that ends too soon,
For cockcrow limits our holiday--the dead of the night's high-noon!

CHORUS. Ha! ha!
The dead of the night's high-noon!

And then each ghost with his ladye-toast to their churchyard beds takes flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps, and a grisly grim "good-night";
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday--the dead of the night's high-noon!

CHORUS. Ha! ha!
The dead of the night's high-noon!
Ha! ha! ha! ha!


As uncle Roderick strolls about onstage singing about "grisly grim" good-nights and "the welcome knell of the midnight bell" in a booming baritone, it's like seeing a more mobile version of "Uncle Theodore," Thurl Ravenscroft's singing bust.


There are clips of several different performances of this scene on Youtube as of this writing.  THIS ONE is particularly good and includes the entire ghost scene.  In productions like this one, it's difficult NOT to think of the graveyard jamboree in the Haunted Mansion.


For Ruddigore, Gilbert and Sullivan borrowed ideas from their own earlier work.  The device of having ancestors step out of their portraits had already been used in Ages Ago (1869), as we have seen elsewhere, and the lyrics of "When the Night Wind Howls" were inspired in part by a Gilbert poem published previously in Fun magazine:



The flowery, lovesick mood of the poem is unlike anything in the Mansion, but many of the concepts are similar, such as the idea that there are myriads of ghosts running around having a good time, and that they get a bang out of scaring people, and the idea that they greatly appreciate morbid, cold, and corrupted things that we mortals find appalling, which is milked for humorous purposes.  One recalls the Ghost Host's comments about how "delightfully unlivable" the place is, with "wall to wall creeps and hot and cold running chills."


As Puck Would Have It

Another remarkable precursor to the grim grinning premise of the Haunted Mansion can be found a few decades later.  Just as we have in the wake of Ruddigore a string of novelty songs about reveling revenants, so too we have a subsequent graphic presentation of the same basic joke, dating in this case to 1906.

(Credit for this discovery goes to Craig Conley)

We see a group of happy ghosts in 18th century attire, drinking punch and celebrating at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.  Some old walrus in then-contemporary dress is looking on, unperturbed.  His artistic function in the cartoon is to represent us the readers, not terribly different from the sketchy figures Claude Coats put in his concept sketches to represent the Disneyland guests.


There he sits, looking on from his doombuggy, as it were.
Let's crop him out, leaving only ourselves as observers.


You know, that could almost pass for a Marc Davis concept sketch (and Conley is certainly justified in calling it a precursor to Davis's work).  You can easily imagine this little group at one end or the other of the Grand Ballroom.  Of course, the Mansion is up and operating all year round, so Christmas is a poor choice for a celebratory occasion, as it is tied to one spot on the calendar (Tim Burton notwithstanding).  Anonymous celebrations without predetermined dates, like weddings or birthdays, work better in a ride, so we make that simple substitution, and voilà.


The ghost sketch is by Louis M. Glackens and appeared in the November 28, 1906 edition of Puck.  Puck
(1871-1918) was America's first successful humor and satire magazine.  Here's an outrageous cover from 1912:


The magazine featured superb work by a stable of immensely talented
artists, including Glackens, who produced many full-color covers.

(A Glackens cover)

Puck is one of those sources concerning which it is safer to assume that the Disney artists knew it and consulted it than to assume that they did not.  As for L. M. Glackens, he is a very interesting fellow.  In addition to being a great graphic artist, he was an animator for awhile, back in the 'teens, back when the art form was truly in its infancy.  Furthermore, he will forever enjoy a unique and important 
connection to joy buzzers and whoopee cushions.  Immortality indeed.


Now that you're curious, you can read more about him HERE.


Direct Influence?

Gilbert and Sullivan, and L. M. Glackens, are among the earliest talents to present to the public fun-loving ghosts of the type we find in the Haunted Mansion, and some of the details of their work are close enough to the Disney project to raise suspicions about the possibility of direct influence.  I expect that readers out there will have varying opinions about the strength of that possibility.  I don't suppose we will ever know the truth, but in any event, I no longer think that the silly spooks of the Mansion are quite as unprecedented as I once did.


*Some may argue that 1984's "Ghostbusters" qualifies as the last major example of the genre, but I think the song lacks too many of the distinctive features that most comic ghost songs share in common.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Here in This Gallery

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In 1964, Walt Disney spoke specifically about the hallway in the Haunted Mansion where we now see the changing portraits. He said that he...

.               "...wanted something nice for the hall, like werewolves,
.               a Medusa, marble busts that talk, and ordinary-appearing
.               pictures that will change into horrors before the visitors' eyes." *

That's a pretty accurate description of the "Great Hall" as Marc Davis envisioned it.  It's not likely that Walt came up with this detailed scheme and dictated it to his artists.  More likely he's describing—with obvious approval—the artwork that Marc had already shown him.

Marc Davis in 1968, with artwork for the "Great Hall"

We've posted and discussed that artwork on two separate occasions, once to show how receptive Marc Davis was at one point to Rolly Crump's notions of a surreal environment for the Haunted Mansion (A Weirder Haunted Mansion) and once to show how Davis and company planned for awhile to use massive scale to intimidate guests (Does Size Matter?).  So I better have a darn good reason for pulling out that same artwork a third time and placing it at center stage.  As it happens, I have three.  (1) Recently I acquired some fresh copies of those paintings that are better quality than what I had, one of them MUCH better quality, so even though you've seen them before, you may never have seen them this clear and sharp, especially the first one.  (2) Besides the cleaner copies, I've also got a handful of trivia about them that has been sitting patiently in my files, waiting for just such a moment, and I've decided to let them come out and play. One of them might even be charitably described as "serious history," nearly, almost.  After that we'll get to the real meat of the post: (3) an entirely fresh angle on the creative genius of Marc Davis that probably justifies a third go-round with this intriguing artwork.

So you don't mind if I post them again, do you?  Oh you do?  You do mind?  Well, as the poet says, that's just T.S., Eliot, because I'm posting them.



Triviality #1 is trivial indeed, but fun.  It has to do with the date of the two paintings. They were done in either 1964 or 1965. Since Walt seems to refer to them in 1964, you would think that would fix the date. The artwork also appeared in the 1965 Disneyland souvenir guidebook, so it obviously existed before that went to press.


Nevertheless, I'm inclined to assign the two paintings to early '65.  The paintings are nowhere in sight during Walt's tour of Marc's corner at WED during the January 1965 "Tencennial" television show, even though the walls are covered with Marc's and Rolly Crump's concept art, and it's possible that what Walt saw in 1964 were concept sketches of individual paintings and sculptures, along with preliminary sketches for the hall itself, like this:


But the real reason I date them to early '65 (and the only real reason this
trivial little discussion is interesting at all) is something I just recently noticed:


As for triviality #2, I noted in passing in one of the previous examinations of these paintings that they represent the two ends of the same room and should be taken together.  I didn't explain how we know that. Davis left no room for doubt on this point by showing half of the Cat Lady portrait in one painting and the other half in the other painting.


This naturally encourages us to look across the Hall to see if we can identify the painting
chopped in half on that side.  At first glance, the project doesn't look too promising.


But dry those eyes, and please, put down the gun.  I think
this too is a real painting that can be positively identified.


On to triviality #3, wherein I note the curious circumstance that all seven of the paintings shown in the Great Hall really did make it into the finished Mansions, either at Disneyland or Orlando, but none of the sculptures made it. The paintings are Dracula (in his wolven phase), the Cat Lady, the Black Prince, and Medusa along one wall, and what we now know is Jack the Ripper, the Flying Dutchman (in its original form) and the Witch of Walpurgis along the opposite wall.

We need to take a stroll down the Hall to get to triviality #4.  Guests would
have entered through those Crumpish doors at one end, off to the side...

(Look at how beautifully that armor is rendered.)

...with the portrait of Dracula right in front of them (Walt's "werewolves")...


...and a very large bust to the right.  It's hard to make
out any details without moving in closer.  It's creepy.


At the other end of the Hall is the fireplace.  As we have seen previously, Davis did more than one concept painting of that one.  Perhaps he felt that the room had enough talking marble busts and needed something different over the hearth.  We've got a battle axe and medieval mace crossed behind a shield, and from the looks of it, perhaps the face in the shield was going to talk.  Very Crumpish.  Also very Tiki-Roomish.


And this brings us to triviality #4. It has been suggested that the fireplace was actually going to serve as the exit from the room.  Weird, unexpected, and scary.  Perfect, in other words.  If you look at the guide ropes in the sketches, it is clear that guests either exited through the fireplace or had to return and go out the same door they came in, which seems unlikely.

The hearth opening is certainly tall and wide enough to be a doorway, and there are any number of ways the effect could have been achieved. Special effects whiz Yale Gracey could have designed something like that on his lunch hour.  Most interesting to me is that this would have been yet another case of borrowing a page directly from Ken Anderson's playbook. In the original 1957-58 blueprints for his Ghost House, the "Father of the Haunted Mansion" included two rooms from which the guests would exit via secret passages revealed by moving fireplaces.  In the case of the Trophy Hall, even the layout of the room resembles Marc's Great Hall, with animated animal-head trophies along each side wall (= Marc's marble busts) and the moving fireplace in the center of the end wall.



Marc the Lowbrow

More than once I've tried to debunk the stereotype of Marc Davis as a diehard jokester who had no interest in making the Mansion a scary place. Try to find anything funny in these Great Hall paintings.

There's another somewhat related stereotype that can use a little debunking as well, and that's Marc the slightly bawdy, lowbrow entertainer. Because so much of what we receive from Marc's hand in the Mansion is humorous, and so much of this humor is pretty lowbrow, it's easy to forget that he was more complex than this.

The unused "Great White Hunter" gag is a good example of the type of thing Davis is known for.  At one point he conceived of a "Ghost Men's Club" in one room of the HM, and the GWH would have gone there.  I've posted the concept painting before, but most of you have probably not seen Marc's sketches.  The basic gag was simple:  A tiger rug comes to life and bites the ghost of the man who shot him.  Did I say "simple?"  The joke may be simple, but don't ask me to explain the metaphysics.





(David Witt takes the whole thing several steps further.)

It would seem that Marc toyed at one point with the idea of
having the tiger bite the man's boot rather than pants bottom.


Well forget that.  Biting the pants is much funnier. Marc knew and shared Walt's sense of humor, and that meant BUTT JOKES.  Lots of butt jokes. Once you notice it, they're all over the place, a favorite groove in the Disney oeuvre.  If you need proof, this will do as well as any:  Be it known that there are 14 butt jokes in Pinocchio.  That's four freakin' teen.  I haven't really done a detailed count for other films.  I've got other things to do, you know, and what do you think I am, anyway, some kind of PERVERT?  If you really doubt that this sort of humor rang the bell with Walt and Marc, I've got two words for you: Lost Safari.

Think too of the truckload of corn Davis delivers in the Country Bear Jamboree, and then there's my favorite example from the Mansion, a guy in his unnerwear on a keg o' TNT.  It's not for nothing that Marc has a reputation for lowbrow humor.

As for bawdiness and naughtiness, do we really need to go there?  Hmm?  Oh, we do?  Okay, well, there's the obvious example . . .


But in my humble opinion, Marc's wickedest double entendre is here:


You don't see it?  Oh come on, how can you not see it?  There's a rooster on his tippy-toes. You still
don't get it?  A rooster.  And he's standing erect.  NOW do you get it?  Okay, let's change the subject.


Marc the Highbrow

But don't forget that there is also Davis the serious artist, well trained, highly disciplined.  His knowledge of anatomy was excellent.  Reportedly, there was no one at Disney better at drawing realistic animals.  This Marc Davis would tell you that Mary Blair was as good a colorist as Matisse and just assume that you know enough about modern art to know what that means.  He was an expert in New Guinea primitive art.  In fact, he and wife Alice actually bought the house next door to their own so that he could display his impressive collection of New Guinean art there.  He also moonlighted as a "serious" artist, and some of his work from the 1950's, although not groundbreaking by any measure, isn't half bad.

Horses Seeing Red (1950)

Queequeg Pursuing Moby Dick (1956)

The point I wish to make is that sometimes Marc's work on the Haunted Mansion betrays the influence of this side of the man.  As a serious artist and student of the arts, Davis was certainly familiar with the great art collections of Europe, such as the Louvre, the Vatican museums, and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad).  The Western European collection at the latter is among the finest in the world, and those galleries are considered the heart of the Hermitage.

So what?  Well, I strongly suspect that when Davis designed the Haunted Mansion's Great Hall in the form of a large art gallery, he had in mind not only Rolly Crump's surrealistic architectural environment, but also a real world art gallery:  the Hermitage.  Judge for yourselves.

(top photo from Viking River Cruises)

A few additional observations.  You don't see it in the photo above, but
those distinctive red galleries also housed white marble statuary:


How about some purple draperies to go with those red walls?


And those toothsome wall coverings remind me somehow of the Hermitage Throne Room.


In "Does Size Matter?," I pointed out that the Great Hall was massively oversized, part of a scare strategy (subsequently abandoned) of intimidation through sheer bigness.  If you think that this was simply another element of surrealistic fantasy, think again. It's very much an element of real world museums like the Hermitage.  By happy accident, in our earlier photo there's a man standing in the same place as a man in Davis's painting, and the scale is not much different.


Davis was aware that real world museums sometimes overawed their guests with enormous canvases and statuary in monumental settings.  It's not hard to feel like a midget walking among giants.  (One could mention here that the great cathedrals evoke a strong sense of spirituality through sheer, breathtaking scale, as anyone who has ever been in one of them can testify.  Perhaps that's one reason why "Gothic" and "spooky" so easily came to be synonyms?)

So there you have one more example of the richness and depth these talented artists brought to the table from their own experience.  And now, we'll put these pieces to bed, unless and until such time as it seems appropriate to bring them out for a fourth discussion.  Wouldn't surprise me.

*Jeff Baham, Doombuggies.com Presents the Secrets of Disney's Haunted Mansion (2006) p. 14.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Black Prince


.                         
.                                            The first thing to be said is that there is no doubt that this changing portrait
.                                            is called "The Black Prince." It's labeled that way on Marc Davis's concept art.

(Hat tip to GRD)

But no one uses that name.  Everyone calls him something more generic, like "The Knight," or "The Black Knight," or "That guy on the horse."  Even on the blueprints, he's just "Horseman."  But Davis says he is "The Black Prince," and that name refers quite specifically to Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Aquitaine, sire of King Edward III, warrior of renown (1330-1376).  We mentioned him briefly in a former post, but we did not go into any detail.  Very good at slaughtering the French, he was.  For his portrait, Davis probably drew inspiration from a late 19th c. sketch by Walter Paget showing Edward at one of his most celebrated triumphs, the Battle of Crecy.

There was bludddd in the saddle...


The pose is rather conventional, of course.


At least until October of 2015, there didn't seem to be anything mysterious or particularly interesting in tracing the artwork for the Black Prince.
It was another case of Davis nailing it the first time out. There isn't a lot of difference, for example, between his preliminary sketch . . .


. . . and his finished concept paintings, just as there aren't any important differences between those paintings . . . 


. . . and the paintings actually used in the attraction, which were done by Ed Kohn.  There is one amusing difference, however.


Mr. Kohn has discreetly moved Edward's scabbard over to the correct side (actually, you
can't even see it). Edward was a righty, and his scabbard therefore belongs on the left.

As long as we're tittering over mere trifles, here's another tidbit of trivia you might find amusing. Disney artist Collin Campbell was never one to let an unused piece of Marc Davis artwork go to waste. Take for example these nightmarish Davis ghosties. They were never used, but I would point to them as further evidence that Marc wasn't just a jokemeister but was committed to making the Mansion a scary place as well, as I've argued elsewhere.


Anyway, if they seem familiar, that's because Campbell used them in his artwork for the "Story
and Song" souvenir album. I don't know what those things are, but funny is what they are not.


Well, in the case of the Black Prince portrait, Campbell lifted the skeletal horseman from Davis's
original concept painting and this time found a completely different use for one of Marc's creations.


Busted!

Okay, let's get back to the portrait.  Unlike the case with so many of the other changing portraits, there is no evidence that Davis originally planned anything for the Prince other than what we got: a two-stage lightning shift from living horse and rider to skeletal figures.  In other words, there would seem to be no surprises to report at this stage of the game either.  But a major surprise in the history of this portrait was revealed, as I said, in October of 2015. You can read about it HERE.


What Are You Doing Here, Ed?

The only real mystery with Edward the Black Prince is this:  Why is he in a haunted house at all?  There are no ghost stories or anything else supernatural connected with him, so far as I know.  We can, if we wish, visit his impressive tomb in Canterbury Cathedral in search of clues.


.  There we find this epitaph:

.          Such as thou art, sometime was I.
.          Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
.          I thought little on th'our of Death
.          So long as I enjoyed breath.
.          But now a wretched captive am I,
.          Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
.          My beauty great, is all quite gone,
.          My flesh is wasted to the bone.

Sober, yes, even grim, but there's nothing there that would give you goosebumps.

If Edward isn't a ghost, neither is he generally included with "famous villains of history," which was another admission ticket to the Mansion during this period of its development.  Quite the contrary, Edward is regarded as a legendary warrior from Britain's past, a mighty hero . . . more or less. The "less" comes with acknowledging that Edward did have a dark side.  Something about slaughtering women and children now and then, but sheesh, who hasn't done that?  It's so unfair.  One or two massacres and right away you're the bad guy.  But seriously folks, could it be that this less palatable dimension of his story, plus the "Black Prince" title itself (allegedly because he wore black armor), have gradually pushed him over into ambiguous territory, making him villainous and scary?

Probably not.  The problem is, this sort of historical revisionism doesn't seem to have destroyed Edward's reputation (yet?), and it certainly had not done so during the time period we are dealing with.  Ten years before Marc's portrait of the Black Prince, Hollywood had put Edward's story on film in The Dark Avenger (1955), with Errol Flynn in the title role.  Edward looks pretty mean and nasty in the movie poster, but the Black Prince is still very much the swashbuckling good guy in the film.  It's Errol Flynn, remember?


As a matter of fact, if we're looking for possible artistic influences on Davis beyond
the Paget print, could that movie poster right there be a candidate?  Um...maybe.



For Some Reason, Beauty is Deceptive

With no obvious justification for his inclusion, Edward the Black Prince is an intriguing and puzzling member of the Mansion family.  Not surprisingly, this complicates our attempts at interpreting the painting.  All of the other changing portraits present us with something pleasant that transforms into something horrifying. In doing so, every one of them demonstrates the truth that beauty is deceptive, but curiously enough, they offer two distinct arguments in support of that claim.

"Beauty is deceptive because it does not last" (April-December, Master Gracey, the "Flying Dutchman" as a handsome ship destroyed by a storm).

"Beauty is deceptive because it can mask something evil" (Medusa, Cat Lady).

Furthermore, a lot of unused changing portraits could also be cited which fall neatly into one or the other category.  The wilting bouquet of flowers is obviously part of the first group.  So is this unused concept, a terrestrial counterpart to the Flying Dutchman painting.  Call it "Dustbowl," or "The Little Farmhouse that Couldn't." (For both of these, see now the November 2015 updates HERE.)


Several unused "femme fatale" portraits featuring charming young women
taking a homicidal turn just as obviously belong in the second category.

Scroll if you must.

Taking it a step further, one could argue that the two responses can be reconciled as essentially one by recognizing Death as our enemy and never our friend, whether he comes softly with the creeping decrepitude of age and disease or suddenly and violently at the hands of another while we are still in the bloom of youth.  The cold-hearted spirit who animates the homicidal maniac is the same one who patiently takes you apart piece by piece until you can't go another step, even if it takes 99 years. That is a distinctly Christian view of Death. There are many attempts in many religions and philosophies to appease the Reaper, or to ignore him, or to negotiate with him, or to soften him, or to stoicly accept him, or to outright embrace him.  Many attempts.

Screw 'em all. Death must die. In the Eastern Church, and curiously enough also in the writings of the Puritan American Jonathan Edwards, "beauty" is a theological category, a fundamental dimension in spiritual reality.  Consider this: We cannot help mourning over the transitive nature of earthly beauty.  We're always a little sad when our flower does what all flowers do, always a little shocked and disappointed when we see old photos of our various heroes in their youth and compare them with their grayed and brittle-boned present.  But if it has always and ever been thus, why do we stubbornly continue to feel this sense of loss, almost a betrayal?  It's because we know something, instinctively.

Divine beauty never can and never shall deceive. It is Beauty who whispers to us that Death is an alien presence, a mocker, an enemy.

Okay, is he done?  I think he's done.


Part of the Team, or an Outlier?

Is the Black Prince portrait also a commentary on the deceptiveness of beauty?  If it is, which of the two statements does it make?  This is the most interesting thing about the portrait for me.  You can make a case that this changing portrait is like all the others, but to do so you have to claim that (1) the first phase of the painting presents a form of beauty, and that (2) the second phase either foreshadows Edward's tragic mortality ("beauty doesn't last") or reveals Edward as a fiend in human form ("beauty can mask evil").

It's a stretch no matter which way you go.  With regard to the first point, it's true that those scowls don't necessarily mean he's a bad guy.  Witness that movie poster.  And you can claim that what you're seeing is the handsome image of a tough, brave and determined warrior.  And it's true enough that Edward the Black Prince has always been presented as a fearsome fighter but basically a good guy, so why should this be any different?  

Against all this is the fact that we are given no clues whatsoever to help us identify the figure as Edward in the first place, and you have to admit that he looks not just brave but pretty scary with those orange, madman eyes and those bad teeth.


If we're supposed to like him, why not give us something a little more cuddly, like the guy in
the Paget print?  He looks like he could be the lead singer in the latest boy band sensation.


As for the second point, only the fiendish interpretation is really defensible.
No way can this be taken as just another wistful example of memento mori.



If it's ridiculous to look at that and see only a sober reminder that beauty is destroyed in death, it's just as hard to see a shocking, vivid contrast between it and the first phase of the painting, where one is pleasant and positive and the other unexpectedly horrific.

Let's face it; the Black Prince is not like all of the other changing portraits.  I suspect that Davis used extant portraits of Edward only as artistic models for a ferocious horseman and wrote "The Black Prince" on his sketch without giving it much thought, knowing that it didn't matter, because no one would have enough clues to identify the knight with a specific historical character anyway.  If that's the case, we should ignore the title and just concentrate on the portrait itself.

I don't think we're seeing any sort of commentary on beauty at all.  It's something else.  It's a BGGB.


The BGGB Portrait

The Black Prince is hard to place because it represents the only surviving example of something that currently lacks a name.  I do hereby dub this genre, "BGGB changing portrait."  That stands for "bad guy gets badder."  A portrait of someone who is sinister but nevertheless human transforms into something far worse.  Most BGGB's start out with a recognizable historical or literary villain, soon to be revealed as a strange and diabolical creature in human guise.

Originally, there were lots of BGGB's.  Some were never used, and some ended up among the "Sinister 11," following you with their eyes but not transforming.  Among these would be Dracula, the Witch of Walpurgis, Rasputin, and the Wolfman.  (These are all discussed HERE and HERE.)  All look human, and all change into something inhuman.

These BGGBs will give you the Heebie Jeebies

There are other BGGB's, but those are the plainest examples.  The only one of them that starts out with a nameless, generic character is the Witch of Walpurgis, so she would be the closest parallel to the Black Prince if he's going to be read as simply "a fierce and frightening horseman."

That's my explanation, but who knows?  You may come up
with a different solution to the puzzle of the Black Prince.