Originally released in 1955, the timeless Walt Disney film Lady and the Tramp is as relevant today as it was more than 60 years ago. The animated musical adventure about two lovable dogs never grows old and continually delights fresh generations of fans.
The tale remains so popular that a new, live-action version is going to be released by Disney this autumn, featuring the well-to-do cocker spaniel, Lady, whose life changes forever after she meets streetwise mutt, the Tramp.
What many fans may not know is that Lady is based on a real dog, owned by Disney story-writer Joe Grant in the 1930s. The tale was originally going to be called Lady, but the film studio felt she was too sweet and said the plot needed spicing up.
To create the partnership of the two dogs, the Tramp (an invention of American author and playwright Ward Greene) was drafted in to liven up the tale. He is believed to have been a fictional character, unlike Lady, who was inspired by Grant’s English springer spaniel, Lady, in 1937.
Lady and the Tramp is Disney Studios’ 15th animated feature film. New York-born Grant joined Disney Studios in 1933 as an artist and writer, first working on Mickey Mouse cartoons. Over the years, he became a Disney legend, also working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Dumbo in 1941 and Pinocchio and Fantasia, both released in 1940.
He began writing the real-life adventures of Lady in the late 1930s, drawing some sketches of her. He showed the colourful drawings to Walt Disney, who liked the idea. He commissioned Grant to start developing the story, planning a new animated film, called Lady.
Grant collaborated with other artists to work on the plot during the late 1930s and early 1940s, but whatever they suggested, Disney wasn’t happy with the storyline, deciding Lady was too “sweet” and that there wasn’t enough action.
With other big-budget films in the making, not to mention Disney’s propaganda cartoons to support the United States’ war efforts during World War II, plans for Lady were shelved for the time being.
The film was resurrected in 1945, after Disney read Greene’s short story in Cosmopolitan magazine, Happy Dan the Whistling Dog – also known as Happy Dan the Cynical Dog. As his name suggested, Dan had a habit of whistling all the time.
In the original story, it was said Dan started whistling to mess with the pedigree dogs, who always mistook his whistle for their masters’ commands. The well-trained “kennel club” dogs would begin to jump around in response to the whistle, causing Dan great amusement!
Disney had the idea of teaming Happy Dan up with Lady. It would be an interesting idea for a pampered pooch like Lady to fall for a streetwise mutt like the Tramp. In the film, he was apparently a Schnauzer mix with terrier ancestry.
Disney bought the rights to Greene’s story and the scriptwriters began drafting the plot of Lady and the Tramp, based partly on Grant’s original drawings and ideas, but adding Greene’s street dog character. It took them some time to decide on his name, as they didn’t like Dan. They tried Rags, Homer and Bozo, before coming up with Tramp, which everyone liked.
The plot revolves around Lady, who lives with a wealthy family in America in the early 20th century. Barbara Luddy, a former silent film star, from Montana, provided Lady’s voice. When the pampered dog’s owners go on holiday, Aunt Sarah comes to dog-sit, but she has two Siamese cats, who are out to cause trouble for Lady.
The cats are very sneaky and lead Aunt Sarah to believe that the dog is misbehaving. Lady is taken to the pet shop, where Aunt Sarah intends to buy her a muzzle. Lady runs away, feeling scared, but some street dogs chase her.
Tramp spots the fracas and rescues Lady from the dog pack. His voice was provided by the American actor and comedian Laurence “Larry” Roberts. Although Lady and the Tramp come from different social classes, they hit it off straight away and fall in love.
They visit the zoo for a day out and then Tramp arranges a romantic candlelit dinner. In the most famous scene of the whole film, they eat spaghetti at an outdoor table, while Tony, the kindly owner of the Italian restaurant, provides a musical serenade on his concertina.
When both dogs try to eat the same piece of spaghetti, their lips come together for an accidental kiss.
Tony’s voice was provided by George Givot, an actor and comedian on Broadway, whose background was in vaudeville. Prior to Lady and the Tramp, he had starred as Lombo Campos in the 1944 Cole Porter musical, Mexican Hayride.
Tony is also the chef at his Italian restaurant and he has a great affection for Tramp, always feeding him outside. He recognises how Tramp protects two other stray dogs, Peg the Pekingese and Bull the Bulldog, making sure they’re not picked up by the dog-catcher.
After many adventures, the story has a happy ending, of course, when Tramp is adopted by Lady’s family, they have their own puppies and live happily ever after – as with all good Disney movies!
Box office hit
Prior to the movie being released on 22nd June 1955 – almost 20 years after Grant’s original idea – Greene wrote a novel, Lady and the Tramp: The Story of Two Dogs, to introduce the public to the tale as pre-publicity. His book was published in 1953 and had much more detail than the film. Today, it’s extremely rare – the last copy on eBay went for $700, while a 1953 edition, signed by Walt Disney, sold for more than $3,000 at Christie’s.
The movie was a huge box office hit and was loved by fans. It was a big-budget film for its day, costing $4 million to make. It took $187 million at the box office worldwide. Initially, the critics weren’t convinced and found it too “sentimental”, but over the years, opinions changed and it is now recognised as a classic.
Grant left Disney Studios to start his own greetings card business, but returned in 1989 and became a true legend. He worked on modern animated films, such as Beauty and the Beast in 1991, Aladdin in 1992, The Lion King in 1994, Pocahontas in 1995, Mulan in 1998 and the new version of Fantasia in 2000. He died aged 96 in May 2005 at his studio, still working in animation.
Such is the popularity of Lady and the Tramp that a new 2019 live-action version is due for release on 12th November. Walt Disney Pictures had announced plans for the film in February 2018 and it has finally come to fruition.
The film will feature an updated version of The Siamese Cat Song and two completely new songs. It is set for release on Disney Plus, the American video on-demand service.
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