Monday, September 07, 2009

Stagecoaches & Marjorie Reed

My grandmother was an artist herself as well as having an interest in collecting art by others. One of her favorite artists was Marjorie Reed, who is known today for her series of Stagecoach paintings covering The Butterfield Route. In 1858, John Butterfield began operating the longest stagecoach run in the history of the world. Butterfield’s mail coaches ran from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco, California, right through Northwest Arkansas. The route was approximately 2,800 miles long with coaches running each way twice a week. The coaches traveled day and night to meet the 25-day deadline of The Route. There were stage stops every 20 miles or so to change teams of horses. The Route lasted for about 6 years. Enter painter Marjorie Reed; from the late 1930’s to late 1940’s she traveled the Butterfield Route and sketched various points along the route. Her “Butterfield Stage” series, about the 1858 Butterfield Overland Stage from St. Louis to San Francisco was completed in 1957 after years of travel and research, and a book titled “The Colorful Overland Stage” was published with twenty paintings and text by Richard Pourade. In 1967, she finished a second set of Overland Stage illustrations focusing on Arizona. A third set was then devoted to New Mexico and Texas, and a fourth set to Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. Here are two paintings that Marjorie did for my grandmother.

And three smaller sized ones:

So what the heck does Marjorie Reed have to do with a blog on Disneyland? Let me start turning the coach around here. Last Sunday night, I attended a lecture by author Gary Fillmore (All Aboard: The Life and Work of Marjorie Reed) on Reed’s life and work. She was an extremely colorful person who lived vibrantly in the moment, yearning to live the life of a rancher. Imagine my surprise when Gary just happened to mention that she had worked for a year at the Disney Studio. Details on Reed’s life are sketchy; she rarely stayed in the same place for very long, and was a fairly private person. There has been debate over the years as to how old she was and when she worked at Disney; some sources even claim she was there at age 14, doing cell animation! Naturally, I had to investigate. Disney Archivist Dave Smith was kind enough to answer my inquiry; as it turns out, there was no record of Reed at Disney. However, her first husband, Hollywood soundman Harry Lindgren worked at Disney as a sound mixer from 1958-60. When I shared my discovery with Gary he responded, “I always thought one of the possibilities with the ‘Disney connection’ was that she never worked as an employee, but was working as a sub-contractor, maybe even through Mission Graphics. One of the reasons for my theory was because she never acquired a social security number until 1951 when she was living in Montana.” Gary emailed me a photo of a Mickey Mouse painting that is in the possession of Marjorie's son:

Although it was ultimately somewhat disappointing to find out that she didn’t work at Disney, I truly enjoyed finding out more about Reed and her life. Most interesting was that in the classic Jimmy Stewart movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Stewart’s office in the movie has 4 paintings by Reed. Who knew?

Now, to tie it all together, I will post a photo of the Stagecoach used at Disneyland pre-opening, showing it sitting on the lot of the Burbank Disney Studio, August 1954:

The detail shot on the door shows the Mission at Santa Barbara:

You can view the same Coach in action in color from 1955:

This post has sure given me a hankering for the Old West. Any possibility of getting a Stagecoach going again over at Disneyland? In the meantime, I highly recommend reading Gary Fillmore’s book on Reed. Well written and lavishly illustrated—just the way I like ’em!

See more Disneyland Stagecoach photos at my website.


Unknown said...

Fantastic connection!

It sounds like it was a great discussion, too.

Major Pepperidge said...

Wowee, that was some post! You got to do your homework for sure. I had never heard of Marjorie Reed, but particularly like that first painting with the lovely "setting sun" effect.

Love those stagecoaches!

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Nice research Dave - Thanks! Marjorie's artwork is great! If Disneyland ever brings the stagecoach back, I'll be in line right behind you, just after riding the Keel Boat!!!!

SparkleFarkel said...

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walterworld said...

Those are wonderful paintings!

I really enjoy the history of the Old West and those stagecoach paintings made my day.

Thanks for the info on Marjorie Reed...

Great post Dave!