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Kansas design firm’s work can be seen in new Disney film

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at 6:50 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at 6:50 p.m.


Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.

To see a movie trailer of “Saving Mr. Banks” showing the Kansas-made draperies, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgR5qfjyiws.

In the movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” Walt Disney – as portrayed by actor Tom Hanks – talks about growing up in Missouri and how a child’s life could sometimes be harsh.

The Missouri references in the movie are strong. A little more subtle are the Kansas references: Just look for the banana leaf curtains in Emma Thompson’s hotel room, for instance.

Thompson plays “Mary Poppins” author Pamela Travers, including in scenes set in a 1961 southern California luxury hotel room. The chintz drapery fabric in the room, known as Banana Leaves, was made by Dessin Fournir, a company in Plainville, which is just north of Hays.

“We have a set designer in Los Angeles, and she uses us on just about every movie,” said Chuck Comeau, co-founder of Dessin Fournir.

Indeed, the vintage furniture from the movie “Something’s Gotta Give,” staring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, came from Comeau’s company. As did the furniture in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “What Women Want.”

“The interesting thing about the whole movie process is that they create homes and sets,” Comeau said. “They like our products, because normal people use them.

“But on the other hand, we deal with people who are high end. We’re known as that little company out in the middle of Kansas.”

A native of Plainville, Comeau started his furniture, lighting and textiles company in California but chose in the mid-1990s to relocate it to Plainville. He renovated what had been a 1920s car dealership and moved the company there. It has since expanded to six buildings.

Which brings us back to the Kansas connections in “Saving Mr. Banks” or, for that matter, the Disney connection and Hollywood.

Although Walt Disney never lived in Kansas, his family did. His father, Elias Disney, settled on a farm in 1878 near Ellis and lived there until 1884, working for the Union Pacific Railroad.

More than a century later, some of Disney’s relatives still farm in the area.

“We still have the Disney farmstead outside of town about six miles,” said Dena Patee, executive director of the Ellis Alliance, an organization that helps promote tourism in Ellis.

There are also a couple of artists from Kansas and Missouri that Disney helped encourage and brought to Hollywood: Melvin “Tubby” Eugene Millar and Isadore “Friz” Freleng.

Millar was the illustrator of the “Porky Pig” cartoons and was from Portis, in Osborne County. The town has a limestone memorial dedicated to Millar and Porky Pig.

Freleng grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and became friends with Millar through the Kansas City Art Institute. The two were friends with Disney, who was also a graduate of the institute.

Freleng was head animator of Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. He created the series for Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat and Yosemite Sam.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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