Part X - the Milottes in Africa.
The Milotte Wildlife Film Festival slated for Saturday, October 20th, between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm will show three Oscar Award winners for both the Milotte’s and the Disney Studios and they are “Seal Island”, “Bear Country” and “Beaver Valley”.
The following, based on notes and documents reviewed during inventory and catalog work on the Milotte Colletcion, has been provided by GBLHS member and author of “Bonney Lake’s Plateau”, Winona Jacobsen:
Africa Part I
The night of January 25, 1952, Alfred and Elma Milotte departed Los Angeles aboard a Pan American flight, bound for Africa where they would wander the continent for nearly three years. The journey took them two weeks since they travelled via Mexico City, Panama, Brazil, Dakar West Africa, where they missed a connection to Leopoldville in the Congo. Walt Disney sent his Academy Award winning photographers to Africa to film the animals of the ‘dark continent’ without giving specific instructions. He just wanted a lot of footage on animals that his editors could turn into a feature length film.
Following the filming in 1946 of Seal Island and The Alaska Eskimo, their work for Disney Studios continued with the productions of Beaver Valley, Water Birds, Bear Country, and Prowlers of the Everglades. The proposal was made by Disney to go to Africa as Alfred and Elma were finishing up their work for him in Florida. They had little time for planning and preparation for a project of the magnitude that Africa would require. The two weeks they spent during their journey to Africa was filled with books and research on the African continent and its wildlife, but Alfred would later state that there was nothing to compare with on the job training. No book had adequately prepared him for the dangers, the difficulties, nor the beauty and friendliness of most of the people.
The day before their departure from Los Angeles was spent with Walt and Roy Disney and other Disney Studio executives. Lots of publicity photos were taken and the studio contract was presented at the last moment for them to sign, so Alfred and Elma had no opportunity to request any changes before their departure. They met with the people from the accounting department and were reassured that the funds they would need for their adventure would be presented to them once they arrived in Africa, so they carried enough money to cover their expenses until they made their way to Johannesburg, South Africa, where they planned to commence shooting film footage. A special vehicle was customized to suit the needs of the photographic team and would be shipped to them in Durban, South Africa.
Although they had spent a lot of time in the wilderness areas of the United States and Alaska, hardships and inconveniences continued to be an everyday occurrence as they made their way through Africa. When staying at even some of the nicer hotels, Elma found that the nice amenities that she came to expect from hotels in the U.S. may not be available in Africa. One example was when they arrived tired and covered in travel dust, they eagerly anticipated a nice hot bath in their room at the Legion Hotel in Dakar. Elma pulled the plug on the standing water in the tub to drain it, then turned on the faucet to run a fresh hot bath, but no water came out of the tap. She had unknowingly let out the daily allotment of wash water and would have to wait until the next evening before getting a new supply.
The Milottes had taken enough money to reach Johannesburg, South Africa, so they were pleased to meet the representative of RKO, film distributor for Disney motion pictures. The funds for their filming safari across Africa were to be delivered by this RKO man according to their instructions from the Disney Studio. After spending most of the day with the gentleman, no mention was made of any payment. Alfred finally broached the subject. “What money?” cried the man. He hadn’t even received any payment for his previous four months of work. Just about then, Al was beginning to feel a little panic. He immediately sent a wire to the Disney Studio, and nearly three months after their departure from the United States, the funds finally arrived via England. The level of stress was at last reduced, and they were eager to continue scouting areas where wildlife was plentiful and accessible until their shipment of supplies arrived.
Alfred had been negotiating and applying for the necessary permits to work in South Africa. The requirement to have a white hunter and a number of safari “boys”, as well as a delay to their entry into the country’s wildlife park until June, made it impossible for Alfred and Elma to effectively do the job they intended. They wanted to make the best wildlife film of Africa that had ever been done, but that wouldn’t be possible if they had to have a large retinue with them at all times. How could they ever expect to be able to get close enough to the animals to film them in their native habitat? They decided to head for Kenya to check on the filming possibilities. What a difference! The Kenya Game Department was very helpful and gave their blessing to the Disney photographers, gave them free access throughout the country and offered advice on the best spots to choose and find game.
After three and a half months in Africa, Al and Elma were eager to welcome ‘Ann Lorry’, their Hollywood modified Dodge Power Wagon. Annie, as they called her, would be their home and studio while filming. It was equipped with a 94-horsepower motor to move through all types of bush and desert terrain. The interior resembled a ship’s cabin with bunks and lots of drawers designed for lens, film, and camera storage, as well as their food and clothing. It also had a 50 gallon water tank, sliding windows on all sides to be able to observe animals from any point, trap doors for quick access getting either into or out of Annie, and a collapsible steel framed tower which would allow shooting from a higher vantage point. With this superstructure, ‘Ann Lorry’ became rather top heavy, so lead was used to add weight to the bottom and prevent a possible rollover.
Africa Part II will be our next blog installment.
Next up will be part 2 of the Milottes journeys in Africa.
In closing I’d like to remind everyone that the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society (GBLHS) is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3, our next meeting is the last Monday of the month and is slated for September 24th at 7:00 PM in the meeting room at the Bonney Lake Library. We are always open to the public and welcome new members.
Don’t forget to check out www.mwlff.org and look for the trivia questions. There are five of them and if you’re the first to answer any of them you can win a 2013 GBLHS – Milotte themed calendar.