In July, Walt Disney’s 1962 live-action feature Moon Pilot will be screened at 1:00pm and 4:00pm daily except Tuesdays and July 16, 17, and 23. Internationally-respected Disney Historian Jim Korkis has provided the following insight into the making of the out-of-this-world comedy.
“A funny thing happened to me on my way to the moon…girl (with seven moons all made for love) meets boy (with chimp)…and WOW!”
That was the marketing phrase that appeared on many movie advertisements for the Disney live-action “Technicolor® blast of fun and entertainment” known as Moon Pilot, first released to theaters nearly fifty years ago.
Astronaut Captain Richmond Talbot (played by ruggedly handsome Tom Tryon) accidentally “volunteers” to make the first manned flight around the moon. However, during a visit home to see his mother and brother before the blast-off, he meets a strange young woman named Lyrae (played by petite French actress Dany Saval) who mysteriously knows all about his secret mission, and has some vital information she is desperate to share. Is she a foreign spy? All of the resources of the Federal Security Agency can’t keep these two young people apart while the success of this historic space flight is held in the balance.
In its review of the film on January 15, 1962, the entertainment trade newspaper Daily Variety praised the lighthearted production with statements like “Filmgoers in general will accept this picture as light, gay, infectious diversion. The upshot, at any rate appears to be another moneymaker for Disney…and additional bow to co-producer Bill Anderson and associate (producer) Ron Miller for a job well done.”
However, the American audience was not in the mood for a playful look at outer space. There was a lot of tension because of a very serious “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviets. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin had been the first man to be launched into orbit in April 1961. While American astronaut Alan Shepard would be shot into space in May 1961, he did not orbit the Earth. That honor would go to American astronaut John Glenn in February 1962.
The battle for the supermacy of outer space made it extremely difficult for the Disney designers to get access to necessary information. Walt wanted a sense of reality for his fantasy, so he visited the Vandenberg Air Force Base to see the launching of an Atlas missile for himself and to gather information about the design of the interior of the blockhouse.
The most difficult item to create was the space capsule itself (seen in the opening segment of the film), because all such information was highly classified. The Air Force also furnished a Technical Director, made some stock footage available, furnished air craft for a scene or two, and allowed some limited shooting on the base.