Rare Sherman Brothers ‘Mary Poppins’ Tapes Unearthed by Historian, Featuring Conversations About Classic Disney Songs

The recent death of Walt Disney songwriting legend Richard M. Sherman appeared to have closed the book on the history of classic Disney tunes, as Sherman, 95, was the last link to many of them, from “Chim Chim Cher-ee” to “Winnie the Pooh” and “It’s a Small World.”

But the recent discovery of previously unknown tape-recorded conversations between Sherman, his brother and songwriting partner Robert B. Sherman, and “Mary Poppins” creator P.L. Travers, suggests there is still more to be discovered.

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Veteran Disney music historian Randy Thornton, now in his 37th year as the studio’s resident supervising producer of music projects, tells Variety that he worked with the Sherman brothers on several soundtrack restoration projects in the 1990s and 2000s. He recalls Richard Sherman saying to him, “I have something you might be interested in.”

It was, Thornton says, “a stack of seven-inch tape reels — story meetings between P.L. Travers, Bob and Dick, and screenwriter Don DaGradi. The studio never had them; Richard held them in his private archives for some 60 years.

“This is ‘fly on the wall’ stuff,” Thornton continues, “a snapshot in time, capturing a moment in history, behind the scenes with creative minds. Richard never listened to them; it was such a difficult time for him,” because Travers was famously negative about Disney’s plans for a “Poppins” movie and how her characters were to be portrayed (as depicted in the 2013 feature “Saving Mr. Banks”).

Excerpts from those tapes will finally be heard in a new podcast, “Disney: A Recorded History,” a 12-part series debuting today on Apple, Spotify and other services. Thornton is the host, introducing the programs and providing context for rare recordings of Walt Disney and his creative colleagues discussing many of their classic films and cartoons.

The “Poppins” material will be heard as the 10th, 11th and 12th episodes unspool in a few weeks. The earlier episodes, ranging from eight to 40 minutes in length, cover myriad moments in Disney history, starting with turning “Steamboat Willie” into a synchronized sound cartoon in 1928.

That episode, and others, contain extensive conversations with Walt Disney himself, recorded in Disney’s backyard in 1956 as he was telling his own life story. Those conversations served as research for his daughter Diane Disney Miller’s 1959 book “The Story of Walt Disney.”

“This is the storytelling Walt that you hear,” Thornton says, parts of which were heard in the 2001 documentary “Walt: The Man Behind the Myth.” Subsequent episodes cover the origin of the “Silly Symphonies,” the success of “The Three Little Pigs” in 1933 and the backstory of the landmark feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“We have [famed Disney animator] Ward Kimball talking about going to the premiere of ‘Snow White’ and everyone’s reaction,” Thornton adds. Episodes dealing with the studio during World War II, and Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston talking about the creation of “Bambi,” are also planned.

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