Bambi’s Austrian Father... and Disney’s Shaggy Dog Source
Although he was born in Budapest, Hungary (on the Pest side), Felix Salten’s Jewish family moved to Vienna shortly after his birth (as Siegmund Salzmann). Of course, at the time of his birth Budapest and Vienna were both part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
|Walt Disney's Bambi (1942) is based on Felix Salten's 1923 novel. The restored film version (2004) required 14 months of intensive work. > Buy the DVD
Looking at Siegmund Salzmann’s early life, one would never have predicted that he would become a well-known writer and the source of at least two Walt Disney feature films. Siegmund was one of seven children. The family was so deep in debt that Siegmund had to leave school early in order to provide financial support. Later he took a job at an insurance company in Vienna. But in his free time he wrote short stories and newspaper features under the pseudonym of Felix Salten, which would later became his legal name. In 1896 Salten became the head of the editorial section of one of Vienna’s leading newspapers, the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung. By the early 1900s he was writing for all of Vienna’s major newspapers and also commuted to Berlin to work as an editor for the Berliner Morgenpost.
1902 proved to be an eventful year in Salten’s life. In April of that year he married the actress Ottilie Metzl. Soon the couple had two children, Paul and Anna-Katherina. To support his new family, Salten continued to write, now at a more intense pace. In September 1902 he wrote an obituary for the French novelist Emile Zola. It somehow touched people to an extent that brought Salten to the literary forefront and helped advance his career. He wrote on topics ranging from the arts and theater to politics and literary criticism. Besides novels, he also produced plays, screenplays, and even opera librettos. As a critic he was a supporter of the painter Gustav Klimt and writers Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
But today Felix Salten is best known for two very different works of literature. The first was a fictional account of the life of a Viennese prostitute. Considered pornographic, the novel Josefine Mutzenbacher was published anonymously in 1906 and banned by the Austrian government soon thereafter. Although many people believed at the time that it had been written by Arthur Schnitzler, the real author was Salten. Had he revealed his identity as the Mutzenbacher author in those days, he would have been kicked out of the social and professional circles he so enjoyed. The spicy book was rediscovered in the 1960s and became a bestseller in German and several other languages. In 1990 Salten’s heirs sued the book’s German publisher for back royalties, without success.
In 1923 Salten published a very different work of fiction, a novel about a baby deer that the author called “Bambi,” based on the Italian word for baby, bambino. In 1934, only a few years before the Jewish Salten would be forced to flee Nazi Austria for Zurich, Switzerland, Walt Disney paid him a mere $5,000 for the film rights to Bambi. (The exiled German writer Thomas Mann had brought Salten’s book to Disney’s attention.) Later Disney also used another 1923 Salten novel as the source for the film The Shaggy Dog (1959). It is based on Der Hund von Florenz/The Hound of Florence, the story of a man who turns into a dog every other day.
WORKS by FELIX SALTEN|
*Made into a German film in 1969
- 1906 - Josefine Mutzenbacher, novel*
- 1907 - Herr Wenzel auf Rehberg und sein Knecht Kaspar Dinckel, novel
- 1910 - Olga Frohgemuth, novel
- 1911 - Wurstelprater, essay
- 1945 - Djibi, das Kätzchen, novel
- 1922 - Das Burgtheater, essay
- 1923 - Der Hund von Florenz/The Hound of Florence, novel**
- 1923 - Bambi, Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde/Bambi, A Life in the Woods, novel***
- 1926 - Neue Menschen auf alter Erde - Eine Palästinafahrt/A Palestine Journey, novel (see Web link below)
- 1927 - Martin Overbeck, novel
- 1929 - Fünfzehn Hasen/Fifteen Rabbits, novel
- 1931 - Fünf Minuten Amerika/Five Minutes America, essay
- 1933 - Florian. Das Pferd des Kaisers/Florian the Emperor's Horse, novel
- 1940 - Bambis Kinder, eine Familie im Walde/Bambi's Children: The Story of a Forest Family, novel
**Basis for Disney films The Shaggy Dog (1959, 1994) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976)
***Basis for Disney animated feature Bambi (1942)
In 1930, at the invitation of the Carnegie Foundation, Salten and some fellow journalists traveled to the United States. He published his impressions of America and southern California as Fünf Minuten Amerika/Five Minutes America in 1931.
It was while living in exile in Switzerland that Salten wrote the Bambi sequel Bambis Kinder/Bambi’s Children, published in 1940. He did this more out of necessity than desire, since he was forbidden to work as a journalist in Switzerland.
Felix Salten was still living in Zurich when the Bambi movie premiered at the Rex Cinema (Kino Rex) there, and it is said he attended a showing of the film he helped create. But he died in October 1945, just a few months after the end of World War II. When the animated film became a worldwide success, Salten’s wife and later his heirs waged a campaign to get the Disney Studio to share more of the Bambi profits, an effort that Disney resisted until a court finally ruled in the family’s favor in 1996.
Also see Salten films and links below...
Book Exerpts from Fünf Minuten Amerika by Felix Salten
In 1931, after spending about a year in the United States, Felix Salten returned to Austria and published Fünf Minuten Amerika in German. Below are three passages in German and English from the chapter about Hollywood.
Nichts in Amerika hat überhaupt Patina. Weder Dächer noch Monumente, weder Gedanken noch Empfindungen. Am wenigsten Patina gibt es hier in Hollywood, das ja für die Welt und wohl auch für sich selbst kaum über zehn Jahre alt ist.*
Nothing in America has any patina at all. Neither roofs nor monuments, neither thoughts nor feelings. There is the least patina of all here in Hollywood, which for the world and indeed for itself is barely over ten years old.* (p. 102)
*The first film ever made in the Hollywood area was In Old California in 1910. The Nestor Studios, the first built in Hollywood, were established in 1911 on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. In 1931, when Salten published his book, Hollywood was about 20 years old. The city of Los Angeles was incorporated in 1850, but the settlement dates back to 1781. Elsewhere in this same chapter Salten himself writes: “Today almost all the men working in Hollywood are still the ones who fifteen or twenty years ago devoted themselves to film and turned Hollywood into the cinema stronghold of the entire world.”
Die großindustriellen Diktatoren konnten befehlen, daß jeder Film glücklich enden müsse. Es war vielleicht richting, war aus dem Spürsinn geboren, daß nach dem Krieg ebenso wie während des Krieges die Menschen nicht die Nerven hatten, unglückliche Schlüsse zu ertragen. Aber das ewige happy ending des Films hatte seinen Einfluß auf die Schaubühne, von der die klassischen Tragödien fast verschwanden und wo man nur noch Komödien zu spielen wagt.
The major studio dictators could command that every movie had to end happily. It was perhaps right, born of instinct, that following the war, just as much as during the war, people didn’t have the nerves to endure unhappy conclusions. But cinema’s eternal happy ending had its influence on the stage, from which the classic tragedies almost disappeared and where one dared only perform comedies. (p. 109)
Ist man zu Besuch in diesen Ateliers, dann eilen die Europäer, die vielen, die hier sind, eilen die Deutschen, die Österreicher alle herbei, und mögen sie so noch amerikanisiert, noch so erfolgreich sein, man wird vom ihnen beschnuppert, wie das neue Pferd, das den Geruch der Wiesen hinunter zur Tiefe des Bergwerks bringt... Ob sie es nun wissen und eingestehen oder nicht, sie lechzen nach Europa, sie sehnen sich unter der Sonne Hollywoods nach der Heimat.
When you visit these studios, then the Europeans, the many who are here, the Germans, the Austrians all rush by. No matter how Americanized they may be, how successful they may be, you get sniffed like the new horse that brings the scent of the meadow into the depths of the mine... Whether or not they really know it or admit it, they thirst for Europe; under the Hollywood sun they long for the homeland. (p. 111)
From the chapter entitled “Die Stadt des Films” (“The Film City”) in Fünf Minuten Amerika
(Five Minutes America) by Felix Salten. Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Berlin, Wien, Leipzig. 1931.
256 pages. English translation by Hyde Flippo.
M O R E > Film People
Copyright © 1997-2006 Hyde Flippo
Filmography: Motion Pictures Based on Works by Felix Salten
See the article above for details.
- Bambi (1942) > BUY the DVD
- The Shaggy Dog (1959) > BUY the DVD
- Josefine Mutzenbacher (Germany, 1969)
- The Shaggy D.A. (1976) > BUY the DVD
- The Shaggy Dog (1994, TV movie)
- German/Austrian Films: Beginning in the silent era, several of Salten's novels were filmed, and he wrote a few original screenplays in the 1930s.
Felix Salten Connections
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Copyright © 1997-2006 Hyde Flippo
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