Call her Big Mama, or call her a wise old owl -- two names for her latest movie role, in "The Fox and the Hound," a new cartoon feature from the Walt Disney people.
But for millions of fans around the world, she's still Pearl Bailey, one of the most celebrated of all celebrities. As a singer, actress, all-around entertainer, and author of five books, she has spread good cheer wherever her hearty smile and hefty voice have traveled.
What delights her most about "The Fox and the Hound" is how the Disney animators captured her personality in their drawings of her owlish character. "I'd come in And read for an hour, and they'd look at me, and it wasn't any bid deal," she told me recently in New York, describing the process of recording a cartoon character's voice. "And I don't know when they managed it, but I think they've caughtm me." And she laughs out loud, thrusting her arms toward the air in perfect imitation of the Disney drawing on the table before us.
For an interviewer, Miss Bailey is a rambunctious subject. She talks volubly and gleefully, on whatever topic comes into her head -- rarely to the point, but rarely dull, either. From time to time, she reminds both of us that she should be talking about "The Fox and the Hound," since this is a promotional tour she's on. However, she says, "I'm not that kind of salesman. For me, when something's done, if it can't sell itself, you've just missed the boat."
So the talk flows happily on. One major item is college, since Miss Bailey is, in her 60s, a student at Georgetown University. "I'm a senior, comin' up," she explains. Then she asks where I went to college, listens to the answer, and whoops, "We beat you at basketball!"
Other items include "Fox and Hound" costar Mickey Rooney ("he's a little genius!") and her own continuing career: "I give a lot of shows, which are called concerts, but to me it's just vaudeville." She holds forth on child-raising, human relations, world conditions, and her travels to lands from Canada to Abu Dhabi.
And finally she returns to "The Fox and the Hound," partly to make the Disney people happy, and partly because she really believes in the "message" of the movie. "It's about a fox and a hound," she says, "who are taught that they shouldn't be friends, by nature. Even the ol' owl -- that's me -- says to the fox, 'Don't be too sure of your love for that dog.' But they vow to be friends anyway.
"Then this big bear looms up. It'll scare the daylights out of your kids, it sure scared me! And it looked to me like a big piece of hatred, getting all ready to wipe out everything. But love, there with all the small animals, overpowers him. And he goes right off the cliff, and this fantastic music takes him all the way down. And you know what that is? It's hate destroying itself."
And that's "The Fox and the Hound" according to Pearl Bailey.
More information, somewhat more technical, comes from the Walt Disney studio, whose 20th cartoon feature this is -- combining (they hope) the excitement of "Bambi" with the style of "Lady and the Trump."
While some "early scenes and character development" were done by veteran Disney animators, including Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the new epic is mostly the work of a new Disney generation: fresh young cartoonists under the direction of experienced animators and "storymen" making their directional debuts. According to production notes for the new Disney team, who hope to complete a feature every two years, working in two separate groups with overlapping time schedules. Work has already begun on "The Black Cauldron," a long-planned "sword-and-sorcery" adventure in the J.R.R. Tolkien vein, due in the mid-80's. Also in the works, for a later release, is "Musicana," dealing with music around the world in a "Fantasia" approach.
Finally, a few staggering statistics about "The Fox and the Hound": more than four years in the making, it involves about 360,000 drawings and 110,000 painted "cels" (individual frames). Its length is 78 minutes of time -- 7,035 feet of celluloid. Its painted backgrounds number of 1,100. A total of 180 people created it, including 24 animators. Some 748 hues and colors were used, 450 gallons of paint were consumed.
And the results of all this labor and material? You can see for yourself on July 10, at theaters everywhere.