Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Double Trouble: THE PARENT TRAP

Cool off at BMFI as we bring our "My Summer Vacation" series to a close with the 1961 Disney classic The Parent Trap, which will be showing on Saturday, August 24 at 11:00 am.

By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

One actress, two roles. Hayley Mills was certainly up to the task of playing both twins in The Parent Trap, but in 1961, when computers weren't used for film editing, how did she manage to appear in two places at once? The creative minds of Walt Disney Studios used a few different techniques to make sure you'd be seeing double.

The easiest way to make this kind of film work is to use a body double, and for The Parent Trap, Susan Henning fit the bill—she and Mills were the same size, right down to their shoes! They got along quite well, too. Henning even helped the natively British Mills learn some American slang for the part. For many scenes, she stood in as one twin and then they switched places to film Mills as the other twin. You can see Henning herself plenty of times too, cleverly facing away from the camera. Unfortunately, despite those appearances, the way her contract was worded meant that she went uncredited for her part in the film. For a long time she wasn't even allowed to talk about it! However, at the wrap party, Walt Disney presented her with "The Duckster", a small Donald Duck statue that served as an award recognizing her as the "Best Unseen Performance of the Film."

Hayley Mills pulls double duty as Susan and Sharon in a duet of "Let's Get Together." Her version of the song became a pop hit! 
The clever technique they used for more complicated scenes is called "double exposure", or in filmmaking, "split screen". The cameraman locks the camera in place and the exact same scene gets recorded twice, once with the actor on one side of the screen, and then again on the other. Then the negatives from both recordings are spliced together by hand. No one knew if it was going to turn out well, so originally they only planned to use it for a few shots. But when Walt Disney saw the end result, he was so pleased with it that he rearranged the script to include more.

Can you try acting as two different characters at the same time? Mills reportedly got so confused while filming that the only way she could tell which character she was playing was by the wig she was wearing. And then they both cut their hair short!

Disney remade The Parent Trap in 1998, but even with all the advances in technology since the original came out, they decided to use these very same techniques to give the illusion of one actress playing two characters. Fun fact: Joanna Barnes, who played Vicky Robinson in the original, played Meredith Blake's mother in the remake. The character's name was Vicki.

Did you know? The film went through a handful of different titles, starting with His and Hers. The studio even had a contest for fans to pick the name of the film! Some of the winning titles were "Susan and I" and "We Belong Together." Then one day Walt walked in, announced that they were calling it The Parent Trap, and the rest is history.

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

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