by Chris Lucas
August 30, 2020
(Editor’s Note: Touchstone Films, and then Touchstone Pictures, owned by Disney, began operations in 1984 and closed up shop in 2016.)
Here are some things you might not know about Disney’s former production company, Touchstone.
Courtesy of Top Disney
1. In the above picture are, in order, the first twenty Touchstone films (March 1984 - March 1988).
2. Touchstone Films - later Touchstone Pictures - was created and introduced in the early 1980s by Disney's CEO (and Walt's son-in-law) Ron Miller, as a way of fulfilling Walt's goal of being able to produce movies with more mature themes. It was a sentiment Walt expressed after the two of them watched To Kill A Mockingbird together.
3. The name “Touchstone” was chosen due to its meaning of putting something to a test, such as when supposedly precious metals are rubbed against a stone to see if they leave behind traces of value and people would be willing to buy them. Disney was doing the same with these new, more mature films from their company. The logo reflects that.
4. 1984’s Splash was the first Touchstone film out of the gate, and it was a tremendous hit. Directed by Ron Howard and featuring the up and coming star Tom Hanks and newcomer Daryl Hannah, along with a great comedic supporting cast, it delivered new energy into Disney's live action film division.
5. After Miller’s departure in September, 1984, Disney’s new CEO, Michael Eisner, borrowed a strategy from his years at Paramount, where they’d sign talent to first look deals and give some of them office space on the Disney lot. The group included people like Bette Midler, Richard Dreyfus, Nick Nolte, Garry Marshall, Tom Selleck, Jerry Bruckheimer, Shelley Long, Robin Williams, Leonard Nimoy, Jim Varney, Steve Martin, Barry Levinson, Martin Short and Whoopi Goldberg.
6. Eisner also tapped into investor money and saved millions for Disney by working with a separate company, Silver Screen Partners, to help fund the Touchstone films and some others by the main company. Former President George W. Bush was on the board of directors for Silver Screen from 1983-1993. They had 20,000 investors or so putting their money into making Hollywood movies. In 1994, Eisner created a new funding company, Touchwood Pacific, with partners from Japan.
7. 1986’s Down and Out In Beverly Hills, starring Midler, Dreyfuss and Nolte, was the first Disney produced film to earn an R rating. It was a remake of a French hit, and was followed by a Touchstone TV version.
8. Paul Newman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his reprisal of the role of Fast Eddie Felson in 1986's The Color of Money, the first sequel ever produced by Touchstone (though the earlier film, The Hustler, was produced by 20th Century Fox in 1961.) It was a rare live action Oscar win for a Disney production after a long drought.
9. Ernest P. Worrel, the lead in 1987's Ernest Goes to Camp, was the first successful franchise character for Touchstone. Jim Varney created Ernest years before for a series of local commercials.
10. The first Touchstone sequel to one of its own films was 1988's Ernest Saves Christmas.
11. 1987's Three Men and A Baby from Touchstone, and directed by Leonard Nimoy, was the first $100 million box office grosser in Disney's history.
12. Three Men and a Baby was #1 at the box office for the year, another thing that hadn't happened for Disney for a while. After that, Disney began its rise to the top three of the major studio box office rankings year in and year out, and they haven't fallen off. This was their most successful live-action film for a time, and it's still one of their most successful comedies. It also spawned a sequel.
13. Touchstone’s TV division produced hit shows like The Golden Girls, Blossom, Boy Meets World, Home Improvement and 8 Simple Rules.
14. Until its dissolution as a brand in 2016, Touchstone was a powerful player in Hollywood, with monster hits like Beaches, Good Morning Vietnam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Pretty Woman, Dick Tracy, Dead Poet's Society, Sister Act, Father of The Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, Armageddon, The Waterboy, Signs, and Sweet Home Alabama, among others.
What's your favorite Touchstone film?
Chris Lucas is the author of Top Disney: 100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney, from the Man to the Mouse and Beyond.
On the PRESS CLUB C Podcast, enjoy Ray’s recent discussion with Chris Lucas about his career as an actor, author and Disney expert. Tune in right here!