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The working titles of this film were Greetings and Greetings Friends. Correspondence between the Disney Studio and the United States government indicates that in some areas of South America it was shown under the title Saludos, which was the title under which the December 1942 Variety review from Buenos Aires appeared. After the onscreen credits, a written acknowledgment, signed by Walt Disney, reads: "With sincere appreciation for the courtesy and cooperation shown us by the artists, musicians and our many friends in Latin America." The surname of background painter Claude Coats is misspelled "Coates" in the screen credits.
The following information comes from Hollywood Reporter and other contemporary news items, studio records preserved in the Walt Disney Archives and material in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library: In 1941, at the request of the U.S. State Department, Walt Disney and a group of his staff members made a goodwill tour of South America. Their visit was undertaken for two reasons: to support the government's "Good Neighbor" program (designed to strengthen the bonds between North and South America), and to gather material for a series of films. As noted in the Variety review, the film was "suggested by, and has the blessing of, Nelson Rockefeller's Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs." The party of eighteen included Walt Disney and his wife Lillian, production supervisor Norm Ferguson, musical director Charles Wolcott, animator Frank Thomas and members of the Disney story department. The group arrived in Rio de Janeiro in August 1941, and enjoyed lengthy stays there and in Buenos Aires before splitting up into smaller groups to visit Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Chile. During this time the artists made numerous sketches and paintings. Walt Disney and two other members of the party, Lee Blair and Larry Lansburgh, brought along 16mm cameras to record their impressions of South America. Some of this 16mm color film was later blown up to 35mm for exhibition in Saludos Amigos. The group returned to the Disney studio in California in late October 1941, and began work on production of their projected series of films.
Orginially Disney had agreed that his studio would produce a series of one-reel cartoons based on the South American trip. These were to be released in groups of four. The first four were registered with the MPAA by June 1942, but subsequently Disney decided to combine the four shorts into a single feature. Hollywood Reporter announced this change in June 1942, but internal evidence in studio memos suggests that the decision had been made in April or May. In a June 16, 1942 memo to the MPAA, the studio stated that the four shorts "will be released in this country as shorts but...will be shown as a feature in South America," and concurrent trade press coverage made the same suggestion. The plan was dropped, however, and the film was shown as a feature in both North and South America. Some of the 16mm footage shot by the Disney group in South America was edited to serve as a linking device, unifying the four disparate segments into one feature-length film. At the same time, other parts of the travel footage were assembled as a half-hour "documentary" for 16mm non-theatrical distribution in the United States. This short was variously known by the working titles Walt Disney Visits South America and Walt Disney Sees Latin America, but was finally given the title South of the Border with Disney.
The "Pedro" segment of Saludos amigos was based on a story developed independently of the "Good Neighbor" tour. Joe Grant and Dick Huemer wrote a story about a little humanized airplane named "Petey O'Toole" after the characters emblazoned on his wings: P-T 0-2-L. This original story was revised and combined with the experiences of some of the South American tour group, flying across the Andes from Argentina to Chile, to produce "Pedro." The end of the segment features a closeup of a postcard addressed to "Jorge Delano" in Santiago, Chile, which was the name of the group's guide and interpreter when they visited Santiago.
One of the stops made in South America by the Disney party was a visit to the studio of the Argentine gaucho artist F. Molina Campos. After the tour group returned to the United States, a Hollywood Reporter new item noted that Campos visited the Disney studio. He was subsequently given screen credit in the film, as noted above. Studio documents indicate that there was a tentative plan to have Campos provide narration for some of the segments, but the idea was abandoned. According to the film's pressbook, Gilberto Souto, who also received screen credit, was a "Brazilian newspaperman currently living in Hollywood," who was recruited as a technical advisor. The pressbook also claims that "A Paulista, Senhorita Ferrer, also visiting in Hollywood at the time of production," danced the samba many times for the artists. According to a July 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, Carmen Miranda was given a two-day leave of absence from the set of Twentieth Century-Fox production Springtime in the Rockies to serve as a technical advisor. According to the Variety review, Alberto Soria was the narrator of the Spanish-language version of the film. Modern sources add Frank Graham (Narrator) to the cast.
The world premiere of Saludos amigos was held on August 24, 1942 in Rio de Janeiro. The premiere featured the Portuguese-language version of the film, titled Alo amigos, which opened simultaneously in five different theaters. The Spanish-language version opened in Buenos Aires on October 6, 1942. Hollywood Reporter items indicate that both the Brazilian and Argentine premieres were sponsored by the wives of the presidents of the respective countries. Numerous contemporary sources commented on the film's extraordinary popularity in South America, and a February 7, 1943 New York Times article reported that "Donald [Duck] is currently causing audience stampedes on the Pampas despite an early and abruptly silenced gibe by a pro-German sheet in Buenos Aires." The official North American opening of the English-language version was held on February 6, 1943 in Boston, and was preceded by numerous special previews and private showings. These included a screening at the National Archives (NARS) in Washington, D.C. in October 1942, and a "preview party" at the United Artists building in New York later the same month. Promotional items for the film included a record album of its music, conducted by Charles Wolcott, and a "Jos Carioca" Sunday comic page featuring the character introduced in the "Aquarela do Brasil" segment of the feature. The film's publicity gave the character's first name interchangeably as "Joe" and "Jos."
Saludos amigos received Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and Charles Wolcott and Ned Washington received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song for "Saludos amigos." The four segments used in Saludos amigos were only a few of the many story ideas developed from the studio's Latin American material. Many other story ideas were contemplated but never used, and at least two, "Pluto and the Armadillo" and "The Pelican and the Snipe," were completed and released separately as shorts. Two other stories, "The Flying Gauchito" and "The Cold-Blooded Penguin," were completed around the same time as the four segments used in Saludos amigos, but were held back and integrated into the next "Good Neighbor" feature, The Three Caballeros (see below). One final segment, "Blame It on the Samba," was ultimately used in the 1948 "package feature" Melody Time