Samland Grabbag, LA History Museum and Book Reviews

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Features, Samland

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Published on August 29, 2013 at 2:10 am with 4 Comments

BECOMING LA – LA COUNTY MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

For those familiar with Charles Phoenix, I believe one of his great contributions to humanity was linking downtown Los Angeles to Disneyland. Whatever exists behind the berm also exists outside the berm. And that is where I am going this week; off to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. I was drawn here by the recent opening of the Becoming LA exhibit, but there is so much more.

Becoming Los Angeles is a permanent display about Los Angeles natural and cultural history. It tries to answer the question: How did Los Angeles become L.A.? That is a question us native Los Angelenos and all of those newcomers have been asking for decades.

The show begins with a gallery filled with paintings of the California missions. The life of the native Americans is explored as well, as wave after wave of those who “conquered” the land; Spain, Mexico, the US, etc. From what I can tell, the museum has pulled together highlights of items that had been on display before and wrapped everything up with a linear story and appropriate context.

There is even a little treat for Walt Disney fans. On display was the original animation stand and chair built by Walt in 1923 from an old packing crate. A second hand Pathe camera was mounted above and two handwritten notes from Walt are tacked to the stand.
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My favorite exhibit was a model of downtown Los Angeles built in 1940 by the City’s planning department. This had been down in the basement, sort of hidden away. It has been refurbished and now shines. There are interactive maps around the edges to guide visitors through the streets of downtown and to talk about the primary landmarks. With a sharp eye you can see what was buried under the freeways and the Bunker Hill and South Park redevelopment schemes.

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Down in the basement was the Nature Lab. Dozens of hands on displays for the kids (and adults) that teach the basics in an inviting and open environment. There are large glass doors that open connecting the lab to the garden just out the door. The garden is well designed with multiple paths, bridges, an edible garden, places to sit, a bird watching platform, and an amphitheater.

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If you enter from the Expo light rail train, you will cross a bridge over the garden and walk under the skeleton of a whale. May I say I never hope to be in the ocean while one of these swim nearby. I get freaked out by horses. Unfortunately, the first exhibit once in the door is the gift shop. But those fighting dinosaurs in the main hall (think the T-Rex and his/her foe without skin in Disneyland’s Primeval World diorama) pulls ‘em like a magnet.

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Although this is not a trip report to the science museum, I could not leave Exposition Park without stopping by the Endeavor space shuttle. For only $2, you see a fun display of internal components such as the toilet and the kitchen, you can touch the tires, and watch a recreation of Mission Control during take off on the last flight. For those of us who live in LA, the time lapse film of the shuttle being moved through the city streets brings back memories. At some point in the future, a new museum will be built and the shuttle will be moved to its upright position attached to the fuel tank and solid rockets. Can’t wait.

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I tried the restaurant and was delightfully surprised. Yes, museum food has risen to the quality of theme park food.

WALT’S PEOPLE – Volume 13

Walt's_People_13_smallEdited by Didier Ghez
2013
580 pages
www.ThemeParkPress.com

For Disney theme park historians, Didier Ghez has been savior. Ghez had been writing about Disney history at a very high level since the mid-1980s. He was right there at the beginning when people started to look at the history of Walt’s parks more seriously. His book Disneyland Paris – From Sketch to Reality may be the most beautiful book dedicated to a theme park.

Walt’s People is the 13th volume of interviews with those who were there. The interviews were conducted by some of the most notable names in Disney history circles like Jim Korkis, Paul Anderson, Dave Smith, and many more. To borrow from Disney Legend Rolly Crump, the book is like a wonderful salad and there is something there for everyone. Twenty-nine interviews covering all aspects of the company. For theme park buffs, might I suggest the I interviews with Blaine Gibson, X. Atencio, and Tony Baxter?

Each interview is set up with a few of paragraphs of context. Interview questions are marked in bold so the give and take of the transcripts is easily followed. No photos. A must for those doing research. A fine, fun read for the uber fan.

I purchased the book from Amazon.com.

DREAM IT! DO IT!

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My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms
Marty Sklar
2013
368 pages
Disney Editions

 

Like many fans of the Disney theme parks, I have been looking forward to Marty Sklar’s book. I was fortunate to be at his house with David Price the day he got the transcript back from his daughter, Leslie Ann Sklar. My memories of that day include taking in all the wonderful stuff on the walls and on his massive desk, delicious cookies, and his showing off the book of materials that he compiled back in 1967 for Roy Disney about Walt’s EPCOT (described in detail in the book). He even was kind enough to make a photo copy of the memo for the plaque above the tunnels at Disneyland with Walt’s handwritten changes. Very special.

Marty (I called him Mr. Sklar at first, but was quickly correctly) is an excellent writer and editor. With a number of Disney related books being edited by the Company’s legal department in exchange for the rights to publish, I was not looking for a book with a bite. If you want to get an unblemished look at Disney, read Rolly Crump’s It’s Kind Of A Cute Story. However, I was mistaken. More on that later.

Marty described his early role at Disney as “chief ghostwriter.” He cut his teeth trying to take Walt’s thoughts and to organize them for print. One of his pride and joys were the seven pages of notes he took during a meeting with Walt as he described the EPCOT concept. Those notes would be used to write the script for the EPCOT film. I have read those notes and it is the clearest look into Walt’s mind in regards to that project. No wonder Harrison “Buzz” Price (Walt’s feasibility study guy) told me that the concept was viable.

The book is filled with extensive quotes from Walt Disney and others. For example, one day Walt was telling his team why everything is a Walt Disney production. He said, “Look, I don’t want people to say ‘that’s a Bill Walsh production for Disney,’ or ‘that’s a John Hench design for Disneyland.’ I’ve spent my whole life building the image of entertainment and product by Walt Disney. Now Walt Disney is a thing, an image, an expectation by our fans. It’s all Walt Disney – we all think alike in the ultimate pattern. I’m not Walt Disney anymore.” It took a special kind of person to work for a guy like that and to thrive in that environment. Marty tells dozens of stories of those who were successful and a few of those who could not handle it.

Any long time reader of Samland knows how much I admire Harrison “Buzz” Price. It is evident that Marty is also fond of Buzz and pays him the proper tribute throughout the book. Now you will know why it was Marty who was responsible for Buzz’s window on Main Street. He told David Price, Buzz’s son, that day we met with the promise we would not mention it to anyone. Fortunately, Buzz’s incredible wife Annie was told before she passed away.

It was Buzz who got to what made Disneyland unique as a business. “Walt said that his park was to be a work in progress. Unlike existing enterprises of this kind, it was never to be finished. This idea of constant reinvestment was a new concept. Walt recognized the fickleness of audiences and the challenges of always providing something new.”

Walt and Roy Disney have been unfairly slandered by those who claim they were Anti-Semitic. Marty also does a convincing job providing evidence to dispute those claims and I hope that this is a subject that would just go away now.

Like any company, Walt Disney Production/The Walt Disney Company and WED Enterprises, had their share of internal battles and politics. Although I expected Marty to steer clear of these episodes to paint a blissful picture of creative people working as one, he doesn’t. Now don’t expect a tell all book, but Marty does provide some insights that are illuminating. During Walt’s lifetime, the studio was one thing and WED was something else. During all that time Roy Disney only visited WED once and his two lieutenants, Card Walker and Donn Tatum had never been there.

In general, the book primarily celebrates those individuals, and there were many, that made the parks what they are today. However, there are a couple of people who are singled out whose contributions were not so positive according to Marty.

Dick Nunis was in charge of operations at the park while Marty was in charge of the creative side. Nunis wanted to consolidate the creative and operations side of the parks into one division and would try and do so on numerous occasions. The two men butted heads on many occasions.

Another person who gets a wag of the finger is Paul Pressler. Those who have been long time fans of Al Lutz know of “the Paul Pressler phenomenon” as Marty describes it. Here is what Marty said, “When I think of Paul Pressler today, what comes to mind is this expression: ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time.’ In retrospect, he certainly fooled Disney management a lot of the time.” I would go on but you will just have to buy the book.

A third person who gets the evil eye was Peter Rummell of the Disney Development Company. Eisner put the real estate people in charge of Imagineering and Marty outlines why this was not a good thing.

During the research for Walt and the Promise of Progress City, I claimed that Disney had a lot more stuff that had never been revealed and the project was much further along than Disney has ever wanted to admit. That is what Buzz Price told me. According to Marty, “To this day, to my knowledge, the body of material compiled by the research team for Walt’s Epcot Community has never been available to the public or to researchers.” Hello to anybody from Disney who may be reading this. Please let me look.

The story of Epcot the theme park has been told frequently. One day Marty and John Hench pushed together two models for two separate projects and viola! Disney’s third theme park was born. The book reveals that it was much more complicated. In fact, at one point Marty and John wanted to put the entrance right at the middle between Future World and the World Showcase but they were overruled by Card Walker. The entrance had to be in front of Future World. Card said, “When our guests enter and exit through Future World, our corporate sponsors get two shots at them – coming in, and going out.”

For those interested in Disney’s parks in Japan and France, you find this book of great interest. Marty was right there for both projects and his insights are revealing. Ever wonder why Disney chose the northern city of Paris instead of the sunny coast in Spain? Marty walks through their business reasoning.

Marty misses DisneyQuest and is in awe of Tokyo DisneySea. He gets freaked out at Hong Kong Disneyland for its resemblance to the Anaheim park. If it weren’t for the humidity and the giant mountain in the background, he feels right at home.

Finally, Marty likes lists. And that is how the book ends. Here he presents Mickey’s Ten Commandments. Those ten will have grown into forty by the time you are done. What is more revealing are his choices for the top ten most significant written communications that he developed. Here are scans of corporate documents, scripts, and memos. One of my favorites is the 2006 memo to explain “The Disney Difference: Rides Versus Attractions/Adventures/Experiences.”

The book features photos and scans of important documents.

For anyone interested in the history of Imagineering or the Disney theme parks, this is a must have book.

I purchased this book on Amazon.

About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • danyoung

    I was on the fence about Marty’s book, but you’ve convinced me to buy it. Thanks for the article, Sam!

  • jedited

    I agree with danyoung. I wasn’t going to get this book because I have never been a big Marty Sklar fan.
    I wish someone would finally tell the truth about Card Walker. Ron Miller paid dearly for Card’s stupidty. Card Walker hands down was the worst CEO of Disney.

  • DisWedWay

    Sam, I have been looking forward to your next article here. The model of Los Angeles in 1940, reminds me a lot of the Futuristic model that was part of the Carousel Of Progress at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. Disneyland’s was better in being more futuristic, and having animation with moving transportation vehicles and lighting. It was really a shame when that model had to be cut up and downsized to fit in it’s new home at Walt Disney World. Much of it had been constructed of Plexiglass, making the internal lighting much easier. When they bring the show back to Disneyland in it’s original carousel, they can build an even better Futuristic model with todays technology. You have also sold me on Marty’s book and will be putting in my order now. I greatly agree with his thoughts on Paul Pressler who I had been told by a Disney Legend, was Michael Eisner’s chosen one. When Paul began destroying some of my favorite shops at Disneyland like the One of a Kind and the Cooking Shop in New Orleans, along with the Mainstreet Penny Arcade, he went on my thumbs down list. Today his bad decisions have not been corrected. Sam you and Marty are on my Thumbs up list.

  • Not My Real Name

    I’ve been to the NHM and saw the LA model years ago. It was fun to find the building where I lived in the model. I definitely want to go back and see Endeavour. It flew right over me on its farewell trip over SoCal.

    The books look great but I think I’ll wait till they come to the local library.