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Walt Disney and Public Libraries

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by , 04-15-2012 at 05:23 PM
I ran across this image of Walt Disney in Walt Disney World Then, Now, and Forever by Bruce Gordon and Jeff Kurtti. When I studied the image more closely, I noticed that the poster on the desk next to Walt said National Library Week. Being a public librarian and rabid bibliophile, I knew I needed to investigate this further.


Typically, the second week in April is set aside as National Library Week. This yearly event is spearheaded by the American Library Association in order to marshal support and awareness for public libraries. Be sure to stop by your local library and let them know how much you value and support them!

As I started to look for more information about the Wake Up and Read theme, I ran across some more interesting information about the yearly event.


The American Book Publishers Council and the American Library Association convened to form the National Book Committee in 1954. The primary charge of the National Book Committee was to create a way to showcase and focus on the nation's public libraries. The very first National Library Week (NLW) was held in April 1958 with the theme Wake Up and Read! A public proclamation drafted by President Eisnhower stated that all people of the US should participate to the fullest in the National Library Week. In addition, the Advertising Council approved NLW as a public service campaign; 5,000 cities and towns celebrated the week showing marked increases in book checkouts and library card registrations.


I found a color copy of the poster at http://jonwilliamson.com/template_permalink.asp?id=3997



As I continued looking into Walt's early forays into animation, I ran across mentions of Walt and his animators using the local public library in Kansas City to learn more about the fledgling art form.

In a letter dated August 17, 1937, Walt Disney expresses his support and gratitude for public libraries to Irene Gentry of the Kansas City Public Library. The letter is a testimonial for the American Library Association, which held its annual conference in Kansas City that year. What is notable is the book that Walt mentions.



Miss Irene Gentry,
Acting Librarian,
Kansas City Public Library,
Kansas City, Mo

Dear Miss Gentry:

Thank you for your letter of August 11. It gives me pleasure to tell you how highly I regard the services offered by the Public Libraries and especially that of the Kansas City Library.

All during the early years of my youth, and a long time before I had given a career any thought, the Public Library has always held a tremendous interest for me. Needless to say, any book that offered information on drawing was likely to be found listed on my card, and over-due books were the chief reason for my usually depleted bank account.

Later, in Kansas City, when I became seriously interested in cartooning, I gained my first information on animation from a book written by H. C. Lutz [sic] which I procured from the Kansas City Public Library. I feel the Public Library has been a very definite help to me all through my career.

While we have established a sizeable library of our own, nevertheless we are constantly calling upon the local Public Library to supplement our needs from its vast resources.

Mickey joins me in sending greetings to you and all the members of the American Library Association.

Sincerely yours,

Walt Disney


In Michael Barrier's excellent biography, The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, we learn about the book in question. Barrier is able to provide more details about the beginnings of Walt's experience with learning new animationtechniques.

Disney was intrigued by animation's possibilities and by what he called "the mechanics of the whole thing." He was essentially self-taught as an animator; he wrote to an admirer many years later, "I gained my first information on animation from a book ... which I procured from the Kansas City Public Library." That book was Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development by Edwin G. Lutz. According to its copyright page, Lutz's book was published in New York in February 1920, the same month Disney joined Kansas City Film Ad, so he must have read it very soon after it was added to the library's collection. He said of the book in 1956: "Now, it was not very profound; it was just something the guy had put together to make a buck. But, still, there are ideas in there."




As elementary as the Lutz book was, it still offered a vision of a kind of animation far more advanced than the Film Ad cutouts. Lutz wrote at a time when animators commonly worked entirely on paper. They made a series of drawings, each different from the one before, that were traced in ink and photographed in sequence to produce the same illusion of movement that Film Ad achieved by manipulating cutouts under the camera. Lutz advocated the use of celluloid sheets to cut down on the animator's labor--the parts of a character's body that were not moving could be traced on a single sheet and placed over the paper drawings of the moving parts. Such an expedient (and Lutz recommended others) would have resonated with Disney, who had been so impressed by commercial art's shortcuts when he worked for Pesmen-Rubin.
--p. 26, Michael Barrier, The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney

You can read my review of The Animated Man here.

The Kansas City Public Library was located at 9th and Locust Streets from 1897 to 1960; a few blocks east of the Kansas City Slide Company. Shortly after Walt was hired in 1920, the K.C. Slide Company moved a few blocks south and became the Kansas City Film Ad Company. Between 1920 and 1922, Walt was introduced to animation through his work at the Film Ad Company. A.V. Cauger, the owner, allowed Walt to take a film camera to the Bellafontaine home on weekends. There, Walt experimented with basic animation and eventually produced his first animated short (actually, a sample reel) shown at the Newman Theatre in 1921.

The Kansas City Public Library, circa 1920.


Walt and Ub also raided the public library for any information they could find on animation. They were fascinated by Eadweard Muybridge'sbooks of photo studies of humans and animals.
--p. 79; Burns, Butler and Viets; Walt Disney's Missouri: The Roots of a Creative Genius

From
Wikipedia:

Eadweard J. Muybridge (April 9, 1830 May 8, 1904) was an English photographer, known primarily for his early use of multiple cameras to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the celluloid film strip that is still used today.

Muybridge's negatives, prints and collected works were the first sources that showed how human and animal forms moved. The books gave the fledgling animators an engineered look at how to animate realistic motion.


One of my favorite Walt Disney World book inspired this post. Walt Disney World Then, Now, and Forever is a great title for for enthusiasts and fans of the Florida theme parks.

Have you had a book that has inspired you?

When was the last time that you visited your local public library?


ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at [email protected]

You can follow me on Twitter @imaginerding
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I also write at Everything Walt Disney World and I am one half of the incredibly talented, handsome, charming, sanguine, lucent and intelligent duo behind Communicore Weekly. You can find them on the Mice Chat Youtube Channel.

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Comments

  1. mratigan's Avatar
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    Great
    thanks
  2. greinstein's Avatar
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  3. Tennor's Avatar
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    I recently cataloged (well, through Pinterest) a list of most of my Disney book collection.

    My Disney Book Collection
  4. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Great job George. You certainly put the "Nerd" in ImagiNERDing. In the best possible way, of course.

    Dusty
  5. midnite owl's Avatar
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    As a librarian (well, archivist--but we all come out of library school, right? heh) and a Disney fan, reading Walt's appreciation of public libraries made me a happy nerd. Thanks for writing and sharing this great post!