From The Library: SAMLAND Reviews Essential Disney Books
by, 08-17-2011 at 09:35 PM
It's been a long Summer. Time to slow down and read a good book. As a die-hard Disney fan, I'm reading about my passion . . . Disney. Join me as I pull three wonderful books off the shelf. One about Walt's brother Roy, One about Walt and Disney trivia, and the last one an interesting look at Disneyland past and present. Let's turn some pages, shall we . . .
Building a Company
Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire
Bob Thomas • Hyperion • 1998 • $24.95 • 359 pages
The life of Walt Disney has been well documented. One of the most respected and referenced biographies is Bob Thomas’s Walt Disney: An American Original. It is an excellent book. Considering the amount of research, it would be natural that the author would want to do a follow up book and examine the life of Roy O. Disney. As we learn, the Walt Disney we know and love would not have been possible if it weren’t for his brother. Read this book and you will gain a new perspective on Walt, the Company, and especially Roy.
We begin with a story that provides insight into the brothers’ legendary relationship. Roy recalls a time when he was walking along a path in Iowa with a five-year old Walt, and their younger sister Ruth. Along the way, Walt found a pocketknife. Roy, who was thirteen at the time, took the knife away from Walt and told him, “You’ll cut yourself.” Around 1965, the two brothers got into an argument and Walt accused Roy of bullying him and “throwing his weight around.” Walt reminded him about the knife and said, “You’ve been doin’ that since I was born.” Roy noted, “That was sixty years later. Talk about an elephant!”
Walt was much younger then his three brothers. He also had one younger sister. Despite the age difference, Roy and Walt were very close. Throughout Walt and Roy’s career, they dealt with a lot of people that tried to take advantage of them. Roy always felt protective of Walt “because there are always slickers to take you.” This need to protect his “pesky little brother” would become a common theme throughout the book.
Some of those who did do the brothers wrong include Charles Mintz, who stole the character Oswald the Rabbit as well as most members of Walt’s animation studio. Walt warned Mintz that, “These boys will do the same thing to you, Charlie. If they do it to me they’ll do it to you. Now watch out for them.” In the end, Mintz lost the character to a takeover of the studio by his own artists just as Walt had predicted.
Walt said, “I’ve been mad at people, but I could never carry a grudge for very long.” I am not sure all would agree, however, Walt did not publicly express anger toward those that defected.
There were also people who came around at the right time. Ub Iwerks was there from the beginning. He was the first person to animate Mickey Mouse. He stayed behind when everybody else left to go work with Mintz. At one point, he was making twice as much as Roy and Walt. When Ub found that Walt was changing the timing of his drawings. Iwerks would not stand for it and he was lured away to start his own studio. However, that did not last and he came back to Disney. He would go on to become the mechanical genius that invented the technology that created movie magic for the studio.
Another person was director Frank Capra. Capra was the guy who hooked Walt and Roy up with the folks at Columbia Pictures and helped to cut the ties to Pat Powers. Powers sold Disney the sound technology for the Mickey Mouse cartoons. The agreement was not favorable to the brothers.
Also on the Disney’s side was A.P. Giannini. Giannini owned the Bank of America. He became an early believer and worked side by side with Roy for thirty years. Herman (Kay) Kamen was the marketing and merchandising wizard that ran the Disney licensing program. Even Charlie Chaplin was a supporter and became an advocate for Disney when they moved over to United Artists from Columbia. Another ally was Harrison “Buzz” Price. Price conducted more than 100 feasibility studies for Walt and Roy and was the guy who found the locations for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
As the studio was growing, Roy suggested the name be changed from The Disney Brothers Studio to Walt Disney Studio. Roy told Disney archivist Dave Smith, “ It was my idea. Walt was the creative member of the team. His name deserved to be on the pictures.”
The book is filled with intimate details on how Roy worked. For example, he tracked everything in small notebooks. This is where Thomas learns of Roy’s concerns about the escalating costs of the early Mickey shorts.
- Plane Crazy $3,528.50
- The Gallopin’ Gaucho $4,249.73
- Steamboat Willie $4,986.69
- The Barn Dance $5,121.65
- The Opry House $6,017.24
- The Skeleton Dance $5,386.65
Walt commented that Roy “always lived with figures” and people like that were always looking back while Walt always wanted to look forward. Roy recognized that the Disney brothers would never make as much money as some of the “hard-boiled type” of movie people but they took pride in the product and the “satisfaction of running our business in a way that is fair to everyone connected with it.” He felt you didn’t need to take every dime from your customer.
In 1935, while on vacation in Strasbourg, Germany with Walt, Roy tried to climb a clock tower but was denied. That clock would become the model for the one at Disneyland. While in Rome, Walt, Roy and the family were treated like royalty. They dined at Alfredo’s, home of the Alfredo fettuccine. Alfredo’s would become one of the original restaurants in Epcot Center.
One of the main reasons why the Disney brothers left United Artists and went with RKO in 1936 was over the issue of the television rights. Walt and Roy wanted to retain that control well before televisions were commonplace.
As a way to diversify after World War II, the studio looked at educational films. Walt gained a lot of experience with the films he produced for the United States military during World War II. However, the project was not a success. Walt got fed up with the educators and declared, “Oh, to hell with it! From now on let’s make the word “educational” a dirty word around here. Let’s just stick to entertainment.” He added, “We’ll give ‘em sugar-coated educational stuff.”
WED Enterprise was Roy’s idea. He wanted to make sure Walt’s family was taken care of in case something happened to Walt. Much of the family wealth was tied into the studio’s stock. WED Enterprise’s first project was going to be Zorro but that was put on hold to start Disneyland. This business arrangement would become an area of significant disagreement between the brothers in a few years.
Because Thomas did the research to write one of the definitive books about Walt Disney, he was able to use this book to tell new stories about Roy’s younger brother. For example, Walt told artist Herb Ryman that the reason why he wanted to do things differently with his park. Walt reminded Herb that he liked to drink and “If people want one, they can get it elsewhere, not in my park.” Walt wanted to charge admission, which was unheard of at the time because, “If we don’t we’ll get all kinds of drunks and molesters; they’ll be grabbing girls in the dark.” Another benefit for charging admission was “you’ll get a better class of people.” Finally, he wanted it clean. At most amusements parks, there “was all the crap that was everywhere.” He added, “You’re stepping on chewing gum and ice cream cones.”
The author reveals the development process that was used by Walt and Roy. Walt would come up with an idea and flesh it out with just enough detail for Buzz Price to conduct a feasibility study. They would always ask the question “Yes, if.” If things looked good, it would move up with more planning, which could take some time. Before it got too far, Buzz might do another study before they went to Roy for the mutual green light. This was also one reason why Walt didn’t like attorneys. They tend to dwell in the land of “No” and Walt preferred to work in the positive.
Roy changed Florida project’s name to Walt Disney World to honor his brother. His rationale was everyone knew Ford cars but a lot of people don’t know about Henry Ford.
Other tidbits include the origin of the Honest John character from Pinocchio and why the monorail runs through the Contemporary. Honest John is based on Ray Disney, Walt and Roy’s older brother. When the engineers told Roy that having the monorail run through the Contemporary Resort would be impossible, Roy insisted because, as one person said it would look like “a place where the Goodyear blimps comes to mate.”
Bob Thomas has provided the other side to a very well known story. His thorough research cannot be challenged. The Roy story is just as fascinating as the Walt’s journey. With both sides, you start to get a complete picture of how the magic was created.
I purchased a copy of this book on Amazon.
THE VAULT OF WALT
Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told • By Jim Korkis • 459 pages • $19.95 • AyefourPublishing.com
For many Disney trivia geeks, Jim Korkis could be considered the Dean of the Disney History School. I would have to agree. Get him and Werner Weiss from Yesterland.com together and your head will explode in details. And this is a good thing.
Many people may be familiar with Jim’s appearances on Lou Mongello’s podcast. His infectious energy and passion for the park’s little details is second to none. I was excited when I heard he would be releasing a book.
So who is this Jim Korkis character anyway? For the past 30 years, he has written many articles on the subject of Disney. He grew up in Glendale and became friends with many of the original Imagineers and executives. As a teenager he would write down the names of the people in the movie credits, look up their number in the phone book, and then give them a call. It worked. He worked in Orlando for a while and even worked for the Disney Institute and other jobs around the resort.
Jim’s book is different than many other Disney books. In most books, there are the familiar stories. In Jim’s book, he fills in the gaps between the paragraphs of those stories with rich detail and texture. He tried very hard to find stuff that nobody else had found with success. Jim claims that, “None of the stories in this section appear in any of those other sources, except, on very rare occasion, in a brief sentence or two.” As a person who has read many books on the subject of Disney, this is certainly believable. There are lots of new things to discover within these pages.
When I review a book I typically highlight key points or new (to me) observations. This process will not work for Jim’s book. Everything is a highlight. One story that represents a key lesson for him was due to the movie The Aristocats. Jim was not a fan but he learned to enjoy the movie because of the way it was developed and because of a woman who claimed it was her favorite movie. That is when he realized that somebody out there likes something and you should not prejudge.
Jim is on a mission. He feels many of the stories about Disney are getting lost as time passes by and the next generation of Cast Members will be missing out. He has accepted the responsibility to make sure that somebody has documented this stuff.
If you are an uber-Disney geek then you will want to add this book to your library. The book is a collection of dozens of short essays. One warning. Since a lot of the book deals with some of the more obscure projects to come out of Disney be prepared to want to hunt down the source material.
I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
DISNEYLAND: From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After
Jeff Kurtti • Photographs by Michael Carroll • 2010 • 64 pages • Disney Editions • $7.95
If you have visited Disneyland you will probably have seen Jeff Kurtti’s Disneyland: From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After in many of the shops. Kurtti has released a delightful look back at the history of Disneyland. As a collector of Disneyland souvenir books, this is one of my new favorites. It only cost $7.95, an incredible value.
What Kurtti has done is rather simple. He would find a historic photo from the park and then pair it to a new photo from the same point of view. What you get is what Kurtti notes in the introduction; Disneyland “is revelatory in the drastic change you will see – and the almost complete lack of change you will see.” The author puts into perspective how time and taste have shifted the thematic foundations.
Unlike a similar effort by a fan, Kurtti has access to photos that only a Disney insider could hope to get. For example, there is a terrific view from on top of a Main Street building looking northwest. When you compare the two photos you note that the trees have grown and the signs are different but very little else has changed.
The mysterious moving Disneyland band shell is a wonderful story. Originally, the band shell was going to be located right were the flagpole on Main Street stands today. Walt thought it blocked the view of the castle and had it moved before the park opened to the public. So it bounced around the park and has now found a home in nearby Newport Beach. Sadly, the recent photo features the hideous “Celebrate” obstruction that used to block the view of the Castle. Thankfully that “design” element it is now long gone.
Kurtti has included rare construction photos such as the one of Monstro the whale at the entrance of the Storybook Land Canal Boats. He notes that Monstro was supposed to be a water flume ride where you would escape out of the whale’s mouth. Walt didn't want to waste all of that theming when the beast would be behind the guests. He wanted them to see Monstro, so he reversed the direction so that you could be swallowed up instead.
The photos comparing the old and new Fantasyland are some of the most startling. Some of the most dynamic changes have come with Tomorrowland. Sadly, sometimes change can have mixed results. We are reminded spaceships alongside the Buzz Lightyear building have covered up artist Mary Blair’s timeless mural.
This is a terrific book and I highly recommend it.
I purchased this book at the Disneyana shop in Disneyland.
Well, that's a week from the shelves of my Disney library. Have you read any of these books? What's YOUR review?
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