Just in time for the holidays and gift exchanges comes "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.“
The new biography by Neal Gabler captures the enormous range of Disney's contributions, and restores the flesh and blood to a man whose name for many has become synonymous with blandness and even corporate greed.
Disney's life has been recorded in previous biographies. But Gabler spent seven years poring through the Disney archives, gaining access to letters, contracts, photos and other documents not seen by previous writers.
The result is a book that helps us more completely understand what drove Disney and to place some of his less savory actions in context.
The book also captures Disney's ability to reinvent himself, to find new passions that would inspire his staff and uplift the nation. From adding sound to the silent Mickey Mouse cartoons, Technicolor, "Snow White" in 1937 to "Fantasia" in 1940 to Disneyland in 1955, he was able to bounce back from bouts of mediocrity and near financial ruin to again enchant the world with his unique vision.
I was particularly interested in the portrayal of Disney as a corporate tyrant who, early on, strove to create a collaborative worker's utopia even as he pushed his animators to their limits. In his earliest days, Disney was torn between a desire to be loved by his workers and a need to exercise total control of each project.
Disney was also forced to relinquish some of his control over his studio in 1940, issuing stock to the public _ a move he long resisted and always resented. He rarely attended board meetings, even though he served as chairman, and told associates he would quit before he let the board run "his" business.
The war years hardened Disney, who became more politically conservative, convinced that Communists were behind the studio strike while the studio survived by producing training and propaganda films.
After the war, Disney's interest in the studio waned and he took little interest in such animated fare as "Lady and the Tramp" and "Sleeping Beauty" while his dream of creating Disneyland reginited his creative passions.
The portrait of Disney that Mr. Gabler draws in this book is one of a lonely, eccentric, immensely gifted man: an ambitious workaholic, driven more by perfectionism than by dreams of entrepreneurial power; a dreamer, obsessive about whatever project captured his imagination, be it a cartoon mouse, animatronic robots, miniature trains , or the elaborate, kitschy dreamscape of Disneyland.