Walt Disney: an American Original, Commemorative Edition

Walt Disney: an American Original, Commemorative Edition

by Bob Thomas
Walt Disney: an American Original, Commemorative Edition

Walt Disney: an American Original, Commemorative Edition

by Bob Thomas

Hardcover(Media Tie-in)

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This is the Commemorative Edition of one of the most trusted and respected nonfiction books about Walt Disney ever written!

Includes 4 commemorative essays; a photo insert with more than 60 behind-the-scenes images; and an endnotes section with insightful passages from 15 Disney historians and authors to provide further context for modern audiences.

Walt Disney is an American hero. From Mickey Mouse to Disneyland, he changed the face of American culture. His is a success story like no other: a man who developed animated film into an art form and made a massive contribution to the folklore of the world.

After years of research, respected Hollywood biographer Bob Thomas produced this definitive biography of the person behind the legend of Disney: the unschooled cartoonist from Kansas City, Missouri, who—though his initial studio went bankrupt during his first movie venture—developed into a creative spirit who produced unmatched works of entertainment that have influenced generations.

Inside the Commemorative Edition paperback:
• Special essays by Christopher Miller, Jeff Kurtti, Marcy Carriker Smothers, and Rebecca Cline and an updated index from the 2023 edition
• Preface by Bob Thomas from the 1994 edition
• Foreground, 28 chapters, and sources by Bob Thomas from the 1976 edition
• Endnotes excerpting 15 books that have furthered Bob’s research from the 2023 edition
• 32-page photo insert with more than 60 behind-the-scenes images from the 2023 edition

Searching for information about Walt Disney? Explore more books from Disney Editions:
  • The Official Walt Disney Quote Book
  • People Behind the Disney Parks: Stories of Those Honored with a Window on Main Street, U.S.A.
  • Maps of the Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years from California to Shanghai
  • Walt's Disneyland: A Walk in the Park with Walt Disney
  • The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781368083966
Publisher: Disney Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/07/2023
Series: Disney Editions Deluxe
Edition description: Media Tie-in
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 23,722
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

BOB THOMAS (1922–2014) is the author of numerous books, including biographies on Fred Astaire; Bing Crosby; Howard Hughes; and Joan Crawford, plus three editions of The Art of Animation (1958–1997) and the 1998 Roy O. Disney biography. He was issued a special commendation at the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony in 2001.

About the Commemorated Edition's Contributors:
  • CHRISTOPHER MILLER grew up in southern California, the son of the late Ron and Diane Miller, and grandson of Walt and Lillian Disney. Christopher serves as a board member for The Walt Disney Family Museum and Walt Disney Family Foundation.
  • JEFF KURTTI is a prolific author and leading authority on Disney history, with more than 40 volumes to his credit. He has enjoyed a career as an author, writer, producer, and consultant in the motion picture, theater, and themed-design industries.
  • MARCY CARRIKER SMOTHERS is the author of the fan favorite Eat Like Walt, a New York Times New & Noteworthy selection in 2018. Her love of all things Disney inspired her to write Walt's Disneyland (2021) and 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime (2022).
  • REBECCA CLINE, director of the Walt Disney Archives, is charged with collecting and preserving all aspects of Disney history and making the material available to researchers from all areas of the company. Becky also coauthored The Walt Disney Studios (2019) and Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks (2020).

Read an Excerpt

“Disneyland isn’t designed just for children. When does a person stop being a child? Can you say that a child is ever entirely eliminated from an adult? I believe that the right kind of entertainment can appeal to all persons, young or old. I want Disneyland to be a place where parents can bring their children—or come by themselves and still have a good time.”
Walt Disney was talking to me as he drove his convertible along a wide boulevard lined with fragrant groves of orange trees. The car’s top was down, but he scarcely seemed to notice the cool April morning. Nor did he appear to be cognizant of the route he had taken from his Burbank studio to downtown Los Angeles and through the sprawling orchards of Orange County; he had traveled the same freeway and streets with regularity for a year. He was intent on describing the pleasure park he was building in Anaheim.
“It all started when my daughters were very young, and I took them to amusement parks on Sunday,” he told me. “I sat on a bench eating peanuts and looking all around me. I said to myself, dammit, why can’t there be a better place to take your children, where you can have fun together? Well, it took me about fifteen years to develop the idea.”
The convertible turned off Harbor Boulevard and entered the vast black expanse which was the Disneyland parking lot. It stretched almost immeasurably, with fresh white hash marks indicating spaces for future parkers; at the extremities, steamrollers were gliding back and forth, smoothing the steaming asphalt. Disney brought his car to a halt in front of the entrance, over which a newly painted railroad station loomed. One of the men awaiting his arrival was Joe Fowler, a plain-spoken ex-admiral who was construction boss for Disneyland.
“How’s it going?” Disney asked.
“Okay,” Fowler replied. “I took a look all around the park this morning, and I think we’ll make the opening all right. Just barely. But we’ll make it.”
“Well, I hope so,” Disney said with a wry grin. “Otherwise we’ll have to paint a lot of signs saying, ‘Watch for the grand opening of this exhibit.’ ”
“I don’t think we’ll have to do that, Walt,” Fowler assured.
“Just in case, I’ve ordered a lot of bunting for the opening,” Disney said. “That’ll cover up what isn’t ready.”
A handsome young Texan, Earl Shelton, said he would fetch a jeep for the inspection tour. Disney leaned against his car and pulled off his shoes and replaced them with brown cowboy boots. He was wearing gray slacks, black sport coat, and a red-checked shirt with a neckerchief bearing the symbol of the Smoke Tree Ranch of Palm Springs. He completed the costume with a white Western-style hat. Disney strode through the passageway under the railroad tracks, glanced around the town square, then climbed the stairs to the train station, with me following him. “This will be a nice shady place for the people to wait for the train,” he said, looking about the bright, airy station. “Look at that detail in the woodwork. We got hundreds of photographs and drawings of railroad stations in the last century, and we copied all the details.” He stood on the platform for a minute and seemed to be envisioning the locomotive huffing into the station with breaths of steam, the passengers anxious to climb aboard.
Shelton was waiting with the jeep at the bottom of the stairs, and Disney and I climbed in. The jeep swung around the square and started idling down Main Street. The buildings were half-painted, and some of the steel superstructure was exposed. But to Walt it seemed the small-town Main Street of his youth, in turn-of-the-century Missouri.
He described what the stores would be like. An ice-cream parlor with marble-topped tables and wire-back chairs. A candy shop, where taffy would be pulled and chocolate fudge concocted in view of the patrons. A music store with gramophones and player pianos and a silent-movie house with six screens.
He talked in flat, matter-of-fact tones that were unmistakably middle-American. When he described how a part of Disneyland would dramatize itself to the customers, he seemed almost transported. The right eyebrow shot up, the eyes gleamed, the mustache waggled expressively. He had used the same persuasion in making fairy tales come to life; now he was telling how the half-finished buildings would soon contribute to the enjoyment of patrons making their way through the park.
The jeep came to a circular park where workmen were straining to lower a huge olive tree into the ground. “This is the hub of Disneyland, where you can enter the four realms,” Disney said. “Parents can sit in the shade here if they want, while their kids go off into one of the other places. I planned it so each place is right o­ the hub. You know, when you go to a world’s fair, you walk and walk until your feet are sore. I know mine always are. I don’t want sore feet here. They make people tired and irritable. I want ’em to leave here happy. They’ll be able to cover the whole place and not travel more’n a couple of miles.”
He went first into Fantasyland, which he admitted was his favorite. The jeep passed over a bridge and through Sleeping Beauty’s towering, blue-turreted castle. The courtyard of the castle was a jumble of lumber and packing crates and newly painted signs, but Walt saw the place as it would be: “A splash of color all around-reds, yellows, greens. Each ride will have a mural eight feet by sixty feet. In the middle, King Arthur’s carousel with leaping horses, not just trotting, but all of them leaping. The rides will be like nothing you’ve ever seen in an amusement park before.” He described each one in detail. In Peter Pan’s Flight, you would fly y out the window of the Darlings’ house, over Big Ben and the Thames and on to Never Land; in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, your ancient automobile would crash through haystacks and fences; in Snow White’s Adventures, you would visit the Dwarfs’ diamond mine, then travel through the Enchanted Forest to meet the terrifying witch; in the Mad Tea Party, you would twirl in giant teacups that revolved around each other.
Then to Frontierland through Davy Crockett’s stockade, built of real logs and foot-long nails. The jeep bounced along a dusty road; soon, Disney said, stagecoaches would pass this way, trundling through the Painted Desert and skirting the bank of the river, only a dry ditch now. Resting on the bottom was the steel hull of a boat, with a steam engine inside and wooden planking on the deck. The superstructure was being built at the studio, Disney explained, and he described how the Mark Twain would paddle through these future waters like the great Mississippi steamers of another century. In warehouses behind Frontierland, Disney displayed some of his treasures: two steam engines of five-eighths scale for the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad; surreys, stagecoaches, trolley cars, all constructed new at the studio; automatic organs and pianos, hand-crank kinetoscopes and penny arcade machines, collected by Disney scouts from all over America; rows of hand-carved carousel horses, bought in Coney Island and Toronto, all of them leaping.
Adventureland was a rambling ditch with the suggestion of a tropical jungle on its banks. Disney stepped down from the jeep and walked along the riverbed, describing to me what the jungle ride would be like. A pilot would take the visitor down the great rivers of the world, past mined temples and through rain forests. Dangers were everywhere: hippos charging at the boat, ears twitching; crocodiles with mouths agape; cannibals dancing on the shore; a waterfall that threatened to inundate the explorers. The adventures became a vivid reality in Disney’s recounting.
The jeep drove on to Tomorrowland, where a massive rocket pointed skyward. There, Disney said, visitors would enjoy the fantasy of being transported to the moon and back. Kids who dreamed of driving would be able to do so on a miniature freeway, operating gasoline-fueled cars.
The tour was over, and Disney conferred with some of his construction men about the day’s problems. Then he took o­ his walking boots and hat and prepared for the drive back to Los Angeles. He took a final look down the unpaved Main Street toward the castle. “Don’t forget,” he said to me, “the biggest attraction isn’t here yet.”
“What’s that?”
“People. You fill this place with people, and you’ll really have a show.”
• • •
The year was 1955, and Walt Disney was fifty-three years old. He had already developed the animated fi lm into an art form and had made a massive contribution to the folklore of the world. Now he was on the threshold of another achievement. Disneyland proved to be an unparalleled success, as innovative in the field of outdoor entertainment as the Disney cartoons had been in the world of film.
Disneyland, together with the television series that helped finance and publicize the park, brought fiscal security to the Disney enterprise for the first time in its thirty years of existence. Roy Disney no longer needed to importune bankers for money to meet the payroll and fulfill his brother’s dreams. Financial jeopardy had never worried Walt, and release from it did not lessen his creative drive. Far from it. In the last decade of his life, Walt Disney pushed himself and his co-workers to new plateaus of creativity. He seemed to consider his time limited, and his impatience to get things done sometimes made him hard to work for. He had little patience with those whose thinking was earthbound. One of his writers observed: “When Walt dropped an idea, he didn’t expect you to pick it up where he left it; you were supposed to move a couple of steps beyond. God help you if you took his idea and ran in the wrong direction. If you did, one eyebrow would rise and the other would descend, and he’d say, ‘You don’t seem to get it at all.’ ”
Disney possessed a remarkable skill for drawing the best from those who worked with him. Many of them were astonished at what they could accomplish under his prodding; Disney never was. He expected the best and would not relent until he got it. The bright sharpness of his vision compelled his workers to achievement. “Walt is the best gagman around here,” his cartoonists said in awe. It was their highest compliment; not only could he devise moments of hilarity, but he could blend character and action into prodigious feats of storytelling. Above all, he was a storyteller, whether he was spellbinding a half dozen animators in the studio “sweatbox” or providing entertainment for a packed Radio City Music Hall. The communication was the same; he had an uncanny capacity for reaching the human heart, hence causing nervousness and distrust among intellectuals. They exulted in the Disney failures—and he had some. No one could attempt so much and not fail. But he had an imperishable optimism that allowed him to overcome failure, condescending critics, foreclosing bankers, defecting employees, fraudulent distributors, and other hazards of the motion-picture industry. By the end of his life, his vision had taken him beyond—to the planning of a university that would intermingle all the arts and to the shaping of a city that would prove a model for the future.
How could it happen? How could one man produce so much entertainment that enthralled billions of human beings in every part of the world? That is the riddle of Walt Disney’s life. The answer can’t be found in his background. His parents were plain people who moved from one section of the country to another in futile search of the American dream. Young Walt showed no brilliance as a student; he daydreamed through his classes. Cartooning proved his major interest, but his drawings were uninspired; as soon as he could hire better cartoonists, he gave up drawing entirely. It seems incredible that the unschooled cartoonist from Kansas City, a bankrupt in his first movie venture, could have produced works of unmatched imagination—and could even have undertaken the creation of a future city. In terms of accomplishment, he might be considered a genius, but the word has lost its impact in the movie world. And even true genius must have roots.

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