Saturday, October 12, 2019

Between Books - Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career

Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career by Kevin P. Rafferty details a Disney story of a young man who turned his back on a life in ministry and a possible animation career to become a key story writer for Walt Disney Imagineering for decades.  Rafferty's story begins with a young man who planned to become a priest.  However, his theological studies were diverted by his love of art.  Planning to become an animator, Rafferty went to art school and started a job at Disneyland.  Thoughts of Disney magic were quickly destroyed as he started his job in the dish room.  However, he persisted, showed himself to be a hard worker and was offered promotions in Food and Beverage that eventually saw him on the floor of Club 33.  With the development of Epcot, WED the future Walt Disney Imagineering began to aggressively recruit new employees which opened the door to Rafferty's entry level, and we mean entry, job at WED.  Again, Rafferty's hard work and a brief stint in marketing allowed him to move past the open door to a long-term and prolific Imagineering career.  Rafferty's numerous projects ranged from the Pan Galactic Pizza Port at Tokoyo Disneyland, the Hollywood Tower of Terror, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Test Track, Carsland, and many many more.

Overall, I really liked Magic Journey.  Rafferty has a calm and easy to approach tone where you feel like you hear his voice and his personality.  And of Imagineers of the second generation, Rafferty comes off as the most approachable.  Additionally as someone who worked on countless projects, there is something for everyone's different Disney niches.  Rafferty also gives his readers a view of some of the non-exciting non-artistic jobs within Imagineering, ones that may not have the spotlight but are important to Imagineering's operations.  Readers also got to see Marty Sklar in a new light, as the humorous boss who often joked back and forth with Rafferty though notes and pictures.  The book is dense with every page packed with words... but Rafferty also provides numerous pictures and images to help support the reader's imagination.

Kevin Rafferty came into Imagineering at the lowest level possible.  Decades later he left as an important story writer and second generation Imagineer.  His memoir Magic Journey provides readers a detailed record of his Walt Disney Imagineering career and the projects that he worked on.  The text is sure to delight Disney parks fans as he details his work internationally with his own inside look at dining, attractions and even entire lands.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Between Books - Tales from the Haunted Mansion: Volume I The Fearsome Foursome

Tales from the Haunted Mansion: Volume I The Fearsome Foursome by Amicus Arcane sets Goosebumps style stories near Disney's Haunted Mansion.  The volume contains four scary (or five) stories based around the Fearsome Foursome, a group of four fictional tweens who love horror stories.  The tales range from the tale of a cursed baseball glove, a dare gone wrong, a sea monster in the background and the return of pets past.  All of these stories are told by Amicus Arcane to the youngsters using his volumes in the library of the Haunted Mansion after they stumbled into the happy haunt.  He promises he can beat the four at their own game in telling scary tales.

I picked up this volume and expected that the stories would be tales of familiar residents in the Haunted Mansion.  Alas, the stories are all actually about the foursome and not the hatbox ghost, Leota or even the mummies.  And for me this is likely what I found a bit lacking, along with not being a tween reader or someone who enjoyed Goosebumps as a kid.  In the end, author John Esposito provides Arcane his stories and illustrator Kelley Jones embellishes these tales with the occasional image that provides closing thoughts on chapters bringing the story out of solely the imagination.  And I assume for a tween who like Disney and scary tales this book is likely going to provide them wall to wall creeps.

Tales from the Haunted Mansion: Volume I The Fearsome Foursome by Amicus Arcane is not what I expected.  It hints at the Haunted Mansion and occasionally provides the needed reference.  While it may not be a volume that adult readers will enjoy, tween horror readers will likely find it fun as they follow tweens that have the same issues as themselves and their friends.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Between Books - Bob Gurr: Legendary Imagineer: Life and Times – Disney and Beyond

A white book cover with title and numerous Bob Gurr designed vehicles such as monorails, submarines and cars

I was super excited that Kindle Unlimited had Bob Gurr: Legendary Imagineer: Life and Times – Disney and Beyond as a title I could check out as part of the service. Everyone enjoys Bob Gurr. He is a natural storyteller. I loved his Design: Just for Fun. And he is full of optimism. In fact it felt like a great read to match a rewatch of Tomorrowland with. But in the end, I felt like I read a book that was more Frank Walker than Bob Gurr.

Bob Gurr: Legendary Imagineer: Life and Times – Disney and Beyond by Bob Gurr is the second autobiography offered by the Disney legend. The book starts very straightforward as the author discusses his family, early life, Disney career, and post Disney endeavors. Along with an outline of his life, the author provides topical chapters on his interests including automobiles, gliders, travel and society. The book provides no images and is strictly narrative. And the chapters are often focused on memories and opinions not designs and projects.

Honestly, you need a Bob Gurr book! But the book you need is Design: Just for Fun, if you can get it. For a Disney fan that book is a rich and detailed story of a career including Disney and non-Disney projects. While there are descriptions of his time at Disney and key projects, Bob Gurr: Legendary Imagineer: Life and Times – Disney and Beyond largely lacks this level of detail and is largely musings and opinions paired with thoughts on hobbies. I did enjoy myself learning about gliders through Gurr’s eyes. But I found myself more greatly immersed in the earlier book including discussions of non-Disney topics like his work with Universal and the Olympics. And these are topics that he largely skips over.

My biggest concern with this self-published offering is the need for an editor. While Gurr notes that he follows grammar rules of his own making, these rules do not support his natural storytelling ability. For example, he adds notes in text, which would flow better without notes notation but just being included in his natural flow. And sometimes I as a reader had trouble keeping track of family members especially with some of them sharing a name. And his transitions can be rough, with one paragraph starting with a comment about today’s films lacking cartoon shorts followed in the next sentence by a comment about the draft. And editor would likely have helped smooth out these bump while making the book sound like Gurr’s own natural storytelling voice

What is also odd is Gurr comes off as a pessimist at times, just like Frank Walker. When I think of Gurr I think of curiosity, innovation and change. But Gurr often laments today’s modern life and looks back fondly at earlier times as the good old days. While we all likely romanticize our childhood, Gurr’s tone at times does not feel aligned with interviews and other writings I have experienced. It felt less optimistic than I expected and believe him to be!

Disney fans really do want do to explore the career and thoughts of Bob Gurr. But Bob Gurr: Legendary Imagineer: Life and Times – Disney and Beyond sadly is not as satisfying as Gurr’s earlier out of print and pricey used Design: Just for Fun. This newer offering does not dig as deep and really only gives readers a brush to Gurr’s fantastic career. The book does add more about his hobbies, which help show his whole personhood. But readers may feel like they have an incomplete picture of this great innovator and designer.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Between Books - Star Wars:Vader - Dark Visions

Cover shows Darth Vader with lightsaber mounted on a horse like creature.

They say everyone is the hero of their own story.  And as I read the back cover of Star Wars: Vader - Dark Visions by Dennis Hopeless and a team of artists I thought I was walking into a story that made the villain a hero.  Instead, I found myself immersed into a very different set of tales.

Star Wars: Vader - Dark Visions provides five separate short stories, all originally offered as single issues in a series.  The stories, unlike what I thought, do not provide us a unified story with Darth Vader as the hero.  Instead they are all views of the Sith Lord which show us how others view him.  In a world who does not know of the Empire, a youngster views the Dark Lord in action.  An Imperial Officer finds himself awaiting Vader's arrival, an arrival he dreads.  A young X-Wing pilot is faced with Vader in battle.  A nurse on the Death Star develops an infatuation with the armored knight.  And finally, we feel the intensity of being hunted by Vader.

Honesty, one of the most challenging tasks in comics is writing a single issue story.  And Hopeless really succeeds  Yes, the premise of the series works to support the changing tales and views.  The stories truly do not connect other an a character viewing Vader in action.  And some of the stories are stronger than others in my view.  But the collected volume is enjoyable and like the Dark Horse story "Five Days of Sith" demonstrates the true evil of Vader and the impact his actions have on others.  For those who want to dive into the evil that is Darth Vader, Star Wars: Vader- Dark Visions will be an interesting ride,

Monday, September 2, 2019

Between Books - 2019 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual

The Hyperion Historical Alliance is a relatively new to the public association with a charge for professional historians to preserve Disney historical documents, artwork and materials. Additionally members will continue to grow Disney scholarship both through an annual and the support in publishing historical monographs. While the group has been in existence since 2009, it is only now in 2019 that the scholarship publications have moved the group into the public eye. And with a membership that includes Didier Ghez, Todd James Pierce and J.B. Kaufman among others, to me the promise of this group and truly professional Disney history seems promising.

The “2019 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” is really the first public facing effort of the Alliance. The publication serves as a true professional journal publication, helping to move forward the concept of professional Disney history. The journey fills a niche found in other historical societies by allowing members to provide the community professionally researched and written short articles on Disney history topics. And the publication truly feels like a professional journal with serious historical scholarship. Perhaps the only things missing are book reviews, calls for papers and membership opportunities (which is not available at this time.)

The “2019 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” offers six articles. The topics range from profiles of former Disney employees who are generally not known in the Disney community, two articles on Ward Kimball, and The Little Mermaid. The topics establish that the Alliance covers numerous decades of Disney history. The articles are all generally written as one would expect a historical journal article, professional, lacking a fan voice and relying heavily on primary sources many of which are not available to the general public. And overall, the authors succeed in providing a professional historical journal complete in tone and style.

Content wise, I really enjoyed “Jack Cutting, an Artist Abroad” by Jim Hollifield. The article did an excellent job of capturing the life of Cutting from artist to Disney executive working with international markets. Cutting served as an employee who could unite the Walt and Roy sides of the company. But perhaps what struck me the most is how examining one individual can show us historical trends at large. This lesson was most highlighted for me in Past Time by Jules Tygiel. While this monograph is focused on baseball, it demonstrates important immigration and industrialization trends in American history. The Cutting article demonstrates how corporate America functioned in a post-World War II environment and the growth of international markets for American businesses.

Sadly, the article I would have liked to see excluded is one of the best written, “Ward Kimball and the Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by Todd James Pierce. I really enjoy Pierce’s written. But much of this content is already available in The Life and Times of Ward Kimball, an excellent monograph. Additionally, Pierce also adapted this content in an audio form as a podcast. And his work is so successful, I actually read the article hearing his voice including pauses and inflection. But I would have really enjoyed new content from this excellent historian, as I believe the audience for the annual may have likely read the Kimball book already like I have.

As someone with two history degrees I really support the idea of professional Disney history. And I plan to look into the both the monographs and future annuals. If anything I would ask right now is how can I support this effort? Membership at the moment is closed to the association. And there are no casual or supporter memberships. I am fully prepared to purchase the future offerings. But I do wonder if in the future there could be membership options like The Society of Baseball Research, which would offer merchandise or provide avenues for publication. Because the “2019 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” makes me hopeful for future of professional Disney history along with a desire to help.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Between Books - Dali and Disney: Destino

Dali and Disney: Destino: The Story, Artwork, and Friendship Behind the Legendary Film by David A. Bossert provides the history behind the famed short "Destino" including the relationship between artists Salvador Dali and Walt Disney before, during, and after the artistic development of the film.  Bossert goes beyond just this artistic pair to discuss the effort to complete the film led by Roy E. Disney which culminated in the short being assembled in 2005.  The book presents as a art of book for the short which includes Bossert's own personal efforts as a producer on the short.  And being a art of style book it is filled with wonderful Dali art and "Destino" concept images from Dali and John Hench. 

Bossert gives the readers what is expected from an art book.  He goes into how Walt Disney came to know Salvador Dali and how Dali came to work for Walt Disney, creating a never made short in "Destino".  And while Disney fans may be thrilled with pictures of Dali riding Disney's home hobby train, it is the Dali background that went above and beyond for me.  Bossert provides Disney fans, assuming we knew much of Disney's history, with a discussion of Dali and his role in surrealism.  This helps one to understand images of watches, Dali and even baseball seen within the film.  The numerous images of both Dali's work and story concept art come together to help one better understand the final images of what is truly a complicated visual short.

One of my favorite discussions of the short's development is the role of John Hench.  This Disney legend worked beside Dali in the development stage.  And the two were in such collaboration that when Hench was asked years later to attribute if he or Dali were the creator of key art pieces, some he could never distinguish authorship for.  

While Bossert does pick up on how Roy E. Disney shepherded the effort to resurrect the never completed short, including using Dali's concept art, test footage and the adapted song, what fascinated me the most was the story of stolen Dali concept art from Disney.  While we today see the Disney Archives as a top notch department, concept art was not as closely protected as it is now.  And an employee stole and sold art completed for "Destino".  Bossert outlines how Disney discovered this theft, how the art was found and Disney's efforts to recover it.  And even the efforts to recover the art can be interesting to the non-art expert 

Dali and Disney: Destino: The Story, Artwork, and Friendship Behind the Legendary Film by David A. Bossert is a visually stunning art book.  It is one that goes beyond restating Disney history, but provides readers with the background needed for Disney fans to better understand Dali.  The text is filled with incredible Dali images both for the short and those key to surrealism.  And most surprising, it provides a somewhat exciting crime thriller as Bossert tells his readers of stolen Dali art.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Between Books - Three Years In Wonderland

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The Disney History Podcast did its job.  I bought the book!  Yep, I could not resist as I binged Todd James Pierce's audio segments.  But would the book fill the Disney history itch I wanted scratched?

Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C.V. Wood, and the Making of the Great American Theme Park by Todd James Pierce details the creation of America's first cinematic theme park, Disneyland, from the perspectives of the park's first General Manager C.V. Wood and Walt Disney.  We know from the beginning of the book that the Wood - Disney relationship is doomed to fail, though Disneyland would be a success.  Pierce provides readers biography of the wild yet charismatic Wood and his unlikely journey to Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and his early work with the Disney brothers.  Pierce adds information about Walt Disney's dream for a theme park and the efforts, especially financial, to get his theme park built. Pierce then narrates the construction of the park, including the attempts by Wood to bring his inner circle into the park management and perhaps enriching himself.  Finally, as the park survives its opening, the author outlines how Wood's relationship with Walt Disney soured, or perhaps never was amicable.  Overall, Pierce helps highlight in a way an official Disney book cannot and will not, Wood's contributions to the building of Disneyland.

I think it is a good sign.  I loved this book, but there is more I wanted from it.  First, I wanted more about C.V. Wood and his private life.  In the narrative, Wood is working in the aircraft industry and then we meet him again at SRI.  I would love to know more about how Wood changed industries.  Second, Pierce tells us that his habit of being a workaholic was an issue for his marriage.  Yet, Pierce discusses mostly Wood at work or play really only with his inner Texas circle, the Bombers.  I would love to hear more about his personal family life during his Disney years.  But perhaps there is no documentation of this period.

Three Years in Wonderland is entertaining and educational.  On the entertainment front, Pierce uses poetic license and flourish at times to make this history feel dramatic and very far from dry.  In the educational side, it really is Wood we learn quite a bit about.  Pierce reinforces that Walt Disney was the most supportive of his creative staff.  And Pierce places Wood within the financial circle of Roy Disney.  It becomes clear that Wood was not a Walt Disney favorite, but instead someone that was necessary not beloved.  And Wood did not cross easily into Walt Disney's circle like Admiral Joe Fowler who seemed to straddle the Walt-Roy division within Disney staff.  In many ways it becomes clear that the charming Wood was destined to leave Disney employment when he was no longer needed to help sell and build Disneyland.

Three Years in Wonderland is must read for Disneyland fans.  It is part soap opera, part history as experienced readers who have glances over Wood's names numerous times learn more about this enigmatic and invisible Disney, no not legend, myth.  In the end, the book scratched my Disney history itch and drove me to want to know more about wood.  Hint, hint...I would love a sequel that discussed Wood's post Disney parks and developments!