Monday, June 23, 2014

Between Books - Service with Character

I'm a pretty sure that David Lesjak wrote Service with Character: The Disney Studio
& World War II
for me.  My Master's degree focused on World War II history.  And when I crash my way through Disney books it is often this era my mind wanders towards.  So I am pretty sure that Lesjak wrote this title mostly so I can finally have my curious questions answered.

David Lesjak in Service with Character: The Disney Studio & World War II details the efforts of the Walt Disney Studio in supporting the American, and Allied, war effort.  He provides detailed chapters on the home front, insignia creation, propaganda and training films and contributions to print media.  Along with these chapters that provide a transactional history of the studio's efforts, Lesjak provides a detailed look at the development of the failed Gremlins live-action film and all its complications.  As a companion to the chapters, the authors provides a detailed list of supporting artifacts that can be viewed online.  And he reprints letters and messages of interest in a series of Appendixes.  

Overall I was impressed with Service with Character as a solid historical monograph that has been well researched and written in a clear manner that even non history buffs could read.  The topics did satisfy my interest on a number of topics, like insignia.  I am pleased to now have this volume in my Between Library for easy reference.  My only quibble is around the lists of supporting collectibles for viewing.  I really wish that some of them could have been included as illustrations within the text.  It would likely be cost prohibitive to print images of the numerous items listed.  I am still old school reading print copies.  And it is difficult to reference a website during my prime reading time.  So, reading through the artifacts I was inspired to go look for some of these objects.  At the time of this posting, the website supporting the book with the collectibles is not yet up.  

The book really illuminated this period of Disney history for me.  And the book makes it clear that the Walt Disney Studio was financially pressed during this era, and much of it was due to Walt Disney's own efforts.  Disney legitimately supported the American war effort and his choices lead him to lose money during a time where his film markets were already dwindling.  For example, the short film he made for the Treasury Department The New Spirit further limited his markets by providing a free Disney short to theaters.  Therefore, they did not need to order the newest Disney short to bring in an audience.  And it is remarkable reading the struggles Disney went through to get paid by the U.S. government while being accused of price gouging on a product that was actually cutting into Disney profits.  And the story of Disney's insignia production, which was completed for free and always in demand, was a topic I have wanted to read about for awhile.  As one reads through the chapter one can easily grow to admire the dedication of Henry "Hank" Porter who took the lead on this Disney morale initiative for the armed forces.    

Service with Character is a must own for Walt Disney Studio history fans.  The text does an excellent job outlining a key moment in studio history.  Additionally, World War II history enthusiasts will also enjoy this book, since it shows one company's war efforts.  In many ways, Disney is one example of the many companies who's production was reoriented towards the war and struggled with diminishing profits and dwindling work forces.  

For me, Service with Character has filled a key need in my Between Books library.  I love the detailed accounts of film and insignia production found in the text.  And I cannot help but admire the efforts of Walt Disney and his staff for keeping a studio open while finding their own avenues to support the war effort.  

Review Copy Provided for Review

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