Monday, February 9, 2015

Between Books - Walt's People: Volume 14 Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him

Sometimes you never know what gem you will find in a volume of Walt's People.  For me my most recent excitement was finding a connection to Disney and the end of the United States Army cavalry.  It is always surprising how a volume of Didier Ghez's edited collection reflects 20th century history and culture in unexpected ways be it the rise of modern media or the World War II home front.

Walt's People: Volume 14 Talking Disney the Artists Who Knew Him edited by Didier Ghez captures snapshots of Disney history from the early days of the studio to the development of Disneyland Paris.  The majority of chapters are oral history interviews with former Disney employees conducted by historians Dave Smith, Bob Thomas, Ghez, John Canemaker, Jim Korkis and more.  The interviews largely are arranged in chronological order.  Interview subjects that will catch the interest of most Disney fans include Alice Davis, Bill Justice, Joe Grant, and Lillian Disney.  But as always the collection also includes largely unknown names.  Along with the interviews are two essays, on Dick Kelsey and Eric Knight, and a collection of letters.  To close the book is additional reference material for those who want to look deeper into the subjects.

One should know that the majority of the book is interview transcripts, not a narrative.  For historians, as I keep saying, this makes these volumes fantastic resources since one can read the actual subjects account in their own words.  Yes at times the memory may have failed some or the interviewee may have remembered something incorrectly.  But the memory is as they recollect it.  For me because of my own interests the interviews that stood out to me were Lillian Disney and Admiral Joe Fowler.  The Disney interview conducted by Michael Broggie discusses Mrs. Disney's marriage to Walt Disney including their courtship.  Though for me what really stood out was the discussion of trains.  A reader discovers that she herself had her own connections to trains, though she largely did not participate in Walt Disney's passion for railroads.  But having Broggie who's father helped Walt Disney build his own backyard train and who himself remembers the Lilly Belle creates an very interesting situation as they reminiscence together about that phase of Walt Disney's life.  Additionally, Mrs. Disney shares with Broggie what her husband thought of Broggie's father Roger.  Being someone who has studied 20th century military history, I found the Fowler interview very interesting.  For me one of the most interesting moments was reading about his post-war position reorganizing the War Department.  As part of this charge, he helped oversee the retirement of the cavalry as a non-essential service.  As someone who has met a former cavalry veteran and visited a museum focused on the horse cavalry, I enjoyed uncovering the surprising connection. 

Walt's People: Volume 14 Talking Disney the Artists Who Knew Him is an essential volume for those who love Disney history (I feel like I have said this before).  The volume captures the words of those who helped create the magic.  Yes, you may read a story you have heard before, like Alice Davis' first meeting with Walt Disney.  But the majority of stories captured include recollections heard less, like why Davis left Disney employment.  Showcasing stories from over 80 years of Disney history including the animation, live-action and the Disney Parks, this volume likely has something that every Disney historian can appreciate.

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

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