From Neal Gabler, the definitive portrait of one of the most important figures in twentieth-century American entertainment and cultural history.
Seven years in the making and meticulously researched-Gabler is the first writer to be given complete access to the Disney archives-this is the full story of a man whose work left an ineradicable brand on our culture but whose life has largely been enshrouded in myth.
Gabler shows us the young Walt Disney breaking free of a heartland childhood of discipline and deprivation and making his way to Hollywood. We see the visionary, whose desire for escape honed an innate sense of what people wanted to see on the screen and, when combined with iron determination and obsessive perfectionism, led him to the reinvention of animation. It was Disney, first with Mickey Mouse and then with his feature films-most notably Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi who transformed animation from a novelty based on movement to an art form that presented an illusion of life.
We see him reimagine the amusement park with Disneyland, prompting critics to coin the word Disneyfication to describe the process by which reality can be modified to fit one's personal desires. At the same time, he provided a new way to connect with American history through his live-action films and purveyed a view of the country so coherent that even today one can speak meaningfully of "Walt Disney's America.' We see how the True-Life Adventure nature documentaries he produced helped create the environmental movement by sensitizing the general public to issues of conservation. And we see how he reshaped the entertainment industry by building a synergistic empire that combined film, television, theme parks, music, book publishing, and merchandise in a way that was unprecedented and was later widely imitated.
Gabler also reveals a wounded, lonely, and often disappointed man, who, despite worldwide success, was plagued with financial problems much of his life, suffered a nervous breakdown, and at times retreated into pitiable seclusion in his workshop making model trains. Gabler explores accusations that Disney was a red-baiter, an anti-Semite, an embittered alcoholic. But whatever the characterizations of Disney's personal life, he appealed to the nation by demonstrating the power of wish fulfillment and the triumph of the American imagination. Walt Disney showed how one could impose one's will on the world.
This is a masterly biography, a revelation of both the work and the man-of both the remarkable accomplishment and the hidden life
Few men could be said to have as pervasive an influence on American culture as Walt Disney, and Gabler (Winchell) scours the historical record for as thorough an explanation of that influence as any biographer could muster. Every period of Disney's life is depicted in exacting detail, from the suffering endured on a childhood paper route to the making ofMary Poppins . The core of Gabler's story, though, is clearly in the early years of Disney's studio, from the creation of Mickey Mouse to the hands-on management of early hits likeFantasia andPinocchio . "Even though Walt could neither animate, nor write, nor direct," Gabler notes, "he was the undisputed power at the studio." Yet there was significant disgruntlement within the ranks of Disney's employees, and Gabler traces the day-to-day resentments that eventually led to a bitter strike against the studio in 1941. That dispute helped harden Disney's anticommunism, which led to rumors of anti-Semitism, which are effectively debunked here. At times, Gabler lays on a bit thick the psychological interpretation of Disney as control freak, but his portrait is so engrossing that it's hard to picture the entertainment mogul playing with his toy trains and not imagine him building Disneyland in his head. 32 pages of photos.100,000 first printing. (Nov. 6) Copyright 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 31, 2006
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Excerpt from Walt Disney by Neal Gabler
Elias Disney was a hard man. He worked hard, lived modestly, and worshiped devoutly. His son would say that he believed in ýwalking a straight and narrow path,ý and he did, neither smoking nor drinking nor cursing nor carousing. The only diversion he allowed himself as a young man was playing the fiddle, and even then his upbringing was so strict that as a boy he would have to sneak off into the woods to practice. He spoke deliberately, rationing his words, and generally kept his emotions in check, save for his anger, which could erupt violently. He looked hard too, his body thin and taut, his arms ropy, his blue eyes and copper-colored hair offset by his stern visageýlong and gaunt, sunken-cheeked and grim-mouthed. It was a pioneerýs weathered faceýa no-nonsense face, the face of American Gothic.
But it was also a face etched with years of disappointmentýdisappointment that would shade and shape the life of his famous son, just as the Disney tenacity, drive, and pride would. The Disneys claimed to trace their lineage to the dýIsignys of Normandy, who had arrived in England with William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings. During the English Restoration in the late seventeenth century, a branch of the family, Protestants, moved to Ireland, settling in County Kilkenny, where, Elias Disney would later boast, a Disney was ýclassed among the intellectual and well-to-do of his time and age.ý But the Disneys were also ambitious and opportunistic, always searching for a better life. In July 1834, a full decade before the potato famine that would trigger mass migrations, Arundel Elias Disney, Elias Disneyýs grandfather, sold his holdings, took his wife and two young children to Liverpool, and set out for America aboard the New Jersey with his older brother Robert and Robertýs wife and their two children.
They had intended to settle in America, but Arundel Elias did not stay there long. The next year he moved to the township of Goderich in the wilderness of southwestern Ontario, Canada, just off Lake Huron, and bought 149 acres along the Maitland River. In time Arundel Elias built the areaýs first grist mill and a sawmill, farmed his land, and fathered sixteen childrenýeight boys and eight girls. In 1858 the eldest of them, twenty-five-year-old Kepple, who had come on the boat with his parents, married another Irish immigrant named Mary Richardson and moved just north of Goderich to Bluevale in Morris Township, where he bought 100 acres of land and built a small pine cabin. There his first son, Elias, was born on February 6, 1859.
Though he cleared the stony land and planted orchards, Kepple Disney was a Disney, with airs and dreams, and not the kind of man inclined to stay on a farm forever. He was tall, nearly six feet, and in his nephewýs words ýas handsome a man as you would ever meet.ý For a religious man he was also vain, sporting long black whiskers, the ends of which he liked to twirl, and jet-black oiled hair, always well coifed. And he was restlessýa trait he would bequeath to his most famous descendant as he bequeathed his sense of self-importance. When oil was struck nearby in what came to be known as Oil Springs, Kepple rented out his farm, deposited his family with his wifeýs sister, and joined a drilling crew. He was gone for two years, during which time the company struck no oil. He returned to Bluevale and his farm, only to be off again, this time to drill salt wells. He returned a year later, again without his fortune, built himself a new frame house on his land, and reluctantly resumed farming.