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Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince Paperback – December, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This book is called the first truly unauthorized biography, and in the case of Disney, unauthorized is important because all previous "authorized" biographies had to pass the scrutiny of Disney Studios. Without manuscript approval, the Disney archives were off-limits to Eliot ( Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen , LJ 8/92), although their contents could be gleaned from other works on his subject. This volume includes interviews--both anonymous and attributed--with former Disney animators. The darker side of Disney includes his cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee and the FBI, as well as "Uncle Walt's" strong antiunion campaigns. His troubled personal life is explored both as biography and as the source of his creative expressions. While not without flaws, this book is essential for any library that wants to provide an alternative to the sanitized versions of Dinsey's life.
- Sherle Abramson, Williamsburg Regional Lib., Va.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Muckraking, unauthorized biography of Disney that nonetheless paints such a rending picture of his childhood and young manhood that one forgives most of his later lapses. Eliot (Down Thunder Road, 1991, etc.) thinks that Disney was a great artist--which may account for what turns out to be a largely sympathetic biography of the filmmaker's dark side. Disney's fundamentalist father, Elias, was such a monster to his sons, whom he beat mercilessly, that Walt came to believe he wasn't his father's child--nor would Walt's mother protect him from Elias's savagery. These trials, and especially the anxiety about his parentage, became the template for Disney's later cartoon stories, Eliot says, and account in part for the mogul's endless troubles with his stable of animators, whom he underpaid and refused to give any power to. Nor would Disney grant Mickey Mouse's real creator, fellow animator Ub Iwerks, his proper credit, though Iwerks was Disney's oldest friend aside from the filmmaker's brother, Roy. On his marriage night, Disney found himself impotent, Eliot says, a state that later recurred during times of stress, which were exacerbated by a drinking problem and bouts of depression. Meanwhile, Disney's father had instilled in the boy a hatred of Jews, and Walt never curbed his tongue about Jews among his animators--and especially not when talking about fellow studio heads. He felt cut out of the real money in Hollywood since he could only produce movies with his own money while other studios monopolized distribution and exhibition. Following WW II, Disney helped organize resistance to the studio monopolies and in many ways brought about the downfall of the studio system. Earlier, he had become an informant for the FBI--according to Eliot, Disney wanted J. Edgar Hoover to investigate whether he really was the son of his alleged father--and, here, the author draws from some 500 pages of Disney's reports to the Bureau. Very readable, actually quite laudable, work. (Sixteen pages of photographs--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins (Mm) (December 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061007897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061007897
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 4.2 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,119,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marc Eliot is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books on popular culture, among them the highly acclaimed biography Cary Grant, the award-winning Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince, and most recently American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood, plus the music biographies Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen, To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, and Death of a Rebel about Phil Ochs. He has been featured in many documentaries about film and music and has written on the media and popular culture for numerous publications. He divides his time among New York City; Woodstock, New York; and Los Angeles. Visit him at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By KM Day on December 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book as part of my post grad research on the design of the international Disneylands and was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about Walt. I understand that there is the 'myth' of Walt that has been cultivated over decades and that this 'myth' is supposed to add to the magic of all things Disney. In Eliot's book, the myth is removed and Disney's path to success is revealed. So what if he made some strange choices along the way - don't we all? So what if he faced failure, bankruptcy, dodgy deals and disaster along the way? Isn't that part of the entrepreneurship process? Doesn't that make his achievements all the more important?
Walt became far more interesting and far more inspiring after reading this book.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
If your wanting to learn about the life of Walt Disney, this
is one of the two books you MUST read. The other being "Walt Disney: An American Original". This book does an excellent job of walking through the great Mr. Disney's life from the eyes of many people other than those close to his family. It provides very interesting insights into Disney's experiences with the more unpleasant aspects of building a business legacy, such as breaking into the Hollywood community, labor unions, personal hardships, family and business squabbles, friendships gained and lost, and of course...many of his activities as a special industry contact agent for the FBI. But this book never turns into a "mud-slinging" read. It strikes a very good balance of pointing out Disney's unique qualities, good and bad. Although Disney is somewhat of an enigma, this book makes us appreciate that he was, after all, just a man. I would have liked to see the book go on for another 50+ pages with more info on the last 10 years of his life, as the book did seem to rush through those years. But that does not detract from the enjoyment of this book. For more insights into Disney's last years (1970+), I recommend the book "Prince of the Magic Kingdom: Michael Eisner".
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Format: Hardcover
Other readers have pointed out the flaws in this book, most of them dealing with errors of fact and the author's tendency to spin yarns from a few disconnected pieces of Disney's life. While it's true that he's done that, he also has unflinchingly laid bare the abuse in Walt's early life (which is glossed over in other authorized bios) and how he reacted to it.

If Eliot really wanted to do a number on Disney, he might have charged many other things, but even he doesn't dare suggest that, for example, Disney's interest in the Mouseketeers was anything other than absolutely normal paternal interest. (He does suggest, from one photograph reprinted in the book, that Disney may have had an affair with Dolores del Rio, but there's absolutely no substantiation for that in the text.)

I personally am a huge fan of all things Disney and a great admirer of Walt Disney himself. His achievements were so towering that it seems petty to worry about his less-than-perfect side. When Eliot refers to `careers ruined' at Disney Studios, he's speaking of employees who felt stifled by the atmosphere and who did not receive as much credit as they would have liked for their achievements. But Disney made it plain from the beginning that he was going to promote the Disney name and nothing else, and it worked beautifully. Anyone who was looking for more personal glory had the option of leaving, and many did. Those who stayed had to know what the rules were.

The one new revelation here that I have to admit intrigues me is Eliot's assertion that Disney's favorite breakfast, when he ate alone at his studio desk, was fresh doughnuts dunked in scotch. (Eliot claims Disney's drinking was excessive.
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35 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kara on January 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I love the World That Walt Built beyond all reason. I've studied Disney corporate history, I own stock in the company, and I read anything about it I can lay my hands on.
That said, I know how difficult it is to get a true account of Walt Disney. The company has offered up his image of sainthood for years, making it increasingly difficult to get past that glossed perfection. Disney will do anything to protect its image (understandably so) and this applies lavishly to whitewashing Walt.
I found this book a very moving account of a man brutally abused as a kid, who went through life striving through his unique genius to create and secure the childhood he never had. The book charts Walt's many heights of seeing his various visions to fruition, and the subsequent depression once a dream is realized--the cycle of creativity for us all. And if the book dwells on his considerable darkness, well, there's plenty of room for that. Something needs to balance out the company's, and other writers' God-hype about Walt. His shadow is laid out compassionately in these pages, and Walt Disney stands all the taller for it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ronin on July 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Walt Disney was a visionary, but he was still human. I've read many biographies of Walt Disney and they are almost all pretty much the same, and there's a reason for that; The Walt Disney Company's PR people hand out the same information to anyone writing a bio on him.

Reading between the lines of all the other biographies, I always got the impression that Walt's dad was a bully, a coward, and a jerk, but there was just little hints of his behaviour here and there. This book reveals more of what Walt's early life was like, and how it shaped him as an adult.

The book might be a little silly sometimes, but there is actually some balance. The author does praise Disney often for his vision and creativity. I wish more time was speant on Ub Iwerks and his relationship with Disney.

Anyway, it will round out your view of Disney and perhpas help you to appreciate him just a bit more despite his foibles. He was only human.
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