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Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination Paperback – October 9, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679757473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679757474
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Neal Gabler's meticulously researched biography, Walt Disney offers the full story (Gabler is the first writer to gain complete access to the Disney archives) of the American icon. Readers will discover the whole story, witnessing Disney's invention of a "synergistic empire that combined film, television, theme parks, music, book publishing, and merchandise." What fans don't know could fill a book (this book in fact), and we asked Gabler to point out a few of the juicy bits. Read our interview with him, and his "10 Things That May Surprise You" list below. --Daphne Durham


10 Second Interview: A Few Words with Neal Gabler

Q: Why Walt Disney?
A: When you write about someone as grandiose as Walt Disney, you may tend to get a little grandiose yourself, so forgive me. But I had always set the task for myself to examine the forces that helped define American culture in the twentieth century and those individuals who might be regarded as the architects of the American consciousness. Walt Disney was certainly one of those forces and one of those architects. His visual sensibility is arguably one of the two most important in the last century, along with Picasso's, yet Picasso has received dozens of biographies and Walt Disney had, when I began, not received a single full-scale, fully-annotated biography. I wanted to fill that gap in our cultural studies. I thought that if one could understand Walt Disney, one could go a long way to understanding American popular culture.

Q: One thing that strikes you when reading the book is that Walt Disney never had any money. With all his success how is that possible?
A: It is astonishing that Walt Disney was always--and I do mean always--in dire financial straits until the opening of Disneyland. The primary reason wasn't that his cartoons weren't making money, because they were--at least until the war in Europe when the loss of that market meant disaster for the features. But even as they were making money, the studio was losing money because Walt was constitutionally incapable of cutting corners, enforcing economies, laying off staff. The only thing about which Walt Disney cared was quality. He thought that quality was the way to maintain his preeminence, though quality also had the psychological advantage of letting him perfect his world. The problem was that quality was expensive. To cite just one example, Walt spent more than a hundred thousand dollars setting up a training program for would-be animators, though even then the return was small because Walt was so picky that very few of the candidates actually qualified to work at the studio. Money meant very little to Walt Disney. It was only a means to an end, never an end in itself.

Q: When did Walt first conceive of the idea for Disneyland and what were the initial reactions to the idea?
A: It is very difficult to determine exactly when Walt hatched the idea for Disneyland, though he seems to have been thinking about it for a long time, at least since the early 1930s. Certainly by the time he was taking his daughters, Diane and Sharon, to amusement parks on Sunday afternoons in the late 1940s, he had formulated the idea to establish a park that was clean and wholesome and where parents wouldn't be afraid to take their children. The original plan was to build the park on a plot adjacent to the studio in Burbank, where there would be a train, a town square, an Indian village and kiddieland rides, but as Walt's ideas expanded, so did the need for a bigger plot. As for the reactions to his idea, Roy was initially reluctant, as usual, and Walt's wife, Lillian, was firmly opposed, though she had also been opposed to his making Snow White. Still, Walt exaggerated the opposition as a way, I think of elevating his own foresight and determination. In fact, as the plan grew closer to realization, corporations sought to be included as lessees, and even banks, that had been skeptical, became more receptive. When the park opened, it was an instant success.

Q: What do you think has been Walt's most lasting impact/legacy on American culture?
A: One could answer this question in a dozen different ways depending on one's priorities, but I think his largest bequest is a matter of the American mind. Walt Disney helped change the national consciousness. He got people to believe in the power of wish fulfillment--in their own ability to impose their wills on a recalcitrant reality. That's what Walt Disney did all his life. He managed to replace reality with his illusions--what some people now refer to disparagingly as Disneyfication. He sold us on the idea of control because Walt Disney was himself a master of control. We see the results everywhere--from film to theme parks to virtual reality to virtual politics.


You Don't Know Disney: 10 Things That May Surprise You

1. He is not frozen. His body was cremated, and his ashes are interred at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, near his studio.
2. Mickey Mouse's original name allegedly was Mortimer but Disney's wife Lillian objected because she thought it too "sissified."
3. Some of the names originally considered for the dwarfs in Snow White were: Deafy, Dirty, Awful, Blabby, Burpy, Gabby, Puffy, Stuffy, Nifty, Tubby, Biggo Ego, Flabby, Jaunty, Baldy, Lazy, Dizzy, Cranky and Chesty.
4. Walt Disney suffered a nervous breakdown in 1931 and descended into depression after the war, concentrating his attention on model trains rather than on motion pictures.
5. Fantasia was the result of a chance meeting between Walt Disney and symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski at Chasen's restaurant.
6. During World War II the Disney studio became a war factory with well over 90% of its production in the service of government training, education and propaganda films.
7. The studio stopped production for six months on Pinocchio because Walt felt the title character wasn't likable enough. During this time he devised the idea of introducing Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio's conscience.
8. Walt Disney received more Academy Awards than any other individual--32.
9. Disney modeled Mickey Mouse on Charlie Chaplin and that Chaplin later assisted the Disneys by loaning them his financial books so they could determine what kind of proceeds they should be getting from their distributor on Snow White.
10. MGM head Louis B. Mayer once rejected the opportunity to distribute Mickey Mouse cartoons shortly after Walt had invented the character because Mayer said that pregnant women would be frightened by a giant mouse on screen.


--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 of Mary 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 like Fantasia and Pinocchio. "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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This book is very well researched and is very detailed.
V. Hallsten
This book is an absolute must read for any Disney or Hollywood fan AND for anyone who just wants to read a great story about a great man.
Kathleen Donaldson
Neal Gabler's new Walt Disney book is as epic as the man himself.
dave-o

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Beiman on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Walt Disney has become a legendary character of the twentieth century. So much was written about him, and so much was inaccurate, that the legends often attained a currency that was not deserved. How many times have we heard that he was frozen? Gabler (who was the first of Walt's biographers to work with rare Disney family records) opens the book with this statement (it's not true.)

The truth is much more interesting than that.

Disney was an optimistic, hardworking go-getter with an astounding capacity for concentration who fell in love with the early twentieth century's high technology--motion pictures. Motion pictures drawn by hand.

He had the perseverance to start over again every time he failed artistically and financially. And fail he did. This is one of the most unlikely success stories ever told, since the Disney Brothers studio was working in a marginal field (animation) in a minor city (Kansas, then Hollywood, when the animation studios were all in New York), and attempting to make it as an independent producer just as the big studios were forming, eliminating independent competition in all but a few areas by 1928.

He made it because he had the unfashionable idea that quality would out, he had a tremendous amount of luck and he knew how to make appealing entertainment(Mickey Mouse was NOT the first successful character he created). Disney also had a real genius for hiring talented people. A surprising number of remarkable artists started with him in Kansas City, others were trained right on the studio lot.

Mr. Gabler's book is readable and contains much new information. Who would have thought that Charlie Chaplin was, at one time, Snow White's Prince?
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144 of 172 people found the following review helpful By Hans Perk on September 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Having collected and read about Walt Disney and animation for 30+ years, I found that the only proper way to read Gabler's biography is as follow-up to the great book by Michael Barrier, "An Animated Man", also available on Amazon. Barrier gives the structure of Walt's life as centered on Walt's true loves: his animation and his parks. While Barrier's book is a very pleasant read, and gives insight in what made Walt tick. As a contrast, Gabler recites data as if it was a class in Latin and represents Walt as a kind of nut. Gabler clearly neither likes nor understands Walt. He also has no knowledge of--or love for--the medium of animation, and he keeps talking of Walt's "animations," an expression that is only used by people who have no idea what they are talking about. But he did have access to the Archives, and thus some things are only to be found in his book. There are many, many factual errors in Gabler's book. A huge list can be found on Barriers's site (Google "GablerErrata"). And as a final note, on that same site, one can read that Diane Disney Miller herself thinks the Gabler book is a gross misrepresentation of her father (Google "Diane_On_Gabler"). So buy both books, read Barrier first, then Gabler, and then make up your own mind!
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80 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen Donaldson on November 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination is a very speical book. Every aspect of Disney's life is covered in detail. It is a vivid, acurate book about one of Hollywood's only geniuses.
Disney himself was not a jolly, happy man as we all think he was. Throughout his life he was often depressed and felt lonely. He went through finaical problems at his studio. (The book makes it clear that Disney was an awful businessman.) He overworked himself and his animators. But look at his product! Pinnochio, Snow White, Fantasia and so on.
As he aged, he became less obsessive, less sad, less of a workaholic. Disneyland, perhaps his most successful project finacially, put him out of the debt that he had been dealing with since the beginning of his carreer. He watched his grandchildren grow.
However, Disney's life was cut short due to years of chainsmoking. He greatest dream, EPCOT and Disney World were not fully realized before his death. Instead of the absolutely extraordinary city and vacation area he planned, his company threw together a resort with a lame, already dated world's fair (the oposite of his plan) and a replica of Disneyland.
Gabler, while telling this magnificent story, also puts to rest the legend that Disney was anti-Jew and anti-Black. Disney, while being an avid republican from the 1940s on, was not any of these things. Many Jewish people and Black people were employed at the studio and treated fairly. Disney was a supporter of McCarthy's witchhunts, but only because a terrible, communist-fueled strike took a toll on his studio and work ethic.
It also puts to rest the myth that Disney was frozen. He was cremated! (Other biographies have stated that as well.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have already covered most of the key points to be made. The remarks that follow are somewhat more personal than theirs. Throughout my childhood, films were "magic carpets" which transported me to distant lands, past centuries, and human experiences almost (not quite) too good or too bad to be true. However, I knew that the murders, plane crashes, train wrecks, buildings ablaze, earthquakes, and attacks by Apaches - albeit exciting -- were not "real." One exception: Disney's animated feature films: they touched my young heart in ways and to an extent no other films did.

Decades later, I still vividly recall how upset I was by separations of "children" from their parents (e.g. Dumbo from his mother, Pinocchio from Gepetto) and especially upset when Bambi eagerly awaited the return of his mother from the meadow, and when the seven dwarfs incorrectly assumed (as did I) that Snow White was dead. With all due respect to brilliant musical scores (I saved up from what my paper routes earned to purchase most of the sound track albums) and to the delightful and wholesome humor of characters such as Thumper and the chorus of crows reacting to a flying elephant, there were always darker themes and ominous elements at work in a series of animated feature films.

Now having read Neal Gabler's book which will probably be the definitive biography of Walt Disney, at least for a while, I have a much better understanding of the creative genius who deserves and has received primary credit for the "magic" to be found in so many of the films and to be experienced while visiting the theme parks. I also have a much better understanding of the tormented man whose emotional complexity and ambiguity are reflected in so many of his animated feature films.
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