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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mineral King: Walt’s Last Lost Project

In the summer of 1958, Walt Disney Productions shot a movie, touted by some and the best adventure movie you’ve never seen – Third Man on the Mountain.  I have to admit, it is one that I have not seen.  But then, with well over 600 films to their credit, there are quite a few Disney films on my yet to see list, but, this one has moved up considerably on the must see list.  The film was shot on location in the Swiss village of Zermatt.  This quaint little town in Swiss Alps is only accessible by a Cog or Rack Railway.  That will become obviously important later in our discussion.  As will the other important development that occurred as a result of Walt’s location visit during shooting.
On Saturday January 21, we gathered at the Walt Disney Family Museum for a discussion of Walt Disney’s last project, and one that not many, but the more serious Walt Disney fans, know anything about.  Most Disney aficionados are pretty knowledgeable about Project Future, which you know better as Walt Disney World.  But…  Did you know that, during the same period that Walt was developing his ideas for Florida, he was also working on developing a ski resort in the California Sierras?  Well, yes he was…  But first, let’s head back to 1958 and the other well development that came out of Walt’s visit to Zermatt.

How many of you remember Holiday Hill at Disneyland?  The mount of dirt was excavated from in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to create the moat, and atop of that mound was one of the towers that supported the Skyway gondola ride.  Since Walt had always felt that the tower detracted from the picture he wanted painted for the Castle, he was always looking for a way to plus the area.  While in Zermatt, Walt sent a postcard by to one of his favorite designers – Harriet Burns.  Harriet’s daughter, Pam Burns-Clair, was also at the Museum for this day’s events.  The postcard simply said this, “Build this.”  You know that build today as the Matterhorn, the first tubular steel rollercoaster, and built inside a mountain.  The added bonus or probably more accurate reason for building it…  It disguised the Skyway tower next to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Another added bonus of the day…  Since there was an event in the morning, Sam Gennawey, and Jeff Kurtti were at the Museum for a Meet & Greet and book signing, I had time between the two events to go through the galleries.  The galleries in a minute, but, the meet and greet was great.  Jeff is one of my favorite presenters (well, they are all my favorites, but, Jeff is at the top of the list) at the Museum, and I always look forward to seeing him.  Since I wrote a review of Sam’s book on my blog, I’ve had the opportunity to strike up an online friendship.  So getting the opportunity to meet him – in person – was special, and I’ve got to say, he is every bit as friendly in person as he is online.  Also in the meet and greet was Werner Weiss of Yesterland.  Werner wrote the Foreword for Sam’s book.  But what followed was a completely unexpected pleasure.

As I mentioned, I got the chance to once again go through the galleries, amazingly, a different experience each time.  This visit will be one of those very special times in my memory.  As I was making the transition from gallery 6 to 7, I notice another individual I now recognize from the earlier meet and greet event.  As I was stopped to talk to a couple of Museum Staffers, I didn’t have a chance, then, to approach this person.  But, I did manage to eventually catch up with him toward the end of gallery 8.  This person was and is David Price, one of the panelists for the afternoon’s event.  I got to introduce myself, and confirm that he was indeed “Buzz” Price’s son, as I had suspected.  And, I got to telling him how much I had enjoyed seeing his dad at an event about a year and half earlier.  And… as it turned out, “Buzz’s” last public appearance, another of my special moments at the Museum.  Not being a person who wants to intrude on others experience in the galleries, I was preparing to move on, and leave David to his viewing and thoughts.  Imagine my joy as he walked along side of me, conversing about the exhibits before us, Walt, and his Dad.  We strolled and talked all the way to the Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination exhibit, where after several minutes we parted company.  It was a most pleasurable 30 minutes which I will always remember fondly.  I was left with one overwhelming thought; I wish I had a Dad that I cherished as much as David so obviously cherishes his Dad.  Thank you David, for spending that time with me.

Now for the reason we came together at the Museum…  We were joined in the Walt Disney Family Museum Theater by Sam Gennawey, David Price, and Ron Miller to talk about the Walt Disney efforts to develop Mineral King Valley, which is now part of the Sequoia National Forest, as a ski resort, and summertime mountain destinations.   You might recognize Sam’s name as I wrote a recent review of his new book, WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City.  I have found Sam’s book thought provoking and inspiring.  David Price is an architect in Southern California, and for the Disney fan, you may recognize a familiarity with his last name.  Yes, David is Harrison “Buzz” Price, the man responsible for the economic study which led to Disneyland’s location in Anaheim, along with dozens of other studies for Walt and the Disney Company.  Finally, we have Ron Miller.  Rom is a former CEO of Walt Disney Productions, husband of Diane Disney Miller, and a co-founder of the Walt Disney Family Museum.  As Sam described, Ron was “in the room” as plans for the development of Mineral King were pursued, and it is always wonderful to see one or more of the Museum’s co-founders participate in a presentations.  And…  As an added bonus, I got to sit next to Diane.  Okay, yes there was the 6, or so, feet of wheelchair space between us, but no wheelchairs today.  So, leave me alone…  I was sitting next to Diane!!!  J

Now on to Mineral King… 

We now know that Walt was very taken with Zermatt, Switzerland from his visit during the filming of Third Man on the Mountain.  But, did you know that he and his family were avid skiers.  Well, as we learned during this session, Diane… not so much early in her life.  While we were treated to a picture of Lillian, Walt, Diane (about age 8 or 9) and Hannes Schroll (more on him later) all posing on skis.  Diane did confess that she really did not really learn to ski until years later.  Hannes Schroll was a Alpine ski racer and the creator of the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort.  Hannes and Walt became good friends and Walt was an early investor in Sugar Bowl, but, you may not know his other Disney connection…  Hannes was known to many as the yodeling skier, and could often be heard skiing done the slopes.  It is Hannes doing Goofy’s holler in The Art of Skiing, and Sugar Bowl, even today, has a few Disney references, such as Mt. Disney, Disney Meadows, and the Donald Duck run.

Out of Walt’s interest in winter sports, he was approach to do the pageantry portion of the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.  Walt’s staff planned the opening and closing ceremonies, it was at Walt’s insistence that these ceremonies be televised for the first time.  Much, if not all, of today’s televised sports pageantry can trace its root back to those televised ceremonies of the 1960 Winter Olympics.  As we learned from Ron, on Saturday, it turns out the much of the operational aspect of those games were handled or managed by Disney staff.  Seems the operational skills needed for running a theme park, are much the same as running the Olympic Games… who knew?  J  As result of all of this, Walt was looking to develop a winter sports destination with all the natural Disney flair.  Several locations were explored, but for many reasons these projects went nowhere.  So when the U.S. Forest Service put out an RFP to develop the Mineral King Valley, the Disney organization jumped on the opportunity.  The Mineral King Valley is bordered on three sides by the Sequoia National Forest, established in 1908.  The Mineral King area was originally excluded from the Sequoia Nat’l Forest primarily because of the earlier mining and commercial development activities in that area.  While it was made part of the Sequoia Game Refuge, it was still available for development.  While the Forest Service’s RFP was for a modest ski resort, Walt Disney saw a greater potential for a resort that could be used and enjoyed year round, and submitted grander plans for the valley’s development.  Using what he had learned in his development of Disneyland, the plans, underway at the time, for his visions of EPCOT, and what he saw as an ideal Alpine village in Zermatt, Switzerland, Walt designed what he thought would be an ideal resort in Mineral King.  Walt even put his best number guy, Harrison “Buzz” Price, on the task.  Remember, it was Buzz who had successfully identified the optimal location for Disneyland, and had recently identified Orlando as the future home of Disney World.  Even the Sierra Club was originally on board for the development.  Unfortunately, before the project could really get off the ground and actually building started, we lost Walt.  With Walt gone, there was no one to illuminate his vision well enough to keep the project going.  The team Walt left behind tried gallantly, but eventually the Disney organization was left with no alternative but to walk away.  It truly saddens me that this project never came to fruition.  From all the pictures Sam showed us and the comments for Ron and David, it would have been a place I’d visit often.

I particularly enjoyed this session, as we treated to some very loving banter and comments back and forth between Ron and Diane.  And David recalled some poignant memories of his young life in the Mineral King Valley.  You see, David’s family shared ownership of a cabin in valley, and he recalled often being at the cabin to make repairs.  Sam Gennawey is and exuberant presenter and moderator and greatly enhanced the presentation.  I’ve already started a campaign to have him back.  With this year being the 30th anniversary of Epcot, I thought a session discussing what we see today at the theme park, and the EPCOT of Walt’s vision.  It would be a very interesting program.

Finally, I don’t say it here enough, but…  I would like to thank all of the Walt Disney Family Museum staff for all their efforts.  I enjoy each of my visits to the Museum as much for the exhibits and programs, as for the staff interaction.  Each and every one of you has every reason to be proud of what you have helped to create.  You all make each visit better, so to all of you…  THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Walt Disney – Continuing the Thought

Rarely am I this excited to delve into a topic, as I am with this one.  But, as Smee tells Capt Hook in the film Hook, “Captain, I’ve just had an apostrophe!”

As I said in my last post on this subject, ask any Disney fan what he or she finds so interesting about Walt Disney, and you probably find almost as many reasons as the individuals you ask.  To press further, what is it that you like about what it is you like about your reason for interest?  If you were to continue to press, I think you’d find that, what the initial reasoning, it would boil down to…  Whatever Walt does, even though you might not quite be able to put your finger on it, there is just something so right about him.  I too, in my interest, could never quite put my finger on it, until now.

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned what I thought was the apotheosis of Walt Disney.  For those unfamiliar with the term “Apotheosis”, defines it as follows:
1.  the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god.
2.  the ideal example; epitome; quintessence: This poem is the apotheosis of lyric expression.
I like the term, and what's more, there is a famous painting in the U.S. Capitol building called the Apotheosis of Washington, an artistic vision of elevating the man to the status of a God.

Read any number of books, articles, or essays on Walt Disney and you’ll find any number of authors attempting to deify the man.  We have seen this exaltation happen throughout history with individuals of great importance, but with those wanting to adore comes those equally intent on demonization.  Books, essays, and historical accounts are littered with myths, for both purposes, which cloud our judgments and understanding of many famous figures.  For those with the inclination, I’d suggest a simple myths search on the internet for you favorite historical luminary.  You might be surprised what you’ll learn.  Depending on a person’s perceived contribution, their real impact on society, and time, will help determine the level of deification or demonization that takes place through the legends and myths created and what sticks in the societal psyche.  It is, in my opinion, the desire and almost fixated need within the human condition to find explanation for those things we do not understand and cannot comprehend.

So, now I imagine, you are pondering, what does this have to do with Walt Disney?  In WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City, Sam Gennawey discusses the concept of a “higher degree of life” and “a quality without a name” from an architectural viewpoint.  With “a quality without a name” representing a situation where we instinctively know that something is or seems right, even when we can’t really put into words why.  Could we expand these concepts into a more universal theory in human existence?  If they can be identified in any small part of our world, would it not make sense to assume that they are indeed are embedded, no matter how deep, within the consciousness – or maybe better put, the unconsciousness of all human beings?  Might these concepts be the unifying reasoning why so many people find Walt Disney such an interesting character?   I thought about claiming, at least for me, that Walt was the embodiment or physical manifestation of a “higher degree of life” and “a quality without a name, however, I think that only leads us to extend that deification concept, and which I do not favor.  So, I think it is better put forth that Walt Disney, whether he truly understood it or not, possessed a stronger innate concentration or development of these qualities, along with a good dose of honest humility.  So there it is…  Walt Disney was, in my opinion, the best possible example to date of a “higher degree of life” and “a quality without a name.”

So, as this idea percolates, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.  Have one you’d like to share?

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Appreciation for Animation

In my youth, I was a fair artist, until that age old dilemma took hold and I was encouraged to pursue activities that would help me earn a living as an adult.  So, with my artistic desires dashed, I moved on to other endeavors.  Oh well, I know others who have experienced the same fate…  That’s Life!!!  J
But, think about the number 130,000  24 frames a second, and approximately 90 minutes.  So, about 130,000 is the approximate number of pictures that need to be produced to create an animated feature.  That number may well be much higher, when you consider that you may have multiple pictures (of multiple characters and background mattes) composited into a single frame of film.  And then… there are the storyboard drawings, concept art, and inevitable pencil test animation.  I don’t know if anyone actually has an accurate number, but I think it is very much higher, maybe in excess of 500,000.

It is very easy to, as most do; myself included for a long time, sit in a theater for an hour and a half and be entertained by animated fantasy.  I think most do it under the guise of taking our children for such entertainment, but I believe we – ourselves relish the change to escape into the world of fantasy as well.  In recent years, my journey delve deeper into the world of Disney has put me in many audiences where the art of animation is the topic du jour.  With that, my appreciation of what it really takes to produce an animated feature film has grown significantly recently, particular the true effort involved in taking and idea from concept to the screen. 

In Walt Disney’s first animated feature, the hand drawn animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there was a cast and crew of about 130 people.  In the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ soon to be classic hard drawn animated feature, The Princess and the Frog, that number swells to almost 600.  For some additional numbers:  Snow White began as a concept in 1934, premiering in Los Angeles in December of 1937 at a cost of almost $1.5 million.  Princess and the Frog was introduced as a concept in 2006, premiering again in Los Angeles in November 2009 at a cost of about $105 million. 
As my own personal footnote, there was actually another premier a few days earlier in Burbank.  Members of the D23 Club were invited to attend a premier party and screening at the Walt Disney Studios in the Studio’s theater.  My oldest daughter and I were in attendance at the party and had an incredibly good time.
Interestingly, both almost did not get made for various reasons, and both took about the same amount of time to produce, albeit the latter with about 4 time the people and 10 times the cost.  So, in about 70 years, while the time from concept to screen has remained the same, the personnel requirement and associated costs have gone up dramatically.

I wrote almost two paragraphs here about the intricacies of the animation process, when I realized just how limited and dreary my knowledge.  With today’s technology, instead of making a feeble attempt to describe the process to you, I suggest reading primers like this one on the animation process, or this on traditional animation, to get a superior understanding for the depth of commit needed to bring an animated feature to the screen.  What is important from my viewpoint is what we see on the screen.

I realize that I am a sappy old man, but, I am drawn to the classic Disney animated features, and I include Pixar in that group, because of the true attention to detail.  I find these productions to be an almost perfect blend of the arts… story, animation, voice, and music combined to create a truly magical viewing experience, with each of these components having equal importance the finished product.  And then there is that attention to detail component.  In Snow White, live actors performed most scenes so that the animators could see and therefore draw character movements, adding just enough realism to give the finished product an almost life like quality.  In Bambi, Walt had live animals brought to the studio so that his artists could add life like motions to the story’s animated characters.  First tested in Sleeping Beauty, and then used from start to finish in 101 Dalmatians, Ub Iwerks developed the Xerox process for transferring artists drawing to cels, bringing even more of the artists’ visions of these characters to the finished animations.  All of this effort adding to make these fantasy just a little more believable, after all, isn’t the real joy of watching an animated feature…  The scenes on the screen being just real enough to allow you to momentarily suspend reality.

Then along comes the computer age and CGI – Computer Generated Imagery, and the age of Pixar.  Pixar’s artists took the tried and true methods of Disney’s hand drawn animation, and figured out how to apply this new technology to the process, and WOW!!!  A whole new way of storytelling is born.  My best examples, of the level of detail, which CGI animation affords the artists come from Monster, Inc. and Cars.  There is a scene where Sully is careening down a snow slope, coming to a crashing stop at the bottom of the hill.  As the screen pans onto Sully, you can see the hair on his back bristling in wind.  Or in Cars, where Doc is teaching Lightning the finer art of dirt racing, the intricacies of the dust coming off of his tires.  Give the time and cost constraints of a hand drawn feature, I don’t think that level of detail would be possible.  I could go on…  But, if you watch Disney or Pixar features, try watching with a more discerning eye next time.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Now a little bit on the different types of animation.  There is of course, hand drawn, CGI, Motion Capture, or Stop Motion animation.  Most of these can be broken down further, but for my purposes, we’ll stick to these.  Much of today’s animation is coming out of the CGI stable, with Motion (or performance) capture becoming a popular medium.  With this year’s Golden Globe for animation going to Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, a recent comment on a social media board proclaimed that, “Animation is now officially dead!”  Sorry, I don’t think so…  We’ll see what happens at Oscar time, but a GG for Tintin isn’t all that surprising…  Spielberg’s talent for storytelling is well established, Tintin is a relatively popular story internationally, the motion capture’s capacity for interjecting life-like action, and the Golden Globes being a more critique based award, and all lend themselves to this award.  However, I can say, I haven’t seen Tintin yet, and I doubt that I will…  It is not really a story that interests me.  The beauty in art, all art, is in the eye of the beholder, and that eye varies tremendously… hence the variety of art of all kinds available to us.  And over time, history has told us that critical success does not guarantee financial success.  With hand drawn animation, and especially as developed by Walt and his artists (even to this day), there is an amazing warmth and depth of character unparalleled in any other form in my opinion.  The CGI methods can compensates for this challenge in the depth of detail available when applied.  So far, in my experience, the Disney/Pixar artists are the only one’s who routinely take on this challenge, but, bottom line to the success of any animated classic is the combination of story, art, and music, and in this the Disney/Pixar teams are unmatched by any other in the industry.

I watch as any new animated features each year as I can, of course depending on my interest in the story.  But, it is the Disney/Pixar features that I go back to watch again and again and again.  I find most animated feature to be little more than a 90 minute collection of gag shorts interwoven by a common thread.  They are funny, and I do enjoy the hour and half’s escape, but there is nothing really to draw me back for a second look.  On the other hand, I have seen almost all of the Disney and Pixar features more than once and several of them many… many times.  Of late, The Princess and the Frog holds a particular draw for me.  It is a great story, there is the warmth of the hand drawn animations, the characters are timeless, and the music perfectly draws you into the story…  But, with all that, there is one more piece, at least for me…  The Princess and the Frog is amazingly reminiscent of Mary Blair – an artist I hold with much fondness, probably because she is also the artist behind my favorite Disney movie of all time – Peter Pan.  Princess is one of the few movies that I look forward to the credits rolling as much as the movie itself.  I think the real draw for me is being in a comfortable place where I can let my mind running wild, and explore me.  Truth be told, I think even tough guys want to be able to believe in a fairy tale life.

Finally to close this out, I recently got to sit with my daughters and watch the new release of Beauty and the Beast 3D.  The original is T’s all time favorite movie.  Over the last 20 years, she has burned through 2 VHS version that I know of, and at least 3 DVD’s.  And, there was a period from age three to four that I could guarantee waking on Saturday morning to the B&B playing in the VCR.  What the significance of Beauty and the Beast 3D, other than T literally vibrating with anticipation before hand, was the 3D component.  I have not been a really fan of 3D films to this point.  One, I wear glasses, so putting a pair of 3D glasses over my regular pair is somewhat awkward and uncomfortable.  Second, I have found most of the 3D features I’ve seen, add elements to the story to showcase the WOW factor of 3D that don’t necessarily add value to the story.  Nothing could be further from the truth with the 3D version of Beauty and the Beast.  The 3D effects here do nothing to detract or change the original classic, and everything to enhance and give great depth to an already magnificent piece of work.  Don Hahn, the original producer, and his crew did an incredible job with this release, and I think it is an excellent example of what Walt Disney called plussing the experience.  I will gladly see this version again… and again…

So I have a new found respect, admiration, and appreciation of animation, well done.  Each viewing, even repeats, is a new experience, and chance to both escape and explore the human condition.

As always, it is my hope that you draw some value from my ramblings, and I appreciate you spending some time at my blog.  Next time, I continue my developing thoughts on Walt Disney – the Man.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

You can find us on Facebook at:  Discovering Disney History on FB

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Developing Thought on Walt Disney

A child’s journey from experience to experience is without expectation, and full of wonder and amazement.  Each a new adventure to be fulfilled with learning and the yearning for more, until that disastrous moment…  His obligation to grow up realized!!!  Rare is the individual who successfully navigates through life with a true childlike inquisitiveness and wonder intact.    

Yes, I know!  I promised a piece on animation…  But, one of the joys of journeys of discovery is that you never know where the path is going to lead you.  My path has recently been enlightened in a way that I never ever expected.  Thank you Sam Gennawey!  I’ve already recommended WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City in my last post, but now I am going to recommend it as a re-read.  It has given my journey new direction.

Last September, toward the end of the Our Grandpa session at the Walt Disney Family Museum, Walt Disney’s granddaughter Joanna asked the audience a question:  “What do you all find so interesting about my Grandpa?”  I posted a response here.  At the time I thought my response was pretty complete, but, now I am not so sure.

One could single out Walt’s various achievements and awards in entertainment.  But there’s more…  One could single out his development of technologies and their practical applications.  But there is more…  One could single out his ability to take almost any subject and create a story around and about it.  Any of these and many more could be used as an easy justification for interest.  But there is, at least for me, something else that draws me to this man, as I think is the case with many Disney fans, but most particularly the true Walt Disney fan.  I consider myself one of those true Walt Disney fans, and have, until now, been frustrated with my inability to adequately articulate my feelings about him.

It was while reading Sam Gennawey's, WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City, that my understanding of my draw to Walt Disney began crystallize into a comprehensible form.  I don’t know if the thoughts to follow had occurred to Sam as he researched and wrote his book, but, I am looking forward to asking him in about a week.  As I have traveled on my journey of discovery over the last several years, I have found that the Disney interest is as vast and varied as there are people interested…  simple put… like so many things in life, the Disney experience is really an individually personal event for each person.  Like in other areas of our lives, seldom do we endeavor to truly comprehend or illuminate an experience, rather choosing to just let our life’s proceedings transpire around us without thought. 

Before I begin to tie all of my sprawling thoughts into what I hope to be a articulate concept, I think we need to acknowledge a couple of facts; Walt Disney was not formally trained in any of the disciplines at which he excelled, but he was adept at applying what he had learned in one arena, to other developing interests.  An interest in art led to his involvement in animation, where he was able to create and develop processes which elevated animation to a new art form and greatly enhanced the audience experience.  Walt’s successes in animation led him into the field of live action movies, where again he create and developed processes which elevated and enhanced the audience experience.  From live action, Walt moved on to the amusement part.  Apply what he learned in art, animation, and live action films; he created an entertainment venue like none other in the world at the time.  Each endeavor enhanced, or plussed, by the accomplishments that preceded it.  Walt’s last desire, to build a prototype city of the future, while never realized, was informed by all the came before it.  The Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow – EPCOT – would have been a site to behold, if Walt had lived to see the project to completion.  Many may think that the Epcot that exists, at Walt Disney World , today is the EPCOT of Walt Disney’s dreams.  While there are components of Walt’s design in place today, Epcot is nothing of the designs that Walt had drawn up before his death.  If you are interested in learning about the EPCOT of Walt’s dream, well then Sam Gennawey's, WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City is the book to read.

Next, I think Walt had an innate appreciation for the difference between educations and learning.  As an example, his concepts for the CalArts – California Institute of the Arts was more than just an institute where a student could come to study his or her craft… it was a place where students of one discipline could have their studies positively influenced by others of different disciplines.  Even earlier in his life, Walt understood the need for continuing study.  During the productions of Bambi, Walt brought in forest animals for his artists and animators to study.  This was done to allow these artists to interject more realism into the finished product.  And before that, he teamed with Nelbert Chouinard and the Chouinard Art Institute – later to become part of CalArts – to help develop and expand his artists’ talents.  You might know that animators today as Walt’s Nine Old Men, truly legendary figures in the world of animation.  In today’s world, it is my opinion that we place to much emphasis on higher education, simply for the sake of educations.  This is pure conjecture, but I think the evidence would point to; Walt’s opinion that education comes after interests are piqued.

Regardless, I think it was the complexity of Walt Disney that led to some much of legend surrounding him.  I’ll get into how I am going to tie my ideas together from some of the content from WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City in a future post, but for my next post you can expect me to finish my animation thoughts that I have been working on for some time now.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

You can find us on Facebook at:  Discovering Disney History on FB

Monday, January 9, 2012

Walt and the Promise of Progress City

I know I said my next post would be on animation, but I’ve just finished a new tome on Walt Disney. So…

It is a testament to the man – Walt Disney, and how many lives he truly touched, that 45 years later authors and enthusiasts can still find subject matter to write about him.  It is not uncommon that the subject matter is a rehash of events and anecdotes already known with a slightly different spin.  I can appreciate that, as it is pretty much what I do here, and still awaiting the discovery of that one tidbit no one else knows.  Maybe someday??? 

But, every now and then I find something that has an angle I never anticipated, or author with an unexpected talent… WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City is just such a book, and Sam Gennawey is just such as author.  While Sam is an urban planner by profession, he demonstrate the talents on an historian, educator, and philosopher, all wrapped in the soul of an artist, poet and storyteller.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, urban planning (done right) is an art form unto itself, not all that recognized by those of us in our rush around never see what is right in front of us worlds. 

Sam weaves a true life adventure of Walt’s life through the lens of an urban designer; from his mastery of the storytelling with animation, to his unique ideas on building an amazing living environment – EPCOT.  Not the Epcot we know today as a theme park in Florida, but the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow) of Walt’s dreams.  A place where people would live, work, and play together in a city environment demonstrating the very latest in technology and human ingenuity.  The pages of this journey are spun as well as any storyteller, told with a great balance of fact, anecdote, and every page imaginatively entertaining and understandable by both expert and novice.  I easily see this book easily as a text in a class on architecture or urban planning as it would fit into a writing course.

For the Disney fan just developing and interest or the Disney fan searching for a deeper understanding of the man – Walt Disney, this is a must read addition to any Disney collection.  I know I'm glad it is in mine, and I highly recommend it.

And for anyone interested, Sam will be at the Walt Disney Family Museum on January 21st for a discussion with former Disney Company CEO, and one of the Museum Founders, Ron Miller.  Also joining the discussion will be Architect, David Price.  They will be discussing one of Walt Disney's lesser projects, propably because it never got created - Mineral King.  I know I’m looking forward to this session.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

My 2012 Disney Journey

2011 was a very challenging year for me, but, there was one thing that kept me moving forward and hopeful – My interest in Walt Disney and this blog.  The prospects for 2012 are still looking very cloudy, but, I am trying to remain hopeful.  I am reminded, often, that Walt Disney was a man who dreamed big dreams, and found a way to bring them to life.  So, I will go on… for as long as I can.  Please bear with me, and I will try to keep my maudlin thought about my own life to a minimum.
2011 was at least an interesting year for my Disney History Discovery journey.  I was able to attend several Disney and Walt Disney related presented presentations throughout the year, and I learned a lot.  I’ve also had the opportunity to do more online research, as well.  So, I am going to circle back to the Man himself for the next few posts.

One person I had the chance to meet and get to know a little bit this last year is Disney historian, author, and authority, Jeff Kurtti.  One of the things I respect about Jeff and enjoy in his presentations is his willingness to at least acknowledge some of the darker issues surrounding Walt Disney, without dwelling on them.  I find this refreshing, because, in my research, I’ve found primarily two camps:  Those close to The Disney Company, and not will to even acknowledge any controversy, and those in a much smaller group willing to take the small piece of information and spin it into a full blown hullabaloo.  There are very few who come at it from Jeff’s position.

We all know of the controversial Masonic connections to Walt Disney, I’ve even written of them on my blog.  There is one and only one artifact, which I have seen, at the Walt Disney Family Museum which could connect Walt in any way to Freemasonry – a DeMolay membership card from early in Walt’s young adulthood.  Yet, there are many claims (mostly internet based) that Walt Disney was an Illuminati Master Mason bent on world domination.  Absurd!!!

I mention this only because I found a little piece recently claiming that in 1933, Walt Disney visited the Oaxaca region to Mexico to partake of the local “magic” mushrooms for creative inspirations.  I am not going to dignify the website with a link here, as I don’t want to create traffic for the site.  But, the short article making the claim is based are recent story relay recently from Vietnam era veteran, who had traveled to the same region in the 70’s, claimed to have discovered Walt Disney signature dated 1933, on a rock behind a waterfall.  This claim, based on this short story, is as absurd as the Masonic claim!!!  Just as a little enlightenment for consideration:  Walt’s oldest daughter, Diane, was born in December of 1933.  This would have precluded that Lillian Disney was pregnant for most of 1933.  Have learned, during my explorations, just how much Walt doted on Lillian, even as busy as he was and with the Great Depression ongoing; I would suspect that Walt was not far from her side during her pregnancy.  It might also be interesting to note that by 1933 Mickey Mouse had become a huge success, and Walt’s creative chops, well established.

I only mention this because, as fun as it is to read this tabloid style junk, yes I look at the tabloids at the checkout stand and laugh, there are those who read this stuff and believe it, without verification.  It is the world we live, and Walt Disney has become an almost mythic persona in our culture.  It becomes easy to lose the real man in all the myth, legend, and lore…  Anyone who visits any of the many Disney Fan sites can witness the seemingly inevitable obscurity of the man by the myth.  While I find some of the myth fascinating, it is Walt Disney “the man” who interests me the most, so I try whenever possible to truly expose the real Walt Disney, and I am thankful that the Walt Disney Family Museum exists to do this as well.

I would rather listen to the many (and I do mean many) individuals who worked with Walt, or have done immense research on him.  I also find it very fascinating that of all the material written on Walt Disney, the vast majority is about the positive contributions he has made to our culture.  To those who try to make this man’s contributions negative, not one of you has produced anything really other than unsubstantiated innuendo, rumor, and gossip.  I have yet to see any negative claim substantiated by even the barest of actual documented proof.  I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does… and, I will speak out whenever possible.  I do understand The Walt Disney Company, and/or the Walt Disney Family Museum not waste their time addressing each and every one of these purveyors of tabloid negativity when they arise, but I feel someone needs to say something…  

So like Don Quixote, I will tilt at those windmills when they spin.  Or many in honor of Walt, I will challenge that “Old Mill.”  So, as I have said before, if you have a question about Walt Disney, find a reliable source of information, and take the unsubstantiated tripe with a grain of salt.
But, for my next post, I’m going to spend some time on Animation.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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