No one knows Disney history, or tells it better, than Jim Korkis, and he’s back with a new set of 24 stories from his Vault of Walt. Whether it’s Disney films, Disney theme parks, or Walt himself, Jim’s stories will charm and delight Disney fans of all ages.
The best-selling Vault of Walt series has brought serious, but fun, Disney history to tens of thousands of readers. Now in its third volume, the series features former Disney cast member and master storyteller Jim Korkis’ home-spun, entertaining tales, from the early years of Walt Disney to the present.
Step inside the vault with Jim to hear about:
Discover these and many other new tales of Disney history, as only Jim Korkis can tell them, in The Vault of Walt: Volume 3.
Then be sure to check ALL the volumes in The Vault of Walt!
Foreword by Didier Ghez
Introduction by Jim Korkis
Part 1: Walt Disney Stories
World War I Walt
Walt Disney Was NOT Anti-Semitic
Walt's Smoking and Infamous Cough
Letters to Ruth
The Lost Recipe: Walt's Favorite Apple Pie
Walt Disney: Early Feminist
Part 2: Disney Film Stories
The Great Mouse Detective: Basil of Baker Street
Saving Mr. Banks: Fact vs Fiction
Off His Rockers
The True-Life Adventures
Lady and the Tramp
Part 3: Disney Park Stories
Voices of the Disney Theme Parks
First Disneyland Christmas Parade
The Tri-Circle D Story
The Birth of it's a small world
Taking a Trip on the New Star Tours 2.0
Part 4: Other Disney Walt Stories
Secret Origin of Hidden Mickeys
The Birth of Disney Fandom
Disney-Norman Rockwell Collection
Cliff Edwards: The Voice of Jiminy Cricket
Remembering Diane Disney Miller
The Firehouse Five Plus Two Story
All Disney roads lead to Jim Korkis.
I have been conducting research about Disney history for over twenty five years and this truth is unavoidable: Whatever the subject matter that you are investigating, Jim Korkis has already written about it.
At some point, I became interested in understanding more about the highly stylized commercials that the Disney Studio produced in the 1950s and soon discovered that Jim Korkis had already discussed this obscure subject in one of his essays. Reading Jim’s article led me to interview artist Bob Carlson in order to learn even more about those odd cartoons.
A few months later, I was trying to get a better sense of who Walt’s secretaries had been. You guessed it: Jim had written about this, too, which helped me understand several internal Disney memos I was reading at the time.
And then there were instances in which Jim made me aware of a field of research that I never even knew existed, as was the case with the Disney comics drawn in the mid-1930s by artist Fred Spencer for the DeMolay youth organization. Thanks to Jim’s article, fellow Disney historian David Gerstein and I were able to locate, for the first time, a complete run of those rare comic strips.
What I find fascinating about Jim’s articles, aside from the tremendous scope of the subjects he explores, is the fact that they contain elements of interest both for in-depth historians and the casual fans. They are the best bridge between those two worlds, and this confers upon them a very unique value.
We desperately need new generations of Disney historians, and Jim’s highly readable essays are the perfect tool to intrigue, excite, and motivate enthusiasts who, through hard work, dedication, and focus, could become historians themselves. I know this is the case, since I once was one of those Disney enthusiasts.
Jim’s essays are critically important for another reason: They help preserve little-known nuggets of Disney history, rare interviews, obscure articles, and other gems that would be lost forever or extremely difficult to access without his efforts.
To top it all, Jim has been a friend for over ten years. He is the godfather of the Walt’s People book series, which saw the light of day thanks to a long exchange of emails between the two of us. And we have teamed up often to interview Disney artists and other Disney legends.
So there is joy when I hear that a new volume of The Vault of Walt is in the works, there is delight when I read Jim’s latest online column, and there is hope that The Vault of Walt series will one day fill a whole bookshelf.
For the time being, however, I am simply glad to be able to read a few pieces from this current volume which I know will fascinate me: “Letters to Ruth”, “Walt Disney Early Feminist”, “Saving Mr. Banks: Fact or Fiction”, “Voices of the Disney Theme Parks” and “Remembering Diane Disney Miller”, among others. I have a feeling they will motivate me to conduct still more research on rarely explored aspects of Disney history and that, while doing so, I will become aware once again that “all Disney roads lead to Jim Korkis”.
As I sit writing the introduction to this third volume in The Vault of Walt series of books, I can barely overcome my amazement.
When the original volume of The Vault of Walt was first published in 2010, both I and the publisher were positive it would be the only volume.
After all, it was an oddball collection that included the stories between the stories, the stories that were squeezed out of other books about Disney because there wasn’t any room or because they didn’t seem significant compared to some of the other milestones.
Other than a small handful of Disney fans, who would possibly be interested in such obscure information?
Yet, four years later, here is a third volume.
It turned out that there was indeed an audience who was not only interested in Disney history but in those fascinating unofficial and unauthorized tales that appeared nowhere else. Those tales helped enrich and provide a broader perspective to the more familiar stories told over and over and over.
Walt’s older daughter, Diane Disney Miller, wrote the foreword for the first book and was very vocal about her appreciation that these “lost and forgotten” moments of Disney history were being preserved for future generations.
She was especially grateful that her father was being presented in a fair fashion so that readers could enjoy the “real” Walt and not be confused by the falsehoods that have recently surrounded his reputation. Walt had his flaws, as everyone does, but he was not the monster that some people have tried to portray him.
Since the publication of the original volume, I have had the opportunity to travel around the country sharing other stories in presentations and meeting people who were grateful that such a series of books existed.
They liked the fact that each story was self contained, deeply researched, and whenever possible, told in the words of the people who were involved. They liked the variety of stories, with sections focusing on Walt, the Disney films, the Disney parks, and the “other” stories about people and events that filled in the gaps left by other books.
My original reason for writing these stories still remains my primary motivation. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Los Angeles area and to later work at Walt Disney World in Orlando, so I had the chance to meet and interview many of the people who worked directly with Walt and with his brother Roy.
As each year passes, more and more of these people have left us to work on whatever big project Walt is currently producing, wherever he is. I still feel a sincere obligation to let them all have one final opportunity to share their stories with new generations.
I realize that some of their memories may have been a bit hazy, especially on chronology, or that they may not have seen the bigger picture, so I have made every effort to confirm names, dates, and facts, to ensure that this book is an accurate reference.
I am especially pleased that no factual corrections have been found in the previous volumes.
In addition, I have scoured out-of-print newspapers, magazines, and other documents to retrieve quotes and facts that have appeared nowhere else.
I chose to present this information in a way so that it would not only appeal to academic scholars but be accessible to the casual Disney enthusiast whose love of Disney will hopefully be enhanced by these unique stories.
Just recently, Disney Legend Marty Sklar talked about how much he enjoyed my writing because “it brings back so many memories”.
On the following pages, I hope there will be things that will delight you, make you laugh, make you cry, make you think, and most importantly, provide you with a richer understanding of the people and things that were part of Disney history.
I am grateful to you all for giving me the opportunity to share these stories. I still have many more stories left to tell.
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades. He is also an award-winning teacher, a professional actor and magician, and the author of several books.
Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, right next to Burbank, the home of the Disney studios. As a teenager, Korkis got a chance to meet the Disney animators and Imagineers who lived nearby, and began writing about them for local newspapers.
In 1995, he relocated to Orlando, Florida, where he portrayed the character Prospector Pat in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, and Merlin the Magician for the Sword in the Stone ceremony in Fantasyland.
In 1996, Korkis became a full-time animation instructor at the Disney Institute teaching all of their animation classes, as well as those on animation history and improvisational acting techniques. As the Disney Institute re-organized, Jim joined Disney Adult Discoveries, the group that researched, wrote, and facilitated backstage tours and programs for Disney guests and Disneyana conventions.
Eventually, Korkis moved to Epcot as a Coordinator for the College and International Programs, and then as a Coordinator for the Epcot Disney Learning Center. He researched, wrote, and facilitated over two hundred different presentations on Disney history for Cast Members and for such Disney corporate clients as Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Blue Cross, Toys “R” Us, and Military Sales.
Korkis has also been the off-camera announcer for the syndicated television series Secrets of the Animal Kingdom; has written articles for several Disney publications, including Disney Adventures, Disney Files (DVC), Sketches, and Disney Insider; and has worked on many different special projects for the Disney Company.
In 2004, Disney awarded Jim Korkis its prestigious Partners in Excellence award.
If you have a question for Jim Korkis that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
I was about 15 when I interviewed Jack Hannah with my little tape recorder and school notebook with questions printed neatly in ink. I learned to develop a very good memory because often when the tape recorder was running, people would freeze up. So, I sometimes turned off the tape recorder and just took notes which I later verified with the person. I always gave them a chance to review what they had said and make any changes. I lost a lot of great stories, although I still have them in my files for future generations, but gained a lot of trust.
I was very, very lucky. I was a kid, and it never occurred to me that when I saw their names in the end credits of the weekly Disney television show that I couldn't just find their names in the local phone book and call them up. Ninety percent of them were gracious, but there were about ten percent who thought it was a joke and that maybe one of their friends had put me up to phoning them.
It was like dominoes. Once I did one interview and the person was pleased, he put me in touch with others. After some of those interviews were published in my school paper and local newspapers, it gave me some greater credibility. Later, when they started to appear in magazines, I got even more opportunities.
JIM: You know, one of the proudest things for me about my books is that not a single factual error has been found.
To do my research, I start with all the interviews I've done over the past three decades, some of which are some available in the Walt's People series of books edited by Didier Ghezz. When necessary, I contact other Disney historians and authorities to fill in the gaps. And I have amassed a huge library of books, magazines, and documents.
When I moved from California to Florida, I brought with me over 20,000 pounds of Disney research material. The moving company that had just charged me a flat fee was shocked they had so severely underestimated the weight, and lost thousands of dollars. That was over fifteen years ago and the collection has only grown since that time.
About The Vault of Walt Series
JIM: I was fortunate to grow up in the Los Angeles area at a time when I had access to some of Walt’s original animators and Imagineers. They shared with me some wonderful stories. I wrote articles about their for various magazines and “fanzines” of the time. All of those publications are long gone and often difficult to find today.
As more and more of Walt’s “original cast” pass away, I realized that their stories had not been properly documented, and that unless I did something, they would be lost. Everyone always told me I should write a book telling these tales and finally I decided to do it.
JIM: She actually contacted me. Her son, Walter, loved the Disney history columns and articles I was writing and would send them to her. I was overwhelmed that she enjoyed them. She was appreciative that I tried to treat her dad fairly and not try to psycho-analyze why he did what he did.
She also liked that I revealed things she never knew about her father. As we talked and I told her I was doing the book, I asked if she would write the foreword. She agreed immediately and I had it within a week. She even invited me to go to the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and give a presentation. She is an incredible woman.
JIM: Obviously, the ones about her dad were a big hit. She especially liked the chapter about Walt and his feelings toward religion. She told me that it accurately reflected how she saw her dad act.
JIM: That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I tried to put in all the stories I loved because I figured this might be the only book about Disney I would ever write.
One chapter that I have grown to love even more since it was first published is the one about Walt’s love of miniatures. I recently found more information about that subject, and then on the trip to Disney Family Museum, I was able to spend hours examining some of Walt’s collection up close.
About Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?
JIM: I wanted to read a “Making of the Song of the South” book, but nobody else was ever going to write it. I wanted to know the history behind the production, why Walt made certain choices, and as many behind-the-scenes tidbits that could be told. I didn’t want to read a sociological thesis on racism.
Fortunately, over the years I had interviewed some of the people involved in the production, had seen the film multiple times, and had gathered material from pressbooks to newspaper articles to radio shows of the era.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Song of the South. I wanted to get the facts in print and let people make up their own minds.
JIM: I thought I knew a lot after being actively involved in Disney history for over three decades, but writing this book showed me how little I really know.
For example, I learned that it was Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck for decades, who did the whistling for Mr. Bluebird on Uncle Remus’ shoulder. I learned that Ward Kimball used to host meetings of UFO enthusiasts at his home. I learned that the Disney Company tried for years to make a John Carter of Mars feature. I learned that Walt himself tried to make a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I learned that Disney operated a secret studio to make animated television commercials in the mid-1950s to raise money to build Disneyland. And so much more.
Even the most knowledgeable Disney fans will find new treasures of information on every page of this book.
JIM: Walt Disney was not racist. That is one of those urban myths which popped up long after Walt died, and so he was unable to defend himself.
In my book, I make it clear that Walt had no racist intent at all in making Song of the South. He merely wanted to share the famous Uncle Remus stories that he enjoyed as a child, and he treated the black cast with respect and generosity.
Many people don't realize that the events in the film take place after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction. So many offensive Hollywood films made at the same time as Song of the South, even one with little Shirley Temple, depicted the Old South during the Civil War in an unrealistic manner. Walt's film got lumped in with them, and he was a visible target for a much larger crusade.
With John Cawley:
In this excerpt, Jim Korkis shares Walt's plan for an urban version of Main Street, USA, called Edison Square.
At one point in the early planning of Disneyland, Walt Disney had wanted a side street extension at the end of Main Street that would have included such familiar landmarks as a schoolhouse, a church, a graveyard, and a haunted house on a slight hill overlooking the other buildings.
Time and limited finances did not allow for that inclusion but, as Disneyland became a huge success in its first few years, Walt once again considered using that area for a future expansion.
At the end of Main Street, on the right side of The Hub, would have been another, more urban, residential street called Edison Square. It would have been built on what was then known as Plaza Street near the Plaza Inn (at that time called the Red Wagon Inn). It was announced that Edison Square would open Easter 1959.
As shown in a full-color concept painting by Imagineer Sam McKim, the entrance to this addition would resemble a gated community with two red brick pillars supporting a curved all electric sign saying, “Edison Square”.
There would be a brick paved street, the most modern of electric and gas-powered “horseless carriages”, and of course, “brand new” electric street lights instead of Main Street’s gas lamps.
The facades of the buildings would recall the red brick houses of Philadelphia, New York’s brownstones, the wooden edifices of St. Louis and San Francisco, the graystones of Chicago, and the colonial brick of Boston—truly making it part of a larger Main Street U.S.A., rather than just a small Midwestern town.
Prominently displayed at the center, in a little fenced-in, circular, green park, would have been a life-sized statue of inventor Thomas Edison, with his right arm raised high in the air and his finger pointing upward. From the 1958 Disney proposal to the General Electric company:
Edison Square in Disneyland will dramatically present the story of the way in which one invention by Thomas A. Edison has influenced the growth and development of America. Edison Square is the story of that era: the birth, growth, development and future of electricity and General Electric products.
Located just a few steps from Main Street, Edison Square will be the passing of the “old” of the 19th century to the “new” of the 1900s. As they [the guests] enter Progress Place in Edison Square, where they will find that “Progress Is Our Most Important Product”, visitors will see two separate plaques on which General Electric’s symbol and appropriate words setting forth the theme of Edison Square will appear.
Inside the buildings, General Electric’s theatrical productions will be staged for Disneyland visitors. Edison Square will be alive and vital. Disneyland’s “horseless carriages” and surreys which travel up and down Main Street will move in and out of the area. Such annual Disneyland special events as the “Horseless Carriage Day Parade” and the “Easter Parade” will be a part of Edison Square.
The square itself will be architecturally landscaped befitting the turn of the century. It will contain the “new” electric lamps, iron grill work, hitching posts and other “signs of the times”. All the windows in the buildings will be authentically dressed and specially lighted to carry out the atmosphere of the area.
Walt Disney had quickly learned that the participation of major corporations in partnering on a Disneyland attraction could be beneficial to everyone.
Walt got funding for research and development of his concepts that could not only be used in the attraction itself but also expanded to other areas. The companies got an important “billboard” showcase where their name and products were tied to happiness and magic and had a captive, receptive audience.
Walt was clever enough to promote projects that not only met the needs of the client but also the guests and the Disney organization.
One of the early successes was the Circarama attraction in Tomorrowland sponsored by American Motors (AMC). AMC was formed on January 14, 1954, by the merger of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company.
On the floor inside the attraction were prominently displayed five AMC automobiles alongside such Kelvinator appliances as the futuristic “Foodarama” refrigerator.
As a result, Imagineering Legend Dick Irvine called these types of projects “refrigerator shows” where the product had to be incorporated in the most positive way into the attraction.
To read the rest of the story, pick up your copy of The Vault of Walt: Volume 3.
In this excerpt, Jim Korkis reveals the "secret" origins of Hidden Mickeys.
A Hidden Mickey is an image of Mickey Mouse “hidden” at any Disney venue like a theme park, a restaurant, or a cruise ship. Most commonly, it is the tri-circled silhouette of Mickey’s head, but some Hidden Mickeys are much cleverer, like Mickey’s foot on a 1930s movie poster sticking out beneath the Public Enemy movie poster in the gangster scene of The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Steve Barrett wrote his first Hidden Mickey book in 2002 that identified some of these images, but had been interested in the subject since the 1990s. He recalled:
The first website I knew of that talked about Hidden Mickeys was put together by some college students at Stetson University. I remember studying their site. Today, on average, there is about a fifteen percent change in the number of Hidden Mickeys about every two years because some disappear and new ones are added.
Today, Barrett is considered the expert on the subject, with several books and a website devoted to it.
Disney enthusiast Arlen Miller and Imagineer Dave Fisher brought Hidden Mickeys to pubilc attention. In 1989, Miller was working at Disney-MGM Studios. He told me:
I was volunteering to write articles for Eyes and Ears [the WDW weekly Cast newspaper] back in 1989. I had some WDI friends who would sometimes mention the Hidden Mickey in some of the attractions, but no one was supposed to know about it. Then one day I thought I would try to find them.
I found all of them in Epcot and the Studios and decided to write about it with a co-writer [Rob Weir]. After our editor verified with WDI and printed our findings, I then heard from the Disney News magazine several months later and they interviewed me on the phone for 45 minutes.
The article, entitled “Hidden Disney”, appeared in the November 30, 1989, Eyes and Ears, with this introduction:
Attention to detail is one quality that has greatly contributed to the success of our Theme Parks. With a careful eye, visitors will see intricate carvings, detailed hand painting, crafted ironwork, sculpted landscaping and many other special touches that all contribute to our “good show”.
In addition to these rich, visible details are less visible Disney touches, references to and symbols of the history of the Walt Disney Company. For example, a shrewd observer walking down Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom Park will notice the signs painted on the second floor windows of the shops, listing the names and fictional occupations of various luminaries in the Walt Disney Company’s past and present.
Eagle-eyed Disney trivia buffs at Epcot Center will be rewarded with the discovery of hidden symbols of the stylized Mickey Mouse head—one large circle topped by two smaller ones. These cryptic symbols, designed into the attractions by Walt Disney Imagineers, are gems to observant Cast Members like area reporters Arlen Miller and Rob Weir. Arlen and Rob heard about some hidden bits of Disney detail in Future World at Epcot Center, confirmed them and searched for more. With the help of attractions hosts and hostesses, here’s what they found.
The remainder of the article included detailed listings of Hidden Mickeys in Spaceship Earth, Horizons, World of Motion, Backstage Magic, The Land, Harvest Theater (the film Symbiosis), Norway, and Wonders of Life (including a photo of the Body Wars mural with the infamous and unfortunately inaccessible “broccoli” Mickey).
At the end of the article, the editor wrote:
Eyes and Ears contacted Marty Sklar, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, for comment on Arlen and Rob’s discoveries. “This is just one more reward for the true Disney fan—discovering these hidden details,” Marty said. “It’s also part of the magic of creating the fun—you’ve got to have fun doing it, too.”
Miller told me:
When they [Eyes and Ears] got our article, the editor had never heard of this before, so [they] phoned Imagineering to confirm it. By chance, they got connected directly to Marty Sklar. They read him the article over the phone and he acknowledged each of the examples we mentioned in the article. Finally, he asked how we knew about this stuff since it was supposed to be an Imagineering secret. I never gave up the names of my sources. I don’t know what Marty might have done to them.
So the cat was out of the bag, at least for Walt Disney World Cast Members who would—from that point—start sharing some of these discoveries with park guests. The Epcot Outreach and Teacher Center in Communicore had several data lists that they would hand out, including an ever-changing and incomplete one of Hidden Mickeys.
To read the rest of the story, pick up your copy of The Vault of Walt: Volume 3.