The Walt's People series is an oral history of all things Disney, as told by the artists, animators, designers, engineers, and executives who made it happen, from the 1920s through the present.
Walt’s People: Volume 1 features appearances by Rudolf Ising, David Hand, Bill Tytla, Ken Anderson, Jack Hannah, John Hench, Marc Davis, Milt Kahl, Harper Goff, and Joyce Carlson.
Among the hundreds of stories in this volume:
The entertaining, informative stories in every volume of Walt's People will please both Disney scholars and eager fans alike.
Introduction by Didier Ghez
Rudolf Ising by J.B. Kaufman
David Handby Michael Barrier
Bill Tytleby George Sherman
Ken Andersonby Paul F. Anderson
Jack Hannahby Jim Korkis
John Henchby Alain Littaye
John Henchby Didier Ghez
Marc Davisby John Province
Marc Davisby Michael Lyons
Milt Kahlby Robin Allan and Dr. William Moritz
Harper Goffby Robin Allan
Joyce Carlsonby Jim Korkis
Ten years have elapsed since I wrote the original foreword to Walt’s People: Volume 1. A few months after the book series was launched, my wife and I moved from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Madrid, Spain, and eight years later to Miami, where we now live. Walt’s People: Volume 14 is about to be released and hundreds of interviews which were languishing in historians’ vaults are now available for all to read.
The series, as well as the Disney History blog (http://disneybooks.blogspot.com), which was born in 2006, are at the center of a massive effort to preserve and share Disney history while there is still time.
I am proud of what has been achieved, but there is much more to be done: at least twenty more volumes of Walt’s People still to be released, an index to the whole series, and a lot of work to connect the dots.
Thankfully, I now rely on a new and extremely professional publisher, Theme Park Press, and thanks to the efforts of its owner, Bob McLain, I am able to reissue Walt’s People in a much improved format and devoid of the obvious typos.
When working on this new version of Walt’s People, Bob and I decided to modify as little as possible the text of the original edition. It remains mostly as it was when released in 2004&hellips;minus the typos.
“Re-animate Disney research: unlock the vaults!”
The Walt’s People project was born out of an email conversation I conducted with Disney historian Jim Korkis a few months ago. The magazine Persistence of Vision had not been published for years, The “E” Ticket’s future was uncertain, and, of course, the grandfather of them all, Funnyworld, had passed away 20 years ago. In summary, access to serious Disney history was becoming harder that it had ever been.
The most frustrating part of this situation was that both Jim and I knew that huge amounts of amazing material was sleeping in working cabinets of serious Disney historians, unavailable to Disney enthusiasts for lack of publishing venues. Some would surface from time to time in a book released by Hyperion, some would see the light of day in a fanzine or on a website, but this seemed to happen less and less often. In addition, what would surface was only the tip of the iceberg: Paul F. Anderson alone conducted more than 250 interviews over the years with Disney artists, most of whom are no longer with us today.
Jim had conceived the idea of a book originally called Talking Disney that would collect his best interviews with Disney artists. He suggested this to several publishers, but they all turned him down. They considered the potential market to be too small.
Jim’s idea, however, awakened long forgotten dreams, dreams that I had of becoming a publisher of Disney history books. By doing some research on the web I realized that “print on demand” techniques now allowed these dreams to become reality.
Hence the Walt’s People series. Its aim: to collect the best Disney interviews ever conducted, uncut and uncensored.
Key Disney historians have accepted my offer to contribute to the project, which will give us access to the source material they use for their works. Much of this material is published here, for the first time, in its entirety. I am also uncovering new or quasi-unknown material virtually every day: a forgotten interview with Woolie Reitherman, lost tapes of talks with Paul Murry, rare conversations with Al Hubbard, Jack Bradbury, and many others that I hope to release in the upcoming volumes of this series.
Please, if you are aware of little-know interviews or would like to contribute to this series with a piece of your own, contact me at email@example.com. We are looking for any submissions that can offer in-depth views of artists’ careers or different perspectives on their works. Remember that artists already featured in a volume of this series can re-appear in future volumes if they discuss different projects or discuss the same projects in different ways.
We aim to include as many interviews as possible from artists who worked directly with Walt and therefore had first-hand knowledge about the history of Disney. We believe this should provide a fundamental source of information for future researchers.
While reading these testimonies, though, it is important to always keep in mind that no statement from any interview should ever be considered the absolute truth, as the interviewee might have is remembered the facts, may have seen only part of the project described, or may have his own personal reasons for representing reality in a certain way. Hence the further importance of the various perspectives provided throughout this series.
For the sake of clarity: the Walt’s People project’s goal is not to earn money. Every time the cost of publishing one volume is recouped, the money will be reinvested in the publication of the next. Any surplus funds will be shared among the authors.
We aim to publish one volume of Walt’s People every nine months to one year. I encourage you to check the last section of this volume to find more information about the next issue and how to become aware of its release date.
We hope that you will learn a lot through this series, even if you are already a dedicated Disney historian or enthusiast, and that it will stimulate you to pursue new, original Disney research.
Talk about a broad range of artists and subjects! Walt’s People: Volume 1 takes us from Rudy Ising to Joyce Carlson, from the infancy of animation to the making of theme park attractions that have become classics.
And this is exactly what we want to achieve in all the volumes of this series! Each book will have as broad a focus as possible, discussing Disney animation, Disney theme parks, and Disney comic-book history with interviews of the best artists in each of those fields, from the early 1920s to the 21st century. The Walt’s People interviews, however, all have something in common: they are rare!
We aim to present mostly never-seen-before material, but we will also include very old interviews that have appeared in long-forgotten venues. Plus there will be in-depth pieces that have only been released on the web, so that they can be preserved in a more permanent format. Our goal is to explore the subject matter as thoroughly as can be achieved by serious Disney historians.
We have also tried to vary, as much as possible, the length and tone of each chapter, believing that there is no such thing as too long or too short an interview if it is well focused and it introduces us to new information and anecdotes.
And now, just a glimpse at what’s ahead to whet your appetite….
In Volume 1, Rudy Ising brings us back to the 1920s and to Walt’s first ventures before Mickey Mouse, discussing the invention of cel animation, the early storyboards, what Walt would have done if he had not moved from Kansas City to California, and why Rudy really left Disney.
Dave Hand explains what it was like to be at Walt’s right hand in the 1930s and what chaos management meant to a director at the Studio at the time of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Bill Tytla and Ken Anderson give us the other side of almost the same picture: the artist’s perspective on those early years.
With Jack Hannah, we take a detour through classic short cartoons’ directing and the evolution of “The Duck”, while meeting even stronger personalities from the Studio, including Carl Barks and Clarence “Ducky” Nash.
Salvador Dali, through the eyes of Disney Legend John Hench, brings us to the 1940s, while two of the Nine Old Men, Marc Davis and Milt Kahl, give us complementary perspectives on feature animation and its challenges.
By then, we reach the 1950s, and are ready to discover how Harper Goff “tricked” Walt into producing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and to explore how, during the following decade, Marc Davis, Mary Blair, Rolly Crump, and Joyce Carlson developed various classic Disneyland attractions with stories that involve, among others, Roy O. Disney and a rhinoceros.
Exciting stuff? So, without further ado, let’s meet one of the pioneers….
Didier Ghez has conducted Disney research since he was a teenager in the mid-1980s. His articles about the Disney parks, Disney animation, and vintage international Disneyana, as well as his many interviews with Disney artists, have appeared in Animation Journal, Animation Magazine, Disney Twenty-Three, Persistence of Vision, StoryboarD, and Tomart’s Disneyana Update. He is the co-author of Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality, runs the Disney History blog, the Disney Books Network, and serves as managing editor of the Walt’s People book series.
If you have a question for Didier that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
About The Walt's People Series
GHEZ: The Walt’s People project was born out of an email conversation I conducted with Disney historian Jim Korkis in 2004. The Disney history magazine Persistence of Vision had not been published for years, The “E” Ticket magazine’s future was uncertain, and, of course, the grandfather of them all, Funnyworld, had passed away 20 years ago. As a result, access to serious Disney history was becoming harder that it had ever been.
The most frustrating part of this situation was that both Jim and I knew huge amounts of amazing material was sleeping in the cabinets of serious Disney historians, unavailable to others because no one would publish it. Some would surface from time to time in a book released by Disney Editions, some in a fanzine or on a website, but this seemed to happen less and less often. And what did surface was only the tip of the iceberg: Paul F. Anderson alone conducted more than 250 interviews over the years with Disney artists, most of whom are no longer with us today.
Jim had conceived the idea of a book originally called Talking Disney that would collect his best interviews with Disney artists. He suggested this to several publishers, but they all turned him down. They thought the potential market too small.
Jim’s idea, however, awakened long forgotten dreams, dreams that I had of becoming a publisher of Disney history books. By doing some research on the web I realized that new "print-on-demand" technology now allowed these dreams to become reality. This is how the project started.
Twelve volumes of Walt's People later, I decided to switch from print-on-demand to an established publisher, Theme Park Press, and am happy to say that Theme Park Press will soon re-release the earlier volumes, removing the few typos that they contain and improving the overall layout of the series.
To locate them, I usually check carefully the footnotes as well as the acknowledgments in other Disney history books, then get in touch with their authors. Also, I stay in touch with a network of Disney historians and researchers, and so I become aware of newly found documents, such as lost autobiographies, correspondence with Disney artists, and so forth, as soon as they've been discovered.
Yes, some interviews and autobiographical documents are extremely difficult to obtain. Many are only available on tapes and have to be transcribed (thanks to a network of volunteers without whom Walt’s People would not exist), which is a long and painstaking process. Some, like the seminal interview with Disney comic artist Paul Murry, took me years to obtain because even person who had originally conducted the interview could not find the tapes. But I am patient and persistent, and if there is a way to get the interview, I will try to get it, even if it takes years to do so.
One funny anecdote involves the autobiography of the Head of Disney’s Character Merchandising from the '40s to the '70s, O.B. Johnston. Nobody knew that his autobiography existed until I found a reference to an article Johnston had written for a Japanese magazine. The article was in Japanese. I managed to get a copy (which I could not read, of course) but by following the thread, I realized that it was an extract from Johnston’s autobiography, which had been written in English and was preserved by UCLA as part of the Walter Lantz Collection. (Later in his career Johnston had worked with Woody Woodpecker’s creator.) Unfortunately, UCLA did not allow anyone to make copies of the manuscript. By posting a note on the Disney History blog a few weeks later, I was lucky enough to be contacted by a friend of Johnston's family, who lives in England and who had a copy of the manuscript. This document will be included in a book, Roy's People, that will focus on the people who worked for Walt's brother Roy.
That is a tough question. The more volumes I release, the more I find outstanding interviews that should be made public, not to mention the interviews that I and a few others continue to conduct on an ongoing basis. I will need at least another 15 to 17 volumes to get most of the interviews in print.
About Disney's Grand Tour
DIDIER: The research took me close to 25 years. The actual writing took two-and-a-half years.
The official history of Disney in Europe seemed to start after World War II. We all knew about the various Disney magazines which existed in the Old World in the '30s, and we knew about the highly-prized, pre-World War II collectibles. That was about it. The rest of the story was not even sketchy: it remained a complete mystery. For a Disney historian born and raised in Paris this was highly unsatisfactory. I wanted to understand much more: How did it all start? Who were the men and women who helped establish and grow Disney's presence in Europe? How many were they? Were there any talented artists among them? And so forth.
I managed to chip away at the brick wall, by learning about the existence of Disney's first representative in Europe, William Banks Levy; by learning the name George Kamen; and by piecing together the story of some of the early Disney licensees. This was still highly unsatisfactory. We had never seen a photo of Bill Levy, there was little that we knew about George Kamen's career, and the overall picture simply was not there.
Then, in July 2011, Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's daughter, asked me a seemingly simple question: "Do you know if any photos were taken during the 'League of Nations' event that my father attended during his trip to Paris in 1935?" And the solution to the great Disney European mystery started to unravel. This "simple" question from Diane proved to be anything but. It also allowed me to focus on an event, Walt's visit to Europe in 1935, which gave me the key to the mysteries I had been investigating for twenty-three years. Remarkably, in just two years most of the answers were found.
DIDIER: Yes, I believe that casual readers, not just Disney historians, will find it a fun read. The book is heavily illustrated. We travel with Walt and his family. We see what they see and enjoy what they enjoy. And the book is full of quotes from the people who were there: Roy and Edna Disney, of course, but also many of the celebrities and interesting individuals that the Disneys met during the trip. And on top of all of this, there is the historical detective work, that I believe is quite fun: the mysteries explored in the book unravel step by step, and it is often like reading a historical novel mixed with a detective story, although the book is strict non-fiction.
DIDIER: Those books provided massive new sources of inspiration to the Story Department. "Some of those little books which I brought back with me from Europe," Walt remarked in a memo dated December 23, 1935, "have very fascinating illustrations of little peoples, bees, and small insects who live in mushrooms, pumpkins, etc. This quaint atmosphere fascinates me."
DIDIER: There are still a million events in Walt's life and career which need to be explored in detail. To name a few:
The list goes on almost forever.
Didier Ghez has edited:
In this excerpt, from Rudolf Ising (interviewed by J.B. Kaufman), Ising tells the story of little-known artist Thurston Harper, who once invited Walt into the alley behind the studio for a fight:
Some of the stories about Thurston Harper are pretty funny. He had a temper he couldn’t control. We used to play tennis in the morning, and he would take that racket and bang it on the iron posts or on the ground, and completely ruin it, and then come over and say, “Rudy, can I borrow your racket?” He was a big, almost a perfect Jack Dempsey type of build, and a hell of a nice guy until he lost his temper. He was okay with pals and with us; he never got too rough.
One time he was animating a scene, and I was sitting next to him, and Ham on the other side. We used Eagle pencils, they were called; they were brown cedar pencils, and the lead was never exactly straight down the center. I guess they drilled through the piece of cedar and plugged the cylinder with lead or something. They were a penny apiece; that’s the reason we used them. We each had a pencil sharpener and a piece of fine sandpaper. Walt wasn’t there, he was in the office in front with Roy. Harper had a scene I think he’d almost finished. But he would sharpen his pencil, and then he’d go to draw and pretty soon nothing, no lead, he probably got the bad pencil in the bunch. “Goddamn,” and he’d sharpen the thing, have his hands clenched, and he’d go back. Pretty soon nothing was happening and “Goddammit!” He went through this about four times getting madder and madder and madder. Finally, he got up and broke the pencil in half, took the pencil sharpener and broke the thing right off the drawing board and threw it in the wastepaper basket. He took the scene that he was working on in both hands, it was almost finished, and he just tore the hell out of it, threw it in the wastebasket, got up, and walked off, like that.
Walt heard him, finally—it was only from the back door to the front door, this is when we were on Kingswell Avenue. It was all just one room when we started. The next day Harper came back in. By this time Walt knew what he’d done and he said, “I want to talk to you, Harp.” Thurston said, “What about?” And he said, “You know, you’re costing us too much money, we’re going to have to let you go,” and Harper said, “Let’s talk about it out in the alley after work.” There was a back door, and of course half of us used to leave out through the alley. Walt had to leave early that afternoon himself, so Harp was sitting around [laughs], at least one or two months. And Walt didn’t dare, because if he’d really gone out there he knew Harper was liable to beat the hell out of him.
Harper had some friends he used to play poker with, and he’d get a bad hand and he’d take all the cards and tear ‘em in half, turn the table upside down and walk away. And if anybody gave him an argument it would end up in a fight; that happened five or six times. And they were good friends of his, all from Texas.
In this excerpt, from John Hench (interviewed by Didier Ghez), Hench tells the story of how Salvador Dali, who at the time was working on Destino for Walt, wanted a swan, an actual swan, dead or alive:
During the weekends, Dali would go to Carmel where he had a studio. And there are other things I would do on my own for him. I brought him an easel which is still in his house.
Then he wanted a swan for the Leda [Atómica] painting. He said: “Would it be possible for you to find me a swan?” I said I would try. I called a taxidermist who told me “Swans are hard to get. But let me see what I can do. I know a guy in Ontario who has swans.” Dali wanted a big swan, a male swan. A week later the taxidermist called me and said, “I have a swan. I have it here now, and I would like you to come down right away and we will go over the pose again.”
What I had not told the taxidermist was that, beside the swam, Dali had also requested a very big black rat that would also be stuffed and would be included inside the swan. I asked Dali, “Why is that? Why do you want a black rat?” He said: “If I know that there is a black rat inside, then the feathers of the swan will look more radiant and much whiter.”
So I went to the taxidermist to see the swan. When I arrived, I saw that the taxidermist had been injured. He had a cut on his head and some bruises on his body. He took me in there and here was the swan, smelling badly of poultry and fish, a terrible smell. We went over the pose again, with some drawings that I had. He was so beat up and irritated that I was afraid if I told him about the black rat, he would give the whole thing up, thinking he was working for a crazy person. So I did not mention it, thinking: “Dali will never know that there is no black rat in there. It’s all psychological any way. And he did, in fact, assume it was there.”
It took five days for the thing to be ready. During that time, I talked about the swan at the studio, and one of the guys brought me a newspaper clipping that mentioned that someone had stolen a swan out of West Lake Park. It was city property! Which explained where the swan came from and why the taxidermist was so beat up: a male swan is a very powerful creature; it’s a dangerous animal to be around. I brought it to Dali in my convertible at 3 o’clock in the morning because I was afraid of someone stopping me and finding that swan and connecting it with the newspaper story.
When Dali saw the swan he embraced it and exclaimed: “It’s possible to love this thing!” And he did love it. He took it back with him to Spain.