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 13 features appearances by Virginia Davis, Reg Massie, George Bakes, Milt Neil, Al Dempster, Joe Grant, Woolie Reitherman, Becky and Carla Fallberg, Jean Erwin, Jules Engel, Fred Kopietz, Donald Duckwall, George Sherman, Floyd Gottfredson, Richard Todd, Roy E. Disney, Norman "Stormy" Palmer, Paul Kenworthy, Hunt and Chris Hibler (about their father, Winston Hibler), Boyd Shaffer, Fess Parker, Dave Spafford, Bob Moore, Blaine Gibson, X Atencio, Don Iwerks, and Tony Baxter, plus articles by John Canemaker and Pete Docter.
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.
Foreword by Dave Smith, Founder of the Disney Archives
Introduction by Didier Ghez
Virginia Davis by Jim Korkis
Reg Massie by John Culhane
George Bakes by John Canemaker
Milt Neil by Paul F. Anderson
Al Dempster by John Culhane
Joe Grant by John Culhane
Woolie Reitherman by John Culhane
Becky Fallberg and Carla Fallberg by Michael Broggie
Jean Irwin by Dave Smith
In Search of John Parr Miller by John Canemaker
Jules Engel by Milton Zolotow and Lawrence Weschler
Fred Kopietz by Michael Barrier
Donald Duckwall by Dave Smith
John Sibley: The Tenth Old Man by Pete Docter
George Sherman by Malcolm Willitts
Floyd Gottfredson by Malcolm Willitts
Richard Todd by Robin Allan
Roy E. Disney by Les Perkins
Stormy Palmer by Les Perkins
Paul Kenworthy by Les Perkins
Hunt Hibler and Chris Hibler about Winston Hibler by Les Perkins
Boyd Shaffer by Jim Korkis and Didier Ghez
Fess Parker by Paul F. Anderson
Dave Spafford by Didier Ghez
Bob Moore by Alberto Becattini
Blaine Gibson by Didier Ghez
X. Atencio by Jay Horan
Don Iwerks by Michael Broggie and Gary Olson
Tony Baxter by Didier Ghez
It is exciting to me whenever I pick up a new volume of Didier Ghez’s Walt’s People because I know that more of the first-person stories of Disney history have now been made available for all to enjoy. The people interviewed in these books are the people who were there, the people that made the history. Over the years, numerous authors have interviewed present and former Disney personnel for the books they were writing, and when they finished, they deposited transcripts of their interviews in the Walt Disney Archives. For decades, about the only place the transcripts of many of these interviews could be seen was in the Walt Disney Archives. Now they, and interviews done for other projects, are being made widely available through Walt’s People.
The use of interviews by an historian is an art, which takes years to refine. Naturally, one cannot believe everything one reads in an interview. Some old-timers like to build up their place in history, while others are extremely modest and hesitate to give themselves the credit to which they are due. And, of course, there are some who, with the passage of time, have simply forgotten events or remember them only through reading what others have written. One thing an historian learns from the beginning is to interview as many people as he can. When multiple people repeat the same facts or stories, then one can be more assured of what really did happen. By hearing corroborating stories, an historian learns quickly in which of his interviewees he can place the most trust. The vast majority of the Disney interviews I have read have proved to be most reliable. Unfortunately, today many of the old-timers have passed on, and with many of them, their stories are now lost.
When I began the Walt Disney Archives in 1970, I was lucky to join the Disney company at a time when many of the key old-timers were still there. The Nine Old Men were still on the job. Ub Iwerks was still working away. Roy O. Disney was heading the company. I had the pleasure of working with all of these pioneers and occasionally would take a tape recorder along when I was talking to them. A number of my interviews, dating back to the early 1970s, have appeared in the Walt’s People series, including a couple in this present volume. In those early days, little scholarship had been done on Disney—there were only a very few published books on the subject.
Many interviewers found in these pages fondly recall early visits to the Archives as they were starting out to become Disney historians themselves. Les Perkins, represented here, even worked in the Archives for a short time. I met our esteemed editor, Didier Ghez, decades ago when at age 16 he visited the Archives with his parents; later, the Ghez family would invite me to their home in Paris for dinner when I was in France for the opening of Disneyland Paris. Now it is twenty years later and I am so proud of what Didier has done with these volumes.
I am sure that you will enjoy volume 13 of Walt’s People. The memories of this collection of Disney artists, Imagineers, actors, technicians, and film-makers are fascinating and informative.
Serendipity is a historian’s friend. For example, you are looking for biographical information about Disney’s first merchandising guru, Kay Kamen. By following the trail you end up uncovering a treasure trove of documents about the early days of Disney in the Nordics and Latin America (the Robert Hartman papers). They barely mention Kay but fill a large gap in Disney history. Or you are trying to learn a little more about a photograph of Walt and French cinema pioneer Louis Lumière. You end up finding out whether Walt actually met Mussolini in 1935 and discovering when Disney’s subsidiaries were first established in the UK and France, not to mention writing a full monograph about Walt and Roy’s trip to Europe before World War II. Or you are searching for more stories about Bill Evans and unearth the diaries of Disneyland’s forgotten “chief landscaper”, Ruth Shellhorn. And on it goes. Serendipity is your dearest friend.
However, for serendipity to act as a friend, you must know a treasure trove when you stumble upon it, even when that treasure trove is not part of your core area of expertise. And for this to happen, two conditions need to be met: you must have at least a rough knowledge of the fields of expertise closest to yours—for example, Disney parks, Disney comics, or Disney merchandising, if you are a Disney animation expert; or Disney in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, if your key focus is the ’30s. Also, you must be able to tap into a network of experts in those other fields.
In other words, the more you know about your field of expertise, the more bridges you have built with other ones, the likelier you are to make significant discoveries. That much is obvious.
But equally important is ease of access to documents both linked and not directly linked to your area of research or to your field of expertise. The more documents you have access to, and the more varied they are, the more likely you become able to connect the dots or to see serendipity take you to places you never even knew existed.
Which is why I have worked so hard in recent years to encourage Disney historians to share their research and discoveries, and to communicate, communicate, communicate among one another.
Through Walt’s People, the vaults are being opened. But more important, behind the scenes, collaboration between Disney historians has never been more active, which leads to fascinating discoveries on an almost daily basis, such as hundreds of never-before-seen photographs of Disney artists shot in the ’40s; the identification of Ginni Mack as a Tinker Bell model; the discovery of several unpublished memoirs or diaries from former Disney employees; and never-before-released correspondence, artwork, and interviews.
The beauty of it all is that, even though time is running short to preserve Disney history, each discovery shared with members of the community leads to greater discoveries. Our motto is: “Share and you will be rewarded.”
Powerful concept, to say the least!
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 "John Sibley: Disney's Tenth Old Man", Oscar-winning director (of Disney's Up) Pete Docter spotlights a talented but forgotten Disney animator:
I grew up admiring Disney’s Nine Old Men, a title Walt Disney jokingly borrowed from Franklin Roosevelt’s disdainful description of the Supreme Court justices to refer to his top artists. To me and many other young animators, the Nine Old Men were the stuff of legends. I read everything about them I could find and watched all the television shows. In my mind, Walt had gone through his staff, like Santa, rating each artist until he arrived at a definitive list of his best animators.
The reality, I learned, was a bit different.
According to Eric Larson, one of the Nine, Walt was merely noting that these men comprised the in-house animation review board. Others claim Walt gave them the title knowing it would generate press for the studio. Though these artists certainly deserved the recognition, the title had an unfortunate side effect: it relegated a number of very talented animators to obscurity. John Sibley is one of them. Several years ago, I was happily watching the Goofy short How to Be a Sailor (1944) with my son when a scene made my eyes bug out and my hair stand on end. I replayed the 30-second shot of Goofy dancing the horn pipe. I played it again in slow motion.
My son hates it when I do this, but I couldn’t help it—the scene was amazing! The movement was simultaneously fluid, graceful, caricatured, and extreme, yet it felt completely believable; it was also hilarious. Who animated this great scene, I wondered? With the help of Robert Tieman at the Disney Archives, I soon learned the artist was John Sibley.
Checking his credits, I discovered Sibley had also done some of my favorite scenes in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). He animated Ichabod primping to meet Katrina, putting a rose in his lapel; picking up Katrina’s fallen packages and escorting her to the house; and, along with Woolie Reitherman, the amazingly funny and tense Headless Horseman chase. Sibley also animated scenes of “The Martins and the Coys”, “All the Cats Join In”, and “Casey at the Bat” from Make Mine Music (1946), the Siamese Cats in Lady and the Tramp (1955), the drunken lackey in Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Horace and Jasper in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).
Turns out I’d been a Sibley fan for a long time without knowing who he was.
I searched through animation books for more information about Sibley, but found only a few passing references. Aside from his film credits, I found nothing on the Internet, either. Even the Disney Archives knew little more than he had started in the late 1930s and was laid off April 20, 1965.
Laid off?!? How could an animator of such great work be laid off? And why was there no mention of him anywhere? The combination of the quality of his work and his obscurity fascinated me. I began researching Sibley’s life, a project that took several years. After many conversations with Sibley’s co-workers, animation historians, and Sibley’s daughter, a much clearer picture of Sibley’s career has emerged. We can finally begin to see what made Sibley’s work so distinctive and special, and learn a little about the life of this neglected animator.