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 21 features appearances by Ferdinand Horvath, Ken Peterson, Bob Givens, Sylvia Holland, Tyrus Wong, John Hench, Marc Davis, Alice Davis, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, Floyd Norman, Paul R. Hartley (via his daughter Stacey Hartley), Bill Cottrell, Lillian Disney, Glen Keane, and Darrell Van Citters.
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.
The Diaries and Letters of Ferdinand Horvath
A Short Autobiography (Ken Peterson)
The Letters of Bob Givens to Hardie Gramatky
The Letters of Sylvia Holland
Tyrus Wong by Michael Barrier
John Hench by Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz
John Hench by Charles Solomon
Marc Davis by Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz
Alice Davis by EMC West
Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn by David Tietyen
Floyd Norman by Jim Korkis
Stacey Hartley, Daughter of Paul R. Hartley by Didier Ghez
Bill Cottrell by Jay Horan
Lillian Disney, Diane Disney Miller, Jenny Miller by Jim Korkis
Glen Keane by Charles Solomon
Darrell Van Citters by Didier Ghez
We are still unearthing treasures, which seems almost miraculous to me. Disney history is a never-ending quest—I knew that from day one. What I did not realize, however, is the amount of fascinating and enlightening documents which are still scattered in private collections, all around the world.
A few months ago, while researching the life of director Woolie Reitherman, I stumbled upon the unpublished autobiography of assistant director and member of the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Danny Alguire. I also located a 66-page list of story ideas for the shorts from 1939, complete with synopses, names of the artists who suggested the ideas, and dates of idea submissions; the transcript of an in-depth discussion between Mel Shaw and Woolie Reitherman about the making of the abandoned project Musicana; and interviews with Marc Davis and John Hench by Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz, which Linda and Christopher thought had been lost forever.
A few weeks ago, I was reading a letter from Gilles “Frenchy” de Trémaudan to Walt Disney which led me to a rare scrapbook, a version of the book He Drew As He Pleased entirely annotated by Frenchy, and a collection of 16mm home movies, which could become one of the most important Disney history-related discoveries ever.
And then a few days ago I also heard from the grandson of artist Chester Cobb, who preserved a large number of rare documents from the 1930s, which should fill some important gaps when it comes to our understanding of the making of the Disney shorts.
In other words, I am slowly gathering more eye-opening material for Walt’s People, They Drew as They Pleased, and many other books to come.
This new volume of Walt’s People shares some of those recent and less-recent discoveries: documents from Ken Peterson, the full correspondence of Sylvia Holland, and the interviews of Marc Davis and John Hench, which one of Woolie Reitherman’s sons preserved. But the most exciting piece in this volume, from my standpoint, are the diaries and correspondence of Ferdinand Horvath, which I located and acquired in 2014 and which you can finally read for the first time in their entirety.
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: