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What do Fairy Facts, Alice in Wonderland and Knucklehead Smiff all have in common?

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

What do Fairy Facts, Alice in Wonderland and Knucklehead Smiff all have in common?

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You want to know the real dangerous part of starting up a book review section on your website? People start sending you books to review. Lots and lots and lots of books to review.

That's why I've fallen so far behind schedule here at JimHillMedia.com. I've been buried under this ton of books that all these authors and publishing houses have been kind enough to send me. And it's taken me quite a while to dig myself out from under this pile of new releases, as I try and decide which titles would be worth telling JHM readers about.

Thankfully, I finally seem to have gotten a handle on all of the summer reading that I had to do for the site. So -- over the next few weeks -- JHM will be bringing you up to speed as to which new titles are actually worth adding to your Disneyana library. Once that's done ... well, I guess I'll just get started on all the great movies-and-Disney-related books that are due out on store shelves this fall.

*Sigh* Working as a book reviewer is like having to do book reports for the rest of your life.

Okay. That's enough feeble excuses for one morning. Let's get started, shall we?

The first title that I'll be touching on today is "Queens in the Kingdom: The Ultimate Gay & *** Guide to the Disney Theme Parks" (Alyson Publications, April 2003). As you might have guessed by the title, this volume has a somewhat specialized take on the whole Disney theme park experience. This is a book that's aimed squarely at those gay singles and couples who are looking to get the maximum magic out of their next trip to one of Walt's magical kingdoms.

Well, after paging through Epstein and Shapiro's pithy prose, I daresay that even the straightest of heterosexuals might get a rise out of reading "Queens in the Kingdom." Why for? Well, for starters, the official Disney Birnbaum guides never ever get this bitchy.

Yeah, Jeffrey and Eddie's guide to getting the most you can out of your next vacation to Anaheim and Orlando can occasionally have an admittedly catty tone. I mean, where else are you going to find a Disney guide book that -- as it describes Disneyland's Splash Mountain -- remarks that "Brer Bear's butt will be indelibly marked on your brain" and "This is the most bear-friendly attraction in the park."

Now please don't assume -- just from the above quote -- that Epstein and Shapiro have filled their guide book with snide asides that rip on the various Disney theme parks. Truth be told, these guys are actually quite fond of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And while they may occasionally get off a well-phrased zinger at a particularly lame attraction or show (EX: In their description of the "Global Neighborhood" exhibit in the post-show area of Epcot's "Spaceship Earth," the authors say that this part of the theme park "... has some amusing kiosks to play with -- including a booth where you can call someone and incorporate sound effects so that they think you're in the jungle or a haunted house. If they're stupid."), it's clear that they still care about the theme parks. More importantly, Jeffrey and Eddie really do seem to want their readers to get the most they can out of their next trip to Florida or Southern California.

So, yeah, "Queens in the Kingdom" does have a somewhat stylized approach to the whole Disney guide book game. I mean, where else are you going to find a volume that liberally studded with "Fairy Facts" (FYI: That's Epstein and Shapiro's special name for a running feature in their book -- NOT mine) or features a section that tells you where the Top 10 spots to share a gay moment in the Disney theme parks are?

Written with considerable style and wit as well as being loaded with lots of great inside information, "Queens in the Kingdom" is well worth picking up if you're a FOD who's headed for DLR or WDW sometime in '03 or '04. But -- even if you're none of the above (or if you just had trouble translating the above sentence) -- Jeffrey and Eddie's book is still worth a look-see.

Now -- if you're a Disneyana fan and it's sex that you want (how's that for a provocative segue?) -- then you may want to consider picking up a copy of Rupert Holmes' new novel, "Where the Truth Lies" (Random House, July 2003). For this well-written mystery really takes you for a walk on the wilder side of the Magic Kingdom. There's a sequence in this book that's set in a room at the Disneyland Hotel where ... well ... I don't think that Walt would have approved of what that Disneyland cast member (while she's still wearing her Alice in Wonderland costume, by the way) winds up up doing with the book's narrator.

Mind you, Holmes' book isn't just about naughty Disney-related hijinks in Anaheim area hotel rooms. It's really about a lot more than that. "Where the Truth Lies" is this extremely well-written mystery that uses Manhattan and Hollywood of the 1970s as its principal settings. It's just that -- in the course of unveiling this title's carefully-crafted plot -- the novel's narrator makes several trips to Disneyland.

Ah, but Rupert doesn't send his heroine to "The Happiest Place on Earth" just so she can get off a few cheap shots at the theme park. Holmes -- just like Jeffrey and Eddie -- appears to be a real fan of Disneyland. He even has the novel's narrator -- K. O'Connor, a young female journalist -- offer up this somewhat back handed appreciation to the place:

"When I first came out to the West Coast, I'd been hired to trash the place for the 'LA Free Press' before that paper became a sex rag. There'd been some rumors - untrue - that the Disney Company was thinking of reinstating the dress code of the sixties, which barred men with long hair from attending the park. Not from just working there, but actually going on the rides or walking around the place. This was supposed to prevent another yippie invasion, which had closed the park for a day in 1970. My assignment was to savage Disney's simplistic, sanitized spin on America's past and future, with an additional directive to search the fairy tales for latent pederastry and anal fixation. I spent a week in a cut-rate motel only a few blocks from the main gate and patrolled the park armed with a pencil sharpened to a dart-like point ... and came away by the end of the week completely smittened with the place."

Holmes is clearly smitten with Disneyland as well. For he describes -- in loving detail -- the wonders of walking out into the park from backstage (with its vast array of beige, vaguely industrial-looking buildings) only to have your senses assaulted by all the color and the music and the smells. Rupert also includes (as part of the book's narrative) a trip to Club 33 that makes visiting this most-exclusive-of-all-Disney theme park restaurants sound like the hippest and sexiest place you can ever take a woman on a date.

So what's this book about? Sorry, but that would be telling. Let's just say that this Edgar Award-winning author has delivered a thoroughly entertaining mystery which (admittedly) may upset some of you Disneyana fans who have delicate sensibilities. (But -- what the hey -- if you have delicate sensibilities, you're probably already upset with me for daring to say nice things about "Queens in the Kingdom." So you now undoubtedly think that I'm a real dummy for recommending that you rush out to get a book that features a Disneyland cast member dressed as Alice who takes part in a three-way.)

And speaking of dummies (I know. I know. That was another lame segue. I promise that that's the absolutely last one you'll read on this review, okay?) I just received a copy of this fun new book about ventriloquists and their dummies. Its title is "Dummy Days: America's Favorite Ventriloquists from Radio and Early TV" (Angel City Press, July 2003).

Now I know that this may seen like an oxymoron (I.E. a fun book about ventriloquists). But if you grew up in the late 1950s / early 1960s and watched a lot of children's television, you probably have some very fond memories of Paul Winchell and his dummies, Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Or how about Shari Lewis and Lambchop? Or -- better yet -- Danny O'Day and Farfel? (You know, that mournful-looking dog that taught all of us that the proper way to pronounce the word "chocolate" was "CHAW-CLAAAT! [Snap!]")

Well, they're all here -- along with Senor Wences ("S'awright?" "S'awright.") and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy -- in this beautifully illustrated and extremely well-researched volume. Author Kelly Asbury (probably best known in animation circles for his wonderful work on "Shrek," "Toy Story" and "Beauty & the Beast') has put together a really entertaining read here. Loading this book up with intriguing bits of trivia like:

"Like his friend Walt Disney, (Edgar) Bergen understood the value of merchandising his creation. So he licensed his dummy's image on everything from wrapping paper to egg cups. At one point, Bergen was bringing in $400,000 a year on Charlie products alone. During the 1930s and 1940s, only Mickey Mouse surpassed Charlie McCarthy in mass-market popularity. Unlike Disney's goody-two-shoes mouse, however, Charlie's appeal came from his wisecracking ways. He was a dummy with attitude."

Well, Asbury's certainly no dummy. Kelly's smart enough not to restrict his storytelling just to show biz related tales. For example, there's a great little side bar that details Paul Winchell's friendship with medical professionals like Dr. Henry Heimlich (Yes. THAT Dr. Heimlich. The guy who invented the life-saving Heimlich Maneuver) as well as the veteran ventriloquist's involvement in the research for a viable artificial heart. There's also the sad but sweet story of Shari Lewis. About how this dedicated performer -- even though she had been stricken with uterine cancer -- still insisted that she keep working. So even while Shari was secretly undergoing radiation therapy and chemotherapy, she stayed on the job. Finishing up a full season of "The Charlie Horse Musical Pizza" TV show before finally passing away just two weeks after production of her syndicated children's television program had wrapped.

The end result is that "Dummy Days" -- in spite of its admittedly somewhat oddball subject matter -- is still a very fun read. Particularly if you ever toyed with ventriloquisms and/or just grew up watching Winchell and Lewis and O'Day on television.

Okay. So that's three very different titles that I personally think are very much worth taking a look at. So if you're interested in having a gay old time at WDW and/or want to read about Alice's amorous adventure at the Disneyland Hotel and/or occasionally find yourself singing the "Nestles" song ("N-E-S-T-L-E-S. Nestle's makes the very best CHAW-CLAAAAT! [Snap!]"), then you might want to consider picking up one or more of the books that I've mentioned in today's review.

Okay. That's three down ... 1200 more to go ... *Sigh*

If you'd like to get any of these books Jim mentioned today as well as help support JimHillMedia.com, you can do so by clicking on one of the Amazon.com boxes that you'll find below.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though they are currently all 30% off!) But - if you order any of these books from Amazon.com through us - the site gets a tiny cut of what you spend. So help keep Jim Hill behind the computer where he belongs and and pick up your copy of "Queens in the Magic Kindom," "Where the Truth Lies" and/or "Dummy Days" through these links:

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