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"Walt's People -- Volume 5" is an entertaining addition to this ongoing Disney history series

Jim Hill

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"Walt's People -- Volume 5" is an entertaining addition to this ongoing Disney history series

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If you've been reading JHM for a while now, you already know that I'm a very big fan of Didier Ghez's "Walt's People" books. So -- that said -- is it really all that big a surprise that I enjoyed reading "Volume 5" of this ongoing series.

Mind you, at 443 pages in length, this paperback is the heftiest book in the series to date. But given the great selection of interviews that you'll find in "Volume 5," I doubt that you're going to find any serious Disneyana fan complaining about how thick this particular "Walt's People" is.

And the Disney Legends that make appearances this time around! We're talking about real old-timers like Ward Kimball. Who -- in his interview with Rick Shale -- Ward talked about how much he enjoyed teasing fellow Disney Legend Jim Algar back when Algar was working on the "Hall of Presidents" attraction for WDW's Magic Kingdom:

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

"(Now you have to understand that) President Harding had (this) mistress (that he kept) in a closet. (And) I enraged Jim Algar one day when they were planning the Hall of the Presidents for Florida, and they had our first preview of it. They had all these dummies standing out there on the stage. I hate that whole thing, because it’s so lifeless and so unreal, I think, to use wax images like that and just have a few of them working like mechanical robots.

Anyway, I suggested that Warren Harding in his little section of this tableau should have a secret closet door that opens every once in a while, and this female arm and bracelet comes out and beckons Warren to come into the closet, cause that’s what he used to do. He used to take her into his cloak closet. Algar didn’t think that was funny."

To be fair, maybe the reason that Jim really didn't find Ward's joke all that funny was all of the struggle that Algar had gone through in order to get the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" show working at the New York World's Fair back in 1964. As Jim told Richard Hubler in a 1968 interview that you'll find reprinted in this installment of the "Walt's People" series:

 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

"As the deadline approached for the New York World’s Fair, we were rehearsing this Lincoln thing down here on the sound stage, and there were electronic bugs cropping up in it. Even the sound engineers and the sound experts were into areas that had never been attempted. We were daring the equipment to do more than it had ever been designed for. We were putting, as I remember, fourteen overlapped channels on a piece of tape that were bleeding through and sending signals across. And Lincoln would shudder and his eyes would go back and forth as though the sheriff was right behind him. It was the most nerve-wracking period I have ever spent.

It got down to about two weeks before Fair time. Walt had to go on back because the other shows were being opened, and he would be on the phone every night to find out how we were doing. We were holding out until two in the morning. What was so staggering was we couldn’t get our finger on the problem. Fuses would blow out and wires would get crossed, and the character would do the wrong thing at the wrong moment, and finally one night when all this happened, Marc [Davis] turned to me and said, 'Do you suppose God is mad at Walt for creating man in his own image?' "

This (for my way of thinking, anyway) is the most entertaining aspect of the "Walt's People" series. That -- through this great collection of interviews that Didier has put together -- you get the unvarnished version of Disney Company history. You learn the real reasons that Walt made the movies that he did.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Take -- for example -- "The Shaggy Dog." Which -- as Bill Walsh recounted to Christopher Finch & Linda Rosenkrantz -- was based on ...

"... a book by a guy named Felix Salten, who was a Viennese author: Kind of a nutty little thin book called 'The Hound of Florence.' That was always on the shelf here and nobody knew what to do with it, because it was kind of nutty.

It was about Michelangelo’s apprentice, who got mixed up with a Borgia ring and kept getting changed into a dog all the time. But he kept flashing back. It was kind of a strange little book. It was completely impossible to read. At that time we had the Mouseketeers on hand, so Walt said, 'See if you can do something with this book. Get some idea . . .'

I did a story using Tommy Kirk, and Walt originally tried to sell that as a TV show, but there were some wise new guys at ABC who said no, it wouldn’t make a TV show. Walt said, 'Well, the hell with these guys, we’ll make a picture out of it and make a lot more money than it ever would make on TV.' I thought, 'Well, that’s Walt talking,' or something. But we made the picture and it did make quite a lot of money. So he was right. How he was right I don’t know, but it made a lot of dough. It was a cheap little movie to make."

 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Plus -- as you burrow this thick paperback -- you get all of these weird insights into the people & personalities who helped create your favorite Disney theme park attractions. Like this doozy that Alice Davis shared in a 2004 interview with David Oneal about "America Sings." Where she revealed that ...

" ... (Veteran character actor) Chill Wills would not go on the ride. Chill Wills did the voice for the turkey. He wouldn’t go into any building that moved. He was sure he would be killed. He was very strange. He wouldn’t go anywhere near it. He didn’t stay for all the functions of the opening because he wasn’t going to have anything to do with a building that moved like that."

Or -- better yet -- how about the story that John Musker shared with Clay Kaytis for a 2005 Animation Podcast. Where an unnamed Disney Company executive clearly didn't expect "The Little Mermaid" to do all that well at the box office:

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"(A friend of Ron Clements and I was attending this) early screening of 'Mermaid' (that was held) down in Florida before (the film) was really released. One of the other financial types who worked at Disney, who doesn’t now, leaned over to (our friend) after the movie was done and he said, 'Write-Off.' "

Whatever you folks do, don't make the mistake of writing off the "Walt's People" series. If you do, you'll then be denying yourself this incredibly entertaining collection of interviews with Disney Legends that were conducted by noted authors & historians like Dave Smith, Charles Solomon and Michael Barrier. This collection of five paperbacks is really must reading for any true Disney theme park & animation fan.

Speaking of which ... Volume 6 of the "Walt's People" is due out in March of 2008. So if you haven't actually gotten started yet reading this great series of books ... Well, now's as good a time as any to start.

 Copyright 2007 Didier Ghez

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  • Wow.  19 hours and not a single comment on this great-sounding book!

    I guess you'll have to write another Pixar number-cruncher now, Mr. Hill.

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