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"This Time, This Place" takes readers behind-the-scenes at the White House, Hollywood as well as at Walt Disney Studios

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"This Time, This Place" takes readers behind-the-scenes at the White House, Hollywood as well as at Walt Disney Studios

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Herb W. writes in to say:

"I really enjoy how JHM covers the Walt Disney Company, mixing the business side of things in with all of that juicy gossip. But where do you get your information? How can you know all of this stuff?"

Here's the Reader's Digest version, Herb : I've been writing about the Mouse for almost a quarter of a century now. And -- in that time -- I've made friends with a lot of folks who work at the Walt Disney Company who periodically pass me info. Clue me in on what's going on in their little corner of the Mouse House.

Beyond that ... It's all just research. Spending hours reading through old newspaper articles and/or brand-new books.


 2007 Harmony Books, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Take -- for example -- the late Jack Valenti's autobiography, "This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood" (Harmony, May 2007).

Now you might think that the memoirs of the chairman & CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America would be a bad place to go trolling for new Disney-related stories. But that's where you'd be wrong.

You see, when Valenti first arrived in Hollywood in May of 1966 ... Well, here. Why don't I let Jack himself tell this story?

Within several weeks of my accession to the presidency of the MPAA, I received two calls. One was from the office of Walt Disney and the other was from the secretary to Sam Goldwyn, the man who produced the very first Hollywood film. Both of these founding fathers asked me to visit them.


 Samuel Goldwyn

I showed up first at the Disney studio lot. I was ushered into the simply furnished office of the grandest genius of all cinema history: Walt Disney. He rose from behind his desk, shook my hand and introduced me to his brother, Roy, and two of his young assistants. He motioned me to a chair.

Walt Disney was rather gaunt, his cheekbones prominent in a face that was not memorable. But I do remember his eyes. They fastened on me with intensity. Walt remarked on the content of live-action films. A growing number of these films, he commented, were not in his judgment suitable for American families. By inference, he intimated to me that the Disney concept was just the opposite. He urged me to visit his animation artists, who he allowed were the best in the world. None of the others in the room said anything, they just listened to their leader. After some twenty minutes or so, the meeting was over.

Walt told me again how glad me was to meet me. He hoped that I would take leadership in holding fast to the moral precepts of America. A staunch conservative Republican, Walt knew of my White House background with President Johnson. I daresay he was not ready to endorse Lyndon Johnson's version of the Great Society. He was, however, courteous enough to steer the conversation to other spheres. He accompanied me to the door and with genuine friendliness bade me on my way.


 Walt Disney receives Medal of Freedom from
President Lyndon Johnson in September of 1964

A few months later, Walt Disney died. I was always grateful that I had that rare opportunity to be in his presence. It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Walt Disney not just on Hollywood, but on the entire world of visual entertainment. Without his innovative mind, the future would have been far different from the one later generations were to enjoy.

Mind you, one of the reasons that Jack was eager to meet with Walt was that -- at that time, anyway -- Walt Disney Productions was not a member of the MPAA. In fact, because Disney Studios only produced family-friendly fare back then, Mouse House managers really didn't see the point of embracing the Motion Picture Association of America's then-new ratings system. And it would take Valenti until 1971 before he could finally convince Mickey to come join the MPAA.

During the 38 years that he spent in Hollywood, Jack had a front-row seat for a lot of Disney history. Take -- for example -- this story from "This Time, This Place," where Valenti recounts how ...

... I was present at the birth of the new Disney company. I was at the home of Frank Wells in early 1984 when he and Michael Eisner were quietly discussing the offer made by the Bass Brothers of Texas, who had just purchased a large percentage of Disney stock. Also present that evening was Al Checchi, one of the fiscal boy wonders trained at Harvard Business School, who was then working for the Bass family. Sid Bass had first sought to appoint Wells as chairman / CEO and to bring in Eisner as president. But Eisner demurred. He would come aboard only if he was the CEO. To everyone's astonishment, Wells had no objection.


The late Frank Wells, president of
the Walt Disney Company (1984 - 1994)

Frank Wells was as physically attractive as any movie star. He was superby educated, a first-class lawyer with a class-A intellect and charm to match. He and Eisner were a made-to-order pair -- Eisner the volatile creative type and Wells the conciliator. It was a magical team. Wells was also a fearless adventurer. Before the Disney experience, he took a year off from his duties at Warner Bros. to climb the seven highest peaks in the world and then wrote a book about it.

It was on that evening at Well's home (I am still not sure why they asked me to be present) that Michael and Frank began to shape their plans. They brought in the best people they could common, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Rich Frank and Dick Cook. They all threw themselves into seven-day workweeks. They resuscitated Disney classics lying inert in the archives. They widened Disney's viewer reach. And with unmatched intensity, they sent Disney soaring upward. It was an amazing resurrection of a legendary studio, once languishing and now on corporate steroids.

Of course, not every Disney-related event that Valenti witnessed and/or played a part in was pleasant. As part of his bio, Jack looked back at the time when ...


 Sid Sheinberg, former president of MCA Universal

... Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA Universal, turned on Michael Eisner, chairman of Disney, and Frank Wells, Disney's president. Sheinberg accused Disney of pilfering plans from MCA to build movie theme parks in Orlando, long the fiefdom of Disney. Eisner furiously denied the charge. Finally, I intervened to suggest that another forum would be more suitable for such arguments.

Jack also looked on after ...

... Frank Wells's death in a tragic helicopter crash. Shortly after, at the Herbert Allen conference in Sun Valley, Eisner suffered a mild heart attack and was flown to Los Angeles for surgery. This was followed by a rift between Eisner and the tireless, driven Katzenberg. Then Eisner hired Michael Ovitz. Setting in motion a saga that even now reads like a bad novel made into a bad movie. It was all so depressing.


 Michael Ovitz, president of the
Walt Disney Company (1995 - 1996)

If it's any consolation, Valenti has plenty of nice things to say about Disney's new CEO:

... Bob Iger, tall, handsome, quietly effective, had a stormy time when Michael Ovitz arrived at Disney via the hand of Eisner. Iger's principal chore was giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the ABC television network. Iger persevered with no outward signs of discontent. Meanwhile, ABC, in the doldrums, suddenly came alive on Iger's watch. Two new shows went on steam -- "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" -- and viewers flocked to watch them. Iger became Sir Lancelot, and rightly so. As the new CEO of Disney, he brings to the table long, successful creative experience in a madly unpredictable arena and an easy, unpretentious manner. He understand with clarity what Disney needs to do. I have little doubt he will do it.

Now keep in mind that Jack's dealings with Disney only make up a tiny portion of his amazing life & career. I mean, this is the man who actually set the logistics of President Kennedy's trip to Dallas in November of 1963. He was in that fateful motorcade. You can even see Valenti in that famous photo of LBJ being sworn in on Air Force One.


Jack Valenti looks on as Lyndon Johnson is sworn in
aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963

Trust me, folks. There's so much more to Jack Valenti's memoirs than just his musings on the Mouse. So you'd like to read a great autobiography that will take you behind-the-scenes at both the White House as well as out in Hollywood, then you should definitely pick up a copy of "This Time, This Place: My Life in War, the White House, and Hollywood." This is one book that will really open your eyes about how the worlds of politics & entertainment are intertwined.

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  • Jack Valenti's main job throughout the years was to promote Jack Valenti. He could talk your ear off, if you allowed it, of his questionable accomplishments and how he was personally involved in everything that ever happened anywhere at any time. Zelig, Forest Gump, and Little Ceasar all rolled into one.

    An appropriate companion to his autobiography would be the documentary "For Your Consideration," now available on dvd.

  • scratch that, reverse it

    The documentary is "This Film is not Yet Rated" - just a tad more informative than an improv troop wryly sidestepping through a film. Freakin submit key = there's no turning back now.

  • Bravo to this book! The stories in it seem like they'd make a wonderful autobiographical movie similar to "The Aviator"  or "Casino" or at  least in the style of a Scorcese film...wouldn't that be great? A period film about the ins and outs of the business in the Hollywood or even better the Walt Disney Studios? everything from Walt to LBJ to Eisner and on...that's how colorful these stories come across

    here , I can already picture the scenes going on in my head... not a dumbed down candy coated version of Disney but a real portrayal of the way things were. (and yes I have seen the documentary "Walt",and even though it is really good,It's not real enough...it's like asking republicans what they think of republicans or asking democrats how they feel on democrats... It's very much of the same "Walt was a genius" stories that we hear so many times (and I totally agree that Walt Disney was a genius!)-- when someone who worked with Walt  is describing him when they are a lot older (like Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, or Marc & Alice Davis and so on...) That's when Walt's life becomes a myth and not that of a man, and I really think that  stories like the ones that we've glimpsed here today would be the type of material to make something interesting, and more enduring for the Disney company.

    I know for sure that when you say someone is a genius they either embrace it or brush it off, but when you describe how they became that way or understand who they were through the tiny faults that they had you start to see what makes up their character, and people will relate more to them instead of immortalizing them as more than men or women.

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