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"Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering" looks to be worth the wait

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"Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering" looks to be worth the wait

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Are you familiar with the old adage that "Good things come to those who wait"?

Well, Disneyana fans have been waiting a long time for "Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park." And a lot of folks are now wondering why it's taking so long for this Disney Editions book to reach store shelves. Particularly since the publication date of this 160-page paperback just got pushed back to March of 2008.


Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So what's the deal? According to author Jeff Kurtti, when it comes to the postponements of "Legends of Imagineering," it's been all about making a good book even better.

"Back when Bruce Gordon and I originally started on this project, it was a much less ambitious book," he explained. "But then Marty Sklar came on board and -- as he reviewed the manuscript -- Marty began offering suggestions like 'You can't mention this Imagineer without first talking about that Imagineer.' So the scope of the book began expanding."

Indeed, with Sklar nudging Kurtti and Gordon along, suggesting new topics to cover (EX: At Marty's suggestion, "Legends of Imagineering' now includes a chapter that pays tribute to the "Music Makers" at the Disney theme parks: Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, Buddy Baker, George Bruns & X. Atencio) ... The end result is a far more ambitious book. One that delves deeply into how Walt Disney went about handpicking that first set of artists & designers that would help him build Disneyland.


Claude Coats (left) and Fred Joerger overseeing construction of the
Wicked Wench in Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction.
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

"I know that it's kind of a cliche to compare Walt Disney to the conductor of an orchestra," Kurtti continued. "But he really did have this amazing ability to orchestrate talented people. To pair two very different people on one project, to pit two talented artists against one another. Knowing that -- out of all that conflict -- was going to come this incredible final product. Something that neither of these artists would have been able to accomplish on their own."

As you might imagine, "Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering" is something of a passion project for Jeff. As he sees it, Kurtti began collecting stories and info for this book the very first day that he arrived at WDI and discovered that his cubicle was right next door to Herb Ryman's.

"We were working together with Eddie Sotto on the Main Street U.S.A. area for Euro Disneyland (Which is now known as Disneyland Paris). Which -- at that time -- was supposed to be themed to the 1920s," Jeff remembered. "And as he sketched out the elevated train and the huge movie palace that was supposed to be part of this part of the park, Herbie would then tell me stories about what it was like to work on the first Disneyland, the original plans for Walt Disney World."


Harriet Burns painting AA figures for WDW's "Mickey Mouse Revue" attraction.
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As he made his way around 1401 Flower Street, Kurtti noticed that many of the Imagineering pioneers -- like Disney Legends Claude Coats and Harriet Burns -- shared Mr. Ryman's sensibilities. In that (just like Herbie), they were these incredibly talented but -- at the same time -- very humble people who were perfectly willing to share their expertise with the next generation of Imagineers.

"And so many of these folks were great raconteurs, great storytellers," Jeff said. "But -- at the same time -- they seemed genuinely grateful when you showed an interest in their earlier work, if you had even a working knowledge of their Imagineering career. So you'd get to hear all of these amazing stories."

And the stories that you'll find in "Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering" really do go all the way back. Back to when it was only a handful of people, working in secret, who were fleshing out Walt's concept for a family fun park.


 Fred Joerger working on the scale model of the Matterhorn's interior.
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

"In the 'Model Shop' section of the book, Harriet Burns talks about being the first woman to work at WED," Kurtti continued. "And to hear what she had to go through -- back when there was no ladies room in that part of the studio, when Harriet had to bring a pair of pants with her every day (which she kept tucked in her purse) just in case she had to do any work on ladders that day ... You forget what it was like for women who were working back in the 1950s."

That's one of the real goals of "Legends of Imagineering." Not just that this book be ... Well, sort of a primer for all of WED's pioneers. But also to give the book's readers a real sense of what it was like to work on those first sets of rides, shows and attractions. What it felt like to have Walt Disney himself challenge you, assign you to work on a project that you had really no expertise in. Only to find yourself actually rising to meet that challenge.

"Thank goodness that Bruce, Marty, and I, and our editorial team at Disney Editions shared a vision for this book," Jeff concluded. "Sure, it's taken a lot longer than we thought to pull 'Legends of Imagineering' together. But I'm hoping that the fans -- if they can just hang in there a little while longer -- will find that the final product was really worth the wait."


Walt Disney and Disneyland ambassador Julie Reihm (center) look on
as Harriet Burns works on the Plaza Inn Restaurant model.
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As you can see by the shots that we've used to illustrate today's article (Which were culled from a work-in-progress version of this book), "Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park" is going to be a very handsome publication. And March of 2008 isn't really all that far away ... So what do you think, folks? Does it now seem like this new Disney Editions book will be worth the wait?

Your thoughts?

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  • "... So what do you think, folks? Does it now seem like this new Disney Editions book will be worth the wait?" - Jim Hill

    Ummmm..... Yes.

    Looks great.

  • Kurtti and Gordon always do a great job.  Nice to finally know why the book's been so delayed.  Better yet, is to learn that the book will be even better!

  • I agree with Destino. Thanks for posting this article Jim. As I recall, I originally ordered that book on Amazon in 2005. Now I am definitely looking forward to it, and content to wait.

    :)

  • isn't he working on a art of Walt disney World book as well?

  • I've been waiting for this book since 2005 when it was first listed on Amazon. I'm glad I didn't pre-order with the Surrell's Disney Mountains.  I would be waiting forever to get em both.  I really do hope it's worth all the wait. I scored a copy of Kurtti's Art of Disneyland book and for the price I paid at DL ($95.00) it was rather lacking for the price. This book needs to be great in order to impress. I want it to be as thick as Disneyland Paris from Sketch to Reality or The Architecture of Reassurance. I'm looking forward to Peggy's new Imagineering Workout...that should be a delight and if Buttermaker is right I will look forward to the art of Walt Disney World.

  • I've had this thing on pre-order since it was announced two years ago.  Every six months I get an Email from Amazon telling me the book is delayed and will I accept an extension. I'm expecting the usual Kurti thinness to a book...and, reality speaks here, am getting tired of waiting, no matter the reason.  But, it's like Splash Mountain on the left coast, I fear...doomed not to open on time and needing it's flume rebuilt and everything else along the way.  I wait.  At least it isn't the overpriced disappointment that ART OF DISNEYLAND was.  (agreed, not worth $ 95.00.)  

    Disney's Mountains is on the way.  I've seen a copy of it already.  Brilliant piece of work.

    BTW - if anyone gets lucky enough to get ahold of it...there was a copy of MAKING OF HONG KONG DISNEYLAND - MAGIC AT WORK - Melody Malmberg - ISBN 988-98708-1-9 that was briefly sold at the Cast Team Center in California...if you are interested in a good pictorial development book on this park (Hong Kong) - this is a reasonable bok to have in your library....

  • Thanks for the piece, Jim. I appreciate the support, and I'm quite proud of the book.

    terp79: I have nothing to do with setting prices, I fully agree that The Art of Disneyland was stunningly overpriced at 75.00.

    Sorry Skipperwest finds my work "thin," not sure what that means. I work quite diligently within the constraints of each publishing project to deliver a book that I would want for my own library.

  • Wow!

    I enjoy reading quite abit and somehow this book managed to slip under my radar until now. It sounds amazing! I can't wait!

    Thanks Jeff.

  • I am just glad that the imagineers form yesteryear are gettin their just due. Becasue, as I have mentioned here before, usually all good ideas that come out of imagineering came from origianl ideas by the older imagineers.

  • Hi Jeff and Jim. I hadn't been planning on purchasing the book as I'm on limited funding...but I think I just changed my mind.

  • Wow, this sounds like an incredible book.

  • Jeff - the ART OF DISNEYLAND is a prime example.  The over-pricing for such a thin book...that was my statement.  And, I felt that more should have been delivered for the buck.  I mean, look at books like Gordon & Mumford's NICKEL TOUR, Bright's DISNEYLAND INSIDE STORY, and the well-edited IMAGINEERING - BEHIND THE DREAMS LOOK...these are all moderate cost books (depending upon their year of release and the cost of living at that time) that are packed to the gills with inside information.  These books tend to average around 200 pages of information and artwork.  Some a tad more, some a tad less.  Even the books by Surrell (MANSION, PIRATES, MOUNTAIN) tap at about 150 pages average count.  And, equally chock full of information and images.  ART OF DISNEYLAND clocked in at 130 pages and about thirty more buckolas than the most expensive of the listed works above.  And, a lot of the artwork therein (not saying all) had previously been printed in other books and sources.  Thirty dollars would have been a reasonable market draw for ART OF DLAND.  You state you didn't set the cost, fine, you were on line for content.  And, there is a whole lot more content that needs to see the light of day in my humble opinion.  Again, this is not saying ART OF DLAND isn't a brilliant book.  It is.  It holds a choice position on my bookshelf of Disney Park Reference material.  I wish it could have been more bang for the buck. That's all.  And, it is a thin work...especially when physically placed on the shelf amongst other books of similar subject.  

    Given that this was a piece for the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland, this book should have been twice as thick and twice as filled with visual information and related descriptions.  My hopes were high for something and I was less than stellarly impressed with what I got.  No offense to you directly, but, the product was short of the mark..although good and worth having in content.  In comparision, Marling's book for the 50th, BEHIND THE MAGIC, was a superior offering of information and images on the history of Walt Disney's first theme park.  Even though Marling's work topped out at 110 pages and is physically "thin", it is far weightier than the ART OF DLAND in substance and regard.  

    I have been waiting for the IMAGINEERING book you are working upon for over two years now.  There have been real delays in the process of getting it to the public...no matter what they are.  I am hoping for something that has the content and depth of Randy Bright's 'INSIDE STORY' or the punch of the just mentioned Marling entry, 'BEHIND THE MAGIC'.

    Other than that, I enjoy your work and creativity and htank you for oyur time hat you put into editing and bringing forth the books you do.

  • (oops - keyboard is getting old and the last line went through bad.  Should read, "thank you for your time that...")

  • As I said, I have nothing to do with pricing, and could not agree more in re: the Park edition of The Art of Disneyland. "The usual Kurti [sic] thinness" called out an overall opinion of superficiality to my work that was troubling.

    The bookstore edition is priced far more realistically at $45.00, as will The Art of WDW.

  • Jeff - I am sorry that such a feeling was implied on your end.  The obvious work you do with your projects, DVD, book, otherwise, speaks amply for itself.  It's all about "bang for buck" return...and nothing to do with the person who is pouring their energy...especially proven energy...into a project.  I am guessing that you ran into a lot of obstacles in getting that book (DLAND 50th) compiled and completed, and, that there was a lot more material that should have made the final cut that didn't due to given reasons of whatever.

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