Book Review: Welcome Aboard, The Disneyland Railroad!

Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad! by Steve DeGaetano and illustrated by Preston Nirattisai. 320 pages, 2004.

The subtitle of this work, The Complete Disneyland Railroad Reference Guide, is fairly accurate–anything you want to know about the Disneyland Railroad, you will find here. After reading the work, I feel like I could run my own steam railroad! Steve DeGaetano is an avid Disneyland Railroad fan, collector of Disneyland Railroad memorabilia and model railroader. Preston Nirattisai is a Disneyland fan (since age eight), civil engineer and computer artist. He began creating CAD drawings of the Disneyland Railroad in 2002, when he couldn’t find any for sale.

To say that the book is comprehensive is an understatement. Steve takes us through a journey that recounts the genesis for the Disneyland Railroad and ends with a look at hobbyists and creating your own Disneyland-inspired model railroad. In between, he covers everything else. The book is obviously home grown–Steve has a deep passion for the Disneyland Railroad and it shines through. Many of the photos used are the author’s own and the book is filled with CAD (computer aided drawing) drawings by Preston that provide unparalleled details about the engines, rolling stock and railroad buildings.

The major sections of the book give a detailed look at what is presented:

  • Inspiration,
  • The Railroad,
  • The Locomotives,
  • Inside the Cab,
  • Locomotive Hardware and Fittings,
  • The Crew,
  • A Cab Ride!,
  • Rolling Stock,
  • Spiels,
  • A Day in the Roundhouse,
  • Other Disney Steam Trains,
  • Collectibles, and
  • The Disneyland Railroad, Today and Tomorrow

Steve has spent years researching and putting together this guide. He has managed to compile the most comprehensive guide to running and operating the Disney steam trains. Fortunately for us, Steve has been able to spend countless hours riding the Railroad and talking to the crew and engineers. It is obvious that running the Disneyland Railroad is a serious and expensive endeavor for the Disney Company. The section on restoring the engines was quite insightful. Steve was able to spend the day in Roundhouse and saw the Disney engineers and maintenance workers steam up the engines and work on routine maintenance.

One of my favorite sections deals with the structures of the Disneyland Railroad. Steve provides a very detailed look at each station along the route with pictures, facts and a meticulous look at the artifacts in the stations. Preston has also created detailed CAD drawings of the Main Street and Frontierland/New Orleans Stations. The obviously amateur photographs were one of the weaknesses of the book/ I do appreciate the photos that Steve was able to take, but I wish they had been clearer or a little more professionally done. The CAD drawings are mesmerizing and at times overwhelming in their detail.

Bottom Line: This is a fantastic resource about the Disneyland Railroad; future researchers will treasure this volume. It is not for the casual enthusiast or the general Disney Geek, although the history of the engines and the sections on the spiels and structures will make anyone happy. The majority of the book is so focused and so in-depth that it will appeal mainly to the Disneyland Railroad fan and the railroad enthusiast.



Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker. 2001, 308 pages.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation is the first book to take an in-depth look at the artists that shaped the Walt Disney Studios before and after Walt’s passing. The Nine Old Men reference relates to Franklin Roosevelt’s description of the Supreme Court Justices—Walt used it as a joke and it stuck (the name came from a 1937 book called Nine Old Men). The Nine Old Men would become the most creative and powerful people at the Studios. The litany of characters that they have brought to life is simply astounding.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

John Canemaker is an animation historian, animator and professor of film animation at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is a very successful author with seven books (three just about Disney animation) and 100’s of essays and articles to his name. Mr. Canemaker is also noted for several award-winning short films.

Mr. Canemaker begins the book with a look at the Nine Old Men’s formative years: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Most of the Nine Old Men were hired at the Studios in the mid-1930’s. Before them, were legendary men that were mentors and friends to the new artists. Vladmir Tytla, Grim Natwick, Norman Ferguson, Hamilton Luske and Fred Moore were put in charge of various departments and sections of Snow White. As time progressed, many of the Nine Old Men were mentored by these animation pioneers. For many reasons, the previously mentioned animators left Disney or found they could not keep up with the younger crowd. Mr. Canemaker touches on the influential animator’s lives throughout the chapters on the Nine Old Men.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men:

  • Les Clark,
  • Wolfgang Reitherman,
  • Eric Larson,
  • Ward Kimbal,
  • Milt Kahl,
  • Frank Thomas,
  • Ollie Johnston
  • John Lounsberry, and
  • Marc Davis.
Table of Contents for Walt Disney’s Nine Old men by John Canemaker

Mr. Canemaker devotes a chapter to each animator and takes you from their birth to the present day (in 2001) or their passing–he has created a condensed biography and Mr. Canemaker successfully brings the important details to the top that seem relevant to the creation of the animators. You follow each artist from their birth, early family life, school, travels and eventual beginnings at Disney. All of the Nine Old Men stayed with the Disney organization until their retirement They were also faithful to the Studio during the Strike. Undoubtedly, this cemented Walt’s opinion of them. Family photographs, animated film stills and corporate images fill the volume. Mr. Canemaker shares a lot of great anecdotes about the artists. Did you know that Ward Kimball attended over 22 schools growing up and that Marc Davis’ family traveled the country, rarely settling in one place for more than a few months? Wolfgang Reitherman was a pilot in World War II and claims that he was only a director because Walt told him to be one.

Throughout each chapter, Mr. Canemaker shares what makes each animator so important to the Disney Studios and animation. As you go through the chapters, you see each animator as a different personality to the whole. Each one distinct and filling a specific role within the Studios. After the Animation Strike, the Nine Old Men were charged with being the review committee for the Studios. A film couldn’t be made without their direct involvement and an artist could be fired at their whim. After Walt’s passing, the Nine Old Men were the creative force and were often left stumbling as to the direction to be taken at the Studio.

As expected, a majority of the book does focus on animation. Marc Davis was really the only one of the Nine Old Men asked to work on the Disneyland Project. The book does cover that section of Marc’s career; starting with the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland in 1962, the World’s Fair attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Ward Kimball is mentioned in conjunction with Disneyland through his shared loved of trains with Walt. This book truly shines as a mini-biography of the Nine Old Men and how they moved the art of animation forward.

Bottom Line: This is a book that I highly recommend for animation enthusiasts and people interested in the Disney Studios formative years. It brings together information about the early years of the Studio and the roles of the Nine Old Men in animation, the Studio and the Company–unlike any other resource. Most of the book does deal with animation and the classic characters that were created but it does focus on the theme parks with Marc Davis and Ward Kimball’s contributions.

You want this book if you have any interest in learning more about Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and their art.

Building a Company, Roy O. Disney

Building a Company: Roy O. Disney  and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire, a review

Building a Company is one of the few books that looks at Roy Disney’s life. There are a handful of biographies on Walt Disney; some are spectacular while some are misleading and almost reprehensible. In 1998, Bob Thomas, who also wrote the official biography of Walt Disney and several books about animation, penned the sole biography of Roy O. Disney.

I read Bob Thomas’ biography of Walt many years ago and it is one of my favorites. Even though it’s an official biography and promotes many corporate truths, it’s still a great look at Walt. In 1998, Thomas published Building A Company, a look at the lesser-known half of the Disney Empire.

Roy’s life started out simple enough and even as a young teenager, he was taking care of Walt and helping him with his dreams. This would be a consistent pattern throughout his life. Even after Walt passed, Roy postponed his retirement to see that the Walt Disney World project would be completed. He worked tirelessly to get Walt’s dream as close as possible. He felt he needed to take the mantle of creative and financial lead for the Company; that no one else would be able to follow through.

This was a biography that was a long time coming. Every Disney historian understands how important Roy was to Walt. Without big brother Roy, we wouldn’t have the Disney Company as we know it today. Walt has been quoted as saying that without Roy, he would probably be in jail for bouncing checks.

Building a Company brings Roy’s life to the forefront and paints a picture of a man that truly loved and understood his brother. Walt was always seen as the creative genius and Roy as the money man. After reading this biography, I can assure you that Roy was just as creative as Walt. Roy just used numbers, balance sheets and common sense. Thomas is able to share a Roy that was extremely ethical and treated all business partnerships with respect.

Building A Company is a very enjoyable read that never suffers fact for narrative. Bob Thomas has written several other Disney-related titles and he was a reporter for the Associated Press for more than 50 years. As with any biography, you need to take bits and pieces with a grain of salt. Sometimes it reflects poorly on the biographer and sometimes with the prior research (and researchers). I didn’t run across anything glaring, but after doing some of my own research, I did see some inconsistencies across several biographies. It just serves to remind us that not every biography is conclusive, exhaustive or authoritative. Bob Thomas does take us a on a journey through Roy’s life, allowing us a glimpse of a strong man who always did what was in the best interest of the Company, even if he was at odds with Walt. Nonetheless, it is still the most complete look at Roy Disney’s life to date.

This is a book that every Disney enthusiast should read. You can learn a lot about Roy Disney by reading everything about the company, or you can just read this book. (Although, I will recommend that you read everything!) You will appreciate this biography more if you have read Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original or Barrier’s The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. Not that Building A Company is a companion piece, but Thomas spends more time focusing on Roy’s contributions and a larger familiarity with the Disney Company will benefit the reader. This is a great read. It should be read by every Disney enthusiast.

Have you read Building a Company? Do you have a favorite Walt biography?

Book Review: The Disneyland Hotel, The Early Years by Donald Ballard

Disneyland Hotel: The Early Years 1954-1988 by Donald W. Ballard. 2005, 136 pages.

Donald Ballard is a historian and author that fell in love with the Disneyland Hotel in the 1970’s. Donald started collecting material about the hotel in 1998 and amassed newspaper clippings, magazine articles, older photographs and brochures. His intent was to write a travel article. Fortunately for us, we have this great reference guide to the Disneyland Hotel.

This book follows the stories of the Disneyland Hotel and the original owners and proprietors, Jack and Bonita Wrather. As explained in the work, Walt Disney spent time trying to persuade hotel companies to build and run the Disneyland Hotel. Finally, Jack Wrather stepped up and supported Walt’s Dream. In one of the few times in Disney history, Jack Wrather was given a 99-year lease on the Disneyland name in association with hotels. He had the ability to create other Disney-named hotels throughout California. He never chose to take advantage of the opportunity.

The book is filled with pictures, memorabilia and historical information. It is astounding how much Mr. Ballard has been able to collect and compile. The book is presented chronologically and follows the major events of Disneyland, as well. The strength of this book lies in its documentation: every stage of construction is followed; every restaurant is noted; room and menu prices are listed; and brochures throughout the years are re-printed. There are an amazing amount of aerial shots and they help provide a sense of the growth of the hotel.

As I was reading the book, my first thought was that it was a work dedicated to Jack Wrather. After finishing it, I realized that Mr. Wrather was passionate about the Disneyland Hotel. He shepherded the hotel for almost 30 years. His wife, Bonita, ran the Wrather Corporation until her death in 1988. The Bonita Tower and the Granville’s Steakhouse was named in her honor. Granville’s is now the Steakhouse 55 and the Bonita Tower is the Wonder Tower.
The changes that have taken place at the Hotel since 1955 are astounding. There is not another work that takes such a detailed and painstaking look at the Disneyland Hotel. The book is filled with a lot of concept art and sketches, photos of buildings, rooms and pools that no longer exist and some very retro fashion shots of guests! You do get the idea that the Disneyland Hotel was always a ore expensive place to stay, but it still had that Disney service and magic. Some of the ideas brought forth in the 1970’s were pretty revolutionary for hotel entertainment: light shows and dancing fountains set to music; shopping esplanades; and revolving dining options. The Disneyland Hotel did its best to entertain and keep guests on property.
I addition to the book, Mr. Ballard also owns The Magical Hotel website and The Original Disneyland Hotel blog. He posts an amazing amount of vintage and rare Disneyland Hotel pictures on the blog.

Bottom Line: If you had the opportunity to stay at the Disneyland Hotel during its first 35 years, this book is made for you. It is also a one-of-a kind resource for Disneyland historians–you won’t find a better historical source anywhere else. In my opinion, though, it is too narrowly dedicated to offer the casual Disney fan a reason to purchase. If you are a completist, though, I would buy the book now. Mr. Ballard has confirmed that there are not many copies left.

You can purchase the book directly from Mr. Ballard.




Book Review: Walt’s Time by Robert B. Sherman & Richard M. Sherman

Walt’s Time – From Before to Beyond by Robert B. Sherman & Richard M. Sherman. 1998, 252 pages.

The Sherman Brothers need little introduction to Disney fans. Prolific composers of music for films and theme park attractions, they have written some of the most memorable songs in Disney history.

This book, which looks at their long career, finally saw the light of day after the Sherman Brothers met Bruce Gordon and Dave Mumford. Just like The Nickel Tour, publishers felt that there was no commercial appeal in this book. Bruce and David had self-published The Nickel Tour and thought that they could do the same with Walt’s Time. The Sherman Brothers, after shopping the book around since 1981, had worked with Jeff Kurtti to have a majority of it written. Bruce and Dave met with Jeff and they agreed to self-publish. The Sherman Brothers were thrilled to work with Bruce, David and Jeff.


The book was created to resemble a scrapbook of their career. It starts with their first day on the Disney lot where they land the title song for the Parent Trap while auditioning a song for the Horsemasters. It then launches through the highlights of a majority of their Disney work. The middle section is dedicated to their father, Al and looks at everything that he published and his successes. During the section on their father, they look at their family history and how Al Sherman influenced his children. It is obvious from Walt’s Time that the Sherman Brothers were profoundly influenced by their father and Walt Disney. When the brothers speak of either man, the text is filled with love, gratitude and wonder.

The third section details more of their work with the Disney Company, before and after Walt’s passing. It also looks at the body of work they have done since leaving the company. Stage productions, theatrical work and animated films make up the bulk of their work in the ’70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

The Brothers spend a lot of time discussing their interactions with Walt Disney and how Walt was an amazing and optimistic person. The song There’s a Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow was inspired by Walt Disney. Their proudest moments include It’s a Small World and Mary Poppins. They wrote the songs for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang after receiving Walt’s blessings to work on the outside project. Albert Broccoli (producer of the Bond movies) also owned the rights to Fleming’s children’s novel about the car. Broccoli brought the idea to Walt, who declined saying he had too much on his plate and wanted more creative control. After the success of Mary Poppins, Broccoli gathered most of the creative team that had worked on Mary Poppins. The Brothers were also involved with two of the biggest animated films of the 60’s as well: The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.

Obviously, the Sherman Brothers’ influence has been felt greatly in the theme parks. The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room, Magic Highways, Magic Journeys, Makin’ Memories, Astuter Computer Review, the Best Time of Your Life and Miracles From Molecules.
Looking at everything the Sherman Brothers have done is a tad bit overwhelming!
Bottom Line: I enjoyed this book and was completely astounded by how prolific the Sherman Brothers actually are. The book is designed beautifully and features awards, personal recollections and photos from every period of their career (just like a scrapbook!). This is book is clearly for music fans, fans of the Sherman Brothers and fans of Disney films from the 1960’s.


Book Review: Window on Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park by Van Arsdale France

Window on Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park by Van Arsdale France. 1991, 129 Pages.

Van Arsdale France, Disney Legend and member of the pre-opening cast at Disneyland, has a window on Main Street at Disneyland (hence the book title). The window was originally installed above the former Tobacco Shop. Currently, the window is above an empty spot between the Magic Shop and Great American Pastimes. Van was at the opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. He was responsible for the overall development of the training programs and is considered the Founder and Professor Emeritus of Disney University. As recounted in the book, Van hired Dick Nunis as a gofer back in 1955. Years later, Dick would be the president of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Van returned to the company as Dick’s staff assistant (professional term of gofer). Lesson learned? Always be nice to your staff–you never know when they might be your boss! Van passed away in 1999 in California.

Published in 1991, Van recounts his long and storied career with Disney. The work is full of anecdotes that are told chronologically. From meeting Walt the first time to the introduction of Eisner and Wells. The book is presented as a biography but is really more of a collection of anecdotes. As Van states, he had tried to publish this book in the 1970’s, only to find himself heavily involved in the opening of Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.He revisited the idea in 1985. With Dick Nunis’ approval and Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary approaching, Van dusted off and “…reworked that old, dust-covered book.” (p. 6)

Van looks mainly at his story at Disneyland. In the beginning, he was hired to create Disneyland’s first employee training session–the very first session was attended by Roy Disney, the Vice President of Bank of America and major executives of Disneyland sponsors. Talk about a tough crowd! Roy approved and thus launched the beginnings of Disney training.

In that first session, Van and Dick created the training, the manual and all visual aids on a shoestring budget. The theme was We’ll Create Happiness. The rest of the manual includes the following areas:

  • It All Started With a Mouse
  • The Magic Mirror of Your Smile
  • It’s Been My Pleasure
  • We Don’t Have “Customers”, We Serve “Guests”
  • We are “Hosts” and “Hostesses”
  • There’s No Such Thing as a “Dumb Question”
  • Everyone’s a V.I.P.
  • The Disneyland Look
  • Disneyland Taboos
  • We Work While Others Play
  • Team Work is Essential

From there, Van recounts the major points in Disneyland’s history and his opinion and thoughts on those events. For a two-year period, Van left Disney and worked with C.V. Wood on the Pleasure Island Park in Massachusetts and the Freedomland Park in New York. After the hiatus, Van was rehired by Dick at Disneyland. From there, the Disneyland University was officially begun. It would see many changes throughout the years, but the basic philosophy would remain the same. My favorite parts of the book were the stories about Roy; you get the feeling that Roy truly loved Walt and did everything in his power to make all of Walt’s dreams successful. Van never saw himself on the creative side and always felt an affinity for Roy and Dick Nunis. It is obvious that these two men were thought highly by Van.

The book is divided into major chronological sections with small stories presented back-to-back. It is a quick and easy read. At various points, you will find yourself laughing out loud. For me, I found myself wishing to be a part of the early years of Disneyland. Van finishes with a look at the changes and excitement brought by Eisner and Wells.

I would like to thank Van–posthumously. If he hadn’t decided to keep his “diary,” there would be a lot of lost stories. And this book is a great collection of stories.

Bottom Line: This book is a fun and a great look back at one man’s long career with Disney but it isn’t for everyone. I would recommend this work for the Disney enthusiast that wants to learn more about what it was like working in the organization and seeing how it grew. The anecdotes are charming and you do get a good sense of how Disney grew and evolved over the years.



Book Review: Walt Disney World, The First Decade

Walt Disney World, The First Decade (1982, 128 p.)

Looking for a fairly inexpensive and photo-filled look at the first 10 years of Walt Disney World?

This book is for you!

A cross between an annual guide, PR piece and corporate history, this is a fascinating look at the first ten years (well, it does cover the construction–closer to the first 15 years) of the Walt Disney World project. As per most titles on the subject, there is general coverage of the Company, Disneyland and the early progress on Walt Disney World. After the introduction, the book takes off on a leisurely, but extensive, look at everything during the first ten years.

The book focuses heavily on the Magic Kingdom and looks at each land in detail–with descriptions and lots of pictures. In-ride photos, photo-ops with celebrities from the 1970’s and views of the park make up a majority of the pictures. Trust me, you will open this book many times just to take a virtual trip back to a Magic Kingdom that is no more.

Remember the Greenhouse on Center Street?

The Contemporary and Polynesian Resorts each get about five pages apiece in their coverage; lots of views of the lobbies and guest recreation areas. It is one of the few places to get basic info about the Golf Resort, the Lake Buena Vista Resort Community, the Village Marketplace and it is also one of the few places where you can visit River Country one last time. Fort Wilderness and the Tri-Circle-D Ranch are covered in wonderful detail. The photographs and details available in this book about the Walt Disney World resort are simply astounding.

What is really going to excite the Disney Geek is the behind the scenes information that Disney was so keen to publish before Epcot. Especially when they were trying to show off the new technologies that were promised as a result of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The state of the art reservation center, the Central Energy Plant, the water reclamation center and the environmental planning (canals, ecology and conservation) are all given coverage.

The very last section is a short look at Epcot. Can you spot the missing Pavilion in the picture?

Bottom Line: This is a wonderful read and a must for every Disney Geek. If you were able to visit Walt Disney World before 1985, many of the descriptions and pictures will be a walk down memory lane. If you weren’t lucky enough (or born yet) to visit Walt Disney World in the 1970’s, then this book will provide many of the details of lost attractions, shops and aspects of WDW that are long gone or have changed. It is a look back a simpler, more relaxed Walt Disney World. From the standpoint of historical documentation (even though it is corporate), this book is a must for any serious scholar of Walt Disney World.

It looks like every copy I had linked to sold out, so I pulled the other Amazon links and added them to the page. Get ’em while they’re hot!

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

Book Review: Walt Disney and the Quest for Community

Walt Disney and the Quest for Community by Steve Mannheim (2003, 199 pages).

Steve Mannheim has written a wonderful academic treatise on Walt Disney and Walt’s dream for Epcot. The focus of the book is the Epcot City, the development of the ideas and their ultimate fruition. Although the title is treated as an academic work, it can almost be considered a page-turner. Steve has done an impressive job of distilling New Urbanism concepts into a readable and understandable read (for us laymen).

The genesis for the book was when a friend of Mr. Mannheim had described Walt’s plan for another project after Disneyland about a city of tomorrow–where Epcot Center is today. This was the mid-1980’s and there was not a lot of published information at the time. So, Mr. Mannheim began his research. Steven Mannheim holds a doctorate in planning and development. His current professional practices include real estate economics and development.

As I stated in my review of Realityland, there is not a lot published on the history of Walt Disney World. This titles adds greatly to the literature and provides a solid focus on Epcot the City, its history, development and changes.

The work starts with a look at Walt and the germination of the idea. There is a lot of focus on where Walt was, mentally and sociologically, as he began planning the Florida Project (also known as Project X). Mr. Mannheim deftly takes us through the history and theories that Walt was discovering about New Cities, Garden Cities and urban development. With the success of Disneyland, Walt felt vindicated that he could cure the ails of modern society.

The biggest issue? Control.

With Disneyland, Walt was able to push through the Anaheim City Council to meet a lot of the building demands of Disneyland. With the Florida Project, he knew he would need even more control. The book outlines what Walt, Roy and the leaders of the Disney Company were able to secure and create after Walt’s passing. Mr. Mannheim spent a lot of time interviewing key members of the Company, the State of Florida, local government and Disney cast members. He provides a detailed look at how Disney (the company) figured out what to do after building Phase I of Walt Disney World.

In looking at any historically-based research title, you have to consider the sources cited. Mr. Mannheim devotes 140 pages to the text and the remaining 59 to research notes and the bibliography. To a librarian and Disney Enthusiast, this connotes a vast level of research on Mr. Mannheim’s part. My only issue with the sources cited, is that a lot of the citations are from interviews conducted by the author. As of this review, the interviews have not been published. Talk about a dream publication! Mr. Mannheim, if you are out there, I would love to read the interviews that you have conducted.

I really enjoyed this title. The book is presented as an academic work but it is still an enthralling read and you can’t put it down. Mr. Mannheim easily presents mundane concepts about planning and design and correlates them into the foundations of Disneyland and what we can surmise about Epcot the City. I would love to read the transcripts for all of the interviews that were conducted–there must be a vast goldmine of Walt Disney World-related history on those interviews. After reading this title, you will gain a vast appreciation for Walt’s original ideas and the presentation of Walt Disney World as we know it. This title is geared more towards the serious Walt fanatic and the Epcot junkie. But if you like city planning, the origins of Epcot or theories about what could have happened—you will enjoy this book.



Disneyland The Nickel Tour, a book review

Disneyland the Nickel Tour, a book review

Disneyland the Nickel Tour: A Postcard Journey Through a Half Century of the Happiest Place on Earth Bruce Gordon, David Mumford, Roger Le Roque and Nick Farago.

Let me start this review with the following statement: Disneyland the Nickel Tour is the most prized book in my collection.

I have over 1000 Disney-related books and this title, alone, is still one of the best books ever created.

I’ll try not to be too biased. It’s also the most expensive and one of the hardest to come by. In the Afterwords section of Walt’s Time, Bruce explains how Disneyland the Nickel Tour came to be:

We talked to every publisher we could find, and heard the same story, word for word.
No Commercial Potential. No audience. No Market. No Deal.

They put the book together themselves: Scanned all of the cards, did the layout of every page and had it printed in Italy. They lugged the books to every convention and sold them through mail-order.

And guess what: we sold every book we printed.—p. 241, Bruce Gordon, Walt’s Time – From Before to Beyond

Disneyland the Nickel Tour is a look at the first 45 years of Disneyland’s history seen through the postcards of the park. In addition to Randy Bright’s wonderful Disneyland the Inside Story, Disneyland the Nickel Tour stands as one of the two most comprehensive books about Disneyland’s history. Where it edges out Mr. Bright’ work is that Disneyland the Nickel Tour does cover the past 20 years. Unfortunately, Mr. Bright passed away in 1990 and a second edition is not forthcoming. Bruce Gordon, the primary writer of Disneyland the Nickel Tour, was an Imagineer and started with the Company in 1980. Mr. Gordon co-authored many books about Disney and there are several that will be published posthumously later this year. Mr. Gordon passed away in November 2007. As it stands, the second edition of Disneyland the Nickel Tour will probably be the last.

Disneyland the Nickel Tour is an amazing work on so many different levels: the postcard images, the photographs of attractions that weren’t released in postcard form, the historical information and the writing. They begin by sharing pre-opening cards and work their way through the history of Disneyland. One of Gordon and Mumford’s strengths is that they write well and can take something as simple as post cards and turn it into an epic look at a theme park. The writing never gets technical and is always filled with reverence, love and a little remorse. Occasionally, they slip in some humor. It is always fitting and they obvious love word-play. The following paragraph could have been presented as just a litany of facts, but they went a different way with it.

On the left hand side of Main Street, we encounter the Sunkist Citrus House. Long before this view was taken, the Citrus House had actually been two separate stores, one housing “Sunny View Jams and Jellies” and the other housing the “Puffin Bake Shop.” By October of 1958, Disneyland had canned the jam and jelly shop and opened a candy store in its place. It was a sweet deal until June of 1960, when the Puffin Bake Shop went stale. (It seems they just weren’t making enough dough to stay in business.) And even worse, it wasn’t long before everyone was beginning to sour on the candy shop next door. So the two shops were joined together, and in a dedication ceremony held with Walt on July 31, they finally became the home of the Sunkist Citrus Shop. Things were calm until 1990, when the time was ripe to spin around in a circle once more – only to find the Sunkist moving out and the Bakery moving back in! Well, that story certainly had a peel. Orange you glad we wasted all this time? Meanwhile, here’s the scoop on the Carnation Ice Cream parlor: in 1997 they split from their original parlor and (having lost their Carnation along the way) floated into the home of the bakery. Then, with perfect Disneyland logic, the bakery moved into – the ice cream parlor! If that doesn’t get a rise out of you, nothing will!
p. 121

The sense of history that you get from Disneyland the Nickel Tour, through the postcards and photographs, has not been presented in any other form. Besides being a reference work for postcards, it is almost a wish book—one you can flip open to any page and see a favorite or long-gone attraction and dream about visiting or re-experiencing. The images are stellar and your appreciation of postcards as art and history will grow.

Disneyland the Nickel Tour was obviously a labor of love for Gordon and Mumford. It is hard to stress how important this work is in the Disney Literature. Beside being one of two major historical works about Disneyland, you get a feel for how Disneyland evolved, how Walt plussed the park and how the Disney Company moved forward after Walt. It is the most cherished book in my entire collection. If you are lucky enough to find a copy, get it. I know that many people will dismiss this book because it is about Disneyland, but without Disneyland, there would be no Walt Disney World. The history of Disneyland offers a lot of insight into the growth of Walt Disney World as well.

Disneyland The Nickel Tour is simply amazing!

Have you read Disneyland the Nickel Tour? Are you going to try and hunt this book down?

Book Review: Walt’s People Volume 1

Walt’s People Volume 1: Talking Disney With The Artists Who Knew Him by Didier Ghez. (2005, 272 pages.)

Didier Ghez runs two very important sites in the Disney online community: Disney History and the Ultimate Disney Books Network. Didier has been researching Disney animation since his teens and co-authored Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Realitywith Alain Littaye.

The Walt’s People seriesis five volumes with a sixth one on the way. Didier is the editor of the series and has put together some amazing interviews with Disney artists. In some cases, the interviewer is as well-known as the interviewee!

The compilation of interviews that Didier has collected makes this volume so very important to anyone researching Disney. The interviews are not just with animators, but artists that worked with Walt on Disneyland and went on to work on the Walt Disney World project. The stories, recollections and anecdotes are priceless and proffer a view of Walt that you can only get from talking to the people that worked directly with him.

The interviewees include:

  • Rudolf Ising
  • David Hand
  • Bill Tytla
  • Ken Anderson
  • Jack Hannah
  • John Hench (two interviews)
  • Marc Davis (two interviews)
  • Milt Kahl
  • Harper Goff
  • Joyce Carlson

The interviewers are equally impressive: J.B. Kaufman, Michael Barrier, George Sherman, Paul F. Andersen, Jim Korkis, Alain Littay, Didier Ghez, John Province, Michael Lyons and Robin Allan.

In the forward, Didier puts forth some important thoughts about the interviews.

…it is important to always keep in mind that no statement from any interview should ever be considered as the absolute truth, as the interviewee might have misremembered the facts, may have seen only part of the project described, or may have his own personal reasons for representing reality in a certain way. Hence the further importance of the various perspectives provided throughout this series.

Didier’s work is going to play an important role in the future of research into the Disney Company. Many of the artists were involved in classic Disney animation at a time when credit wasn’t clearly given or assigned. It is a chance for the artists to speak for themselves and offer an insight into the Disney Company that we will not likely find elsewhere. You might pass up a book like this if you are a theme park junkie, but reading the stories from artists like Hench, Davis, Carlson and Anderson–that worked on Disneyland and Walt Disney World projects–are wonderful.

Bottom Line: It is hard to place a work like Walt’s People in the overall Disney literature–it doesn’t focus solely on animation or the theme parks. The interviews collected are amazing and offer insight into Disney, the Studios and the theme parks. The volumes are not for everyone, but the Disney historian, enthusiast and geek will take a lot away from Dider’s work. It is a great place to get your Geek on and delve into what it was like to know and work with Walt Disney, Roy Disney and the talented people in the organization.

I can’t wait to start the next volume in the series!


Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!