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The Perfect American [Hardcover]

peter stephan Jungk , Michael Hofmann
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 17 2004
The Perfect American is a fictionalized biography of Walt Disney's final months, as narrated by Wilhelm Dantine, an Austrian cartoonist who worked for Disney in the 40s and 50s, illustrating sequences for Sleeping Beauty. It is also the story of Dantine himself, who desperately seeks Disney's recognition at the risk of his own ruin.

Peter Stephan Jungk has infused a new energy into the genre of fictionalized biography. Dantine, imbued with a sense of European superiority, first refuses to submit to Disney's rule, but is nevertheless fascinated by the childlike omnipotence of a man who identifies with Mickey Mouse. We discover Walt's delusions of immortality via cryogenic preservation, his tirades alongside his Abraham Lincoln talking robot, his invitation of Nikita Khruschev to Disneyland once he learns that the Soviet Premier wants to visit the park, his utopian visions of his EPCOT project, and his backyard labyrinth of toy trains. Yet, if at first Walt seems to have a magic wand granting him all his wishes, we soon discover that he is as tortured as the man who tells his story.

After Disney refuses to acknowledge Dantine's self-professed talent and hard work, he fires the frustrated cartoonist for writing, along with other staff members, an anonymous polemical memorandum regarding Disney's jingoistic politics. Years later, in the late 60s, still deeply wounded by his dismissal, Dantine follows Disney's trail to capture what makes Walt tick. Dantine wants us to grasp what it is like to live and breathe around the man who thought of himself as more famous than Santa Claus. Walt's wife Lillian, his confidante and perhaps his mistress Hazel, his brother Roy, his children Diane and Sharon, his close and ill-treated collaborators, and famous figures such as Peter Ustinov, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, and Geraldine Chaplin, all contribute to the novel's animation, its feel for the life of the Disney world.

This deeply researched work not only provides interesting interpretations of what made Walt Disney a central figure in American popular culture, but also explores the complex expectations of gifted European immigrants who came to the United States after World War II with preconceived notions of how to achieve the American dream.

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Did the man who created Mickey Mouse really have a strong, racist hostility for African Americans or an almost McCarthy-esque hatred of Communism? According to Wilhelm Dantine, narrator of this fictionalized biography of Walt Disney's final years, these and other dark traits fill out the true character of the great cartoonist, making the title The Perfect American an ironic, backhanded slap at Disney's legacy. Yet Dantine, a former Disney studio animator with an admitted "dependency on a drug called Walter Elias Disney," is himself a tortured man and on a lifelong mission to avenge his premature firing after he made major contributions to the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In a scene worth the book's price, Dantine finally confronts Disney with his planned tirade of accusations, and the results completely surprise him. At turns fascinating and comical, Jungk's novel hews so closely to well-researched biographical data that the line between fact and fiction often becomes blurred. An interesting companion piece to existing Disney biographies, one that may start readers searching for the real Walt. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"a surreal, meditative, episodic account of the last days of Walt Disney." -The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

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2.0 out of 5 stars Fun As Fiction, Not As Fact June 13 2004
By A Customer
Walt Disney was far from "The Perfect American," but he came as close as anyone in filling that daunting role. As fiction this book is well-crafted and well-written. As a source of definitive info on Uncle Walt and what made him tick, this is not the book to utilize. I must admit that "fictionalized"
biography is not my thing - - I think it's dangerous and only helps to blur reality and facts for those casual readers who will take everything - - even something clearly labeled "fiction" - - as fact. However, for those readers who enjoy this genre, the book might be to their liking, however, keep in mind, it's fiction.
There appears to be an insatiable need on behalf of certain journalists, film reviewers, social commentators, historians, authors, etc. to trot out the reputations of beloved American icons like Walt Disney (and soon, I'm sure Ronald Reagan) every few years and defame, ridicule and belittle their contributions to the American landscape and pop culture. As whimsy and fantasy Jungk's book is fine.
However, it saddens me to think that this book will be used as another platform for exposure-hungry media types to try and convince everyone that Walt Disney himself was some kind of hoax. I am not a Disney loyalist to be sure, but I have read enough about the man to know that as "Perfect Americans" go, he came pretty damn close to being one and that his personal philosophies and accomplishments should be admired, not ridiculed.
For further reading I would reccomend the following: "The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life" by Steven Watts, "Remembering Walt" by Howard and Amy Green and "Inside The Dream: The Personal Story of Walt Disney" Bb Richard and Katherine Greene.
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By A Customer
The Perfect American is a well-researched, thoughtful, and inventive look at an imperfect American icon. It delves into the psychological construction of megalomania, as it follows Disney through his last few months, but it also takes a not-uncritical look at the narrator himself, and his own motivations and fascination with Disney's charisma and questionable politics. In my view, this book is much more balanced and subtly incisive than an earlier reviewer suggested, and the imagination of the author is to be admired. I for one certainly don't admire Disney's politics, as much as one might(?) respect the far-reaching impact his company has had on American culture. This book raises some interesting questions for any open-minded reader to take with them, and it is simply a good read as well.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True to Life Feb. 23 2013
By Avedon if only - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was surprised to read the negative reviews of this book because although I never met Disney I have several friends who worked closely with him in the planning and development of both the Anaheim and Orlando theme parks, and their accounts of working with Walt match very closely with the portrait in Jungk's novel. According to my friends, and Jungk's protagonist mentions this many times, Disney had an uncanny ability to bring out the best from his creative teams - and each member of those teams felt that he had done the best work of his life while working for Walt. They also shared his passion for the theme parks and described how Walt would often wander around Anaheim, grinning happily after several whiskies, enjoying the crowds and signing his autograph which indeed was nothing like the graphic designer 'official' signature. They also mention his irrational dislike of facial hair and his dictate that the summer band leader (who for the rest of the year had a moustache) must shave - even though the band leader was a man in his fifties. Walt ordered a moose head to be hung in the executive dining room which could talk unexpectedly - thus causing considerable delight to his guests - but also had installed a recording system in the same room to eavesdrop on his executives and guests. Walt Disney was a complex genius, with flaws and foibles that are part of the entire man and I think that Jungk's book is a legitimate portrait of a part of his life. It's also a very well-written book with a unique perspective and I recommend it highly.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Dissing Disney March 6 2013
By stanley walden - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A sideways look at an American icon, through the eyes of an underling. And Disney does not emerge as a monster, but a complicated, gifted, driven populist.
19 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy May 20 2007
By R. Burnett - Published on
After reading just the first few pages of this book, all I can say is sloppy! "Walt" compares himself to a Weeble toy, but they were not introduced until 1971, years after his death. The room next to his office, where he would spend time with Hazel George at the end of his work day is refered to as his "laughing room," when in fact, it was his "laughing place," a reference to the film "Song of the South." Whether these mistakes are the writer's or translater's fault is hard to clarify, but for a person whose life was as well-documented as Walt Disney's, these sort of errors are inexcusable, even in a work of ostensible fiction.
23 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not The Walt Disney of Fact Aug. 29 2004
By Donald E. Peri - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
THE PERFECT AMERICAN uses an oftentimes factual framework to create an image of Walt Disney full of untruths, half-truths, rumors, conjectures, and fantasies. I am aware that this is a novel--a work of fiction--but the use of real people and real events in which to spin a mean-spirited portrait of Walt Disney is unpleasant at best and hurtful at worst. As another reviewer has stated, I hope readers who are interested in Walt Disney will seek out the many biographies of Walt that present a balanced view of this most extraordinary man and the wonderful world he created.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars hack Sept. 8 2013
By Jon Cain - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Don't waste your time and money. The writing is horrible, I.e extremely long sentences that a person would never say unless they were mentally ill. The authors main character is basically a stalker who mutilates himself in Walt's backyard order to shock him. The author,clearly from some alien civilization, did a little research and totally missed the mark.
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