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on January 20, 2004
This was the most inspiring biography I have ever read. I bought it while on vacation at Disneyworld in Orlando this past November with my girlfriend and family, and I couldn't stop reading it. I found the most interesting period of his life to be the years between 20-35, when no one would give him a chance. I am a fiction writer who has written seven novels in the past decade (my 20s), and each of them has been rejected so many times I don't even want to think about it. I can not tell you how difficult it is to put everything I am as a human being into something I believe in and to face as much disinterest from agents, publishers, editors, magazines, and universities as I have.
Many of Disney's friends gave up on him. Even his family began to think he was crazy.
To read that Walt Disney went through a very similar period in his life to what I'm currently going through was like giving me a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. It made me hope. And when a book can do that, you know it is something special, man. Walt Disney truly was an American original; more than that, though he was a person who inspired dreams, goodness, and optimism even in the face of terrible adversity.
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on February 14, 2004
I just finished reading this book and thought it was absolutely fantastic. It takes you through the life of Walt and his associates as he/they make 'Disney' a household name. The author speaks of the struggles and triumphs along the way. It was interesting to read how many failures he had before becoming successful. This book traces the origins of Mickey Mouse, many of the GREAT Disney films, and, of course, Disneyland. There's a lot of personal stuff. It starts with his father's birth and works it's way to that sad day when Walt passed away. I found the Disneyland part to be some of the most interesting. Honestly, I found this book to be so entertaining that I read it in a few days. After reading, you will understand why Walt Disney is/was such a great man. This book doesn't sugar-coat the truth. It's a great and interesting read. I highly recommend this one to all.
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on January 5, 2003
"Walt Disney: An American Original" professes to be the authorized biography of Walt Disney. Originally written in 1976, ten years after Walt's death, and then revised in 1994 for the Hyperion Press. The book is well written and told in almost story-like fashion tells the active life of one of the all-time greats of the 20th century: Walt Disney.
Author Bob Thomas nicely builds his life from his ancestral French relatives and how they came to settle in Small Town U.S.A. Giving a sturdy view of his grandparents and parents lives, we come to understand the lifestyle and times in which Walt was born under so we better appreciate his influences. I particularly found it interesting how Walt himself can recall his own childhood with such vividness from the smells, sights and events that went on around him. Seems such a curious child but always with a hopeful attitude.
Once he began working in the animation studio with Ub Iwerks, his longtime friend and extremely gifted animator as well, we can see Walt's career unfolding. The small nuances of the transitions between the Alice comedies and Oswald and Mickey always seemed vague to me, however, this book discussed those moments which became clearer. How Roy came aboard to help Walt is also better understood from this book.
When Walt finally broke ground with Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse became a household name, Bob Thomas began already looking towards the theme park as Disney's ultimatum in life. As Walt began preparing the actual construction for the theme park, the author leads us to believe that everything that pre-dated the idea was all for a theme park. From this he began to neglect the animation department and the films themselves. While it may be evident in the late 50's to his death that most of the live-action films that Disney Productions made do not have Disney's hand in them, but there is no mention of how they came about either. Disney oversaw everything that went on and it would have been nice to include Disney's thoughts on various projects.
If one reads "The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation" one gets the sense that Walt was thoroughly involved in all of the animated film to the time of his death, yet this is not clearly implied in this book. "Walt Disney: An American Original" begins with a conversation with the author and Walt as they are driving through the undeveloped location of the future site of Disneyland in Anaheim. It seems, then, from an almost biased attempt to demonstrate that all of Walts works were towards the parks end. If one takes a little time to catch a glimpse of what it might be like to think like Walt based on this book, the park was not the end. Nor was Walt Disney World. Certainly not Tokyo nor EuroDisney. Backtracking in his life a bit, there were moments in Walts life when he was like a ball of fire where everthing he came in contact gave him ideas and inspirations. From the feature length film to television to merchandise live-action film of just about any subject to the theme park. Walt may have made distinctions about where he wanted to center most of his creative energy, but in the meantime he seemed as if he was willing to do just about anything. Yes, Walt was a man who admired experimentation and so new ideas were never put down.
So I find it unfortunate that the focus moved so heavily into the developement of the theme park and not to also include his workings with the animators in the later pictures of Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty and others which receieve only a cursory glance. Also, his life with his wife Lilly seemed remote until the final years of his life when she must have been around the studio more often. His home life is rarely described which leads me to believe he did not have much of a home outside his studio.
The other main focus of the book was Walt's relationship with Roy and their financial problems they had until the opening of Disneyland in 1955. Accoringly, they never made money of their own from the films they made due to many inconveniences such as the war, union strikes, labor costs, and dealing with the wrong people.
The book offers select photos of Walt in his life, but nothing that is striking or new to the usual Disney consumer. Only one photo of the picket line in front of the Disney Studios offers a larger context of times in which Disney grew out of.
It is obvious that The Walt Disney Company still exists, however, I heavily doubt it would be what Walt would have wanted provided he lived. What is most evident from this book is that Walt is a family man, and Disney is a family business. Ron Miller who married his daughter eventually came to be the CEO in the mid-eighties (the worst period in the Disney Studios history). Roy and his son Roy E. both were presidents at one point or another. Before Walt was an animator, before he was a producer and director of films and before he was a theme park entrepreneur, Walt was a storyteller first and foremost. While this is a great book and reads very well, it is certainly not a complete book. It may be said of someone like Walt that a complete biography could never be written in one book.
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on February 27, 2002
I loved this book. I'm a Disney fan. When I say that, I don't mean that I'm a fan of the "Buy anything and everything" corporate God that is The Walt Disney Comapny. I like them and love Walt Disney World, but I'm more of a fan of the man himself and this book helped me to understand that man.
Tracing his life from birth to his first interests in cartooning, to Laugh-O-Grams, to Mickey Mouse and beyond, this book got inside the personality of Walt himself. It really gave me a sense of what kind of man he was: Hard working, loving, focused, motivated, and always willing to look ahead to tomorrow. You'll look at the Disney empire in a totally different way and feel like you know what Walt would and would not have done with the business had he lived on.
If you want to take a trip back to a time when the name Disney meant quality family entertainment and a vision for a better tomorrow or if you just want a well written biography of a man that helped to change the world, look no further than this book.
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on May 27, 2001
This was such a great book!!! It catalogues the life of this great man from the start of his life to his fatal battle with lung cancer. From his early failures to his great successes.
Bob Thomas offers a touching tribute to the man who did so much to bring joy to others and change people's way of thinking. Thomas, who over the years conducted several interviews with Walt, wrote this book from a reporter's point of view, but with respect to the legacy of Walt Disney.
Walt was known as a champion risk-taker and never stopped thinking of what the future held. From his earliest days in Marceline, Missouri, Walt possessed the ability to get what he wanted from the people around him, and the ability to continue when life hit him hard.
Most know and remember Walt Disney as the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland, but few realize just how hard it was for him to reach the top. Walt overcame many battles, and Thomas illustrates that in detail by including excerpts from interviews and material from the Disney Archives. Walt had to face a rough childhood, bankruptcy, disloyal employees, stolen characters, numerous creditors and countless skeptics before he encountered success. He always found a way to make things work, though, and brought joy to millions of people in doing so.
By reading this book, you are able to share in Walt's triumphs and losses and feel as though you have lost a great friend when it goes into his battle with lung cancer and untimely death at age 65. Upon Walt's death, the world mourned, but his legacy continues to live and will continue to touch the lives of children, young and old, for generations to come.
I have always been fascinated with anything Disney related and thought that Walt Disney: An American Original was a wonderful book and would recommend it to anyone interested in Walt Disney, the person. Walt Disney was a wonderful human being; someone the world was lucky to have, even for such a short time.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth, so wherever you are, Mr. Disney, 'Thank you.'
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on July 29, 2000
I read this biography with considerable interest. I was not very old when Walt Disney died, but I remember watching the Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday evening. Even at that young age, I recognized that Walt Disney was something special, something unique.
This book helped to give me a sense of Walt Disney that was much deeper than what I could possibly have gotten from his Sunday night shows or even his movies and cartoon characters. This book brought a real sense of humanity to this great American icon. It helped me to see that Walt Disney was just a man, but a man with a vision and the courage to follow his dreams even in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles.
This book takes the reader on a journey from Walt's birth through his death and finally to the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida. This book is easy to read and seems very complete and thorough. I appreciated that the author did not seem to particularly build Walt up, nor did he tear him down. He presented the information in a factual and respectful manner. So many times biographies seem to be written to push the author's agenda and so information seems slanted. I did not get the feeling that this was true with this book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to know Walt Disney better and to anyone that would like to read about a true American success story.
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on July 25, 2000
Walt Disney was my hero as a child. I grew up a few miles from Disneyland; the re-release of a Disney animated classic was a major event in my life. I first read Bob Thomas' biography when it was released in 1976, when I was thirteen. I recently reread it, and found it just as enjoyable as the first time around. Sanctioned by the family, Thomas had full access to the Disney records, and he provides what every major historical figure needs: a book that gets the facts straight, so that other biographers and historians can then argue correctly about interpretations. And it's all here: his early life, the creation of his cartoons, the development of Disneyland, his political beliefs. While there is an adulatory, respectful tone throughout, that does not mean Bob Thomas ignores the more troublesome times of Disney's life, such as his conflicts with organized labor before WWII, or his growing conservatism. I know today there is a considerable groundswell of hostility toward's Disney's cultural dominance of our childhood. But as the product of that dominance, I can say that Disney's creations created in me a love of art, a sincere appreciation for the past, and a genuine belief in childhood's sanctity. My 3-year old daughter absolutely adores the classic cartoons, which we always watch together. Walt Disney is a classic American figure, and this biography serves him well.
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on December 21, 2003
Let me first say I am pro Disney. I read this book for personal interest and chose it after reading the comments listed below.
I enjoyed the story of Walt Disney, but was disappointed that it was one sided and not very historical. Yes, I learned about his life but the author was writing a very pro Disney book. For example, the author states in the preface that the original text never mentioned that one of Walt's daughters was adopted because he was asked to leave that out. What else was left out?
For a family that was always broke, Walt's dad always seemed to have money to move cross country and buy houses/businesses. Were they really broke all the time? What were the real issues with the strike against the studio in 1941?
For those desiring a nicely told story about Walt's life, this book is an entertaining read. For those wanting balance, this isn't the book to buy.
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on September 18, 1998
Okay, well, ignore that review about it being cult like. This is a great book. It provides valuable insights into what built a great empire. It sounds corny, but it was just a man and his dream, Disney never lost faith or sight of his goal and he was a great leader for that. The book shows how strong his vision was and it serves well to read it and reflect on if the Disney co. still serves that mission with the same convictions as Walt. "It all started with a mouse" and the book provides an interesting suggestion that Mickey Mouse was Walt Disney - he was an autobiographical character. Interesting to see how much they struggled for so long, even up until the 1970's they were always on the verge of bankruptcy off and on. A great book, I read it on the plane on the way back from Disney World this summer and I cried. Walt is the embodiment of America
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on December 31, 1998
Last year I visited Disneyworld and Epcot. While there, I found myself dying to learn more about Disney, the man. I bought the book in a Disney bookstore, and couldn't put it down. The book is quite enlightening with regard to Disney's early years. He was fairly young when he realized the potential of animation, and I felt I was there with every struggle he went through to see his vision become reality. I would disagree with those who say his personality is watered down in the book. Not at all. The contrast of the feisty man behind those innocent films is very interesting. You almost sense it had to be that way for him to accomplish all he did. Thomas does a nice job capturing Disney's energy and genius. I highly recommend any creative person in need of inspiration to pick up this book.
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