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Books For Disney Diehards

Books For Disney Diehards

Walt Disney’s career was so varied, and his reach so great,
that there may never be a shortage of material for authors and scholars to
mine. Two recent books present fresh fodder that will be of interest to serious
Disney buffs. The more elaborate of the two is a weighty coffee-table book
called The Lost Notebook: Herman
and the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic
(Walt Disney Family
/Weldon Owen Publishing), written by renowned animation
specialist John Canemaker with a foreword by Pixar’s Pete Docter.

Don’t feel funny if you’ve never heard of Herman Schultheis:
he wasn’t one of Disney’s famous artists. In fact, it’s his obscurity that helps make the
story so intriguing. Schultheis was a German immigrant with artistic and
engineering skills. He made his way to Hollywood in the late 1920s with stars
in his eyes and wound up as a jack-of-all-trades at the Disney studio in 1938.
During the next few years he documented, in photographs and text, everything
that went on in the camera department, where cutting-edge visual effects were
invented on a regular basis. He also snapped anything else that caught his
fancy. Much of this he did on his own, hoping to impress his superiors and
prove his worth. His efforts didn’t pay off and he was let go in 1941. It was
only in 1990 that his voluminous notes turned up in his widow’s home in Los
Angeles. Serendipity took hold at this point, and Diane Disney Miller was able
to purchase the principal notebook for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The engineer’s notes detailing how Disney artists and
technicians developed some of their innovative techniques for Fantasia and Pinocchio are often difficult for a layman to comprehend, but the
photos help us to understand some of the elaborate work that went into creating
a cascade of snowflakes or replicating the look and feel of a railroad
locomotive in cartoon form.

What’s more, Schultheis was a compulsive shutterbug,
recording Los Angeles history as well as a wide variety of activities at the
Disney studio. An unfailingly graceful writer, Canemaker puts Schultheis’ story
into perspective, following the ambitious (possibly overly ambitious) self-promoter through his years of world travel
and exploration.

This handsomely designed tome is not for the casual Disney
fan, but I was captivated by the multiple layers of its story—and all those
fascinating pictures.

On the other hand, Inside
the Whimsy Works
 by James A. Johnson, edited by Greg Ehrbar and Didier Ghez
(University Press of Mississippi) is a breezy, posthumously published
memoir by the man who put the Disney company into the record business in the
1950s and steered that ship through its boom years. Johnson provides an inside
look at the workings of the studio from a business point of view, explaining,
for instance, that employees were either “Walt’s boys” or “Roy’s boys.” As one
of the latter, Johnson had difficulty getting Walt to take him seriously as a
creative individual and not just a pencil-pusher.

Again, a casual Disney fan might not take interest in how
Johnson supervised worldwide publishing for the company and maintained personal
contacts overseas—but I found it enlightening. His insider stories of
maneuvering within the shark-infested waters of the music industry are
particularly interesting. Anyone who’s interested in the making, marketing, and
distribution of records during the ’50s and ’60s is sure to find those passages
especially fruitful.

There are also amusing and personal
sidebars on such personalities as Louis Armstrong, Cliff Edwards, Maurice
Chevalier, Julie Andrews, Louis Prima, and other notables with whom Johnson had close contact over the years.

Jimmy Johnson has been recognized as an official Disney
Legend, and this enjoyable volume explains why he is so deserving of that

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