This may be one of the worst kept secrets in the Disney historical community, but now is the time for all MousePlanet readers to know the truth: MousePlanet columnist Wade Sampson is actually Disney historian Jim Korkis.
Today I'll introduce myself, explain why I've used a pen name all these years, and reveal who the "real" Wade Sampson was. I'll also tell you about my new book and my new column on MousePlanet.
Meet Jim Korkis
I grew up in Glendale, Calif., right next to Burbank, the home of the Disney Studios. My third grade teacher at Thomas Edison Elementary School was Mrs. Disney, the wife of one of Walt Disney’s brothers. Upon discovering this fact, I took a large sheet of easel paper and drew a huge picture of Jiminy Cricket, my favorite Disney character at the time. I gave it to Mrs. Disney in the hopes that she would immediately take it to the Disney Studios, where I would be offered a job and not have to learn my multiplication tables. I was not hired, and to this day I still have trouble with math.
As a teenager, I wrote down the names I saw on the credits of Disney animated cartoons and went to the Glendale-Burbank phone book and cold-called some of them. Many were gracious enough to ask me to visit them, with the resulting articles sometimes appearing in the local newspapers or various fanzines and magazines. After graduating with honors from Occidental College and earning a master's degree, I pursued a teaching career, as well as a performing career, but was still active in writing about Disney for various magazines.
In 1995, I relocated to Orlando, Fla., to take care of my ailing parents. I first got a job doing magic and making balloon animals for guests at Pleasure Island. Within a month, I was moved over to the Magic Kingdom, where I “assisted in the portrayal of” Prospector Pat in Frontierland and Merlin in Fantasyland for the Sword in the Stone ceremony.
In 1996, I became a full-time salaried animation instructor at the Disney Institute where I taught every animation class, including several that only I taught. I also instructed classes on animation history and improvisational acting techniques for the interns at Disney Feature Animation Florida. As the Disney Institute reorganized, I joined Disney Adult Discoveries, the group who researched, wrote and facilitated backstage tours and programs for Disney guests and Disneyana conventions.
Eventually, I moved to Epcot where I was a coordinator with College and International Programs and then a coordinator for the Epcot Disney Learning Center. During my time at Epcot, I researched, wrote and facilitated more than 200 different presentations on Disney history for Disney cast members and corporate clients including Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Blue Cross, Toys "R" Us, Military Sales and more.
I was the off-camera announcer for the syndicated television series Secrets of the Animal Kingdom, wrote articles for Disney publications like Disney Adventures, Disney Files (DVC), Sketches, Disney Insider and more. I worked on special projects like writing text for WDW trading cards, on camera host for the 100 Years of Magic Vacation Planning Video, facilitator with the Disney Crew puppet show and countless other credits - including assisting Disney Cruise Line, WDW Travel Company, Imagineering and Disney Design Group with Disney historical material. As a result, I was the recipient of the prestigious Disney award, Partners in Excellence, in 2004.
While I was still working for the Mouse, Disney Legal gave me permission to write about Disney history, as long as it was on my days off, and so long as it was clear that I was not writing as an official representative of the Disney Company and I was not sharing any current proprietary information. MousePlanet was aware from the beginning that I was writing under a pseudonym and the reasons it was necessary for me to use one. Thus, Wade Sampson was born, and "Wade's Wayback Machine" debuted on MousePlanet.com on May 31, 2006. Except for my real identity, everything that I wrote as Wade Sampson, including the description of myself and my house, was true. I am no longer an employee of the Disney Company, having been part of the massive layoffs which swept the company in 2009.
Who was Wade Sampson?
Many people in the Disney historical community were aware that “Wade Sampson” was my writing pseudonym. In addition, they were well aware of the very real necessity for me to adopt a nom de plume in an attempt to keep my professional and personal work separate. I thank them all for being so discreet in keeping that secret for so long. However, they never knew the true origin of the name. The name “Wade Sampson” is actually an extremely obscure Disney reference and only Disney Archivist Dave Smith and Disney historian Michael Barrier were able to immediately recognize it without prodding.
In 1971, the year Walt Disney World opened and Roy O. Disney died (and some felt marked the beginning of the end for Walt’s dreams), a novel was released titled The Rat Factory by J.M. Ryan. This comedic tale is a colorful account of a young artist named Ambrose who works at the Sampson Studios in Hollywood in the 1930s and his various exaggerated struggles. The studio produced popular animated cartoon characters including Ricky Rat, Dizzy Duck and Halfwit Hog. These well beloved icons were the creation of the fictional Wade Sampson, a thinly-veiled and often unflattering surrogate for Walt Disney.
The author, J.M. Ryan, was in fact a pseudonym as well. The novel was written by John Richard McDermott, who worked as an artist at the Disney Studio on Hyperion in the 1930s. Intertwined in an improbable storyline were McDermott’s memories and perspectives of working at the Disney Hyperion Studio.
I assumed the name as an intriguing pseudonym with several different layers of Disney connections. It is my hope that my columns over the past few years have somewhat redeemed the name and character of Wade Sampson as portrayed in the novel.
My intent was never to deceive the readers of MousePlanet, and many have learned the truth over the years. Often, when people would write to “Wade” about a column, they found they got a response from my Jim Korkis e-mail address, and the explanation of my true identity. I used this pseudonym longer than I had originally intended, but felt it was the best way to be able to share these historical stories with Disney fans while avoiding a conflict of interest in my professional career. I do feel that Wade Sampson is much a nicer and smarter writer than I am, but I will continue to try to live up to the high standards that he has established.
So, this is Wade's last column—but not the last time you'll hear from me. My new column, Korkis Korner will appear exclusively here at MousePlanet every Wednesday morning, and my old Wade Sampson columns will be archived here, as well. Korkis Korner will be just like a corner store on Main Street at the turn of the century, where in that friendly atmosphere folks can drop by and listen to the old stories of the talkative shopkeeper.
The Vault of Walt
Another important reason for removing the mask at this moment is the upcoming release of my first book about Disney history, The Vault of Walt. It will officially be released by Ayefour Publishing on October 3, and will be available from Amazon (link) on that date. But, because you're reading this MousePlanet column, I'll let you in on another secret: The Vault of Walt is available right now from CreateSpace (link), and also as an e-book for Kindle.
The book is more than 460 pages long and is divided into four sections: stories about Walt Disney’s life, stories about the Disney Films, stories of the Disney Theme Parks, and, finally, stories about out of the ordinary Disney history from the Mickey Mouse radio show of the 1930s to why the FBI was upset with Walt and everything else in between. Each section is composed of chapters that are self contained stories featuring anecdotes, quotes and facts that have never before appeared in print.
Rough drafts of some of these essays have appeared on MousePlanet under the Wade Sampson pseudonym during the last few years so that I could solicit corrections and additional information before finally committing the stories to print. The result was that every chapter in the book was extensively rewritten to make it as complete and accurate as possible using a multitude of new and original sources.
The book is called The Vault of Walt because these are the stories that have been locked away for decades, and now it is time to open wide the vault and share them with Disney fans.
The foreword to the book is by Walt and Lillian’s oldest surviving daughter, Diane Disney Miller:
“Some years ago, our son Walt brought to my attention an article on the MousePlanet Website. It was that rare thing; An honest, well-written piece that was so authentic, so true to my dad's spirit, so unprejudiced and non-judgmental that as I read it I could see the twinkle in dad's eye, hear his laugh.
“I immediately wrote the author Wade Sampson a letter of appreciation. Some weeks later I received a reply and learned that Wade Sampson was actually the pseudonym of Jim Korkis, who worked for the Walt Disney World Company as a coordinator at the Learning Center and was well-known and respected as a Disney historian. Since that time I looked forward eagerly to 'Wade’s' ongoing output, learning some things I didn't know, but always delighted with what he chose to write about and his obvious understanding and even affection for his subject.
“Jim does not put my father on a pedestal, but he does like him, and I do not think that disqualifies him from having objectivity in his opinion of him. I find myself in the same position.
”I am so pleased that many of his articles are now bound together in this book. Dad's personality, character and values are displayed in the selections Jim has offered here.
“I have not hesitated to correspond with Jim whenever I think of something that might interest him, or to add some insights into something he has written about. Dad did not hide anything about his life. He loved to talk about it. But he never really talked about religion, and his feelings about prayer, and I learned from Jim's article how deeply these feelings went.
“I look forward to his continued exploration of dad's life and times. Something interesting and illuminating always seems to turn up, some little event and angle that adds to the story of his very good life.
Diane Disney Miller
See you all next Wednesday and I hope you might think about buying a copy of my book, The Vault of Walt, by Jim Korkis, available now on CreateSpace (link), and for the Kindle, and October 3 on Amazon (link). Goodbye, Wade Sampson. Hello, Jim Korkis.