Building Your Own Personal Disney Library

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

With all the extra time at home, I've spent some of it going through my own personal Disney library just like many of you.

Sometimes people wonder how I can write about such a wide variety of Disney topics with such accuracy and detail. Fortunately, I have a good network of knowledgeable friends but I also have a very extensive personal library of books and magazines that I have built up over the decades that I use for reference.

Even for me, it's tough to keep track of all of these books but a good place to start is The Ultimate Disney Books Network that was created by Didier Ghez, the editor of the Walt's People series of books as well as the writer of several of his own books like the They Drew As They Pleased series about Disney artists as well as Disney's Grand Tour (which is completely about Walt's 1935 European tour that helped inspire the new Riviera resort at Walt Disney World) that have garnered high and well deserved praise.

Ghez supplies a one sentence review for each book, includes foreign published books and often a link to where the book can be purchased. As diligent as he is in everything he does, even he misses some books occasionally because there are so many and I have had to alert him to a couple over the years.

As you start to build your own personal Disney library, you need to ask yourself some questions before you start.

What do you want in your library? Do you want a small library of essential books that you can use for reference? Or do you just want some coffee table books that concentrate on illustrations? Do you want to focus primarily on a single topic like the Disney theme parks or Disney animation or Disney history or even narrow it down further to just something like books about Disneyland or books that relate directly to Walt Disney?

Most of you right now are saying "I want them all." Remember as comedian Steven Wright once said, "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

I have a fairly extensive and diverse collection but even I have only a fraction of the Disney related books that have been published.

A Disney related book is something like an autobiography of someone who once worked at Disney like Dennis the Menace artist Hank Ketcham who in his autobiography has a very lengthy chapter on his time at Disney or live action director Ken Annakin who directed Disney films like Swiss Family Robinson and Third Man on the Mountain. Or it could be a book about animation or amusement parks or comics that each includes valuable information about Disney.

When I was growing up, there were less than a dozen books that focused on Disney available so something like Christopher Finch's The Art of Walt Disney and Leonard Maltin's The Disney Films were true treasures.

Today, with new Disney related books coming out every week it is no longer possible for me to get a copy of every book released even if I knew they existed. In addition, many of the new books released are not done with the same accuracy, depth and strong writing style of the Finch and Maltin books.

That brings up another thing to think about when buying a book. Which edition do you want? Do you want a first edition? Well, the Finch book has been revised and expanded four times over the years since its first release in 1973 and the current 2011 version has every chapter reworked, more pages and information on Pixar.

When The Disney Films was first released, Leonard got a fourteen page single spaced letter from Disney Archivist Dave Smith listing errors, mostly in terms of nomenclature like whether the title of a film was 101 Dalmatians or if One Hundred and One Dalmatians was ever acceptable (it's not according to Smith).

So if you buy the fourth edition of Maltin's book published in 2000 you get all the corrections since the book first appeared in 1973 plus the final chapter updated to include all the films released since the book was first published which makes the book an additional one hundred pages long.

If you buy the third edition of Richard Schickel's The Disney Version there is a new eight page introduction by the author reflecting on his amazement that people are still interested in the book thirty years after it was first published and Schickel admitting he was probably too hard on Walt when he first wrote the book in 1968.

So, now you are thinking to just buy the latest edition to get the best value. And of course, you would be wrong.

In 1996, Beth Dunlop, the long-time architecture critic of The Miami Herald newspaper, as well as contributor to articles for architecture, design and travel magazines (in particular, articles on Florida architecture), wrote the first edition of Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture. It was published in portrait format by Harry N. Abrams Publishers.

Fifteen years later in 2011 she revised and updated it using the exact same title in landscape format for Disney Editions. The 2011 edition includes a foreword by Tom Staggs and Bruce Vaughn, and an afterword by Wing T. Chao.

So while the two books share many similarities, there are enough significant differences that a Disney fan may seriously consider having both editions. However, if your collection only has room for one copy, I would recommend the newest version.

In the first edition, at least half the photos were in black-and-white. The newer edition is filled with full color photos, sometimes several to a page. So, if you have only a casual interest in architecture, it does easily serve as a stunning picture book to flip through and marvel at the theatricality of it all.

The first book was much more of an homage to the accomplishments of former CEO Michael Eisner who was a patron of architecture. He is still acknowledged as a key instigator in the newer edition but is not as prominently showcased.

Dunlop's book has a good index (rare in Disney books), several pages of bibliography for those who want to explore the subject further, and is filled with direct quotes from those who actually designed and built the buildings. I have both editions on my personal library bookshelf.

One of my prizes in my collection is the book The Art of Animation by Bob Thomas. But if you have been paying attention, your first question should be "Which edition are you talking about and what are the changes in the various later editions?"

When Walt was producing the animated feature film Sleeping Beauty (1959), he did several things to help promote it including a traveling exhibit and having writer Bob Thomas put together a book entitled The Art of Animation.

A dust-jacketed version was released by Simon and Schuster in 1958 and later, an edition without a dust jacket, but with a black cover decorated with brightly colored film strips with the Disney characters instead, was released by Golden Press. This later edition is the one most commonly found in collections.

It was the first Disney book to give official credit to other artists and what work they did including featuring a photo identifying for the first time the famed "Nine Old Men." It is an incredible insight into how animation was produced at the Disney Studio and the people involved and it was personally reviewed and approved by Walt Disney.

In 1991, Thomas updated the book still titled The Art of Animation for Hyperion Press but all of that valuable information about Sleeping Beauty was pretty much completely thrown out and what remained about early animation was cut back to less than half the book. The other half of the book was devoted to the making of Beauty and the Beast.

In 1997, Thomas updated the book again still retaining The Art of Animation title for Hyperion Press but this time added a new chapter on some recent Disney animated features, eliminated all of the pages on the making of Beauty and the Beast and replaced them so that half the book was now dedicated to the making of Hercules.

So for me, I have all three editions because each contains significantly different information. You may want only one or none since interest in Disney animation, the people involved and how the process is done has waned considerably since the turn of this century.

At one time, the Walt Disney Company allowed certain former employees to publish a book about their experiences and use Disney images but only if they limited the publication to a one-time print run of less than a thousand copies.

Supposedly, there was some legal reason for those restrictions so that it would not infringe on Disney copyrights nor negatively impact Disney's contracts with other publishers because the book publication fell under a different category.

Here are three examples but there are more:

Harry Tytle's book about working at the Disney Studios

One of Walt's Boys by Harry Tytle (1997). At the Disney Studios, you were either classified as one of "Walt's Boys" meaning you worked with him and reported directly to him or one of "Roy's Boys" meaning you owed your loyalty and work status to Walt's older brother Roy. Tytle was a producer among other accomplishments (including coming up with the original idea for The Aristocats). Supposedly, 750 copies with a blue cover and 50 copies with a red cover (exact same illustrations and text but autographed by Tytle) were issued. Tytle kept diaries of his time at Disney and uses those to great effect in this 241 page hard cover book to tell stories that are still not told elsewhere.

Justice for Disney by Bill Justice was one of the books written by former employees

Justice for Disney by Bill Justice (1992 Tomart publications). There is wonderful editing by Bob Welbaum and Tom Tumbusch who wrangled Bill's original rough manuscript (that I read) into a terrific book. Bill was a talented animator perhaps best known for his work on the Chip'n'Dale characters. He was later moved over to Imagineering where he programmed audio-animatronics for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree and more. The book is filled with artwork on almost every page including cartoon illustrations drawn by Bill specifically for this book to relate to the text. This hardcover 168 page book with a dust jacket and a foreword by Leonard Maltin captures the warmth and modesty of the man while revealing lots of behind-the-scenes information about Disney animation and Imagineering.

Disney's Giant and The Artist's Model by Adrienne Tytla (2004). This huge 1,000 page square spine paperback about the size of a phone book was written by the wife of legendary Disney animator Bill Tytla who was the key animator on Baby Dumbo, Chernabog, Stromboli and others. They met when Adrienne was modeling at the Disney Studio and their son later served as an inspiration for Baby Dumbo, garnering that acknowledgement in an issue of Time magazine at the time. That whole story is in this book. Adrienne originally announced this book in 1968 at the time of her husband's death. This book is a delightful hodgepodge scrapbook with photos, newspaper clippings, letters and most importantly tons of original Tytla artwork never seen anywhere else before or since.

Some more affordable choices that are hidden treasures include:

Disney Build Sleeping Beauty Castle (Sterling Innovation Publishing purple box 2014) by Jeff Kurtti. This 48 page paperback book with a square spine with 34 half or full page photos mostly in color is roughly 8.5" by 5.5" in size. There is one page photo devoted to a close-up of the Notre Dame spire on the Disney castle, concept art and the cover of the Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle booklet sold at the park in the 1950s. This was part of a deluxe paper model kit to make Sleeping Beauty Castle including LED lights and a background panel of Disneyland fireworks with step-by-step instructions. There was a warning that the book was not to be sold separately from the kit. The book includes three chapters: Regal Inspiration and Ancient Imagination, Realistic Design and Fantasy Construction, From Ramparts to Dungeon: Exploring the Castle.

And, if like me, you are a big fan of Jeff Kurtti then you might also like to know about The Art of the Little Mermaid by Jeff (1997) which is a miniature book roughly four inches by four inches. Most of the book is the re-telling of the movie with large color screencap stills. However there is about 30 pages of the 192 page book about the making of the film with concept art, interviews with people involved etc. Originally it sold for eleven dollars. Amazon currently has it on sale for a hundred dollars or more.

I love Disney comic strips and books and I was surprised recently when I ran across two books I never knew existed:

Disney Golden Age Comics: Rare Classics Collection Hardcover (Disney Editions 2014) Disney Editions hardcover 256 pages 12 x 9.1 x 1.2 inches. The book features five vintage stories from the 1940s and '50s Dell Four Color one shot series based on animated Disney movies plus four reproductive prints of comic book covers of "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs," "Bambi," "Alice in Wonderland," and "Peter Pan".

The book contains:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1944) 38 pages. Writing: Merrill De Maris Pencils: Hank Porter Ink: Bob Grant reformatting of the Sunday newspaper strip. Cover by Walt Kelly. Also includes the 12 page story Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo by Carl Buettner. All from Dell Four Color #49
  • Bambi (1942) 64 pages. Pencils: Ken Hultgren Ink: Al Hubbard and Ken Hultgren Cover by Ken Hultgen. Dell Four Color #12.
  • Dumbo (1941) 39 pages. Pencils and Ink: Irving Tripp. Dell Four Color #17. Alice in Wonderland (1951) 48 pages. Writing: Del Connell Pencils: Riley Thomson Ink: Bob Grant with some individual one page illustrations by Grant. Four Color # 331.
  • Peter Pan (1952) 32 pages writing: Del Connell Pencils: Al Hubbard. Four Color # 442.

Purchasing these comic books in good condition would be pricey but here they are and larger and clearer than they were originally published.

Walt Disney Treasury: Donald Duck Volume 1 Paperback (KaBoom 2011) includes an unpublished Donald Duck story that takes place at Walt Disney World. For some, cartoonist Don Rosa has been considered the rightful successor to Carl Barks when it comes to telling stories about Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. This book includes his pencilled script for a story rejected for publication that takes place at Disney MGM Studios when it opened in 1989. Donald Duck and his nephews are trying to get Mickey Mouse's autograph and in the process they stumble through some of the attractions that were available when the park first opened. The ten page story written and drawn by Rosa is titled "The Starstruck Duck."

The Art of the Haunted Mansion by Jason Surrell (Disney Editions 2003). Jason Surrell was a show writer for Walt Disney Imagineering in Florida and wrote a handful of good books about Disney theme park attractions including his first book The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, released in 2003 to tie in with the live-action Disney feature film. I got a chance to talk to Jason about this unusual book. He told me, "When the (Eddie Murphy) movie was released, Disney Editions put together a limited number of copies of this special book to highlight the work of the people who worked on the make-up, sets, special effects and costumes in the hopes of generating attention for possible Oscar nominations.

"I believe it was circulated primarily to those who might make that happen since I never saw it for sale. While I am listed as the author of the book, there is very, very little text in the book and if someone purchased the book in hopes of getting some additional information that didn't appear in my other book, they would be very disappointed. I have seen the book go for outrageously high prices and I will say that it is not worth those type of prices unless you are seriously a fan of the movie itself or the work of people like Rick Baker."

The book is roughly the same size as Art of the Pirates of the Caribbean that received a wide public release. The book is 147 pages long, although that description is a bit misleading since some pages are practically blank with a faded, ghostly image barely visible on them. The other pages are usually full-page photos (sometimes double-page spreads) with a few scattered quotes from Don Hahn (producer), Rob Minkoff (director), John Myhre (production designer), Rick Baker (make-up), Mona May (costumes), and Jay Redd (Visual Effects Supervisor).

The book is divided into five chapters (The Mansion, The Wardrobe, The Gallery, The Make-up and The Library) that all begin with a one-page introduction by Surrell.

So by now, you are thinking "Well, you old show-off, you have all the Disney books that you need." And, of course, you would be very, very wrong.

There are many books I am still looking for, including Roy Williams' self-published autobiography. Williams later self-published a book of poetry AND this book I have been trying to track down for over a decade. Only 50 copies of each book were ever published. His daughter confirmed that it existed but the family does not have a copy. A copy was seen at the library for Feature Animation Florida but when that was closed down the library was dispersed to dozens of different areas including circular files just like what happened to the Entertainment library that used to be at WDW Maingate before that department was eliminated.

I am mentioning it in hopes that someone out there might have a copy or know where a copy still exists. Williams' daughter has granted permission for it to be reprinted if a copy ever surfaces.

So the point of that story is that no matter how many Disney books you have in your collection, there are always more waiting to be obtained both old and new. Maybe you have a hidden treasure in your personal Disney library.