The Wonderful World of Disney Books

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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I love books. My dad loved books and I loved and looked up to my dad so I began my own collection at a very early age. My mom used to tell people the story that even when she read books to me, when I was too young to read for myself, if she tried to skip a section of the story at bedtime, I would catch it and make her go back and read it again.

Fifteen years ago when I moved from Southern California to Florida, I had to trim away two-thirds of my book collection. I still ended up bringing out 10,000 pounds of books that I felt were irreplaceable (the moving company was shocked when they weighed the boxes I had packed) and that collection has grown significantly since that time.

Not all the books were Disney- or animation-related because my interests range from vaudeville to comic strips to old movies to theatrical magic. I’ve written many articles on all those topics and more for various magazines and websites over the years.

With the holiday season, I will be pushing in the next few columns my recently released book, The Vault of Walt (link) because I have discovered that the hardest thing is not writing a book but letting people know that it exists for purchase. Then, you have to remind people it still exists after the initial announcement so I have been doing interviews, podcasts, presentations and more.

How many of you still haven’t ordered a copy of J.B. Kaufman’s South of the Border or John Canemaker’s Two Guys Named Joe or Michael Barrier’s The Animated Man or Don Peri’s Working With Walt? See how easy it is to forget that great Disney books are out there? I recommend all of those books for your personal Disney library.

Several sites have reviewed my book very favorably and, if you enjoy the type of stories that I share in these Wednesday columns, then you will love the many never-before-told Disney stories in the book. Some of the chapters are based on past MousePlanet columns, but they have all been rewritten, corrected and expanded. Buy a copy as a Christmas gift for yourself and another for a Disney friend. The book is so large that, if thrown with enough velocity, it can slow down a zombie attack—especially if one of the undead picks it up to browse.

Making it even more difficult to market my book is that, every week, terrific new books about Disney are released. Every week. This holiday season I am especially looking forward to In Service to the Mouse by Jack Lindquist, Disneyland’s first president (link). I hope that sometime in the future I will be able to add to my bookshelves memoirs by people like Dick Nunis, Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Sully Sullivan, and others. As Walt becomes more and more a distant memory for too many people, it becomes more and more important for those who worked with him to share their personal stories for future generations.

A lot of these books are self published thanks to the wonders of technology that allow Print on Demand but even in the good old days, there were limited edition (1,000 copies or less) books by those who knew and worked with Walt, including titles by Harry Tytle (One of Walt’s Boys), Bill Justice (Justice for Disney) and Dave Hand (Memoirs). I treasure those volumes in my personal collection. Justice even drew a funny sketch of Donald Duck and wrote a very flattering inscription in my copy of his book when we performed together at Give Kids the World.

In addition there are some amazing foreign books devoted to Disney (thank heavens I took high school and college French courses) as well as books that might include a chapter or two devoted to Disney. Thanks to my good friend Didier Ghez, I have recently discovered some obscure books written by folks who worked on the Disney True-Life Adventures films and share their stories.

How does a Disney fan know what books even exist? I highly recommend visiting The Ultimate Disney Book Network (link) that attempts to list all the Disney-related books (both currently in print and out of print), as well as the announced forthcoming books. It is clear that Didier does not care for children biographies of Walt or books filled with psychobabble about Disney but he still lists them all for those who may be interested.

This also allows me to once again plug Ghez’s critically acclaimed “Walt’s People” series of thick books that have interviews with Disney Imagineers, animators, family and more. Very soon, Volume 10 will be released, featuring the unedited interviews that Bob Thomas did for his research on writing Walt Disney: An American Original. Thomas had unprecedented access to so many people who were close to Walt and who were never interviewed again.

I am not on any list to receive review copies of books, so I have to put aside my nickels and dimes (and eat dollar cans of spaghetti and make peanut butter sandwiches) just like my readers to purchase some of the seemingly never-ending flood of Disney books. I have even purchased books written by friends like David Koenig, Lou Mongello, Jeff Kurtti, Kendra Trahan and Kevin Yee (and go to www.amazon.com to check out their books that should be in your collection) to encourage them to write more books. I am glad I did, because, unless an author is a J.K. Rowling or John Grisham or Stephen King, he makes pennies per book after all the other expenses.

Even the best of books lately seem to disappear quickly as new releases push their way to the forefront.

A book you may not be aware exists is Wally Boag: Clown Prince of Disneyland by Wally Boag and Gene Sands (link). I was recently given a copy as a gift. Even though this book was published by Disney Editions and Boag is a Disney Legend, you won’t find it for sale in the Disney parks nor as a regular purchase on Amazon. In fact, you probably didn’t see any publicity about it when it was released two years ago although Werner Weiss reviewed it at Yesterland. Yes, it was released two years ago but it is still available for sale at its original price at the link.

I am a huge Boag fan. I have the Extinct Attractions DVDs devoted to Boag. I have the Ape Pen Publishing DVD of the special Golden Horseshoe Revue reunion event. I even have the 1985 VHS tape Birthday Party Fun and Variety Show from Unique Industries where, during 28 minutes, Boag clowns around with Bubba the Gorilla in a tape meant to be used to entertain at a child’s birthday party. The tape originally came with balloons and stickers of noses, eyes and mouths so that the children could make their own balloon puppets as they enjoyed Boag's antics.

As a child, I was invited up on the stage of the Golden Horseshoe Revue by Boag to get a balloon animal and told to stand a little more to the left so I would be over the trapdoor. The audience roared with laughter but I was totally clueless and my eyes were as large as saucers as I tentatively took the balloon dog. The last time I saw Boag in person was at a small get-together after a Penn and Teller show at the Las Palmas theater in Hollywood. The magicians were fans of Wally as were so many others from Julie Andrews to Steve Martin to Jim Henson to Walt Disney himself.

For 27 years, Boag made audiences (more than 43,000 shows) at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue (and later briefly at Walt Disney World’s Diamond Horseshoe Revue) convulse in laughter at his vaudeville antics as a Traveling Salesman and Pecos Bill. I eagerly saw the show so many times that, even today, I can recite Boag’s gags from memory (“My father was an old Indian fighter. My mother was an old Indian.”) and was never disappointed in any of his performances. They were always fresh and full of energy and he always seemed to be having fun.

The book is 176 pages long and is done in the style of a scrapbook (meaning there are a lot more rarely seen pictures than text). Roughly one-third of the book is devoted to Boag’s life before Disneyland and he had a rich and fascinating career before the Mouse. Boag did more than just perform at the Golden Horseshoe. He was involved in everything from editing cast member publications, doubling for Fred MacMurray in the film The Absent Minded Professor, helping develop the Enchanted Tiki Room show and even some intriguing Disney projects that were never made. In fact, Boag did so much that I felt that as much as was included in this book, there was 10 times more that was left out. However, since so few folks even know the book exists, it is doubtful there will be a sequel.

Frighteningly, the Boag book is only one of too many recent “lost” Disney books. I bet readers of this column could fill the comment section with names of other “hidden book treasures” I never knew.

Walt Disney loved books and I discovered this wonderful quote by him: "It has always been my hope that our fairy tale films will result in a desire of viewers to read again the fine old original tales and enchanting myths on the home bookshelf or school library. Our motion picture productions are designed to augment them, not to supplant them.”

While much of Walt’s reading was focused on scripts, he did have an extensive home and office library. As Diane Disney Miller wrote to me about growing up with her dad:

“We had a set of the Harvard Classics in the bookshelf of our library. That's where I found David Copperfield and Vanity Fair. We had a beautiful set of other classics. They're in our San Francisco bookshelves now. [The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Make sure you plan a visit or at least visit their blog: (link)] Oscar Wilde's Salome, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley, Voltaire's Candide, The Rubiyat of Omar Khayam, AE Housman's Shropshire Lad. Can't recall all the other titles. He also had books that people he knew had written and inscribed to him. This was the time of the Writer's Club in Hollywood that Bill Cottrell told me about. Dad encouraged his writers to attend lectures, and often invited the lecturers to the studio for the benefit of his writers and animators. H.G. Wells, Rupert Hughes, Aldous Huxley. We have these books, too. We did have Encyclopedia Brittanica, too, of course. “

To help promote my book, I am doing a presentation at the Orlando Public Library in January, and for two college classes (one from Illinois and one from Iowa) who are using my book as part of their curriculum and are visiting Florida. I just finished recording a segment for MouseVent (link). MouseVent is the brainchild of Alan Hooper in the U.K. where he has put together an Advent calendar, but on each day you will hear a different audio Disney story. I believe my segment is scheduled for December 15. Again, I am hoping to let the widest possible audience know the book actually exists and that they might enjoy it.

While you are eagerly drooling over some of these books I have spotlighted in this column (and this is only just the barest tip of the iceberg), don’t forget the most important thing: go buy a copy of The Vault of Walt to help keep the big, bad wolf away from the door of your faithful columnist.