What's On Walt's Bookshelves?by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
I have always had a love of books, from the earliest memories of mom and dad reading to me, to my buying copies of Arrow books through the book club at elementary school, to the massive double sided single-spaced "want list" of books that I carry in my wallet at all times.
When I go to visit someone, one of the first things I do is look at what books they have on their shelves. I like to look, not just because it gives me some insight into the person, but because I might discover a book I never knew existed to add to my ever-growing list.
On a visit to the house of my friend Greg Ehrbar four years ago, one of the hidden treasures I located on his shelves was Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade by Robert Grippo and Christopher Hoskins that had five pages of photos of the Disney balloons from the 1930s that I had never seen. I have three other books about the parade, but had never seen this one, a copy of which adorned my own bookshelf before the end of the month.
One of the last projects I was working on for Walt Disney World's Disney University two years ago, before I was laid off, was to re-create a bookshelf for WDW cast members filled with the books that Walt Disney read. [By the way, once I was laid off, that project died instantly.] I grew up watching Walt's weekly television show and, while I loved any episode devoted to animation or Disneyland, the one thing that always caught my attention were the bookshelves in his office.
I even wrote about Walt's love of books.
He would casually go over to these massive shelves and, just as casually, immediately pull out just the right book that related to the episode that week. What a marvelous, magical bookshelf that always seemed to have just the right book each week, from so many different categories, in just the right location for Walt to pull out!
As I grew older, I realized that the shelf was just a prop on a set re-creating Walt's office, and that the appropriate book was pre-set. Yet, when I went to Disneyland to see "The Walt Disney Story," there was Walt's formal office and there were the bookshelves with the countless books—along with the grand piano on which the Sherman Brothers played. I pushed my nose tightly against the glass to try and read all the titles because they must all be wonderful.
Surely, Walt had copies of books about animation, cartooning, filmmaking, possible stories for future films, books reprinting Disney stories, children's books and who knows what other treasures?
Thankfully, I had known Disney Archivist Dave Smith for decades and this was official Disney Company business, so he sent me the list of books in Walt's office. He had personally catalogued them after Walt's death as one of his first duties when the Disney Archives was created.
The list was 24 pages long, single-spaced, listing more than 600 books just in Walt's formal office. However, while I consider myself well-read in a variety of different areas, more than three-quarters of the titles were completely unknown to me. The titles brought up more questions than answers.
He patiently explained to me, in a fatherly way, that while I had been expecting to find some keys to Walt's personality that might inspire others that the function of the bookcase in real life was somewhat ornamental. Official visitors would come in and be overwhelmed with the wall of books.
"Most of the books were put there, often without Walt's knowledge, by his secretaries," he said. "People were constantly sending autographed copies of their books or sending books hoping Walt would consider them for some future film project. I assume they might have been easier to locate that way if someone came in to visit Walt in his office and wanted to know about the book they sent."
Certainly, the vast majority of the list was indeed books autographed to Walt and there was no rhyme or reason to how the books were organized on the shelves.
How do you explain a copy of Les Aventures de Tintin, Objectif Lune (Casterman 1953) but no other copies of Tintin books nor English translations? Was it merely a possible prop for the Disneyland television show about the moon?
How do you explain that there is a copy of the official souvenir program for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, but nothing from either of the New York World's Fairs?
Scattered on the shelves were copies of We, the People, the Story of the United States Capitol (U.S. Capitol Historical Society 1963), The United States Polo Association Yearbook 1950, Pictorial Forest Lawn 1953, a book in the Arabic language containing a mention of Disneyland, and Celebrity Recipes by Helen Dunn. Autographed copies of the following books poked out in the stacks: You Can Live Longer Than You Think by Daniel Munro 1964, Smoking in Your Life by Alton Ochsner 1965, Introduction to Tomorrow by Robert Abernathy 1966, Mardi Gras by Robert Tallant, and The Parables of Kahlil Gibran by Annie Salem Otto in 1963.
Of course, there were books with obscure children's stories, non-fiction tomes on everything from ships to politics, and foreign editions.
I was disappointed that there weren't books on cartooning, animation, film-making and more, but those may have resided in the official Disney Studio Library. The sole animation book was an autographed copy of L'esthetique du dessin anime by Marie Therese Poncet from 1952.
Here is a brief overview of some of the books on Walt's shelves that struck my fancy. Remember I am the guy who has a copy of Jimmie Dale and the Blue Envelope Murders because I knew Walt loved that series of stories and a copy of that book is on his desk in a photo from the 1930s. I also have a copy of The Boy Mechanic, because Imagineer Yale Gracey used his beloved children's book as inspiration for effects for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, especially the trick of ghosts dancing in the ballroom. By the way, the creator of Jimmie Dale, Frank L. Packard, autographed a copy of his 1925 book, Running Special to Walt that was on the shelf. Oddly, it was not a Jimmie Dale book.
On the Shelves
I Love Her, That's Why! by George Burns about his love for his wife comedian Gracie Allen in a 1955 book published by Simon and Schuster and autographed to "Lillian and Walt." Interesting to see Lillian get top billing. I would have thought there would have been more "Hollywood"-related books and biographies but there was just a very small handful.
Pete Martin, who wrote Walt's biography with Diane Disney, gave Walt an autographed copy of his 1948 book, Hollywood Without Make-up. Roald Dahl, who worked briefly with the Disney Studio developing his story about gremlins, gave Walt an autographed copy of his 1948 book, Some Time Never.
L'Historie de Walt Disney, the 1960 Hachette edition, and A Historia de Walt Disney, the 1960 Casa Editora Vecchi Ltda. Edition, share space with the original The Story of Walt Disney by Diane Disney Miller (with Pete Martin), the Henry Holt 1956 hardcover edition. This copy in English is autographed by Diane.
Jenny Disney Harcourt autographed a copy of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to her grandfather.
On another shelf is Alice's Adventures Under Ground by Carroll, a facsimile of the original manuscript from University Microfilms Inc. 1964.
Ruth Plumly Thompson autographed a 1934 copy of her Speedy and Oz book to Walt. Not surprising since Thompson was continually pitching that Walt should produce her Oz stories. Also on Walt's bookshelf was a copy of Who's Who in Oz by Jack Snow in 1954 also autographed by Thompson at the time Walt was considering making The Rainbow Road to Oz with the Mouseketeers.
Roy Williams, the big "Mooseketeer" and Disney gag man, autographed to Walt a copy of his 1957 Bantam book paperback, The Secret World of Roy Williams, a compilation of some of his one-panel gag cartoons. The book included the dedication "To the man who has meant the most to me in faith and inspiration: Walt Disney whose patience and guidance through a lifetime of association are in the greatest degree imaginable responsible for the best of Roy Williams."
Artist Mary Blair autographed a 1955 copy of The Golden Book of Little Verses by Miriam Clark Potter which was illustrated by Blair.
O.B. Johnston had autographed a copy of American Locomotives 1871-1881 edited by Grahame Hardy in 1950.
Hardie Gramatky autographed a copy of his Little Toot on the Thames from 1964. Gramatky at one time worked at the studio and Disney did adapt an animated version of his original "Little Toot" story.
Alfred Millote autographed a copy of his The Story of a Platypus (1959) and The Story of a Hippopotamus (1964). Millote was one of the True-Life Adventure photographers.
Burl Ives autographed a copy of his 1962 book The Wayfaring Stranger's Notebook. Ives appeared in the Disney film Summer Magic around this time.
Louis Rosenstein, "an old McKinley High School classmate", autographed a 1962 copy of Jewels for a Crown by Miriam Freund.
Major Alexander de Seversky autographed a copy of his 1950 book, Air Power: Key to Survival, probably in gratitude for the earlier Disney film Victory Through Airpower based on another of his books.
Walter Knott, who founded Knott's Berry Farm in Anaheim and was highly conservative, autographed a copy of Conscience of a Conservative, the 1960 book by Barry Goldwater to Walt. There were a handful of other Republican-themed books on the shelves, although Walt also had A Tribute to John F. Kennedy by Pierre Sallinger from 1964, as well.
Walt had the Britannica Book of the Year volumes from 1954-1966 (but missing the volume for 1965). He also had the International Picture Almanac volumes from 1949-50 to 1964, International Television Almanac from 1958-1966 and the Film Daily Yearbook from 1957-1960.
There were several foreign editions of the Disney True-Life Adventures series:
Two copies of Lions d'Afrique by Jean de'Esme (Librairie Payot 1955), another copy of that book with the notation "special binding and printing for Walt Disney," two copies of Perri credited to Roy E. Disney (Centro Internazionale del Libro 1958 and Nouvelles Editions S.A. 1958), Le Secrets de la Vie by Julian Huxley (Nouvelles Editions 1957), two copies of Grand Prairie by Louis Bromfield (Librairie Payot 1955) with the notation "special binding and printing for Walt Disney," Desert Vivant by Marcel Ayme (Societe Francaise du Livre 1954) along with Desierto Vivente (Central Peruna de Publicaciones) and Deserto Che vive (Vellechi).
Also some books about the "People and Places" series: Siam by Walt Disney (Bluchert Verlag 1956) right next to Im Tal Der Biber by Walt Disney (Bluchert Verlag 1963).
Walt Disney's Treasure Island (Motion Picture version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island) Collins, 1950 is one of the few Disney adaptations of a story that is on the shelves along with Lawrence Watkins' 1957 Dell paperback copy of Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris (D. Appleton and Co. 1881) is on the same shelf as Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner (both E.P. Dutton and Co. 1961) by A.A. Milne and Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (Doubleday Doran and Co. 1934). The Gordons autographed a 1963 copy of Undercover Catthat was the basis for the movie That Darn Cat.
Upton Sinclair autographed a 1936 copy of his The Gnomobile to Walt, as well as a 1962 copy of The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair. He also autographed a copy of El Gnomomvil from Ediciones Toray, S.A. 1964.
Sterling North autographed a copy of his 1966 book Raccoons are the Brightest People, as well as Rascal from 1964. Pamela Travers autographed a copy of Mary Poppins in the Park (Peter Davies 1958), as well as Mary Poppins from A to Z (1962). T.H. White autographed a copy of Verses (Alderney 1962), actually copy No. 26 out of 100 copies. Ward Greene autographed a 1953 copy of The Lady and the Tramp. Sheila Burnford autographed a copy of her 1960 book The Incredible Journey.
The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney by Robert de Roos (reprinted from the National Geographic August 1963 and "specially bound for Walt Disney") is on the shelves as well as:
An album labeled "To Walt Disney in grateful recognition of his participation in the Fourth of July celebration in Rebild National Park, Denmark, July 4, 1961"
Two copies of the Beverly Hills B'nai B'rith "Testimonial Dinner to Mr. Walt Disney, Man of the Year, 1955".
Album labeled "A resolution to Walt Disney" (Walt Disney Elementary School, Anaheim, on the 10th anniversary of Disneyland, 1965).
Album labeled "A Walt Disney, cordial recuerdo de su admirador y amigo, F. Molina Campos."
Four volumes of Miguel de Cervantes Don Quijote de la Mancha took up a lot of space.
Captain Danger by Davis Crittenden is autographed to just "Mrs. Disney".
A series of 30 books published by Grosset and Dunlap in the 1950s (52-59), including such titles as The Story of Theodore Roosevelt, The Story of Good Queen Bess, The Story of Abraham Lincoln, The Story of Amelia Earhart, The Story of Marco Polo, The Story of Joan of Arc, etc. By the way, one title was The Story of Pocahontas by Shirley Graham from 1953.
Here's a Disney-related book I never knew existed until I saw the list from Walt's office, and I bet a lot of Disney fans never knew existed: A Dragon on the Hill Road (Valley Village Press 1958) a narrative poem written by storyman Richard "Dick" Huemer and illustrated by background artist Walt Peregoy. Huemer autographed it to Walt.
One of these days I should write an article about the non-Disney children's books done by Disney artists. More than a decade ago, I saw a book briefly that I have never seen again: The Daffy Giraffe, written and illustrated by legendary Grim Natwick.
There weren't just books on the bookshelves. On the top of one bookcase was a metal pagoda on a wooden base, roughly 16 inches by 10.5 nches labeled "Presented to Walt Disney for his outstanding achievement in fostering international understanding through photography under the auspices of P.P.A. by Nippon Hogaku, K.K. 1961."
On top of that same bookcase was a bronze metal bust of Abraham Lincoln mounted on a marble base labeled "Commemorating the opening of the Illinois Pavillion, New York World's Fair, 1964-65" produced by Alva Museum Replicas, Inc.
I'd be fascinated to see a list someday of all the awards and recognitions given to Walt over the thirty-five years when he was so prominently in the public eye. I bet that listing would be long enough to be a book in itself, especially with explanations about the specific awards.
While I certainly have a massive amount of books related to Disney (often a chapter or two in some obscure book will also relate to Disney and I have copies of a lot of those books as well), I would say that the boy with the most books about Disney would be my good friend Didier Ghez, primarily because he has a huge collection of foreign books in addition to the English editions.
He has the Ultimate Disney Book website that documents Disney books both in and out of print, as well as those announced as forthcoming.
George Taylor is on a quest to build a huge Disney library and he does extensive reviews of all his new acquisitions. I always debate whether I should tell him about some of the more obscure books he should be seeking or whether it would just frustrate him because they are so difficult to find. If he really wants to get ahead of me, and earn my undying gratitude, I hope he finds that limited edition of Roy Williams' autobiography that has eluded us all these years, because it was privately printed in an extremely limited edition.