Book Review: Walt's People, vol. 2 by Didier Ghez

Walt's People - Volume 2: Talking Disney with the Artists who Knew Him, edited by Didier Ghez. 375 p., 2006.

Didier Ghez is an author, blogger and prolific Disney researcher. Didier runs the Disney History blog and Disney Books Network site. He is known for his exhaustive interviews that have been featured in various magazines. In addition to editing the Walt's People series, he is the co-author of the amazing book Disneyland Paris - From Sketch to Reality.

I reviewed Volume 1 here.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book. The sheer volume and scope of the interviews will provide fodder for Disney enthusiasts for many years to come. It is easy to look at a book of interviews and pass on it, but this is a title worth owning. You may not read it cover-to-cover (although, I did) but you will find yourself looking for interviews with specific artists--for the observations and anecdotes.

Contributing interviewer (and animation expert) Michael Barrier discusses the importance and the reliability of interviews:

[...] memories tend to be strong and reliable according to how useful they will be to us in the future. And what memories could be more useful to someone working at a studio like Walt Disney's than strong, clear memories of the boss?

Time and again, in interviewing people who worked for Walt Disney, I've been struck by how intently they observed him. They stored up memories, not so that they could tell their grandchildren what is was like to work for a genius, but so they could avoid having that genius slap them down the next time they showed him a storyboard or some rough animation. What they remember about their co-workers might be vague or demonstrably inaccurate, but their memories of Walt have a sharp, clear edge.
--p. 11.

The collected interviews are insightful and fun to read. You will find yourself checking Didier's online index to find specific interviews or subjects.

The interviewers and interviewees:

  • JB Kaufman: Friz Freleng
  • John Province : Grim Natwick
  • Mike Barrier : Frank Tashlin
  • Jim Korkis : Ward Kimball
  • Mike Barrier : Ward Kimball
  • Arn Saba : Floyd Gottfredson
  • Robin Allan : Herb Ryman
  • Christian Renaut : Frank Thomas
  • Wes Sullivan : Dale Oliver
  • Robin Allan : Eric Larson
  • Thorkil Rasmussen : Eric Larson
  • Thorkil Rasmussen : Woolie Reitherman
  • Christian Renaut : Richard Rich
  • Didier Ghez : Richard Rich
  • Mike Lyons : Glen Keane
  • Didier Ghez : Glen Keane

The list of artists interviewed is very impressive. The interviews were conducted in the 70s, 80s and 90s with artists from animation and the comics. The list of the interviewees reads like a Who's Who of animation and Disney research; true professionals and artists, in their own right.

Jim Korkis interviewed Ward Kimball in 1996. Korkis asked Kimball about Grizzly Flats and its influence on Walt:

He was planning Disneyland, some sort of attraction for people coming to Hollywood and who never had a chance to see things that would interest them. We had been going around to some of these amusement parks, and he was thinking of these small gauges you've seen. Running that locomotive in my backyard changed his mind. When he got to building Disneyland, the equipment would look full size. He sat in the cab and the whole works changed everything.
--p. 100.
There are little gems scattered throughout the book that offer insight into Walt and the studio. You can imagine what it was like to work on animated films and with the legendary Disney animators throughout every decade of the studio's history.

One caveat: the books are published through Xlibris with a very limited print run. Didier has mentioned that to make the earlier volumes available after they are sold out is cost prohibitive. In other words...get your copies as soon as you can!

Bottom Line: The Walt's People series is an incredibly valuable resource for Disney enthusiasts. The interviewers know their history and the questions asked are relevant and thoughtful. The book will be a welcome addition to your reference shelf and you will find yourself reaching for it for many years to come.

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