Walt Disney's Errors and Ambiguities
[To read my review of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, click here.]
This is not an exhaustive compilation of the errors and ambiguities
and other questionable statements I've found in Neal Gabler's Walt
Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, but only a
listing of such things as lend themselves to a short-item treatmentsome
of them trivial in themselves, like misspellings, but troubling
in their quantity. In addition, whole sections of the book are problematic.
I've spent a great deal of time with the documents generated during
work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Gabler's account
of the production of that film, beginning on page 233, simply doesn't
match up very well with what I know.
I'll amend this list as new errors turn up (or as my own corrections
turn out to be open to question).
Page 7: This is only a modest ambiguity, not an error, but
I mention it in case anyone is tempted to seek out the Elias Disneys'
first Chicago home on South Vernon Avenue. Gabler describes the
house as "an old mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse now isolated
amid much more expensive residences," but the "now"
presumably refers to conditions in 1890. The house vanished decades
ago, its space occupied today by a high-rise housing project. The
expensive residences are still there, though, one block to the west,
in what is known today as Bronzeville.
Page 12: The store's name was Zurcher's, not Zircher's.
Page 31: Walt Disney was not a news butcher on the Santa
Fe railroad. That concession belonged to the Fred Harvey Company
(for whom Roy Disney worked as a news butcher). Walt worked for
the Van Noy (not Noyes) Interstate Company, which provided news
butchers to other lines. Walt himself wrote in Railroad Magazine in 1965 that he worked
on the Missouri Pacific, the Kansas City Southern, and the Missouri,
Kansas & Texas, or "Katy."
Page 51: "O-Zell had gone bankrupt..." There's
no record at Chicago of such a bankruptcy, and, as evidenced by
listings in city directories and the Yellow Pages, the company was
in business for several years after Elias left Chicago. Gabler shows
no source in his notes for his statement about the bankruptcy.
Page 58: Rudy Ising never worked for Walt Disney at the
Disney family's garage on Bellefontaine Street. When Ising went
to work for Disney, probably in early 1922, it was at Kaycee Studios
at 3239 Troost Street, in office space over a restaurant called
Page 65: Carman Maxwell spelled his name that way, not with
an "e." He hated the name, actually, identifying himself
as C. G. Maxwell, or, on a business card for the Arabian Nights
cartoons, "C. Griffin Maxwell." Everyone called him "Max."
Page 71: Laugh-O-gram did not move from the McConahy Building
into "new quarters above the Isis Theater on the second floor
of the Wirthman Building." As Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising confirmed,
it moved instead into Kaycee Studios' old space above Peiser's.
In 1924, after Walt Disney left for Hollywood, Harman, Ising, and
Maxwell rented space in the Wirthman Building to make an "Arabian
Nights" cartoon, but Disney never worked in that building. I know of only one piece of evidence to the contrary: "M. Mouse a Local Boy," an article published in the Kansas City Star on February 13, 1942, on the occasion of Disney's brief visit to Kansas City when he was returning from a wartime visit to Washington. The article says: "After attending the Kansas City Art Institute, Walt had a studio on Thirty-first street near Forest [the Laugh-O-gram studio], and later shared low-rent studio locations on Troost near Thirty-fourth and Thirty-first Streets." The first of those two "locations" on Troost was probably the one at 3239 Troost, above Peiser's; the other reference is probably to the Wirthman Building. The article also says that Disney was introduced to "Mrs. Joseph C. Wirthman, widow of the owner of the Wirthman building, in which Disney had his first [sic] studio." It's at least conceivable that Disney briefly occupied space in the Wirthman Building in 1921, when he and Fred Harman were in business as "Kaycee Studios," but I think it much more likely that someone, most likely Mrs. Wirthman, misremembered the "Arabian Nights" studio as an operation in which Disney was involved, and that Walt was too polite to correct the error.
Page 78: "...a well-connected intermediary named Jack
Alicoate, who represented Lloyd's Film Storage Corp...." John
W. "Jack" Alicoate became secretary and business manager
of Film Daily upon leaving the army in 1919; he became president
and publisher in 1926, and also assumed the editor's title in 1929.
There's no reason to believe he ever had any connection with Lloyd's,
or, for that matter, to believe that Lloyd's held Alice's Wonderland
for Disney in 1923. Lloyd's did hold Plane Crazy in 1928
and showed it to the man named E. J. Denison to whom Gabler refers
on page 116 (for some reason Lloyd's isn't mentioned there). Diane
Miller's Story of Walt Disney confuses the two episodes,
and I thought when I wrote Hollywood Cartoons that Lloyd's
must have held a film for Disney in both 1923 and 1928; but I now
think it much more likely that Walt took Alice's Wonderland
with him to California and sent it to Margaret Winkler from there.
As for Alicoate's role: Film Daily was based in New York,
and Walt Disney saw Alicoate when he came to New York in February
1928 to negotiate a new contract with Charles Mintz. Any Disney
correspondence with Alicoate has apparently not survivedI
didn't see any during my own research, and Gabler doesn't cite anybut
Disney said in his 1956 interviews with Pete Martin that a friend at MGM had given him a letter of introduction to Alicoate. The passage on page 78 makes sense only as
a placeholder, a far-fetched hypothesis that never should have made
it into print.
Page 79: I know of nothing to support the idea that Disney
could not send a print of Alice's Wonderland to Margaret
Winkler while he was in Kansas City because Fred Schmeltz had custody
of the film. Gabler cites no source for this statement.
Page 145: Pat Powers did not "poach" Hugh Harman
from Mintz's Oswald studio; Harman never worked for Powers at the
Pages 166-67: Gabler writes on these pages that Walt and
Lillian Disney took two long vacation trips in 1931one in
the summer that took them to Saint Louis, Washington, D.C., and Havana,
returning to California through the Panama Canal, and a second in
the fall, when they went to Kansas City so Walt could accept a DeMolay
award and continued on to New York. This is wrong: there was only
one long trip, in the fall. The Disneys reached Kansas City on October
15, 1931, as evidenced by an article in the Kansas City Times
for October 16; that article quotes them as saying that they
had embarked on a "gypsy jaunt" across the country on
the advice of Walt's physician. They returned to Los Angeles on
November 14, 1931, aboard a ship called the California, which
had sailed from Havana on November 3; the immigration record, one
of the passenger and crew lists in the National Archives, is available
It's no great sin on Gabler's part that he didn't find that recordI
didn't find it, either, until my book was at the printer. I was
sure, though, relying primarily on Walt's own memories (in his 1956
interviews with Pete Martin) and the Kansas City newspaper article,
that there was only one trip, probably lasting four to six weeks,
in the fall. This is yet another instance (see the entries for page
78 and pages 589-91) in which Gabler conceived an elaborate scenario
on the basis of very slim evidence, in this case a single letter
from George Morris of Roy Disney's staff. In that letter, written
two days after Labor Day, Morris speaks of Walt's looking "very
much rested" after an absence from the studio. One thing Gabler
failed to take into account was the possibility that the entire
studio was on vacation for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer,
as was common practice at cartoon studios (and probably other parts
of the film industry as well) at the time. I don't know yet what
the Disneys did on their late-summer vacationGabler cites
what he says were unrealized plans for a couple of ocean voyagesbut
they certainly didn't "impulsively" head toward the East
Coast and Havana.
Page 167: Gabler's description of the revised contract
with United Artists in January 1932 is peculiar, in that he treats
the $195,000 loan as distinct from the advancesor, as a practical
matter, loansof $15,000 that Disney was to receive for each
cartoon. In fact, the $195,000 represented the advances for thirteen
cartoons. The contract (a copy is part of the Wisconsin State Historical
Society's United Artists collection) provided that Disney could
demand a $15,000 advance for each cartoon, until the outstanding
advances, or loans, totaled $195,000. Past that point, UA wasn't
required to pay advances. The original 1930 contract, as modified
in 1931, also permitted UA to require repayment of the $195,000
(minus whatever UA had already deducted from Disney's share of the
gross proceeds) by June 27, 1933. It was this provision that was
involved in the episode that Gabler describes on pages 179-80, when
Disney still owed UA $112,000 and UA wanted payment by the June
27 deadline. UA, like other big film distributors, was in desperate
shape in 1933, in the worst days of the Depression; it's no wonder
that it wanted Disney to pay. The upshot, as Gabler says, was that
the Bank of America began paying Disney's advances ($12,000 versus
the $15,000 UA had been paying).
Page 169: The description of "Leica reels" is
incorrect; Gabler has confused several different kinds of reels.
Leica reels, which were used for only a few years in the late 1930s
and early 1940s, were essentially film strips made up of still photos
(thus the "Leica") of story sketches. I've never heard
that term applied to reels made up of pencil tests, at least not
by people who were around when the real Leica reels were made. There's
a description of the Leica reel on page 122 of Robert D. Feild's
1942 book The Art of Walt Disney: "Walt has had a movie
machine constructed by which a single 'frame' can be automatically
switched in front of the projector by an invisible-eye mechanism.
The picture film is synchronized with the sound track on another
camera, and each frame is held until the required beat in the music
is reached. By this device the music can be heard while accompanied
by a pictorial version consisting of 'still' photos of the story-sketches.
The 'Leica reel,' as the device is called, is now used to present
the story for criticism during its early stages if there is a musical
Page 171: Ted Sears was hired in 1931, not 1930. The Disney
story department, which Gabler seems to say (the wording is vague)
was newly formed when Sears was hired, with Bill Cottrell, Webb
Smith, and Pinto Colvig already members, actually came into being
with the hiring of Sears and Smith in January 1931. Cottrell was
still a cameraman as late as 1932, when he photographed Flowers
Page 174: Art Babbitt (who was hired in 1932) was not one
of the Disney artists who attended classes at the Chouinard Art
Institute in 1931.
Page 178: As Roy Disney's 1932 correspondence with Al Lichtman
of United Artists (cited in Hollywood Cartoons but not by
Gabler) makes clear, Roy was not "adamantly opposed" to
color in the Disney cartoons, only aware, as he should have been,
of the serious risks involved.
Page 189: "Iwerks and Jaxon (Wilfred Jackson) were
the first directors after Walt relinquished those reins." Actually,
Burt Gillett and Iwerks were the first two Disney animators who
could be called directors; Jackson began directing in early 1931.
Page 201: Ward Kimball was not an animator on Orphan's
Benefit; he joined the staff in April 1934, around the time
that cartoon was being animated.
Page 207: The Thomas-Johnston quotation about Walt's "bear
suit" applies to a much later period; the complete quotation
refers to Bill Peet, who was not a Disney writer in the mid-1930s.
Here, as elsewhere (his account of the making of Snow White,
for example), Gabler is a little sloppy with chronologya common
failing in Disney biographies, even relatively reliable ones like
Bob Thomas's, but no less regrettable for that.
Page 216: As contemporaneous accounts in the Kansas City
Star make clear, the free screenings of Marguerite Clark's Snow
White were for the general public, not just for newsboys, as
Gabler should have known from the attendance figure. I mean, 67,000
newsboys, in a town the size of Kansas City?
Page 217: The Clark version of Snow White was considered
lost in the 1930s, but it is certainly not "lost" now,
thanks to George Eastman House, and has even been shown on television.
Page 225: Dick Huemer was working for Mintz in Californianot
New Yorkon the "Scrappy" cartoons when he quit to
go to work for Disney in 1933.
Page 233: The "Johnny Roberts" to whom Gabler
refers is presumably the director and animator Bill Roberts.
Page 235: "...the studio simply did not have enough
animators to do the grunt work of in-betweening and cleaning up,
much less the secondary animation..." Here, as elsewhere, Gabler
uses "animator" as a highly questionable umbrella term
to cover not just the animators themselves but a great many of the
other people who worked on the Disney films. He calls the Disney
cartoons "animations," in preference to "animated
films" or "animated cartoons." I'd never before seen
such a use of the word, and it reinforced my sense that Gabler lacks
a clear understanding of how the films were made.
Page 236: Through careless wording, Gabler identifies Ken Anderson and Bill Peet as being among the twenty-two men hired when Don Graham and George Drake went to New York in 1936. They were not. Anderson joined the staff in 1934, Peet in 1937. (Thanks to Ron Yavnieli.)
Page 247: Gabler writes in a footnote: "It is difficult
to say exactly when animation on Snow White began. Walt had
handed out assignments by late 1935 and was sweatboxing roughs and
experimenting with action at least as early as February 1936, but
the final model sheets for the characters weren't finished until
September 28, 1936, which could be regarded as the date of the real
or final animation." By September 1936, Bill Tytla, Fred Moore,
Ham Luske, Grim Natwick, and a few others had been drawing the dwarfs
and Snow White and other characters for months, in animation that
had been sweatboxed and corrected by Walt Disney. If this was not
"real" animation, what was it?
Pages 248-49: Gabler's account of the conflict between Ham
Luske and Grim Natwick relies on tendentious and inaccurate secondary
sources to reach an unsupportable conclusion, that Natwick and Jack
Campbell, rather than Luske, dominated the animation of the Snow
White character. The primary sources, like the sweatbox notes (which
Gabler consulted in other instances but apparently not here), tell
an altogether different story. This is another instance where the
book is damaged by a cavalier attitude toward chronology; inaccuracy
comes more easily when you're not paying close attention to the
order in which things actually happened.
Page 263: Gabler writes here of Walt's desire to conceal
the use of live action in publicity for the film; but as he fails
to note, Walt must have changed his mind. See, for example, the
spread on Marjorie Belcher in the April 4, 1938, issue of Life.
Pages 268-69: This is definitely a minor point, but Gabler
treats the "final scenes" as if they were a single sequence,
whereas the literally final scenes (Sequence 16A, "Snow White
in Coffin, Away with Prince") were animated before those for
the immediately preceding sequence that shows the dwarfs mourning
Snow White at their cottage (15A, "Snow White Dead").
Frank Thomas animated the dwarfs in 16A just before he tackled them
in 15A. Sequence 16A seems not to have posed any particular problems
for anyone; 15A was far more difficult.
Page 280: In regard to the supposed secret of Sharon Disney's
adoption, it was public knowledge as early as 1941, when Ladies
Home Journal mentioned it ("four-year-old Sharon Mae, who
is adopted") in the March issue, in an article titled "Mr.
and Mrs. Disney." Although Look evidently did stop the
presses in 1955 to delete a mention of Sharon's adoption in its July 26, 1955, issue, it would
be interesting to know how many copies with the offending phrase
got into circulation. I have two copies of that Look article,
and her adoption is mentioned in one but not the other.
Pages 280-81: Gordon Westcott's fatal injury occurred on October 27, 1935, not October 28. There is nothing in the sources Gabler cites to support his statement that "by one account, Walt's horse ... toppled onto the young man." Neither is there anything to show that Walt's interest in polo "waned" after the accident; he continued his active involvement in the sport until 1938, as evidenced by Los Angeles Times reports of matches at the Riviera Country Club.
Page 284: Gabler here confuses two different post-Snow
White payments to Disney employees. The studio paid "salary
adjustments" in 1938 that by my calculations totaled around
$120,000 (Gabler is apparently referring to those adjustments when
he mentions "bonuses" totaling $115,000). In June 1938,
the Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express reported that
Disney wanted to give his staff bonuses equal to 20 percent of Snow
White's profits. That bonus was never paid because, as Walt
said in 1940, "the Snow White profits are back in Pinocchio."
Page 305: Gabler, referring to the opening scene in which the camera moves from the stars down through Geppetto's village, says: "This tracking scene would, in the final film, be one of the most striking uses of the multiplane camera, and it wound up costing nearly $50,000." But as Hans Perk notes, "This is basically a straightforward pan, as the much-published background shows. The expensive scene is, of course, the one that starts the day,
with Pinocchio going off to school." It's that scene that makes such extensive (and expensive) use of the multiplane camera. The background for the much less complex opening scene was part of the exhibition called "Once Upon a Time: Walt Disney" at Paris and Montréal.
Page 305: Fred Moore designed the version of Pinocchio mentioned
here, but he did not animate the character.
Page 312: Gabler, explaining why Fantasia's Rite of Spring sequence doesn't show humans as part of its story of evolution, says that "one associate said [Walt] didn't want to antagonize Christian fundamentalists." Gabler's source is cited in an endnote: "John Hubley quoted in [John] Culhane, [Walt] Disney's Fantasia, p. 126." But Culhane doesn't "quote" Hubley, offering only this woolly paraphrase: "But the fundamentalists, according to John Hubley, threatened to make trouble for Fantasia if Walt connected evolution with human beings."
I never came across a hint of such threats in the weeks I spent going through Fantasia-related documents at the Walt Disney Archives. There is, on the other hand, clear evidence that Walt decided very quickly not to show human beings in The Rite for reasons unconnected with any fundamentalist objections.
Beyond that, how would John Hubley have known what Walt was thinking? He was a layout man (or, if you prefer, art director) on Fantasia, not one of its movers and shakers, not a story man, not yet involved with the film when critical story decisions about The Rite of Spring were being made in the fall of 1938. His name doesn't turn up in the notes from the story meetings. What Culhane says would be a little more persuasive if we had a real quotation from Hubley, something like, "Walt told me..." or "I heard Walt say..." but there is none such.
Page 313: Gabler says that Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is a "celebration of American Indian rituals." Wrong.
As Donald Draganski points out: "The subtitle of Stravinsky's
ballet is 'Scenes of Pagan Russia.' Further, if one reads the scenario
that Nicolas Roerich wrote in 1911 when he and the composer were
collaborating on the work, one finds the following: 'Slavonic tribes
are gathered together to celebrate the spring rites.'"
(This appears to be the only error in the hardcover that was corrected for the paperback edition, probably because it was noticed by at least one mainstream reviewer.)
As Michael Falotico points out, Gabler here mixes up his Gianninis, confusing Attilio "Doc" Giannini, with his brother, A. P. Giannini, the founder of the Bank of America. The incident Gabler describes was one at which A. P. Giannini, rather than "Doc," came to the Disneys' defense against members of his board of directors (not his staff, as Gabler has it). Bob Thomas describes the incident in his biographies of Walt and Roy, quoting Roy, who clearly refers to A.P. rather than "Doc." Gabler has only Roy attending the bank meeting, in San Francisco, but Thomas says that both Disneys were present.
Page 335: Ward Kimball's description of the "Baby Weems"
sequence in The Reluctant Dragon is here presented as if
it applied to all the animation in the film, which was of course
not the case. (Here, as elsewhere, I was left wondering just how
many of Disney's films Gabler saw while writing his book.)
Page 364: Walt Disney's desk diary is correct the
union discarded the one-day extension and the strike began on May
28, 1941, not May 29, as Gabler writes.
The start of the strike was widely reported, in trade papers and newspapers that Gabler apparently did not consult.
Page 366: In my reading of Disney's quotation, from the
1956 Pete Martin interview"I had a lot of people just
hoping that it was the end, you know?"he was referring
not to the Communists but to the many critics of the films he made
in the immediate postwar years.
Page 390: Spike Jones, identified here as a trombonist, was actually a drummer.
Page 407: I don't know what Gabler means when he says that
The Wind in the Willows was "still slowly snaking its
way through production" during World War II. Disney shut down
work on the film in the fall of 1941, and as far as I know it lay
dormant until production resumed, with Frank Thomas and James Algar
as directors, after the war. Wind in the Willows wasn't forgotten
during the war, of course, but I don't think it was ever "in
production," which is to say, I don't think anyone was doing
work on it (layout, animation, and such) that was intended to show
up on the screen.
Page 409: Gerry Geronimi's name is misspelled as "Geronomi"
here and elsewhere.
The notion has long been widespread that "Mickey Mouse" was the code name for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and Gabler endorses that notion by writing that "at Allied headquarters the code name for the operation was 'Mickey Mouse." As David Lesjak, proprietor of the excellent blog Disney—Toons at War, has confirmed through the Disney Archives, via his friend and fellow researcher Paul Anderson, there is no evidence that this was the case: "Disney staff did a search of the Archives and of all internal Disney Company computer databases and found no reference anywhere to Mickey Mouse being the codeword for the D-Day Normandy landings. The Pentagon and the Eisenhower Presidential Library were also consulted and the results at both institutions were also negative. There is speculation that 'Mickey Mouse' may possibly have been used at the lower unit level as a codeword, but even then there is no supporting documentation."
"Supporting documentation" has finally turned up, but what it supports is another matter. At least three newspapers published a very brief United Press item, datelined London, on June 8, 1944. Here's that item as it appeared in the Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail:
Mickey Mouse played a part in the invasion of northern France, it was revealed today.
Naval officers gathering for invasion briefing at a southern port approached the sentry at the door and furtively whispered into his ear the password of admission: "Mickey Mouse."
That, surely, is the tiny incident that was ultimately inflated, by Gabler and many others, into something much grander, so that "Mickey Mouse" became the password not just for one meeting, but for the entire Allied invasion.
Page 422: Gabler cites no source for his statement that Walt "absolutely hated the Goofy cartoons, threatening constantly to terminate them before relenting, largely to provide work for the animators," but his source apparently was Harry Tytle's book One of "Walt's Boys," and specifically pages Chapter 12, "Shorts Go Out of Style," pages 83-92. There's nothing in that chapter to support the idea that Walt "absolutely hated" the Goofy shorts; rather, they posed difficulties for him in a theatrical and financial environment that was increasingly hostile to short cartoons of all kinds.
Page 422: Ward Kimball was never Fred Moore's assistant.
Page 424: Gabler is misleading here about the role of the
Audience Research Institute, an arm of the Gallup polling organization,
which was hired by the Disney studio only briefly in the 1940s.
The acronym "ARI" survived as a name for test screenings
with questionnaires for studio personnel, but the testing done by
the real ARI, to see how the public responded to story descriptions
and potential titles, didn't last very long. Card Walker, who as
a young studio executive worked with ARI, said in 1968: "Very
frankly it never worked outyou know, there's no way to test
Page 428: Walter Lantz may not have had a story department
in the very early 1930s, but he certainly had one in the postwar
years that are the subject of this chapter. This is yet another
example of a regrettable carelessness where chronology is concerned.
Page 434: Gabler has a Twentieth Century-Fox executive saying, in paraphrase, that that studio had to make Stormy Weather "in such a way that scenes featuring blacks could be cut or southern exhibitors wouldn't show them." As Steve Stuart points out, such cuts would have resulted in a very strange (and presumably very short) film, since Stormy Weather's cast is made up entirely of black performers.
Page 436: Perce Pearce didn't direct the live action of
Song of the South. Harve Foster did, after Disney fired H.
C. Potter. Pearce was Disney's associate producer on that film.
Page 437: Gabler describes Song of the South as "the
first nonwar-themed Disney feature in four years." He's forgetting
Make Mine Music, which came out earlier in 1946.
Page 446: Relying upon The Hand Behind the Mouse,
Gabler quotes what is supposedly a comment by Harper Goff after
seeing Seal Island in December 1948. The quote is worded
as if Goff were a Disney employee at the time and was himself quoting
Walt Disney. But Goff didn't join the Disney staff until October
1951, and he apparently met Disney only a few months before that,
when both were in England. This quotation is surely from someone
else, no telling whom.
Page 461: Gabler writes here of how unusual it was that
Ben Sharpsteen should have given Walt Disney a detailed report on
the status of work on Cinderella in November 1948. "In
the past Walt would have known it all already. In the past Walt
would have been there supervising every last detail." This
is, at best, an overstatement. It was standard practice, certainly
on Sharpsteen's part, to send Walt such status reports, long before
work on Cinderella began. For example, on November 27, 1940,
Sharpsteen sent Walt a three-page "Report on 'Dumbo'"
that described the state of work on each sequence and recommended
what Walt himself should do: "Dialogue on the gossips recorded
and planned out for animation. A few adjustments are being made
following a meeting Monday. We can look this over next Monday when
we have a check up of all of Jaxon's reels."
Page 467: As other sources make plain, it was just before
Christmas 1949not 1948, as Gabler has itthat Disney's
miniature locomotive made its first test run on a track on a studio
sound stage. Gabler is relying here on a letter to Jack Cutting
dated January 5, 1949, but this was a readily understandable secretarial
error; the date should have been January 5, 1950.
Page 468: Gabler says that Disney planned to make So
Dear to My Heart wholly in live action and decided to add animation
only after live-action filming was completed, when he realized what
a weak feature he had on his hands. This is almost certainly wrong.
Scripts, as well as published reports from early in production,
refer to animated sequences, and at that time Disney's contract
with RKO Radio Pictures allowed for features that combined live
action and animation, but not for wholly live-action films.
Page 475: Gabler says that Walt and Lillian Disney moved
into their new home on Carolwood Drive in May 1950; the date I got
from the Disney Archives was February 1950. I don't know which is
correct, or how the discrepancy arose.
Page 482: As Didier Ghez points out, Gabler here twice misspells the name of the sculptor Cristadoro as "Christodoro."
Page 487: The film's correct title is The Story of Robin
Hood and His Merrie Men, not The Adventures of Robin Hood
and His Merrie Men. Gabler has confused the Disney film with
the 1938 Errol Flynn version.
Page 494: One of my disappointments in reading Walt Disney
was discovering that Gabler had as hard a time as I did in sorting
out what was going on in Walt Disney's life in the early 1950s,
when he was struggling to give shape to his ideas for Disneyland.
The park was Walt's private project at first, and the Disney Archiveswhose
files from the period don't cover "personal" mattersare
of limited help. Gabler unfortunately
chooses at times to mask an unavoidable vagueness with a pretense
of certainty, as on this page, whose source notes are much thinner
than one has a right to expect.
After my own Disney biography was published I was able to establish a firmer chronology, which you can read by going to the entry for pages 236-37 on my page devoted to corrections and second thoughts for The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney.
Page 495: Gabler has Harper Goff doing fieldwork for Disney
in Europe in March 1951, taking photographs of amusement parks,
but that date is surely wrong (see my note to page 446). He also
says that Goff was in Atlanta in March 1952 "to examine available
train stock for the park," but Goff's own letters from that
period (in the Wilbur G. Kurtz Collection at the Motion Picture
Academy's Margaret Herrick Library) show him in Atlanta then scouting
locations for the film eventually made as The Great Locomotive
Page 500: Although Gabler follows Buzz Price's book in placing
Price's first meeting with Walt in July 1953, that can't be right,
because Walt was away from the studio all of July and most of August
(in Europe for the filming of Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue,
and then in New York and New England). Walt's desk diary shows a
first meeting with Price in early June 1953, a date that fits with
Price's delivery of his site-selection report twelve weeks later.
Page 505: "Through WED he had bought the television rights to a popular book called The Mark of Zorro..." Walt bought the Zorro TV rights as an individual, not through his private company; he assigned the rights to that company in May 1953. The rights covered not the book but dozens of Johnston McCulley's short stories with the Zorro character, many of which were adapted as episodes of the TV series.
Page 505: Gabler has Roy Disney speeding to New York in late September 1953, "as the plans for the park continued to jell, as the studio purchased the property, and as desperation began to set in." But Harrison Price submitted his location study for Disneyland only on August 28, 1953, and the boundaries of the site ultimately purchased in Anaheim were a quarter-mile south of those recommended in his report. Just how "desperate" could the situation have gotten in four weeks? According to Todd Pierce, who has probably researched such questions more thoroughly than anyone else, "Disney did option one piece of property almost immediately after Price's report," but it was not part of the Disneyland site that was ultimately assembled from seventeen small farms. The assembly of a unified parcel did not begin until December 1953 at the earliest, Todd says, and continued into 1954.
Page 527: Todd Pierce called my attention to this statement: "When an employee suggested that he use cut glass instead of stained glass in an attraction called Storybook Land, Walt objected. 'Look, the thing that's going to make Disneyland unique and different,' he insisted, 'is the detail. If we lose the detail we lose it all.'" Gabler has Walt making that objection shortly before Disneyland opened in July 1955. The problem is that Storybook Land didn't open with the rest of the park, but opened instead in June 1956. The quotation from Dick Nunis that Gabler references, from Remembering Walt by Howard Green and Amy Boothe Green, is on page 163 of that book, not page 16 as his notes have it, and it explicitly refers not to the construction of Disneyland but the "redoing" of Storybook Land some years after the opening.
Page 531: Gabler writes: "The night before the opening [of Disneyland] he suddenly seized upon the idea of taking the giant rubber squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and exhibiting it at the park. The problem was that the squid's latex skin had deteriorated since the shooting, so it had to be restored and repainted." Gabler describes a frantic all-night effort, in which Walt was heavily involved, to get the squid ready for the opening the next day. I have a copy of the transcript Gabler cites as his source, and Ken Anderson speaks only of working on the squid just before the park opened; he says nothing about when Walt decided to exhibit it. Randy Bright, in his authorized history, Disneyland Inside Story, says that Walt decided to add the squid to the 20,000 Leagues attraction a couple of weeks before the opening. Despite "almost superhuman efforts," Bright says, 20,000 Leagues and the squid did not begin receiving visitors until three weeks after the park itself. (Thanks again to Todd Pierce.)
Page 585: A very minor point, but, anyway: The animated
feature's title is One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It's the
unfortunate live-action remake that is called 101 Dalmatians.
Pages 589-91: Gabler here describes a conflict between Walt
and Roy that appears to be the same one that Bob Thomas describes
on pages 259-62 of Building a Company, his biography of Roy
Disneyexcept that Thomas describes the quarrel as originating
in Roy's insistence that Walt sell most of his private company,
WED Enterprises, to Walt Disney Productions, a sale that eventually
occurred in November 1964. Gabler places the disagreement several
years earlier and says that it originated in Roy's resistance to
a new and richer personal-services contract for Walt.
quote what they call a conciliatory card (actually, Dave Smith of
the Disney Archives says, it's a one-page typed letter) that Walt
sent to Roy after the dispute was settled, along with an Indian
peace pipe; the wording is slightly different in the two books.
Thomas's version of the quarrel is the more plausible by far, given
how important WED was to Walt Disney; but then there's that conciliatory
letter. Dave Smith confirms that the date in Gabler's citation—June 24, 1961, Roy's
sixty-eighth birthdayis correct. That
is, however, the only item in Gabler's notes that supports his version,
which actually relies on Thomas's account for some of its details.
So where did Gabler's version come from? I think the answer lies in a source he cites twice as just "Variety, April 18, 1961." He is apparently referring to a story that appeared not in the weekly Variety (which didn't publish on April 18) but in Daily Variety for April 19, 1961. It reported the terms of Walt Disney's new employment agreement with Walt Disney Productions, under which Walt got a $500 weekly raise and $1,666 weekly in deferred salary. A substantially similar story appeared in the Hollywood Reporter for April 19, 1961, which said in part: "The pay boost asked by Disney is to compensate for services in connection with Disneyland which Disney's WED Enterprises has been servicing at less than cost for several years."
You can see the reasoning that was almost certainly involved in Gabler's version by working backward from the peace-pipe letter. That letter is dated June 24; agreement on a new contract for Walt was reached a few months earlier; therefore the violent disagreement reported by Thomas must have been over the terms of that contract, rather than the sale of WED. (Weirdly, Gabler doesn't even mention the sale of WED anywhere in his book.) Gabler has, not for the first time—see the entries for page 68 and pages 166-67—generated an implausible scenario from a few scraps of evidence.
As for Thomas's version, his citation of the peace-pipe letter is clearly a mistake, but it may have been someone else's mistake. Perhaps Roy Disney told Thomas an erroneous story about the pipe—Roy could be hazy about dates, we know from Richard Hubler's interviews—and read Walt's letter aloud to him. In any case, it would be at least as great a mistake to assume that the quarrel that preceded Walt's conciliatory gesture was related to his new employment contract. As Gabler himself says, correctly, the brothers fought frequently, and loudly. They fought about many things, and they did so from early in their association. There's evidence of that not just in interviews but in the memoranda that passed between them. The peace-pipe letter could have been the outgrowth of a dispute that had nothing to do with Walt's contract. There is, in short, nothing in Gabler's version to cast doubt on Thomas's account of a serious disagreement between the brothers over the sale of WED.
Page 608: There's no book called "Out of a Fair, a
City." That's the title of a magazine article, and Victor Gruen
didn't write it.
Page 612: Gabler writes that Walt wore a Goldwater button under
his lapel when he received the Medal of Freedom from
President Lyndon Johnson, but his source—the press agent Charles Ridgway, as quoted in Remembering Walt by Howard Green and Amy Boothe Green—isn't good enough, because it's clear from Ridgway's 2007 memoir, Spinning Disney's World, that he didn't witness the button wearing but is only repeating a story he heard. I've written a full account of this incident at this link.
Page 623: Another minor but easily avoidable misspelling,
this time of Charles Philippi's name.
Page 633: Gabler refers to "a white statue of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid gazing contemplatively at invisible water" near Disney's burial site at Forest Lawn in Glendale. The statue is not a copy of the famous statue of the Little Mermaid at Copenhagen; it is not a statue of any kind of mermaid, but of a pensive urchin. Hans Perk has identified the sculptor as Edward Henry Berge, active in Baltimore a hundred years ago. Forest Lawn's version (which, as a photo by Hans confirms, bears Berge's signature) is presumably a copy, like many other statues on the grounds.
Page 635: This is obviously an innocent typo, but for the sake of completeness: Victory Through Air Power was released in 1943, not 1942.
Page 649: A note identifies a source as "Articles of Incorporation of O-Zell Co., Sept. 14, 1911, Arizona Corporation Commission." According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, it has no such document.
As Tim Susanin has pointed out, a note identifies as a source "True to Type," an April 8, 1935, article by Gilbert Seldes in the New York Journal that is about foreign affairs and contains nothing Disney-related.
Page 703: As Are Myklebust has pointed out, Adriana Caselotti
is referred to on this page as "Andrea" Caselotti.
Page 712: Gabler identifies a Disney quotation on page 284 as coming from an Ed Sullivan "Hollywood" column in the New York Daily News for August 10, 1938.
There is no such Disney reference in Sullivan's column of that date, or in any of his other columns from August 1-14.
Page 734: As Tim Susanin has pointed out, the reference to a "Jun. 27, 1941" issue of Variety is incorrect, as there was no issue of the weekly Variety published on that date. The reference may be to Daily Variety, although it's so cryptic there's no way to be sure.
Page 765: The brief article titled "Walt Disney Plans Park for Children" was published in the Los Angeles Times for March 28, 1952, not March 24—that is, it was published the day after the Burbank Daily Review's front-page story announcing the project, not three days before.
Pages 792-93: The
two cryptic notes here, for pages 589 and 591, to "Variety, April 18, 1961," are not references to the weekly Variety, which was not published on that date, but to Daily Variety; the article, on page 2, is titled "New Pact Ups Disney to $3,500 Wkly."
Page 814: As Are Myklebust points out, the bibliography includes a nonexistent article, "Art Babbitt" by Klaus Strzyz, Comics Journal, Fall 1969.
Page 818: As Are Myklebust also points out, the Disney Archives
was established in 1970, not 1971, as Gabler has it.
[Posted December 19, 2006; updated December 27 and 28, 2006;
January 8, 15, 22, and 29, 2007; February 28, 2007; March 2, 6, and 26, 2007; May 3, 12, and 26, 2007; June 19, 2007; July 28 and 29, 2007; August 25, 2007: October 12 and 25, 2007; April 22, May 8, and June 9, 2008; February 13 and June 4, 2009; April 6 and May 31, 2010; and August 2, 2011.]