Q. What is the format and concept behind The Enchanted Disney?
A. Basically, The Enchanted Disney is split into fifteen chapters, each chapter covering one person who had a role in a live-action Disney film. About two-thirds of the books content is directly related to Disney, and the other third pertains to the life and work of the person covered. For example, in the first chapter, I discuss the life and work of silent screen star Pola Negri who had a supporting role in The Moon-Spinners (1964). Negri and Walt (as Walt Disney preferred to be called) arrived in Hollywood within a year of each other having very different experiences. Therefore, I discuss Los Angeles in 1923 (the year Walt arrived) and the kind of environment both individuals encountered.
Q. Who is the target audience for this book?
A. The target audience is anyone with an interest in Disney or film history. While the ultimate focus is the studios live-action films, the book also discusses the development of film as a mass medium and beloved stars of yesteryear. Many, like Bette Davis still have a substantial following. Other topics do emerge such as the opening of Disneyland and Walt Disney World; which have been crucial to the company’s long-term success. The time frame of the book spans the entire twentieth century, into the twenty-first. Therefore, it provides information about the history of film which many Disney fans may not be aware of. Conversely, it provides information about the World of Disney which fans and non-fans may not be aware of.
Q. How would you describe Walt Disney to someone who is unfamiliar with him?
A. Walt was a complicated individual who constantly looked to his past on a farm, while also looking to technologies which could enhance our future. He had a strong interest in wildlife and nature; while also creating programs explaining space exploration. He was a complicated figure, and no one ever knew what he was thinking, or how he might respond to an idea. However, he desired to help build a future and world which all people across the globe could enjoy and thrive in. Walt was an optimist, who strived to see the good in all people, animals, and places.
Q. Why does Disney as a brand and studio persist when others have fallen to the wayside?
A. Walt Disney was always open-minded to new technologies and had his brother Roy by his side as a true business and financial genius. Transitioning to sound, color, television, live-action films, and theme parks all kept the company financially sound. Also, quality animated films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) could be re-released, allowing for a healthy revenue stream. It of course has endured plenty of ups and downs, but recognizable characters like Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Cinderella has kept the brand in the public consciousness for almost a century. The same cannot be said for other studios and their brands.
Q. How did you select the people covered in the book?
A. The basic criteria was that each person covered needed to have at least one role in a live-action film, which could either be leading or supporting. I generally looked for a mix of films to cover from the 1940’s to the 2000’s, and people who had otherwise fascinating lives. From those who starred in the silent era, to those whose career began as the studio system was crumbling. While I had specific individuals in mind, I did some searching of cast lists to see what names came up. I had no idea Lillian Gish acted in a Disney film until I initiated this practice!
Q. What do you learn about the Walt Disney Company and its place in Hollywood as a whole?
A. The live-action portion of the studio really developed as the once major studios like Warner Bros. were beginning to dismantle; and yet kept many of their basic principles. One will see in the credits many of the same directors, producers, costume designers, and other recognizable crew. When a Disney movie comes on, one can tell it is Disney very quickly. While they were generally respected in Hollywood, the studio sat somewhat apart, focusing on animation until the 1950’s. Disney was and is a name which continues to represent quality.
Q. What were some of your favorite research items you came across when compiling the book?
A. One fact I learned while researching the book is that movie studios would reference Sears Roebuck catalogs in order to accurately represent the past. Some editions from the early 1900’s are available on the Internet Archive and are beautifully illustrated showing a wide variety of apparel and accessories, and household items from the past. Viewing the catalogs is a fantastic window into the past, which I had no idea studios even used! The Life and Times of Ward Kimball: Maverick of Disney Animation by Todd James Pierce was another great resource. Ward Kimball had a long and varied career with Disney and is probably best known for animating Jiminy Cricket. But to my surprise in reading Pierce’s book, I learned that Kimball was involved in several live-action films as well. It is a book I highly recommend, and contained many surprises!
Q. What place do the live-action films discussed in the book have in today’s society?
A. The live-action films are family friendly entertainment, most of which hold-up well today. Walt and the people who worked with him had a respect for the talents of silent-film comedians, for example, and knew how to draw inspiration from the past. They also allowed experienced actors like Suzanne Pleshette to be themselves, as long as they fit a certain framework. Some masterpieces like Mary Poppins and Swiss Family Robinson are still beloved and easily available on Disney+. Grandparents, parents, and small children can all enjoy these films together!
Q. What time period in the book stood out to you?
A. One time period of the Walt Disney Company which stood out to me was Walt and Roy in the 1920’s, as they were building a company. Often times the brothers were scrambling to raise a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. I regularly visit Walt Disney World in Florida, as my mother lives nearby, and even the least expensive room on property can be $400 or more various times of year. Even taking inflation into account, it is remarkable to think at one point the brothers were barely breaking even, and now thousands of dollars can be sent at one of several Resorts around the world quite easily. To quote Frank Costanza from Seinfeld, “You can drop a grand in Disney World like that!”
Q. Were there any moments in the book that caused you to feel a great deal of nostalgia?
A. Watching and learning more about the Halloweentown films brought back a lot of memories of watching these films as a child and pre-teen on the Disney Channel. I grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania, in an area where there was still plenty of green. And seeing commercials for the movies was always a sign that my favorite season was upon us. Rewinding twenty years, I never thought I would be writing about these films, and never realized who Aggie (Debbie Reynolds) was. One lesson I learned throughout working on the book is that you never know who someone is or what their background is like just by looking at them. Who would have thought Iris Adrian (the car hop in The Love Bug) was once a “firecracker with sex appeal” in 1930’s New York City!