How I Organized the Writing of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success | Part 11: Expanding College of Disney Knowledge: Four Important Sources for Walt Disney Historians

[Other posts in this series can be found here.]

Writing a business biography about Walt Disney was a time-consuming and challenging project. The thing I wanted to most avoid was to have a recognized Disney expert read The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success and write a review that concluded the author didn’t bother to do his research to get the basic facts right. I spent considerable time and effort verifying facts and correcting facts that other respected biographers had wrong. As I stated to my publisher at Theme Park Press, Bob McLain, I wanted the book to be able to pass the Michael Barrier standard for factual accuracy.

I didn’t make it my job to point out the errors of others as I encountered them in my research (I’ve already identified some errors in my book that need to be corrected), but rather wanted to know that the facts as I presented them were substantiated by research and evidence gathered by other nit-picking Disney historians. Not all “facts” can be substantiated beyond dispute, and earlier reputable authors developed narratives based on interviews and the best evidence they were able to acquire. They are not to be faulted for such errors made based on the best available evidence available.

For any writer seriously seeking to understand Walt Disney, the game changed with the 2005 publication of the first of an ongoing series of books edited by Didier Ghez titled Walt’s People: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him. Ghez’s project was to transcribe and publish the hundreds of interviews with Disney artists and studio colleagues through the years.

What this means is that those with a serious interest in studying Walt Disney history no longer have to rely on the interpretation of events in an author’s narrative based on closely held interviews with Disney artists and associates. Now many of these interviews containing the observations, recollections, and stories of key participants in the Disney Studio story have been made available to everyone to read, compare, and to draw their own conclusions about the value and veracity of the answers given. The publication of these interviews makes this primary research available to everybody in the form of interview transcripts.

Closely following the ongoing publication of Didier Ghez’s project are three key Walt Disney biographies that can’t be ignored by future writers (this isn’t meant to exclude other extremely valuable and well-researched books related to more specific Disney History topics).

In 2006, Neal Gabler’s mammoth biography Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was published. Gabler spent seven years researching and writing his biography of Walt, and “is the first writer to be given complete access to the Disney archives,” according to the dust jacket. The 800+ page book is an encyclopaedia of detail and facts for every future biographer to endure and square with prior biographical offerings.

The following year, 2007, animation historian and author Michael Barrier published The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, his lifelong study of Walt Disney, “based on decades of painstaking research in the Disney studio’s archives and dozens of public and private archives…” and over 150 interviews he conducted with those who worked with Walt Disney. Barrier has also published on his blog his perspective on Gabler’s book, which is both insightful and important.

A fourth key biography published since the mid-2000s is Timothy S. Susanin’s 2011 book, Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928. As the title suggests, Susanin’s book deals in depth with aspects of Walt’s business career from the time he returned from serving in France post WWI to the creation of Mickey Mouse in 1928. The importance of this fascinating time in Walt’s life as a young entrepreneur learning the game of business is too often ignored or downplayed in Walt Disney biographies. Susanin gives it the full treatment it deserves.

A bonus important fifth source is the ever-changing content and discussion at the Disney History Institute Facebook site. Additionally, there are so many other great books dealing with the life and career of Walt Disney that shouldn’t be overlooked, and more continue to be published each year. Readers should identify and pursue areas that correspond to their personal interests, but these sources are an excellent starting point for gathering the facts, whether or not one agrees with the entirety of the author’s narrative.

It is my hope that The Principles of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success is not only an enjoyable read to the layperson who is interested in learning the facts about Walt Disney’s life and business career highlights, but also that it is of sufficient quality to be seen in time as a standard and necessary book for future Disney Historians to gain a full picture of the life of Walt Disney, one of the world’s business titans and iconoclastic entrepreneurs.

Even better, The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success should be assigned reading in the business education curriculum and business cubicles as a practical and entertaining text or case study for understanding the realities of business and how to think like one of the world’s greatest spokespersons and role model for human capability, optimism, creativity, imagination, aspiration, and achievement.

Walt Disney challenged the world with new visions of what is possible and demonstrated that we don’t have to accept the banal and mediocre. He is famously quoted as saying: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

© 2019, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved. 

Barry Linetsky is the author of the acclaimed book The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press), and an Honorary Disney History Institute Historian. Barry is a writer, photographer, researcher, and business strategy enabler.

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