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The Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney and the American Way of Life

Steven Watts

Publication Year: 2001

The Magic Kingdom sheds new light on the cultural icon of "Uncle Walt."  Watts digs deeply into Disney's private life, investigating his roles as husband, father, and brother and providing fresh insight into his peculiar psyche-his genuine folksiness and warmth, his domineering treatment of colleagues and friends, his deepest prejudices and passions.  Full of colorful sketches of daily life at the Disney Studio and tales about the creation of Disneyland and Disney World, The Magic Kingdom offers a definitive view of one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xiv


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. xvii-xx

A FEW YEARS AGO, I accompanied my wife on an evening's visit to her cousin's house. This young woman met us at the door with her little boy, a cute tyke with a thatch of red hair who was full of curiosity and energy. He was trying to learn to talk, so we sat on the floor playing with him for a while and encouraging his verbal efforts. Right at the...

I. The Road to Hollywood

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1. Disney and the Rural Romance

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pp. 3-23

IN 1956 WALT DISNEY RETURNED to his past. The creator of Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, television's Disneyland show, and a fabulous amusement park, now one of the most famous people in the world, went back to Marceline, Missouri, the tiny town of some 2500 residents where he had lived as a boy. The city fathers had built a park with a swimming pool and named it after their well-known native son. ...

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2. Young Man Disney and Mickey Mouse

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pp. 24-41

THE PHOTOGRAPHS bespeak an innocent time of life. Several young men, all around twenty years of age and colleagues in a fledgling film company, mug for the camera, frolicking and striking heroic poses. Dressed smartly in the fashion of the early 1920S, they sport longish slicked-back hair and wear knickers and colorful long stockings or flannel ...

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3. The Entertainer as Success Icon

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pp. 42-60

IN 1920 WALT DISNEY made his first screen appearance, in a crude Newman Laugh-O-Gram sample reel produced in the garage of his Kansas City home. In three brief vignettes, this short, flashy film aimed to entice a local theater owner with vibrant visual images. It did more than it intended. Its opening scene shows young Walt striding into his office, sitting...

II. The Disney Golden Age

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4. Disney and the Depression: Sentimental Populism

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pp. 63-82

ROY E. DISNEY, Walt's nephew, once asked Bill Peet, a longtime Disney employee, how the studio managed to secure and keep so many talented artists in the 1930S. The irascible old story man gave him a mischievous look, narrowed his eyes, and growled a one-word answer: "Poverty." Animator Marc Davis told a similar tale. He recalled that ...

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5. Disney and the Depression: Populist Parables

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pp. 83-100

FROM 1937 TO 1942, the pioneering series of feature-length animated films from the Disney Studio garnered great popular and critical acclaim. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi became a central, even beloved, part of this filmmaker's legacy. In fact, these movies established the creative high-water...

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6. The Entertainer as Artist: Sentimental Modernism

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pp. 101-119

THE HARVARD ART HISTORIAN Robert D. Feild spent nearly a year at the Disney Studio, from June 1939 to May 1940. Given the run of the facility, he took copious notes as he poked his head in and out of every department, previewed ongoing work, analyzed production procedures and artistic processes, interviewed animators and technicians, and...

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7. Of Mice and Men: Art Critics and Animators

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pp. 120-142

IN 1933, an amusing little story on animation's leading star appeared in the movie magazine Screen land. Entitled "The Art of Mickey Mouse:' it satirized a recent showing of Disney watercolors and drawings at the Kennedy Art Gallery on Fifth Avenue. The author reported that Mickey, having shed his trademark short buttoned pants and oversize shoes, now ...

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8. Disney and American Culture

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pp. 143-163

DESPITE HIS halfhearted protestations of artlessness, Walt Disney emerged as a major figure in American culture during the 1930S. Audiences flocked to his lively and popular short films early in the decade and then to the pathbreaking feature-length movies. Disney's films ...

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9. The Fantasy Factory

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pp. 164-182

IN 1941, at the height of his success, Walt Disney released a feature film that marked a significant departure from his earlier work. The movie, whimsically entitled The Reluctant Dragon, took a first, tentative step away from animation by mounting a foray into live-action films. Although a spate of animated segments spiced the plot, most of the action revolved...

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10. The Engineering of Enchantment

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pp. 183-200

WHEN Shamus Culhane first arrived for work at Disney's Hyperion Avenue studio in 1935, he could hardly believe his eyes. Used to crowded, dingy New York animation facilities, he was shocked to find everything cheerfully painted in "bright tints of raspberry, light blue, and gleaming white:' He was equally startled to see that each animation ...

III. Trouble in Fantasyland

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11. Animation and Its Discontents

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pp. 203-227

IN JUNE 1941, The Reluctant Dragon, with its warm, sparkling portrayal of the Disney Studio, began to appear on movie screens throughout the United States. At the Burbank compound, according to this film, efficiency and creativity reigned side by side, youthful artists learned and exchanged ideas, and the wildest flights of imagination were combined with...

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12. Disney and the Good War

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pp. 228-242

IN THE FALL of 1941, after the strike was settled, many hoped that life would return to some semblance of normality at the Disney Studio. Such hopes proved short-lived. Only a few weeks later, the airplanes of imperial Japan swooped down on Pearl Harbor. The day after the attack, Walt Disney received an early morning call from his studio manager. "Walt, ...

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13. Disney's Descent

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pp. 243-262

AS POLITICAL STORMCLOUDS gathered and the creative atmosphere began to darken, the aesthetic mission of the Disney Studio became less clear. Disney entertainment films seemed unable to get off the ground. Audiences were puzzled, and arbiters of taste began to turn an increasingly skeptical eye toward the Burbank fantasy factory. The man ...

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14. The Search for Direction

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pp. 263-280

BY THE MID-1940S, Walt Disney was ill-tempered to the point of acrimony. This work-driven, temperamental man, operating under mounting stress, became increasingly cranky, even bitter, and lashed out with greater frequency and intensity at his employees. Of course, he had never been easy to work for, even in the flush days of the studio,...

IV. Disney and the American Century

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15. Cold War Fantasies

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pp. 283-302

I LIVE WITH A GENIUS," Lillian Disney's warm description of domestic life with her famous husband, was advertised on the cover of McCall's in February 1953. Right next to it sat another blaring headline, which created a neat ideological tableau. The dramatic title of the second article, "Stalin and His Three Wives: A Private-Life Expose," promised a lurid ...

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16. Disney and National Security

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pp. 303-322

THE POWERFUL INFL UENeE of the Cold War pervaded other innovative projects that poured out of the Disney Studio in the 1950S. Disney's expansive Americanism, for instance, influenced new explorations of the natural world in an extremely popular series of documentaries. It colored a number of television productions and books that probed ...

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17. Disney and Domestic Security

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pp. 323-345

THE COLD WAR, as it grew in intensity throughout the 1950S, compelled Americans to define their fundamental social and political values. As one historian has put it, "The search to define and affirm a way of life, the need to express and celebrate the meaning of 'Americanism,' was the flip side of stigmatizing Communism." Literature and pulp fiction, ...

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18. Citizen Disney

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pp. 346-360

BY THE MID-1950s, Walt Disney had become once again a fixture in American popular journalism. His burst of activity in movies, television, and documentaries early in the decade made him an attractive topic, and an explosion of articles followed. The broad and kindly face with its pencil mustache, combed-back hair, and twinkling eyes began to look out at readers of the nation's largest-circulation periodicals on a ...

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19. Disney and the Culture Industry

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pp. 361-382

IN 1959, Life published a special double issue that explored at length a striking shift in American society over the past decade. It analyzed the prosperity and comfort growing out of the automation of manufacturing, the growth of a consumer economy, and a new national emphasis on leisure. In its words, "For the first time a civilization has reached a point...

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20. The Happiest Place on Earth

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pp. 383-403

ON THE AFTERNOON of July 17, 1955, the grand opening of Disneyland held the rapt attention of millions of Americans. The construction of this fantastic amusement park had been the subject of feverish press speculation for over a year, and when the gates swung open, the event was broadcast live on ABC in a two-hour spectacle hosted by...

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21. Pax Disneyana

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pp. 404-424

BY THE EARLY 1960s, grand honors and outlandish acclaim had become the rule rather than the exception for Walt Disney. In 1963, he received one of his greatest honors when the Freedom Foundation presented him with its coveted George Washington Award for promoting the American way of life. Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ...

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22. It's a Small World, After All

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pp. 425-445

OVER THE SWEEP of his long entertainment career, one of Walt Disney's greatest strengths was his ability to attract talented, loyal artists, managers, and operatives. With the dramatic expansion of the Disney entertainment empire in Florida, this ability became crucial. The demands of this project made two things clear. First, it seemed obvious...

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pp. 446-454

IT ALL HAPPENED so quickly. When news of Walt Disney's death on December 15, 1966, swept through the Burbank studio and Disneyland like a shock wave, his associates reacted with surprise, grief, and anxiety for the future. Stricken, some cried out "No!" while others wept quietly. Hardly anyone, even in Walt's family, had expected his death. On New Year's...


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pp. 455-508

Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 509-512


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pp. 513-527

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273000
E-ISBN-10: 0826273009
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826213792
Print-ISBN-10: 0826213790

Page Count: 568
Illustrations: illus
Publication Year: 2001

Edition: 1