Book Review: Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists
Peri asks many of his interviewees similar questions, mainly about their first encounter with Walt, joining the studio, their experiences of the infamous strike (Art Babbit is universally reviled), and legendary moments such as Disney's performance that accompanied his announcement that the studio would begin production of Snow White. This technique, however, does not make for repetition, since Disney had a different effect on each of those interviewed. A multifaceted portrait of Disney is the only viable one; having several anecdotes and viewpoints of the same events only serves to deepen the book's scope.
Peri interviews some of the lesser-known entities at the studio, and acknowledges that he has done so in order to fill some of the gaps in Disney history; thus, Jack Cutting, Harper Goff, Larry Clemmons, and Don Duckwall are given their due. Their memories of working for Walt are just as revealing as those given by Les Clark and Eric Larson. Of particular interest is a rare interview with Marcellite Garner. Although she voiced Minnie Mouse, one of the most legendary female characters in animation, we learn that it was actually just a side job added to her regular duties in the ink-and-paint department.
Such historical tidbits abound throughout the interviews. Those interested in the early days of Disney, how directors and animators were chosen to work on projects, how production methods and the division of labor evolved, and what Burt Gillett did when he first came to the studio will be rewarded as they read through these lively interviews. Clarence Nash, the longtime voice of Donald Duck, details how he developed the duck from a character he originally called "Mary," and Floyd Gottfredson reveals why his name never appeared on the Mickey Mouse comic strip -- despite Walt's willingness to let him put his signature to it.
In short, Working with Walt is a terrific passel of interviews that easily holds its own against the masterful six-volume effort edited by Didier Ghez. Peri's desire to add information to the Disney story is matched only by his sincere questioning about what it was like to have Walt Disney as your stern employer, enthusiastic leader, savage critic, and shining idol. It is recommended (but not necessary) that the reader have some familiarity with Disney history and personnel, as Peri appears to take this for granted in some of the more in-depth interviews.
This is a highly recommended and important book; at a mere $14.95 on Amazon, it's impossible for any Disneyphile to pass it up.
Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists; by Don Peri. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. 246 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1-604730-23-4; ISBN-10: 1-604730-23-4 ($22.00).
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.