Aren’t there plenty of books about Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse already? Yes, but none like The Book of Mouse.
Jim Korkis is world-famous as “the Disney Historian.” A serious Disney fan from his early teens (living in Burbank, he interviewed veteran Disney animators with a tape recorder), Korkis has been writing Disney articles for over three decades. He worked at the Disney company for many years, taking the opportunity to interview more Disney veterans in depth, and to examine the actual Disney archives. Now in retirement, he has been writing Disney corporate history outside of the corporation: in more detail than the company bothers with, and more frankly and accurately than the company would like. His books are usually unillustrated and not published by approved Disney publishers, because he is not willing to compromise his accuracy to gain the official Disney imprimatur, or get the authorization to include lots of Disney artwork. But you can take his uncensored text to the bank.
The Book of Mouse was written because, as Korkis says in his Introduction, “The little fellow [Mickey Mouse] has been involved with just too many different things over eight decades and all of them were significant in one way or another. However, I felt that I might be able to produce a book that would gather important information in one location that would save endless hours searching through hundreds of other books and magazines, countless websites and dozens of films and videos.
[…] I also wanted a book that the more knowledgeable fan could utilize as a reliable reference and to get a deeper appreciation of Mickey with rarely revealed stories and appropriate documentation. More significantly, I wanted to clarify some of the many Mickey Mouse myths that have been told and re-told for decades.” (p. xiii)
All of these goals are important, but clarification of the myths may be the most important. Walt Disney himself, and the Disney corporation after his death, never hesitated to spread a good story for publicity purposes. Many of the stories have changed over the years – such as Mickey Mouse’s birthday. It has been variously October 1st, “the date on which his first picture was started” (p. 20); September 28th, “with movie theaters [in 1935] encouraged to book entire programs of Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons as part of the celebration” (p. 21); and other dates to go with other publicity campaigns. November 18th, the day in 1928 that Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon was released, did not become Mickey’s official birthday until 1978. How old Mickey was, was celebrated until his 70th birthday in 1998. After that, the Disney company stopped holding official celebrations. It was felt that they made Mickey seem too old, and conflicted with his persona as a spry young fellow.
This seems like minor trivia. But what about the most important legend of all: how did Walt Disney decide to replace Oswald the Lucky Rabbit with a mouse after Oswald was taken away from him? Disney himself told different stories in different interviews and magazine articles. His wife Lillian came up with the idea during the train ride back to Hollywood after Disney lost Oswald in New York. Disney was inspired by a little mouse that crawled into his first animation studio in Kansas City. Disney, on a park bench, was inspired by a mouse raiding a garbage can. In a 1959 interview, Disney came closest to the truth:
“We had to create a new character in a hurry to survive. And find a market for it. We canvassed all the animal characters we thought suitable for the movie fable fashion of the time. All the good ones – the ones that would have instant appeal and would be comparatively easy to draw – seemed to have been pre-empted by the other companies in the cartoon animal field. Finally, a mouse was suggested, debated and put on the drawing boards as the best bet. That was Mickey.” (p. 5) Korkis quotes Ub Iwerks’ son Dave as saying in a 1978 interview published in Family Weekly: “Mickey was not born on that [train] ride, as per legend. He was created at a drawing board in Los Angeles. Father drew many characters, one of which was a mouse. Whether Walt suggested [draw a mouse] is in doubt.” (p. 33)
The Book of Mouse covers the many questions that fans have asked over the years, and the different answers that Walt or the Disney company have given plus the official answer as of 2013. How tall is Mickey, personally (about 3 feet) and in relation to other Disney characters like Donald and Goofy? (He was often shown as mouse-sized in the early years before his size was standardized.) Where does Mickey live? The fictional Mouseton, very near Donald’s Duckberg, although during the late 1930s and early 1940s the answer was usually Burbank, California, where the Disney studios had just moved. (When the company decided in the late 1980s to name a fictional city, it was all set to call it Mouseville when some executive noticed that Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse; The New Adventures had just begun on TV, and Mighty Mouse lived in a Mouseville. It was quickly changed to Mouseton.) Are Mickey and Minnie Mouse married? No, although there were several high-profile weddings as part of publicity campaigns over the years. Why does Mickey wear three-fingered white gloves? Why does Mickey sometimes wear just red short pants and sometimes appear fully dressed? Why were Mickey’s short pants originally green? Why … why ... why …?
Korkis also covers non-Disney information. When and why did “to mickey-mouse around” develop as negative slang? Is it true that Operation Mickey Mouse was the U.S. Army’s code name for the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944? (No, but “Mickey Mouse” was the password for the secret officers’ briefing just before the invasion of Normandy.) Dwight Stones, a track and field athlete at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, regularly wore Mickey Mouse T-shirts.
There is information on the first Mickey Mouse authorized merchandise, the Disney Dollars used at Disneyland, and the U. S. Post Office’s Disney cartoon character postage stamps (but the first appearance of Mickey Mouse on a postage stamp was in San Marino in 1970). The early plans for a Mickey Mouse theme park that grew into Disneyland are discussed. The Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip, the radio program of the 1930s, the 1930s and 1950s Mickey Mouse Clubs, and more are documented. The pièce de résistence of the book is the “Mickey Mouse Annotated Filmography (1928-2013)” on pages 173-222, which lists not only every Mickey Mouse theatrical and television production, but also the non-Disney features that included authorized Mickey Mouse guest appearances. There are separate sections in the book on planned Mickey Mouse cartoons that were cancelled, and unauthorized appearances of Mickey Mouse in counterculture anti-war and other protest cartoons.
The back-cover blurb is headlined “(Almost) Everything You Wanted To Know About Mickey Mouse!” Yes, after several minutes of wracking my brain, I thought of a couple of things that are not covered here. But they are really minor trivia. For all the questions that the average animation buff and Disney fan will have about Mickey Mouse, they are answered in The Book of Mouse. Jim Korkis has fulfilled his goals, and then some.
Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945). He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom. He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996. A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.