Jim Korkis is “the” unofficial Disney historian. He has been interested in Walt Disney and Disneyana all his life. He grew up in Glendale, California, next to Burbank where the Disney studio is located. At the age of 12 he began phoning the animators to ask how they made cartoons, and for their stories of Working With Walt; even then taking full notes, often with a tape recorder. In 1995 he got what to him was a dream job with the Walt Disney Company. He worked there for over a dozen years, and took the opportunity to go through the company’s records and to interview more artists and Imagineers for their reminiscences about what it was like to work with Walt and the company in the 1930s onward. Many of those stories were of the kind that the company’s modern publicity department would never allow in officially-approved books about Walt and the studio.
When Korkis finally left the company, he began putting those stories into print, without the company’s censorship but without its cooperation (which is one reason why the books have been unillustrated – the company has to approve the publication of Disney pictures). The Vault of Walt was published in October 2010, and although it never got the company’s approval, it has gotten plenty of unofficial approval and high marks for accuracy from those old-timers. He became a friend of Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller; she wrote the foreword for The Revised Vault of Walt. And he continued to collect Disney stories. The Vault of Walt sold well enough that when the time came to reprint it, Korkis and Theme Park Press instead released The Revised Vault of Walt (December 2012), which added five additional stories.
Now they have published the all-new Volume 2, “MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told.” It includes twenty-eight stories about Walt Disney, the Disney films, and the theme parks. To quote the book’s publicity, it contains among other stories:
- A ride through EPCOT's Spaceship Earth for a closer look at graffiti, bare breasts, and evil twins.
- The bare-knuckles battle between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers over Mary Poppins.
- The real story of The Jungle Cruise, what Humphrey Bogart had to do with it, and how Walt once got cheated by an impatient skipper.
- The life-long hatred between Walt and Bugs Bunny creator Friz Freleng over a boil on Freleng's butt.
- How Roy O. Disney took over a demoralized company after his brother Walt's death and built a fantasyland from swampland.
- Why even the mention of a dismal cartoon that Walt created in the 1930s drove him to fury.
There are also a select bibliography and an index.
Korkis presents a “warts and all” (as Oliver Cromwell demanded to be depicted) portrait of Walt Disney, as a realistic human and a tough boss rather than either the kindly “Uncle Walt” presented to the public by Disney himself (he did not hesitate to lie to promote his self-image) and the company after his death, or as the foul-mouthed, anti-Black and anti-Semitic bigot that many today believe him to have been. For example, the “life-long hatred” between Disney and Isadore “Friz” Freleng did not start until 1927. Freleng grew up in Kansas City where Disney’s first studio was in the early 1920s, and although he did not work for Disney then, he was well-enough known as a cartoonist to some of Disney’s other animators that Disney sent him an offer of employment if he would relocate to Los Angeles. Disney and Freleng got into a personality clash almost from the beginning, but the incident that got Freleng fired did not happen until several months after he began working as a Disney animator. Most importantly, it had nothing to do with Freleng’s Jewish faith, and it illustrates that today’s urban legend about Disney being a Jew-hater who never hired a Jew during his lifetime was never true.
The Vault of Walt, Volume 2 is a collection of short chapters averaging four to eight pages each. There are seven stories about Disney personally, seven about Disney’s cartoon and live-action features and shorts (films made during Disney’s lifetime), seven about the Disney theme parks, and a miscellanea of seven such as “Why Frank Lloyd Wright Hated Fantasia” and “Roy O. Disney: The Forgotten Brother Who Built a Magic Kingdom”. The stories are written in a chatty, often humorous, easy-to-read style. They are mostly ephemera, little incidents that illustrate the more general stories about Disney the person, his films, and his theme parks, but they are informative and fun to read.
More importantly, they present the truth at a time when Walt Disney is fading into mythology. Korkis says, “Today, most of Walt’s accomplishments are forgotten. When the Disney Company decided to celebrate what would have been Walt’s 100th birthday in 2001 as part of a year-long ‘Hundred Years of Magic’ promotion in their parks, they were shocked to discover through their many surveys what most college students really thought about Walt Disney. They thought that he was either like Betty Crocker, a completely fictional icon created to represent the company, or Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, an old man who started the company but had no day-to-day influence on it and was a figurehead who made occasional appearances.” (pgs. 2-3) This book is highly recommended to anyone with a “behind the scenes” interest in the real Disney and Disneyana.
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.