Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Neal Gabler on Walt Disney
I attended Neal Gabler's talk about his biography of Walt Disney tonight at Politics and Prose. Gabler's an animated speaker, and blew his alloted time, but nobody except the staff cared because he was entertaining. He also is so animated that he didn't stay at the microphone, so there won't be a recording sold of this one. I took a few notes though.
Gabler began by stating that he was "not one of the people who worship at the alter of Walt Disney," but that he was interested in people who "shape the American conciousness particularly in popular culture. I call them architects of American conciousness."
"No one is neutral about Walt Disney. There is no middle ground with Walt Disney... The two great visual imaginations of the 20th century -- I think of Picasso and Walt Disney."
The book took seven years of work with open access to the Disney archives under archivist Dave Smith. "It was seven years of work because The Walt Disney Company finally did open the archives for me. There was no quid pro quo and I couldn't have accepted one." Apparently Howard Green, a PR vice president at Disney thought enough time had passed to have perspective...
The archives revealed that "Walt Disney, for better or worse was a packrat.. So when you go into the archives you will find things no one else would have retained." Gabler attributed this to Disney's sense of his own importance and destiny. Gabler said that he does research in chronological order to try to follow the story and maintain the suspense. While we all know Disney was a success, Disney didn't know he would be and reading his letters in order gives a better feel for his life.
Disney was a control-freak at his studio which he owned. He was the only one who issued memos on blue paper, so everyone knew what came from him. "Walt Disney's word is holy writ at the Walt Disney Co. Walt Disney was not a collaborative artist. He was a fellow who had a vision in his head and asked people to realize the visions."
Gabler related a few stories from the book, which has gotten gotten excellent reviews in the Washington Post and New York Timeswhich did two reviews a month apart. The Times also recommended the book as an Editor's Choice. And Reuters reviewed it and labelled it a 'literary triumph.'
At the end, in response to a question, in his opinion, the studio never completely recovered after the bitter 1941 strike, but "I think Pinnochio is the apex of animation. That opinion's not in the book so you've gotten something new tonight."
And for some reason Amazon France has an English 10 Second Interview: A Few Words with Neal Gabler.