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The Animated Man

The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 411
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  • Book Info
    The Animated Man
    Book Description:

    Walt Disney (1901-1966) was one of the most significant creative forces of the twentieth century, a man who made a lasting impact on the art of the animated film, the history of American business, and the evolution of twentieth-century American culture. He was both a creative visionary and a dynamic entrepreneur, roles whose demands he often could not reconcile. In his compelling new biography, noted animation historian Michael Barrier avoids the well-traveled paths of previous biographers, who have tended to portray a blemish-free Disney or to indulge in lurid speculation. Instead, he takes the full measure of the man in his many aspects. A consummate storyteller, Barrier describes how Disney transformed himself from Midwestern farm boy to scrambling young businessman to pioneering artist and, finally, to entrepreneur on a grand scale. Barrier describes in absorbing detail how Disney synchronized sound with animation in Steamboat Willie; created in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs sympathetic cartoon characters whose appeal rivaled that of the best live-action performers; grasped television’s true potential as an unparalleled promotional device; and—not least—parlayed a backyard railroad into the Disneyland juggernaut. Based on decades of painstaking research in the Disney studio’s archives and dozens of public and private archives in the United States and Europe, The Animated Man offers freshly documented and illuminating accounts of Disney’s childhood and young adulthood in rural Missouri and Kansas City. It sheds new light on such crucial episodes in Disney’s life as the devastating 1941 strike at his studio, when his ambitions as artist and entrepreneur first came into serious conflict. Beginning in 1969, two and a half years after Disney’s death, Barrier recorded long interviews with more than 150 people who worked alongside Disney, some as early as 1922. Now almost all deceased, only a few were ever interviewed for other books. Barrier juxtaposes Disney’s own recollections against the memories of those other players to great effect. What emerges is a portrait of Walt Disney as a flawed but fascinating artist, one whose imaginative leaps allowed him to vault ahead of the competition and produce work that even today commands the attention of audiences worldwide.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94166-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “It’s All Me”
    (pp. 1-8)

    Walt Disney was angry. Very angry. A few years later, when he talked about this time in his life, tears would come, but on February 10, 1941, his eyes were dry, and his voice had a hard edge.

    He was speaking late that Monday afternoon in the theater at Walt Disney Productions’ sparkling new studio in Burbank, in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles. That studio had cost more than three million dollars, and an experienced Hollywood journalist wrote after a visit that it compared with any other film studio “as a model dairy to an old-fashioned...

  6. CHAPTER 1 “The Pet in the Family” On the Farm and in the City, 1901–1923
    (pp. 9-38)

    Marceline, Missouri, was a creature of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company. In 1886, when the railroad planned a direct line between Chicago and Kansas City, it needed a town a hundred miles northeast of Kansas City as a “division point” where its trains could take on fuel, water, and fresh crews. There was no town there—that part of Missouri was sparsely settled prairie—and so the Santa Fe created one. The first town lot was sold on January 28, 1888, and Marceline was incorporated on March 6. It was in its early years a rowdy sort...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “A Cute Idea” The Self-Taught Filmmaker, 1923–1928
    (pp. 39-67)

    As his father had on several occasions, Walt Disney responded to defeat by pulling up stakes. When bankruptcy arrived for Laugh-O-gram Films in October 1923, he had already decamped for California, probably in late July. As had been the case with Elias in 1906, Robert Disney was part of the lure—he had moved to Southern California in 1922 and gone into the real estate business¹—but so was Roy, since he was still hospitalized at Sawtelle.

    Los Angeles itself was a natural destination for a midwesterner like Disney, more so than New York. In the Los Angeles of the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “You’ve Got to Really Be Minnie” Building a Better Mouse, 1928–1933
    (pp. 68-99)

    Walt Disney and Carl Stalling disagreed over the music for the Disney cartoons almost from the day they began working together in Los Angeles in December 1928. “Walt was a person with no musical background at all,” Wilfred Jackson said. “He was also not a person to recognize any limitation as to what could be done. When he thought a piece of action should be extended or shortened somewhat beyond what would fit with some certain part of a piece of music, he expected his musician to just simply find some way or other to expand or shorten that part...

  9. CHAPTER 4 “This Character Was a Live Person” The Leap to Feature Films, 1934–1938
    (pp. 100-133)

    In March 1934, someone who signed himself “an animator” wrote to theHollywood Citizen-News:

    Walt Disney’s personal achievements, since the creation of Mickey, have been largely the use of his ability in the fields of production, business, publicity, and direction, rather than his actually doing any of the things to which his name is signed. He does not draw the newspaper strip, neither does he draw any of the movies. The entire operation is done by others under his direction. Although much credit is due Disney, a great deal must be given to the account of those who perform the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 “A Drawing Factory” Ambition’s Price, 1938–1941
    (pp. 134-167)

    By 1938, Walt Disney’s life resembled more closely the lives of other successful movie people. He and Lillian had begun visiting the desert resort of Palm Springs—he played polo there at first—and he was helping finance a ski resort, Sugar Bowl, near Lake Tahoe in Northern California. He was one of dozens of Hollywood celebrities who financed Hollywood Park, a new race track near Los Angeles.¹ From playing sandlot polo with members of his staff, he had graduated to playing the game with movie stars at the Riviera Country Club in Brentwood—at one point he owned nineteen...

  11. Plates
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER 6 “A Queer, Quick, Delightful Gink” On a Treadmill, 1941–1947
    (pp. 168-199)

    In the spring of 1941, under pressure from the Bank of America and the holders of preferred stock, Walt Disney Productions agreed to scale back its production costs to about fifteen thousand dollars a week. According to Walt Disney himself, that meant he had to hold the negative cost of new features to around $700,000, or one-third the cost ofPinocchioorFantasia.¹ Since labor costs made up 85 to 90 percent of Disney’s total costs, implementing such severe economies would mean laying off more than half the staff.

    Disney loyalists later promoted the idea that the studio had been...

  13. CHAPTER 7 “Caprices and Spurts of Childishness” Escaping from Animation, 1947–1953
    (pp. 200-234)

    Walt Disney was a founding member of a conservative organization called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals—others of its leaders included the directors Sam Wood, Norman Taurog, and Clarence Brown—which vowed its opposition to “the effort of Communist, Fascist, and other totalitarian-minded groups to pervert this powerful medium into an instrument for the dissemination of un-American ideas and beliefs.”¹ At the alliance’s first meeting at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 4, 1944, most of the speakers attacked only the Communists. Disney was present—and was elected as the organization’s first vice president—but...

  14. CHAPTER 8 “He Was Interested in Something Else” Escaping from Film, 1953–1959
    (pp. 235-269)

    For years, Disney had been visiting amusement parks and other attractions in the United States and Europe with at least half an eye toward what he could learn that would be useful in a park of his own. In the early 1950s, with a Disneyland on Riverside Drive a live possibility, he began looking more closely at such places.

    Bud Hurlbut, who owned a small “kiddieland” amusement park in El Monte, a suburb northeast of Los Angeles, told Chris Merritt of seeing Disney “kind of looking around at my rides. … I saw this man come on my property, and...

  15. CHAPTER 9 “Where I Am Happy” Restless in the Magic Kingdom, 1959–1965
    (pp. 270-300)

    In the 1960s, Walt Disney drove himself to work from Holmby Hills to Burbank, first in a Ford Thunderbird and then, from 1964 on, in a Mercedes-Benz 230 SL. His normal route took him right onto Carolwood Drive from his driveway, then left onto Sunset Boulevard, east toward Beverly Hills. He turned left onto Beverly Drive, soon bearing right at a V onto Coldwater Canyon Boulevard. From Coldwater he turned right onto the Ventura Freeway, recently completed across the San Fernando Valley, and headed east toward the Buena Vista Street exit in Burbank.¹

    He usually arrived at his studio by...

  16. CHAPTER 10 “He Drove Himself Right Up to the End” Dreaming of a Nightmare City, 1965–1966
    (pp. 301-318)

    Even before Disneyland opened, Walt Disney identified Florida as the only possible location for a second version of the park. “You have to have a year-round business to make money from such a large investment,” he told Bob Thomas in the spring of 1955. “The only other place it would be possible is Florida. In the East, you could get only three or four profitable months.”¹

    Late in 1959, Disney’s WED Enterprises and Buzz Price’s Economic Research Associates prepared what Price later described as “an economic and physical master plan for the City of Tomorrow at Palm Beach, Florida, on...

  17. AFTERWORD: “Let’s Never Not Be a Silly Company”
    (pp. 319-326)

    When the Carousel of Progress was installed at Disneyland a few months after Walt Disney’s death, visitors who had just watched that revolving Audio-Animatronics show were directed next to an upper floor, where they saw a huge model of “Progress City”—Walt Disney’s EPCOT. The model, built to a scale of one-eighth inch to the foot, filled 6,900 square feet, held 20,000 miniature trees, 4,500 structures lit from within, and 1,400 working street lights, each about an inch tall.¹

    That was as close as EPCOT ever came to being built. Not long after Disney’s death, Marvin Davis recalled, “there was...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 327-378)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 379-393)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 394-394)