It was a great mixer line in the early 60s at the bus stop, kids’ birthday parties, or any gathering of kids for that matter. Instant, but shallow, popularity. After that one truth, I could make up whatever lies I wanted and they would believe me.
“Do you know Annette Funicello?”
“I go to the movies with her.”
“Do you get to go to Disneyland for free?”
“Whenever I want to, even in the middle of the night.”
The real fact is, I became a serious “Disneyologist”. I researched the twists and turns of every new ride at Disneyland, the detail of each new animated film that came out, the comic books, the records my Dad, who had become President of the Walt Disney Music Company, made. I followed everything obsessively at my childhood level that my father was helping to create at his level of the Walt Disney Studios.
When Walt re-released Fantasia to great success, I took my little Super8 movie camera and made Neo-Fantasia with my Dad; when Walt needed boy scout extras for his film Follow Me Boys with Fred MacMurray and Kurt Russell, I became a boy scout and marched in the color guard following Fred’s car through the fake town on the back lot of the studio; when my dad needed kids’ voices for his storyteller records, guess who got to play the kids?!
Of course, the real stories of what my father went through to “bring home the bacon” and launch so many aspects of Walt Disney’s dreams I only learned much later, many of them by reading his autobiography, Inside the Whimsy Works. Because that’s all we had of him when I was old enough to ask adult questions.
Why did Walt Disney create Disneyland? How did Annette Funicello become a pop star? Why was every boy in the world suddenly wearing coonskin caps in 1955? How did a full-blown musical appear out of children’s books about an English nanny named Mary Poppins?
Thirty-eight years after his passing, his autobiography is part of Disney history and has just been published. Dad was a writer. He wrote novels, screenplays, short stories, poems, and in the last year of his life, this readable little volume—his mouse-eyed view of how Disney became Disney.
Join me on July 17 at the Queens Library for the inside story. We’ll discuss the Mouskateers, Annette, Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, Mary Poppins stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, and relive opening day of that revolutionary amusement park, Disneyland. We’ll meet a cast of characters who helped this iconic American success story blossom from the ground up—inside the whimsy works. — Grey Johnson