New books and magazine offer different peeks at Disneyland's past
By Jim Hill
Given the continuing uproar over Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride (After I posted that piece about this much maligned attraction at JHM last week, I received a record number of hate e-mails. So it's pretty clear that that column really struck a nerve with at least some of you folks), it's obvious that quite a number of you long for the good old days.
You know, back when the Anaheim theme park was new? When Disneyland was still considered the crown jewel of the Disney Corporation? Which meant that the park was always kept in pristine condition.
Well, if you'd like to be reminded of what "The Happiest Place on Earth" was really like 'way back then, then you might want to pick up a copy of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland ... The Beginning" (Ape Pen Publishing, July 2003). For -- inside this book's covers -- you'll find another wide selection of Mell Kilpatrick's great photographs of the park. Which will give you an idea for what Disneyland was really like back in the early days (1954 - 1961).
Now -- of course - a lot of you are (no doubt) probably already familiar with Thie's earlier books: "A Photographer's Life with Disney Under Construction," "Disney's Early Years Through the Eyes of a Photographer" and "Disney Years Seen Through a Photographer's Lens." If not ... well, I reviewed all three of Carlene's previous Disneyland photo collection books for JimHillMedia.com a month or so back. You can read that mostly positive story.
Anyway ... as I said in that review, Thie's "Disneyland Under Construction" books have gotten better and better as each new volume has been added to the series. But with "Disneyland ... The Beginning," Carlene's publishing project takes a real step-up in quality. Why for? Well, this time around, Thie has supplemented her grandfather's killer photographs with some truly fun essays from Disney Company vets.
So, who's contributed stories and memories to "Disneyland ... The Beginning?" Would you believe Walt's own daughter, Diane Disney Miller? Diane contributes a foreword to the book where she recalls that her father told Miller to stay away from Disneyland on the park's official opening day. Why for? Because Walt was sure that the Anaheim theme park would "be a mess" on July 18th.
Carlene also persuaded veteran Imagineers like Sam McKim, Bob Gurr, Harriet Burns, Rolly Crump and Alice Davis to contribute essays to the book. Harriet has some particularly funny stories to pass along in "Disneyland ... The Beginning." Burns recalled that -- on the day before Disneyland opened -- "We took props down to Anaheim and found construction rubble and rolls of wire everywhere. Everyone said 'No way can they open tomorrow.'" But -- 24 hours later -- "... everything looked perfect. As the landscapers planted all night."
Fold in an additional essay by Art Linkletter ... plus (for the first time ever in the "Disneyland Under Construction" series) color photographs of the park ... and perhaps you'll see why picking up a copy of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland ... The Beginning" might be a smart move for all you Disneyana bibliophiles out there.
On the other hand, if you're one of those folks who believes that Disneyland was at its best in the early 1970s, then you might want to chase down a copy of Firoozeh Dumas's "Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America" (Villard Books, June 2003). For this charming collection of essays offers a unique look at the park circa 1972.
You see, Firoozeh wasn't your typical Disneyland tourist. Her family moved from Abadan, Iran to Whittier, California in the early 1970s. And her father, Kazem (an engineer for the National Iranian Oil Company) just loved America. Particularly the country's theme parks.
Which is why -- every weekend -- the Dumas family would pile into the car and head off to Marine World or Knotts Berry Farms. But -- of all the theme parks in Southern California -- Kazem's absolute favorite was Disneyland.
Why for? Well, to quote Firoozeh:
"My father believed that Walt Disney was a genius, a man whose vision allowed everyone, regardless of age, to relive the wonderment of childhood. Ask my father what he considers to be man's greatest creation in the twentieth century and he won't say computers, the Concorde, or knee replacement surgery. For him, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' represented the pinnacle of man's creative achievement. No matter how many times my father goes on that ride, he remains as impressed as a Disneyland virgin. 'Did you see that pirate leg hanging over the bridge? Could somebody remind me that it wasn't real? And the battle between the ships, geez, was I the only one ready to duck and cover? What kind of a man would think of creating something like this? A genius, that's who.' I doubt that even Walt Disney's mother felt as much pride in her son as my father did."
Firoozeh's family went back to Disneyland so often that her father began acting as sort of a defacto tour guide / theme park authority for all of his Iranian colleagues. Given the number of times that the Dumases went back to the Anaheim theme park, the author began to grow a bit bored with Disneyland ... which is why she gave her family the slip one day and ...
No! It won't be fair to spoil the fun of the rest of that story. Or any of the other wonderfully witty essays that you'll find in "Funny in Farsi." Let's just say that Firoozeh Dumas' memoir of growing up in U.S. just before the hostage crisis came along and changed forever how most Americans viewed Iranians is a real eye opener. A funny, wise if somewhat bittersweet tale that I think you'll really enjoy reading.
I should probably point out here -- even though Firoozeh appears with Mickey Mouse on the front cover of her memoir -- Disneyland and Disney-related stories actually take up a relatively small portion of "Funny in Farsi." Mind you, this book is still very much worth reading. It's just not as chock full of Disney stories as its cover might imply.
However, what IS absolutely chock full of Disneyland and Disney-related info is the latest issue of "The 'E' Ticket" magazine. Leon and Jack Janzen have done it again, gang. I would have thought -- given that this is Issue No. 40 of their fine fanzine -- that these guys would have finally begun to run out of great behind-the-scene stories to tell about "The Happiest Place on Earth." But the Janzens must someone be related to the Energizer Bunny. For they just keep going and going and going ...
Now -- just to be fair -- I should say that this issue of "The 'E' Ticket" DOES touch on subject matter that Leon and Jack have previously covered in Issue 14 of their amazing magazine. Namely Tomorrowland's old "Adventure Thru Inner Space" attraction. But this story about the Mighty Microscope isn't a rerun. But -- rather -- an all-new article that features color photographs as well as never-before-seen concept art. So I seriously doubt that Leon & Jack are going to hear any complaints from Disneyana fans.
Also included in this issue is a great interview with Art Linkletter (who reveals here that he actually tried to talk Walt out of building Disney World. Arguing that there is only one Niagara Falls, one Pyramids ... so there should be only one Disneyland) as well as an article about Disney collector extraordinaire Richard Kraft. (Wait 'til you see what this guy has in his Disneyana collection. A really-for-real Frontierland canoe. A "Dumbo the Flying Elephant" car. A WDW Skyway bucket. A "Mr. Toad" car. As well as an authentic Disneyland keelboat.)
All this -- plus a rather touching tribute to late Imagineer David Mumford -- makes the Fall 2003 issue of "The 'E' Ticket" a magazine that every serious Disneyana fan should have a copy of. Pick this issue up today by ordering a copy through the Janzen's website. Or -- better yet -- by subscribing to this fine periodical. You can find out how to do that at "The 'E' Ticket" website.
Oh, before I forget, if you'd like to get a copy of "Disneyland ... The Beginning," you can order one directly from Ape Pen Publishing or by calling the publisher directly at 1-951-818-3694. (If I'm remembering correctly, the LaughingPlace.com store also has several copies currently available for purchase. So -- if you'd like to do some comparison shopping on this Mel Kilpatrick / Carlene Thie book -- you can do so at their site.)
Finally, if you'd like to purchase a copy of Firoozeh Dumas's "Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America," you can do so via our Amazon.com link below.
Okay. That's enough books and magazine reviews for today. Now -- if you'll excuse me -- I've got to get started on tomorrow's "Why For" column.