“The Churning, Extravagant, Perfectionist Imagination of” Walt Disney

(p. A15) As understatements go, this one’s a doozy. Its source was Roy Disney, the less heralded, less handsome and—as gleaned from Richard Snow’s richly engaging “Disney’s Land”—less headstrong brother of Walt Disney. Since 1923, Roy had been the business brains of the Disney company was no stranger to his kid brother’s “screwy ideas.” But when he was informed after the war that his sibling had been, over his objections, slyly seeking funds to develop his own amusement park, Roy’s response was: “Junior’s got his hand in the cookie jar again.”

. . .

. . . when Roy first happened upon his brother’s maneuvering, amusement parks were passé at best, crime-ridden at worst and financial sinkholes at their core. Walt, having hired the Stanford Research Institute for a feasibility study, was told that he would fail if his park didn’t include such proven winners as a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and games of chance—none of which Walt wanted cluttering his dreamscape.

Joining the chorus of dissent was Walt’s wife, Lillian. She had tolerated her hobbyist-husband taking over her backyard rose garden with his steam locomotive, but she “raised the dickens” (Walt’s words) when her perennially boyish 52-year-old spouse told her that he had sold their desert vacation home and borrowed $250,000 against his life insurance so that he could seed his plans for the sort of enterprise that looked to be, as she put it, “not fun at all for grown-ups.”

. . .

Roy, Mr. Snow acknowledges, “never lost his calm understanding that the company’s prosperity rested not on the rock of conventional business practices, but on the churning, extravagant, perfectionist imagination of his younger brother.” For Walt’s part, he is quoted saying in 1957, just as Disneyland was making him rich, that “if it hadn’t been for my big brother, I swear I’d’ve been in jail several times for checks bouncing.”

For the full review, see:

Stephen M. Silverman. “BOOKSHELF; A Day in the Park With Walt.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 13, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 12, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Disney’s Land’ Review: A Day in the Park With Walt.”)

The book under review, is:

Snow, Richard. Disney’s Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World. New York: Scribner, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *