“Can We Stay Forever?”

(p. A8) “Anyone who knew my mom knew Disney was her happy place,” said Jodie Jackson Wells, a business coach in Boca Raton, Fla., who in 2009 smuggled a pill bottle containing her mother’s ashes into Walt Disney World.

Once inside, Ms. Wells helped spread ashes on the platform of It’s a Small World near a head-spinning bird, a moment in the ride that always made her mother laugh. Later in the day, overcome with grief, Ms. Wells hopped over the barricade surrounding the lawn outside Cinderella’s castle and ran across the grass, flinging them as she crossed.

“I had two fistfuls of the ashes and I literally leapt like I was a dancer,” she said.

. . .

Caryn Reker of Jacksonville, Fla., remembers her father growing emotional while watching the Wishes fireworks show outside the ice-cream parlor on Disney World’s Main Street. When time came for her to spread his ashes, in 2006, she opted to do it in numerous spots around the area.

“It’s a sweet way to giggle and remember—he’s here. . . and there. . . and a little over there. . . yep, there, too,” she wrote in an email. She returned to Disney World last week to spread the ashes of her brother, an Epcot enthusiast who died this year.

. . .

Shanon Himebrook, a 41-year-old state-government employee from Kansas City, Mo., grew up making summer trips to Disney World with her father, a worker at a plastic factory in Indiana.

At Disney, “he wasn’t my tired, graveyard-shift Dad,” she said. “He was, ‘Let’s get you the Mouse ears! Let’s get your name stitched in it!’ It’s like, ‘I love this dad! Can we stay forever?’”

Ms. Himebrook spread his ashes earlier this year near the park gates.

. . .

Kym Pessolano DeBarth, a 47-year-old optometrist-office worker from Northfield, N.J., dumped a small amount of her mother’s ashes in the water underneath It’s a Small World. “I didn’t want to clog the filter,” she said.

In December [2018], she’ll return to the park to commemorate the 15th anniversary of her mother’s death.

“Instead of going to a grave,” she said, “I go to Disney World.”

For the full story, see:

Erich Schwartzel. “Disney World Has a Secret: Family Ashes.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: bracketed year, and ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal to a sentence, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 24, 2018, and has the title “Disney World’s Big Secret: It’s a Favorite Spot to Scatter Family Ashes.”)

Michael Barrier Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Walt Disney has been written about as an artist and an entrepreneur. The central virtue of Art Diamond’s book is that he not only writes about Disney in both roles, but he also explains how Disney’s success in each role strengthened his success in the other.

Michael Barrier, animation historian. Author of The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, and other works

Barrier’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Hollywood Should Respond When “the Audience Starts Voting with Their Feet”

(p. C1) Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Heading into the holidays, there still was no host for the 2019 Academy Awards, following the withdrawal of Kevin Hart over his controversial Twitter history. Next year’s ceremony will be the 30th anniversary of the last time the Oscars went emcee-free, in 1989.
The telecast’s producer, Allan Carr (“Grease,” “Can’t Stop the Music”), tried to fill the void by staging a kitschy opening number that is now considered the most cringe-worthy moment in awards-show history: Rob Lowe’s duet with Snow White on a reworked version of “Proud Mary.” (Sample lyric: “I used to work a lot for Walt Disney, starring in cartoons every night and day.”)
“It’s fitting and proper that we continue to honor the dark and tragic event that befell our nation 30 years later,” Lowe deadpanned. “I’m particularly looking forward to the candlelight vigils.”
. . .
(p. C6) Do you think the Oscars learned a lesson from this debacle?
[Sarcastically] It’s always been a huge relief to me that after Snow White, the Oscars got their act together and avoided any further controversy and embarrassment. By the way, it’s basically a show that nobody wants to do. It’s really sad. But honestly, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.
Why do you say that?
Making movies is about the audience, and when the audience starts voting with their feet, like they have been, only people who take themselves so seriously and self-reverentially would be incapable of making the kind of changes that one would need to make to be relevant to the times.

For the full story, see:
Bruce Fretts. “‘Rob Lowe Has A Last Laugh At the Oscars.” The New York Times (Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018): C1 & C6.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original online version.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 21, 2018, and has the title “Rob Lowe on Dancing With Snow White and Getting the Last Laugh.” The bold questions are by Bruce Fretts. The answers that follow are by Rob Lowe.)

Disneyland Opened in “Confusion,” “Disorder,” and “Chaos”

(p. B11) On the mid-July day in 1955 when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Calif., confusion reigned. More people stormed its grounds than expected, rides broke down, food and beverage supplies ran short, and a plumbers’ strike limited the number of working water fountains.
Out in the park that afternoon, amid the disorder, was Marty Sklar, a 21-year-old college junior who was editing the theme park’s 10-cent newspaper. At one point Fess Parker, in full costume as Disney’s television and big-screen Davy Crockett, complete with coonskin cap, approached him on horseback.
Spotting Mr. Sklar’s name tag, Mr. Parker called out for help.
“Marty,” he said, “get me out of here before this horse hurts someone!”
Disneyland recovered well from the early chaos. And Mr. Sklar went on to spend more than a half-century at the Walt Disney Company, as a close aide to Walt Disney himself and eventually as the principal creative executive of the company’s Imagineering unit, made up of the innovators who blend their imaginations and their technical expertise in devising every element of the company’s theme parks.
. . .
He soon became Mr. Disney’s chief ghostwriter for publicity materials, dedications, souvenir guides, speeches, slogans, presentations and short films, like the one that helped the company win approval to build Walt Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. He also collaborated with Walt and his brother, Roy, on Disney’s annual reports.
“It was pretty heady stuff for someone just closing in on his 30th birthday and only six or seven years out of college,” Mr. Sklar wrote in his autobiography, “Dream It! Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” (2013).

For the full obituary, see:
Richard Sandomir. “Marty Sklar Dies at 83; Became Trusted Aide And Executive at Disney.” The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 4, 2017): B11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 3, 2017, and has the title “Marty Sklar, Longtime Disney Aide and Executive, Dies at 83.”)

Sklar’s autobiography, mentioned above, is:
Sklar, Martin. Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2013.

Revival of the Resilient Brer Rabbit

(p. C23) When Robert Weil, the editor in chief and publishing director of Liveright, approached Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar with the idea of putting together “The Annotated African American Folktales,” the two Harvard professors responded with a mix of excitement and trepidation.
. . .
“The Annotated African American Folktales,” which came out in November [2017], contains more than 100 African and African-American folk tales as well as introductory essays and commentary to provide historical context. It draws from the rich, undersung work of folklorists from West Africa to the Deep South.
. . .
Professors Gates and Tatar . . . tackle controversial parts of folklore history, dedicating a chapter to the work of Joel Chandler Harris.
. . .
The decision to include Harris’s work in this collection produced lively discussions between Mr. Gates and Ms. Tatar. “I felt uncomfortable with it,” Ms. Tatar said. But Mr. Gates disagreed. The exchange proved to be a key moment of collaboration.
“In my house, growing up in Piedmont, West Virginia, we collected Mother Goose and Joel Chandler Harris,” he said. “My father used to tell Brer Rabbit stories to my brother and me all the time.”
. . .
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, African-Americans debated whether these folk tales were worth preserving. Some people considered the stories remnants of slavery rather than evidence of ingenuity.
The novelist Toni Morrison, however, has played an important role in validating these stories by integrating them into her writing, Ms. Tatar said.
While Ms. Morrison’s novels contain traces of innovative uses of folklore, “Tar Baby” is the most obvious and the one Mr. Gates was particularly eager to include in this collection. Not only is it one of his favorite stories but he also finds the appearance of the tar baby in many cultures “haunting.” The original folk tale is the story of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. Angry that Brer Rabbit is always stealing from his garden, Brer Fox makes a tar baby. Brer Rabbit comes across the figure and tries to start a conversation. He grows frustrated by the lack of response and hits the tar baby, only to find his paw stuck in what is a doll made of tar and turpentine.
. . .
Folk tales give us “ancestral wisdom,” they teach children lessons about compassion, forgiveness and respect, said Ms. Tatar. They take us “back to the people who lived before us.” They help us “navigate the future.”
Mr. Gates couldn’t agree more. He has dedicated this labor of love to his 3-year-old granddaughter. He wants the book to be not just for her and black children of her generation, but for all American children.

For the full commentary, see:
LOVIA GYARKYE. “Folklore Reclaimed From History’s Dustbin.” The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 15, 2017): C23.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 14, 2017, and has the title “From Two Scholars, African-American Folk Tales for the Next Generation.”)

The book by Gates and Tatar, is:
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Maria ‎Tatar, eds. The Annotated African American Folktales. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2017.

The book by Joel Chandler Harris, is:
Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895.

Disney Stories Give Happiness to the Poor

(p. 1B) If the arts community had been blossoming in north Omaha when Adrienne Brown-Norman was growing up there in the 1960s and ’70s, she may never have moved to California and become a senior illustrator for Disney Publishing Worldwide.
. . .
“Of course, though, I would not ever have met Floyd.”
That would be her husband, Floyd Norman, the now-legendary first African-American artist at Walt Disney Studios.
Floyd Norman, 82, began working for Disney in 1956 and was named a Disney Legend in 2007.
. . .
The Normans recently collaborated with legendary songwriter Richard Sherman (“Mary (p. 5B) Poppins”) on a picture book called “A Kiss Goodnight.”
The book tells the story of how the young Walt Disney was enchanted by fireworks and subsequently chose to send all of his Magic Kingdom guests home with a special kiss goodnight of skyrockets bursting overhead.
. . .
Walt Disney later picked Norman to join the team writing the script for “The Jungle Book.” Disney had seen Norman’s gags posted around the office and recognized a talented storyteller.
“I didn’t think I was a writer, but the old man did,” Norman said. “Then I realized that maybe I am good at this.”
Norman named “The Jungle Book” as his favorite project, because he worked alongside Disney.
. . .
“What I learned from the old man was the technique of storytelling and what made a movie work,” Norman said.
“I had an amazing opportunity to learn from the master. If you were in the room with Walt, it was for a reason. There are a lot of people who wanted to be in that room but didn’t get an invitation.”
. . .
One day at the studio the Normans recall pausing to watch the filming of “Saving Mr. Banks,” the story of Disney’s quest to acquire the rights to film “Mary Poppins.” Norman had worked on the movie and was interested in seeing Tom Hanks’ portrayal of his old boss.
“Tom Hanks rushed from his trailer in full costume to meet Floyd, shouting, ‘Where is that famous animator?’ ” Brown-Norman said. “You don’t expect a man like Tom Hanks to come running up. Then Tom wouldn’t let us leave. He wanted to know more about Walt, and if he was getting it right.”
. . .
“What I enjoy is the love of Disney that made so many people happy,” [Floyd Norman] said. “Maybe they were poor. Maybe they were in a bad home, but they tell me Disney stories gave them an escape. They gave them happiness, and that’s what I like.”

For the full story, see:

Kevin Cole. “Legendary Animator Spread Love of Disney.” Omaha World-Herald (Mon., Aug. 7, 2017): 1B & 5B.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “During Native Omaha Days, Disney’s Floyd Norman and Adrienne Brown-Norman reflect on careers.”)

The book mentioned above, co-authored by Sherman (and illustrated by the Normans), is:
Sherman, Richard, and Brittany Rubiano. A Kiss Goodnight. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2017.

Walt Disney “Tossed Out the Corporate Playbook”

(p. 4) Here is something that might surprise you: Walt Disney, that icon of American ingenuity, was in financial straits through most of his career. You probably thought he would have been a business genius — a model for others to study. But Disney was an atrocious businessman, constantly running his company into the ground. At the same time, though, he was a corporate visionary whose aversion to typical business practices led to the colossus that the Walt Disney Company became.
. . .
Disney could have expanded the company steadily, building on the success of Mickey Mouse. Instead, he placed a huge and highly risky bet on feature animation. “Snow White” was four years in production and cost over $2 million ($33.5 million in today’s dollars), most of it borrowed from Bank of America against the receipts of the cartoon shorts. The gamble paid off. “Snow White” earned nearly $7 million ($117 million today), most of which he immediately sank into a new studio headquarters in Burbank, Calif., and a slate of features.
. . .
He didn’t care one whit about money. Even his wife, Lillian, complained that she didn’t understand why he didn’t have more of it. After all, she said, he was Walt Disney. Had he not been the studio’s creative force, had the studio not been so closely identified with him, he almost certainly would have been ousted. As it was, both the bankers and his brother pressured him to rein in his ambitions and compromise on the quality of his films.
. . .
And though Disney’s capriciousness and constant reinvention of his company drove his brother and others crazy, it also kept re-energizing the Disney studio and led, in 1955, to Disneyland — a triumph that at last put the company on solid financial footing. Not incidentally, Disneyland sprang from another of Disney’s beliefs: that it was hard to wring greatness from a bureaucracy. He and his team designed the park as a separate entity from the studio, WED Enterprises.
None of this would have been possible without Roy Disney’s understanding that his primary job was to realize his brother’s dreams. He was the businessman whom Disney needed to deal with other businessmen. Walt Disney, at his core, was an artist who tossed out the corporate playbook and operated, as artists usually do, by inspiration. In the end, the company flourished precisely because Disney was such an indifferent businessman.

For the full commentary, see:
NEAL GABLER. “A Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 13, 2015): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 12, 2015, and has the title “Walt Disney, a Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse.”)

Some of what Gabler discusses in the commentary quoted above, is also discussed in his biography of Disney:
Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.