Posted by: Tyler Mills | March 13, 2012

Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas

This is probably one of the best biographies I have ever read. Bob Thomas’s background in journalism shines through in the concise, detailed prose. He quite simply says what there is to say, leaving the qualities and the vices of the man openly visible without judgment. I was amazed to learn about the hardships of Walt Disney’s youth. It was also incredible to consider his remarkable career: the ascent from his beginnings as a young man with little more than curiosity, energy, and a talent for drawing and the peak of his career as the founder and leader of the greatest family entertainment company in the world. And to think it all began with a mouse…

One of my favorite parts of this biography was learning the valuable lessons that Walt Disney learned throughout his career and adopted as the policy of his organizations. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) A friend of Walt’s speaking about some big movie producers who refused to pick up some cartoons said: “Those guys don’t know what good is until the public tells them.” Walt took this advice to heart and time and again took his product to the public and shot down all the naysayers and hum-hawers who doubted him.

2) After the immense success of Walt’s Three Little Pigs cartoon in 1933 the executives who had distributed the cartoon wanted him to create sequels. Walt grudgingly did so, and though they were well received, they never reached the heights of the original. Afterwards Walt said: “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” and so it became his mantra. Perhaps Walt Disney’s greatest accomplishments was his constant drive for raising the stakes and innovation toward the future. When his cartoons were at their peak Walt Disney was obsessed with creating an animated feature film. When Disney had mastered their animated films Walt turned his eye toward live action movies and TV, and then toward Disneyland. He was obsessed with quality and insisted that if the product was good enough the public would return their investment. He was nearly always right, and never more so than with Disneyland.

3)In the final weeks of his life Walt returned to work after having serious surgery. His previously boundless energy was flagging, and it showed when he was working at the studio, learning the progress of the various projects and offering advice on scripts and what have you. To one of his producers he offered advice that to me summed up what by then was decades of experience: “The story’s the most important thing. Once you’ve got the story, then everything else’ll fall into place.” As a writer I found that very interesting.

Walt Disney’s life story is truly an above-and-beyond telling of the American Dream. This book tells it well. I highly recommend it.

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