Skip directly to content

The World of Walt

Richard Schickel is a prominent movie historian, film critic, and documentary film maker. He was awarded a degree from the American Film Institute as well as the William K. Everson Award. Having written 37 books, he achieved the Guggenheim Fellowship and has lectured at Yale University. Schickel's other works include Woody Allen: A Life in Film, Clint Eastwood: A Biography, and The World of Carnegie Hall.

The book The Disney Version: the life, times, art, and commerce of Walt Disney, written by Richard Schickel presents a detailed biographical portrayal that spans from Disney's vexations to his prosperity. The book covers necessary components of Walt's life beginning with his rough childhood and ending with a review of his unpredicted traits that he had picked up over the span of his career. Disney's world wide animations have become timeless and ageless. Spawning from issues with his Father, Elias Disney, Walt became very observant of his money and his creations.  The author establishes his clear perspective that Walt was essentially an entrepreneur and had one main goal: expanding. The book describes Disney's trials and tribulations that mold him into the tycoon that he was.

Walt Disney's most mind-blowing achievement was his ability to die still with complete control of his ever expanding empire. Schickel's in-depth connection with that and his childhood shows Disney's ability to connect his life with his art, leading a life of growth and improvement. Walt Disney grew up on a farm which had, in retrospect, a fantastic effect on him at a young age,  "In the best American Tradition, they taught young Walter Disney the virtues of hard work, or if not that, at least the idea that one could stand the strain of hard labor without breaking under it."1 Disney did not receive any encouragement from his family but received some from others on rare occasions. A doctor asked him to draw a stallion which came out horribly, yet the doctor encouraged him to keep on drawing. This meant a great deal to Disney who continued his art career by enrolling in different art classes. Disney's father was an avid contribution to Disney's distrust when it came to financial security. Richard reveals that Elias would tell Walt that he would keep his money for safe keeping, yet Walt would never see the money again. The book makes the connection to his business life, "his habit of distrust and his basic estrangement from people: they were qualities fundamental to his business style, enabling him to retain control of an enterprise that might easily have slipped away from a man of another sort."2 The book also exposes that Walt was physically abused by his father, for his father's entertainment. In order to escape his father, Walt joined the Navy and was sent to France to drive trucks. After the Navy, Walt got nothing but rejection from magazines that he applied to back home, so he decided to move to Kansas where he attempted to get a spot on the Kansas City Star. The book did a fine job on emphasizing Walt's rejection and poverty before the creation of Mickey Mouse. Disney's background was very similar to Hemingway's yet very different where it counted most. Schickel writes, "the difference between Disney and Hemingway can be simply put: the writer's father had enough influence to obtain through friends, a place for his son on the Star; Elias Disney did not."3 Schickel then goes on to speak about Disney's first job as a apprentice in a commercial art studio working for only $50 a month. Disney was so poor that his meals consisted of mostly beans, but when a Greek restaurant owner invited him for some food out of pity, he never forgot it. Once Disney had enough money he helped that Greek owner out of a financial crisis, showing his gratitude to those who helped him at his lowest times.

Schickel clearly portrays Disney in a rut, where the rest of Hollywood in the 1920's and 30's was not very interested in the animated scene. This led to Disney going into business for himself, and his first step towards that was renovating his Laugh-o-gram idea. He wanted to tweak his series of joke anthologies and try to get them played at local theaters. He had to do all the work himself, so he kept his ideas simple by using white stick figures on black backgrounds. Finally, the author presents a positive occurrence for Disney, a distributor named Charles Mintz was willing to finance Walt fifteen hundred dollars apiece for a series of Alice in Cartoon-land subjects. Walter's partner and brother Roy Disney was against the idea but since Disney insisted on expanding, he slowly gave in. The first Alice film produced was only one-third cartoon and Alice was integrated either by dreams or stories that she made up. The cartoons brought no real income, but Disney's need for technical perfection showed at a very early stage. He began hiring people, such as a camera man and UB Iwerks, who could draw. Most of his income was being dumped into the next animation. Around the time his brother was getting married, Walt believed he needed to get married also. He married Lillian Bounds, but when he was asked about his marriage, he was determinedly unromantic and unsentimental; "he thought his future bride was a good listener and that she would provide him with 'companionship,' he said."4 The book reveals that a man named George Winkler was strangely visiting the Disney's monthly. After a trip to visit Mintz, he was told that he must cut back his fees to eighteen hundred. When Disney refused, Mintz revealed that Winkler's trips were because he was instructed to integrate with as many employees as possible, bribing them and telling them to leave Disney. Walt was hurt by their willingness to leave but assured them that they would be replaced, and with that, a year later they were replaced with Walter Lantz on the Oswald series. The trip back from this fiasco was the beginning of a new era that will change Disney's life forever; the creation of Mickey Mouse.

His first appearance occurred in Steamboat Willie. The mouse was extremely angular and essentially a variety of circles compiled together. Mickey and Minnie were shown together for the first time in the silent film called "Plane Crazy". Mickey's personality was fluid so it could be kept refreshed, but harsh and at times even cynical. The creation of Mickey was produced to replace  Oswald the Lucky Rabbit because Mintz owned the rights to him. Walt learned from a brutal mistake, and never again gave up his rights to his work. Mickey was definitely a success, but was tiring out quickly due to overuse. Disney had an idea, " As for Disney's discovery, it is very simply expressed: he saw that sound was not merely an addition to the movies but a force that would fundamentally transform them."5 Again, Roy Disney disagreed but gave in nonetheless. Mickey's personality was an issue also being that it was too harsh and did not soften people up. Walt felt like he was, "trapped with the mouse... stuck with his character."6 In order to fix this, Disney created Pluto the dog and Donald the duck. The diversification gave an opportunity for laughter and lightheartedness. After Donald and Pluto came Chip and Dale, Daisy Duck, and the three nephews Huey, Louis, and Dewey. Another way to keep Mickey Mouse fresh was to take him out of his mega basic environment and plug him into the metropolitan. Mickey could transform in to a variety of things including a teamster, explorer, swimmer, cowboy, fireman, convict, pioneer, taxi driver, castaway, fisherman, cyclist, Arab, footballer, player inventor jockey, storekeeper, camper sailor, Gulliver, boxer, exterminator, skater, polo player, circus performer, plumber and much more. He became the Every man and the renaissance man combined.

After much turmoil in his career, Walt began showing signs of remoteness, "He became something of a sneak in his own studio, prowling the corridors at night and on weekends, trying to get a glimpse of story ideas and sketches before his writers and editors were ready to show them (and forcing them to elaborate stratagems to hide their work until it was ready)."7 Schickel verifies that Walt also became very obsessed with death and began predicting the exact age he was going to die. The production of Disneyland came with its fair share of issues according to the author. To build it in the San Fernando Valley was climatically wrong since it was too hot all the time. Orange County was Walt's best bet. Even though land was still cheap in the OC, negotiations to use the land were time consuming. He had to promise to keep certain trees and build around them such as these two palm trees that were right in the middle of "AdventureLand". TV became a huge advertising tool for Walt in order to get the word out that he would be building Disneyland, "I saw that if I was ever going to have my park, here, at last, was a way to tell millions of people about it-with TV."8 With Disneyland came stability, something that Walt was never used to. He was obsessed with keeping Disneyland groomed at all times. The staff at Disneyland scrubbed every inch of the amusement park down and had to be extremely polite. Here pinpoints where the man of many dreams, turns into Mr. Clean. People began seeing him as Uncle Walt rather than Father Walt, "I met a tall, somber man who appeared to be under the lash of some private demon... I remember him smiling only once and he was not at ease."9 Disney evidently built an empire out of scratch, going from rags to riches. In a world where everything was magical, we want to believe that Walt himself was magical also. In retrospect, he was just a realist. After Ray Bradbury asked if Disney would run for mayor of Los Angeles, a flattered Disney replied with, "Ray, why should I run for mayor when I'm already king?"10

Richard Schickel's thesis in The Disney Version: the life, times, art, and commerce of Walt Disney  presented Walt Disney's life, which incorporated the many trials and tribulations that he encountered. At the start of the book, Schickel's intent was to portray Disney's childhood and the effects the childhood had on his success and failures, "The small town life he observed undoubtedly taught Disney the spirit of "self help and cupidity" that so marked his later business life".11 The body of the book mainly consisted of his works and occurrences that led him to his very introverted personality traits. Towards the end of the book, the author describes Disney's remote and obsessive personality, which associates with his childhood and distrust with human beings. Schickel's main purpose was to educate on the fine details that built not only the Disney empire, but Walt Disney himself.

The authors point of view is more curious than biased. In order for Richard Schickel to achieve this information, he was given a one week tour of Disney studios, where they shut the doors on him immediately after, so many things remain unanswered. Being a historian, Schickel's main works are biographical, and in The Disney Version, he seems to hover above Walt's odd persona. Schickel's skepticism on Disney's personal life seems to stem from his constant analyzing of other prominent figures such as Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen. The majority of Richard's 37 previous books were biographical, but most importantly he cover people who were intriguing, which is what influenced him to cover Walt Disney. The book was written in 1968, so the attitudes were strangely admirable since Disney had just died 2 years earlier in 1966. In the time period, Walt was in the spotlight, which produced a high demand of information from people and Schickel's unauthorized biography contained the behind the scenes information that people wanted to know.

There was definitely a mix of unfavorable and favorable reviews for Schickel's The Disney Version from Henry Halpern and Edmund Carpenter. Halpern believes that Disney painted an unfair portrait of a man, whom was looked at as a hero. Essentially, Halpern does not believe it is actually the Disney Version but rather the "Schickel Version". Carpenter expresses his disbelief that Disney is as clean as he claims to be, saying that Disney's films were filled with violence and displaced sex. He agrees with Schickel on his claims of Disney's failures but rarely acknowledges his success. Halpern is admirable to Walt Disney yet unappreciative towards Schickel, while Carpenter is the polar opposite.

The book is filled with biases that lead to a negative perception of Walt Disney. By the end of the book, Schickel presents the once esteemed hero as a stern talentless man who never had much compassion for others. Schickel would pierce Disney with the fact that he hated himself for not being able to replicate Mickey, Donald, and his own signatures. The majority of the book was about Disney's business side rather than his artistic side painting a vivid image of a CEO rather than a dream filled creator. The book was informative on his early life, personality traits, and financial decisions. On a personal level, the book  portrayed Walt as distant and lacking emotion which is hard to believe when he created an empire based on evoking emotion.

The Disney Version: the life, times, art, and commerce of Walt Disney is a biographical recount of Walt Disney and his hardships and success. It emphasized his hardships and highlighted the turning points of his career. The art that Walt Disney produced describes American values of which heroism in Walt's love stories and a never-failing happy ending. Disney's animations have influenced the whole world and has set the blue print to animation and cartooning in practically every country. A Cinderella story can be translated and molded into every culture and language. Whether it be biased or not, Schickel packed a lot of in-depth information that covers Walt Disney's intriguing life and his everlasting art.

1. Schickel, Richard. The Disney Version; the Life, Times, Art, and commerce of Walt Disney. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968. 49.
2. Schickel, Richard.62.
3. Schickel, Richard.71.
4. Schickel, Richard.109.
5. Schickel, Richard.131.
6. Schickel, Richard.140.
7. Schickel, Richard.145.
8. Schickel, Richard.313.
9. Schickel, Richard.342.
10. Schickel, Richard.364.
11. Schickel, Richard.49.