The Vault of Walt by Jim Korkis is one of those rare jewels. You’ve probably never heard of it, and you’ve probably never heard most of the stories contained in its pages. Walt Disney’s own daughter remarked, while collaborating with Mr. Korkis for parts of the book, that much of the information on her father was news to her. Fearing that over time, many of these stories behind the Disney empire would pass away with the early Imagineers and animators that experienced them firsthand, Mr. Korkis compiled this collection so that generations to come could enjoy them.
The book is broken into parts — the Walt stories, Disney film stories, and Disney Park stories. (There’s even a section at the end on stories that didn’t fit into these categories, simply called “other worlds of Disney stories.”) Mr. Korkis begins the book with stories of Walt Disney’s childhood in Missouri, the paper route he had, and his education. A bit of trivia that should have us all second guessing the money and time we spent pursuing higher education is the little-known fact that Walt Disney, who founded one of the most profitable businesses in our country, never completed high school. (Later, of course, he received honorary doctorates from very prestigious universities, which probably more than made up for that lack of a high school diploma to hang on the wall.) Korkis went on to highlight portions of Walt’s life in California, including his polo hobby and his thirtieth wedding anniversary celebration, held at Disneyland prior to the park’s official opening. (It’s noted and confirmed by Disney’s daughter that no one seemed to be having a better time than Walt at the festivities, as evidenced by the way he almost fell out of a balcony while applauding for cast members who were putting on a dinner show.)
The section on Disney films and parks spends more time detailing how the films and attractions came into being than it does about the films and attractions themselves. One of the great stories in this collection was of the premiere of Snow White. The actress who voiced Snow White somehow wasn’t on the list to get in and see the movie, but she still managed to sneak in and up to the balcony (Disney princesses are resourceful that way), where she watched, in awe, as Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars applauded her performance. For those who love the Disney movies of yesteryear — the thirties, the forties, and the fifties — there are plenty of details and stories about the performers, the writing, and the processes that went into making these films. An entire section is devoted to the Atlanta premiere of Song of the South, and mention is made of how none of the actors were brought in for it because segregation laws would have forbidden them from entering the theatre. There are stories about sections of the park that were planned but never implemented, stories about what Walt envisioned, and very touching stories about some of the cast members and their roles in making the parks so magical. And then, there are stories about how some park productions were decidedly unmagical, like Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, which cost the company a fortune and produced lackluster results. (And was Jackson himself there on opening day in some bizarre disguise? Even the Disney people have no idea.)
All in all, this is a great book. Some parts were slow, likely because I had no knowledge of many of the movies, particularly the ones that weren’t animated. Overall, though, the book is inspiring as it follows the humble beginnings of a young boy at the turn of the century and shows how one man changed the world of animation and made dreams a reality through his films, his theme parks, and his corporation. A must-read for Disney fans!