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Library Journal Review
Gabler is probably best know for his biography Walter Winchell and the Culture of Gossip (1994); now he examines one of the most notable men of the 20th century. From his rough childhood to his success in Hollywood, Walt Disney never rested on his laurels and constantly strived to achieve the goals he conjured up. According to Gabler, he was complicated and difficult to understand. Even with his worldwide recognition, Disney suffered from nervous breakdowns and a constant need for money to complete his projects; he let his hobbies overshadow his family and few friends. And yet people would have done anything to work with this legendary figure. Gabler is the first writer to have complete access to the Disney archives, and it shows in this revealing and fascinating portrait. Fans of compelling biographies and of Disney himself will be thrilled to have this in their collection. A mandatory purchase for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/06.] Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Few men could be said to have as pervasive an influence on American culture as Walt Disney, and Gabler (Winchell) scours the historical record for as thorough an explanation of that influence as any biographer could muster. Every period of Disney's life is depicted in exacting detail, from the suffering endured on a childhood paper route to the making of Mary Poppins. The core of Gabler's story, though, is clearly in the early years of Disney's studio, from the creation of Mickey Mouse to the hands-on management of early hits like Fantasia and Pinocchio. "Even though Walt could neither animate, nor write, nor direct," Gabler notes, "he was the undisputed power at the studio." Yet there was significant disgruntlement within the ranks of Disney's employees, and Gabler traces the day-to-day resentments that eventually led to a bitter strike against the studio in 1941. That dispute helped harden Disney's anticommunism, which led to rumors of anti-Semitism, which are effectively debunked here. At times, Gabler lays on a bit thick the psychological interpretation of Disney as control freak, but his portrait is so engrossing that it's hard to picture the entertainment mogul playing with his toy trains and not imagine him building Disneyland in his head. 32 pages of photos. 100,000 first printing. (Nov. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Walt Disney (1901-66), a depression-prone, borderline alcoholic, anti-semitic, anti-union control freak with a magical imagination that created characters now entrenched in American popular culture, has been the subject of five biographies since 1956. Gabler's is the sixth, arriving a decade after Richard Schickel's The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney (3rd ed., 1997), still in print. This new work offers the most extensive scholarly biography to date, with inclusive bibliography and index, of the man referred to here as a "conservative visionary" who bridged high and low art through animation and fantasy. Gabler was supported by other Disney scholars, enabling his biography to be more of a life map for "Uncle Walt," whose challenges and contributions are here thoroughly documented through oral as much as written resources. Illustrations are few and inconsequential, given Gabler's lucid prose, which is exemplified by tongue-in-cheek chapter titles like "The Cult" and "Slouching toward Utopia." An appendix organized by date and genre of feature-length pictures produced by Disney is useful; given the book's 168 pages of notes, the next generation of Disney scholars has an amazing store of knowledge at hand. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. M. R. Vendryes York College, CUNY
Touted by the masses as America's beloved storyteller, derided by cultural gatekeepers as a philistine, Walt Disney was undeniably one of the most significant figures on the twentieth-century cultural scene. And as Gabler shows in this massive, thoroughly researched biography, Disney's cultural influence went far beyond the beloved cartoon characters he created. The early work produced by Disney and his talented staff--the phenomenal Mickey Mouse shorts of the early 1930s and such groundbreaking feature-length films as Snow White0 and Pinocchio0 --drew near-universal critical acclaim and massive commercial success. After World War II and a disastrous strike that shattered the benevolent if paternalistic utopia Disney had created for his employees, he disengaged from the cartoons, much to their detriment, to tackle new enterprises including live-action movies, TV, and theme parks. An ambitious planned community was on the drawing board at the time of his death in 1966--confirming evidence for Gabler's contention that Disney aimed to provide Americans not with escape, as is commonly thought, but with "control and the vicarious empowerment that accompanied it." Although Gabler focuses on corporate matters at the expense of critical treatment of the films, he presents a balanced treatment of the man and his achievements, realistically assessing Disney's considerable impact and offering insight into the hidden, restless soul who constantly challenged himself, risking the financial stability of his empire more than once in his unceasing pursuit of his dreams. --Gordon Flagg Copyright 2006 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Monumental life of the contradictory impresario who founded a powerful entertainment empire and, for better or worse, "helped establish American popular culture as the dominant culture in the world." Forty years after his death, Walt Disney still epitomizes what is right and wrong with American life, depending on who's making the argument. Film historian Gabler (Life, the Movie, 1998, etc.) shrewdly observes, for instance, that though Disney was notoriously conservative--and casually anti-Semitic and racist--he also forged aspects of the 1960s counterculture's identity: anti-authoritarianism, connection to nature, "antagonism toward the moneyed class." Born with "platonic templates in his head," in Gabler's memorable formulation, Disney idealized rural life, his template being the little Missouri town in which his father perpetually failed. Walt enshrined that place as an American idyll and ideal in Disneyland, which the author rightly ranks high among the master's dreams-turned-to-reality. He was like his father, Gabler notes, in never having any business sense; brother and long-suffering partner Roy had the head for commerce. Walt lived a rather bohemian life beholden to no boss and sparked great resentment among his own employees by presenting the Disney studio's products to the world as if they were single-handedly his. "He's a genius at using someone else's genius," one disgruntled animator griped. For all that, Gabler makes emphatically clear, Disney was indeed a genius at his art: brilliant at drawing, writing and particularly editing, willing to exceed budgets time and again until an animation or a movie was exactly right. Thus Snow White, the 1937 film that put him on the map, was very nearly the Heaven's Gate of its time in terms of cost overruns, yet once released it would become the highest-grossing film in history and hold that record for many years. Gabler's remarkable biography lends Mickey's creator new dimensions and sets the standard for future biographies. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.