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Walt Disney meets Hardball

This job is great. I had a wonderful lunch yesterday at which I got to hear biographer Neal Gabler talk about his most recent book, "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination."

If the book is anywhere as good as Gabler's speech was, it will be outstanding. (I got a signed copy... and here is NYT book reviewer Michiko Kakutani's review of the Disney book.)

I understand that this doesn't have anything to do with government IT, but personally I have always been fascinated by people who are the best at what they do -- people who are just powerful leaders -- and it is interesting to see if there is something to learn.

There is something of a difference between Walt Disney the person and Walt Disney the persona, Gabler found. In reality, Disney was not the sentimental man as he is seen today. And, in fact, he was not even a very loyal or collaborative person, Gabler said. But he was very passionate about whatever he did. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a total labor of love. He could recite the entire movie off the top of his head. And it was his project, Gabler said.

What spurred cartoonists to come to work for Disney? Gabler says that Disney created a almost cult-like atmosphere around the Walt Disney Studios. It was the only studio that was not owned by somebody else. Walt Disney made the decisions for Walt Disney Studios. So there was an incredible focus on the mission. Therefore cartoonists would seek to work for Disney -- they would even take pay cuts and work long hours just to be a part of the Disney cult. That cultish nature changed when the cartoonists unionized and there was a nasty strike. I spoke to Gabler afterwords and suggested that the cult-like passion has merely evolved over the years.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball fame was at the lunch and he suggested that Disney had an almost a Captain Nemo quality to him (from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame, which was also a Disney movie).

(Matthews was a big fan of Gruter's previous book, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, which looks at the how Hollywood actually came to exist.)

Disney was a perfectionist. When he worked on the movies, when they were done, they were actually done. You couldn't change them any more. But when Disney's attention moved from the films to creating Disneyland, he found a place where he would continually work on perfecting the world. If there was something he didn't like, he could change it. And he did.

Of course, this is all the more interesting to me because I have been known the be a member of the Disney cult. I worked at Disneyland while in college in Southern California.

I'll offer up a book report once I finish the book. Of course, I have about two dozen books sitting by my bed, but this one may have jumped to the top of the pack.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Feb 02, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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