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‘Stars of Walt Disney Productions’ (review)

Written by Mark Arnold
Published by Bear Manor Media

 

By virtue of full disclosure, I want to note that I have worked on two books previously with author Mark Arnold.

He and I both did research and wrote sections for Craig Yoe’s definitive history of Archie Comics in 2011 and I wrote an Endword for Mark’s own definitive story of Harvey Comics, published in 2017 by Bear Manor Media.

Mark Arnold writes books about things that deserve to have books written about them, but Mark isn’t always as passionate about every subject.

Bear Manor Media likewise publishes books about people and subjects that deserve books but they aren’t always well-edited.

I’m afraid Mark’s new book falls into both of those categories to some extent.

Stars of Walt Disney Productions is a straightforward, encyclopedia-style listing of live-action and voice actors who worked at Disney during Uncle Walt’s lifetime and for a decade or so after, until the company morphed into more of the corporate conglomerate it’s become.

Few people get more than one page and that consists of their basic stats, a bit of biographical info, their Disney credits, and some reverences to their other movie, radio, TV, or stage work. Sometimes, there’s a bit of interesting trivia thrown in.

The book starts with the stalwarts, the folks like Dean Jones, Hayley Mills, Fred MacMurray, Kurt Russell, and Annette Funicello, whose names are associated strongly with Disney movies. (The famous anecdote about how the last thing Disney ever wrote was apparently Kurt Russell’s name on a piece of paper is not here, though.)

After 167 pages of those familiar stars, we move on to the One-Hit Wonders, people who appeared only a single time for Disney. These include many actors barely noticeable along with a few scene-stealers who made the most of their one shot, such as the wild and crazy Louis Prima in Jungle Book. In an editorial decision with which I wholeheartedly agree, Julie Andrews—although technically belonging to this section as Mary Poppins was her sole Disney Production—was included with the first section because, you know, she’s Julie Andrews.

This second section squeezes more actors, but less info for each, onto a page, sometimes five at a time. Plenty more familiar names show up here, though, from Larry Storch and Jesse White to Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger.

This section finishes up on page 274, which inaugurates a section called Other Actors Who Appeared in More than One Walt Disney Productions Movie. As Mark puts it, “The decision was made that if a person did make multiple Walt Disney Productions’ appearances, but was not necessarily a star of them, they will end up here.” The alphabetical listing starts over for the third time, offering up the likes of Goldie Hawn, Danny Thomas, Louis Armstrong, Bill Mumy, and the great Jack MacGowran, mixed in with many actors even I had never before heard of such as Rossman Peetook, Kelly Thordsen, and Arthur Tovey. This section finishes out the book over the next couple of hundred pages.

In the back is an Index, a much-needed item since the listings are separated into multiple categories. Unfortunately, it seems for the most part to be off by one page. Hank Worden, for example, is listed as appearing on pages 528 and 529 when he actually appears on pages 529 and 530. All but one person I checked (Burt Kwouk) is like that.

The real issue I have with Stars of Walt Disney Productions is its occasional factual inaccuracies. Aside from some typos like Alan REID when it should be Alan REED, or missing the fact that Johnny Whitaker was billed early in his career as JOHNNIE Whitaker there’s the statement that Robert Benchley’s son Peter wrote Jaws. He did, but Peter was Benchley’s GRANDson. Less important for a reference book is mention of a Broadway SOUNDTRACK when Broadway productions have CAST ALBUMS, recorded specifically as such, not soundtracks of a performance.

There aren’t a lot of photographs and when they do appear, they’re usually of the bigger name stars. At nearly 600 pages already, adding more would have likely doubled the length of this book, but would help the average reader identify some of the less recognizable names. As it is, though, this would still be a good book to keep near the television as you watch older shows on Disney+ so that when you say, “Oh, I know that actress! Now, where have I seen her before?” you can pick up her name in the credits and flip through the Index, go one page further on, and find out.

Yes, with the above caveats, I still enjoyed this nostalgic reference book immensely. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was either The Absent-Minded Professor or Son of Flubber. For many years, I had a Mary Poppins movie poster on my wall and passed it on to my son’s room when he was born. In the ‘90s, I almost got to talk with Hayley Mills and Dean Jones and knowing the latter’s career won me the championship on a TV game show back in the ‘80s!

As you can see, I am the audience for this book.

Stars of Walt Disney Productions may not be flawless but as I noted above, it needed to be written, and Mark Arnold was the right man for the job.

Booksteve recommends.

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