The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life

Overview

The Magic Kingdom is a full-length investigation of the life of Walt Disney, arguably the principal architect of mass culture in our time. By mid-century, "Uncle Walt" had become an American icon and was universally acknowledged as the spokesman for the American way of life; yet, paradoxically, he was instrumental in changing our social assumptions. Probing Disney's public life as a creative entrepreneur, Steven Watts argues that Disney reflected a central irony of modern American culture: while proclaiming a ...
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Overview

The Magic Kingdom is a full-length investigation of the life of Walt Disney, arguably the principal architect of mass culture in our time. By mid-century, "Uncle Walt" had become an American icon and was universally acknowledged as the spokesman for the American way of life; yet, paradoxically, he was instrumental in changing our social assumptions. Probing Disney's public life as a creative entrepreneur, Steven Watts argues that Disney reflected a central irony of modern American culture: while proclaiming a genuine allegiance to the values of an earlier age (self-reliance, the work ethic, the culture of domesticity, sexual inhibition), he also took the lead in creating the modern world of consumer self-fulfillment. His great creations - from Mickey Mouse to Disneyland - embody the transformation of American popular culture, moving from the satirical edge of what Watts calls the "sentimental populism" of the Depression era to the uncritical, celebratory "sentimental libertarianism" of the Cold War. Watts also digs deeply into Disney's private life, investigating his roles as husband, father, and brother and providing fresh insight into his peculiar psyche - his genuine folksiness and warmth, his domineering treatment of colleagues and friends, his deepest prejudices and passions. Full of colorful sketches of daily life at the Disney Studio and tales about the creation of Disneyland and Disney World, The Magic Kingdom offers a definitive view of one of the most influential Americans in the twentieth century.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Although the Disney studio was hailed as a dream factory, there was plenty of hard work and hard-nosed business deals behind the facade. Drawing on interviews and research from Disney archives, Watts shows how Disney and mid-America influenced each other, from the birth of the animation empire, through the "libertarian populism" of the Fifties film, TV, and theme-park efforts, to Walt's untimely death in 1966. Other topics include Disney's pioneering role in business "integration" using one side of the business to promote another side, his idealization of small-town life, his contagious creative enthusiasm, and his growing conservatism and abiding contempt for unions. Whether selling World War II to an anxious home front, lifting spirits in the Depression, soothing America's Cold War fears, or catering to the new leisure and consumer society, Disney had a unique rapport with average Americans. Portrayed as neither devil nor saint, Disney emerges as a human and sometimes sympathetic figure. This lively, witty, and insightful study is likely to become a standard. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [Two other Disney biographers in recent years have accused the Disney family of attempting to undermine criticisms of him; for a more critical appraisal see Marc Eliot's Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince, LJ 5/1/93.Ed.]Stephen Rees, Levittown Reg. Lib., Pa.
Booknews
Part biography and part cultural analysis. Watts history, U. of Missouri argues that Disney reflected a central irony of modern American society: while proclaiming a genuine allegiance to the values of an earlier age self-reliance, the work ethic, the culture of domesticity, sexual inhibition, he took the lead in creating the modern world of consumer self-fulfillment. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
The New York Times
Terrifically readable and illuminating. Mr. Watts has done an intelligent job of assembling and analyzing a vast amount of material...a coherent, insightful book. -- The New York Times
The Economist
An excellent book. Mr. Watts is to be congratulated...for reminding readers that there was a bright as well as a dark side to the magic kingdom. -- The Economist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395835876
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/12/1998
  • Pages: 526
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Watts is a professor of history at the University of Missouri. His first book, The Republic Reborn, recieved the National Historical Society Book prize for best book of 1989. Watts currently lives in Columbia, Missouri.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Illustrations xvii
Introduction xix
I. The Road to Hollywood
1. Disney and the Rural Romance 3
2. Young Man Disney and Mickey Mouse 24
3. The Entertainer as Success Icon 42
II. The Disney Golden Age
4. Disney and the Depression: Sentimental Populism 63
5. Disney and the Depression: Populist Parables 83
6. The Entertainer as Artist: Sentimental Modernism 101
7. Of Mice and Men: Art Critics and Animators 120
8. Disney and American Culture 143
9. The Fantasy Factory 164
10. The Engineering of Enchantment 183
III. Trouble in Fantasyland
11. Animation and Its Discontents 203
12. Disney and the Good War 228
13. Disney's Descent 243
14. The Search for Direction 263
IV. Disney and the American Century
15. Cold War Fantasies 283
16. Disney and National Security 303
17. Disney and Domestic Security 323
18. Citizen Disney 346
19. Disney and the Culture Industry 361
20. The Happiest Place on Earth 383
21. Pax Disneyana 404
22. It's a Small World, After All 425
Epilogue 446
Notes 455
Bibliographic Essay 509
Index 513
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