Debuting Sept. 28th from Disney Editions is a brand-new coffee table book, “A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth.” I recently sat down with my fellow authors Kevin Kern and Steven Vagnini to share more about the creative process behind crafting this impressive 320-page Walt Disney World salute, released just in time for the start of the 18-month Walt Disney World resort 50th anniversary celebration.
What was the goal of the book?
KEVIN: Our goal was to create a historical snapshot using as many voices as possible. We’re especially delighted to feature essays from the likes of Debby Dane Browne (the first Walt Disney World Ambassador), Dick Nunis (Disney Legend and former head of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts), and Roy Patrick Disney (grandson of Roy O. Disney, co-founder of The Walt Disney Company). Each add a rich sense of placemaking detail to what it was like during the development and opening of Walt Disney World.
TIM: We wanted to create a book that will delight readers with rarely seen visuals and new information and generate a sense of awe and wonder. We also wanted to re-affirm what many people already believe—that Walt Disney World is a revered and respected destination on the pop culture landscape with an incredible ongoing legacy.
STEVEN: The goal was consistent: to pay tribute to this remarkable place and the thousands of cast members, Imagineers, and guests who have made Walt Disney World a reality over five decades. I’m especially excited that we could spotlight the voices of many unsung leaders who helped plan and organize the “Florida Project” in its earliest years; many of them have windows on Main Street, U.S.A., but their stories are not as widely known!
Tell us about your first visit to Walt Disney World.
KEVIN: It was April 1990. The Great Movie Ride had a profound impact on me, as did The Magic of Disney Animation tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Growing up about as far away from Hollywood as one can, the magic of the movies, and the magic of Disney really, just grabbed my senses and interests like nothing else.
TIM: My first visit was in 1983. EPCOT was less than a year old and I’ll never forget the sense of wonder and optimism as represented by this new kind of Disney experience. During one particular evening, EPCOT had officially ended its day and we discovered we were among a few straggling diners left in the park, seemingly having EPCOT all to ourselves. Ground-based audio speakers were new back then and to walk towards, and under, the glowing imposing structure of Spaceship Earth, with the magnificent and inspiring music of EPCOT surrounding us, remains an indelible memory for me.
STEVEN: As a Central Florida native, I first visited as a one-year-old. Apparently, I had “the best time of my life!” It’s hard to remember the details of that first experience, but my earliest memories include feeling the sensation of flight in the If You Could Fly attractionin Tomorrowland and enjoying all the down-home hootin’ and hollerin’ of the Melvin the Moose Breakfast Show at Fort Wilderness.
What would you say was the most important or transformative memory you have on the property?
KEVIN: The very first Disney book I ever purchased on my own was Jeff Kurtti’s “Since the World Began” (Disney Editions, 1996). I bought my copy at the end of a family visit and vividly remember sitting on the back porch of the Meadow Trading Post at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground pouring over the pages – I couldn’t get enough. I was blown away by the history within those covers. The tome ignited a hope that one day I’d have the chance to work on a book about Walt Disney World. I suppose there’s a bit of poetic justice that here 25 years later, I’d be on the very team tasked to help make that dream a reality.
TIM: Mine are “pinch-me-I can’t believe-this-is-happening” moments: one evening sitting in the rocking chairs on the back porch of Disney’s BoardWalk with songwriter Richard M. Sherman (and his lovely wife, Elizabeth), Oscar-winner Hayley Mills, and Disney author Jeff Kurtti, and all of us joining in song on an impromptu rendition of “On the Front Porch” (yeah, corny, I know!). There was also the 25th anniversary ceremony at Cinderella Castle officiated by Roy E. Disney and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. I was with Disney Legends Marc and Alice Davis and could see the pride in their eyes knowing their contributions to the resort would last for generations. Plus, collaborating with Steven in 2011 to reunite Figment, Dreamfinder, and songwriter Richard Sherman to the immense delight of D23 Members. There are so many special memories like these that I count myself incredibly lucky.
STEVEN: Meeting my incredible wife at the resort as cast members and eventually having a Disney Fairy Tale Wedding. Second was producing, with Tim, the programming for D23’s 2011 Destination D event, celebrating 40 years of Walt Disney World. Throughout that weekend, fans of all ages came together to celebrate the stories and Disney Legends behind this remarkable place. I think all of us -on and off stage – felt something pretty magical that weekend … a special sense of community bonded by a deep-rooted love for our shared Walt Disney World experiences. That certainly inspired me to want to spotlight those inspiring voices and incredible stories in our book.
Based on your favorite aspects of the resort, which sections of the book were you most excited to write?
KEVIN: When the three of us sat down to chat an apt metaphor presented itself – a “thematic compass.” By focusing in on the resort through various conceptual lenses – nostalgia, fantasy, discovery, and tomorrow – we were able to tie concept art, photography, and ephemera from across the five decades together in ways that hopefully will surprise and delight readers.
STEVEN: Since becoming an Imagineer, I’ve developed an even greater appreciation for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is layered with such brilliant nuances. I think the way we tell stories in this park deserves closer inspection and understanding, and hopefully, readers of our book will appreciate our scene-by-scene journey through the theme park with the diverse voices of those who helped design and build it!
TIM: Each of us took ownership of writing certain chapters and sections of the book then we cross-checked and edited each other resulting in one of the most wonderfully collaborative efforts I’ve ever experienced. So, there is a little bit of each of us in almost every paragraph no matter who was responsible for a section or chapter.
What is your favorite section of the book?
KEVIN: The special essays are a delight to read and left each of us in awe after our conversations with Debby, Dick, and Roy Patrick. We also feature a section called “Reflections,” where we hear from voices across popular culture and Disney history about Walt Disney World as a cultural site while also reminiscing about past resort anniversary celebrations. That might surprise a few readers.
TIM: I love all of it! We really wanted to create the most comprehensive book yet written on Walt Disney World and I believe we’ve done that. I also love our 15-pages of endnotes. They demonstrate our extensive research and gives the book solid credibility. I bow to Kevin’s insistence and am proud that our book features such detail.
STEVEN: One of the most fun sections to write was our chapter on the Disney family’s roots in Florida – something that Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith began researching in 1970. I think few people realize that some 80 years before Walt Disney had his sights on Central Florida, his parents and grandparents actually settled here, planting familial roots near a (now long lost) town called Kismet, 60 miles due north of the future Disney property.
As we look forward to “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” what excites you most about the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary?
KEVIN: Just having the chance to share and reflect with everyone about how remarkable the resort is in execution. Walt’s hope for the site to serve as a gathering place to find joy, inspiration, and new knowledge about the worlds around us is just as prescient today as ever before.
TIM: I been involved in so many Walt Disney World campaigns, from the 20th anniversary now up to the 50th anniversary. All have one thing in common. Everyone wants to be a part of something special. I look forward to celebrating a truly remarkable story with everyone, a half-century in the making, that guests, cast members, and Imagineers alike helped write.
STEVEN: Gathering together to celebrate 50 years of Walt Disney’s last, and arguably grandest, dream could be nothing short of “The World’s Most Magical Celebration!” To me, the cast and Imagineers of Walt Disney World are the very definition of “magic makers.” I can’t wait to see them in action, creating magic for our guests, amid all the new entertainment and excitement of this once-in-a-lifetime celebration!
“A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place” on Earth will be available at Walt Disney World, shopDisney, and wherever books are sold beginning on September 28th. For more information, visit www.DisneyBooks.com.