This week, we look at the origins of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventure series, the Academy Award winning films that were not only entertaining, but important. I am joined by Didier Ghez, author of “The Origins of Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures.” We’ll explore how and why Walt Disney started making documentary films, including his personal attention to and concerns about the vanishing frontier, and how these films helped influence the way that nature and conservation were and are portrayed in media.
Thanks to Didier Ghez from the Disney History blog for joining me this week. Check out Didier’s extensive books he’s authored on Amazon, including “The Origins of Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures”
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Lou Mongello: Hello, and welcome to the WDW Radio Show. I'm your host and your friend, Lou Mongello, and this is show number 730 and together as we have been since 2005. We're gonna celebrate the magic of the Disney Parks movies.
Marvel, star Wars and more Here on the podcast, my weekly live video on Facebook every Wednesday night, events, blog, and more. Please be sure to join the community. Subscribe to the podcast and find everything at WDWRadio.com. So this week we're gonna look at the origins of Walt Disney's True Life Adventure series, the Academy Award-winning films that were not only entertaining but important.
We're gonna explore how and why Walt started making documentary films, including the why he needed to, and his personal attention to and concerns about the Fetishing frontier. We'll also see how these films help influence the way that nature and conservation. War and are portrayed in media, then stay tuned for a Disney trivia question of the week where you can enter for a chance to win a Disney Prize package.
More updates and your voicemails at the end of the show. And if you like what you hear, please share the show and tell a friend. So sit back. Relax and enjoy this week's episode of the WW Radio Show
with Earth Day. Having recently passed on April 22nd, and even starting to think about. Attractions that are coming into the Disney parks. For example, the Journey of Water inspired by Moana. Coming later this year, I started to think about Disney's relationship with the planet and its inhabitants, not just today in the parks and the conservation efforts and the educational programs, et cetera, but.
Going all the way back to Walt, and we all know of Walt's love of animals and how that was not only directly reflected, but impacted the creation of attractions like the jungle cruises. And I think by extension places like Disney's Animal Kingdom, but Walt's love of animals actually extends. Much farther back and in a much more personal way.
And in fact, it not only affected his ex, his extensive travels around the world and his desire to share those experiences, but also sharing stories of the creatures from the farthest corners of the globe. With others, and Walt made 13 nature films in the 1950s known as the True Life Adventure Series with eight of them winning Academy Awards.
But how, when and why did they come to be? Because more than just being entertaining, they were impactful. And someone who knows a lot about Walt and his people and his stories and the True Life Adventures is my next guest and the author of The Origins of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures. It is, he is d d Getz, uh, dda.
It is nice to finally, after 10 or 15 years of sort of knowing each other tangentially. To get to meet and chat with you tonight. It is an absolute
Didier Ghez: pleasure to meet you. Um,
Lou Mongello: Luke, so I wanna quickly go back in time when I first started all of this, my Disney journey in 2003 or 2004, yours was one of the names very, very early on that I saw on.
They weren't even called blogs back then. I saw them on websites. I saw them in Usenet news groups. I saw them in discussion forums. Um, and we sort of knew each other without actually getting to to know each other, um, a little bit. And your name kept coming up in the context of books. And fast forward, you are a multi award-winning Disney historian who's published extensively.
On Disney animation and film history. So can you give us a little bit of the DDA origin stories and your background and how you started to first become. Not only interested in Disney history, but started to make it something that would become very clearly your passion. So I
Didier Ghez: Lou, I, I grew up in Paris and like all of the kids, um, at that time in France and even today, uh, I grew up reading Lu, came the Mickey Mouse magazine and that's really how I discovered Mickey Mouse.
I mean, again, if you, uh, if you ask a kid in France, uh, where does Mickey Mouse come from? They'll tell you from a comic book. They, they won't tell you from, uh, animated shorts. And, uh, and so I grew up, um, like that and I loved, uh, I loved Mickey, I loved all of the Disney characters, frankly, in, in those comic books.
And then obviously I discovered a bit later on the animated cartoons and the, and the classic features from, from Disney and. Fell in love with them. And then when I grew up, when I grew up, when I became a, a teenage child, um, that's when I realized that there were artists who were doing all of this. And I thought, okay, wouldn't it be cool if I could, um, meet some of those artists?
And as luck was to have it, uh, the Wal Disney studio had decided to open a subsidiary in, in Paris, uh, at the time. Uh, and so I thought, okay, then, then if they have a subsidiary, there must be artists there. And I wonder if I could interview some of them. Is that working better or do we stay? Yeah. Okay. So, um, I decided to contact the, the studio in, in Paris.
And, um, I told them I'm writing an article for an. American magazine called Animation Magazine and that magazine had never heard of me before. Um, and I'm wondering if I could interview the heads of the studio, the, the Brizi Pros, uh, two French wonderful artists who, uh, uh, then um, became the, the directors of the sequence, the Firebird in, uh, Fantasia 2000.
And they said, Yeah, absolutely. We would love to have you here. We would love for you to interview the pre brothers. And so I did. I interviewed them and I got the interview translated by a friend of mine who spoke much better English than I did. My English wasn't very good at the time. It took way too long for him to translate that, that interview.
And so I decided never again, and I improved my English, uh, after all that. And I sent the translation of the interview to Animation magazine. And Animation Magazine came back and they said, you know, we're just looking for an article about the French, um, subsidiary of Disney, so we would love to run your, your interview.
And they did. And so that was my first published piece, uh, uh, in any magazine. Um, and after all that I thought, okay, well none that I've interviewed Theri Brothers. Let me see if I can interview more artists at the, at the Disney studio in Paris. And, uh, I was very lucky because, Some of the major, major talent from Disney, like Andreas Deja, Glen Keen and so on, came to Paris to work for a while.
Andreas Deja, for example, on Runaway brain, Glen Keen on Taron. And so I had a chance to interview them sometimes for hours in a row. Um, and, and I got those interviews published in different magazines again in the us. Um, and so after that I thought, you know, The, the what, what I'm really interested in really is the, the history, the and, and the, the memories of the old timers.
The one who worked for the studio in the late twenties, in the thirties, in the forties. And uh, I also know that a lot of those interviews have not, Been published in their entirety, interviews that have been conducted by historians like Michael Barr, Che Kaufman, and so on and so forth. I wonder if would, they would let me publish those interviews in their entirety so that they can be preserved for future generations of Disney historian and also selfishly, because I would really love to read them.
And a lot of those historians said yes. And so I started the, the, the book series Waltz People. Uh, and there are now 27 volumes released to date. And I forgot one, one step. I one forgot one chapter in the middle of this story, which is that, uh, um, in the, uh, the late, uh, 1990s, uh, a friend of mine in Barry came to see me and said, Didier, would you like to write, um, a book about the making of Disneyland, Paris?
And I was like, Would I? Yes, yes, of course. I would, would love to do that. And it took, it took us about two years to get the authorizations from Vnet to, uh, research the book and go and meet team engineers. And then it took me, um, about a year to, uh, Interview all of the engineer that I wanted to interview and write the text for the book.
And then it took two more years for Disney to give us the authorization to release the book. So, uh, uh, four years out of the total dealing with Disney one year doing the really fun part. And, but luckily in 2002, uh, we released the Disney and Paris. From Sketch to Reality, the official art book on the creation of Disneyland Paris.
And so that was the first, uh, book that I, that I published about Disney. And as you can see, this one was about the park. Um, and so. After that, um, while Walts people was being released, the daughter of Wald Disney asked me one question about a photograph of Wald, Disney and a French artist called Lu, one of the pioneers of the cinema.
And I had no idea what that photo was, but I started researching it. And that, uh, that took me to a whole investigation about the trip that Walt Disney and his family had taken to Europe in 1935. And that, uh, that led to the publication of Disney's Grand Tour, uh, a book for which, um, Diane Disney Miller Waltz wrote forward just a few weeks, unfortunately, before she passed away, uh, and, and financed actually the, the publication of.
Of that book and then finally to, to end that, that, that story. Uh, let me mention that when I moved to the US in 2012, uh, I started thinking, uh, more specifically about one id, which would be a series of art books about artists that always fascinated me. Uh, who are the concept artists, uh, of Disney, the people who.
Who drew, who drew to inspire the, the other artists, uh, people like Mary Blair and Fe Non Hova and Albert, her, and so on and so forth. And I thought I would really, really want to, uh, write a series of books fully illustrated with documents that have never been seen before, uh, to really celebrate the life and the art of those artists.
And so I pitched that project to Chronicle Books and Chronicle Books said, yes, we'll, uh, we'll do it. Uh, and so that led to the, uh, to the publication of De True as they pleased the Hidden Art of Disney and to the discovery of hundreds of pieces of artwork that were, uh, preserved by the families of those artists and that we had never seen before.
And also documents like diaries and correspondence and so on and so forth that were, that I basically rediscovered, uh, And that, uh, that, that served as the basis for the chapters in, uh, in that, in that series.
Lou Mongello: One of the things I, that I think has always set you apart and has always, um, always impressed me a about you is one, the, the, the width and the breadth and the depth of the research that you do, and understanding the importance of preserving.
And more importantly, sharing the history of the individuals that sometimes are not necessarily the most commonly known. And even here, we were talking before we started recording about the the True Life Adventure series. What talk first about what inspired you to write this book and, and who is the book for and what do you, what do you hope that people learn and take away from it because we'll talk later on it, these stories and these, these films.
Are not necessarily ones that forget about everybody not knowing of, but, but certainly haven't, you know, most likely seen any or all of them.
Didier Ghez: That's right. And so the, the first of the True Life Adventures was released in 1948 and, uh, when it was released in, in, in cinemas, it really revolutionized the art of documentaries about animals, really the way that.
Ken Burns today is revolutionizing the, the, uh, uh, the art of documentaries about, about history. Uh, it was really a big, big deal. And, and, and there's a reason why Walt won so many Academy awards, uh, for that, for that series. The, the issue though, from a historical standpoint is that. We knew very, very little about why, uh, Walt decided to focus on that series and, and the story, uh, behind the origins of that, of that series, um, there was that, that story that, that Walt, um, told, uh, for, to the Reader's Digest, or that, uh, sorry.
One of the cinema referrals of Si Island told the Readers Digest, uh, Al Mi said, yeah. And the way, the way it happened is that Walt came to see me in, um, In, uh, where I was based. Um, and, uh, he said, uh, Al are you interested in, uh, in, in going to film, um, Alaska for me? And I said, yes. What do you want me to film?
He said, well, uh, most anything, like, you know, and I said, I don't know. And he said, well, send me footage. And I sent a lot of footage and, uh, then he said, well focus on the seals. And that's what I did. And that was the origin of Seal Island. It's a wonderful story. It's, it's a great, fun little story. Uh, none of it is true.
Uh, and so, um, so I, uh, and, and I realized fairly quickly that none of it was really true, that it was a tale. Uh, and so I started. Trying to understand what had really happened. And when I started digging into what had really happened, I realized, you know, all of this documentation that I, uh, accumulated from various, um, outside collections and, and, uh, outside archives and so on and so forth, is starting to make sense.
Uh, the other thing that, that, that was starting to make sense is when I was researching the book series that I was mentioning earlier for, uh, Chronicle books, uh, the Drew as they pleased. Uh, I opened a lot of boxes of unproduced projects that are stored at the animation research library, uh, at Disney.
And, um, and in those boxes I would find stuff which didn't make any sense to me. Like those, uh, storyboards for those clearly live action productions. Um, Some about the Colorado River, uh, some about bees, some about lots of different subjects, which were like, what is this? Some about Egypt? And I'm like, why on earth is this?
What's the context? Uh, and then when I started researching that, that that book, the origins of Poly True Life Adventures, all of the pieces started falling in place. I was like, Of course, this is linked to what I'm reading in this, in this treatment from that collection that I found in, from that other source.
And those are actually abandoned true life adventures that were considered in the, uh, mid forties and that were then dropped. And, but that inspired other things that then happened, uh, within the studio. And so piecing that together started giving me, uh, the, the will to really dig even deeper and, and to go even further and to really find what the origins actually were.
And so when you, when you go back far enough, what you realize is that really the root of all of this is a research trip, um, during the making of Bambi in 1938. So 10 years earlier. Uh, talk about Walt having a, a vision that that takes him. Far in the future. And, and also, uh, um, e evolving and, and learning one step at a time.
And so in 1938, Walt realizes, you know, my artists need really, uh, both, they need inspiration to draw the deer, uh, for Bambi. Uh, and so I'm gonna get some real deer. Um, at the studio when we've all seen the photographs of the artist drawing the deer at the studio, but he's like, but they also need inspiration to create the backgrounds for the movie.
At, at the time, he was thinking about very realistic backgrounds for the forest. And he says, how can I get them to, uh, really see what, what the forest should look like? And if for those would be forests that are really far away from California, they would be Maine. And at that time, he has an artist at the studio called Jack Day.
And Jack Day, uh, is uh, is an artist that who comes from Maine and who's also great cinematographer. And so what wealth decides to do, he says, Jake, can you go to Maine and, and sh should pictures, should photographs of, uh, of nature in Maine, of forest in Maine, both during springtime and also during the winter wintertime.
And Jake does that. And what I discovered during the research process, which made my eyes go wide and um, get really, really excited is that Jake went there. Uh, but he also asked a friend of his, who wasn't working for Disney at the time to come with him. What was really, really exciting about that is that that friend of his kept a diary.
Uh, and so, uh, I located with the family of that friend of his, uh, the diary of the trip to Maine to research Bambi. Uh, and, uh, you have quite a few extracts from that diary, which are in the first chapter of the origins of Wal Disney Easter Life Adventure. And, uh, and so we, we, for the first time really understand how the trip took place and what they saw and, and so on and so forth.
And I also dug up some, uh, photographs that had never been seen before from that trip. And that was really fun to build that chapter. Now. Okay, so research trip on Beneen. Um, uh, the, it's two people being sent to Maine by Walt and writing back to the studio to get instructions and, and sending back photos and so on and so forth.
And so that's already the mechanics, uh, of, of the way the, uh, filming of the troll life adventures would, would, would take place that is being put in place in 1938. And then comes the war, and then comes World War ii. Then in World War ii, Walt obviously has to, uh, change the way his studio operates. Uh, he really cannot produce a lot of, um, uh, entertainment, uh, at that time.
Yes, he carries on doing it a little bit, but most of the revenues from the studio come from production for the Army, for the Navy and and so on and so forth. And what that, those, those movies are what those shorts are, uh, are really educational shorts, educational movies. And so he realizes that with his medium, he can, uh, um, really be a great teacher.
Um, and so he's like, okay, this is great. I'm doing that during the war. And, uh, um, sometimes it's really fun, sometimes less fun. Uh, but it's teaching me a lot of things. It's teaching me how to teach. Um, and, and so he thinks, you know, When, uh, we're in 19 43, 19 44, um, the United States and the world realized that the the war is, is, is finally starting to, um, move in the right direction for the allies.
And so while he's starting to think about the future of the studio after the war, and he's like, what can I do to reinvent myself? And one of the ideas is to, uh, uh, to use what he has learned during the war, uh, which is that he can be a great teacher, um, and, and start running with that and start really doing that.
And so, uh, the studio is start thinking about lots of educational shorts and educational series that they can produce and distribute on the non theatrical circuits, meaning in schools. In churches and so on and so forth. Um, and so they come up with a lot of ideas. I mean, Joe Grant and de come up with an idea about the story of man, which is like an all encompassing project that would deal with every single aspect of, of man, he's.
Buddy. Um, his thoughts, his um, uh, creativity, his, uh, um, um, the, the transportation and so on and so forth. This goes into a million directions and there are lots and lots of ideas like that, that the studio developed at the time, including. The, the history of music, uh, which then develops into what many, many years later in the fifties is released at Tweel plunk and boom.
Um, and so this is a very exciting time at this video. And, uh, and from that at some point, Wal Walt. Thanks. You know, there's something that's really interesting. Um, There is this new frontier for the US which is Alaska, and people within the continual, the continental United States, don't know much about Alaska.
Um, most of them have never been there. I wonder if we can, we, if we could teach them quite a lot of things about that, that unknown region of the United States. Uh, and so he sends two, um, Cinematographers. The Milos, uh, whom he doesn't meet in Alaska, he doesn't meet in the Pacifics Northwest. He, uh, he's actually, um, they're actually recommended to him, uh, by a magazine in Alaska by the Alaskan sportsman.
And, uh, he gets in touch with them and, uh, he says, would you be interested, um, uh, in, in going to Alaska to film for you, uh, all that you can see there. And the Milos say, yeah, absolutely. We'll, we'll do that. And so they spend a full year in Alaska filming everything they see, uh, including a month, um, on an island where they film seals.
Um, and what,
Lou Mongello: and, and let me ask, and, and like, there's so much I wanna unpack and, and questions I, I have for you, but I'm gonna stop for a second cuz. Even when he sent them here, he didn't necessarily know exactly what he was going to do with all this footage once he had it. He knew he wanted to do some sort of educational documentary, but he really wasn't sure e exactly what he was gonna do or how it was going to be released.
Didier Ghez: That is absolutely correct. Um, he has this vague ID that some film about Alaska would be some documentary, Alaska would be interesting. And then he starts getting the footage from the Milos who, uh, spent one year in Alaska in 1946 and uh, uh, he gets that footage back, back all along 1946. And he watches that footage and he's like, I don't know what to do with this.
And there's no
Lou Mongello: sound, right? It's just, it's just video. No sound.
Didier Ghez: That is absolutely correct. There is no script, there is no sound. Um, it's unorganized and so on and so forth, and it's like, I'm not sure what to do with this. And he's still not sure Throughout 1947, and in fact he's still not sure until May, 1948 and in May, 1948 after working and working and working with his artists, he's like, I know what I'm gonna do now.
Uh, we're gonna take all of the footage that's, um, that's focused on the seals and their predators and and so on and so forth, and we're gonna organize all of that footage that doesn't have any human presence, uh, any sign of man, or organize that in a way that makes sense and that tells a story. Uh, and that's what he does.
But it's, it's in May, 1948. Uh, there're just a few months before the release of the first of the True Life adventures, so it's very, very late in the process. And then the rest of the footage that the Milos have have filmed, um, he decides to organize in a different way. Uh, and that becomes the first of the People and Places series, which is another parallel series to the troll Life adventures.
Uh, and so he gets the most out of the footage that the Mitta filmed during that year in, in Alaska, and whether year it was by the way. Yeah.
Lou Mongello: So he's using it for true life adventures. He's using it for this anthology series. And did was also some of it used for educational films. Like for for schools as well.
Didier Ghez: I'm. Cannot remember that, but you'll have to read that in, in the, in the book. Have to admit. Uh, but, but the, the, the biggest outcome really is the, the first of the people and places series called the s Eskimo and the first of the True Life Adventures is Seal Island.
Lou Mongello: What I think is really interesting about this too, and the process and, and Walt thought process, it made me think back to, you know, I, we sort of keep coming back to, to Walt and this idea of.
Making these documentary series, which was different than what he was doing at the studios. But it really also sort of touches Walt on a personal level because in the twenties we all know the story. Maybe we don't know the story about Walt being hired by a local dentist to do an educational short about.
Like proper teeth cleaning and, and, and like oral hygiene, which may or sort of bin Walt's first, you know, quote unquote documentary feature. And then when he goes and, and during, you know, wartime, he's also creating more of these, um, educational informational documentaries here. Like you said, he learned so much along the way.
In a medium that he had started working on in his, I guess it was like 22, so Walt was probably 20, 21, somewhere around there.
Didier Ghez: That's absolutely right. And what was really fun, uh, while researching, uh, the origins of Wild Disney Life Adventures is being able to write that chapter called The Great Teacher, which explores all of those, uh, educational, uh, projects from the war and right after the war, and, and giving a lot of details about those projects and the making of those projects that had never been shared before.
Uh, really digging very, very deep within the Disney archives and other archives to, uh, Really, uh, bring to the fore, um, a lot of information, a lot of illustrations, a lot of documents that no one had had seen before. And that was, that was really fun because that was a, a complete missing link, uh, in the history of the, of the studio.
And so we, we needed to, to, to finally, uh, rediscover that or discover
Lou Mongello: that. And, and I wonder too if it, it just happened to be this sort of perfect intersection of timing, right? So during the war, he's making a lot of these. Technological and, and instructional films, you know, in, in the forties. Um, it w it was a tough time for the studios, right?
Not all the films are necessarily performing super well. Um mm-hmm. The animator strike is going on, so I wonder if. True life adventures comes not just from a personal passion project for Walt, but also him realizing from a business perspective that we need to create something new to sort of keep the, sort of, keep the machine churning here.
Um, you know, and not necessarily, you know, release another, um, you know, mainstream feature film and having to diversify a little bit. Well,
Didier Ghez: There, there is no doubt that after the strike, after the, the beginning of World War ii, uh, Wald is trying to reinvent himself. And, uh, uh, the first way he does it is, um, in just trying to survive really during the, the, uh, world War II and producing those projects for, for the government.
Uh, but then he knows that he needs to try new things even after the war because, uh, it's still gonna be tough times right after the war. And so, It's the, uh, the package features like make my music and middle time and things like that. Uh, it is the Troll Life Adventures, which is another, uh, avenue that he explores and that, uh, he's trying.
It is also, uh, using the block phones from, uh, from the United Kingdom to, uh, uh, to produce live action movies like, uh, treasure Island. Uh, and all of that is really him trying to, uh, To diversify his revenue streams or the revenue streams of the studio and diversify his creative outputs and, and just, uh, making sure that he doesn't rely on just, uh, um, feature films, uh, animated, um, Uh, movies, uh, and, um, and, and it's, it's a great idea.
And then obviously, uh, all of that leads a bit later to, uh, uh, to Disneyland, California and, and to, uh, another reinvention, uh, of what he does, uh, through, uh, theme parks.
Lou Mongello: We use the word visionary. We talk about Walt when we talk about the Multiplay camera, when we talk about the marriage of live action and, and animation.
When we talk about the creation of a place like Disneyland. But he's also a visionary in realizing the, that he has this footage that may not necessarily have theatrical value, right? It might not be able to sort of stand on its own for a full theatrical release, but un especially when these has, when there's no human beings in it, right?
It literally is just animals with no sound. But can create a, a new type of documentary genre. I have to imagine Roy is panicking about the money that's being spent, knowing that these are not going to be released in in theaters. But again, hindsight being 2020. We look at him as this brilliant visionary with being able to shift and pivot, not just in terms of generating revenue, but in terms of creating content that is going to be interesting, but delivered in a unique way.
Didier Ghez: Absolutely. That, that's absolutely right. And you're right, Roy freaked out completely. And, uh, and, and even, uh, when he tries to get the, the, uh, the feature at, uh, seal Island distributed by rco, O R O says, no, absolutely not. This is not gonna work. We can't do it. And he says, well, Uh, okay, you can do it. Let me, uh, let, let me do it.
And then he books the movie himself in, uh, in a theater in Pasadena. The movie is super successful. Uh, it wins an Academy Award. And with the Academy Award, he's like, okay, now it has an Academy Award. Can you distribute it and say, yeah, okay, we'll, we'll, we'll do it. I think, by the way, um, that, if I remember well, that's what leads to the creation a few years later of, uh, Buena Vista, uh, distribution, because Royal really got.
Very frustrated by Rko, uh, at that point. And he's like, okay, they're really not flexible or creative or inventive, so let's do it ourselves. Um, but uh, uh, but yes, it was, uh, it was a way to break the mold. It was a way to, uh, To say, you know, um, I'm Wal Disney and I know what, what the public wants. And, uh, and, and also, I mean, what an amazing editor.
I mean, uh, to, to see all of that footage and, and think, okay, I, I finally know what's gonna work, uh, here and, and having such a success with it. It's really, uh, I mean, there's no doubt that he was a genius,
Lou Mongello: right? Cuz there's, there's a hundred thousand feet of footage that's coming in and sort of rounding up to about a hundred thousand dollars.
In costs. It is edited down to this 27 minute, which is longer than a short, right? It's a sort of, it's a long documentary, but wins the best documentary Oscar that year.
Didier Ghez: That's right. It's such a weird format and, but it's, it's a great success and wins the, the Academy Award. That's right. And
Lou Mongello: I think it's interesting too, from the audience perspective, because the audience hadn't seen anything like that.
Forget about coming from Disney. They hadn't seen like anything like that at all. And I, I, I remember reading that Walt would get questions from people who were used to seeing him. Do you know animated features, you know, how do you train the animals? How did you train the animals to dance to the music like that?
Because that is what was overlaid on the true life adventures. There was, there was narration and there was music. So people thought this was some sort of coordinated, choreographed effort that Walton his team was able to do because they had never seen anything like that before. And that's why when we use terms like visionary, they're incredibly appropriate.
Didier Ghez: Yeah, I agreed with, with all of that. And, uh, and, and what, what, uh, people who watched those, um, uh, true life adventures did not realize is, uh, the amount of faults that the cinematographers themselves had to go through to, uh, uh, to capture all of that footage. I mean, that island with the seals. That was an island that was not easy to get access to.
Uh, it was incredibly difficult to get access to, in fact, and, and fairly dangerous, uh, to, to go to. And then the Milos, I mean, you who, uh, who shot all of that footage during a year, you have to imagine that they were going to Alaska in 1946 where it was a very, very, very primitive environment. Uh, and, and on top of that, Elma, Milo, uh, Al's wife.
She's pregnant when she goes there. So, and, and you have things, I mean, I rediscovered their diaries that are rediscovered, their lost autobiography, who even, which even the family didn't know existed. Um, and, uh, and in there you have, uh, you have extracts like, uh, Elma Milo, after. Two months living with the, uh, with the Eskimos, uh, uh, in a remote village in the middle of winter.
She finally goes back to one of the sort of big cities in, in Alaska, and when she arrives there, she's like, first bath in two months, and you're like, oh my God. It's just, she, this is just incredible,
Lou Mongello: right? Their story, I mean, their own story of how this gets. Shot and made and the patience and the diligence and sort of the, the very sort of didactic way it was done is incredibly dramatic, right?
Their sort of cinema, their story, their cinematographic, I don't even know if that's word. Their story of how this was, was made is incredibly, um, and again, remembering this is, this is the forties is, is a very sort of dramatic tale for the two of them as well.
Didier Ghez: Without a doubt. And what was really fun for me was after I finally rediscovered the diaries, which were spread into, and they, they were preserved by various museums in, in Alaska, uh, and when museum, um, in, in Oregon, uh, and then when I tracked down their, their autobiography, um, I started piecing the whole trip together, like literally day by day.
And I, I could not believe what I was reading. I mean, the condition scheme they had to endure, uh, the type of adventure they had. The, uh, uh, really the, the, the meetings with death, which were really like very close calls with death, uh, and so on and so forth. I mean, it, it, this is really, uh, uh, if, if someone had written an adventure novel like this, I don't think a lot of people would have believed it.
And, and it's, it's a, it's, it's a true life adventure in
Lou Mongello: this case. Yeah. Yes. And that's what I love too. What I love about the book, and again, it, it's beautiful. It, it's, it's like a coffee table book is in addition to the research that you did, you share it through this correspondence that you rediscovered and, and unearthed and these diaries and storyboard art and unpublished photos.
That nobody really had ever seen before. So you tell the stories, not just in words, but it, but visually, it's a, it's a very, very beautiful book to be able to just pick up and go through.
Didier Ghez: You know, one of the things that I've wanted to, to do ever since I started writing those, those books about Disney history is I, I wanted myself as the author to completely disappear and to, uh, to let the people who lived the events of the time really speak for themselves.
And so that means relying as much as possible on, on diaries. Uh, on correspondence, uh, on interviews, and me as the author are just selecting the best, uh, the best quotes and, and the best stories, uh, from, from all of this and, and trying to, uh, to interfere as little as possible, uh, in, in all this. Uh, and obviously from an administration standpoint, make sure that.
Practically every single visual document that would be included in this book or in the, in the other books that I've been writing or that I'm writing now, that all of those visual illustrations, uh, be things that have never been seen before. Um, because a lot of the people who will, uh, Read those books are people who have already read all of the other books about Disney.
And I don't want to just recycle things that have already been published. I really want everything to be new. And, and, and people to, uh, at each page of the book said, I didn't know that. I'd never seen this. This is really unbelievable. And, and that's the whole point.
Lou Mongello: You feel like you are there. During the process because of the storyboard.
So if we're, because the, the photos and the scans are so rich and they're so vibrant, even some of the photos of Walt are ones that, that, that I had never seen before. So it, it, it's fascinating just to sort of pick it up almost and turn to any page and see some of these things that really sort of transport you back in time.
But again, you know, I keep thinking about what this, what Seal Island, which Walt named, right? Walt Walt chose the name Seal Island. What made the True Life Adventure Series? Not just unique, but but such a differentiator from everything out that not just was, was in theaters, but anything that was different that Disney was doing was it literally created a new genre and a new audience base and a new market.
For these nature type documentaries like they, they created with Seal Island, they created the mold and the template for how documentaries about nature would be made going forward. And because it wasn't just. A purely educational film like everything else, it was edutainment, it was educational, but it was entertaining first.
And there was music, and there was humor, and there's a wonderful storytelling element, right? That's what Disney is at, at its core, is a storytelling company. There's a storytelling element here. About these animals that obviously don't speak, but their behavior and the, uh, you know, as with everything else, Disney, incredibly high production value to the work that was, was being put on film.
Didier Ghez: That's absolutely right. I could not say better.
Lou Mongello: So Seal Island comes out in, uh, 1948 and is is met with success. Um, again, it's Disney sees that there is an audience and an interest in this. This starts to the snowball, as it were, rolling for what would be a series of true life adventure films that would run not just in the forties and early fifties, but would run through.
I, I guess the last one was in the early sixties. Mid sixties.
Didier Ghez: Um, the, the last one I believe is actually in the, the late fifties. I would, I would, I think it was Jungle
Lou Mongello: Cat. Jungle Cat came out in 1960. Yeah.
Didier Ghez: Yeah, that, that's right. So in 1960. Mm-hmm. That's right. Uh, but yes, you, you're right. That's then followed by Beaver Valley.
Another, um, another true life adventure that's filmed by the Milos. And then, uh, uh, and then there are more, uh, cinemagraphs that come into the fold, like the, the, the crystals and so on and so forth. And, This is actually the subject of, uh, of, of the next volume, uh, in, in this, uh, series about the troll life adventures, which, which actually is gonna be a really fun one because, um, it won't deal just with the troll life adventures.
What, what happens in is in 1952, uh, when Walt has already released several of the store life adventures he shares with the press, uh, the following. Id, which is he has this series that he thinks about as, um, adventures in Nature, which are the true life adventures. Uh, but he's saying to the press, you know, I'm also gonna launch another series.
I'm just about to launch another series, which is gonna be Adventures in Music and another series, which is Adventures in History. Uh, and Adventures in Music obviously becomes, uh, both two weeks old, plunk and boom and Melody. Uh, but there were other, uh, shorts planned in that, in that same series. And the Adventures in History, uh, series, um, was to start with Ben and me, uh, and then carry on with.
O other shorts. And so I, I thought, okay, wouldn't it be fun to research those parallel series also? And so that second volume of the the True Life Adventure Series, uh, is gonna, is gonna focus, um, on the, the, the next two, uh, life adventures, but also on this whole. Um, history of music, adventures in Music project, which is incredibly rich, incredibly beautiful, visually speaking.
And, uh, the historical slash folklore, uh, projects that, that Disney was starting to consider in the early, in the mid forties. And then that, that evolved into that, uh, uh, that planned, uh, series of adventures in history. So it's a, it's a really fun one.
Lou Mongello: And did the True Life Adventure series, right? As long as we're talking about the, the Disney's.
Um, was was this sort of where Roy E Disney started getting some of its early production work, was on the True Life series?
Didier Ghez: That's absolutely right. He worked both on, um, some of the true life adventures, but especially on the true life fantasy. Uh, Perry did the squirrel, uh, and, and so did some work, uh, on, on that one, uh, especially.
Lou Mongello: Mm-hmm. And I know in the, I guess it was like the mid seventies, uh, The Disney's able to go back into their archives and they create the best of, they create a, a best of compilation documentary, um, including highlights from 13 of the films that were produced from 40 to 60. So even, you know, decades later, the True Life Adventure Series sort of was, was given new life and introduced to a new audience.
Didier Ghez: Of course. And, uh, it goes further than that because in the, um, I believe it's in the 1990s or early 2000 that, uh, Disney launches Disney Nature, uh, which is, uh, sort of another reincarnation of the life adventures for a modern audience. And, uh, You're certainly familiar with quite a few of the, uh, uh, Disney Nature projects, which started in, in, in France.
And then, uh, uh, that was supported by the studio in the US and that became, uh, a major undertaking for, for Disney with some beautiful, beautiful documentaries about, uh, uh, all sorts of animals and in a lot of different
Lou Mongello: regions. Yeah, and I remember in, in the mid two thousands, maybe 2005, six, somewhere, they actually didn't, they didn't, they release was the entire set of true life adventures on DVD v d, like it was a four disk or six disk DVD series that had all of, um, it was part of the legacy collection, I think, and they had, so they were able to reintroduce them again, not just not for theatrical viewing, but for home viewing as well.
Didier Ghez: That's absolutely right. That's a project that was developed by both, uh, Roy e Disney and Leonard Moton. And, uh, and yes, uh, it's, all of them are on, on DVDs including, uh, wonderful, uh, bonus features on those DVDs right
Lou Mongello: now. Interestingly, before we recorded, I was, I went on to Disney Plus and I wanted to see how many of them.
We're on there. Um, and I only, I only saw four. I only saw maybe unless I had missed some, I saw the living desert, the vanishing prairie African Lion and Jungle Cat. I didn't see. Seal Island and I, and you know, obviously when Disney Plus launched, they didn't sort of just put everything they had into it.
They're going to release them over time and, and the hope is that, we'll, we'll obviously have access to all of these on Disney Plus. So once, because I think Didier, I, I think they hold up over time, right? I think it doesn't matter what format film it was shot in, I think that the stories still hold up over time.
Didier Ghez: There's absolutely no doubt you can, you can rewatch them today. And they, uh, they work really, really well. They're still very entertaining. They're still, uh, very accurate in their portrayal of, uh, of the animals and so on and so forth. Um, uh, and, uh, yeah, they're, they're just, uh, a plain, very good series.
They, uh, they, they aren't that dated, frankly. Uh, they work really well. Mm-hmm.
Lou Mongello: So, sort of to tie this, this all up at a bow, how would you. Knowing these series as, as and, and these films and, and so many of the people who, who put them together, how do you think the True Life Adventure series has influenced the way that nature conservation?
Right? We talked about Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's conservation efforts. How much of an impact do you really think this true life adventure series had? Not just on Disney, on film, Disney in the parks, but I think. Media as a whole portraying this idea and the importance of, of showcasing nature and animals and, and conservation and, and putting it out in the forefront.
Didier Ghez: you, you mentioned it yourself earlier, which is that, uh, there, there are two ways to answer that. One is that really it inspired a lot of other, uh, uh, people who created documentaries to think differently about the way they made documentaries and to make them, uh, more alive, more entertaining, more interesting.
Um, and then, uh, also it obviously inspired the, the Disney when he was, uh, creating Disneyland, uh, and, uh, Adventureland is. Uh, is very much, uh, inspired by the troll life adventures. In fact, uh, uh, even the logo of the Troll Life Adventures is used, um, if I'm not mistaken, uh, uh, at the entrance of, um, of, um, ad adventure and in, in some ways.
And so, um, so yeah, it, it has an impact, uh, throughout, uh, what's life and it has an impact after what's. Life with those projects like Disney Nature that, that we mentioned earlier. And obviously, uh, today it's sort of both ironic and, and a very nice way to close the circle that, uh, national Geographic is not part of Disney.
Mm-hmm. Uh, with everything that, uh, that's, that's linked to animals and, uh, and, and, uh, articles about, um, wildlife that, that, that is in that magazine.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, and I think one thing that they've shown, and it continues to hold up, is that, um, you know, facts and, and, and is, is as interesting as fiction. You know, these, these stories are as interesting as anything that can come up, um, and be written as fiction.
The book is called The Origins of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures. Uh, it is by, uh, Hyperion Historical Alliance, academic Monograph series. This is the volume two of film. Uh, I will link in the show notes to where you can find this. And the more than 30 books that DDA has published over on Amazon dda, you still continue, right?
You still continue to blog, is it? You still have the, is the, you still have DDA A Getz. That's the Disney, I'm trying to remember. The Disney
Didier Ghez: book. Disney books blogspot.com, which is the Disney history blog. That's right. That's
Lou Mongello: right. And you've been doing that like since blogging began, like it's, it's still on blog spot.
Like you're still, you literally have been doing this since the very beginning.
Didier Ghez: Y yes, I really have. Um, and I'm still trying to share fun discoveries and, and fun
Lou Mongello: facts. Yes, it is. Uh, it is fascinating and, and you have so many books to share, so many incredible stories. Uh, you are a remarkable researcher.
More importantly, you're able to translate the. The, the stories and the facts that you get into such, you know, like Disney, like such wonderful, accessible, fascinating stories. Uh, as well. It has been such a pleasure. Not only have a chance to get through the book, but after, you know, a decade and a half of sort of knowing you tangentially to, uh, to meet and chat with you in person.
And, and I appreciate you your time and I appreciate you sharing, uh, all the work that you put into this and all of your other books
Didier Ghez: has been an absolute pleasure for me. Of course,
Lou Mongello: Lou. I will, uh, like I said, I will share links to the books and your website over in the show notes. Uh, Didi Getz, thank you again so very much.
Didier Ghez: You're very welcome. That was fun.
Lou Mongello: It's time for our Walt Disney World trivia question of the week where I invite you to test your knowledge of Walt Disney World's history or see how well you pay attention to the details in which you see here. Taste maybe even remember. And if you think you know the answer, you can enter for a chance to win Disney Prize package.
And this week's tribute contest is once again brought to you. By you really, because as part of the WW Audio Nation, you help bring every episode of the show to life, every live broadcast from the parks, the contests, and giveaways. They're all thanks to buy four with and about you, and you can find out how you can help the show for as little as a dollar per month and get cool exclusive rewards every month.
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Now, before we get to this week's question, we're gonna go back, review last week's and select our winner. So last week I took you over to Disney's All-Star Sports Resort and said that it's divided into five different areas, each with a different sports theme. All I asked you to tell me was what are the five different sports represented?
First, thanks to all of you, entered, got these or most of these, correct? I knew that the answer was football, soccer, which depending on where you are, may sound like the exact same thing. Baseball, surfing, and tennis. And so I took all the correct entries, randomly selected one. And last week you were once again playing for a WW audio mug, a pin and a mystery prize, and last week's winner, randomly selected is Kelsey Christian.
So Kelsey, congratulations. I'll get your prize package out to you right away, and if you play last weekend, didn't win. Don't sweat it because here's your next chance to enter in this week's easy Walt Disney World trivia challenge. So we'll go from the resorts back to the parks, specifically Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, and tell me in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, as long as we're talking about Walt this week, what is the name?
Of the dog. Actually, let me clarify. Be more specific. What is the current name of the dog in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress? You have until Sunday, June 11th at 11:59 PM Eastern. To go to WDW radio.com. Click on this week's podcast. Use the form there again, you're gonna play for a mug, a pin. And a mystery prize.
So good luck and have fun.
That's gonna do it this week's show. Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in this and every week. I know how valuable and precious your time is. I sincerely appreciate you spending and sharing some of it. With me. Please don't forget to be part of the community and the conversation. Talk not just about this week's show, but anything in the Disney marvel or Star Wars universe over in the ww rd o clubhouse.
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