Disney’s Land


Richard Snow, Scribner, 385 pages, $30. Those who knew Walt Disney often described him as an uncomplicated man of conventional 20th-century sensibilities: a lover of model trains, farm animals, lunch-wagon food, hard work, evening belts of scotch and endless Chesterfield cigarettes. One of his rituals upon coming home from his movie studio was feeding his poodle, Duchess, a cold frankfurter, or “wienie,” by leading her from room to room while throwing pieces on the floor. When he was designing what is arguably one of America’s great physical masterpieces, Disneyland, he explained that he wanted to coax visitors through the park with a series of visual delights that he called “wienies”: Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Moonliner, the Mark Twain riverboat, the carefully riotous verdure of the Jungle Cruise. The clockwork of the park — and to some extent, the personality of the man who created it — receives an expert inspection in Richard Snow’s new history “Disney’s Land.” This is primarily a construction saga, albeit a highly readable one set in an anxious nation that didn’t know it needed Disneyland until Walt provided it. What America didn’t lack in the 1950s was industrial capability, engineering know-how and World War II logistical experience. Disney commandeered all of it. He was a generous kind of authoritarian; the park was indisputably his own vision, but he encouraged free-flowing creativity from below. Snow also includes remembrances of the Disneyland from his childhood, although they seem distractingly lodged in place.