Author Jeff Kurtti Takes Us Along in Travels With Walt Disney Book

If you have been to the Walt Disney Family Museum or a Disney theme park, seen any number of movies or documentaries on DVD, watched “The Academy Awards,” Turner Classic Movies and “The Wonderful World of Disney,” or read any book about Disney history chances are you saw or read something by Jeff Kurtti.

Kurtti is considered one of the foremost authorities on anything and everything Disney.  His breadth of knowledge and curiosity always brings a unique perspective on Walt and The Walt Disney Company. And his latest book is no exception.

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World, chronicles the numerous trips Walt took with his family, friends, and animators through seldom- and never-before-seen photos.

The book, which will be released on April 3, 2018, has an innumerable amount of beautifully laid out photographs. In addition, Kurtti includes brief, yet detailed accounts of many of Walt’s trips and also includes notes, letters, memos, and other documentation. It’s a must-have book for any Disney fan!

I caught up with Jeff and talked to him about the creation of Travels With Walt Disney.

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World, image courtesy Disney Editions

What prompted you to write a book from this perspective?

Walt Disney’s life has been a focus of my personal scholarship and my work for decades, so examining his life through different prisms is, to me, somewhat second nature-and always a fascinating way to add depth to thinking about his identity, his accomplishments, and his cultural meaning.

But the inspiration actually began on a Disney Cruise! I’m asked occasionally to go on a Cruise and do lectures or book signings, and a couple of years back, they asked if I’d create a new presentation. It was called “Walt on the High Seas,” and although my initial idea was to focus on Disney films and TV that featured nautical themes and stories, I quickly discovered that Walt and his family had been going on sea voyages and cruises since the mid-1930s! I sent a print out of the Keynote to my editors at Disney Editions and asked, “Is there a book here?” They expanded the idea beyond just Walt’s seafaring adventures, and suggested—given the wealth of photography and visuals at our disposal—that is should be expanded to a wider-focused Walt Disney ‘travel history.”

Talk about the process of researching, obtaining, and selecting all these photographs.

Having been deeply involved in the media and visual narrative work for The Walt Disney Family Museum, there were few images that I had not seen before-but I knew most of the readers would have not. So, in that sense, I was excited to be able to share a great many charming and personal-feeling images of Walt that portray him not as an icon, but as a person.

Since we were most interested in travel that contained either good visuals, or interesting anecdotes or insights, or both, as I began to review and organize the visual research, and connect those visuals with the story elements, the notion of looking at Walt’s travels by either mode of transport or reason for his journeys seemed like a good narrative structure. Less dull than a chronology, and offering a good visual rhythm.

Michael Buckhoff in the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library and his team have been working to organize and scan their gigantic photographic resource, so we were able to obtain brilliant new digital files of many images for the book, as well as new material from Sharon Disney Lund’s collection that is now in the collection of the Photo Library.

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World, image courtesy Disney Editions

How did you research all the places Walt traveled to?

My work on The Walt Disney Family Museum is the foundation for all of my “Walt Work” since, but a critical element was a huge part of my research: Walt Disney Archives director Rebecca Cline offered me a document that she has been working on for ages, a dateline of Walt’s travels derived in great part from his personal Desk Diaries over three decades, including, wherever known, carriers, hotels, traveling companions, and reasons for the various trips.

That made seeking supporting visuals, documentation, and anecdote a hundred time easier, more efficient, and guaranteed historical accuracy.

The documents that you used in the book – such as to list the table of contents and sections of a chapter – are those images of actual Walt Disney Company stationary?

Our team wanted to have the feel of a “travel journal,” rather than a straight-out “photo book,” to enhance the storytelling and make the whole book more visually varied and rich, we added some artifacts such as luggage tags, travel receipts, and actual Walt Disney Productions letterhead appropriate to the period.

While working on the book, was there something you discovered about Walt or his travels, which you didn’t know before? If so, what?

Like so many things in life, until you examine them in collective and context, their impact is diffused. In the overall biography of Walt that lives in my head, I never “connected” all the traveling he did into an itinerary of specific activity. The guy traveled a lot. He went to a lot of places. We tend to think of him at Disneyland or in his office at the Studio; on a sound stage or the Sunday night TV show.

The discovery, as usual, with any examination of Walt’s life—he’s so much more than his image, his iconography, or his work.

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World, image courtesy Disney Editions

Are the drawings in the book original from the archives or done specifically for the book?

The drawings in the book originated in an idea, again, to break up the book and add personality and warmth. The idea of peppering little sketches, the kind artists always make by second nature on envelopes, napkins, or in their pocket sketchbooks felt like it carried a very “Disney” appeal in keeping with our story.

Our book designer engaged a colleague of his, Chris Kawagiwa, to become the “expedition artist” for us, and we chose a variety of subjects for him to create visuals of, in order to create little moments of interest and art throughout.

It seems that every method of transportation that Walt took influenced him (movies, animation, parks). Can you elaborate on that?

“You see, our whole forty-some odd years here has been in the world of making things move,” Walt said in a 1963 interview. Early in his career that had meant film animation. Later, realistic figures of birds, animals, and people became an innovation and symbol of “animation innovation.” But from his youth-inspired but lifelong love of trains, Walt was fascinated by transportation, not only what it was, but what it did, and what that meant to mankind—the beginnings of a larger notion that would be ingrained in his personal identity, and a word that would become a repeated descriptor of his life’s work: “progress.”

Were there any places that Walt traveled to but didn’t include in the book?

In October of 1962 Walt and his kids and grandkids boarded the S.S. Mariposa, which sailed from Southern California to the South Pacific, and docked in New Zealand before returning to the United States. The Disney family visited Pago Pago, Bora Bora, Papeete, Nandi, and Honolulu.

I would have loved to have included this trip, a series of amazing ports of call he’d never been to, but the supporting visuals were next to nonexistent. Sad, because it sounds like a fantastic trip!

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World

Travels With Walt Disney: A Photographic Voyage Around the World, image courtesy Disney Editions

How many Disney related books have you written to date?

I wrote my first Disney book in 1996, and I’ve sort of lost count since then. I think its 30 or more if you factor in custom books, companion books for DVD releases, and internal publications.

Highlights are The Art of Tangled, Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park, Disneyland Through the Decades: A Photographic Celebration, Disneyland: From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After, The Art of Mulan, Welcome Aboard! The Creation of the Disney Dream,  The Art of The Princess and the Frog, The Art of Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World Then, Now, and Forever, What the Sea Teaches Us, How Does the Show Go On? An Introduction to the Theatre

Are you currently working on any new books?

From All of Us to All of You: The Disney Christmas Card will be released on September 18. That’s a project that’s been in the works for a decade, and I’m really happy with it. The content is beautiful in and of itself, and the book design is phenomenal. I think anyone who loves Disney or Christmas or both will want to have it!

Practically Poppins in Every Way: A Magical Carpetbag of Countless Wonders will be released concurrently with Mary Poppins Returns this Christmas. It’s a big colorful, celebratory book of art, photos, essays, and observations about Mary Poppins in all her varied incarnations from her first appearance in an Australian newspaper in 1926 through the creation of Mary Poppins Returns—with stops along the way in literature, film, television, on stage, and in music.

I have several other exciting book projects with Disney editions that are in the works now, but I can’t talk about them quite yet. My editors Jennifer Eastwood and Wendy Lefkon are such incredibly smart and fun collaborators that I could keep working with them until I can’t work anymore.

A Photographic Voyage Around the World
By Jeff Kurtti
152 pp. Disney Editions. $29.99
On Sale: April 3, 2018

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