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The Wonderful World of Disney

Biography: With home movies, personal items, a CD-ROM looks at the family man turned famous.

September 28, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's rare video footage of Walt Disney at home with his family, early cartoon sketches he did as a teenager that closely resembled animation later done by his studio and even a look at his seventh-grade--and far-from-spectacular--report card.

A new CD-ROM on Walt Disney aspires to show the man behind the legend. Though it's filled with sketches and scenes from his early creations and his legendary films like "Snow White" and "Bambi," what makes the CD-ROM special are the rare, candid family photos, home videos and audiotapes that give insight into the private Disney--photos of a young Disney growing up, clips of him playing with his daughters and tapes of him reminiscing about his life and career.

"Walt Disney: An Intimate History of the Man and His Magic" from Disney Interactive, which hits stores Tuesday ($40), gives fans an up-close look at the creative force and Hollywood mogul whose life and career seem to hold a mythical spell on modern culture. Putting it on CD-ROM allowed the family and researchers to present information that can't be presented in book form.

"You could tell stories in print about his relationships with his daughters and his wife, but that can only get a reader so far," says journalist Richard Greene, who edited and researched the CD-ROM with his wife, Katherine. Six years ago, the two wrote the Disney biography "The Man Behind the Magic."

"The CD-ROM gives you the capacity not just to say he was a loving dad, but when you actually see his young daughters you can't doubt the love in their eyes," says Greene. "It's not a matter of taking somebody's words for it."

Disney may have died nearly 32 years ago, but according to his eldest daughter, interest in her father is alive and flourishing.

"I get letters from children who say we are doing a project in our class selecting our favorite personality and we've elected your father," says Diane Disney Miller, 64.

In the minds of his fans, Miller maintains, her dad is still a "living, vibrant personality--just a friendly, earnest guy."

And the CD-ROM tries to set the record straight about some aspects of Disney's life. "There are a lot of myths surrounding him which shouldn't be there," says Miller, who introduces the CD--ROM with her two eldest sons, Chris and Walt.

"There are all sorts of strange rumors that he was frozen--that he was an FBI informant."

Miller had become close with the Greenes while they were researching their book in the late '80s. "About three years ago, we got our first computer, which had a CD drive in it," recalls Richard Greene. "We thought we could do something wonderful with it with Walt Disney's life. We contacted Diane."

"It seemed to be the right thing to do at the right time," says Miller, who didn't have a clue what a CD-ROM was at the time. "I will be 65 this December. My dad was 65 when he died. I thought I can't wait any longer."

Plus, says Miller, she could open the doors of the family archives and let the Greenes have access to family movies and pictures "where you see him before the time I was born, old family stuff, mother and dad in the early years. When dad was in front of the camera, he's kind of a ham--kind of a clown."

Miller feels "Walt Disney" captures the essence and spirit of her dad. "You really get to know him, I think," she says.

"This brings in the early dimensions of the family man and you get the famous man at the end, making speeches and receiving awards. Nobody really wants anybody to sit down and watch their old family movies, but it was just a very good way to show him. A lot of it is him talking about his work and his life. That, to me, is the greatest appeal here. You get a lot of him."

Katherine Greene acknowledges that there were two distinct sides to Disney's personality. "In the studio he tended to be a perfectionist, demanding and impatient sometimes with people. In his home, both of his daughters described him as incredibly patient and wanting to spend countless hours with them. They both obviously had an enormous amount of affection for him, as did his nieces."

"He was a good dad," Miller says warmly. "He was wonderful, loving, fun. He was very home-oriented and that's what you see in this. It was a happy family."

Miller says the CD-ROM contains some footage she had never even seen before. "It turned up while they were doing this," she says. "It was at Disney [archives]. It must have been film that came from my Uncle Roy's things. It was very early footage of dad and his early partners in business. They must have been 18 or 19 or 20."

The Greenes also tracked down Disney's seventh-grade report card. "It was in one of his relative's houses," says Richard Greene. "What was cool was that one side was a seventh-grade graduation certificate and the flip side was the actual report card."

Young Disney it seems wasn't a budding scholar. "He didn't do very well," admits Richard Greene. "He wasn't a great student."

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