Walt’s world: Santa Rosa author explores Disneyland history through its founder’s eyes
For some people, Disneyland will forever be the Magic Kingdom they first dreamed of, longed for and experienced as a wide-eyed child.
Whether diving to the depths of the sea on the Submarine Voyage or soaring through the snow-capped Matterhorn on an alpine sled, such memories often continue to move them, well into adulthood.
At least that’s true for Marcy Carriker Smothers of Santa Rosa, who made her first trip to Disneyland with her grandparents when she was 8, then returned with them for one special day every summer. For her, it was, and still is, the Happiest Place on Earth.
“It was the best day of the year,” she recalled. “It was not the happiest childhood at home, but everything was happy with my grandparents.”
Although she doesn’t have a single photograph of herself at Disneyland as a child, she remembers the anticipation she felt the night before, the excitement of spotting the Matterhorn on the approach and the contentment at the end of the day as her grandfather carried her back to the car.
All those magical emotions are what Smothers wanted to capture in her latest tome, a 192-page paperback guidebook, “Walt’s Disneyland: A Walk in the Park with Walt Disney” (Disney Editions, 2021, $15.99).
“Walt’s energy and everything he created is still there,” she said of Disneyland. “It’s the only park in the world that he stepped foot in, he played in and he slept in. For me, that makes it the Crown Jewel.”
For the book, Smothers unearthed new details and rare footage culled from hours of research and hundreds of interviews.
“The book is filled with rare photographs of Walt Disney riding his attractions and walking construction sites at Disneyland in addition to hand-drawn sketches by Walt Disney himself,” wrote theme park reporter Brady MacDonald of the Orange County Register. “Walt’s Disneyland” … should delight even the most jaded Disneylanders who think they’ve read and seen it all before.”
A former broadcaster, Smothers worked for KSRO in Sonoma County and KGO in San Francisco, then launched herself into the food world in 2007 as the co-host with celebrity chef Guy Fieri of KSRO’s “The Food Guy and Marcy Show.”
Smothers came out with her first book in 2013, a fun shopping guide and cookbook published by HarperCollins called “Snacks: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle.”
Since then, she’s dedicated herself to chronicling all things Disney, starting with “Eat Like Walt,” a culinary history of Disneyland that hit book shelves in 2017. Now in its third printing, the book was a New York Times New & Noteworthy selection in 2018.
In addition, Smothers recently co-authored a cookbook with Pam Brandon, “Delicious Disney: Walt Disney World,” published in October 2021 in honor of the Florida resort’s 50th anniversary.
“The fun part was that those recipes are drawn from 50 years,” she said. “But I had not gone to Disney World until I was 33. So this was digging deep and trying to find the stories.”
“Walt’s Disneyland,” her passion project of the past four years, came out just a month later. It’s an homage to the park’s Midwestern founder, who grew up dreaming under a cottonwood tree in Marceline, Missouri, and later designed Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland as a tribute to his charming hometown.
Smothers talked about “Walt’s Disneyland” in early January, while working on her next book, “National Geographic’s 100 Best Disney Adventures.” The interview has been edited for length.
Question: How did you come up with the idea to write “Walt’s Disneyland?”
Answer: After “Eat Like Walt” was published, I was sitting with Jim Cora, a Disney legend, and he said, “What’s next kid?” I told him I had an idea to do a guidebook to Disneyland from Walt’s perspective and the people who built it with him. He said, “That’s it. That’s the one. Make it a priority.”
The thing about Jim — and all the people I spoke with who worked with Walt — they took his legacy very seriously after he was gone. That was paramount to Jim, and he was passing me the torch to make sure Walt’s legacy lived on.
I started working on it in late 2017, and luckily, I had all my time in the Walt Disney Archives in 2018 and 2019 before the pandemic hit. Otherwise, I couldn’t have achieved it.
This is very fact-based, and there are 13,000 words in the endnotes. My commitment to the facts was extremely strong, and I hired an MLS (person with a master’s degree in library science) to help me.
But my emphasis was the feelings, emotions and sentiments that were keeping Walt alive at his original Magic Kingdom.