Subscribe

Walt’s world: Santa Rosa author explores Disneyland history through its founder’s eyes

Smothers to talk about “Walt’s Disneyland”

Marcy Carriker Smothers will give an online talk about her new book, “Walt’s Disneyland,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19, as part of Copperfield’s Books’ author series.

The talk is free. To register: copperfieldsbooks.co and click on events.

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.

Q: How was this book similar to “Eat Like Walt,” and how did it differ?

A: Walt is the focal point of both, and they both involve history … but they are very different. The first book was really food-centric, and the second book was Disneyland.

In “Eat Like Walt,” food was the lens to get to know Walt Disney, but I was the storyteller. In this book, Walt’s the storyteller. … I was trying to tell it in his words, and that required a lot of research. I was always looking for all these quotes from Walt, whether they are in the text or at the top of the chapter.

It was imperative to me that I only use first-person accounts … whether I traveled to meet the men who worked with Walt or found transcripts in the Walt Disney Archives.

It was a similar process, time wise and commitment-wise, for both books, but I knew how to do it better the second time. … I really knew how to keep notes about accepted sources and quotes and excerpts. When you write a book for Disney Editions, and it gets to the Archives for a review, it’s like defending your dissertation.

Q: How did the pandemic affect your writing and the production schedule?

A: The book release got delayed three times. It was supposed to come out July 2020 for Disneyland’s 65th anniversary. They said they needed more time to promote it. Then it got delayed again. But every time that happened, it gave me more time with the book.

Even now, it’s been out a few months, and we’re delaying the big book signing at Disneyland until it’s safe. That’s OK. I purposely created an evergreen book. It’s set in Walt’s time period.

Q: How did you like the way the design of the book turned out? It has a retro, midcentury look that seems appropriate.

A: Suzi Hut Sell at Cameron & Co. in Petaluma did the book design. The words and the image choices are mine, but everything else is her. She’s looking at the borders, textures, colors, tones and choosing the banners on the page edges for the different chapters. Really, the whole look and feel of the book is Suzi.

The cover is a photograph from National Geographic. It says everything. He’s signing autographs and he’s got a huge smile. That speaks to Walt.

Q: How were you able to get Walt’s voice to sound authentic into the book?

A: I listened to so many YouTubes and vintage DVDs and recordings. He was from the Midwest … and I tried to keep it in his folksy style. He talked very simply. Over time, people learned that he was just a regular guy, and he didn’t have a huge vocabulary, but he was incredibly articulate. My goal was that you feel Walt is with you.

Of Tom Sawyer Island, Walt once said, “I put in all the things I wanted to do as a kid, and couldn’t.” That’s the sweetest thing ever. That brings you closer.

Tom Sawyer Island is important because it was an original attraction that he designed completely by himself, which was unique. Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln were Walt’s heroes, and they’re my heroes, too.

Q: I remember going to the 1964 New York World’s Fair and watching the Animatronic Abe Lincoln speak. In the book, you talk about how Disney studied his gestures and speaking style to make him appear authentic.

A: The world’s fair is very interesting. That was a high order to get Abe Lincoln done in time. The first time the show debuted at the World’s Fair, they just could not get him to work, and Walt had to go out and talk to the audience. … Disneyland has the distinction of having all four of the attractions from the World’s Fair — Abe LIncoln, It’s a Small World, the People Mover and the Carousel of Progress.

Q: How much time did you spend at Disneyland while working on this book?

A: Before COVID, I would fly down there a lot. Being there was a feeling that motivated and inspired me. When I couldn’t go, I always had playlists of Disney music. Those are what saved me. Because being with Walt and hearing the music during this isolation made me so happy.

In my mind, it was like Walt and I were talking shop. I’d get up, walk away and something would pop into my mind. It was like living with him.

Q: Why do you think Disneyland still holds an allure for adults?

A: I believe what Walt intended was that once you were inside the berm, it’s safe, it’s fun, it’s entertaining and it is purely magical. And you can suspend everything else that is going on in your life and just have fun with your friends and family.

I’m going down to Disneyland next week. When you’re there, you feel what he intended, and that spirit is ongoing and exists. It’s all there to find if you know where to look.

“Walt’s Disneyland” has gone into reprint but is currently available at Copperfield’s Books and on Amazon.com.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

Smothers to talk about “Walt’s Disneyland”

Marcy Carriker Smothers will give an online talk about her new book, “Walt’s Disneyland,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19, as part of Copperfield’s Books’ author series.

The talk is free. To register: copperfieldsbooks.co and click on events.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette