MEET THE AUTHORS DAVE SMITH Archivist for the Disney Company
This interview appeared in the
January 16, 2001 Issue #68 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
ALL EARS® continues its series: Meet the Authors! These interviews give you an opportunity to get to know the authors of various Disney-related books, as well as ask them questions directly.
This month, ALL EARS'® Meet the Authors series features Dave Smith, Archivist for the Disney Company. He has authored several well-known books about and for the Walt Disney Company, which he joined in 1970 as the Director of Archives: "Disney A to Z" (the official Disney encyclopedia), "Disney: The First Hundred Years" (co-authored with Steven Clark), and "The Ultimate Disney Trivia Book" Volumes 1 through 4, co-authored with Kevin Neary. He also writes a regular column in the Disney Magazine, in which he answers questions about the parks, movies and products of the Disney Company.
A Pasadena, California, native, Dave earned both a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in library science from the University of California at Berkeley. After a stint as an intern with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., he returned to California as a reference librarian at the UCLA Research Library. He authored several articles and had several bibliographies published, including one on Jack Benny.
Dave began his long relationship with the Disney Company in 1967, when he spent a year researching an in-depth bibliography on Walt Disney. Subsequently, when the Disney family and Disney Studio management decided the time had come to preserve Walt Disney's papers, awards and other memorabilia, they remembered Smith and tapped him as the person to lead this effort. Eventually, Dave's responsibilities grew until they included recording and preserving all aspects of the Disney organization's history, leading Smith to be named the official Disney Archivist.
In addition to his archivist duties, writing his Disney Magazine column, and the many books and articles, Dave is an active member of the Society of California Archivists. He has also served for the last 20 years as Executive Director of the Manuscript Society, an international association of collectors, archivists, and others interested in manuscript material.
Now a resident of Burbank, Dave recently celebrated his 30th anniversary with the Disney Company.
During the month of December, ALL EARS subscribers had the opportunity to send in questions for Dave.
I want to thank everyone who participated. On behalf of everyone here at ALL EARS®, Welcome Dave!
ALL EARS® READER PAM TEIXEIRA FROM NEW JERSEY: Would you tell us how the Disney archives were founded?
DAVE SMITH: The Archives was founded in 1970 after the company started wondering about what to do with its historical material. The catalyst which started everyone thinking was Walt Disney's death in 1966. There was first the thought of preserving Walt Disney's correspondence, awards, and memorabilia, and then the history of the entire company. I was a librarian at UCLA at the time, and took a leave of absence to do a two-month consulting job at Disney, out of which came a proposal for the establishment of the Archives.
ALL EARS®: You mention in Disney A to Z that the 1994 earthquake caused major structural damage to the building the Disney Archives were in. Were any materials lost due to the earthquake?
DAVE SMITH: The earthquake was a traumatic time for us, since our building was structurally damaged and we had to move out for 8 months. However, our files remained in the building. We had to don hard hats and join the construction crews about every day to retrieve material or look up answers for our patrons. It was most inconvenient. Regarding damage to our collections, we only had about a dozen figurines break, and we were able to repair them. Thank goodness none of our cabinets or shelving fell over.
JAN THEMANN FROM NEW YORK: I've always wanted to know, is the Disney archive open to the public? I am a librarian, but am sure that other Disney fans would be interested in seeing all the wonderful materials collected at the archive.
DAVE SMITH: Unfortunately, we are not open to the public. The Archives was set up for the use of the employees of The Walt Disney Company. In earlier years, we were more open to students and writers from outside the company, but with the tremendous growth of our company, our workload has increased so much that we have had to curtail that service.
However, we do answer inquiries from the public by telephone, letter, and email. (And greetings to a fellow librarian; I received my Master's Degree in Library Science from the University of California, and started my career as an intern at the Library of Congress.)
GARY RICHARDS FROM CALIFORNIA: What is the criteria for items (written or physical) deemed worthy for the Disney archives? How many more items can be placed in the archives before more storage room is needed? Are indeed the archives overflowing leading to auctioning items on Disney Auctions through E-Bay? Is a public (perhaps traveling) display of a wide range of archival items being proposed for the immediate future?
DAVE SMITH: Wow, many questions in one. The decision on what to save in the Archives is based on years of experience of what our users are going to be asking for. Thus, the most important materials we save are informational materials — publications, press releases, correspondence files, etc.
We are not a museum, and are not making a point of collecting exhibit materials — in fact today we collect very few merchandise samples. In the earlier days, we collected more of the merchandise, but over 30 years it has rarely been requested and is just taking up storage space. Thus, we have recently deaccessioned some of the items which no longer fit within our collecting policy and made them available to Disney Auctions.
Since we are not accumulating display objects, a traveling exhibit would probably not be possible. Our material is here for research purposes, and cannot be spared for traveling exhibits. Thank goodness, we have not run out of storage space yet; the Company has been very good to us over the years in making ever larger rooms available to us.
GEORGE TAYLOR FROM NORTH CAROLINA: I am a fellow Librarian, and it has been a dream of mine to work in the Disney Archives. Is there any place "special" that I should look for job postings and other information about the Archives? What do you look for in a job candidate?
DAVE SMITH: We rarely have openings in the Archives, since we are a small department (five in the Archives and four in the Photo Library), but when we do have openings, they are listed on the Disney.com website under Disney Careers. We recently filled an opening for a computer expert in the Archives and a clerk in the Photo Library, those were the first openings we have had in over five years, and both were listed on the website. For positions in the Archives, we look for expertise in library skills and historical research, and hopefully some Disney knowledge (though we do not hire Disney collectors).
LINDA ECKWERTH FROM MARYLAND: What research question has been most difficult to answer and what process did you take to discover the answer?
DAVE SMITH: Your question falls into the category of those that are the most difficult to answer. 🙂
Actually, no one example comes to mind. Very often we get questions that require a lot of research to find an answer. It takes knowing our collection and likely places where possible answers might be found. Since each of us in the Archives has our own interests and fields of expertise, we will ask our colleagues for help. It is really a lot of fun, like detective work, and when you are successful in ferreting out an elusive fact, it makes your day.
TOM BERGEMANN FROM NEW YORK: In The Tiki Birds Under New Management the birds sing an old 1950's era doo-wop classic during the show. What is the song that the birds sing? I saw the show last spring and have been trying to get the answer ever since.
DAVE SMITH: Sorry, but we don't have a listing of the music in that show here in the Archives.
PAT GILBERT FROM PENNSYLVANIA: Since the Dolphin Hotel and the Swan Hotel are not owned by the Walt Disney Company, how did they manage to get such a great location near Epcot? How does Disney benefit from this arrangement?
DAVE SMITH: For a discussion of the planning of the Swan and Dolphin Hotels, see Beth Dunlop's book, Building a Dream. I have no information on the business arrangement, but I assume it is like any of our other licenses, where we are paid a fee for the use of the Walt Disney World name and the lease of the land on which the hotels sit. I have read somewhere that Michael Eisner later commented, in hindsight, that he probably shouldn't have located the hotels so close to Epcot.
BRUCE METCALF FROM FLORIDA: I'd like to know more about the "Kaleidophonic Wall" that was in the preshow section of the Carousel of Progress when it was at Disneyland (and possibly the World's Fair?). How large was it, how many lights, and especially, why didn't it make the trip to Florida with the rest of the show?
DAVE SMITH: At the New York World's Fair, there was "a kaleidoscope of mobile color" featuring 2,100 of G.E.'s latest dichronic-filter spotlamps lighting up the surface of the dome of the building. We seem to have no information here on the additional kaleidophonic effect in the preshow section, or why it was not moved to Florida.
PETE A. SAETRE FROM INDIANA: I have been wondering what significance "Medfield" has to the Walt Disney Company? It was repeatedly used in the Disney Live Action movies of the '50s, '60s and '70s as the setting.
DAVE SMITH: No significance, really. It probably just seemed to be a nice generic name for a college that got used in a number of Disney films.
ENID HADFIELD FROM FLORIDA: I would like to know what was Bambi's mother's name.
DAVE SMITH: She is not named in either the Disney film or Felix Salten's original book.
MELANIE EMMONS FROM NEW YORK: When did Disney start using the three-circle Mickey symbol? (and any elaboration would be welcome!)
DAVE SMITH: The first use I have noticed is on the company's 1965 annual report. It received much wider usage during the planning and opening of Walt Disney World, since it became part of that park's logo.
BRENT HIBBITTS FROM TEXAS: What new major attractions are planned for each of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World in Orlando for 2001 and 2002? We noticed several instances of construction being initiated. Where can we keep up with planned changes?
DAVE SMITH: Sorry, but this is a question asking for information about the future, and the Archives maintains information about the past. Obviously one future attraction will be the space pavilion at Epcot, taking the place of Horizons. I am also aware that new kiddy rides are being added at Dinoland at Animal Kingdom, along with a flying carpet ride at the Magic Kingdom.
MONTY LOCKABY FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: How did Disney come up with the name of "Touchstone" for their motion picture division of the same name? I could understand if it was "Touchtone", but the addition of the "s" has me curious.
DAVE SMITH: Disney used an outside company to research possible names. Touchstone has two meanings in the dictionary: (1) a black siliceous stone related to flint and formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed by the metal, and (2) a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing (synonym = standard).
KIMMIE FROM FLORIDA: I have all of the Trivia volumes that you have authored and I was wondering something. Since you are the Director of Archives, you probably have seen or get to see the really interesting things. What would be your personal list of favorites and why?
DAVE SMITH: As a historian, my favorite things in the Archives are the ones relating to Walt Disney's early life and those relating to his family. We have a Canadian deed signed by Walt Disney's great-grandparents in the 1850s. We have drawings which Walt Disney did while in high school, and a postcard he wrote when he was 15. We have his baptismal certificate from 1902.
DANNY SMITH FROM FLORIDA: I've heard that when Walt Disney decided to build a theme park back east, that St. Louis was the first choice, not Orlando. Is that story true?
DAVE SMITH: Not exactly. Walt was asked by the city of St. Louis to build some sort of entertainment enterprise, which would not have been as large as a theme park, along the Mississippi where the Gateway Arch was built in 1965, as part of a civic redevelopment program. After meeting with people there, and coming up with some basic ideas, Walt felt the project was not economically feasible and it was dropped. But, for his second theme park, Walt always felt it should be on the East Coast, and that for weather considerations, it should be in Florida.
BARBARA HARRINGTON FROM DELAWARE: A couple of years ago my father bought a Mickey that was dressed as Santa. On the tag, it has the Pepsi trademark. When did Disney and Pepsi have an affiliation together? All we can remember is their affiliation with Coca Cola.
DAVE SMITH: Pepsi-Cola was the sponsor of the Golden Horseshoe Revue at Disneyland for over two decades. The sponsorship ended about the time that rival Coca-Cola signed a major contract for co-sponsorship of the American Adventure at Epcot.
PAUL SHERWOOD FROM WISCONSIN: I heard a while back that the original agreement with MGM to use their name was expiring and that the name would be changed to just Disney Studios. I haven't seen that happen yet. Every once in a while I see someone refer to it with the short name, but I haven't seen anything official from Disney yet. Can you clarify the situation for us?
DAVE SMITH: We do not have the contracts in the Archives, so I do not know the details to pass on to you. I have heard the same rumors you have.
HOLLY MCKENNA FROM TEXAS: How did Walt Disney World acquire Thomas Jefferson's marble doorstep for the Magic Kingdom? It's the one in Liberty Square with the iron gate around it.
DAVE SMITH: Walt Disney World asked me about that recently, and we checked through all the publicity releases about Liberty Square but found no mention of it. I cannot imagine that Monticello would have disposed of one of its doorsteps.
MARY AGNES SHEARON FROM VIRGINIA: I am doing some research on the proven architectural antecedents of the Disneyland City Hall. Are there any factual statements in the literature that the inspiration for this edifice was indeed the Fort Collins building? The reason I'm interested is that a building I saw recently, which was featured around 1950 (along with a major Hollywood star) on a famous national magazine's cover, is a virtual duplicate of the DL one. It matches every important architectural feature of the DL edifice much better than any other possible architectural ancestor. (This building was built as a governmental building in the late 1800s so it obviously predates the DL City Hall by several decades.)
Owing to the prominence of the actor and also to the publication, it is virtually certain that this building was, in some capacity, known to the original planners and architects of Disneyland. Any assistance you could render to me in my information quest would be greatly appreciated.
DAVE SMITH: According to Disneyland: The Nickel Tour, motion picture art director Harper Goff, who helped out with the original design of the buildings on Main Street, remembered that he patterned City Hall after a county courthouse in his home town of Fort Collins, Colorado. The authors state: "Harper was afraid to tell Walt that he had simply copied the design and it wasn't until years later that he confessed."
MARK BLEI FROM NEW YORK: Does Disney keep a historical archive of what retired rides had in them like the old If you Had Wings? Is there a piece of film that's made before you tear down a ride to show future generations what the ride was like as it is truly Americana of the first degree? Also, does the Smithsonian have any parts of Disney rides?
DAVE SMITH: With a few exceptions, our Archives does not keep such things (we do have a few pieces we saved from America Sings, portraits from Peter Pan's Flight, and a devil from Mr. Toad). I know that Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Walt Disney Imagineering have documented on video and photographs some of the attractions that have been removed. The Smithsonian was offered an Electrical Parade float, but turned it down.
REGINA, MARK AND JENNA SCHRAUT FROM MASSACHUSETTS: Please share with us what becomes of the wonderful animatronics and props from the discontinued rides – like Journey into Imagination, Horizons and World of Motion in particular? We miss them terribly and would love to know their fate….. we'd be very pleased to see them pop up again in a museum or even themed establishment of any kind – just too good to leave our eyes forever!
DAVE SMITH: Walt Disney Imagineering saves any elements which they feel can be used again. Elements from Mr. Toad at Walt Disney World were saved for possible replacements at Disneyland if needed. The mechanisms for the Audio-Animatronics figures, for example, can easily be recycled. A good example of recycling is Splash Mountain at Disneyland, which uses many of the figures from America Sings. Many set pieces and props are so bedraggled after having been used for decades that they cannot be reused and are destroyed.
REGINA BUSHDORF FROM OHIO: We just returned from WDW and were fascinated by the images in the Haunted Mansion, specifically the sculpted heads that sing, talk, etc. Do you address who the models were for these sculptures in your trivia books? If so I will pick one up immediately!
DAVE SMITH: I don't believe this is in the trivia books, but the singing heads in the Haunted Mansion are the Mello-Men, a singing group which was used in a number of Disney projects.
MARY LOU BARNSTIEN CONNECTICUT: I was given a Mickey Mouse squeeze toy by an elderly uncle quite a few years ago and have been trying to get info on it since with no luck. Perhaps you will be able to help me out. The toy stands ten inches tall, is painted shiny black on Mickey's head and ears, nose and his shoes. He has on reddish pants, and is carrying a knapsack over his right shoulder. The knapsack stick is turquoise, the sack has reddish polka dots and is tied to the stick with a red bow.
Mickey is holding up his left hand with the thumb stuck out as if he is hitchhiking. On the bottom of his right shoe are two marks, DELL and WALT DISNEY PROD. Three years ago I sent pictures of this toy with a friend to the convention at WDW and no one there could tell us anything about it. I would really appreciate any information you may be able to offer me. Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.
DAVE SMITH: Dell was producing these vinyl figures from about 1959 to 1962. Their stock number was 81201, and it came in a mylar gift box. Retail price was around a dollar.
ALL EARS®: Sometimes it seems as though Mickey and Minnie are married and other times it doesn't. If they are, do they have a wedding date? Did the wedding appear in any animated clips or cartoons?
DAVE SMITH: Official Disney Company policy is that Mickey and Minnie are not married, just good friends. They were never married in any cartoons, books, or comic stories, though there is a song sheet published in England in the 1930s entitled "The Wedding of Mr. Mickey Mouse." I doubt that they ran this by Disney in the U.S. before it was published.
HEATH COVEY FROM VIRGINIA: Regarding Disney A to Z: There seems to be some confusion about this great book in the retail stores. Is there going to be an update (later than the 1998 version) and if so, when?
DAVE SMITH: Hyperion, which published the original and the 1998 update versions of Disney A to Z, has not decided yet to do a new edition. However, I have all the data (new entries and changes) ready on my computer (73 pages worth) when they decide to proceed.
ALL EARS®: Please tell us about your next book project. I understand it is called The Quotable Walt Disney.
DAVE SMITH: The Quotable Walt Disney, which is due out this Spring, is a rearranged version of Walt Disney: Famous Quotes which was published for sale at Walt Disney World in 1994. This collection of Walt's quotes was one I first edited way back in the 1970s, for cast member use. The new book will be available in bookstores everywhere.
DAVE SMITH: Thanks for all your interesting questions. We are glad to help when we can.