In 1966, the year he died from lung cancer, Walt Disney was everywhere: 240 million people saw a Disney movie, 150 million read a Disney comic strip, 100 million tuned in weekly to a Disney television program, 80 million read a Disney book, 80 million bought Disney merchandise, and close to 7 million visited Disneyland in California. No one before or since has held such a commanding place in American life.
Yet as familiar as his work was to young and old alike, Disney himself was something of an enigma. For many, he was exactly what he appeared on television to be: Uncle Walt, a kindly, avuncular figure, as self-effacing as he was enthusiastic. To others, he was a controlling studio chief with a titanic temper, a demanding taskmaster whose wrath even extended to his long-suffering business partner and older brother Roy.
Even appraisers of his work divided into camps. To his fierce defenders, Disney was a visionary artist and entrepreneur who had changed American popular culture for the better, grounding it once again in a spirit of hopeful promise and shared values. To his detractors, Disney represented everything that was wrong with American culture, from its saccharine sentimentality and simplification of history to its redirection of our attention from reality to fantasy. His life and legacy are unraveled in this intimate biography.