Walt and Amateur Photography

Making Memories, Recording History:  Disney Theme Park Photography

BY:  Walt Disney World Historian, Jim Korkis


Ed. note:  Mr. Jim Korkis, Walt Disney World Historian, graciously presented his thoughts on Walt Disney the Amateur Photographer and the importance of Disney Theme Park Photography during Pixelmania 2010.  Mr. Korkis also provided his research to The Magic in Pixels in the form of the following outline, which will be useful to get an idea of how Mr. Korkis presented the information to a group of about 20 persons over the course of two hours.  The presentation was in three parts:  Walt and Amateur Photography, The Philosophy of Disney Theme Park Photography, and a Walk Around Echo Lake.  This content reflects part one of the amazing presentation.  CLICKING ANY OF THE PHOTOS WILL EXPAND IT TO A LARGER VERSION.


Part One:  Walt and Amateur Photography

JimKorkis•  In 1900, George Eastman introduced the Kodak Brownie camera for a dollar.  Average salary was $13.00 a week for 59 hours of work.   Kodak cameras made photography available to everyone.   Up to that time if you wanted to save a special memory, you relied on things like drawings or snow globes to remember places you had been or wanted to go.

jim4•  The turn of the century was also the birth of Walt Disney who loved cameras.  As a child in 1914, he loved performing and he put together an act that he performed in small vaudeville houses, talent competitions, women’s clubs, etc. called “Fun in a Photography Gallery”.  Walt had to make a camera from wood and cardboard and he would invite a volunteer up on stage.   Squeezing the ball would not take a picture but shoot out a stream of water at the volunteer.  A bird would fly out of the camera.  Finally, Walt would reach into the camera and pull out a caricature he had done of the victim and hold it out to the audience proclaiming “Looks just like him, doesn’t it?”

•  Walt borrowed a film camera from the Kansas Film Ad Company to practice.  Shot newsreel footage for Universal so learned how to tell a story with film and to capture the right moment and angle so that an audience could instantly understand what was happening at the event.

jim3•  Laugh O Grams in Kansas City when he was 21 years old.  1922—Laugh O Gram goes bankrupt.  Walt pays off debt and earns money to go to California as a baby photographer….using the borrowed motion picture camera to film babies.

•  Late Thirties Kodak introduces a 16mm home movie camera and Walt, like many Hollywood celebrities, begins recording personal family memories….including his daughters in their own SNOW WHITE cottage built in his back yard as a Christmas gift for them….his movies record one of his daughters falling out of the dutch door in the cottage in her excitement…

•  1941, Walt shot used his home Kodak film camera to shoot footage while he was in South America and thanks to the quality of that 16mm stock, they were later able to blow-up his home movies and use them as bridging segments in the film SALUDOS AMIGOS so that the live action was the transition from live action to cartoon.

•  1954—Walt’s first grandchild, Christopher, is born and the proud grandfather records the early years of the newest Disney on Kodak film.

jim2•  1955—Disneyland opens.  Walt insists that Coca-Cola and Kodak be featured on Main Street because it “will make the fantasy real” since both companies were well known at the turn of the century and both companies are known world wide for top quality.  (There is even a Fun Foto location where guests can stick their heads through wooden cut-outs of Disney characters and have that moment recorded on Kodak film and placed in a special Disneyland matte to take with them.)

•  1959—Kodak becomes the sponsor for the “Second Opening of Disneyland” in 1959 as Walt introduces the Matterhorn, the Submarine Ride, the Monorail and many other elements he didn’t have money to do when the park first opened.   Kodak sponsors a ninety-minute special:  “KODAK PRESENTS DISNEYLAND ‘59” which airs on ABC June 15,1959 with Art Linkletter as host (reprising his role from the first opening of Disneyland).   A banner stretches across Main Street from the Emporium to the Wurlitzer organ shop declaring KODAK PRESENTS DISNEYLAND ’59.

jim1•  For the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney created four pavilions.  They didn’t create the Kodak pavilion which was one of the ten largest buildings at that International Exposition.  The Tower of Photography featured the largest outdoor color prints ever exhibited. But Walt was still a good partner of Kodak.  The Kodak Pavilion was the first the only place where you could get your picture taken with the Disney characters.

•  About five months before his death in July 1966, Walt gathered his entire family together for a cruise up the coast of British Columbia where the family celebrated not only one of his granddaughter’s birthdays but his wedding anniversary. While his sons-in-law would go salmon fishing in a little dinghy, Walt spent quiet time on the deck reading books about city planning in preparation for Epcot and about colleges in preparation for California Institute of the Arts. Ron Miller, Diane Disney’s husband, described Walt as “serene” during the cruise even though it rained during much of the time.

•  The final professional photo of Walt at Disneyland was taken early September 1966 and arranged by publicist Charlie Ridgway.  It is in the lobby entrance of “One Man’s Dream” with Walt in his little car in front of the castle waving with Mickey Mouse.

•  The final private photo of Walt was taken July 1966 on the British Columbia cruise and it is of Walt photographing the family member taking his photo.  Walt is smiling.









(click the image to the left or this text to order The Vault of Walt from Amazon.com)




Chad Emerson, Publisher


Phone:  334.201.5241

E-mail: Info@AyefourPublishing.com


The unofficial, unauthorized and uncensored Disney history stories that have never been told will finally be revealed with the release of the new Ayefour book, The Vault of Walt by internationally renowned Disney Historian Jim Korkis.

This unique Disney history companion features a lengthy foreword by Diane Disney Miller, the eldest daughter of Walt and Lillian Disney, who praises the writing as “honest, and well written…so authentic, so true to my dad’s spirit, so unprejudiced and non-judgmental that as I read it I could see the twinkle in dad’s eye, hear his laugh.”

The book is divided into four sections:  stories about Walt Disney’s life, stories about the Disney Films, stories of the Disney Theme Parks and finally stories about out of the ordinary Disney History from the Mickey Mouse radio show of the Thirties to why the FBI was upset with Walt and everything else in between.  Each section is composed of chapters that are self contained stories featuring anecdotes, quotes and facts that have never before appeared in print.

Jim Korkis is a well known and respected Disney historian who has been researching and writing about Disney history for over thirty years.  He interviewed and created long lasting friendships with Disney Imagineers, animators, entertainers and other Disney cast members, always checking the information with obscure documents he located through painstaking time, effort and expense.

“I became deeply concerned that this unique history was disappearing with the deaths of those people who actually knew Walt and who first shared many of these wonderful stories with me,” stated Korkis.  “There is something for everyone in the book from the most knowledgeable Disney fan to the casually curious reader.”

Rough drafts of these essays have appeared on websites during the last few years so that Korkis could solicit corrections and additional information before finally committing the stories to print.   The result was that every chapter in the book was extensively rewritten to make it as complete and accurate as possible using a multitude of original sources.

“The book is called The Vault of Walt because these are the ‘lost’ stories that have been locked away for decades and forgotten.   Now is the time to open that vault and share them with a wider audience because they provide a fascinating perspective on Disney achievements and events,” said Korkis.  “In addition, they are an awful lot of fun.”

Over thirty-six chapters covering over four hundred pages offer new insights and new information about the many worlds of Disney.  Walt Disney originally wrote the idea for the live action movie, Lt. Robin Crusoe U.S.N. on the back of an air sickness bag.  A voice actor named Joe Twerp performed the voice of Mickey Mouse for the episodes of the Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air radio series because Walt was too busy completing Snow White.  Singer Frank Sinatra told entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. that Walt had developed a new system of making films that would make all other movies obsolete.   Try to find those stories in other books about Disney history.

Although not currently a Disney cast member, Korkis has worked for the Disney Company as a performer (Merlin in the Magic Kingdom), animation instructor (including teaching animation history to interns at Disney Feature Animation Florida), writer (for various Disney magazines and special projects), facilitator (for backstage tours, convention groups and corporate clients) and in many other capacities.  A full page of some of his many credits is available upon request.

“No one knows more hidden nooks and crannies in the vast history of Disney animation than Jim Korkis. I’m delighted that he’s gathered his fact-filled columns in this book,” states Disney Authority Leonard Maltin, author of The Disney Films and host and consultant of Disney Treasures DVDs.

The Vault of Walt is both a valuable supplement to any Disney fan’s personal library and also an entertaining introduction to the many worlds of Walt for anybody who loves great storytelling and behind-the-scenes stories about how some legendary milestones were created.

Further information is available from www.AyefourPublishing.com/vaultofwalt.

Jim Korkis is available for interviews, podcasts and events.

This entry was posted in Pixelmania 2010, Pixelmania!.

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