This upcoming book intrigued me and I decided to send its author a few questions.
Didier Ghez: When and why did you decide to write this book?
Mark Arnold: I had the idea for quite awhile because of my frustrations with Leonard Maltin's "The Disney Films" and where it concluded. He kept updating his book, but gave little coverage to anything post-Walt, only going into late 1967. I discovered that there were many other projects that Walt was involved with that were released in 1968 and many even later than that. Also, many projects that Walt had nothing to do with were and are still worthy of the name Disney.
I was born in 1966 on the exact same day and year that Walt Disney died. The Disney of the 1970s and 1980s are what I grew up with. Walt Disney was just a founder, and I didn't identify with what he was doing, except when they reissued older films. I identified with what was currently going on, and I enjoyed most of it, but today this period is dismissed as being bad and unwatchable. Not true.
It was after my two-volume book "If You're Cracked, You're Happy: The History of Cracked Mazagine" that I was searching for another book to write and started writing "Frozen in Ice" even before I had a publishing agreement figuring I would get one in time, and I did.
DG: Could you describe the kind of research you conducted in order to write it?
MA: Of course, the Maltin book, plus many other books released over the years as well as viewing all 75+ films that were released during the period covered in the book. I also read my back issues of "Disney News" and read other books and saw videos containing interviews with the stars of the films as well as obtaining facts from various online sources such as IMDB. I also visited the Walt Disney Family Museum to see if they had any more information.
DG: Did you spend time interviewing some of the people who worked at the Studio and at WED at the time?
MA: I was initially going to do formal interviews like I did with my other books, but found that there were so many interviews and commentaries in existence, most of that work was already done for me. I have met many Disney stars over the years and many times they repeated the same stories I read or heard in other interviews. I didn't think that the living stars would shed any new light on what they've already said elsewhere by me interviewing them again. To most Disney stars, it was a job and as such they have limited memories about working there. Also, many of the stars of the period have now passed away as Disney tended to hire aging actors who couldn't get work elsewhere. It wasn't considered glamorous to be working on a Disney movie to many stars at that time.
The stars that I have met and talked about Disney with include Dick Van Patten, Tim Conway, Don Pedro Colley, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ernest Borgnine and Jon Provost.
The only interview I really wanted to get was with Ron Miller. I did contact him through the Museum and through his winery, but my requests fell on deaf ears. I get the impression that he didn't want to relive the years that he was in charge very much, since the general opinion is that he helped ruin the studio, which isn't true.
DG: What are the main chapters of the book?
MA: Mainly it is set up like the Maltin book, but with one difference. I have a chapter covering each year. For instance, I'll cover 1968 and talk about everything that happened to Disney in that year including TV, comic books, records, theme parks, etc. and even include what didn't get released. Then I cover in detail as Maltin did, each film that came out that year. So, still using 1968 as an example, that includes "Blackbeard's Ghost", "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band", "Never a Dull Moment", "The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit" and "The Love Bug". For each film I write a detailed synopsis and then write a short review and include comments by the stars or interesting details about the production. Then, I start over again with 1969, going all the way up to 1985.
The reason I stopped at 1985 is that Disney as a company really changed from what it was once Michael Eisner took over in 1984. It was already in flux, but Eisner really dramatically changed it to the direction it is today and laid off the majority of any connections to the past. At this point, there's no going back. Disney is just too big. It is hard to believe there was a time where Disney wasn't doing too well and almost got bought out. I discuss all of this in detail.
DG: What are the key discoveries Disney historians and scholars can expect if they pick up this book?
MA: That the years 1966-1985 weren't as bad as people remember for Disney. They did some memorable stuff like "The Love Bug", "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and "Freaky Friday" and even "Tron". Sure, they had some doggy films, but they did also when Walt was alive and certainly after Eisner took over. In fact, there's probably more of them since Disney releases so much more stuff nowadays.
The book is 550 pages and has photo images of movie posters, and is designed to be a thorough description of the history of the period from 1966-1985.
After I'm done, I will resume work on my book about DePatie-Freleng (Pink Panther).