front cover: The Disneyland Story Yesterland

Book Review

The Disneyland Story

The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream

Sam Gennawey

Jeff Kurtti

Reviewed by
Werner Weiss
Nov. 15, 2013

Anyone could have written The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream.

All it required was a lifelong passion for Disneyland, a willingness to pore through a numbingly large number of resources—including out-of-print books, newspaper archives, historical archives, every “E” Ticket Magazine ever published, obscure periodicals, and personal interviews—the skill and insight to extract the most interesting details and the best quotations, and the ability to organize it all in a well-written, entertaining book.

The reality is that nobody has ever written such a book about Disneyland before Sam Gennawey. There have been other excellent books about the park, but they’ve all been picture books that have not sought to tell the whole “life story” of Disneyland.

back cover: The Disneyland Story

Unofficial Guides

Publication Date:
November 2013


8" x 5.2"

432 pages


Before I get too far, I had better throw in a disclaimer. The author, Sam Gennawey, is a friend. I wrote the foreword for his previous book, Walt and the Promise of Progress City. Sam and I are both part of the MiceChat family. My name is in the acknowledgments of this book. You can read this review as biased, if you wish. But, honestly, it’s a wonderful book.

Sam first told me he was writing a “biography of Disneyland” around 18 months ago. I liked the concept of a history of Disneyland written the way a biographer reveals the details of someone’s life. A good biography can be like a good novel, only better because it’s true. We, the readers, learn fascinating details, even when the subject is familiar. The episodes of the subject’s life—the struggles and triumphs—are put in perspective. We see how they build on each other and we gain an appreciation of the supporting players who were integral to the subject’s success.

I could immediately imagine a book about how Disneyland went from a concept that experts laughed at to an unexpected success; the tremendous growth of the young Disneyland; the struggles after Walt Disney’s death; the period of some degree of abandonment, as the focus turned to Florida; how the Eisner-Wells era brought in the mixed blessing of new investment and a relentless focus on the bottom line; the second park fiasco and the eventual redemption of the second park. And we would meet the people who made Disneyland what it has become.

Sam was successful. In Sam’s book, the father of Disneyland is Walt Disney. Don’t worry. Sam doesn’t belabor the biography metaphor. In fact, he only addresses it directly in his chapter names and his introduction, primarily in the first paragraph:

Once upon a time, Walt Disney raised three wonderful children: Diane, Sharon, and Disneyland. He nurtured all three and taught them values that would serve them well for all of their lives. He was lucky to watch his daughters grow into adulthood, but he would only live long enough to see Disneyland through its first 11 formative years.

It’s a good opening—and a reminder that Disneyland owes its existence to the vision and determination of one man, but that the park has now continued for almost a half century without him.

The Disneyland Story

Photo by Sam Gennawey, 2013

It’s a long book—432 pages, not counting the front and back cover. That number includes plenty of endnotes and a decent index (two things I appreciate when I’m doing research).

Here’s how the book is organized:

Foreword by Jeff Kurtti
Cast of Characters
Chapter 1: Motivation
Chapter 2: Stumbling Forward: 1955
Chapter 3: Learning to Walk: 1955
Chapter 4: Hands-On: 1956–1958
Chapter 5: Walt’s Disneyland: 1959–1966
Chapter 6: Momentum: 1967–1969
Chapter 7: Carrying On: 1970–1984
Chapter 8: New Ideas: 1985–1996
Chapter 9: The Resort: 1996 and Onward
Selected Bibliography
About the Author

As the Table of Contents above indicates, there’s a bias toward the 1950s and 1960s. That’s reasonable considering that it’s the Disneyland of Walt Disney, the period when the hallmarks of today’s Disneyland were established.

a photo page from The Disneyland Story

Photos by Joseph and Lois Osburn, and Mary Barry

It’s not a picture book. There are eight pages of black-and-white photos, such as the one above. But the rest of the book is text.

The book relies heavily on quotations, which add to its credibility and readability. Many of the quotations, but not all of them, include endnote numbers. So the book has an answer for you if you wonder, Where and when did that person say or write that?

The Cast of Characters is a thoughtful feature. It’s a list a 46 significant individuals whose names recur in the book, each with a one-line description of his or her role—primarily Imagineers and executives. How often have you read a nonfiction book and thought, I guess that person must have been introduced in the first half of the book, but I can’t remember, and I’m not about to reread the first half just to figure it out?

The Disneyland Story is published under the Unofficial Guides imprint. This best-selling travel book series got its start with Bob Sehlinger’s Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which was was first published in 1984 as an independent alternative to Steve Birnbaum’s Guide to Walt Disney World, “The Official Guide,” authorized by Disney and filled with Disney illustrations.

Gennawey’s book is “unofficial” in its content (but it’s not a travel guide). There’s nothing that should embarrass anyone, but it includes people and stories that you would not read about in Disney publications. For example, C.V. Wood, Disneyland’s first general manager, has been all but erased from official Disney history. There are great descriptions of attractions that were announced but never built. And the story of how the land was chosen and acquired for Disneyland has never been published in this detail.

I enjoyed reading The Disneyland Story. I think most Yesterland readers would enjoy it too.

About the Author

Author Sam Gennawey

Author Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City, a contributor to Planning Los Angeles and other books, as well as a columnist for the popular MiceChat website. His unique point of view built on his passion for history, his professional training as an urban planner, and his obsession with theme parks has brought speaking invitations from Walt Disney Imagineering, the Walt Disney Family Museum, Disney Creative, the American Planning Association, the California Preservation Foundation, the California League of Cities, and many Disneyana clubs, libraries, and podcasts. He is currently a Senior Associate at the planning firm of Katherine Padilla and Associates.

Where to Buy the Book

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream is available from Amazon, other online booksellers, and many book stores.

Also consider Walt and the Promise of Progress City by Sam Gennawey (foreword by Werner Weiss).

Please use the links below.







The Disneyland Story at iBooks
Walt and the
Promise of
Progress City


Walt and the
Promise of
Progress City


Follow The Disneyland Story on Facebook

To stay up-to-date on Sam Gennawey’s appearances, “Like” his Facebook page for The Disneyland Story.


Click here to post comments at MiceChat about this article.


Book: The Book of Mouse
Book: Vault of Walt Vol 2

© 2013-2014 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated June 25, 2014.

Disclosure per FTC guidelines: Werner Weiss received a review copy of The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream in the form of a PDF file. Mr. Weiss does not receive any financial consideration from Sam Gennawey or Unofficial Guides, published by Keen Communications.