The Archives of Robert Tieman
About Robert TiemanThe Disney TreasuresThe Disney KeepsakesQuintessential DisneyMickey Mouse Treasures
Behind the scenes of the books by Robert Tieman

  • The Disney Treasures, published in 2003
  • Published in English, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian and Japanese editions
  • Highlights of Walt Disney and his career
  • Produced by becker&mayer!
  • Complete with a 60-minute audio CD containing rare speeches & public appearances of Walt Disney, radio commercials for Disneyland, movies and even Donald Duck ice cream!


The Italian version of the book.

HOW IT HAPPENED. Many people have asked how I decided what to write about in “The Disney Treasures.” The first decision I had to make was “how much of Disney’s long history should I include in the text?” I won’t kid you – there were “marketing people” who wanted me to include more than a small share of current Disney-related items, just to provide them with some modern day synergy. Fortunately, I was able to convince them that the point of a “treasure” was that it was something old and rare. For instance, there was no point in including, for example, a reproduction of the opening day ticket for Disneyland Paris. Most of the collectors who want such a souvenir would have other avenues to get such a thing. The really rare stuff – the materials that no one but Disney archivists get to see – is the material relating to Walt Disney personally. So, I decided to limit the scope of the book to just the period of Walt’s lifetime, 1901-1966


A photo of one of the treasures that didn't make it into the book - Donald Duck inspecting some of his many namesake frozen goods.

THE TOPICS. The next decision was “What topics to write about?” At this point, there wasn’t any idea of doing multiple books, so the answer was simple: hit all the highlights of Walt’s life. If you ask me, pretty much any Disney fan could come up with the same topic outline I did. Walt’s youth, the creation of Mickey, Silly Symphonies, Snow White, Fantasia, Cinderella, television, Disneyland, and so forth.

The producer of the book, becker&mayer! (the same company who had done the Elvis book) laid out the general format – 28 two-page spreads, and about 17,500 words total. We also sat down and began a very long “wish list” of the kinds of things that could be reproduced as “special features.” Some of the items that ended up in the book – the Pinocchio paper masks, for instance – are the direct result of this early wish list.

THE PHOTOS. For the rest, the book really sort of wrote itself. But my work didn’t end there. As the author, I was also given the responsibility of finding all the illustrations for the book, as well as searching for all the paper pieces that would be reproduced in facsimile for the book. Unfortunately for me, I have a streak of perfectionism in me, and I really wanted to find lots of photos that people hadn’t ever seen before (or at least not for 25 or 50 years). It would’ve been pretty easy to just plug in the same photos that get used for every other Disney book. Needless to say, finding rare photos took a lot of time.

And then there were the legal clearances for all the photos – an ordeal into itself. Most people undoubtedly think, “Well, if it’s a Disney photo, and a Disney book, then there’s no problem.” If only that were the case. Each and every image, no matter whether it’s been used before or not, had to be cleared by a lawyer for inclusion in this book. I was fortunate in that I knew a lot of the tricky difficulties in clearing certain kinds of images, so I tended to pick things that I knew would be okay. But I did get stuck on the two photos of Annette Funicello and Hayley Mills. The lawyers told me I had to get permission specifically from both of these two Disney stars.

The Studio had at the time fairly regular contact with Annette, and her representative quickly signed a waiver for me to use her photo. For Hayley, I had to track down an address for her, and I wrote her a letter. Instead of just her quick signature on the waiver I sent her, she sent me a full-page handwritten note telling me that she hoped the book would be great, and that she’d be thrilled to have her photo included. I was on Cloud 9. (And to thank her, I sent her a copy of the finished book when it was published. To my surprise, she sent me a second note filled with compliments on the book. Imagine that – my first fan letter for the book, and it was from Hayley Mills!)

THE AUDIO. Selecting the audio pieces to fill out the CD was another adventure. The Walt Disney Archives contains hundreds of hours of recordings of Walt – radio appearances, speeches, Disneyland special events and so on. Again, for legal and copyright reasons, I had to pare down the choices available to me, in order to avoid infringing on musical rights for instance.

I think the items that got me excited the most were the radio commercials. These kinds of things just aren’t done any more, plus these particular ones – the Donald Duck food commercials and the early Disneyland ads – haven’t been heard in the general public in 50 years. They were a great discovery and really fun to listen to. It was difficult only being able to choose a few of them, but I think the ones on the CD really give you a flavor of what that kind of advertising was all about. Great announcers, fun ad copy, and clever musical jingles. Truly days gone by.

FOREIGN SALES. I really don’t have any complaints about how the book finally turned out. In fact, it was beyond my expectations, and seeing the finished printed and bound copy was a pretty exciting day for me. And then I saw the book turn up in the large bookstore chains – all I wanted to do was stand there by the display and announce to passers by, “I wrote this book.” (I never did that, of course, but it was always a thrill to hear people tell me they saw my book in a store. That never gets old.)

The next thing I knew, the book was being sold to foreign publishers. The British edition was the first – and I was sure they were going to have to “translate” the writing into proper British English. You know – “colour” instead of “color” and that kind of thing. But they didn’t. The British edition was meant not only for the U.K. but Australia and New Zealand as well. That was fun! In short order, the book was translated into German, Dutch and Japanese. One day, out of the blue, I got a copy of the book in Finnish! That, let me tell you, was a big surprise. Who knew?! Quite some time passed – more than a year – and I was told that a French publisher had bought the rights. But I kept wondering, where are the Italians? I mean, Mickey Mouse (Topolino) is enormously popular in Italy, and I felt that surely an Italian publisher would be interested. It took another year (or more) but eventually “Disney Tesori e Ricordi” was published.


Another unpublished treasure.

WHAT NEXT. “The Disney Treasures” has sold quite well, and it’s even a popular book at the Disney theme parks book shops. This pleases me, but also surprises me. After all, it’s a very heavy volume, and I keep thinking, “Who would want to lug this thing around all day while going on rides?” but thankfully, people do.

The book’s success also allowed me to travel on the Disney Magic cruise ship where I did two guest speaker lectures and also a book signing on board. Cruise vacations are my partner Dennis’ and my favorite type of vacation, and the Magic is a great ship, so naturally this was a fun cruise for me.

Eventually, the people at Disney Publishing in New York took at hard look at “the numbers” – profits, I guess – and realized that the book had justified its cost, and so they decided to pitch to me the idea of doing a sequel. Before I knew it, I had signed a contract to do “The Disney Keepsakes.”