I have found in my thirty-plus years of research, that one of the very best sources for finding previously unknown Disney history, is …. (drum roll please) …. Books! “Oh, come on Paul, you think we are not aware of books?” I can hear many of you proclaiming. Well, we all know what a great source of history the plethora of Disney books have been over the last three decades (look at the work of Michael Barrier and John Canemaker for proof positive of this!!). Yet, there is a world of books from the 1930s, 1940s, and even into the 1950s that feature information on Walt and/or the Disney Studios that have not been seen for eighty, seventy, or sixty years, respectively.
Prior to the internet I used to haunt antiquarian bookstores in search of such treasures. I would head right to the “D” section of a suspect book, to see if a “Disney, Walt” entry could be found (thwarted numerous times by Benjamin Disraeli!). It was a laborious process, and I was lucky if I could find one a month. Today, with the internet, and some detective skills, I can usually find one a week (especially when searching books printed outside of the United States). To this date, I probably have a good 200 plus of these “Golden Books” (my name for them, as usually when I found one I would yell “Eureka!” — got kicked out of a few bookstores and libraries for this habit). Watch the Institute over the coming years for many of these books and the gold that was mined from within.
This particular volume is one of my favorites, and perfect for “Anything Can Happen” day. Titled, The Last Word it was written by Homer Croy and published in 1932. Croy was an American author and screenwriter, with over a dozen published books. His most famous work was the novel and screenplay They Had To See Paris (1926), which was the first talking picture to feature American humorist Will Rogers. The Last Word I believe was a vanity press (aka self-published). It is limited to 1000 copies, and each book is signed and numbered (and often personalized) by Croy on the FFEP (book terminology: Front Free End Paper). Another clue that suggests it was self published is that various lists of Croy’s work do not include this book (even Wikipedia does not list it as a Homer Croy work). The publisher is listed as Specialist Publishing Company of Hollywood, California (which is, of course, Croy’s neighborhood).
The book is a humorous look at epitaphs. Homer is listed as a “Champion Epitaph Collector” and should be respected as such, even to those that never gave epitaph collecting much thought. In fact, according to Homer he didn’t either, until “One day as I was wandering through a quaint old English cemetery, I had my attention attracted by a half-obliterated epitaph which was so unusual, so full of human nature, that I was struck by it and got my pencil and jotted it down.” From this single event began an obsession (don’t understand that) of collecting and assembling people’s “last words”.
The first half of the book is composed of “Authentic Epitaphs” collected from all over the world. What interests us, is the second half, or “Advance Epitaphs”. Being a member of the Hollywood community, and seeing how the Silver Screen was the world’s diversion during the Great Depression, Croy came up with the brilliant idea to ask his celebrity friends and acquaintances to compose their own epitaphs. As one would expect from the entertainment community, they responded eagerly … including Walt Disney.
Just for fun (and it is anything can happen day), I am including some of the other Advance Epitaphs of those stars that would end up with a Disney connection of some sort (if even just an appearance in a Disney cartoon). Enjoy!
“Here lies Will Rogers. Politicians turned honest—and he starved to death.”
“My last appearance on this, or any other, lot.”
“I shouldn’t of et that.” DEEMS TAYLOR
Free at last from Georgie Jessel.”