I mentioned yesterday the book Project Future, The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World by Chad D. Emerson. I had the pleasure of interviewing Chad by email yesterday. Here are his answers:
Didier Ghez: Were you already interested in Disney history before tackling this project?
Chad Emerson: Yes, I've always been fascinated about Walt and his interest in using architecture and design to create interesting settings. In researching the book, I learned that Walt was a true student of planning and design. He was committed to building places that encouraged people to interact with each other and enjoy social company. His earliest visions for Epcot would have been the grandest example of this.
DG: When, how and why did you start working on this project?
CE: The book actually started as an academic article I was working on related to the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The District is the unique government structure that was created for Disney to operate Project Future. As I became more and more immersed in the details of Reedy Creek, I was amazed at the almost spy-like measures that the Disney Company took to purchase the 27,000 acres while also avoiding land speculators. It soon became apparent to me that the story behind Reedy Creek and Disney World was a story that really needed to be told.
DG: Who were the most interesting artists and executives you interviewed while researching this book?
CE: Ray Maxwell is the lead administrator for the Reedy Creek Improvement District and he was fascinating to visit with and very helpful in obtaining materials. Another interesting person was actually the first person I interviewed, Tom DeWolf. In addition to chairing the District's Board of Supervisors for many years, he worked directly with Disney officials in securing the large tracts of land that make up Project Future. In fact, Mr. DeWolf interacted with Walt himself on several occasions early in the project. And, of course, Harrison "Buzz" Price was a wealth of knowledge related to how Central Florida was selected as the home for Project Future.
DG: What were some of the main discoveries you made while working on the book?
CE: Just how committed Disney was to avoid its mistakes at Disneyland. They went to incredible lengths to disguise their efforts in purchasing the land for Project Future. Walt was adamant that this project would not end up being surrounded by the tacky developments that quickly sprung up around Disneyland.
DG: What are the key chapters of the book?
CE: I obviously love them all but, if I had to choose, the most interesting to research were the first 5 or 6 chapters that covered the amazing efforts used to select Central Florida and then secretly acquire the land.
DG: If we have already read Married to the Mouse, Realityland and Since the World Began, are we still likely to discover some new information in this book?
CE: I really think so. As Lee Cockerell noted in his Foreword to the book, Project Future is the first book that puts all the details together from 1959 to 1971 related to how and why Disney selected Central Florida. But, the book is not just about the Orlando area. Instead, an entire chapter of Project Future looks at the other options Disney considered for his first Eastern U.S. project--places like St. Louis, Palm Beach, and Niagara Falls. By keeping the book's focus on the this 12 year period, I've really tried to tell the story in chronological order with details that everyone from casual to sophisticated Disney fans will find interesting.
DG: Are you working on other Disney history related projects?
CE: Yes, I'm currently working on a book that explores how Central Florida became the theme park capital of the world from the 1970s through this decade. Much of the book examines the complex relationships between Walt Disney World, Universal, and SeaWorld. If all goes as plans the book is slated for publication in 2011.