An Interview with Leonard Maltin
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Leonard Maltin is best known to Disney fans as the author of The Disney Films, the premiere reference work on all Disney live-action and animated films. He was also the driving force behind the four Walt Disney Treasures DVDs released last month and his introductions and interviews can be found on the discs.
The rest of the world knows Leonard Maltin as film correspondent and historian for Entertainment Tonight, a position he's held for nearly 20 years. He's also co-hosting a new syndicated show on films called Hot Ticket.which invites a group of celebrity guests to talk about new releases. Among Maltin's numerous other books are his annual movie and video guide, Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia: Career Profiles of More Than 2,000 Actors, Filmmakers, Past and Present, Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang and Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons.
LaughingPlace.com editor Doobie Moseley talked to Maltin in late November shortly before the release of The Walt Disney Treasures.
LaughingPlace.com: Ive heard you have an interesting background.
Leonard Maltin: Well I don't think it's that interesting a background. I had a pretty typical 1950s baby boomer suburban upbringing in New Jersey, a suburb of Manhattan. A nice place to grow up. But my timing was good because 1950s television was like a living history of motion pictures on a daily basis including animation, and best of all there was Walt Disney every week hosting the Disneyland TV show - later Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disneys Wonderful World of Color. And I felt a very direct, very tangible connection to him. I'm so glad I had that in my life.
LP: When did you first start "doing" Disney?
LM: What happened was I was publishing a fanzine. I started doing one when I was 13 years old and then two years later it sort of got merged into another magazine that had bigger circulation that called Film Fan Monthly. And I was the editor and publisher and chief writer and stamp licker and envelope stuffer and I did that for 9 years from when I was 15 years old .And the day Walt Disney died I was very upset and I have to do a tribute. I was thinking what I ought to do is an annotated filmography - a list of all of his films. So out of the blue I called New York City information on the phone and got the number of Walt Disney Productions and called. I asked for the publicity department, got a very nice person on the phone who said "I'll help you any way you want, whatever you need." I said "I have most of the information, I could use some 8 X10 stills to illustrate it." She said "great, just tell me what you need." And that person is still a dear friend of mine, Arlene Ludwig, who is in fact still at the Disney Company and who is the daughter of Irving Ludwig who helped form Buena Vista with and for Walt.
When the issue came out - Walt died in December, the issue came out in February, I sent some copies to Arlene, she sent some on to people on the West coast, and I got some incredible response from people at the Disney Company. "Oh my gosh, this is so great. We need more copies of this. We don't have a list ourselves to consult." This was before Dave Smith started to work for the Company - just before - so they didn't have an archive at the time. And I guess they didn't have ready access to some of the information. It could all be found, but not easily. So they were tremendously enthusiastic about it. When I made my first trip to Hollywood two years later, I met a very nice man who was then the head of publicity on the West coast, he said "you really ought to think about expanding this into a book." And it hadn't occurred to me until he said it.
LP: What year was that?
LP: And how many editions have there been now?
LP: Have you actually seen every Disney film?
LM: Oh yeah. When I set out to write the book I sold the idea to a publisher and I realized I had to watch every film fresh. I couldn't rely on my memory. I had to watch it fresh with an eye towards writing an essay on each one. And I also decided that I had to watch them in chronological order. It'd be the only sensible way to approach the job. So I watched every one of those feature films. They let me borrow 15mm prints that they had and when I was showing the early ones, the classics, in my basement, the place was packed with friends. By the time I got to White Wilderness and the like I was all alone. But I watched every one of them.