Interview with Marcy Carriker Smothers About Her Book “Eat Like Walt”

Hi everyone!

One of my favorite Disney books of 2017 – and probably the biggest suprise in how much I enjoyed it – is Eat Like Walt by Marcy Carriker Smothers. Check out our review here. We had the opportunity to interview Smothers about the book, one I really recommend for anyone interested in Walt Disney history. Not only is it about Walt, Disneyland and food, but it is just a fantastic historical read. She has a very bubbly personality like you’d expect from reading the book, and has been making the rounds of book signings – including at Walt’s Barn in Los Angeles. This is a book that I received as a review copy, but also I purchased one as a gift for a friend recovering from an accident to help him pass the time.

Mousesteps: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.

Marcy Smothers: Absolutely, I am so excited to. I just wanted to talk about Walt and Disneyland.

Mousesteps: I was just looking through the book again today (I had reviewed it a few weeks earlier). I found stories I didn’t remember reading the first time, there are fun little tidbits like about how President Richard Nixon ended up opening the monorail. It is such a fantastic book as far as history goes.

Marcy Smothers: Well, thank you. My proof of concept was that I wanted to do a culinary history of Disneyland and I believed that Walt had intended to theme the food like the attractions. That was my idea. And when I found through my pre-research before I sold the book…the insert that is actually in the book from the Independent Press Telegram where Walt says “Like Adventureland and Fantasyland, the new Disneyland ‘Kingdom of Good Eating’ is an attraction unto itself’, I knew that I had a book. It still gives me goosebumps all the time. I thought it but now I proved it. And all these anecdotal stories…pancake races, or the story that you just talked about or Tony Baxter. Marty Sklar, who was immensely helpful to me…I had met with him a few times and he said, “Well, I’ll introduce you to Tony Baxter”. Marty sent an introductory letter to Tony Baxter and said, “This is Marcy, she’s doing a great book about Walt”, and he (Tony) writes back – tersely, but not unkindly though, ‘What is there possibly to write back to about Walt’? Marcy laughs as she talks about it, saying she wrote back, ‘Well, it’s a look at the culinary history of Disneyland, Walt at home, and at the Studios’. And then he wrote back, ‘I have the best unknown story that leads to the most iconic photograph of Walt at Disneyland ever.’ And that was the monorail story. When I went to meet Tony, he offered to take me to Club 33, to the lounge side for lunch, which is super cool.

Marcy went on to talk about bringing her computer for a total of eighty days into the parks so she could work, whether on Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, the Mark Twain as it was moored, etc.

Mousesteps: When did you start your research – how long was it in process?

Marcy Smothers: It was about two and a half years in process, which…I hadn’t really put a timeline on it. I know that I sold it in November of 2015. And I said to my agent, I’ll go to New York to meet Wendy Lefkon, my editor whom I adore – but no mercy meetings, I have been in television my whole life…and mercy meetings, I’m done with them – where people just take meetings just to appease you. So he write write back and said Wendy wants to meet with you. When we met, we just were a mutual admiration society. So I sold it in November, but it took two years of writing it – it didn’t go to print until April of this year (2017). And then 6-8 months of writing the proposal. So all in all, two and a half years.

Mousesteps: There is more than just writing it. You also have so many photos I haven’t seen before, as well as artwork and menus. How was the collection process for that?

Marcy Smothers: Well, that was a blast. I love research, and once I sold it to Disney – I couldn’t obviously have done the book without Disney because of all the images – and all the research, the archives, the archivists. I would say that 90% of the images, photos, concept art, has never been seen before. And I was quite staggered to be honest that everybody said yes (laughing). The one that was a no actually was what became the cover of the book, but that is a whole other story. And then because I became friends with the archivists and Vanessa Hunt, Imagineering, Archives…pretty soon people were sending me things that they didn’t know they had. But they had been working with me for a year and a half. Two of those things that came up that were at the end of the game but are my favorites are Walt with his coffee in the Studio office – the title page, because the first thing you say when you go into the Archives is that I want anything that has to do with Walt and food…any memo, all the menus. There was very little, of couse, recorded in Walt’s era. Any photographs of Walt, you’d be surprised how few there are. And I’d search and search and search, so that one was great. And at the end of the book, the Herby Ryman concept art for New Orleans Square…I had picked something else and Vanessa wrote to me and said, That’s too damaged, we can’t fix it. But I found this, and I’ve never seen it before.’ Isn’t it cool, because it has tables and umbrellas, and chairs – it says ‘food’. Then were was Aunt Jemima’s in it. I was just blown away. It was a lot of research and a lot of organizing. Every image I personally selected to be in the book, and then I would send it to Iain Morris, who gets huge props – it’s a gorgeous book because of him. it’s funny, because he doesn’t know Disneyland, he’s only been there once. So I would send him images and then he would send me a layout. I’m like, that’s Adventureland and not Frontierland! (laughing). He had no idea what the difference is. I had to start labeling things very specifically for him – where things were, which land was which, because he didn’t know.

Mousesteps: You clearly have been going to Disneyland for a long time what are some of your favorite memories of Disney and food?

Marcy Smothers: Well, I think that everything tastes better at Disneyland. And there’s two questions that everyone always asks, at least in my experience: What’s your favorite ride and what’s your favorite food? And…that was something else when I was writing the proposal that I kept saying to myself. Mine…I say it in my foreward, is my grandparents took me once a year. It was a very big deal. Pirates of the Caribbean was always my favorite. I came from a modest family so we got one treat, and no souvenirs. Mine was chocolate fudge, which I write about. But now, I am a health nut so I don’t eat the chocolate fudge – but I love the Bengal Barbecue. I also truly believe that if Walt were alive, where he would be – he of course loved The Plaza Inn, and the Carnation Cafe and the Golden Horseshoe. I think now, with his trains going around the Rivers of America…when you can sit at Hungry Bear in the very back, and see his train with the new track, his Mark Twain and the Columbia – all in one spot, it’s impossible to beat for me as a place to have lunch or dinner.

Mousesteps: Not everyone who writes books about Disney parks is as familiar as you are. How long have you been going?

Marcy Smothers: I don’t remember how old the first time I went was, maybe 6 or 7. But I have been going at least once per year since I was very little. Before I wrote the book, I was going quite a lot – with my daughter, she was at Chapman, so we went a lot when she was at Chapman a couple of years ago. I just always found an excuse to go. But when I sold the book, I had a lot of excuses to go (laughing). It was awesome! I went a lot…a lot, a lot, a lot.

This is a work in progress, come back soon for more of our interview with Marcy Smothers about her wonderful book, Eat Like Walt!