Book Review: “They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era” by Didier Ghez

Hi everyone!

We were sent They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era to review. This is the fourth book in the They Drew as They Pleased series, which is a fantastic collection of books by Didier Ghez. This latest one has a forward by Eric and Susan Goldberg, and the chapters encompass the modern artwork of Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Tom Oreb, John Dunn and Walt Peregoy. Each artist is a chapter in the book.

The foreward by Eric and Susan Goldberg is enthusiastic and talks a little about each artist, including how Walt was “enchanted” by the work of Mary Blair, and there was some grumbling from animators when they were challenged by Walt to include her art in films.

The book starts by talking about the small screen after WWII, how Walt started using television to reach audiences. One way he did that was in partnership with his niece Phyllis Hurrell and her photographer husband George in creating commercials. While Disney Studios was out of the partnership officially within a year, Hurrell still created commercials using the Disney characters for a number of years – until a young boy who had written Walt previously to tell him not to make his characters too modern wrote that he was disappointed that Walt would “sucumb”. That made me wonder how Walt would handle social media today. But after that, Walt still used television to promote Disneyland and more.

I won’t go through all five artists, Didier always does a thorough job with profiles and collecting interviews about and the correspondence by the artists he writes about. But I will talk a little bit about the Lee and Mary Blair chapters. While each receives a chapter, the two chapters overlap so much – Lee and Mary were just integral to the work of the other. Lee’s chapter is first, as he started working on Flip the Frog for Ub Iwerks, but soon moved elsewhere before eventually making his way back to Disney Studios as a color supervisor in 1938. He almost quit after differences in Bambi, but Walt tapped him for segments in Fantasia instead. Lee also went into the Navy and was put in charge of the animation department of the New York Naval Air Station.

Mary Blair wasn’t wanting to be in animation, she had studied to be an illustrator. After a short time with Disney, she left – but then Lee told her that studio artists were going on a trip to South America. She went to Walt Disney, and he rehired her and she took the very famous trip (which include Lee) that led to not only led to more depth in her artwork and a new career outlook, but it helped produce Saludos Amigos and Three Cabelleros. She took more trips soon after, including to Mexico and Cuba. The tremendous contribution of Mary Blair to the Disney parks is noted but not really discussed in this volume.  And Mary did get to become an illustrator as well away from Disney.

There is so much more in the book, both in the two chapters I just mentioned and the other three profiles – Didier Ghez tends to be a pretty prolific writer, though it never feels like he is overstuffing sentences or chapters with words just to have extra filler. I’m a big fan of his work. There is also quite a lot of artwork in They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era. The book itself isn’t huge so you aren’t seeing the artwork in large format on pages, but it’s still nice to flip through and enjoy a nice variety from each talented artist.

If I wasn’t sent They Drew As They Pleased Vol 4: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era, I would buy it. While my favorite of the four books is still They Drew as They Pleased Vol. 3: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Late Golden Age, the newest book is very close for me – maybe equal to that one. Each of the four books is well worth owning, with a lot of nice Disney history within the pages.


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