I was sent the book “Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career” by Disney Legend James Cora to review. Cora passed away in 2021, just months before the book released. One of the last things he wrote in “Not Just a Walk in the Park” was from Congressman Rufus Choate, who said “Books are the only immortality”. “Not Just a Walk in the Park” took a number of years to complete. Cora – with the help of co-author Jeff Kurtti – shares countless fascinating stories of his time working at the various Disney parks – from Disneyland at the time of Walt to shepherding international projects with a lot of attention in the book paid to Tokyo Disneyland and EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris).
The first 40 or so pages of the book have nothing to do with Disney. Cora talks about his grandparents that were immigrants from Lebanon, along with some of his childhood and military service. While these pages aren’t Disney related, he does refer back to aspects of his life throughout the book, like the grape shoots his grandmother brought with her that lend to both metaphorical and literal plantings throughout his life.
Cora didn’t plan to work at Disneyland, but his fraternity buddy went for a job and while waiting, Cora was given a pass to explore the park for an hour. In that time, Cora decided he did want to work at Disneyland and there are plenty of stories about that – including his working relationship with Dick Nunis and others. Cora ran into Walt Disney one day, and after a conversation Walt told him to look for Van France and “Tell him that Walt sent you”.
“Not Just a Walk in the Park” is over 430 pages, it is a long book with a lot of stories spanning a lifetime – and really a lifetime at the parks. Cora’s whole adult life until retirement was spent at Disney – training, building relationships, learning a wide variety of skill that he built on as he progressed through his career. There are aspects of training that he started in the early days of Disneyland that would still apply in 2022. He was also part of The Florida Project but really the standout sections for me of the book are on Tokyo Disneyland and Euro Disney, which were completely different. He had a deep respect for Frank Wells – then President of the Walt Disney Company but there are some others who he did not have as nice words for. The book is an honest look at what Cora experienced. Opening Tokyo Disneyland was much easier than Euro Disney. Cora suffered some major health challenges during the latter that affected the rest of his life. Yet he still took on some challenges including the opening of Tokyo DisneySea and the premiere of Disney’s Pocahontas in Central Park.
There is a lot covered within the 430+ pages. “Not Just a Walk in the Park” is not a coffee table type book, it is a standard book with 5.88 x 1.5 x 8.5 inches but there are so many stories. It is entertaining at times, it is serious at times, it is an extremely honest and frank accounting of Cora’s time with Disney. He really embodied what the Walt Disney Company is about as far as embracing the values that Walt instilled early on (for example, giving value for money). Cora clearly cared deeply about the company and about the people he met throughout his career.
For the price point, “Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career” is good value for the money for those who are Disney parks fans who love learning about the history of the company. I look forward to reading the Dick Nunis book “Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive” that is scheduled for later this year to see some of the stories from a different vantage point.
Information from the publisher:
The never-before-told, behind-the-scenes story of Disney’s pioneering and triumphant global theme park and resort expansion.
On June 16, 2016, Shanghai Disneyland Park, located in Pudong, Shanghai, opened to great fanfare and acclaim. Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger called the world’s twelfth Disney park “one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of The Walt Disney Company.” But a short three decades before, there were only two Disney parks―both in the U.S. How this unique entertainment enterprise expanded and was embraced all around the world is one of the most ambitious and successful, but little-documented aspects of The Walt Disney Company’s history.
Leading that pioneering and influential initiative was a fascinating man who, like Walt Disney himself, was the right combination of experience, enterprise, curiosity, and cultural complement at just the right time and place: Disney Legend Jim Cora. Part memoir, part cultural history, part documentary―and always fascinating, revealing, candid, and frequently humorous―Not Just a Walk in the Park: The Creation of Disney’s Global Resorts is the first-ever documentation of Disney’s rise as a worldwide powerhouse in destination recreation and cultural export; and the circumstances, events, and individuals who brought it all to life.
Filled with remarkable information, insight, anecdotes, and reflections of places, people, projects, problems, and ultimate successes, this is a one-of-a-kind recollection of a previously unknown aspect of the wide, wonderful world of Disney and how it got that way.
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