Book Review: “Women of Walt Disney Imagineering”

Hi everyone!

I received the book “Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Women Reflect on their Trailblazing Theme Park Careers” to review. A dozen female Imagineers offer a fascinating look at their careers – often humorous, and also often challenging in male-dominated environment. Her is my review.

Women of Walt Disney Imagineering” starts out with a Foreward by Ginger Zee, a Preface by Elisabete Minceff Erlandson and an Introduction by Melody Malmberg before offering short biography pages on each of the Imagineers – including Erlandson, Kathy Rogers, Maggie Irvine Elliot and more.

Opening up the book, the quality of the paper doesn’t seem as high as many other hardcover books. But the quality of the stories within…there are some Imagineers, like Maggie Irvine Elliott, who really should have their own book and not just one relatively short chapter here. Elliot grew up Disney, with her father being Dick Irvine and her godfather Herb Ryman. She is one of four of the Imagineers in the book who got their first jobs at WDI due to family connections back when the company was much smaller (another of the Imagineers is Tori Antencio McCullough, daughter of X Antencio). But once they were at WDI, they had to prove themselves and move up on their own. And one thing you’ll notice while reading is some similar memories of those four women – including having Disney movies brought home to watch for their birthdays (well before home video was a thing).

Elliott talks about her first job at WDI in the Model Shop, where she met and worked with Leota Toombs and Harriet Burns. A number of the Imagineers started in the Model Shop, where they may have worked with fur and feathers or painting little trees.

The Imagineers survived various layoffs and also challenges where they had to work to get into roles that had traditionally only gone to men. They learned from legendary Imagineers, including John Hench and Marty Sklar. Between the 12 Imagineers, they worked across the various parks, domestic and International, from early in Disneyland’s history to Shanghai Disneyland and everything in between – for the opening of EPCOT, Typhoon Lagoon, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and more.

There is a nice, glossy section in the middle with photos, spanning their careers. Maggie Irvine Elliott shares a photo of herself with Leota Toombs at their workspace, a pencil sketch that Herb Ryman created of her as a child and photos and a sketch of her with Marty Sklar. Katie Olsen’s photos include one where she wears a bow tie, because a 1982 TDL memo said that all WED personnel had to wear a tie to the office. Kathy Rogers shares a photo of herself as one of the first female Disneyland parking lot tram drivers in the early 70s, among other pictures.

There are over 200 pages of stories offering highlights of 12 careers. Again, I would like to hear even more from some of the authors. I only highlighted a few of the Imagineers here since my review would be so long otherwise.  I highly recommend “Women of Walt Disney Imagineering“.

The Imagineers/authors included are: Elisabete Erlandson, Julie Svendsen, Maggie Elliot, Peggie Fariss, Paula Dinkel, Karen Armitage, Katie Olson, Becky Bishop, Tori McCullough, Lynne Rhodes, Kathy Rogers, and Pam Rank.

From Disney about “Women of Walt Disney Imagineering“.

A dozen female Imagineers recount their trailblazing careers! Capturing an era ― and preserving the stories they have told their daughters, their mentees, their husbands, and their friends ― a dozen women Imagineers have written personal stories from their decades designing and building the Disney world-wide empire of theme parks. Illustrated with the women’s personal drawings and photos in addition to archival Imagineering images, the book represents a broad swath of Imagineering’s creative disciplines during a time of unprecedented expansion. Intertwined with memories of Disney legends are glimpses of what it takes behind the scenes to create a theme park, and the struggles unique to women who were becoming more and more important, visible and powerful in a workplace that was overwhelmingly male. Each chapter is unique, from a unique Imagineer’s perspective and experience. These women spent their careers telling stories in three dimensions for the public. Now they’ve assembled their stories in print, with the hope that their experiences will continue to entertain and illuminate.


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