Disney biography a literary triumph

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Art imitates life, and life imitates art, and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

Take the little town of Marceline, Mo., a place so idyllic, so orderly, so utterly all-American that it seemed impossible to improve on.

Marceline declined once the automobile came and the crowds started to roll in, but it is forever enshrined in the memories of several generations of Americans.

The person who put it there, who remembered it as the best of all possible places, was Walter Elias Disney, who lived in Marceline for only a few years as a child at the turn of the last century. It did not matter that his father failed in business there so that the family had to leave it for the city. Disney took paradise and, characteristically, improved upon it, turning his vision into Main Street, USA, a perfect place in the perfect world of Disneyland.

Disney has been dead for 40 years. In the years since, historians and pop culture students alike have debated Disney endlessly, some convinced that he was as dark a character as his witches and sorcerers.

Enter Neal Gabler, author of the indispensable"An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood," and other books of film and cultural history, who was granted unrestricted access to the vast Disney archive on the sole condition that he write a"serious" book. That he has certainly done. He has much to say that might have made Disney uncomfortable, but he also exonerates him of long-standing charges, the most serious that he was an anti-Semite. Disney was not, Gabler argues, explaining how such charges came to be leveled.

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