May 26, 2014 posted by

BOOK REVIEW: John Canemaker’s “The Lost Notebook”


I don’t know about you, but I just spent my Memorial Day weekend reading (and drooling over) the latest book by animation historian extraordinaire John Canemaker, The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and The Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic.

With apologies to my dear friends Didier Ghez and David Gerstein (who also have great books regarding Disney coming out in 2014), there can be no more important book about Disney history published this year. Just when you think there is nothing else to know, nothing left to uncover, Canemaker and the Disney Family Museum put this major piece of animation/Disney/special effects research and Hollywood history on the table – a coffee table in this case.

The Lost Notebook is a large, $75.00 behemoth of an oversized book ($51.07 on Amazon) which contains a complete facsimile of a previously unpublished, previously unknown and lost journal of photographer and Disney effects technician Herman Schultheis. Schultheis worked for Disney for a few years, essentially between 1938 and 1941 – the height of the Disney golden age – part of the team in getting Pinnocchio, Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon, Bambi and Dumbo to the screen.

Not only did Schultheis work in effects photography – think the snow flakes in Fantasia, the elaborate opening shot in Pinnochio – but he documented how these “tricks” were achieved, with notes, charts, rare photographs and art. Schultheis was also a publicity photographer for the studio – as well as a cameraman behind many of the reference photos the animators used.

Canemaker deftly annotates the entire 160 page ‘lost notebook’, filling in the gaps by identifying artists and technicians and explaining the context of each photograph, film or technical process involved. The other 132 pages surrounding the notebook here are even more fascinating. Canemaker relates the entire tale of Mr. Schultheis – a part-time nudist and a suspected Nazi sympathizer – who ultimately disappeared forever in a Guatemalan jungle in 1955. You can’t make stuff like this up – it’s an incredible life story.

Schultheis was an industry jack-of-all-trades and perhaps master-of-none, but he had a healthy ego and several good ideas (3-D Disney illustrated books using studio maquettes; a plan to build a “how-we-make-cartoons” movie museum in Hollywood that would also sell Disney “by-products”, et al). His German accent didn’t help his fortunes during wartime – but merchandiser Kay Kamen befriended him, and he later found work at 20th Century Fox and the small-time Telefilm productions after the war. Canemaker’s telling of his life story is an equally compelling companion to the “lost notebook” itself.

Schultheis’ Disney notebooks were found in 1990 by Howard Lowery, in his estate – after his widow’s passing – untouched for 35 years, in a cabinet drawer. The original notebook is now on display at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Pixar’s Pete Docter contributes an enthusiastic and heartfelt Foreword explaining the importance of these lost notes. He’s right – they are important, both Disney and Special Effects historians will have a field day here – and the “lost notebook” will indeed be analyzed and referred to for decades to come.

Beautiful to behold, a rare artifact and important reference material – what more can I say? The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis and The Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic is highly recommended.

(Click thumbnails below to enlarge, a two page sample of the THE LOST NOTEBOOK)


1 Comment

  • Fascinating.

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