Museum quite a discovery for children of 20th century

Since I take joy in sharing undiscovered places, here’s my latest discovery, a discovery I owe entirely to historian and preservationist Lynn Zook.

Somehow I mentioned (OK, I was telling anyone who would listen.) I was going to San Francisco to see “Wicked.”

Zook told me I had to, absolutely had to, go see the Walt Disney Family Museum there. She raved about the quality of the museum and convinced me and my friend this was a must-see.

Zook was adamant … and she was right.

The museum tells Walt Disney’s life story, but it is also part of the life story of just about every 20th century American.

Who hasn’t seen a Disney cartoon or movie or been to Disneyland? “Snow White” was made in 1938 but like so many other Disney creations, it remains a significant part of American culture.

Going through the museum, located at the Presidio in San Francisco, was a personal experience as well as a time to learn more about Disney the man, rather than the corporation.

There were surprises galore.

Did you know Mickey Mouse was Disney’s second choice as a cartoon star? He created a series called “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” but lost the rights to his distributor, making Disney a lifelong stickler for copyright.

In 1928, he created this mouse called Mortimer. Except his wife, Lillian, didn’t like that name. Mortimer became Mickey and mouse history was changed forever. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit could have a been a contender, but instead, is a footnote.

Did you know Disney said “the toughest period in my whole life” was in 1941 when he had union problems with the animators?

Did you know that for “Steamboat Willie,” it took 348 cartoon drawings to create less than one minute of film?

The museum works on many levels. Since it’s in a refurbished barracks on the grounds of the Presidio, the parking is on what was once a military parade ground. The setting is one of military history and preservation while the museum tells the life story of a natural storyteller.

I saw more adults than kids this past Saturday afternoon, but it’s designed to appeal to both, just on different levels.

Zook learned about the museum from a newspaper article published around the time the $110 million museum opened Oct 1.

Just before Christmas, she and her husband went to San Francisco to see the museum and relish the wonderful memories it provoked. “It was reliving my childhood,” she said. “The animation room brought back memories of seeing ‘Bambi’ at the Huntridge Theater. We watched it from the crying room because my brother was a baby.” Her husband, Jon Stromp, a video engineer for extreme sports, focused on the development of the technology, starting with the rough beginnings of cartoons, then the revolution of animation. The museum doesn’t explain today’s animation technology because it ends with Disney’s death in 1966 and it’s a stirring closure, including newspaper cartoonists honoring a fellow cartoonist.

Sometime later Zook spotted a job listing — the museum was looking for a digital archivist. She applied.

In the meantime, she was told that “Untold Stories,” the monthly panel about Southern Nevada history she first organized in September 2007, was being canceled by the Springs Preserve. Officials are rethinking the educational programs and cutting costs. Zook would no longer be commuting from Southern California to Las Vegas each month.

Three days later, she was offered the job at the Walt Disney Family Museum. She’s moving to San Francisco this weekend for another job and another commute. Zook starts work there Monday.

Next time you’re in San Francisco, see the Walt Disney Family Museum. Tell them Lynn Zook sent you, because indirectly, she did.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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