BOOK REVIEW: Married to the Mouse, Walt Disney World and Orlando
by James MacLaren
Richard E. Foglesong, 2001
Yale University Press
Oh joy, another book prying back the veil that Disney has attempted to hide
behind ever since they first arrived in Florida.
I was very surprised to learn that, in fact, Disney’s first plans for a cylopic
operation outside of California were centered upon St. Louis, of all places! It
was only a chance, ill-chosen, remark by August Busch Jr. (think: Beer) that
derailed the impending megadevelopment. Sigh. Had the remark, “Any man who
thinks he can design an attraction that is going to be a success in this city
and not serve beer or liquor, ought to have his head examined,” not been
uttered at a meeting attended by Walt Disney himself, the fates of both St.
Louis and Orlando would have been RADICALLY different. Walt IMMEDIATELY scotched
the deal with St. Louis and proceeded to start looking anew for a place to put
his proposed new operation.
It’s a shame St. Louis didn’t get the damnable thing. Not that I hold any malice
towards that city or it’s inhabitants, but I live a little too close to
Orlando and have seen, up close and personal, just exactly what the Disney
juggernaut has done to this area.
I don’t like it one little bit.
R. Foglesong has done an impressive job of sifting through the welter of plots,
subplots, agreements, backroom wheeling and dealing, and all the rest of the
amazing litany of things that Disney has done, and IS DOING, to get its way.
The book is basically a political and economic examination of the entire Disney
story in Central Florida, from inception to the present day, and it’s prime
allegory is that of a marriage between two very unequal partners.
Disney has greedily taken every advantage of Florida politicians (from the top
down), and residents from day one, and the politicians seem unable to get enough
of it, whether through naivety, cupidity, or just plain old stupidity. The
people, on the other hand, have more than their share of doubts about the whole
thing. But Disney did their homework in advance and fixed things up nice and
tidy, to where the thoughts and feelings of the people of Florida really didn’t
The parts of the book that describe the creation and operation of the charter
for the Reedy Creek Improvement District border on psychotic. State and local
political (and even JUDICIAL!) officials pretty much rolled over and played
dead, ceding an INCREDIBLE laundry list of special powers and exemptions from
state and local laws, to Disney. Disney, in effect, became a sovereign power on
it’s extensive tract of land, answerable to nobody at all. Not only that, but a
clever clause in the charter exempted Disney from changes to laws, or the
interpretation of laws, regarding Reedy Creek, in PERPETUITY! That the whole
sorry deal was pulled off by Disney under a smokescreen of deception,
misrepresentation, and plain old bullshit only serves to make the story even
This part of the book alone is well worth the purchase price.
But there’s more. Lots more.
I can’t even begin to list all of it here, though. To do so, would basically be
to recopy the whole book. Among some of the more bizarre comings and goings,
though, are loony deals like Orange County paying for a fifty million dollar
expressway interchange (to better bring even more hordes of paying customers to
Disney’s growing forest of turnstiles) that WASN’T EVEN LOCATED IN ORANGE
Married to the Mouse doesn’t qualify as “light reading,” but neither does it
come off like a college textbook in politico-economic theory. Foglesong just did
his digging (very well, I might add) and then tells the story. That the story
contains so many twists, turns, dark alleys, and murky water, is no fault of the
Read this thing, and then stay the hell off of Disney property every chance you