THE PERFECT AMERICAN by Peter Stephan Jungk


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And, no, there’s absolutely no weighted meaning in that title.

While it would be next to impossible to find a subject who came to a book with more symbolic heft attached to him than Walt Disney, as a character the man seems relatively unrepresented in literature and film. Doing quite the fine job of changing that fact is Jungk (Franz Werfel: A Life in Prague, Vienna and Hollywood, 1990), who takes on the dream-maker himself in his utterly irascible and unpleasant old age. At the opening here—of a novel whose title is almost as fraught with significance as Disney himself—the old man has gone back in 1966 to the tiny town in Missouri where he and his brother Roy were born and from whence came the inspiration for the layout of the Disney theme parks. Roy was the one who was good with the money, not the ideas like Walt. Of course, the great open secret of Walt’s life is that he didn’t really do much of the concrete work that made his name known in the farthest corners of the world—he just hired the best of the best, put them on a short leash, and slapped his name on their product. This is a point driven home again and again by the story’s resident neurotic Wilhem Dantine. An Austrian-born cartoonist (and real-life figure), Dantine worked for Walt for many years, getting fired just after the relatively disappointing performance of Sleeping Beauty, which Dantine had worked on. Years later, Dantine is practically a wandering vagrant with not much more to do than follow Walt around in an attempt to confront him (it’s a sublime moment when Dantine finally manages to butt heads with Walt in person). More like fictionalized biography than straight fiction, Jungk’s book is a fine achievement, making such a remote, brilliant, and rather hateful Walt Disney a flawed and painfully human creation.

Sharp as a razor: The Perfect American says more about Disney, and the seduction of megalomania, than a stack of biographies.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-59051-115-8
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Handsel/Other Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2004


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