Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Wonderful World of Jeff Kurtti

Jeff Kurtti is one of us. He is not a faceless author whose ego precludes him from mingling with his readers. He is not a creative eccentric with oddities that supersede his talent. And he is not a Disney executive who may or may not be concerned with Walt’s legacy. Jeff Kurtti is a fan. He didn’t submit an application to Disney because that’s who happened to be hiring when he graduated. For him it was a simple case of exposure that would forever shape the course of his expressive life, and it came at a very young age.

“The first movie I remember seeing was Mary Poppins during its original release,” Jeff stated. “It was a transforming event, and from that point on, I was fascinated by anything ‘Walt Disney.’ I think it was a recognition that it was a man and not a brand name that made a deep impression.” He began to collect Disney information anywhere he could find it. Comic books, magazine articles, and Disney on TV every Sunday night weren’t enough to satiate Jeff’s newfound passion. In 1966, he acquired a biography written for young people titled Walt Disney: Magician of the Movies, by Bob Thomas. To this day he still owns his childhood copy. And before there was Wikipedia, there were encyclopedias, and Jeff read any Disney-related content within them that he could get his hands on.

It wasn’t long before Jeff discovered that all of this learning came with a pleasant side effect. He remembered, “What began to happen for me was a trait that continues to inform my work and life, and Wonderful World of Walt, too. Everything I learned about Walt was a portal to learning about something else. For reasons still unknown to me, I just wanted to know more. So, drawing, animation, and filmmaking consumed my interest. I studied the geography of Missouri and the history of Southern California. Abraham Lincoln and Caribbean piracy, World's Fairs and World War II, it was all driven by a desire for background, context, and further understanding of Walt Disney's life and work.”

Jeff with the Sherman Brothers in Walt's office

Jeff utilized his vast knowledge of Disney, and combined with a lot of hard work and determination, he began officially working for the Mouse in 1986. His first role was Executive Assistant to the President of a little project titled “Euro Disney.” It was an important role, because in addition to all of the basic office duties an assistant is expected to perform, he was also tasked with helping his boss understand the structure and history of The Walt Disney Company. He worked on the project that would eventually become Disneyland Paris until 1988, and immediately followed that with a position in Walt Disney Imagineering. 

Jeff was recruited from Imagineering to a position in Corporate Synergy and Special Projects, where he was tasked with helping businesses across the entire Company to understand the cultural assets within Disney. He continued working for the Mouse until 1995, after which he decided to venture out with his own business, producing award-winning DVDs and content. Also a prolific author, he has written over twenty books (most of them about Disney), and countless Walt-related magazine articles and blog columns.

But Jeff’s biggest challenge came in July of 2005, when he was approached by the Walt Disney Family Foundation for help on what would take a few years to conceive and construct, The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. How do you pare down arguably one of the greatest lives in American history to fit into ten galleries of Museum space? Well the end result was nothing short of spectacular. Prior to the Museum’s opening Jeff acted as creative director, content consultant, and media producer, and since its opening he has consulted on an array of endeavors, as well as presented or moderated dozens of programs. Simply put, this man knows his Disney.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that his latest enterprise entails producing a weekly column for The Disney Insider, with a specific focus on Walt himself. Each article is rich in detail, and often includes rare and delightful images of Walt Disney. Jeff educates us on topics such as what an outstanding father Walt was, to the trips he took to Scotland. For “Walt-ists” like myself, these articles are Heaven in pixels. For those out there who know a little less about the man who started it all, Jeff’s column is a terrific way to acquire insight into Walt’s fascinating yet humble life. I hope you’ll consider taking a look at The Wonderful World of Walt. Few people can speak about Walt in such an enjoyable yet erudite manner, and Mister Kurtti is definitely on that short list.

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