The Walt Disney archives were set up over 40 years ago by Disney legend Dave Smith and have evolved from 1 room next to Walt Disney’s office, to its current state of 4 warehouses and 2 offices – containing over 3 million images, sets, props and costumes. Becky is charged with the collecting, preserving, and making available for use the materials dealing with the history of The Walt Disney Company. She’s responsible for keeping alive Disney’s history and traditions ensuring they continue to be relevant o the company today. This is apparent not only for Disney Pictures, but also Disney Parks and Resorts, Walt Disney Imagineering, ABC Media Networks, ESPN, Marvel, Disney Consumer Products, and all other areas of the company so as you can imagine she and her team are kept quite busy!
I chatted with her for twenty minuets about her role at Disney and here’s what we found out.
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HeyUGuys: What’s the highlight working at the Disney Archives?
Becky Cline: That would have to be meeting so many people who’s been to visit the Disney Archive. I’ve had so many people visit the archives, we have so many people come to visit including Secret Service, celebrities, Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, Governors, Senators and Disney legends and amazing people. That’s been the most amazing part of my job. Also going to so many events like the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland which are marvellous.
HeyUGuys: How many people work at the archive and how have you seen it change over time?
BC: The archive is comprised in two different sections. We have the archive proper then the photo library which is part of our department. When I started there were 4 of us in the archive and 2 people in the photo library and now I have thirteen on the staff and a couple of contractors. In an archive you’re always understaffed, and you always need more room. As the company continues to grow, the amount of material that we have to collect and preserve also grows and it gets pretty crazy sometimes.
HeyUGuys: With Disney buying up properties like Marvel and LucasFilm recently, do you panic when you realise you’ll have a whole new section to look after?
BC: It’s kind of an interesting thing when you’re bringing in companies that have existed for a while it’s a little different. The Disney brand we take care of as well as ABC as well as a number of others. When we have a new company like Marvel there’s a learning curve. They already have in existence their own procedures and processes, for example, Pixar have their own archives, so we work with them, very closely with them but we don’t have to take care of their materials and assets, they already have it in place as they started as their own company. Marvel is the same, they have their own processes in place so even though we work with those groups, we don’t have to take care of those archives. We do collect all their information however so as a paper archive, and historical documentation and things like that we do. We get all the clippings about Marvel, their informational material but they keeps their hands on art.
At the moment we don’t know what will happen with LucasFilm as that deal is being worked out with shareholders but when they happens, most likely because we’re producing the films, they’ll be treated as Disney films so it’s likely we’ll have a lot more LucasFilm material. And depending on the success of those films, that’ll be a whole new universe for us so will include a lot more work for us as we love the Star Wars films. I’m a big fan.
HeyUGuys: Can you give us a rundown of a your normal working day at the Archive?
BC: Just in a normal day I get a lot of emails, requests from all over the world for information. I get phonecalls from within the company and because we’re such a global company I have a phonecall with Europe often or even Walt Disney World because they’re three hours ahead of us and then Japan where we currently have an exhibit right now or even China. Everyday is a little different. Sometimes we’ll have researchers come in who are writing a book on a specific Disney subject so we’ll pull materials for them. I can get a phonecall at any time during the day and have to drop everything as someone from the legal department or corporate communications may call.
Throughout the day we have meeting for various projects we’re working on including D23 (The Official Disney Fan Club) which we’re very connected with. D23 is part of the archives now and is part of Corporate Communications and is kind of our sister division here. There’s often meetings about upcoming events or an article that needs to go in the magazine. Then we have other meetings, just the other day I had to go over to the warehouse to help identify costumes which no one else had identified yet and they wanted to clear out some space.
I’m often in the warehouses as well going through things, opening boxes and re-cataloguing. We find some amazing treasures that way and have a lot of boxes that were catalogued years ago but not very finely. In an archive you always need more space so things were put into boxes and maybe not listed as completely as they could have been. We’ll pull open a box and find things we didn’t know were in there and for me that’s very exciting. We call them our treasure hunts.
When Dave Smith founded the archive in 1970 it was just him, one guy. Things started coming in and he started pulling treasures from around the company and amassing them into this collection. He didn’t have a lot of help, he had an assistant at one point and had all this stuff he had to catalogue and take care of. These low-numbered boxes are the ones we like to look into as these are the ones he did first. It’ll say on the box what it is or it may say in the database ‘This is stuff from Walt Disney’s Office’. But when you open it up and you find his eye-glasses, or you find a hat that he wore and it’s so exciting. We found his polo mallet one day in the archives and finding things that belonged to Walt are pretty special. It doesn’t happen every day but we discover things all the time.
HeyUGuys: Obviously it’s not just archiving but also the preservation and restoration of the archives. Can you tell us about the Sleeping Beauty Book?
BC: The Sleeping Beauty book is one of my favourite treasures. It’s the most beautiful book, it’s huge and very heavy. It was built as a prop to be used as a prop in the movie and appeared at the beginning. The artwork in book is gorgeous and is all original but the problem we were having with it is the cover is so heavy that all the gold was coming off the binding and all the pages were glued down to other art paper and we knew we had to remove them from that art paper. We were afraid the acid in the other paper would damage the art and it was starting to crack. Before I came to Disney I worked at the Huntington Library (out of college) and so I knew the conservators over there and the curator there used to be my boss. I called him and asked him if I could bring him the book to take a look at it and Marieka [Kaye] did a marvellous job at restoring the cover of the book for display but also removing the pages and protecting them. (You can see the episode where they restore the book below).
She’s currently flattening out some other artwork for us at the moment for an upcoming exhibit, some pencil sketches which had been folded. We found them in storage and were afraid that the pencil sketches would crack if we tried to display them.
HeyUGuys: How often do you check the costumes to make sure they’re not falling apart?
BC: We look at our major costumes at least once a year to make sure the seams aren’t coming undone. We always check them before they go out on loan. We have a whole collections department now who look after props, costumes and sets. They move them from place to place, bring them in catalogue them, check them, make them available for exhibitions, do loan documentation when needed and condition reports and take care of all the pieces. Everything gets treated a little different.
HeyUGuys: If someone wanted to work at the Disney Archive or to visit, how can this be accomplished?
To work here, unfortauntely we don’t have openings too often but they’re posted on the Disney website. To get a tour of the archive, the only way is through D23, quartely we do tours of the archive and the studio. They’re guided tours by historians and folks from our group and they get to see the archives as part of that tour. We do that every three months and you can get that through D23.com. We love showing our treasures off.