Dalí and Disney: Actually, A Pretty Likely Friendship

In 2016, I got wind of an exhibit coming to The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL: “Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination.” I knew I couldn’t miss it and I knew I’d be in Florida during the exhibit’s time at The Dalí. In April 2016, I made the journey to St. Pete, a short detour off my planned route, to see this exhibit that I had heard wonderful things about.

And I was not disappointed. It was crowded (understandably so) but so, so cool. I had never visited The Dalí before and it’s just a gorgeous museum. “Disney and Dalí” is no longer at The Dalí but it’s still a must-see if you’re in St. Pete. This isn’t an exhibit or museum review, though. This is about the friendship between these two men. (For the sake of clarity, I’m going to refer to Walt Disney as Walt and the company Disney as, well, Disney.)

The Dali Museum

Interior of The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, 2016. Original photo.

Nearly everything you’ll read about Walt and Dalí states that it was an unlikely friendship. I have to disagree. Of course, their styles were very different but these men were the same age (Dalí was only three years younger than Walt), both artists, and both pioneers in their fields. Walt kept abreast of trends in art and filmmaking so it is no surprise that he eventually met and formed a friendship with one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed artists. They both pushed the boundaries of their art, broke new ground, and had the kind of drive that it seems to me only another person with that kind of drive can understand. Of their friendship, Walt’s nephew, the late Roy E. Disney, once said, “It always seemed to me they were both really relentless self-promoters and they must have seen that in one another.”

And have you seen Fantasia? It’s not like Walt was unaware that animation could be surreal.

Anyway. I just don’t think we should be so surprised by this relationship.

Disney and Dali Cross Paths

By 1936, Disney had already revolutionized animation, syncing sound with animation for the first time and using three-strip Technicolor technology, which Walt had gained exclusive access to. Mickey Mouse was already a beloved figure, the company had produced its 36th Silly Symphonies short, and three years earlier, it produced the short Three Little Pigs.

By 1936, Dalí had become an internationally acclaimed artist. His first solo exhibition was in Barcelona in 1925 and an exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1928 brought him international notoriety. He completed his most famous work The Persistence of Memory (also known as “the melting clocks”) in 1931. He had visited Paris in the 1920s and returned in 1936 with his wife, Gala, to escape the Spanish Civil War.

All of this to give you a frame of reference as to where their careers were in 1936. It was that year that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held an exhibition titled Fantastic Art, Dada, and SurrealismNaturally, Dalí’s work was featured. But Walt also had pieces in the exhibit: two animation cels from Three Little Pigs. This was the first time their careers crossed paths and the men began to take note of each other. The next year, Dalí would travel to the US and write a letter to Andrê Bretton, the founder of Surrealism, stating, “I have come to Hollywood and am in contact with three great American Surrealists—the Marx Brothers, Cecil B. DeMille, and Walt Disney.” Dalí was eager to make an animated film, seeing animators as Surrealists.

Salvador Dali and Harpo Marx

(One) mission accomplished! Dalí sketching Harpo Marx, 1937. Photo via The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation.

Walt Reaches out to Dali

In 1944, Walt read Dalí’s autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. He was so entranced, he sent his copy to Dalí to ask for an autograph and suggest a collaboration between Walt Disney Studios and Dalí. Walt made this suggestion for two reasons: recently, critics had been accusing Disney of sacrificing artistry for marketability and Walt wanted to continue working with the type of innovation used by Fantasia, which had been released in 1940.

Beginning with this initial letter from Walt, the two began exchanging letters and eventually met at a Warner Brothers Studio party in 1945. World War II had delayed their collaboration (Disney was making propaganda films) but with the war’s end, they could focus on collaborating.

In 1946, Dalí began spending half of his time in Burbank, home of Walt Disney Studios. (The other half was spent in Pebble Beach, CA.) They fleshed out their ideas, wrote outlines, and created drawings. Walt chose the name “Destino” (Spanish for destiny) for the project, after the title of the ballad they chose for the short film’s score.

Salvador Dali and Destino

Dalí working on Destino at Walt Disney Studios, 1946. Photo via the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation.

If it wasn’t apparent before, it quickly became clear that their storytelling approaches were very different. Walt’s stories relied on characters while Dalí saw characters as secondary elements, to be wrapped in symbolism. Walt described Destino as, “a simple love story—boy meets girl.” Dalí described it as, “a magical exposition of life in the labyrinth of time.” Of course he did.

While these differences might have spelled the end of any collaboration for others, the project soldiered on for nearly a year. Work on Destino came to a rather abrupt end when Walt determined that he couldn’t afford to keep Dalí on Disney’s payroll. (It’s unknown exactly how much Dalí was paid but Walt did comment that Dalí was “expensive.”) Walt also felt that Disney should move away from anthology features, which Destino had turned into. Overall, the project had sort of gotten away from them and was turning into something that neither man envisioned. There are also rumors that the men’s strong egos played a part in the project’s death but given that the men remained friends until Walt’s death, I doubt egotism was a factor. In the 1950s, they vacationed at each other’s homes in California and Spain and Walt had Dalí’s paintings on the walls of his Palm Springs home. There just wasn’t animosity there.

Salvador Dali and Walt Disney

Dalí and Walt Disney in Spain, 1957. Photo via The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Destino is Reborn

Over 50 years later, Disney released Fantasia 2000. It was the release of this film that inspired Roy Disney to resurrect Destino. Walt Disney Studios hired a team of French animators to bring Dalí’s notes and drawings to life. In 2003, Destino was finally released, nearly 60 years after its conception. 

It has elements of Disney’s animation style but Dalí’s influence is unmistakable. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2003. Of course, Walt never saw the film, passing away in 1966. Dalí lived until 1989. Unfortunately, not even Roy Disney lived to see the film. He passed away in 2001.

Destino stands as a reminder that art forms can merge and create something beautiful and unexpected. Dalí wanted to create an animated film and there was no better partner than Walt Disney.

Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination from The Walt Disney Family Museum
Walt Disney Timeline from The Walt Disney Family Museum
Timeline from The Dalí Museum
The Secret History of Salvador Dalí’s Disney Film by Trey Taylor
The Time Salvador Dalí Worked for Walt Disney by Mark Mancini
Destino from The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation

5 Must-Read Biographies and Memoirs for History Lovers

Biographies and memoirs are probably my favorite genre so I am sharing a few of my very favorites with you! Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. In no particular order…

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
This book chronicles Hyeonseo’s life in, and escape from, North Korea. She also talks a bit about the history of the country, how she was able to get her mother and brother out, and what it’s like for North Koreans who are able to defect. It’s eye-opening, anxiety-inducing, and an absolute must-read.

Lust for Life by Irving Stone
This is probably the definitive biography of Vincent van Gogh. It was even made into a fantastic movie starring Kirk Douglas as van Gogh. I should point out that it’s a biographical novel. (A genre I could personally do with more of.) Because it is technically a novel, Stone does take a bit of liberty with things. Overall, I think the liberties are minor enough that it’s still a fairly accurate biography. It’s a wonderful book that gives insight into Vincent’s life and art. He is such a misunderstood person and Lust for Life helps clear up some misconceptions.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
I adore Julia Child. Adore her. This book is a behemoth but if you can get through it without falling in love with her, too, well then, I don’t know what to tell you. It is an encompassing biography, chronicling her life from her childhood in Pasadena to her days in France and Cambridge to her death in 2004. It’s been said a million times before but she really did change the way America cooks (and the way we learn to cook!) This is the first of Spitz’s books that I’ve read and I look forward to reading more of his work.

‘Tis: A Memoir and Teacher Man: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
We’ve all read Angela’s Ashes about McCourt’s childhood but ‘Tis and Teacher Man cover the rest of his (equally fascinating and heartbreaking) life. Read Angela’s Ashes if you haven’t and then follow it up with these two. Buy some tissues first, though.

Bobbi Gibb: The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon

In 1966, 24-year old Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon…except women weren’t allowed to run it.


Bobbi crossing the finish line at the 1966 Boston Marathon. Photo via Yarrow Kraner and NYT.

She watched the 1964 Boston Marathon and was entranced. She told herself, “I’m going to run this race.” She began training almost immediately.

At the time, it was thought that running distances over 1.5 miles was potentially deadly to women. Still, she pushed herself to run a little further every day. Oh, and she had to train in nurse’s shoes since shoe companies didn’t make athletic shoes for women. After her two-year training period, Bobbi submitted her application to the race and it was only then that she learned that women were not allowed to compete. The director of the marathon told her that women were not physiologically able to run the 26.2 miles and the liability was just too great. Not taking no for answer, she took a week-long bus ride from San Diego to Massachusetts and ran the race in her brother’s Bermuda shorts, a swimsuit, and a hoodie (photo above, minus the hoodie). Since she didn’t have a bib and race number, she hid in the bushes near the starting line, waiting for the starting gun.

When the race began, her fellow runners almost immediately realized that she was a woman. Gibb, already anxious about being discovered, became even more afraid that she would be pulled out of the race or even arrested. The men running the marathon assured her that if anyone tried to keep her from running, they’d put a stop to it.

After 26.2 miles, she came in #290 out of 415 men.


Gibb after the 1966 Boston Marathon. Photo via Yarrow Kraner and NYT.

The next year, she ran again. This time other women joined her.

The next year, she ran again. Even more women joined her.

In 1972, six years after Bobbi’s first time running the marathon, the Boston Marathon began allowing women to participate. (The Amateur Athletics Union permitted women to participate in marathons in the fall of 1971, after that year’s Boston Marathon.)


Bobbi at the 2015 Boston Marathon. Photo via Yarrow Kraner and NYT.

Bobbi Gibb is now 75 years old. Since the 1960s, she has earned a pre-med degree and attended law school. She is a member of the MA state bar and has worked with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center studying neurodegenerative diseases.

She’s also an accomplished sculptor and painter, with her works on display in the National Art Museum of Sport in Indianapolis. She has also exhibited her art at many temporary exhibits in museums and has been commissioned to create a bronze sculpture to be placed on the Boston Marathon route.

And because all of that isn’t impressive enough, she’s also an environmentalist, author, and documentary film producer.

About, Bobbigibb.net
The Incredible Story of Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Brigit Katz, NYT
History of the Boston Marathon, Boston Athletics Association

10 Photos of Summer Fun From Yesteryear

It’s mid-July, the temperatures are soaring, and (hopefully) everyone is enjoying a little summer fun. Here are ten photos of summer fun from across the US and across the 20th century.


Sara Sault dancing at May Fete, 1914. Photo via The Ohio State University Archives.


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Divers at Green Lake Beach in Seattle, WA. 1936. Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives.



A full car at Bird’s Nest Resort in Missouri, 1950s. Photo via Missouri State Archives.



Two women playing a game of tennis, circa 1955. Photo via Missouri State Archives.



The golf course at Texas A&M University, circa 1962. Photo via Cushing Memorial Library & Archives at Texas A&M.



A couple grilling out in Cocoa Beach, FL. August 1970. Photo via Florida Memory.



A canoe race on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, July 1980. Photo via City of Minneapolis Archives.



Girls competing in a Fourth of July watermelon eating contest in White Springs, FL. July 4, 1983. Photo via Florida Memory.

Dorothea Dix: Teacher and Mental Health Advocate

When I first moved to Raleigh nearly six years ago, I became aware of Dorothea Dix because (spoiler alert!) one of the institutions she helped set up still stands right outside of downtown Raleigh.


Part of the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh. Photo via zalevaika on Flickr.

The campus takes up over 300 acres of land that the city has gained ownership of and is in the process of turning it into a “destination park.” But this post isn’t about Dix Park. It’s about the woman herself.


Dorothea Dix. Photo via Museum of Disability on Flickr.

Dorothea Dix was born April 4, 1802 in Hampden, Maine. She was the oldest of three children. Her father was an alcoholic Methodist preacher and her mother was in poor mental health. As you would expect, her home life was very unhappy and her father was likely abusive. The family moved to Vermont shortly before the British invaded Hampden during the War of 1812. When her two younger brothers were born, she took over caring for them. When reflecting on this time of her life, she would later write, “I never knew childhood.”

In 1814, due to her parents’ failing health and inability to care for their children, her paternal grandmother took Dorothea and her brothers to live with her in Boston. Madame Dix was very wealthy and lived in a home referred to a “Dix Mansion.” Despite their new lifestyle, Dorothea continued to care for her brothers. Dorothea and her grandmother also butted heads about Dorothea’s rejection of the finer things in life, like a private dance teacher and personal seamstress. Madame Dix was furious when she discovered Dorothea giving food and clothing to “beggar children” outside the mansion’s front gate. Dorothea didn’t act like the wealthy girl she suddenly was and it bothered Madame Dix so much that she send Dorothea to her sister’s house (Dorothea’s great-aunt’s) to become a “lady.” Once she arrived, she immediately assumed the role so that she could go back to her brothers at Dix Mansion.

It was around this time that Dorothea decided she wanted to be a schoolteacher. She was informed, however, that girls were not allowed to attend public schools. Her cousin, Edward Bangs, suggested she start her own “little dame school” to get around this. Dorothea was sold and Edward helped her secure space for her lessons. In 1816 at the ripe old age of 15, Dorothea held her first class.

I’m going to fast forward now to 1841, when she had an experience that was the catalyst for her work in mental health reform. Between 1816 and 1841, she continued to teach and opened a school right in Dix Mansion with the support of Madame Dix. It was during this time that she began writing books for children. Around 1836, she took an extended trip to Europe to recoup from tuberculosis. In January 1841, she returned to Boston.

A few months after her return, she volunteered to teach Sunday school classes to women at the East Cambridge Jail. What she saw appalled her. The cells were unfurnished, unsanitary, and unheated, despite how brutal New England winters can be. She also thought it was unfair that mentally ill inmates were locked away with criminals. When she asked why inmates were forced to live under these conditions, she was told, “the insane do not feel hot or cold.”

She knew that this was not right and immediately began investigating other prisons and asylums. She found more of the same. In 1843, she used this data to submit a pamphlet (also known as a “memorial”) to the Massachusetts state legislature. Since women couldn’t vote or hold office, this was the only way she could get this in front of the legislature. (She wasn’t even allowed to present it herself. A man had to present it for her.)

It worked and funds were set aside for the expansion of the Worcester Mental Hospital


Worcester State Hospital postcard. Photo via worcestermass.com

After this victory, she began traveling to other states to do the same. In the end, she helped establish 32 hospitals for the mentally ill, 15 schools for special needs children, a school for the blind, and several training facilities for nurses. She covered every state east of the Mississippi and then some. She did the same in Europe in the 1840s, covering 13 countries in two years. At home, she continued to be involved in the government as much as she could, which was not much considered the restrictions placed on women. During the Civil War, she became the Superintendent of Union Army Nurses and served for the duration of the war. She spent the last six years of her life in a hospital in Trenton, NJ. She passed away on June 17, 1887.

We’re not done here, though. We haven’t actually talked about her beliefs!

Obviously she believed that mentally ill people deserve to be treated like people. Unfortunately, this way of thinking was radical during her time. The mainstream belief was that mentally ill people could never be cured and they were fine to live in their “dreadful conditions.” Dorothea believed that better living conditions could help treat mental illness. (While it won’t cure you, as someone who has gone through depression and severe anxiety, I can tell you that sometimes just taking a shower and tidying up makes a world of difference.)

About a young woman, she wrote, “some may say these things cannot be remedied, these furious maniacs are not to be raised from these base conditions. I know they are…I could give many examples. One such is a young woman who was for years ‘a raging maniac’ chained in a cage and whipped to control her acts and words. She was helped by a husband and wife who agreed to take care of her in their home and slowly she recovered her senses.”

No one understood the processes in the brain that were occurring in these individuals but Dorothea knew that at the very least, providing them with habitable conditions wouldn’t harm them.

During her life, Dorothea eschewed praise and often did not even put her name on the books that she wrote or hospitals that were opened during her lifetime. Even today, she is mostly unknown. Still, she is responsible for the 19th century shift in thinking about mental health in the US and much of Europe. We still have a long way to go but Dorothea ignited change during a time when everything was against her.



Dorothea Dix by Jenn Bumb
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) by Manon S. Parry
Dorothea Lynde Dix by Tana Brumfield Casarez