By Steven Vagnini
Since starting his “Ask Dave” question-and-answer column in the early 1980s, Disney Legend and Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith has answered thousands of burning questions from Disney fans all over the world. In 2012, a collection of these answers was published in a book—Disney Trivia from the Vault—and just this month, the all-new release Disney Facts Revealed: Answers to Fans’ Curious Questions sheds light on even more fascinating Disney facts.
D23 sat down with Dave to learn all about the new book, which puts your—the Disney fan’s—curiosities in the spotlight. Here’s what we learned!
D23: We’re excited about your new book! How does Disney Facts Revealed differ from a traditional Disney trivia book?
Dave Smith: Thank you! Well, it is not designed as an ordinary trivia book, in which you read through a list of facts prepared by the author. Instead, readers can explore questions submitted to me by Disney fans and learn some interesting information in the answers. The questions are organized into subjects, like Walt Disney, animated features, animated shorts, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, television, and so forth. One can turn to any page and discover intriguing facts.
It’s amazing how many questions you’ve received from your “Ask Dave” column. How did that start out?
Around the time Disney Channel began broadcasting, I was asked if I could write a question-and-answer column for the Disney Channel Magazine, which was an elaborate publication that went along with the Channel. The column wasn’t called “Ask Dave” then—it was called “Exploring the Archives,” and later simply “Archives”—but it’s exactly the same column. For the first few months, I had to make up the questions myself, because nobody knew about it yet! But that didn’t last long. Pretty soon there was a steady stream of questions coming in, and that’s continued to this day.
Where else could fans “Ask Dave”?
When Disney Magazine began in the 1990s, the column moved there under the new title “Ask Dave.” I was always so proud when people came up to me saying that my column was the first section they turned to when they got their magazine. After Disney Magazine ended in 2005, it moved to the online “Disney Insider,” and most recently, the D23 website, where fans can still submit questions today. Disney Fan magazine in Japan recently picked up the idea of “Ask Dave.” The questions I receive from them are very different from the ones I get from American readers; they ask more about my opinion as to what I feel about something, or they ask broad questions about the significance of things that the Disney Company has done.
A lot of Disney fans ask, “Does Dave Smith know the answer to every Disney question?”
As we’ve said in the Archives, we don’t know the answer to everything, but we know where to look for it! By now, I’ve built up 46 years of Disney experience, and so I’ve learned a lot and remember a lot. So there are many questions I can answer pretty quickly off the top of my head. But others get a little more detailed and require research. The first place I usually look is my personal library of Disney books here at home. But I usually need to schedule a day to research more difficult questions in the Archives, where nearly every collection has been used to answer an “Ask Dave” question at some point.
What have been some of the hardest questions to answer?
The hardest questions are usually the ones that start with the word “why.” Like, “Why did Walt make such and such movie?” or “Why did he hire such and such actor?” It’s just not the type of answer that’s easily findable. In fact, there are a lot of questions we can’t answer because the information simply wasn’t documented.
We bet you’ve also received some pretty unusual questions over the years…
Oh, there are hundreds of examples of that. But that’s what makes a question-and-answer column so interesting, because you’ll get questions nobody’s asked before. I remember being asked, “How much does Walt Disney World weigh?” and “What is the genus and species of Jiminy Cricket?” And for some of these, there’s just no answer. But it’s fun to do a bit of detective work and try to solve a puzzle, and if I’m lucky, I can find an answer. And it just gives you such great satisfaction that you’re able to find something you didn’t know could be found in the Archives. So that’s something that’s been very gratifying to me through the years.
How did you decide to put your “Ask Dave” questions into book form?
From the beginning, the “Ask Dave” column was popular, and by the time the 2000s started, I realized there was such a bank of questions that could make an interesting book. I started thinking a book would give people a chance to look back at some of the intriguing questions I’ve received over the years and read my answers, and Disney Editions agreed. That’s how Disney Trivia from the Vault was published in 2012. And after a year or so, with that book being fairly popular, I told the publishers it would be possible to do a second volume, which eventually got the green light. So now, the follow-up book, Disney Facts Revealed, contains another 1,000 questions, which primarily date from 2010 to 2014.
Aside from the 1,000 new questions, what differentiates Disney Facts Revealed from Disney Trivia from the Vault?
Because of space considerations, some of the categories originally planned for Disney Trivia from the Vault had to be eliminated. So for the new book, I finally got the chance to include those categories, which are Merchandise and Collectibles, Miscellaneous, Music, and Walt Disney Imagineering. So while many of the questions in Disney Facts Revealed are from the period after 2010, there’s also a number of them that go all the way back to the Disney Channel Magazine era because they come from categories that were cut from the first book.
Over time, have you noticed any interesting changes in the questions submitted to you?
As I say in my introduction to Disney Facts Revealed, the questions have gotten a lot harder because of the popularity of the Internet. If someone needs to know the names of the Seven Dwarfs, the answer can easily be found there. So the questions I’m being sent now are much more difficult. And I’m finding that some of these questions have been asked on the Internet for years, and nobody could find an answer, so they’re finally trying me. That usually means I won’t be able to find an answer either, but sometimes I’m able to dig something up that people have been waiting for for a long time.
Have you ever met someone at a book signing who wrote in to the “Ask Dave” column?
That’s happened several times, where someone would say, “I wrote you a question many years ago when I was a little kid!” And I’d open the book and there’s their question with their name on it! The column has been around for so long that it’s better known than I am in many cases. People have heard of “Ask Dave,” but they may not know who Dave Smith is. Book signings are always fun because they give me a chance to meet some of the people who have been reading my column for all these years, and it’s very gratifying when they tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it.
For years, your column has been associated with a caricature of you. Can you tell us about it?
It was drawn by Peter Emslie, a great caricaturist, years before we ever met. He had seen me on a TV interview and drew it from that. And a number of years later, I met him when he was working for the Canadian branch of the Disney company and visited the Archives. I’ve always had a fond place in my heart for that caricature. Imagineer Sam McKim also did one of me that I’ve always enjoyed.
What would you like to say to the fans out there who’ve “asked Dave?”
As I write in my acknowledgments for both books, I thank all of the Disney fans who took the time to write in their questions. There would be no “Ask Dave” column or books if Disney fans hadn’t asked their questions. And the wide variety of questions—plus the interesting subjects that come up in these questions—is what makes the book interesting!
Disney Facts Revealed: Answers to Fans’ Curious Questions, published by Disney Editions, is now available in bookstores everywhere. Click here to ask Dave your burning Disney question!