Walt Disney Archives founder and former chief archivist David R. Smith officially joined The Walt Disney Company on June 22, 1970, but his Disney roots are even deeper.
A fan of Disney films throughout his youth, Dave once explained, “I grew up in Southern California, and so my appreciation of Disneyland began as a child.” In 1967, he had become interested in compiling an extensive bibliography on Walt Disney.
With approval from the Disney organization, he spent more than a year researching all Disney publications and productions.
When the Disney family and Studio management decided to attempt to preserve Walt Disney’s papers, awards, and memorabilia, it was natural for them to contact Dave to do a study, and make a recommendation which established the guidelines and objectives of the Archives. Dave was selected as archivist, and in the years since the Archives was established it has come to be recognized as a model among corporate archives in the country. Dave is regarded as the final authority on matters of Disney history.
Born on October 13, 1940, and raised in Pasadena, Dave graduated as valedictorian from both Pasadena High School and Pasadena City College. He earned his B.A. in history at the University of California at Berkeley. While in school, Dave worked part-time for six years in the Manuscript Department of the Huntington Library in San Marino.
Upon receiving his masters degree in library science from the University of California in June 1963, he was selected as one of seven outstanding graduates of library schools throughout the country to participate in an internship program at the Library of Congress in Washington.
He returned to California where he served for five years as a reference librarian at the UCLA Research Library. While there, Dave authored several articles and had bibliographies published on the Monitor and Merrimac Civil War warships, and on Jack Benny.
Of his Disney role, Dave said, “The thing I like best is the tremendous variety in our work. We never know when we come to work in the morning what we’ll be doing that day. It keeps the job interesting when you’re not doing the same thing day in and day out.”
Dave has written extensively on Disney history, with a regular column in The Disney Channel Magazine, Disney Magazine, Disney Newsreel, and numerous articles in such publications as Starlog, Manuscripts, Millimeter, American Archivist, and California Historical Quarterly. He is the author of the official Disney encyclopedia Disney A to Z, now in its third edition; with Kevin Neary he co-authored four volumes of The Ultimate Disney Trivia Book; with Steven Clark he co-wrote Disney: The First 100 Years; and he edited The Quotable Walt Disney. Dave has written introductions to a number of other Disney books.
“My greatest reward has been getting to know the many people who have come to use the Archives over the years. I have been especially proud to be a guide and mentor to so many young people who have gone on to exceptional careers in the Disney organization.” Dave said.
“I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with Dave Smith for nearly 35 years,” author and animator John Canemaker once said, “and, to me, he has always been legendary. For his steady building of the Disney Archives over the years into one of the greatest, most invaluable, world-class resources for studying American animation—and for his kindness and generosity to all researchers.”
Dave Smith passed away in Burbank, California, on February 15, 2019. He was 78.