This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Rebecca Cline, the Director of the Walt Disney Archives.
Becky Cline joined The Walt Disney Company in 1989, and became a member of the staff of the Walt Disney Archives in 1993. Today, as Director of the Archives, Becky is charged with collecting and preserving all aspects of Disney history and making the material available to researchers from all areas of the Walt Disney Company — as well as to historians, writers, documentarians, and fans around the world. Her many responsibilities include maintaining and conserving the Archives’ collections of historical documents, artwork, character merchandise, costumes, props and memorabilia. In the years since the Archives was established at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, it has grown from a one-person department to its current staff of twelve, and has come to be recognized as a model among corporate archives in the country.
In her position with the Archives, Becky has also enjoyed participating in the research and development of many new and exciting programs and fan-based initiatives for the Walt Disney Company including the development and operations team for D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.
Born in Glendale, California, and raised in Los Angeles, Becky attended Glendale College and California State University Los Angeles, majoring in Theater Arts. After college, she worked for two years in the Rare Books Department of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where she received her first taste of library/archives work.
As an author, Becky has co-authored the books Disney Insider Yearbook, The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember (Sept., 2019), The Art of Disney Costuming: Heroes, Villains and Spaces Between (Aug., 2019) and the upcoming Holiday Magic at Disney Parks (Summer 2020), and has written numerous articles on Disney history for magazines such as Disney’s twenty-three, Disney Magazine, The Disney Channel Magazine, Persistence of Vision, and The E-Ticket, as well as many other Disney internal publications and websites. She is also a frequent speaker on behalf of The Walt Disney Company, giving talks and presenting seminars on Disney history.
How did you get your gig?
I started out in the Walt Disney Archives as a (Semi-Senior) Secretary. After college I planned to work in live technical theater which was my major, but couldn’t find steady work, so I took a job as a Library Assistant in the Rare Books Department at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. I had always loved libraries and reading, but after two years there I discovered a passion for rare books and materials and had a great desire to work in that field instead. In 1989, I heard from a friend that they were hiring a file clerk at the Walt Disney Archives and so I jumped at it. They had already filled the role, so I took a job at Disney Home Video for four years and then finally got a secretarial job in the Archives in 1993. Then, I learned everything I could about Disney and began writing and researching on my own. Eventually I was made an Assistant Archivist, and then moved on to build out our Collections department as the Manager of Collections, focusing on working with the department’s dimensional assets. When our Chief Archivist and Founder, Dave Smith, retired in 2010, I was made Director – a role I’ve held ever since. I just celebrated my 30th anniversary with Disney and 26th with the Archives. Oddly enough – I have no institutional library training, but my theatrical background has been of inestimable value in an entertainment archive setting – working with props, costumes, sets, art, curating exhibitions, budgets, and scheduling, assisting historical researchers and being a spokesperson, and acting as a presenter and on-camera interview subject – I wear lots of hats!
Tell us about your organization.
We were founded in 1970 as the first studio archives in the film/entertainment industry – and we are the largest of our kind. We now have a staff of 30 and work as teams in multiple areas – Research, Collections, Exhibitions, Operations, and a Photo Library and Digital Lab. The staff is comprised of employees from various backgrounds with various experience – some have traditional library and archival training, museum training, academic and film studies training, some even have business management training. They are all fantastic historians as well and are very passionate about The Walt Disney Company and its history.
Describe your collections.
The collections of the Walt Disney Archives cover all aspects of The Walt Disney Company. We keep all historical documentation from Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney as co-founders of the Company, to motion pictures, television, theme parks, consumer products, publicity, publications, media collections (physical and digital), and corporate history. As the Corporate archive of the entire Disney enterprise, we cover the history of all areas and brands under the Disney umbrella – including ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and now 21st Century Fox. Last year the Fox Archives merged with our department, and we are now one. Our collections are extensive and rather amazing in scope – from almost the beginning of Hollywood history, to today.
A significant portion of our research collection centers on Walt Disney, the man. Books, articles, speeches, interviews and more than 8,500 photographs just of Walt, himself. We also chronicle the history and genealogy of the Disney family. There is also a complete set of Company annual reports from 1940 to the present along with Company phone directories, employee periodicals, stockholder materials, and corporate officer materials.
Although the Company’s film collection is housed elsewhere, the Archives collects many films on various formats for reference, including all home entertainment releases, television programs, interviews, special events, and employee training films. We have scripts for Disney live-action films and television programs along with dialogue cutting continuities for animated films, costume breakdown and continuity books, shooting call sheets and other production information. Feature animation art is held in a special library that is part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, but the Archives contains the live-action film, television, publicity and commercial art of the Company. We also keep documentation about the animated films, including shooting drafts, original story concepts, and transcriptions of story meetings – which are quite enlightening. Walt Disney first arranged a clipping service in 1924 and ever since the Company has been the subject of countless magazine and newspaper articles. These are generally arranged by year and subject.
Press releases, press books and movie posters help tell the story of the studios and filmed product the Company has released over the years, too. We also maintain biographical material – including audio interviews and oral histories with many key Disney Cast Members, Employees, and Imagineers through the decades. Typed transcripts of significant interviews and speeches are available in both text and digital formats, for reference. Disney publications have been published in the U.S. since 1930 and we have a complete collection of more than 10,000 titles catalogued. There are also thousands of international Disney books, published in more than 40 languages. The Archives also maintains a complete file of domestic comics strips, books and magazines, along with most international titles, dating back to 1932. We also have preserved a practically complete collection of Disney recorded music – CDs, phonograph records and cassettes as well as digital files. We also have printed sheet music, production cue sheets, and song folios to round out our musical documentation.
The Archives also houses a vast collection that traces the history of all twelve Disney Parks, from Disneyland in Anaheim to Shanghai Disneyland in China. The research collections for those parks and resorts include correspondence, films, ticket media, employee publications, menus, Guest collateral and ephemera, and special event project files.
Since the late 1920s, tens of thousands of merchandise items have featured the likeness of Mickey Mouse, and millions of items have featured our film, television and park properties. While we have never attempted to collect every item ever produced, we do maintain an excellent sample collection, catalogues, correspondence files, licensee materials and photographs that tell the story of our merchandise endeavors since the 20s.
Dimensional assets from our films, television and streaming properties, as well as theme park attractions, are one of our most interesting collections. Some of our thousands of props and costumes include the ornate prop storybooks that open Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Annette Funicello’s Mickey Mouse Club sweater and mouse ear hat, the 11-foot long Nautilus shooting model from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett’s ‘coonskin cap’, Mary Poppins’ carpet bag and the 20 foot -long “miniature” model of the Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Our dimensional collections also include awards, animation models, live-action film models and maquettes, artwork, blueprints and drawings, park attraction vehicles, set pieces and much more – it’s a true treasure trove!
Our exhibition program was conceived with the intention of sharing these fabulous pieces of dimensional Company history with the world. To that end, we have been creating and presenting exhibitions for Disney fan events across the U.S. for the last decade, and even expanded to Japan and Hong Kong in recent years. This year we are launching a new traveling exhibition program that will let us share some of our favorite assets and stories with new audiences around the globe.
With the addition of the incredible photo library collection of the Fox Studios in 2019, our Photo Library collection of physical and digital media now numbers over 20 million items. The various types of negatives and color transparencies preserved in these collections cover all aspects of Disney history, from its beginnings to the present day. We have built and are constantly adding to a new online digital asset management system which is available to Disney employees (and outside researchers with approval from the Disney Legal Department.) This is a continually growing digitization program that uses state-of-the-art equipment and processes to capture all parts of our collection – some even in 3-D! It is one of our major initiatives and an accomplishment we are very proud of.
What are some challenges unique to your collections?
As with any Archive, our main challenges are always space and staffing! Even with what seems to be a large staff, when you look at the magnitude and various types of materials in our collections and the scale of our outreach programs – exhibitions, fan events, publications, historical lectures, training, internal orientations – it doesn’t seem like nearly enough staff. We also have to create and maintain proper storage facilities for everything from paper documents, original art, and fragile negatives to ride vehicles, automobiles, sailing ships, Audio-Animatronics® dinosaurs, and even Cinderella’s ornate coach! Our other main challenge is one that just about every other archival collection faces today, too, and that is the collecting and processing digital history. What used to come through the doors as paper is now digital and that requires a whole new set of skills to find, process, store and share. In our case, it is massive amounts of digital imagery and audio material. We are working through these issues with our new digitization programs and are seeking to implement a new and upcoming internal collections management system to not only help keep track of catalogued materials, but also to help with our knowledge management – with half a century of institutional knowledge at our fingertips, we want to make sure we’re doing all we can capture why and how we work the way we do here at Disney, for future generations, and archivists!
What is your favorite part of your job?
I must say I have a fantastic job that I love dearly – I get to work with wonderful, iconic historical assets, but my favorite part has to be working alongside the amazingly talented people here at Disney. I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to meet and share our history with the best and brightest filmmakers, artists, actors, musicians, animators, authors and creatives in the entertainment industry. I also get to share what I love so much with the millions of Disney fans out there in some pretty great ways – through our exhibits, events produced by our official fan club, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, historical presentations at theaters, parks and cruise ships, and even on film and television.
We open our new traveling exhibit, “Inside the Walt Disney Archives: 50 Years of Preserving the Magic,” at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA on March 7, 2020. With lots more to follow, be sure to keep up with us on social media – we have some exciting plans in the works!