Imagine this: A mysterious, dashing German émigré shows up at the Disney Studio on the eve of World War II. He works there for a little over two years on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, and keeps a meticulous secret notebook of how the studio achieved its propietary special effects. He never works in animation after that, instead pursuing other interests as a photographic chronicler of mid-century Los Angeles and an ingenious inventor (he serves himself drinks with an automated push-button and his home office has switches and buttons that control “over a hundred circuits”). A decade-and-a-half after leaving Disney, while adventuring in Central America, he disappears in the jungles of Guatemala. Nearly forty years after his disappearance, the Disney notebooks are found hidden in a Murphy bed in the Los Angeles home of his widow.
That’s the unbelievable—and completely true—premise of John Canemaker’s upcoming book, The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis & the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic (Weldon Owen, 288 pages, $75, May 2014).