Growing Up in Disneyland


Non-Fiction - Biography
348 Pages
Reviewed on 07/16/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Marta Tandori for Readers' Favorite

Growing Up in Disneyland is a wonderful biographical tribute to Broadway, movie and television star Don DeFore by his loving son, Ron DeFore. The biography is divided into six parts. Part I deals with the identity of Don DeFore, from his modest origins back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to his arrival in Los Angeles. It recaps his various acting credits, both in movies and in television during the Warner studio heyday and when television was still in its infancy. Arguably, DeFore’s most well-known roles were in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and his co-starring role in Hazel, with Shirley Booth in the 1960s. Part II is a short chapter on his mother, former singer Marion Holmes. Part III recounts with fondness the author’s days growing up in Hollywood – on Mandeville Lane in Brentwood in a sprawling house built by his father, to be exact. Celebrity neighbors included Dick Van Dyke, Carl and Rob Reiner, Lorne Greene, Richard Widmark, Steve McQueen and Esther Williams (whose home was later purchased by Mark Harmon). Part IV is about growing up in Disneyland, quite literally, from age seven to twelve. Don DeFore had the auspicious honor of owning a restaurant in Disneyland, thanks to his friendship with Walt Disney. There are several more parts to DeFore’s biography as well.

Clearly, Ron DeFore had a great childhood growing up as one of five siblings to a famous father. They had certain perks that most kids can only dream about – visits to the studio to watch Jerry Lewis filming Cinderfella and enjoying employee access to Disneyland and riding all of the rides (without having to wait) as well as “test driving” the new ones and playing harmless pranks on park guests when they least expected it. And while Don DeFore’s celebrity gave his family access to TV interviews and the meeting of influential people, just like any child that eventually grows up, the author had to carve his own way in the world and on his own terms, with the love and support of his parents – not something every child can boast as having. Growing Up in Disneyland includes excerpts from Don DeFore’s own memoirs which he’d finished shortly before his death in 1993 and also includes some wonderful pictures that will raise the nostalgia quotient among fans of a certain vintage. Regardless of the reader’s age, Growing Up in Disneyland is a great tribute to a wonderful actor and devoted husband and father and also offers us a fascinating glimpse into what was clearly a privileged childhood.

Astrid Iustulin

Growing Up in Disneyland is a wonderful read. It can be considered a double book with a unique aim. When Ron DeFore decided to write his autobiography, he chose to include also excerpts from his father’s unpublished memoirs. DeFore’s father was actor Don DeFore, a well-known figure who starred in two popular sitcoms in the fifties and sixties. Both father and son are great storytellers. Their narrative comprises extraordinary events, meetings with legendary movie stars, politics, and the recollections of Ron’s “20 careers.” However, it is Disneyland, where the DeFores owned a restaurant, that is the primary inspiration of this book. Growing Up in Disneyland has the charm of a real fairytale.

Growing Up in Disneyland is an enjoyable cross-section of American television and society at large. It is a pity that Don DeFore’s memoirs have not been published before, but this book does them justice at last. Don DeFore’s humor colors his portrayal of what it meant to be an actor in the early years of television. His anecdotes, featuring movie stars such as Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe among others, are delightful to read. As for Ron DeFore, he is equally praiseworthy. He has been able to interpret Disneyland both as a physical place and as the symbol of his unique experiences as the child of a star. His account is as lively as his father’s, and his recollections of politics and careers positively broaden the range of topics. Growing Up in Disneyland is the right book for every reader who likes to be entertained with vibrant stories.

Rabia Tanveer

For the person who has never been to Disneyland and has wanted to go there, Growing Up in Disneyland by Ron DeFore gives insight into the wonderland of dreams. This unique biography is a great book for baby boomers, especially those who enjoyed Don DeFore’s acting and his stage presence. Ron DeFore, the author of the book, is his son and he shares some of his best memories of his father and the days of his own youth. Ron shares his instances of living in a celebrity family where he was part of a lively crowd. There was never a dull moment in his life, especially if that moment included his father who seemed to cheer up any situation. Throughout the book, the author shares little anecdotes of his past where he met some amazing celebrities that we would love to see live.

What really stood out to me in this book was the retelling of his days in Disneyland where his father owned a restaurant. Since he spent many years of his youth at Disneyland, Ron DeFore had some very interesting stories and memories to share from when he and his brother used to give presentations there. I enjoyed the flow of the book, I enjoyed how the author kept the momentum going, allowed the reader to adjust and then took them on a journey where they experienced the larger than life personality of Don DeFore. The language was simple yet encouraging. Ron DeFore draws the reader in and once they have entered the colorful world of the DeFore family, they won’t want to leave. Incredibly vivid and entertaining!

K.C. Finn

Growing Up In Disneyland is a work of biographical non-fiction penned by Ron DeFore, which tells the tale of his father Don DeFore as well as his own experiences growing up in a famous family. Don was a very well known star during the 1950s and 1960s for his work on stage, screen and television, and his son transcribes and reprints many extracts from his father’s own unpublished autobiographical work. For Ron, the book’s title comes from his own experiences at his father’s barbeque restaurant in Disneyland, and how his own rise to notoriety and adventure started because of the influence of the DeFore name.

I found the life and works of both author Ron DeFore and his father Don to be a truly fascinating tale of legacy, the surreal nature of fame and the bubble-like existence which that kind of family life brings with it. Ron writes with a candid nature and kind words, recalling many adventures with a nostalgic tone that is sure to hit the hearts of those who were living during the time of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, to name but a few. For me, it was a glimpse into a past I’d no experience of, and the recollections by both Don and Ron brought everything to life with fascinating detail and authentic voices. I learned an awful lot during this heartfelt tale, and I would certainly recommend Growing Up In Disneyland to readers who remember the fifties, but also those who would like a true portrait of Hollywood lives at the time.

Ray Simmons

If you are curious about life in Hollywood, if you’re curious about the American institution known around the world as Disneyland, and if you’re fond of history behind the headlines, you should read Growing Up in Disneyland by Ron DeFore. I’m sure you will find it just as fascinating as I did. I found it so fascinating because I remember Ozzie and Harriet and the next-door neighbor “Thorny”. I was a kid, so I never knew who played that role, never even cared. It was just funny. The same thing with the character of “Mr. B” from Hazel; I was too young and too busy laughing to know who he was. It is good to find the behind the scenes details of someone who simply added joy to my young life. It feels good. Those shows are golden classics now and I date myself by saying I remember them, but I loved those shows.

Growing Up in Disneyland is well written. It is organized in a way that helps the story simply tell itself. The writing is good but in no way pretentious. I enjoyed the inside view of a life and family that seem magical to the rest of the world. There are names from recent history here like Ronald Reagan and Norma Jean Baker, even the Beatles. It must have been great to grow up surrounded by so much talent and beauty. To grow up surrounded by people doing so many great things. Ron gives us an inside view into a life that is destined for a lucky few. To grow up in Disneyland must be a great thing. I liked this book a lot. It shed light on people and places I will never experience. I’m glad Ron took the time to share it with us.

Janice

Such a fun read, can't put it down! I highly recommend it!

Tom Peters

Thoroughly enjoyable book. Part is Don Defores own words and rememberances from his unpublished autobiography. His son Ron adds his own rememberances along with adding his own life story. A great book