An Interview With Author Sam Gennawey

download (1)

In our 2014 Gift Guide for Coaster Enthusiasts, one of the books listed was Universal vs. Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Parks’ Greatest Rivalry, by author Sam Gennawey. Mr. Gennawey took some time to answer some questions we had for him about his book, and his thoughts on Universal Studios and Disney Parks.

C101: For our readers who may not know, tell us a little bit about your background.

SG: I am an urban planner by day and a historian and theme park fan at night. I grew up in Whittier California so a Disneyland visit was a regular thing. At one point, I became fascinated by Walt’s vision for an experimental city and decided to draft a feasibility study to determine its viability. This lead to the first book Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City, which is about to be re-released by Theme Park Press.



C101: There have been many books written about the history of Disney World, and several about Universal Orlando. How did you decide to write a book about the rivalry between the two?

SG: The book is really a history of the Universal Studios industrial tour and how Hollywood egos created a rivalry where before there was only friendship and support. The fact that these personal battles continue to play out is very interesting to me.


C101: What was the research process like while writing the book?

SG: My methodology is to search for as much data as I can find, organize it, tease out the general themes and then continue doing research to fill in the blanks. I was fortunate to talk with many of the park creators such as Barry Upson, Peter Alexander, Phil Hettema, Gary Goddard, Terry Winnick, and others. I also had access to quite a few historical documents from the Huntington Library and the archives at UCF.


C101: Did you feel it was easier to get information for one park over the other?

SG: Much has been written about Disney. There was actually very little information for Universal. The company had gone through so many owners that nobody had any corporate memory.



C101: How does Universal vs. disney compare to other books you have written?

SG: Universal is an amazing tale of innovation and survival. Disney was much more magical, especially in the Walt days. Universal was much more typical of other Hollywood studios when it came to doing business. In the end, the personality clashes are what drives the Universal vs. Disney story.


C101: What aspect do you enjoy most about the Disney Parks and Universal Orlando?

SG: The urban design is at the top of my list. I also see the parks differently now that I have been immersed in their history. There is very little left of the original Disneyland, Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood.



C101: What’s your opinion on how the rivalry has escalated in recent years, now that Comcast is involved?

SG: I don’t want to spoil the drama…so get the book! It has certainly been healthy for Universal. Not so sure about Disney. They seemed to have been taken off-guard when Universal started designing spaces the way Walt and his original Imagineers did.


C101: What’s your favorite fun fact about Disney and your favorite fun fact about Universal?

SG: For Disney it is the architecture of reassurance. For Universal it is the reason why they bought so little land in Florida. Legendary entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman told his guys to only buy 400 acres since that is what they owned in Hollywood and he couldn’t imagine why they would need more property in Florida.



C101: Do you have a favorite attraction at Disney and Universal?

SG: My favorite attraction at a Disney Park is Disneyland’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean. My favorite Universal attraction is the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure.


C101: Are there any attractions that you never got to experience that you wish you had the opportunity to experience?

SG: King Kong at Universal Studios Florida. Or the very first version of Jaws while it was working (rarely).


C101: Do you have any future theme park related book projects you’re working on?

SG: Maybe!? In the meantime visit me at Samland on MiceChat.


C101: Is there anything else that you want our readers to know?

SG: Isn’t this a great hobby? Thanks for the support.

You can buy Universal vs. Disney, as well as Sam’s other books on Amazon. Be sure to follow Sam on Twitter at @SamlandDisney!