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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.