WALT’S WORLD (concluded)

by Graham Hill

By the 1950’s, animation certainly was not a priority at the Disney studio anymore.

Live-action movies and television were dominant, with “geniuses” Bill Anderson and Bill Walsh running those divisions, of course with Walt’s occasional supervision.

Disneyland was what he lived for, and ten years after it opened he was signing the deal for the “Florida Project.” A multi-phase development that would contain a second and much larger Disneyland, as well as something revolutionary called EPCOT –the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

When Walt Disney died on December 15th, 1966, ten days after his sixty-fifth birthday, it was fitting that he did have something so big in development to a scale that matched his life. Despite all the wealth and success, Walt literally worked and drank, and smoked himself to death, a victim of his own relentless ambition, imagination and restlessness.

His brother Roy, would delay his retirement and see the first phase or Disney World as it was first known, later renamed by Roy as Walt Disney World, completed in October, 1971. Sadly, Roy only lived long enough to see just a few months of retirement.

When EPCOT eventually opened a decade later, it didn’t exactly live-up to expectations of a harmonious community or utopia of tomorrow, not unlike the turn-of-the-century America of Walt’s childhood that had re-imagined and perfected rather than remembering as reality.

When Walt died he took his own personal world with him. Unlike the rest of us though, he left behind an empire that would grow beyond anything he could imagine.

The Walt Disney Company is just like all the other Hollywood conglomerates today. It’s all about making lots of money. The cyber-animators, like their pencil and paintbrush wielding predecessors, are all just employees.

Compared to the greedy, scheming CEO’s and business leaders we have now, Walt was a saint. He believed in his company and cared about the quality. A personally run company is a dictatorship, even in this case where you could call the head-man by his first name. But don’t let informality be confused with familiarity. You didn’t go up to Walt, put your arm around him and asked to see his vacation snaps.

He was the loving “Uncle Walt” to millions on television, but he was the boss at work. Walt ruled with a benevolent fear not unlike his father. And like a father figure, Walt’s most devoted and forgiving employees wanted to please him. They knew his misgivings and accepted him as a genius just the same.

It’s us –- the public — that can’t accept the truth and the reality.

An American icon has to be pure and indestructible, but when it’s an icon that is the very personification of purity and American family values (that is, Walt Disney himself) it has to be immortalized and marketed (just like the revised image and mercantile reverence he gave to the likes of Davey Crockett and an animatronic Abraham Lincoln).

Walt Disney even over forty years after his death still commands our respect and admiration. That famous artistic signature of his, despite being created by a studio animator, may not be the best endorsement of family entertainment these days, but once upon a time it really left its mark!

The Walt Disney museum is located in of all places, the old Presidio at the base of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe being so far away from Burbank, is a metaphor for just how far apart today’s Disney company is from Walt’s vision. (The museum and the company are not formally linked.)

Funded by the Walt Disney Family Foundation and founded by Dianne Disney Miller — Walt’s only biological offspring — it is everything you would expect from a state-of-the-art presidential museum. (The late Diane is pictured above with husband Ron Miller.)

Ironically in a strange way, it is Walt himself who has funded it, as the foundation itself is really the inherited wealth of WED, the personal holding company he started over half a century earlier.

Walt’s probably walking the halls and checking on everything, just like he always did in life. And if it wasn’t enough to have a huge entertainment empire including a studio, numerous theme parks and a prestigious concert hall as monuments to his memory, then it seems that even in death one’s ambitions are never fully fulfilled…






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