Dear Walt

If You Can Dream

It’s a beautiful quote, isn’t it? What a great notion. It goes hand in hand with the idea of wishing on a star and just believing.

Only… you never actually said that, did you? This quote, often attributed to you – it was never actually yours, was it?

Sure, the notion of such is a great one – after all, we are supposed to follow our dreams. But Walt, the myth of you as a dreamer and magician, a man who never gave up and had a magic touch in everything he did… I know there’s a lot more to it.

In all honesty, the myth side was what drew me to you initially. You created Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, amazing feature films, and made so many people worldwide happy with your special touch. There definitely IS a magic to that! However, to many (myself included), it can be quite disheartening when we don’t always see our dreams come true like we hope they would; at least not in the ways we expected.

I’ve been there. I’ve had opportunities dangled in front of me, only to see them plucked away at the last moment. I’ve wanted these opportunities so badly, as part of my dreams to reach an ultimate goal. But the timing was not right, and I often have found myself questioning my desire and drive. I had a moment like this a couple years ago, and believe me when I say, it was a picture of you that snapped me out of my funk.

Storyboarder

Why this picture? For one, it’s just a great picture. You were telling the story of Pinocchio the way only you could, and pouring all of your energy into it. It showed someone that was working hard and letting his talents shine through. Someone that was having fun but giving all he had to tell his story. It was a refresher of sorts for me – I remembered that you were human – so much more than myth.

This was the Walt that interested me more. The man who had to fight his way to get where he was. The man who was faced with struggles and adversity. The family man who had quite the personality that was often unseen by rolling cameras and the public eye.

A person can look at a legend and be in awe, but to look at the person behind the legend and see what was accomplished as a real person – well, that is where real inspiration is found for me.

 

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This all came to a head when I finally had a chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. This was a place I’d wanted to visit for quite a while, but never had the opportunity to do so. I couldn’t wait to explore and revisit so much history, both of you and the history of the Walt Disney Company when it was in your hands.

The first thing I would like to say, Walt, is this museum was gorgeous. It is every Disney fan’s dream. History came alive in so many fantastic ways, from storyboards, to the famed multi-plane camera, to an amazing miniature scale model of your masterpiece known as Disneyland.

 

Animator's Desk, displaying sketches from Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

Animator’s Desk, displaying sketches from Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.

 

A view from above - the Multiplane Camera, first used in Walt Disney's Silly Symphony: The Old Mill

A view from above – the Multiplane Camera, first used in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony: The Old Mill.

 

Miniature scale model of Disneyland, as seen during Walt's lifetime.

Miniature scale model of Disneyland, as seen during Walt’s lifetime.

 

The history was rich, and really came alive for me here, but what really stood out for me once again were the parts that showed you as a family man:

Walt Disney, family man. Throughout the museum, the Disney "Family Story" is displayed, rich with family history, Walt's personal hobbies & tastes, making sure the public gets a great insight of the man beyond company history.

Walt Disney, family man. Throughout the museum, the Disney “Family Story” is displayed, rich with family history, Walt’s hobbies, and personal stories. This ensures the public gets a great insight of the man beyond company history.

 

 

A “goofball” at times:

 

Fooling around on the set of an Alice Comedy. Pictures like this are some of my favorites of Walt.

Fooling around on the set of an Alice Comedy. Pictures like this are some of my favorites of Walt.

 

A traveler:

 

On a Hawaiian vacation with wife Lillian, and daughters Sharon and Diane. Walt the traveler: A man after my own heart!

On a Hawaiian vacation with wife Lillian, and daughters Sharon and Diane. Walt the traveler: A man after my own heart!

 

 

A Patriot:

 

Detailing Walt and the studio's many contributions to the effort during WWII.

Detailing Walt and the studio’s many contributions to the effort during WWII.

 

I took the opportunity to pose for a picture on the Griffith Park bench placed in the museum. To reflect on you and all you had done. To think that, as a daddy, you sat on perhaps that very bench and began to think of a place that families could enjoy together – now THAT is inspiring!

 

My lovely family and I on "Walt's Bench."

My lovely family and I on “Walt’s Bench.”

 

 

The closer I got to the end of the exhibit, the more melancholy I felt myself getting. I knew what was coming, Walt. And it was breaking my heart. Of course, you didn’t know. You were turning your attention to different projects, looking to the future. Your vision of Epcot – what an amazing finished product that could have been! But we’ll never know, as you passed before it could come to fruition. I entered that last room with a true sadness. The man who I was fully realizing as an extraordinary human being left the world too soon.

 

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A world mourned when you died, Walt. But those of us who were too young to be around in your time mourn, too. We feel the loss of someone who, it seems, had much more left to give. You were working till the end. Dreaming? Yes. But working, brimming with ideas. Your dreams became reality because you were dedicated, thoughtful, and saw projects through. It wasn’t always easy, I know. In fact, one of the most inspiring quotes from the museum, for me anyway, came from one of the hardest times of your life. It wasn’t about making the impossible happen. It wasn’t about life being magical. No, it refers to a time your animators went on strike at the studio:

 

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Why this quote? Because it shows even someone as revered as you had moments of hardship. Times when you were ready to give up – to walk away. Of course, you didn’t, for which many are eternally grateful. But you were willing to admit that you had that type of moment.  And for someone who has felt that feeling far too often, it’s beyond inspiring to know the power of forging ahead even in dark times.

So thank you, Walt. Thank you for all you did. Your hard work. Your determination. For making countless children of all ages happy. For being yourself through the entire process. For being a good family man.

For being human.

Sincerely,

An Admirer

(Note to readers: I realized I barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum. I would encourage each and every one of you to try to visit this amazing place should the opportunity arise. It was so wonderfully put together, and truly tells the story of Walt Disney in a way that only family and those closest to him could tell it. For more information, visit the Walt Disney Family Museum website. All pictures from the museum itself were taken by the author upon his visit to the WDFM.)

 

Thankful for Walt

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

One of my favorite promotional photos of Walt Disney.

Though there are so many facets of the man’s life worth celebrating, today, we celebrate the man himself. Happy birthday, Walt.

He was a man of humble beginnings. A boy with a paper route. A kid who sold candy on trains. A teenage ambulance driver for the Red Cross. A young man full of ideals and dreams who knew how to work to make it happen. A man who sacrificed much of what he had in order to fulfill said dreams. A man who left this world a better place because he was in it.

Walt wasn’t perfect – to place him on a shrine as such would be foolish and naive. Not every idea he had worked, many risks he took put him in the red, and according to many of his animators and employees, he had a temper that turned him into a “wounded bear.” Nonetheless, he had a drive and an instinct so rare in the world. More often than not, his instinct proved right. Holding back a couple Mickey Mouse cartoons in order to introduce him to the world in sound? Mickey became an overnight sensation. Making a feature length animated movie based on a fairy tale? “Disney’s Folly” was anything but. A theme park in an orange grove in the middle of nowhere? Yes, that one seemed to turn out just fine.

But as stated above, these things didn’t fall in his lap. He had to fight the naysayers tooth and nail: bankers, animators, business analysts, his own brother… But he always saw it through with hard work, big ideas, clever fixes and involvement. There’s an oft attributed to Walt quote that makes its way through different venues – “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It.” Though this quote was not actually from Walt Disney, (it actually came from Disney Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald), one can see why it could be from him. Only, had Walt said it, it would probably sound something closer to, “If you dream it, follow through. Work hard to make it happen. Follow those dreams into a reality. You CAN do it.”

To me, the man I remember and admire today is the man who had dreams and followed through. He knew people would come to his movies and his parks if he put in the care needed to make it happen. I think today that is sorely missed. Truth be told, as much as we look for “the next Walt,” there will never be another. However, if we use him as an example, perhaps we can keep the spirit and ideals alive.

Thank you for all you did and started, Walt. Thank you for being that example. Happy Birthday, sir.

Thankful For Diane

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Note #2: I realize Hayden covered this subject quite wonderfully in his article, “So Long, Diane.” I am thankful for his words – I just needed to take the time to write this one out, as I am truly thankful for her legacy, and felt the need to share what she meant to me personally.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Some people touch your life in ways you never truly realize until they’re gone.

Perhaps there was this naivete in the mind of this DisNerd (and many other fans) that you’d be around forever, Diane Disney-Miller. That your voice would be heard by legions of fans worldwide of your father’s legacy. That you would continue to work to preserve the memory of what he built with not just your memories and words, but also driving forward projects such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Walt Disney Family Museum. That you would fight and speak out against the Disney company when something wasn’t right. That you would be the voice of the family for many years to come.

Perhaps it was this fantastic assumption of time standing still that made this news quite a bitter pill to take. However, beyond this, there was the fact of where I heard the news. Much like the day I heard of Robert Sherman’s passing, I was enjoying a family vacation at the Disneyland Resort. Stopping for lunch in Downtown Disney, I checked my phone for anything of interest, only to receive a notification from my friend Hayden on the passing of Diane Disney-Miller. Time really did stand still for a brief instant, and I’m not ashamed to say a few tears welled up in my eyes. I mean, here was this great voice for Disney heritage, and it had been silenced. A void that could never be filled. The one living person who had not a working relationship with Walt, but a life relationship. Someone who inspired Walt to do many of his magnificent “things,” from a theme park in Anaheim to an amazing Disney classic movie called Mary Poppins. This person knew the importance of preserving a legacy and not tarnishing a name. “What would Walt do?” is a dangerous question to be asked, but she was one of the few who could probably answer correctly – at least more than others.

Diane also wrote a wonderful series of articles on her dad for the Saturday Evening Post.

The following morning in DIsneyland, their was a definite air of bittersweet looking out over town square. Amidst Christmas celebrations on the minds of guests, and many oblivious to Diane’s passing, or what she meant to many, the flags stood at half-staff and I was once again reminded of her voice, influence and inspiration. Standing on the platform to the Main Street Station, I glanced to my left, where a light is left on in Walt’s apartment above the fire station, and thought to myself…. She must be having a heck of a carousel ride right now.

Picture taken November 20th, 2013, the morning after Diane’s passing.

Diane, I hope this is true. I hope your dad has left his park bench and your whole family is riding in a row. Thank you so much for all you did to inspire your father as well as preserve his legacy. I will always be thankful.

So Long, Diane

Griffith Park Carousel

One can only imagine the energy running through Walt’s head as he sat at on that “dirty” Griffith Park bench, watching his two daughters ride on the nearby carousel. Walt Disney claims this to be where his dream of Disneyland first began.

You wonder what sparked the dream.

Sure, Walt loved trains, and perhaps wanted a place he could showcase that love.

Certainly he thought his films and their stories were great enough to replicate in the third-dimension.

The idea of creating a theme-park had to have intrigued someone with the urban-developing and civil-designing mind that he had.

However, this author best assumes, from the stories I’ve heard told, that Walt Disney’s dream began not for any type of self-aggrandizement, but for his daughters. Watching Diane and Sharon ride around and around on that carousel, he began dreaming of a land, a kingdom where his two daughters could have all the clean, safe, imaginative fun that their hearts could dream up. Such a place was what Disneyland became. I see Disneyland and all other Disney Parks to be more of a “grand playground” for a man’s daughters than anything, a thoughtful gift from father to child, part of why I think those parks are so personally endearing.

Walt Disney shares a story with his two daughters, Sharon and Diane.

Walt Disney shares a story with his two daughters, Sharon and Diane.

Such seems to be the case with all of Walt’s creations. His dreams began at his home. His children had began reading these little story books about a nanny in England that flew around with an umbrella. His children loved them so much, he thought certainly he could bring this “Mary Poppins” character to life for them in a far greater way.

It’s my opinion, and you can hold me to it, but if it wouldn’t have been for Walt’s two daughters, I can’t imagine many of Disney’s greatest moments ever coming to fruition. They certainly wouldn’t have turned out the way they have. There certainly wouldn’t have been the same motives behind it. We have so very much to thank his girls for.

It hurts my heart to report that Diane Disney Miller, the oldest of Walt’s daughters, has passed away due to complications from a fall she had taken earlier, at the age of 79.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

I can claim absolutely no close, personal association to Diane, or with anyone in the Disney family. I am merely an admirer of such. However, this news comes as such a hit to the heart to all of us Disney loyal. Diane was the last surviving member of Walt’s immediate family. Truly, she was the sole biological child of Lilian and Walt. As such, she had a way of catching my attention when I saw her on-screen in several various Disney documentaries. The thought was always, “I’m looking at Walt Disney’s daughter; can I see Walt in her?” You always could. That twinkle in Uncle Walt’s eye we’re all so very fond of was present in Diane’s. The simplistic joy she expressed as she relived stories of her growing up as the daughter of Walt immediately identified her as a Disney, her father possessing a similar enthusiasm for story-telling. Diane, thank you for helping to tell your father’s story, for being such “a fierce guardian” (as Bob Iger so aptly put it) of his name and legend. In doing such, thank you for sharing with us your own story, for showing us that the “Disney magic” wasn’t exclusive to one man.

Diane, we’re so very sad to see you go. With all of our hearts, we say “thank you.” My thoughts and prayers extend to the family and friends you’ve left here. I hope your reunion with your dear sister, with your father and mother, was as sweet and joyful as you’d ever have dreamed it to be.

– Hayden Evans

The author recommends reading THIS ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY THE LA TIMES for a more concise, informative post on Diane’s passing.

Thankful for the Sherman Brothers

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes it’s the people you’ve never met that influence you the most.

As many long time readers know from previous posts, The Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert) come up rather frequently in my blog. This is with good reason: next to perhaps Walt himself, those two have more influence on me than anyone else has in the history of the Walt Disney Company. As I’ve stated before, their interviews on the Mary Poppins soundtrack opened me to a world of the musical process of writing, helping me appreciate song and score in movies even more. The lyrics and tone of “A Man Has Dreams/ A Spoonful Of Sugar” from Mary Poppins (combined with the superb delivery of David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke) leave me with a lump in my throat every time. The fun mix of melodrama and a rousing good time on “Let’s Have a Drink On It” from The Happiest Millionaire make it one of my all-time favorite Disney songs.

But their ability to entertain and stir emotion reaches beyond just the Disney realm. “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine)” is so infectious, it’ll stick in one’s head for days almost as much as “It’s a Small World.” For many, the songs from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” remain classics as well (perhaps the songs of the brothers, along with Dick Van Dyke, are the reason many people think this one IS a Disney film!). Although I didn’t realize it until I watched “The Boys – The Sherman Brothers Story,” the two were responsible for one of the saddest songs of my childhood. The haunting music and lyrics in context with the happenings of “Snoopy Come Home,” are so powerful I can’t listen to this song without feeling extreme sadness. That, my friends, is the power of great music and lyric writing.

The two brothers have surpassed being “just writing Disney music” as many would think of them. They’ve become timeless. In the words of publicist and Disney historian Tim O’Day, ” They are the ‘Gershwin Brothers’ of Disney (and beyond). They and their work need to be elevated above the category of ‘children’s music.’ ” I couldn’t agree more, Tim. And in this season I am thankful for the two brothers that made me believe that flying a kite was excellent therapy. That Annette was indeed a pineapple princess. That it really IS a small world, after all.

Richard (left) and Robert – Two very different brothers who left an amazing mark on the musical world.

Thankful For “Keep Moving Forward”

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes the right words from the right person can make all the difference.

If there’s one thing in life I need to be mindful of, it’s dwelling on mistakes. If I were to spend too much time thinking of what I did wrong, I wouldn’t be able to see all that’s before me. I believe this is a lesson many of us still need to learn – I’m learning it daily. Perhaps this is why the following quote means so much to me:

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

What an example he set. While we tend to remember the accomplishments, we need to remember that Walt had his share of failure and setbacks. Movies such as Pinocchio and Fantasia, although labeled as classics today, were not considered a success. Disneyland didn’t run smoothly upon opening, and even before it opened, many attractions were scrapped. If he had dwelt on those setbacks, would he have had the time to keep coming up with new ideas? Or, going back to my day one “Thankful For Disney” post, what if he had given up in frustration at losing the Oswald character? To quote an old song, “WHAT? No Mickey Mouse?”

No, Walt was most definitely a forward thinker. I’m thankful for this, not only because of what it meant to the company we all know and love. Even more, it serves as inspiration for me in my life, and keeps me moving forward as well. So thank you, Walt for great words to remember and live by.

Thankful For You!

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

This may not be the most Disney-centered thankful post, but nonetheless, I’m thankful and this needs to be said.

Today marks post number 100 on Confessions of a DisNerd. A year and a half ago I started this journey as an exercise in not just writing, not just writing about Disney, but writing about Disney in a positive manner. Today, I look back at the blog, feeling proud of what I’ve been able to do so far. Yes, there were times I stumbled through a bit of writer’s block. But I also had enough of a love and appreciation of Disney that I knew inspiration would strike again. As I continue this “Thankful For Disney” series, I  realize there’s so much more I’ve yet to talk about – this gives me inspiration to keep going!

But what gives me even more inspiration to keep going is you, the readers. While I’m not doing Confessions for popularity or notoriety, it still warms my heart to see your “likes,” your shares, your page views and your comments. Seeing readers react and comment with their own stories and thoughts gives one an awesome feeling of community. Knowing there are people out there that are getting something out of the words I write truly means a lot to this blogger.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading. I hope you’re all still around for post number 200, and beyond. I love sharing these thoughts with all of you – thanks for coming along on the ride!