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 “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 Charles B. Mintz

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, its through the lowest points at life that inspiration strikes. Sometime those that appear to hurt us drive us more, and we ultimately grow, even thankful for the experience.

I thought I’d kick off this “Thankful For” series with a twist and touch of Disney history. For those unfamiliar with the name Charles B. Mintz, he was a film producer, distributor and husband of Margaret Winkler, who produced and distributed the Alice Comedies for Walt Disney. When Mintz married Winkler, he took assumed of her business. At his urging, Walt Disney and his animators created a new character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who became quite a hit with moviegoers back in the day.  Most of you know the story from this point: Walt went to New York to negotiate a new contract with Mintz, was informed he’d be making less, that Oswald was not even his property to keep, and all animators save Ub Iwerks had been hired away to continue work on the Oswald shorts for Mintz and Universal. Due to this turn of events, Walt left New York determined to create a new character – one that would be his. Never again would he sign away the rights to any of his properties. Details on the creation of Mickey Mouse and that fateful train ride back to California vary (Disney historian Jim Korkis has a great new article on this exact subject worth checking out!), but one thing is certain: if Walt was determined and driven before this incident, his drive only increased at this point.

I'd like to add, I'm overjoyed Oswald made his way home to the Disney fold. The old Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts are quite entertaining, and hope to see more of him in the future!

I’d like to add, I’m overjoyed Oswald made his way home to the Disney fold. The old Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts are quite entertaining, and hope to see more of him in the future!

I truly believe the Walt Disney company would certainly look a lot different were it not for Walt losing the rights to a Lucky Rabbit, and we have Mr. Mintz to thank for this. While in Disney legend and lore it’s easy to vilify someone, truth is, Mr. Mintz was a businessman. He saw it as good business to cut costs on what essentially was company property. But in doing so, he fanned a flame. One that grew brighter with Mickey Mouse and only got stronger as the years past.

So, thank you, Charles B. Mintz for your role (albeit unintentional) in inspiring Walt to work harder, create more, and take control of his company. I know this Disney fan is grateful.

It Only Takes A Moment

Hello, DisNerds! It’s as great now as it has ever been to be talking with you all today. Midterm-week has tried its mightiest to swallow me up Monstro-style, but this little wooden boy and his water-logged conscience are trying their darned-est to stay on top of it all.

I have hopes to someday write up something a little more historical for you all. That day is not today. No, I’ve been impressed lately by the true genesis of my Disney experience, a topic rather emotionally-driven, less intellectually satisfying. Bear with me, folks, please, as what I’m about to discuss is certainly something we can all relate to.

An experience I had with a professor of mine is going to provide the central theme for today’s article. Most days I’m pretty easy to identify in the midst of the college-crowd; look for the tall kid with his Mickey Mouse backpack. Unless I haven’t done laundry in some time, (which I need to do as soon I finish this up, actually) chances are good I’ll be in some Disney-related wear, Disneyland t-shirts tend to be the weapon of choice. A professor kept me behind after class one day to comment on my shirt, which featured the attraction poster for Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. She mentioned how she had just returned from a visit to the Magic Kingdom in Florida, and that her major souvenir purchase was ‘Poster Art of the Disney Parks’, a gorgeous coffee-table book that showcases hundreds of iconic Disney Park attractions’ posters. I asked if she had a favorite poster. She said she loved the early Fantasyland designs, and was hoping of purchasing smaller versions of such to decorate her soon-to-be newborn child’s bedroom with. She asked if I knew anywhere she could find them.

“Disneyland and Walt Disney World sell them at varying sizes and quality all throughout the resorts. I remember the first time I bought one…”

*cue flashback*

I remembered sitting outside the ‘World of Disney’ store in Downtown Disney, waiting and waiting, with my dad right beside me. I couldn’t have been more than 13 years old. My family’s 5 days at Disneyland had come to an end, and per usual I had forgotten to make a souvenir purchase that could have and should have been made earlier. It gave me and my dad an excuse to lengthen our Disneyland experience just a little longer, though, and we welcomed gladly any reason to keep us from having to leave just yet.

I could sense it then that something had happened that week. Something changed with my family, and something had changed with me. It was palpable. It was tangible. Something was different. I knew then, in a very deep and abiding way, that Disneyland was something entirely special. I knew that the man behind it was a man I needed to know more about. My greatest dream now was to work for this place that had left such an indelible mark on my heart.

I had grown up in a Disney-lovin’ household. Trust me, this trip to Disneyland wasn’t my first exposure to it at all. Disneyland was a once-every-other-year experience. A good portion of our movies were Disney. The kids’ favorites were absolutely Disney. We had a good amount of Disney collectibles. We had Disney toys. We were a family that liked Disney. Ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was bout 7 years old? Not sure exactly what position I had in mind, but I would have told you I wanted to work for the Mouse.

So then what on earth had changed? What had I experienced that trip that I hadn’t before? Looking back on the years that have past since then, and what we’ve done in those years, you can’t help but wonder what went down. Disneyland trips at least 3 times a year (significant, for one of many reasons being it’s a 15 hour drive down from ol’ Idaho). I couldn’t stop reading about Walt Disney. We couldn’t stop day-dreaming about Disneyland. We couldn’t stop buying Disney collectibles. Disney music became to us as much background noise as our heartbeat. (My brother even claims his heart now beats to the bass-line of the Mickey Mouse Club March, a fact I’m only slightly suspicious of.)

There was so many magical moments that trip. I remember so many of them so vividly. When your life makes a definitive turn, you remember those moments, and you remember even the minutest of details. I share with you but a few.

I was about to walk out of the Main Street Opera House. Dusk was falling on Disneyland. Tears were still in my eyes, the lump still high in my throat, after having just watched “Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years”. At the end of the attraction’s exit corridor hangs a portrait of Walt Disney. I stood looking at it for who knows how long. I couldn’t believe how a man of such humble mind and heart could create a place so magical. I walked out of the room, and onto the sidewalk of a picturesque Main Street U.S.A. The popcorn lights were shining, Mickey was out greeting friends, the music was floating alongside wonderful smells in the air. I saw happy people. I saw my family, together, smiling. I saw then what I think Walt Disney saw in his park. (Though I’m sure he saw things much better than I did; my eyes were still watering, I was still a little ver-klempt, mind you.)

You can imagine the experience I had sitting next to Walt and Mickey on our last night, just moments before we would walk out beyond the gates. (I have always been one to wish on stars, and the stars had never been wished upon quite so intently as they were that night!) I couldn’t stop telling that statue “thank you”. This was probably the instant that meant the most. This was when I knew in my heart that this place had room for me, that I could live a life that would surround me with this magic. I could, if I worked for it courageously and faithfully, even get so far as to leave my handprint in its history right along Walt’s and every other great Imagineer’s. I left the park, sad, of course, that the week was over, but I don’t remember my feet touching the ground.

Such an experience couldn’t be left unremembered. My dad was by my side, and away we went to Downtown Disney, to the World of Disney. I spoke with a cast member, placed an order, paid, and was told I needed to wait for the order to process. My dad and I went outside, sat down on a concrete planter’s ledge, and waited. Hours later, the cast member I had met with before came out with a smile on her face to inform me that my order was ready to go. The store by then was practically empty. She led us to the counter, and there it lay, in all of its 36 x 48 glory.

Aye, here she be in all her glory. This was the purchase that set sail to my Disney adventure.

Aye, here she be in all her glory. This was the purchase that set sail to my Disney adventure.

It didn’t matter how much it cost to print. It didn’t matter how much the framing was going to cost. This poster, as silly as it may seem, represents to me the beginning of my dreams. It hangs in my room still. There are certainly hundreds of other merchandise that accompany it now, but this bad-boy remains the original. My moment will forever be materialized by this print.

I cannot imagine my life without ever having had that moment. It was a founding, a time upon which every passing day of my life only builds upon. I knew then that I loved Disney. Like, LOVED Disney. And so, DisNerds, I turn the time over to you: when was your moment? What finally, dare I say, converted you to the Disney side?

Ask a DisNerd – The “Partners” Statue

Greetings, fellow DisNerds!

The question for this week’s “Ask a DisNerd” segment comes from Confessions reader Tim, who sent the following inquiry:

“This pertains to the Partners Statue at Disneyland. Is there some significance to where Walt is pointing? Also what is the story behind the statue and how it came to be?”

 

“Partners,” as seen at Disneyland.

This is a great question, Tim. So great, in fact that I couldn’t answer it myself. The general consensus is that it was decided that there needed to be a tribute in Disneyland park, and later in other Disney Parks as well. The Partners statue was designed by Imagineer and Disney Legend Blaine Gibson. As for the the direction Walt is pointing: although there are many speculative guesses, the truth is that he’s just generally pointing out to the crowds and the structures, as if saying to Mickey, “Look at all the happy people who have come to visit us today.”

There’s a lot more to the story than just that, however. In looking up the history and significance to verify what I believed to be true, I came upon articles on the history of the Partners statue from Disney historian and MousePlanet writer, Jim Korkis. Instead of putting my own spin on things, I’ll include a few quotes from part one and part two of his articles, with a strong suggestion that you read both for some great reading.

“I have heard that the statue was designed so that Walt was pointing toward the future. Or, even more specifically, pointing to the future location of Epcot. Or, within the last decade, the story has evolved that Walt is pointing to the statue of his brother Roy at Walt Disney World to symbolize Walt telling Roy to carry on with the dream. I have even heard two different Disney park tour guides tell me that Walt is pointing towards the trains rather than the castle because of his great love of trains and the whole concept of the theme park began with trains.

None of those stories are correct. They are no more correct than telling guests that the bride in the Haunted Mansion threw her ring out of a window and it imbedded itself into the cement, or that Cinderella has her own horse and that it has ribbons on its tail on the carousel in Fantasyland. Yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, these stories and others continue to take on a life of their own and people believe them and repeat them.

Now, more than ever, I think it is important to tell the story of the ‘Partners’ statue. When it was first installed at Disneyland in 1993, I talked with sculptor Blaine Gibson and he told me that Walt was pointing down Main Street and saying to Mickey at his side, ‘Look at all the happy people who have come to visit us today.’

While that is basically correct and Gibson has told others that same simple statement, there is always more to the story.”

Korkis also touches on Walt’s opinion of statues of himself, along with Lilian’s wishes. I wonder how she felt about the finished project, although I did overhear Imagineer Tony Baxter say at an event I once attended that the Disney family felt Walt wouldn’t approve of his statue in any form at Disneyland.

“In 1962, at the urging of his WED supervisor, Richard ‘Dick’ Irvine, Gibson sculpted a bust of Walt Disney as a ‘thank you’ gift for Walt. Blaine now claims he was tired, working on the project late at night, and that the foundry work was not very good and he couldn’t quite control what he wanted. In any case, when he presented it to Walt, Gibson claimed that Walt said, ‘What am I going to do with this? Statues are for dead people.’

Gibson wanted to destroy the bust and replace it with another, but it was kept at WED for awhile and then at RETLAW. Gibson kept the clay original in his garage and told me that ‘I couldn’t bring myself to put a hammer to it.’ He did a cartoon sketch of himself sculpting the bust and Walt saying, ‘That dummy thinks it looks like me.’

Years after Walt’s death, Gibson worked on a Cal Arts memorial medal that featured a head shot of Walt and Walt’s widow Lillian told him at the time that ‘she didn’t ever want a bust or a portrait or a statue of Walt to be done.’ “

So what was the actual inspiration for putting a tribute to Walt in the parks? Korkis continues:

“Officially, the idea was pitched that just two decades after his passing that Walt Disney was being forgotten. A new generation of children had grown up without seeing him on television every week. Examples of other forgotten innovative businessmen were shared, including how people might enjoy eating a Hershey chocolate bar but had no idea there was a man named Milton Hershey to thank for their enjoyment. It would be good business to spotlight the memory of Walt Disney.

Eisner eventually agreed, thinking it would help promote the brand, but there was still the challenge of convincing the surviving Disney family members, especially Lillian, that a statue would be a good way to remember Walt. The statue would be unveiled to celebrate Mickey’s 65th birthday, a significant milestone.”

As for the significance of the “version” of Walt we see in the Partners statue, as well as what Walt may be pointing or referring to:

“While working on the project, Gibson told another interviewer, ‘I chose to depict Walt as he was in 1954. I think that was when Walt was in his prime. It was tough trying to match the media image of Walt Disney, the one the public knows, to the real Walt, the one we knew. I don’t like to leave a sculpture until it has a feeling of life. I had done a bust of Walt in terra cotta while he was alive, but it wasn’t quite right. I hope this time I’ve captured that magical spirit of his. I think Walt is admiring the Park and saying, “Mickey, look what we’ve done”.’ “

Korkis also reveals that the placement of Mickey was quite the quandry, and the interesting tidbit that Marty Sklar wasn’t a fan of Walt pointing (as we should all know, we don’t point at Disney!):

“There were several different compositions that were considered. One featured a young Mickey running ahead and pulling Walt along. It was rejected because it seemed awkward for Mickey to be dragging Walt forward. Another featured Walt with the rolled up blueprints of Epcot in his right hand and using them to point forward. Yet another had Walt with an opened handed wave (at the suggestion of Marty Sklar who didn’t like the concept of Walt pointing) while in Mickey’s hand was a small black globe with two mouse ears. One image that popped up in several sketches was Mickey with a one-scoop ice cream cone……(Gibson said) ‘Marty [Sklar of Imagineering], [Disneyland President] Jack Lindquist, [Imagineer] John Hench and I had a meeting about the ice cream cone and there were two concerns. First, we felt that it made Mickey appear a little too immature, and, second, we felt it might favor one lessee, like the Nestle Company or Carnation. John and the rest of us finally agreed to have Mickey’s arm at his side.I liked the way it came out…and design-wise it worked with more emphasis on Walt.’ “

As I stated above, I really hope you take the time to check out and read the complete story from Korkis. His articles are full of great Disney history, as is his book, The Revised Vault of Walt: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told, available for purchase through Amazon.

I hope this answers your question, Tim! Thanks for asking about one of my favorite places to visit in Disneyland – regardless of whether or not Walt would have approved, it’s a great monument to a great man who achieved so much through hard work and determination.

Keep your questions coming, dear readers! We’ll be back with another “Ask a DisNerd” in two weeks!