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?”
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!