Mousetalgia link


Thursday, December 9, 2010

D23's Disney and Dickens

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last posting.  There have been a few of events up at the Walt Disney Family Museum which I am still working on since my last post, and I am working on bringing those events to you.  But, certain other events in my live recently have made focusing on the blog and my writing challenging to say the least.

As a distraction from some of these other challenges, I was able to get tickets to a D23 event at the Walt Disney Studios – Disney and Dickens for my wife and me.   After a pleasant drive down from San Jose, and quick check-in at our hotel, we drove around this quaint suburb of Los Angeles for awhile.  At about 4 PM we drove over to the Walt Disney Studios, and checked in at the Riverside gate, made our way over to the Zorro parking Lot.  As I learned during our recent D23 Studio tour, the Zorro lot is so name, as it is on the location of the old Zorro set, when that program was being filmed.  Then I short walk (all the way across the lot) over to the Hyperion Bungalow to check in with the D23 staff.  The Hyperion Bungalow…  The same location used to check in for Studio Tours… was originally built on the old Disney Brothers Studio lot on Hyperion Avenue, and move to its current location when Walt built the new studio.  What I learned yesterday was that the building which now houses the Employee Center and Company Store was also moved from the old Hyperion lot.   After check in we loitered around the bungalow and Company Store for about an hour.  In the Silver Lake room of the bungalow, D23 had a table set up with merchandise available to only club members.  I scored some pins from Destination D that I hadn’t seen when we attended that event, and what may be a limited edition Destination D patch.  I say limited edition because I don’t remember seeing it available during that event, and the gentleman yesterday said that it was the only he had there and it wasn’t even on the merchandise list because he’d forgotten to take it out of the product box.  SCORE!!! I hope…

At 5 o’clock we sauntered down Mickey Avenue with the lovely Laura (you may remember her from my article on the D23 Disney Studio Tour), making a short stop at the Mickey Avenue/Dopey Lane street sign made famous in ‘The Reluctant Dragon,’ and then on to Legends Plaza where we met with Christmas Carolers, and hot spiced cider, and cookies.  Also waiting for us at Legends Plaza were Becky KIine – the new Director of the Walt Disney Archive since Dave Smith’s retirement and Josh Turchetta – one of the new Armchair Archivists.  As we mingled and talked we had the opportunities to get our pictures taken with Walt and Mickey at the Partners statue.  One of the highlights of my evening was have to talk with Becky about some of my thoughts about the company.  She doesn’t agree with me, but hey, at least she was willing to talk to me about them.  Unfortunately, she also, sort of, dashed some of my dreams, as she told me what is required to get into the Archive to do research.  I was serious doubts I will ever get a book or documentary project green lit, so… bummer!

After about 45 minutes we headed over to the Animation Building (not that one, the old original building) and toured the halls of all three floors.  We got to see the wing on the second floor which housed Roy O. Disney’s executive suites.  The standard story being that Roy’s offices were on the second floor so Walt could look down on him from his third floor office to check in on what he was doing, but Roy couldn’t see up into Walt’s offices to see what he was up too.  Up to the third floor, and we all kind of cuddled up in the Walt’s personal ‘sweat box’ screening room.   The term ‘sweat box’ coming from the old studio where all the animators would crowd into a small room filled with bodies and projection equipment, and no air conditioning, to review that days filming, or dailies.  Needless to say, it would get rather hot in the room.  That, and as we were told, the animators would be sweating out Walt’s comments on the recent work.  In the new Animation building they had air conditioning, but the animators still sweated out Walt’s comments on their work.  The screening room we got to see was about 15’ by 30’ with seating for about 15 people.  Next on to the lobby outside of Walt’s old offices, where with the exception of some additional glass panels and doors are pretty much the same as they were in Walt’s day.  It would have been great to get to go into these offices, but, they now house the offices of Shaun Cassidy’s production company.

Into the Executive Screening room next to Walt’s Office, this room has seating for about 50 people and was used to do screening for the press and other business executive.  Here we were treat to a screening of three cartoon shorts and two featurettes:  1932’s Silly Symphony’s – Santa’s Workshop, 1932’s Mickey’s Good Deed, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, 1978’s Don Bluth’s – The Small One, and 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  One of the things I found interesting was watching the credits and seeing some of the now familiar names cross the screen.  Names such, Ron Miller as Executive Producer (Walt’s Son In Law), John Lassester list as “with the talents of” (Now Chief Creative Officer), Don Hahn as a production assistant (now an Executive Producer and author), and to many old guard animators to list.  After the screening, we made our way out of theater, received our tickets for dinner and picture taken at the Partners statue.  We then went to our vehicles for the short drive to Tam O’Shanter.

Tam O’Shanter was called the Disney Commissary during the time that the Studio was on Hyperion Avenue, as many of the Disney people ate there regularly.  The menu for the night’s festivities included:  The Tam O’Shanter Salad, a choice of Roasted Prime Rib, a fresh Tilapia, English Goose, or a vegetable ravioli (for our vegan friends), and then a choice of an English Trifle, or Decadent Chocolate Cake for dessert.  The meal was excellent, the prime rib being among the best I’ve ever eaten.  Included on the table for all guests was a couple of little treats;  a small split of white wine, labeled for the event, a Mickey Christmas ornament, and a D23 Disney and Dickens patch.  I was lucky enough to be seated and a table with my lovely wife and three other charming ladies, one of whom I see regularly at the Walt Disney Family Museum.  We all had a wonderful time, and the festivities broke up at about 10 PM.

Thank you Becky, Josh, and Laura (who I understand is on a plane this morning for D23’s Magic and Merriment and Walt Disney World.  It was a wonderful evening and one that will not be forgotten.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Walter Elias Disney, the lesser know man

Before we start to move on past the Walt and Roy period in my Disney history, I want to touch on some things about Walt Disney which are of a less favorable nature, but, I think should at least be reviewed. 

As I was travelling down to Anaheim last week for the first ever Destination D – Disneyland 55, I got my usual time for reflection as my co-pilot, navigator, and chief coffee steward sat snoozing next to me.  Having read Dan Brown’s “Lost Symbol” some time ago, the Apotheosis of Washington suddenly popped into my thoughts.  For those who may not know, there is a painting by Constantino Brumidi visible through the oculus in the dome of the Rotunda in Capitol Building in Washington D.C. called the Apotheosis of Washington done at the end of the Civil War.  The painting depicts George Washington ascension to the heavens to take his place as a god.  This elevation of our first President and Command-In-Chief to a deity in Washington DC, I believe was design to make the man mythic for his miraculous endeavors in the formation of this country, and give added power to those choosing to invoke his name in future endeavors, much as the Apotheosis of Jesus happened at the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

So now that you’re sitting there going HUH?  What the hell does all this have to do with Disney?  It has to do with Disney, I believe, because we have been witnessing, until fairly recently, the apotheosis of Walt Disney.  I don’t think it is necessarily a codified or even a conscious effort.  But, listening to claims and comment of many fan, apotheosis is the effect non-the-less when you hear comments haranguing current Disney management and Imagineering efforts like, “They have a perfect model on how develop a (park, ride, show, etc) left to them by Walt Disney.”  Or, claims that Disney management is only interested in how to make a profit, and that wasn’t Walt’s way, or the Walt wouldn’t cross market like current management.  I could list more, but and review of just about any fan site should garner any number of additional or like comments from multiple different individuals.  These comment support the idea that too many in Disney Fandom, Walt Disney should be consecrated as the Golden God of animation and theme parks.  Walt Disney, while a remarkable and creatively talented Icon of modern history, he is no God, nor should he be viewed as one.  Conversely you can always uncover individuals wishing to demonize iconic figures, weakly tying them distasteful activities through the use of weak claims of evidence and innuendo and insinuation.  This deification and demonization of Walt Disney, has presented, in this author’s mind, a dilemma for the company’s management that has followed the tenure of Walt at the helm, but that will be fodder for discussion later in my process.  For now, let’s look at some of the events in support of my views.

I have read on many fan sites what I would consider a derision of current Disney management.  The conclusion of these individuals is that Walt left the company with a perfect playbook for developing the company and continuing its advancement, and that management is failing for now following it to the letter.  While most of the writers making these claims would probably disagree, I put this comments and claim to be part of the deification process.  Their mistake to me would be their failure to recognize Walt Disney’s failures.  What failures you ask?  Well, if you remember back in an earlier post, both Iwerk-Disney Commercial Artists, and Laugh-O-Grams were failed businesses.  Walt lost Oswald and many artists to Universal Studios.  MGM refused distribute Mickey Mouse in 1927.  In 1940 the making of Pinocchio cost so much money that it lost 1 million dollars in its initial release, and Walt Disney never lived to see Fantasia become a success, to mention just few.   I think Disneyland could be classified as a “Grand Failure”, as it was never quite what Walt wanted to be, he was constantly looking to change it.  While every Imagineering Legend I’ve heard speak say that you never wanted to disappoint Walt, it is my opinion, listening to these people talk, the only real failure in Walt’s eyes was failing to try.  I have had the pleasure of listening to Disney Legend Marty Sklar speak on a couple of occasions.  Each time I have heard him claim that Walt Disney was a master casting director.  He always seemed to know just who to assign to a project to get the most creativity.  And I have heard others say that you never wanted to tell Walt that you couldn’t do it out of the gate, it was a sure way to never get another assignment.  These are not the traits of a God, at least not in any realm that I understand the concept.

As for those who wish to demonize the man, just Google “Walt Disney Conspiracy.”  You may be surprised.  I not sure why, but I was… Walt Disney was a Master Mason.  Not sure why this is a bad thing, except that conspiracy theorists have been trying to hang the ills of mankind on the Freemason for decades.  As I explained in an earlier article, there is enough evidence to support a conclusion that Walt was a Freemason.  He was a member of DeMolay (an organization with Mason connections), and his brother Roy claimed to be a Mason at one time.  The address of Disneyland at 1313 Harbor Blvd and the private club in Disneyland being Club 33 are curious, as 13 33 are numbers of symbolic significance to the Masons, but that does not constitute proof of Walt’s membership in this fraternal order.  Short of actual evidence, any claims of Walt’s association with the Freemasons will be speculative at best.  But then, that is the nature of most conspiracies.  To go along with the Freemason conspiracies, we can find claims that Walt Disney was an Illuminati Master involved with mind control experiments.  Complete speculation, in my opinion, derived from fertile if not deluded minds.  But again, given a loose Masonic connection and a seeming joy that some in our society apparently find in destroying public images, it is not a real surprising attempt to draw a negative conclusion design to denigrate a societal icon.  Since the advent of the world wide web, the free flow of information (verified or not) has been taking place at break neck speed, and as we have seen (and I will discuss next) we have seen that a well design “journalistic” piece (even if slanted or false) can be used effectively to paint an effective negative picture of people or events.  Such tactics have most definitely use on one Mr. Disney.

In an attempt to maintain some objectivity, I feel duty bound as a researcher to at least address a few of the more negative claims about Walt Disney which anyone can find on the internet.  These claims go to show, one that Walt was very human, and did some things which he probably shouldn’t have done.   But, I think these things have been presented in a manner designed to present Walt Disney in the worst light possible.  The particular piece I am basing most of this section on is Walt Disney “Secret Lives” which can be found as a 6 part series (of less than 10 minutes each) on You Tube and appears to have been produced in the mid 90’s.  This ‘documentary’ starts with an opening leading the viewer to believe that Walt Disney had a dark side unknown to most.  The first interviewee is none other than Bill Melendez of “Peanuts” fame.  Mr. Melendez opens with a statement that Walt Disney was in real live, very much unlike the public image of “Uncle Walt” and was a “rascal” who did many reprehensible things.  He goes on to make statements about Walt’s lack of artistic talent (a claim also made by the narrator at the beginning) and Walt’s refusal to give credit to his artists and animators.  It appears to me that the producers of this show, were attempting to put Mr. Melendez forward as a Disney expert, yet as far as I can tell, Bill Melendez spent only about 5 years at the Disney studio from 1937 to 1941, before he left for other endeavors.  And, there is nothing that I can find too indicate why he left Disney so soon after he arrived?

What I am going to write next is probably going to irritate many Peanuts or Charles Schultz fans and probably Bill Melendez fans.  That is not my intent; the Peanuts gang has been an important and enjoyable part of my life since early boyhood.  I think most guys relate to the challenges of adolescences depicted by Charlie Brown.  So while I am an unapologetic Disney fan, I too am a Peanuts fan.  As such, I must question Bill Melendez’s motivations for the comments he made in Walt Disney “Secret Lives”.  One wonders why Mr. Melendez left the Disney studio, and I would suspect from the comments he made that they were not on the most favorable grounds in his mind.  Having invested much time watching animated works (new and old) and of late with a much more critical eyes, I can say comfortably from my perspective that Bill Melendez’s animation (as represented in the Peanuts cartoons) is very stylistically different than most of what I have witnessed from the Disney studio.  I have also interacted with many artists of various disciplines over the years, and the one thing I have seen consistently is personalities that tend to be ego driven, and particularly where their own works are in question.  To that end, I found it interesting when doing some research on Bill Melendez that the NNDB website’s profile on him has a comment that claims, Charles Schultz (who passed away in 2000) had expressed his wishes that no more Peanuts special be produced after his passing, yet Melendez continued to produce them, claim inspiration from older Peanuts comic strips.  All of this would leave me to wonder if Mr. Melendez might have been encouraged to pursue opportunities at places other than Disney, and none too pleased to have his artistic endeavors critiqued by an individual (Walt Disney) whose talents he most likely considered inferior to his own?  It should also be noted that Bill Melendez was at the Disney studio during a time of developing conflict between Walt Disney, his animators, and the fledgling unionization efforts, and that a union shop would be more favorable to the younger developing animators.

With regards to Walt Disney’s alleged failure to give credit to his artists and animators for the work and claims that he stated, “if there are any awards to be given, I’ll receive them,” it is my understanding that the artists and animators where given on screen credit for the contribution, and that promotions to position of increased responsibility were often given to those who excelled.  As to the awards, I will only note that I never heard Walt Disney claim that his failures were the result of his employees’ short comings, nor have I heard an account of any of these employees coming forward and claim responsibility for any of these failures.  So, it would seem reasonable that he receive any award for the company’s accomplishments, and it should also be remember that in the public’s view Walt Disney the man, and Walt Disney the company were indistinguishable to most people.  I also think that Walt Disney had an innate understanding of human psychology.  I believe it shows it presence in his choice of stories to tell, and the way he choice to tell them.  I believe it also manifested it presence in the way he put together his project teams and talents, and that he understood that a project’s success was truly a team effort.  So it appears, at least to me, that he may have believe that it was better for him to be the company’s lightening rod for both good and bad, in an effort to minimized individual competitive efforts within the team that often accompanies efforts to recognized individual achievement in a team environment.

Next, let spend a little time discussing the studio unionization and strike in 1941, also discussed in Walt Disney “Secret Lives”.  Unions in the 30’s and 40’s were making significant inroads into American labor, in many cases where corporate management had been exhibiting abusive and exploitive labor policies, some for many decades.  The fallout, as is the case with many movements like this one, is that some of the organizers of labor unions become as abusive and exploitive as the organizations they are advocating to control, and that often good companies got caught up in the melee.  From the best of my research the Disney studio was probably one of those good companies caught up in a difficult time.  The accounts I have found indicate that Disney paid one of the best wages in the industry at the time, and paid for additional training of its artists and animators.  From what I have read, and recording of Walt that you can listen to at the Walt Disney Family Museum, he thought of the studio as more of a family, even though it’s success had forces it to grow beyond that family feeling small business.  It also sounds like Walt was not opposed to a union and representation for his people, as long as that was what the majority of they wanted to create, and from some accounts, the studio did have an in-house governance group well before the unionization efforts.  Disney wanted a vote from his people, and was willing to abide by their decision.  Herbert (Herb) Sorrell, the union organizer, fearing a loss in any vote, chose to strike inside, according to published claims.  Understanding a little about group dynamics (an idea not lost on Mr. Sorrell either), I believe many of the Disney employees who did not favor unionization also feared the ridicule and repercussions that might be forthcoming if they crossed the picket lines, and so chose the latter.  After the union issue was finally settle (during Walt’s trip to South America), and feeling somewhat betrayed it appears that there was a house cleaning of the individuals Walt felt were the ring leaders of the betrayal.   Interestingly, in context with my two previous paragraphs, Bill Melendez was among the people who left during this period.  While there is no direct evidence, which I am aware, that Mr. Melendez was in fact one of the union supporters, his departure does give one pause to contemplate his comment some 50 years later.

Finally, the last piece to address from the documentary, and a point that may have helped to elicit the “reprehensible” comment from Mr. Melendez, is Walt Disney’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)where he names people he believes to be communist.  While the HUAC has been proven, over time, became a government witch-hunt, I don’t believe that you can fault everyone who chose to testify before the committee or the early motivations of the committee given the circumstances of the time.  We have all seen representations or heard accounts of those days and the actions of some committee members where the order of the day was guilt by association, and indeed, some thought there was a communist behind every tree.  However, I have read Walt Disney’s testimony in 1947 before the committee (there is a link above) and I didn’t find anything in his answers that I would consider indicative of his was being vindictive for calculated to deliberately do damage anyone who stood against him.  If you read the testimony, you find that he did actually name anyone as a communist.  His answers indicated that he thought Herbert Sorrell was communist and that if he wasn’t, he should be considered one.  Two of the names mentioned in the testimony were of Sorrel associates and representatives.  This may be an attempt at “guilt-by-association”, but Disney testimony does not directly or purposefully draw that conclusion.  The one person Walt named as a communist, in his opinion, was done so with what he felt was evidence, albeit circumstantial, and I have seen lives destroyed by far less. 

This documentary, while employing notable and respected Disney Biographer, Bob Thomas, to lend an aire of reasoned thought, was presented by an unseen and unidentified narrator, two former Disney animators, and another Disney biographer (Not Bob Thomas) of questionable intent.  I would personally like to see all the footage shot to see what was left out and how it might have been manipulated to represent an inaccurate as possible of Walt Disney.

I have no delusion that Walt Disney was anything more than a man, subject to the same temptations and emotions of anyone.  He was not perfect, he was not infallible, and he was certainly not a god.  He was a masterful storyteller, an inquisitive innovator, and a keen judge of talent, who parlayed his talents into an amazing body of work.  It is an unfortunate by-product of success that there are those who will attempt to diminish success and achievement in any way possible for their own ego gratification. 

I will forever, view Walt Disney as an amazingly creative genius, whose creations have brought a great deal of pleasure into my life.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Monday, November 1, 2010

D23: Disney what were you thinking?

For the two or three of you who actually follow this blog, thank you by the way, you’ll notice a change on the side bar.  I am proud to promote the Mousetalgia Podcast from my favorite links to the Useful Research Link (Also newly renamed).

For the last two weeks, give or take a couple of days, my job (IRL) was had me researching the recesses of our computer network storage systems (think bottomless pit of un-cataloged bits and bytes of mostly useless information to most people…) for information on a couple of project.  I know you are all a twitter to know why, but, confidentially is the order of the hour, so…  I don’t think so!  Anyway, you don’t want to know about that really, you want to know why the Mousetalgia promotion? 

Well, this work project is so exciting that the only way to proceed, without throwing myself out of my second floor office window, is to plug in my headphones (earbuds actually) and listen to something in my iTunes.  Happily, having only recently found the Mousetalgia Podcast, I have many previous episodes to catch up on.  Lucky me, really!  So, I’ve been listening to previous podcasts for last couple of weeks to keep me from completely slipping the bonds of reality.  So, running in reverse order, I’ve listened back to episode #58, thank Dave, Becky, Jeff and Kristen for helping to keep my sanity (questionable at best) intact.

But why the promotion, and why the title of this blogisode?

The promotion of Mousetalgia to valuable research resource is a result of the listening to all these past episodes this last week.  The crew discusses interesting topics each week not all of which I agree with, but, which give me avenues to express my opinions here.  It will be motivating to see what I find in the remain 57 episodes, and one’s to come in the future.  The reason for the title of this blogisode is the result of a couple of podcasts discussing D23 events with some questioning of how D23 is run.  These are comments I’ve heard from other D23 members, so hearing it also from the Mousetalgia crew gave me pause for thought.   Thanks Mousetalgia for being both entertaining and thought provoking at the same time.

So, D23: Disney what were you thinking?  Sounds like I’m challenging Disney wisdom in creating D23, right?  That’s not the case, it really is a question. 

I don’t think anyone would argue that the Walt Disney Company has a masterful marketing organization.  I’ve said for year that Disney has an amazing ability to separate guest from their wallets…  But, personally, I don’t seem to mind that happening.  So what’s up with D23?  I was a bit surprised to learn, at the recent Destination D event that the dedicated D23 group at Disney consists of only 7 people.  Now, of course, they rely on many individuals within the company to pull off these events and run D23 day-to-day.  Given what they’ve managed to pull off since they founded of the club a little less than 2 years ago.  But even so, I have heard complaints and comments about this organization not being of a caliber that we have come to expect from Disney.  There seems to be an expectation among the Disney enthusiasts that every Disney endeavor must be the slick big bucks marketing promotions that we get to see every day in the media, otherwise Disney management isn’t trying hard enough.

Being the analyst that I am, and 30 years experience in corporate America, I tend to view things a little differently.  I’ve often heard that my analyses are completely wrong, right up until the point where they prove to be accurate.  We have seen for years the Imagineering prowess of WDI in the theme parks, the creativity of the Studio in movies and TV, and the plussing of the vacation experience through such operations as the Cruise Line, the Vacation Club, and Adventures by Disney.  We don’t give second thought to Disney focusing creative Imagineering efforts to these activities.  So why not apply some of that Imagineering magic to the corporate image?  I don’t think Disney wants D23 to come across as some slick well financed marketing gimmick.  I think they are going for a more organic, home grown feel for the club.    So what possible reason or reasons could motivate Disney’s management to pursue such an operation?

First of all, for years there has been obvious absence of a real Disney presence in the fan base.  Yes I know, Imagineering (retired and current) talents have attended various fan conferences and event, and told wonderful stories of their time working for the Mouse.  But, Disney’s management, by its absence, relinquished much of the control of the corporate image and message to these fan organizations.  Having spent some time observing the Disney fan world, along with some personal participation, I have seen an continuing subtext which tend to deify the man Walt Disney as the infallible creator of the object or our affection.  In the same subtext there is a thread that tends to demonize current management as failing to carry out the creator’s objective.  That’s a message and image hard for anyone to live up too, and is rife with possibility for the conspiracy theorists that exist and thrive in any large popular group.  It is in company’s best interest to find a way to present and preserve the Walt Disney Story accurately with as little negative impact as possible.  Additionally with Disney more recent incursions into the interactive world and the explosion, in recent years, of the online social networking phenomenon, it makes sense for this development of a club environment.  It may be the convergence of time and opportunity but the creation of D23 came at probably the best time possible given all the circumstances.  With the planning of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, which I believe was created as much too re-humanize Walt Disney as to honor him as the icon that he was, the creation of D23 made perfect sense as a opportunity to humanize the company that Walt founded and built.

Now, back to the original question:  D23, Disney what were you thinking?

I believe Disney was thinking, the true Disney Fans are much smarter and more sophisticated than most people give them credit.  My belief is that Disney understood that a slick, heavily financed and over staffed club organization would have viewed by the true fans as a blatant marketing effort designed to undercut all the other Disney fan groups and organizations (not that there aren’t couple out there that need a little undercutting.)  Having had the opportunity to meet a couple of the D23 staff in person, and being a pretty good judge of character, I believe Disney also knew that the people it chose to run D23 really had to believe in what they were being asked to create, and there, they succeeded without question in my opinion.  While I think Disney recognizes and will exploit the opportunities presented by D23, it is my opinion that Disney understands that there has been a groundswell in demand for real and accurate information about Walt Disney and the company he and his brother Roy founded.  D23 provides Disney with the ability to put that information out, and still maintain some control over the message. 

Is that what Disney was thinking when it created D23?

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I know this isn’t Disney history per se, but Secretariat is a Disney movie so…

Anyone who knows me, know that I have diss’d the movie Titanic a bit.  Big unsinkable ship set sail on its maiden voyage, big unsinkable ship hit iceberg.  Guess what, big unsinkable ship is not unsinkable, and many perish.  In the process, someone tells stories that may or may not be true.  Yeah, I don’t normally go into for movies of which I already know the end, no matter how stylized.

Secretariat is different.  I’ve been a horse nut since I was a young boy.  My Mom loves to tell the story of me being place on the back of a steed in front of her at the age of 18 months old, me in my finest cowboy chaps and hat.  Sitting there with my Mother hat in hand, slapping the horse neck yelling, “Go DADDY, GO!”  I have ridden regularly since that time, though, in recent years, not nearly as often as I would like.  Each year the in my house, the Triple Crown races have become as big an event as any other sporting endeavor.  Those three races are, in my opinion, the most exciting 6 minutes of the year

In 1973 I remember this big red horse named Secretariat racing in the Kentucky Derby.  Out of the gate dead last and not given much hope, even though he’d been name “Horse of the Year” in 1972.  Suddenly, he surges and starts to make up positions on the field, finishing as the winner of the “Run for the Rose” by a couple of lengths, the first leg of the Triple Crown.  Oh yes, and a record time that stands to this day.   Two weeks later, the same result:  Secretariat wins the Preakness Stakes by a couple of lengths in another spectacular come from behind win, completing the second leg of Triple Crown.  Finally three weeks later, in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat successfully completed his bid to become the first Triple Crown since Citation in 1948, in the most amazing race I have ever witness.  Secretariat broke to the rail and battled Sham for the lead for about half the race, after switch Big Red ran away from Sham and a distance field to win the Belmont in record time and by 31 lengths.  A feat that may well never be repeated again!

Secretariat is, in my mind, the greatest thoroughbred to ever live or race.  While hopeful for a great retelling of the story of a great horse, I was, of course, prepared for the movie to be another one of those stylized movies which relied on a rehash of his racing career to provide the excitement and impetus of the movie.   I was pleased to find an experience that not only exceeded my expectations, but also my hopes.  Secretariat, while definitely a story about the horse, is the amazing back story about how he became the super horse I remember fondly from my youth, and people who made it happen.   As with any story of greatness, there are points along the road where events of chance could have changed the outcome the narrative.  The chronicle of Secretariat is no different, and those chance events started before the foal is even born. Because of the breeding deal struck by Meadow Stud, Inc., the breeding arm of Meadow Farm Stables, Meadow Farms Stable had two broodmares carrying foal from Bold Ruler.  The deal struck was that the winner of a coin toss would be granted the right to choose which of the two foals would go to winner.  Bold Ruler’s owner, the Phipps Family, won the toss and selected the foal from the younger Meadow Farms broodmare.  Secretariat, not yet born or even named, went to Meadow Farms.  The real story, in my view, is about Penny Tweety, her belief in this “Big Red” horse’s chances to be a great horse, and her efforts and action to give Big Red that chance.  That was the part of the story I did not know, and what I think makes the movie Secretariat so good.  It is the archetypical story of struggle, belief, and ultimately the success that can be had by “Running at life.”

As I write this piece, I’ve been doing a little online research to verify some of my fact and figures, so I know that the movie’s producers have taken some creative license in the story telling.  That is to be expected as this is a story that covers 5 year period.  I am by no mean a movie making expert, but I understand that movies telling an historical story must often distill several events in one over arching event which provides the essence of those multiple activities.  This method use to bother me, as I thought of it as being unfaithful to intend of the story being told.  But in recent years with my endeavors to understand Walt Disney, and developing some friendship with individual involved in the entertainment industry, I have come to understand that the medium of film has finite amount of time to tell a story without risking losing the interest of the audience.  Also the story really needs to be told in a manner that will appeal to the broadest audience possible while trying to maintain as much faith to the storyline as possible.  Some do it better than others.  Now for the Disney hook; this is something I think Walt Disney understood, and it was probably the lead contributor to his success.  As for my final comments on Secretariat; I come away from this movie with an even great respect and appreciation of a horse of whom I was already a great fan know more about how he became the super horse.  While he had to have the seeds of greatness within him, without the right nurturing of those seeds, his greatness may never have been realized.  That is an idea that to translates to all of us.  Must all of us have those seeds within us; it is how they are nurtured that will determine how strong they become.  And finally, my favorite moment in the movie;  As Big Red wins the Belmont, the camera pans up to Penny Tweety (Diane Lane) in the stands celebrating this spectacular event with her family and friend, the camera pauses momentarily on a older woman just over Penny’s shoulder a couple of row up in the stands behind her.  I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think that is the real Penny Tweety.”  The final scenes were of the pictures of the actual key characters in story with a brief comment about them today.  When Penny Tweety came up, it was with that shot from the movie. A magnificent end to what is, in my opinion, a magnificent movie, and a tribute to the Triumph of Spirit.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Friday, October 1, 2010

First Ever Destination D - Disneyland 55

I not sure who’s numbers to use, I heard 1300 to 1500, but, what do you think happens when about 1500 extreme Disney fans get together?  Well, on Friday and Saturday, September 24th and 25th, D23 held their first ever Destination D for a group of Disney die-hards.  Since this year Disneyland celebrates its 55th anniversary (hey what do ya know, I celebrated a 55th this year too), D23 put together an intensive and in depth look at Disneyland over the last 55 years, and, well, about 1500 serious Disney geeks, freaks, and fans gathered in Anaheim at the Disneyland Hotel.  I truly use the terms geek and freak with respect, as I consider myself in that category of fandom, and so far all of the fans I’ve had the pleasure of meeting are some of the nicest people.

So how did we start this event, you may ask?  Why with the ever present Disney queue, of course.  Disney didn’t invent standing in line, but I think they certainly may have perfected it.  For anyone who has never been to a Disney park, and I really can’t fathom anyone in that group, every show and attraction has its own queue line which wind around the entrance to the event.  At the parks, there are stanchions and chains which can be continually reconfigured to control growing lines.  They don’t have this set up at the hotel, so the queue was controlled and directed by D23 Staff and Volunteers.  When we arrived at 7:30 Friday morning, the queue already contained a few hundred excited fans, and we end up a few feet away from the giant Mickey Statue that resides at the drive in entrance to the hotel.  We heard that there were people at the front of the line who had come in as early as 5:30 AM to secure their chance for choice seats at opening.  During the meal breaks they cleared the ballroom and I saw individuals head straight back to the queue line to be first to enter for the next sessions.

So the doors open, and this throng of people actually advances in fairly organized manner into the Grand Ballroom to take our seats, and then we wait for awhile as time is given for those who choose to arrive later at the schedule start time.  But that’s okay, because we had time to socialize with those around us.  Since there was no assigned seating, rarely did we end up sitting near the people with whom we’d share the queue wait.   And this was okay too, because I like meet new people, especially Disney fan, who I find almost always are willing to share the Disney passions and experiences.  So as we sit talking with the fans around us, waiting for the show to start, we are treated to some Disney background music and the occasional announcement from none other than Disneyland’s official announcer Bill Rogers.

As the lights dim, the screens at the front of the room change from the Destination D logo to a familiar sight, and then Jeffery “Disney Geek” Epstein appears on the screen with a special Disney Geek episode welcoming us, and giving a quick review on what was about to happen.  He then introduced Steven Clark, the head of D23 to the audience.  With a remarkable rendition of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle as a backdrop, Steven kicked off the day by letting us know that this inaugural event had attendees from 39 of 50 state, and 7 different countries including Australia and Japan.  Now that’s dedication to one’s fandom!!  If I were to recap all the session for both days, since blog post would be several dozen pages long, and probably a bore to most readers.  If you’d really want a recap of the event, there are two reports on the D23 website (  And I know that DustySage over at MiceChat was posting as the event was unfolding and has a lot of info there in the MiceChat forums.

So my review is going to be a little more on my perceptions of Destination D, and some thoughts about D23 that occurred to be as we were driving back Sunday.  Interesting story there, as least to me, is that when we drive down to the L.A. area for events or Disneyland visits from the SF Bay Area, I get a LOT of time to think, as my co-pilot(s) spend most of the time sound asleep, or so engrossed in their iPods as to be almost non-present.  This blog came about from thoughts I had while returning from an event at the Walt Disney Studio.

First, let me say that my two favorite session of the weekend were Mickey Mouse Club 55th Anniversary Hosted by Tim O'Day,  and Imagineering the Magic of Disney Hosted by Marty Sklar.  And Tim, if you ever read this, I was the guy in the queue after lunch who thought you were Paul Anderson.  You’d already moved on when I figured out my mistake, so SORRY Dude!  But on the upside, you were my favorite panel moderator.   The Mickey Mouse Club invokes very fond memories of my youth.  Now since the show went off the air in 1959 and I was only 4, those memories are probably of the show in syndication, but they are fond memories none the less.  Thank you to my lovely wife, who took the time to stand in line and get autographs of the Mouseketeers for me, as my stomach decided on a mutiny at lunch.  Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, Roy Rogers, and The Mickey Mouse Club helped me get transcend some troubling time with temporary escapes from reality.  The only thing that could have made the Mickey Mouse Club 55th Anniversary session better would have been if Annette could have been present.  My two real crushes in life, Tinker Bell and Annette Funicello.  It was really nice to hear the wonderful things said about Annette.  As with my comments on Fess Parker, it is always gratifying to learn that people you look up to are as nice in real life as the characters they play.  I will be counting the days until we get to see Cubby, Sharon, and Bobby up at the Museum next month!

The Imagineering the Magic of Disney session was great, and I will take every opportunity to sit and listen to the stories told by Imagineering, past and present, and this panel was fabulous.  As Marty told us, 307 years of Imagineering experience was sitting on that stage, with current Imagineers; Tony Baxter, Dave Durham, Kathy Mangum and Kevin Rafferty, and Disney Legends; X Atencio, Alice Davis, Bob Gurr, and Don Iwerks.  Even if some of us may have heard some of the stories before, or can read them in some book, there is no substitute for an opportunity to hear these people speak, while we still have the chance.  The back and forth between Marty and X, and Marty and Bob was priceless.  I heard some comment about Marty being his irascible self with Bob, but personally, I think it more of an act that has developed between the two. Anyway, I just love hearing all the stories, which brings again to the Museum.  Alice Davis and Marge Champion will be there in December, and I am looking forward to that event as well.  The Museum is a fun place to see people as the theater there is a smaller and more intimate venue, and we usually get a chance to see the guests afterward and get autographs.  I still can’t believe it when I wait to get an autograph, 55 years old, and I didn’t collect my first autograph until I was 54, go figure.

I am currently work on one of my final pieces on Walt Disney himself, for the blog, before I move on to some of the other interest Disney history items I have discovered so watch for that one, but now, for a brief synopsis of my perception of the event and D23. 

First off, I was a bit surprised to discover that D23 only has 7 fulltime Disney CM’s dedicated to it, and I think it is rather remarkable that these 7 individuals have pulled off any many events as successfully as they have in the past year plus since D23’s inception.  While I have heard, from various D23 members, some concerns about how some of these events have come off, and that this is just another Disney market ploy, I am a bit more willing to give them a break under the circumstances.  As for the marketing ploy, I am sure there is a marketing bent to D23, but I am beginning to think there is more to it than just marketing and just something for the avid Disney Fan… Tim O’Day’s Disneyland: The Happiest Place in Pop Culture on the second day got me to thinking about one of the possible unspoken goals of D23.  Is it possible that part of D23’s charter is to present a more accurate or real picture of Walt Disney?  Is the something they were even thinking about, or could this just be an ancillary effect?

Walt Disney, as it appears to me, has been elevated to an almost mythic icon idol with a nearly Midas touch and Herculean ethic by many fans.  I cannot count the times I have heard a fan complain, “that not the way Walt would have done it,” or “current Disney management isn’t paying attention to how Walt laid it out for them.”  Go to any fan board, and I guarantee you’ll be able to find comments like these.  Many Disney Fans are amazingly possessive of the Disney experience, and many have come to believe that it was Walt, and Walt alone, who is responsible for that experience, without considering all the other people involved in the beginning or since.  Those are some extremely big shoes to impossibly difficult to fill.  It would seem to me to be prudent to find ways to positively temper the truth in an effort to mediate the corporate message.  The Walt Disney Company is still a business and responsible to its shareholders in increase their the value of their investment, and I think it may be in the best interest of all to, as judiciously as possible, to dispel any notion that their founder is anything more than a special and very creative man, who with the help of many created an special place that has continued to experience creative rebirth long after his passing.  I know there are some who will read this that think I am being blasphemous, and I do think that Walt Disney was a marvelously creative person, and probably a genius, but he would not have been successful without the creative talents of many, many people in his employ.  But I’ll have more on this in the article that is currently in the works.

I only real complaint was the seating arrangements.  There were probably only a couple 100 really good seats to be had in the venue.  Other than those, you had to rely on the screens to get a decent look at what was happening on the stage.  For most of the panels, it wasn’t that big deal for me, because I was there to listen to more than see the panelist, and the presentation slides were clearly visible.  The conference type seating was also uncomfortable to my old backside after about 45 minutes, and the sessions went at least two hours at a time.  I think a theater seating arrangement might have worked better, but, I don’t know how D23 would have pulled that off, and been able to keep the event at the Disneyland Resort.  Finally, I will be interested to see just how many video clips show up on youtube?  While they were quite clear that there was to be no video or audio recording at the event, they did allow pictures to be taken without flash.  Wonder if D23 has forgotten that most digital cameras today are also capable of video capture?  And I saw a lot of that happening.

One the last note, I heard some complain about the cost of the event, comparing the cost of the expo per day, as opposed this one.  At the expo last year, attending the sessions consumed vast amounts of idle time sitting or standing in queues waiting for sessions.  We missed a number of sessions because we couldn’t be in two places at once.  At this event you were at least guaranteed a seat for very thing.  I think that was worth the added cost, and I’d do it again.  But then, I’m a Disney Nut!

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A profile of Roy Oliver Disney

In my last article, I spoke of Walt Disney’s brother Roy being one of the unsung heroes of the Disney success story.  In this article I’d like to profile Roy O. Disney.

I find it interesting that while we can find dozens of books chronicling the life and times of Walt Disney, examining his successes and failures in microscopic detail.  There is no doubt that Walt Disney is an iconic figure in the entertainment industry, and the books about him are not undeserved.  However, I find equally of interest that the one person probably most intensely responsible for Walt’s success has one book about him.  Albeit an excellent work by Bob Thomas, “Building A Company – Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire” is the singular chronicle of the man that helped to create and company that today has revenues in excess of 35 billion dollars.

I hope this is because the annals of Roy O’s activities are not as well documented as that of his brother Walt, but I suspect, unfortunately, that Roy’s life and achievements are not of the same glamorous attraction of his little brother, also contribute to this oversight.  None-the-less, Roy’s life is one that is unquestionably worthy of celebration by any Disney fan, as it was as much due to his business prowess, as to Walt’s creative genius, that allowed the Disney company(s) to flourish.  There is a statue of a park bench with Roy and Minnie sitting together on Main Street, at Magic Kingdom, and copy in Legends Plaza at the Walt Disney Studios.  I have had the fortunate honor have sat with Roy & Minnie at both locations.

Roy never had any thoughts of college, as no one in his family had been educated passed high school.  Before entering the Navy toward the end of World War I, he worked for The First National Bank of Kansas City, as this he felt this would afford him an occupation with a future.  While working at the bank, Roy met Mitch Francis.  The two started a friendship that last a lifetime.  The other benefit of this friendship was that Roy met the future Mrs. Disney, Mitch’s Sister Edna, though it was several years before this came about.  Roy and Edna finally did get married in 1925.  In January 1930, Edna gave birth to their first and only child, Roy Edward Disney.  Roy E got his middle name as an homage to his Mother Edna, and passed the tradition on to one of his sons Roy Patrick, getting his middle name from his Mother Patricia.  This got me thinking, and I had to go back to find where Roy O got his middle name, assuming that it was some sort of family traditional to give one son a middle name corresponding to the Mother’s name.  But, Roy O’s Mother was Flora, so I went checking my books, and the web to see if maybe Olivia was her middle name.  I know this is a pretty minor point, but hey, that the way my brain works.  Given this need to know, I found my answer in Bob Thomas’ book; “Building A Company”, p13.  There his Mother Flora explains, “We had Roy as a name and we wanted to get a middle name or just a letter.  We couldn’t think of any name until one day there was a big load of lumber going by.  It said on the side of it, OLIVER LUMBER COMPANY.  We said, ‘There’s a name – Oliver – to go with Roy.’  So we called him Roy Oliver Disney.  I don’t think Roy liked the name.  He didn’t like being named after a lumber company.”  So Roy and Edna name their Roy Edward?  Maybe it was a family tradition of sort, modified to meet his needs, or maybe dislikes.

There has been much discussion, particularly on the web, about Walt Disney being a Master Mason and much of the associated conspiracy theories that surround the Masons.  As public a figure as Walt Disney was, I find it very interesting that the only verifiable connection to the Masons is his 1922 DeMolay membership card, which can be seen on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum.  I enjoy reading the conspiracy theorist claim as much as the next person, but, I take those claims with a serious grain of salt.  It was been claimed that DeMolay is a Masonic organization, however, all I can honestly find is fraternal association between the groups, as the founder of DeMolay was also a Mason.   So was Walt a Mason?  Along with the DeMolay membership in 1922, I found it at least interesting to learn that Roy was a Mason for a least part of his life.  Again in Bob Thomas’ book there is a brief passage where Roy explains to his Daughter-In-Law Patricia that he had resigned his membership in the Masons because of her being Catholic and not wanting to cause any conflict for her or Roy E.  This little tidbit adds, at minimum, further circumstantial evidence that Walt may have been a Free Mason, but it is still nothing more than that, circumstantial.  As far as Roy is concerned, I think his actions do show the measure of the man, and I would argue that he probably had not achieved an advanced degree in the organization.  I have known a several Masons in my life, a few who are Master Masons.  Because of the time and effort involved with advancement, very, very, rarely do you find a Mason of advanced degrees resigning from the organization.  That Roy was willing to resign would indicate to me that his membership was not a much more than a casual fraternal association for him.  As for Walt’s association, it makes sense that if his brother was a Free Mason, and coupling the DeMolay membership early in his life; that it would be logical to assume that he too was a member.  How deeply he was involved, conspiracy theorist will continue to make their claim, but until really evidence is presented, their claim will be dubious at best for this writer.

Roy seems to me to have been a natural born negotiator.  During the animation of “Snow White” Roy worked as an effective conciliator between Walt and Bank of America when additional loans were needed.  As the Disney merchandising juggernaut was in its infancy, it was Roy’s steadfast diligence that protected the Disney name and potential revenue stream, finding it better for the company in the long run to negotiate licensing deals with infringers as opposed to going straight to the courts to stop them.  During the construction of Disneyland, Roy was there in the background with his ‘sharp pencil’ boys working deals with sponsors and financiers to make sure Walt had the resources he need to make his vision and reality.

Toward the end of 1966 Roy was preparing to retired after over 40 years of building the Walt Disney Company, when the unthinkable happened and Walt passed away at the age of 65.  Roy came back to office and took over the management of “Project Future.”   You probably know “Project Future” better as Walt Disney World, and had been know to that point as Disneyworld.  One of Roy’s first decrees was that Disneyworld would forever more be known as Walt Disney World as he felt it a fitting tribute to his recently deceased brother.  Having just lost their creative leader, the direction of the Florida project was unsure.    It appears that Walt’s initial intention was to build the Experiment Prototype City of Tomorrow – EPCOT first, along with a Disneyland of the east.  While everyone knew what Walt intentions where, no one was sure that everything could be brought together to complete all that he wanted.  So, the decision was made to start with Magic Kingdom.  They knew how to build that one; after all, they already had a functioning blueprint in Disneyland.  Construction started in 1967, shortly after Walt’s death, and a scant 4 years later, Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971, with Roy giving the dedication on October 25th.  Sadly, a mere two months later we lost Roy, five years, almost to the day, after we lost Walt.

Roy was found by his bed at home in Toluca Lake by family members, and was rushed St Joseph’s hospital across the street from the studio.  He succumbed to a stroke on December 20th 1971.  He was supposed to have gone to Disneyland with some of his grandchildren that day.  One little known fact that I found in Bob Thomas’ book and thought rather poignant;  while Roy O lied dying on the 5th floor at St Joseph’s, his grandson Roy Patrick, lie fighting for his own live on the 3rd.  Roy P had, a couple of days earlier, taken a bad fall from a tree and suffered severe head injuries.  The prognosis on Roy Pat (as I have heard him called) was still very much touch and go when Grandpa Roy entered the hospital.  These are my thoughts only, but the poignancy came to me as I was reading those passages in the book; I can just see Roy O, the great negotiator, haggling at St Peter’s gate, “If you’re going to take one of us, please let it be me.”  And, I imagine it worked, Roy Pat is still with us today.  Finally, going back to my earlier discussion about origins of Roy O and Roy E’s middle names, Roy Pat’s middle also comes from his Mother – Patricia.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at