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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Walt Disney Family Museum has a New Executive Director

Well, not exactly brand new, as Kirsten Komoroske has been the Interim Director since just after the previous CEO left early this year.

September 4th 2013

The Walt Disney Family Museum announced today that Kirsten Komoroske has been named the new Executive Director. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Ms. Komoroske has been serving as interim director since May 2013.

As a practicing lawyer, Ms. Komoroske has specialized in advising nonprofit organizations and corporations on a wide range of strategic, business, and human resources issues throughout her career. Ms. Komoroske has held a number of executive and board positions, including General Counsel and Vice President of Human Resources for Tyco Electronics Corporation, Interim Vice President of Human Resources at Groupon, Inc., and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. She has a background in and lifelong passion for the arts, having grown up studying violin and modern dance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Italian from UC Berkeley.

“We are very pleased to announce the appointment of Kirsten as the new Executive Director at the museum,” said the Museum’s President and Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. “We are supportive of and excited by her passion for the museum and my father’s legacy. This, together with her diverse experience across both for-profit and non-profit institutions, helps ensure our future success. We are enthusiastic to have Kirsten as a partner working with our dedicated team.”

“I am thrilled to be working with the Board and staff in driving the museum’s mission,” said Ms. Komoroske. “Just as Walt was a creative and inspiring storyteller, the museum amplifies his ideals with the hope that it will inspire creativity and innovation in our visitors.”

 I am a bit concerned, as I have heard a few other members are as well.  The press release above paints a very nice picture of Ms. Komoroske’s experience, but then the last person to run the Museum had a impressive resume as well.  There also is a question of her experience and knowledge of Walt Disney, something that seem to be a challenge to the overall success of the previous leaders.  This can be somewhat overcome through by having knowledgeable people around you, and listening to them.  But, I will hold back from form any opinion of Ms. Komoroske until I see some action, for it has always been my view that actions speak so much louder words.  One positive I've seen so far is going back to the title of Executive Director from the title of CEO.  I, and many others, never felt the title of CEO was quite right for the position.

In the meantime, I welcome her to the Walt Disney Family Museum, and really do wish her great success in her new endeavors.  I look forward to the opportunity to meet her.

Finally, here is hoping that “Three’s a Charm,” and it should be no secret to anyone that I am still hopeful that the new Executive Director and the Family can find a way to re-engage Jeff Kurtti in some way.

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

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Walt Disney Family Museum Location Discussion

Now that I have placed my endorsement for the next leader of the Walt Disney Family Museum, I’d like to provide a little background for another discussion that is resurfacing as a result of this current situation – the location of the Museum.

There are those in the community of Disney fans who believe that a Walt Disney Museum would be better served if it were located closer to where much of Walt’s legacy was created.  That would be somewhere in the Los Angeles area, and many of the advocates of that location are residents of that area, and they feel there would be a greater attraction to a Walt Disney museum that was located in an area where Walt spent most of his creative life.  There are also some who think that the Museum is something that the company he and his Brother Roy created is somehow responsible of creating.  Now, I will admit I have developed my own bias for the Museum’s locations at The Presidio of San Francisco, as it is just a bit under 50 miles from my front door, and easy for me to visit.  But, I think I understand some of the reasons it is where it is located. 

First and probably foremost, it is called the Walt Disney Family Museum, and not the Walt Disney Museum.  This is because the Museum is Walt’s family’s tribute to his legacy and of their creation.  It has very little to do with what has become the company Walt and Roy created, but, for legal reasons, the Walt Disney Company does have certain controls over what happens and what is displayed at the Museum; they don’t own or operate it.  That is solely under the direction of Walt’s surviving family.  In addition, the vast majority of artifacts on display are the property of Diane Disney Miller or her family, and many of those artifacts were stored in a warehouse on The Presidio grounds for many years.  I have heard stories of Diane taking guests to that warehouse for personal viewings, since she and her husband Ron live in the area.  It makes certain sense that when uses for The Presidio, after it was turned over as National Park Services resource, were being considered, that Walt’s family would look there first, as well as The Presidio Trust approaching the family as being a location for their Museum.

I also mentioned there were legal issues which affected the Museum.  During his lifetime, Walt created a private company, which ultimately became Retlaw (Walter spelled backwards) to protect certain property and copyright claims for his naming rights.  Upon his death, control of Retlaw passed to his wife Lillian.  In 1982 the family sold much of Retlaw to the Walt Disney Company, which consisted of certain rides at Disneyland and control of Walt Disney’s naming rights, which I understand included ownership of Walt Disney’s name, image, and voice materials.  I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind this sale, but, I do understand there were some internal conflicts developing within Walt Disney Productions, some of which, according to my observations, seems to still exist today.  But, the main outcome is that Walt’s public company gain control of his name, image, and voice.  This has created an environment where the Museum must obtain certain approvals for what is displayed at the Museum.  So, what affect might this have on the location?  It creates a separation – geographically – between Walt the Man and Walt Disney the company, and is less likely  to have the Museum overshadowed by Disneyland or the Studio.  It also keeps the Museum closer to the family in Northern California.

Some have claimed that the Miller’s simply put the Museum at The Presidio because it was convenient for them to have close to them, without giving much thought to any other location.  They claim that Walt carefully researched – through Buzz Price – the location for Disneyland to maximize its potential visitation.  I’d like to point out that his actual first choice was a parcel location adjacent to the Studio, but the dream ended up exceeding the space all too quickly.  With the brilliant analytical skills of Buzz, Walt went on to look for a larger parcel on which to build his dream, and settled on the Anaheim location, not because it was the best place at the moment but because of the future plans in place for the area.  We should also note that the location was still relative close to Walt’s base of operations, making his oversight and development of Disneyland’s progress much easier process.  Even the Walt Disney World location was based on, in part, the local future plans being developed for the area, and not what was currently in place.  Now let’s apply a little of Walt’s thinking to the thought processes of Ron and Diane’s locating the Museum, after all Diane grew up as the daughter of this creative genius, and Ron was groomed by the master to take his place, it would make sense that some of the creative thought process would have been transferred.  First, I understand from a couple of reliable sources that there were a location of locations looked at in southern California.  No reasons given for them being excluded, but, there was some thought given to SoCal.  Next, as I said earlier, many of the artifacts were already being stored on The Presidio. 

But that fact aside, The Presidio Trust has been looking at all the way to preserve the base while making it a valuable resource for the people of the United States, since The Presidio Trust Act was passed in December of 2001. So while I have no evidence to support it, I would not be surprised to learn that it was the Trust the approached to family about creating the Museum at The Presidio.  So, let’s go back to the creation of Disneyland for a moment, because some have made the comparison, while others have dismissed this comparison as being wrong.  We all have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to make the claim that Walt’s choice of Anaheim was a brilliant decision.  But, let’s remember that none of the access highway that were part of the basis for the decisions were actually in place or even out of the planning stage when the choice was made on Anaheim.  Since it is my belief that Walt Disney’s Family is looking at this Museum as a long term tribute to their amazing Father and Grandfather, it would make sense to be that they would look for a location, like Walt, that had a fair well developed plan for future growth, and someplace where they can more easily maintain oversight of its development and growth.

So there’s my basic synopsis of the location issue, as I understand it.  But, there are people out there who know much more than I, so if they’d like to share.  I’d be more than happy to listen to what they have to say.

So stay tuned as I try to learn more about what’s next for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

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

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

News from the Walt Disney Family Museum

I haven’t written much about the Museum lately, as I’ve been spending more time exploring and trying to deal with a few of my own demons.  But, there has been some big news from there in the last couple of days.  The now former CEO of the Walt Disney Family Museum resigned her position early last week.  I know it’s pretty recent because, until just the other day, Gabriella Calicchio was still listed as the CEO on their website.

I have remained pretty mum on the management of the Museum, and in particular, Ms Calicchio’s tenure which I have had some real concern about.  However, those who may have read my reviews of the Destination-D event this last August, will remember that I was none too please with Ms. Calicchio’s presentation at that event.  At the time, I said I was addressing my concerns through other channels, and I did … But, I can say now that there were many Museum members in that audience, and most express their concern and rather hurt feeling that we completely overlooked in amongst her other audience acknowledgements, and were very disappointed to learn of the rather important Snow White exhibition coming to the Museum through the D23 event and not through Museum communications.  One would have thought that the Museum members would be the first to learn of such an event.  After that session, I seemed to become a lightning rod for questions from the members in attendance, wonder WTH that was that we had just witnessed.  I addressed those concerns from the presentation directly to the Co-Founder of the Museum.

Not that I want to pile on, but, now that she is gone I can address all of my concerns more publicly.

First, my very first encounter with the New CEO was after one of the first presentations at the Museum that she introduced.  After the program had concluded and the theater was clearing, Gabriella was down in front at the podium so I went down to introduce myself and welcome her to the Museum.  I felt her curt “Thank you,” and then quick departure was rather cool, but at the time I just chalked it up to be new.  But then, when I did encounter her during other visit, I noticed almost always that she had a cell phone to her ear, or in the company of someone and talking while they walked.  From this and my first encounter, I got the distinct impression that she was cool and unapproachable to the visitors and members.  The former Director – Richard Benefield – always seemed to make time to stop and talk with the Museum’s frequently visitors, and was very approachable.  One of issue which has been on the tongue of many frequent visitors, are the presentation and program offering under Ms. Calicchio’s leadership.  While the program offering have seem to be on the increase, or at least returning to the levels offered during the first year of operations, they seem to be moving away from a Walt Disney centric group of topics.  And finally, there is a serious lack of communications with the Members of the Museum.

One of the things that was always pleased and amazed me about the Museum has been the absolute joy and friendliness of the Museum’s staff and volunteers working the events and galleries.  Again, very approachable, and ready to do whatever they can to make your visit a pleasure.  After a few months on the job for the New CEO, I noticed a difference in the attitudes and personality of most all of the staff and volunteers I encounters.  It was subtle, and probably not visible to all, but the most frequent of visitors.  Then there was the Mad Tea Party event.  Ms. Calicchio had her children in attendance with her at the party, and for the most part, all went well.  However, when her youngest child lost at one of the games that was part of the festivities, and began to sob almost uncontrollably, I saw an expression of tension and fear apparent on the faces of almost all the staff and volunteers present.  There might not be that much to this, but with all that I had already seen in the changes in the staff, this was a bit telling of the CEO’s impact on the organization.  But, probably the most amazing deficit, besides never running a museum, for any person running a Museum dedicated to Walt Disney was the fact that she, until a few months before being appointed CEO, had never visited to one of Walt’s greatest creations – Disneyland.  Now couple, what I consider an epic fail, the Snow White Exhibit presentation panel at the Destination D event, and an almost equally poor public performance during the Snow White Exhibit opening reception for VIP’s and Members at the Museum, and I can say quite publicly that my opinion that Gabriella Calicchio was the wrong person to run the Walt Disney Family Museum, an opinion born out as accurate given her recent abrupt departure.  It should also be noted that the former Director, Richard Benefield, was not very knowledgeable on the subject of Walt Disney, which I believed hampered his effectiveness as the Museum’s leader, even with his strong background in museum development and operations.

To end my review of Ms. Calicchio’s tenure as CEO of the Museum, I’ll close with a few positive notes from her tenure.  During her tenure, the membership roles at the Museum have almost doubled from 1100 to a bit over 2100 members.  An impressive increase, but still lower than I believe they could or should be if a more creative marketing was conducted.  The most impressive improvement is the increased visitors to the Museum’s galleries, given as just over 32,000 visitors in the first quarter of 2013.  A 71% increase over the first quarter in 2012.  These greatly improved numbers are, I think, a result of some changes in policies for those visiting the galleries.  First, the ‘No Photography’ in the galleries has recently been rescinded, and second two benefit visitors with young children, strollers are now allowed in the galleries.  So, I will admit that Ms. Calicchio has had some positive influence during her tenure.

As the search for a new leader of the Walt Disney Family Museum commences, I think it is important for the family to realize that the one issue which created the greatest challenges for its leaders is their lack of knowledge and understanding of legacy and impact of Museum’s primary topic – Walt Disney.  I really hope that the next CEO/Director, or as some of us would prefer – Curator, chosen by the family will be someone with a true understanding and passion for Walt Disney and his legacy.  It would seem to me that a Museum dedicated to Walt Disney needs a leader that can see and promoted a telling of Walt Disney’s life and legacy in a creative way, like the master might have done himself.  Oh all my interactions with the Museum during the last few years, I can think of one person who could fit that bill quite nicely. 

That would the person of Jeff Kurtti, Producer, Director, Author, and noted Disney Authority.  I have had the opportunity to get to know Jeff over the last few years, and have been able to attend most all of Museum programs and panels he has moderated.  I have the pleasure of counting Jeff as a friend today, but would endorse him regardless of that friendship as one of the best qualified to be the Curator of Walt’s legacy.


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

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Another Hatchet Job

Every morning there is an email in my inbox that provides me with a list of links to the most recent information to hit the web about anything Disney.  Most mornings it just the last news and rumors about the goings on in the house that Mickey built, but yesterday morning there was something different, and online article at the UK’s Daily Mail site:  Revealed: How the CIA helped Disney conquer Florida and buy super-cheap land that is 'above the law' The article is about a new book “Finding  Florida: The True History Of The Sunshine State” by  investigative journalist Timothy T.D. Allman.  The article provides extract attribution about the book to an article on the Daily Beast.  You can get a feel for the leaning of the article simply by its title, and that of course piqued my interest.  As some will know, at least any of my frequent readers will, I have written about what I called the “Darker side of Walt,” though it should more accurately be call an effort to create a darker side to Walt Disney.  Was Walt a Mason?  Nothing but unsubstantiated claims and innuendo, coupled with a DeMolay membership card from his young adulthood, and a claim in one book that Brother Roy might have been one.  Now know a few Mason in my time, and while they don’t talk about their craft, they also do not hide away the symbolic trappings of their brotherhood.  Illuminati?  Don’t think so!  I don’t think anyone, but the fertile minds of many conspiracy theorists, believes that this group existed, other than a brief period in the late 18th century.  There’s more, but…

So now we have these new claims from Mr. Allman (my personal opinion withheld) that Walt Disney was in league with, or received help from the CIA in the acquisition of the Disneyworld land in Florida.  The CIA apparently assisted Walt Disney and Company to establish an unconstitutional (Florida and United States) government for the development of the property.  Let’s look at these claims:

Copied from the article:
In Finding Florida he claims that Walt Disney conspired with William 'Wild Bill' Donovan - the so-called 'Father of the CIA' - to establish a state-within-a-state where he could 'control the overall development' of Disney World.

Donovan, founding partner of New York law firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, whose attorneys included future CIA director William Casey, provided lawyers to help Disney distract attention from its plans, says Allman.

These attorneys, it is claimed, provided fake identities for Disney agents, set up a secret communications centre and organised a disinformation campaign to make sure sellers had no idea who was buying their property.

In this way, Disney was from the mid-Sixties able to snap up 40 square miles of land in the Sunshine State for a knockdown price of less than $200 an acre.

This very first claim, that Walt Disney conspired with William “Wild Bill” Donovan to create or establish his own government within the Disney World project would seem to be a dubious claim at best.  You see, William Donovan died in February of 1959, and 1959 was the year the Walt Disney started looking for an east of the Mississippi home for Mickey and his friends.  It seems rather unlikely that Walt and “Wild Bill” would be wasting valuable time conspiring to build this clandestine governmental unit when the location of the site was unknown.  Yes, Walt’s company used several law firms, Donovan’s included, to pursue acquisition of the Florida site very quietly, and yes you could say in a clandestine manner.  This would make perfect sense given Walt’s experience with the development of Disneyland.  Anyone, with more than a casual interest in Disney history, knows that Walt Disney became rather disturbed with how the land around Disneyland was snapped up at highly inflated values, and developed rather haphazardly, to take advantage of the current rendition of “Walt’s Folly” because of its rapid success.  The claim at the end of this except is that Disney got the Florida property at a “knockdown price” of less than $200 an acre, when in reality Disney acquired the property for what I think would be considered a “fair market” value, instead of an overly inflated prices which would have accompanied the knowledge that Disney was the buyer.   Coincidentally, a price which also would have almost assuredly dealt a death knell to the project.   

Copied from the article:
Disney and his advisers then sought a way to 'limit the voting power of the private residents' of the area, to control the impact that local democracy might have on the company's plans.

They employed a scheme devised by senior CIA operative Paul Helliwell to establish two phantom cities populated by hand-picked Disney loyalists around which Disney World would be based.

The cities were based around Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, two artificial reservoirs Disney engineers created by obstructing the area's natural water flow.

The company could then 'use these fake governments to control land use and make sure the public monies the theme park generated stayed in Disney's private hands,' Allman writes.

Teams of Disney lawyers working out of Donovan's New York law firm drafted the legislation to establish the two pseudo-cities, which was passed by the Florida legislature in 1967.

Again, a claim of dubious distinction.  As a student of Disney History, I have studied the development of Disney World, later renamed Walt Disney World by Roy O. Disney to honor his decreased Brother.  Yes, there was an effort to limit the bureaucratic influence of a political agenda on the development of the Florida property, but one should be reminded of one of Walt Disney’s primary goal for the Disney World property – EPCOT (Experiment Prototype Community of Tomorrow).  Not the Epcot we know today as a theme park, but rather, Walt’s desire to build an experimental multi-use city using the latest and greatest of new technologies for the benefit of its residents.  I will try to have more on Walt’s EPCOT later, but you can get a feel for his goals in the Walt Disney's Original Plans for Disney World (1966) video on YouTube.  While the entire video is a good view, Walt’s  EPCOT plan starts at about 10:20.   So, I think, contrary to Mr. Allman’s claims, the purpose of the local government entity(s) was to support Walt’s EPCOT goals, by controlling the bureaucratic political influences we see at so many levels of government today in the planning and execution of urban planning today.

Copied from the article:
However, in violation of both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions, the carefully drafted laws specified that any elected office holder must own property within the cities.

The law, which states that each candidate for office 'must be the owner, either directly or as a trustee, of real property situated in the City', ensured any local politician would be intimately linked with Disney.

On the day of the magic kingdom's inauguration, Walt Disney, speaking from beyond the grave in a recorded presentation, boasted of creating a new kind of America.

'Of course he was right about creating a new kind of America,' Allman writes. 'By turning the State of Florida and its statutes into their enablers, Disney and his successors pioneered a business model based on public subsidy of private profit coupled with corporate immunity from the laws, regulations, and taxes imposed on actual people that now increasingly characterises the economy of the United States.'

This allegation of constitutional violation at both the state and federal level would seem to me to be false, since there is no supporting case law that I can find support Mr. Allman’s claim.  Surely there would have been some ruling against it, if it were truly unconstitutional.  Mr. Allman’s book seems to be taking some veiled “facts” to draw a direct connection between Walt Disney, the CIA, and some conspiracy.  I don’t see it, but then, I don’t possess the conspiracy theorists’ ability to make blind leaps of faith that anyone with secrets has something malicious to hide. While I have not read Mr. Allman’s book, and probably won’t, it would seem to me that with the Disney inclusion in his book, he has created something sensational in order to spur on sales.

It is unfortunate that Walt Disney did not live long enough to see his dreams for EPCOT become a reality, and yes it was a rather utopian view of the potential for city life.  I don’t even know if he could have pulled it off, but, if anyone could, it would have been Walt Disney.  And… unfortunately, after Roy O’s passing in 1971, more political forces began to take control of the company that these incredible brothers had built.  Sadly I think, at that point, the dream of Walt’s EPCOT expired, as neither brother was there to champion it.  Has the company taken the fullest advantage of the environment created to support Walt’s plans?  Most definitely, but, should Walt’s reputation and accomplished be smeared because of it, and that some people don’t like it?  I don’t think so.  One of the concerns I’ve had, since my Disney History journey began, is the discovery of all the negative content being circulated about Walt Disney.  It seems to me that there are just some people who have to find ways to tear down successful individuals that they don’t understand or dislike for their achievement.  In everything I have read or listened to, regard Walt Disney – the man, I see a man who really did not have an political or social agenda other than to entertainment and help people with the stories and technologies he enjoyed and discovered throughout his life’s journey, and his inquisitive nature.  Is he a perfect human?  No!  Were there people he irritated, for whatever reason? Yes!  But, none the less, he is a man to be admired and celebrated for effort, not berated.

I write this because I know that, neither the Company Walt built nor his family will address these new found accusations, nor should they.  It would only serve to provide more speculative claim about their agendas to hide the truth.  However, I have no such agendas, I seek the truth, and I am not claiming T.D. Allman’s claim a false.  What I am saying is that, in my experience, claim such as these need documented evidence supporting them, not claims that would not be considered even good circumstantial corroboration.  In my opinion, Mr. Allman’s little treatise is nothing more than another attempt to diminish a great human being.

Next time, as time is available, I’ll try to do a better job of exploring Walt’s EPCOT and what he was thinking about, but in the meantime, the video link is a good start, as are two books on the subject:  WALT and the Promise of Progress City by Sam Gennawey and Project Future by Chad Emerson.  Much more objective journalistic presentations in my opinion

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

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