Looking Back

I was speaking with a gentleman the other day and he asked me when I started at the Walt Disney Studios. He was surprised, and remarked he had began his Disney career around the same time. Since this gentleman was known for his athletic ability when he was a youngster he immediately began speaking about all the sports once played on the Disney studio lot. We talked about the softball field and the ping pong tables. There was even horseshoe pitching near the commissary. However, it was the volleyball tournaments he remembered fondly. “We used to have two teams,” he said. “The live-action guys played against the animation guys. Boy, that was a lot of fun.”

Being an old timer myself, I did indeed remember those days. I still remember crowds gathering to watch the games and the Walt Disney Studio was less a business and more a family enterprise. If I recall correctly, even filmmaker, Tim Burton played on the animation team. Today, Burton is a big shot Hollywood director. I wonder which side he'd choose to play on today? Naturally, the Walt Disney Company today bares little resemblance to Walt's family company back in the fifties and sixties. I'm sure sports activities continue, but hardly in the same way they did back then.

Of course, there were other changes as well. Back then, every desk and conference room had ash trays on the table. You couldn't go into a conference room without seeing those familiar stand up ash trays that were a part of the era when everybody lit up a cigarette. Thankfully, that loathsome habit is one of the things we've gladly left behind. And, speaking of bad habits, there was a bar upstairs in the Penthouse Club, where big shots could knock back a few after a hard days work. I can't help but think of the television show, “Mad Men” when it comes to depicting that sixties life style.

Another major change we've seen in corporate America is the emergence of what we now call, Human Resources. This department once known as, Personnel has now become an end in itself. Human Resources exists supposedly to mediate differences between employees and management. Although we all know the true purpose is to protect the company from litigation. Back in the fifties and sixties there was no need for a Human Resources Department. Looking back, it may seem somewhat barbaric. But men settled differences the old fashioned way. I do not exaggerate when I say there were individuals who took their disagreements out to the parking lot where they settled a score with their fists. I cannot imagine anything remotely like that happening today.

I enjoyed my conversation with the gentleman who had watched the Walt Disney Company change over the decades. In many ways things are better today and I would imagine the kids working at the studio have little knowledge of the past. Most were not even born when we tossed horseshoes and played volleyball on the studio lawn. Back then, Walt Disney took his noontime stroll to the nearby studio commissary as employees sat on park benches and fed the squirrels. We looked up at the California sunshine and had little doubt these were the best years of our lives.


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