Another Disney Lecture

It’s been a busy week so I haven’t been blogging that much lately. Yesterday was no less busy and I found myself on the campus of Chapman University in the city of Orange lecturing to an attentive class of bright young students. I found Chapman like most universities, energizing and invigorating. There’s something about young students that brings a sense of hope to this old veteran. Maybe, just maybe this generation of youngsters will do a better job of running things than we’ve done. We’ve left them a mess of a world - but that’s another story. For now, let’s focus on the subject of my lecture.

I had an hour to speak on The Old Maestro, Walt Disney. And, after the conclusion of my talk I always think about the things I failed to cover. In truth, one could speak about the life and career of Walt Disney for hours and still have a good deal left over. It was important that I give the students a first hand look at the man who has shaped the entertainment world and our culture in general. Not just in the United States, but around the world. Over the years, there have been a number of pot shots taken at Mr. Disney. Usually these uninformed tirades are given by those who never met the man. However, being uninformed has never stopped people from running off at the mouth. I wanted to give the students of Chapman a look at the man I worked for and knew. I wanted to reveal his character, work ethic and aspirations. I wanted to provide a first hand look at a man who will continue to be maligned by clueless critics and those with an agenda to tarnish an American icon.

In my talks, I try to provide a look that’s up close and personal. I tell about the Walt Disney I knew and worked for. While it’s true I never met the young Walt Disney ( he was already well into his fifties by the time I arrived at the studio) I couldn’t help but feel I already knew him. Perhaps many of us felt the same because of his weekly appearances in our living rooms through the magic of television. Walt Disney was our fascinating uncle who always had something new to show us. Because it delighted him, he knew that it might intrigue us as well. There was a lot of the child in Walt. He never ceased to maintain a sense of wonder at the world around him. While most of us grow cynical and jaded with age, Walt maintained that spirit of eternal youth and provided an example for all of us. It’s true that when you live a life driven by the love of what you do and a respect for those around you, you’ll never grow old. Walt Disney saw his enterprise and as magical machine that would create great wonders. Wonders not simply to entertain but to influence the way we accomplish things in every aspect of our lives. Walt Disney’s City of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was not merely a theme park attraction. It was a model - a prototype that would inspire the creativity and ingenuity in others to make society a better place for all. Unlike today’s CEOs, Walt wasn’t watching the share price of his company. While a healthy share price might be an indication of a corporation’s worth, Walt knew the health of a company was dependent on things other than the markets’ evaluation. Then again, Walt Disney was hardly your average CEO. He was a visionary. He was a genius.

As I said, I could have spoken another hour or two and only scratched the surface of this remarkable man. And, as always, I know that our founder and creative leader will continue to be maligned in the future. It would seem people have a need to trash their heroes. Maybe because men like Walt Disney set the bar too high and knowing we can never achieve their greatness we choose to reduce them to the likes of ourselves. It’s a shame, really. But, it is the human condition, after all. I can only hope the students of Chapman University left the lecture hall with a better sense of the man who created the theme park not far from the campus. Let’s hope my words won’t be forgotten when another show biz blabber mouth starts spouting off about things they know nothing about.

Walt Disney presides over a story meeting at his Hyperion Studio in Silver Lake. These were the good old days.

Walt Disney presides over a story meeting at his Hyperion Studio in Silver Lake. These were the good old days.