My recent visit to Walt Disney’s Silverlake home started me thinking about my former boss. Suddenly, I was infused with memories of the Old Maestro and his amazing life. A life that was sadly cut short. Of course, those my age remember how the previous generation lived. Heck, my parents and most of their friends lived pretty much the same way. Back in the thirties, forties and fifties everyone smoked and had a cocktail before dinner. Maybe a few more drinks with dinner. Unfortunately, by the time most reached their sixties they looked and felt a good deal older.
I was giving this some thought this past weekend as I made my way around Walt Disney’s former home. Images popped into my head as I thought back on the life of the popular entertainment legend and the incredible things he accomplished. Arriving home, I picked up a pen and began to sketch. I saw four separate incarnations of the Old Maestro, and I’ll describe them as follows. The “Thirties Walt” was young, jaunty and a passionate dreamer. I remember photographs of Disney in his striped socks and knickers, so this was the sketch I put on paper. This Walt had just arrived in Hollywood and was determined to become a filmmaking force. His Hyperion studio was a bee hive of creative energy and was the perfect reflection of its leader. The “Forties Walt” was bold, brash and full of confidence. The Disney name was known around the world, and he had built a new studio in Burbank that was on the cutting edge. Sadly, a world war and a bitter labor action tore the studio apart. In spite of this dark period, Walt Disney Productions managed to survive.
“Fifties Walt” is probably the Walt most remember best. Suddenly, the Disney enterprise was firing on all cylinders and there was nothing the Old Maestro couldn’t accomplish. Walt’s dream of a theme park became a reality and the new medium of television became Disney’s new platform. Live-action films were added to Disney’s portfolio and True Life Adventures won Academy Awards. At home, Walt powered his miniature locomotive around his Holmby Hills property and life was never better. I joined the Disney organization around this time and I encountered a leader with no end of ideas. Even with enormous success, Walt Disney considered himself just getting started, and his plans extended twenty years into the future. For a young, starry-eyed kid like myself this was pretty heady stuff.
By the time we see “Sixties Walt” it was apparent the Old Maestro was beginning to slow down. Of course, I mean slow down physically. Mentally, he was as energetic as always and seemed to push himself harder and harder. There was so much Walt wanted to accomplish but it was clear time was running out. The brisk, energetic walk was replaced by a slower gait and the Old Maestro seem to slump a good deal more. No longer the animated leader who would leap about energetically in story meetings, he simply sat and gave his opinions. Don’t get me wrong, however. “Sixties Walt” had no end of ideas or plans for the future. The years were simply beginning to catch up with him.
Anyway, this is the sketch I saw in my head and I simply had to draw it. I guess I’ve been able to sum up the Old Maestro’s life in four simple cartoon sketches. These are the images that come to mind when I think about Walt Disney. My only regret is that I don’t have a “Seventies, or Eighties Walt.” Think how awesome that would have been.