I’m sitting on the patio of Walt Disney Imagineering enjoying delicious Huevos Rancheros which happens to be my favorite breakfast these days. I continue to be amazed at this marvelous enterprise and how far they’ve traveled over the years. So my thoughts wandered back to the nineteen forties when two brothers named Disney had to make a major decision that would decide the future of their company.
The war had finally ended leaving Walt Disney Productions at a crossroads. Government contracts had sustained the company throughout the forties and now all of that had come to an end. What would the future hold for Walt Disney Productions, one might ask? The “Old Maestro,” who was then a much younger studio boss, went to his older brother with an ultimatum. Walt had three animated features on the drawing board and was eager to move ahead immediately. Nervous about risking the studios’ future, Roy O. Disney was reluctant to take on the risk. Walt Disney laid it on the line. “If we don’t move forward, we’ll go backward. Let’s either get back into business - or get the hell out!” And with that, “Cinderella,” Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” moved into production. However, three animated features were only the tip of the iceberg. Walt Disney had already decided to launch a number of live-action movies putting to use his frozen assets in the U.K. The nature films, first as two reelers, then feature films were finding an audience. Clearly, Walt Disney was not trusting his company to animated feature films alone. He began to broaden his company in a way few companies were even thinking about at the time. Next, Walt set his sights on entering television when most Hollywood moguls expressed disdain for the medium. Finally, the bold idea of a family theme park began as sketches on the drawing board, and would in time be realized as “Disneyland.” I was only a kid in school during those years but I remember watching Walt Disney Productions began to experience explosive growth. Much like Bill Gates at the start of the computer revolution, I was eager to bail out of school and go to work for Disney because I feared missing out on something big. I wanted to be there when all this was happening. Before long, Disneyland open its gates in Anaheim and I was there opening week. As I stared slack-jawed at the beautiful artwork in the show, “The Art of Animation,” I had no idea I was only six months away from becoming an employee of Walt Disney Productions.
Well, like Bill Gates, I didn’t miss the revolution either. As a matter of fact, I had the opportunity to be a part of it. Time Magazine probably stated it best. Disney didn’t simply expand - it exploded! When I arrived at the Walt Disney Studio early in 1956, it was more a theme park than a job. Each day was an adventure because there was so much going on. Walt had pulled out all the stops and was roaring full speed ahead with no stop lights in view. It was a glorious time to work for Walt Disney Productions, and if you had the misfortune to arrive late and miss the adventure, I’ll have to console you with Ward Kimball’s sad and sorry words of regret.
“Walt’s gone, and you missed it.”