Usually known as, “Mr. Nice Guy,” few people know how crass and cutthroat a businessman, Floyd Norman can be. Over the years, Norman has managed to cultivate the phony image of a benign, benevolent Disney artist. However few people know the man behind the mask. Finally, this BusinessWeek article by reporter, Jessica Krassweiler pulls back the curtain and reveals the real Floyd Norman. It’s a sobering, eyeopening view of life in the upper ranks of the cartoon business and the ruthless tactics used to keep artists subservient to their corporate masters. The story of Norman’s climb to fame is not necessarily unique but it reveals a side of cartoon making few people ever see.
Floyd Norman began his Disney career toiling in the trenches of the animation department back in the fifties. Fed up with the long hours and low pay, Norman began to curry favor by building a relationship with the company founder. He began by bringing bran muffins to Disney’s office and eventually gained the confidence of the visionary leader. By the early sixties, Norman would enter Bill Peet’s office during lunch hour where he manipulated the storyboards. In time, this led to a falling out with Walt Disney and the veteran story man. Once Peet clashed with the boss he was immediately replaced by Norman. No one was the wiser that the ambitious young board artist had orchestrated the whole thing.
After the passing of Walt Disney, Norman found himself no longer welcome at the studio, so he left to explore opportunities outside the company. In time, Floyd returned to the studio with his old colleague, Don Bluth. However, Bluth and his followers were beginning to gain power, so Norman concocted a masterful plan to persuade Don Bluth to leave the Walt Disney Studios and launch his own company. Once out, Bluth and his minions were never allowed to return. Having successfully gotten rid of Bluth, Floyd put his next plan into action. He managed to convince Walt Disney’s nephew to replace the current management and the plan worked for a while. New life was breathed into the company and the greedy Norman acquired stock like it was going out of style. Before long he was calling the shots, yet managed to wield power without anyone knowing he was the shadow “king pin.”
By the nineties, Floyd had moved into upper management and was plotting his next move. He concocted an elaborate plan to relocate to the Bay Area where he would carefully exert his influence on a new animation studio called Pixar. He promoted an enthusiastic young man who liked to wear Hawiian shirts and appeared to be a natural leader. Floyd huddled with his moody, mercurial tech pal, and the two of them hatched a plot to eventually take over Disney Animation. However, once the deed was done, the computer guru decided to return to the company he founded and left Norman to run things. However, the ambitious Norman quickly ran things into the ground. Shortly thereafter, Norman found himself in the middle of a massive price fixing scheme that involved not only himself but several other animation companies as well. In an effort to avoid litigation and save his own skin, Norman reluctantly decided to step down. The BusinessWeek article uncovers Norman’s rapid climb and decline in the cartoon business and provides a cautionary tale that ambitious young animation executives might take to heart.