Motion Monday: Roy O. Disney’s Walt Disney World speech

By Keith Mahne

This week’s Motion Monday article takes us back to Oct. 25, 1971,  the official grand opening and dedication of Walt Disney World, where we’ll watch as Roy O. Disney reads the dedication plaque to a full capacity crowd. It was certainly a special day and a special way to open the park in memory of his brother, Walt Disney. Let’s have a look after the page break…

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Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. 

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

Keith Mahne and Bob Gurr

Keith created Disney Avenue as a “happy place” where one can come to learn, enjoy, and escape each and every day. As our slogan goes, we hope you “Enjoy your stroll down Disney Avenue; it’s not Main Street, but it’s close to it!”

You can find all of Keith’s articles here.




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The Story Behind the Florida Press Confrence

By Keith Mahne

The year was 1964, Walt, through a variety of dummy corporations, secretly began buying large areas of land, sparking speculation about the identity of the mystery buyer. At the time, the average price for an acre of land was roughly $185. Howard Hughes, General Motors, General Electric, U.S. Steel, Boeing, and just about every other major corporation was under suspicion as the mystery buyer. There was even a group who believed it was the Mafia buying land in order to hide bodies in the swampland or to build a casino. While this mystery continued to escalate, Disney had to respond fast and so a major press conference was scheduled. Continue after the page break for the story behind the Florida Press Conference…

Charlie Ridgway

Disneyland’s 10th anniversary was approaching in 1965, and it was decided to make it Disney’s first year-long celebration. Disneyland publicist Charlie Ridgway coordinated the event and helped coin the term “Tencennial,” which was used on the logo and merchandising. Ridgway brought in groups of about a dozen reporters from various regions that were flown to Disneyland for the event over the 12-month-long celebration. Starting with the media in New York, reporters were wined and dined, got a tour of the park, and spent some time with Walt. Eventually, Disney got around to the Florida-Georgia-Alabama region. When several of the larger papers couldn’t make the trip, someone suggested including Orlando, a city that Ridgway didn’t know. Ridgway discovered that a local Orlando paper The Sentinel-Star had a respectable circulation, and so they were invited.



Emily Bavar with Walt Disney

They sent their editor of the newspaper’s Sunday Florida Magazine, Emily Bavar. Ms. Bavar arrived in Anaheim with instructions to find out if the rumors were true that Walt and his company were buying land in Florida. Her first question to Ridgway when she got off the plane was “What’s this we hear about Disney buying a lot of land in Florida?” Ridgway was completely unaware of the Florida Project, as a very select few Disney executives were, and so he honestly answered, “Beats me. You’ll have to ask Walt tomorrow at lunch.” Walt wasn’t anticipating there being any representatives from the Orlando area and was not ready for the questions. There were other Florida reporters on the trip that just ignored the subject as mere speculation and wrote nothing for their papers. But Emily Bavar knew something was up and quickly wrote the famous article that let the “mouse” out of the bag. On Sunday, October 24, The Sentinel-Star expanded Bavar’s story even more and ran the headline “We Say: ‘Mystery’ Industry is Disney” and revealed details of the coming project including the fact that Disney was planning on creating two cities. The two cities were to be called “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow.”

Here is the article in full:

Is Our “Mystery” Industry Disney?

Girl Reporter Convinced by Walt Disney

By Emily Bavar Thursday October 21,1965

Orange County’s 30,000 acre mystery industry site may turn out to be an aircraft testing ground, an electronics research center or even a washing machine factory.
But I predict nothing so mundane for the mystery site.
I predict it will be an extension of Walt Disney’s magic empire of fiction, fantasy and enormous wealth.

In sticking out my neck with such indifference to caution, I’ll go even farther and say the ultimate plan for the spread of acreage is something that could be hatched only in the fertile Disney imagination; that it will be worth watching and waiting for.
Before elaborating, let’s make it clear I have talked to no one connected with the sale of the property.

I have talked only to Walt Disney who, as I reported Sunday from California, did not say he had bought the property.

But neither did he say he had not bought it.

In his plush, studio offices in Burbank, Walt Disney did not confirm nor deny purchase of the Central Florida land and he adroitly hedged direct questions concerning it.
Whoever bought the land will announce it in time, he observed.
Did Disney know who had bought the land?

Well, you hear a lot of rumors. As a matter of fact, he had heard that he himself had bought it.

When he had had enough of the questioning he courteously explained that announcements of such magnitude must follow established corporate procedure and come from a board of directors.

Disney would not be free to confirm the purchase, he said, even if it were a fact.
And I firmly believe it is a fact.

Land purchases recently recorded in Osceola County reveal that property adjoining and enlarging the Orange County mystery site has been bought by Anaheim, California money.

Anaheim is the site of Disneyland.

Original rumors of the purchase included Disney and then spread to other businesses.
But as Nov. 15 date of announcement of the purchase draws near—when Gov. Burns and officials involved with the sale will be in Orlando to make the joint announcement—I am more and more inclined to return to the early guess that Orange and Osceola Counties are slated to have some kind of a second Disneyland.

I repeat: I have talked to no one involved in the sale.

I have talked only to Mr. Disney. And I sure have talked to him: at a late morning interview in his office, at lunch where I sat at his right and monopolized as much of the conversation as I could: and after lunch in the brilliant California sunshine when Mr. Disney wanted to know how his blue sky compared to ours.

Walt Disney, 63-year-old artistic genius of the Disney empire, may not be an officer of Walt Disney Productions, parent company which produces motion pictures, for theatrical and television distribution and operates Disneyland Park. But he’s the brains and the talent behind it even though the business is run by his brother, Roy, president and chairman of the board.

In talking to Disney, it became immediately apparent he had watched the Eastern United States with interest and speculation.

Though he underestimated the population of Florida by several million, Disney was familiar with Florida tourist figures, the activity around Cape Kennedy and the scenic Central Florida area centered by Orlando.

He mentioned Crystal River and expressed a sentimental interest in Daytona Beach where his parents lived early in their marriage.

He offered climate and population reasons why Florida would be unacceptable as a site for an amusement park and then showed how these same reasons could be overcome.
Yet, Walt Disney’s plans for expanding his empire would not necessarily stop at another Disneyland.

He indicated as much when I asked him if the New York Fair shows were moving to Disneyland, California.

“Of course,” was his quick reply, “There is only one Disneyland.” Then almost but not quite as an afterthought he added, “as such.”

Walt Disney likes to needle reporters, particularly Florida reporters, with reasons why their state is too hot, too wet, too unpopulous, too remote and otherwise unsatisfactory for a major attraction.

But it is my personal belief that Walt Disney has met and conquered these reasons.
I believe the imagination of the canny artist who rode to fame and fortune on an animated mouse named Mickey is capable of building anything from a park to an entire city in a Central Florida pasture.

Mr. Disney’s brand of talent and promotion is not necessarily limited to another Disneyland.

Or, as he put it himself, “as such.”
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General William Potter with Walt & Roy Disney

General William Potter, who after his work on the New York’s World Fair took over the job of handling the Disney Florida project, was staying at the Robert Meyer Motor Inn. When he went down to breakfast Sunday morning, he saw the paper’s headline and story. He immediately phoned California. Robert Price Foster  who was the lawyer in charge of purchasing Florida property under pseudonyms happened to be in Orlando at that time. When he saw the article, he immediately called Walt, fearing he would be blamed for the leak. Walt reassured him that he himself was to blame and took full responsibility. Bavar’s story was so enthusiastic and convincing that Walt knew they had to take some immediate action to control the story.

Governor Haydon Burns & Walt at the press conference

Walt immediately phoned Governor Haydon Burns who was in bed with a case of pleurisy at the time and decided it was time to let the cat out of the bag. Walt chose the following Monday, October 25, in Miami because Burns was scheduled to speak to the Florida League of Municipalities Convention to make it official that Walt Disney Productions “will build the greatest attraction yet known in the history of Florida.” Burns announced: “Walt Disney has extended to your governor the privilege of making the official announcement that Disney Productions is the mystery industry.” The announcement was followed by “wild applause.”

Walt greeted by fans as he arrives for press conference

The official confirmation to the press came as planned on November 15, 1965 at 2:00 p.m. in the Egyptian Room of the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Florida, with Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and Governor Burns. In later years, Emily Bavar remembered that when she questioned Walt Disney in his office about whether his company was buying the land. “He looked like I had thrown a bucket of water in his face. I have never seen anyone look so stunned. He was too surprised, but then he recovered and said ‘No.’ He was not a good liar.”

The Florida Press Conference (the first 1:40 showing the arrival of Walt has no sound. Please be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top left-hand corner of this page before you start the video if you are on a desktop computer.):

This 1965 film was produced by the Florida Development Commission to trumpet the potential economic benefits of the then-recently-announced Disney World project. Hosted by Governor Haydon Burns, the film includes footage of the November 15, 1965, press conference announcing Disney World:

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Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. 

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

Keith Mahne and Bob Gurr

Keith created Disney Avenue as a “happy place” where one can come to learn, enjoy, and escape each and every day. As our slogan goes, we hope you “Enjoy your stroll down Disney Avenue; it’s not Main Street, but it’s close to it!”

You can find all of Keith’s articles here.



The Letter That Started It All

By Keith Mahne

People often wonder which piece of Disney history is the most significant. The answer always has to be Walt’s October 16, 1923 handwritten letter that announces the start of the Walt Disney Company. Each year the Company celebrates October 16th as it’s birthday; the day Walt Disney founded the company when he was just 21 years old. Today you’ll get to see and read that handwritten letter Walt sent to Virginia Davis’ parents officially starting the Walt Disney Company…

21 year-old Walt Disney directs a live-action sequence for an ALICE comedy not on a Hollywood backlot, but on a dirt lot not far from his Uncle Robert’s house. From left, Virginia’s father, Walt Disney, Virginia Davis, and Roy O. Disney on camera. Close inspection of the original photograph reveals a large split in Walt’s right shoe; he was flat broke.
In October of 1923, Walt Disney was flat broke and living in a room at his Uncle Robert’s house in Hollywood. He had left Kansas City a few months earlier after declaring his Laugh-O-Grams company bankrupt. He didn’t even have the cash to finish the “Alice” comedy demo film he had begun. Not ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but the adventures of a live-action little girl named Alice set in a cartoon world. The 4 year- old girl who played Alice, Virginia Davis, stayed back in Kansas City when the bankrupt and discouraged Walt Disney turned his back on animation and hopped a train for Hollywood. But after not finding work as a live-action director in Hollywood, Walt reconsidered the animation field, and desperately sent the half-completed “ALICE” film to distributors as a sample of his ability. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Walt had no way of knowing it in advance, but October 16th was to be the day the magic started. That was the day Walt received a telegram from Felix the Cat film distributor Margaret Winkler, agreeing to distribute a series of Walt Disney Alice comedies, as long as the same little girl, Virginia Davis, starred. The Disney Studio was in business! Walt immediately pulled out his “Walt Disney, Cartoonist” letterhead, which his brother Roy had loaned him $10 to have printed, and feverishly wrote a letter to the parents of the little girl in fountain pen being that Walt couldn’t afford a typewriter.
 
 
Below you can read the three page letter that contains misspelled words as Walt had only attended one year of high school, but he more than makes up for it in enthusiastic Disney persuasiveness:
 
 
 

 
 
 
About a week later, Walt writes a follow-up letter, outlining the terms of Davis’ employment.
He spells out exactly how much she will be paid:
 
 
 

 
 
 
Famous Disney collector and seller Phil Sears purchased these directly from Virginia Davis early in the 1990’s. She was living in Orange County, California, and he had heard that she was looking to sell her Walt Disney items and move to Idaho. She was thinking of auctioning them through one of the major auction houses. Phil told her to get the auction estimates from the firms she was considering, and he’d beat their highest estimate as Sears really wanted those letters and understandably so. The auction estimates came in, and he did as he said by making an offer that topped the high estimates. When else would he get the opportunity to own the letters that founded the Disney Company? Think about this, every character, from Mickey Mouse to Ariel, every film, from Snow White to Frozen, every theme park, from Disneyland to Walt Disney World and Tokyo and Paris, sprung from that day in October of 1923 when Walt (thankfully) failed to find work as a movie director and fell back on animation, forming one of the most influential companies the world has ever known.

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