Walt Disney’s Cryogenically Frozen Urban Legend Explained

By Keith Mahne

In the decades since Walt Disney’s death, the claim that he arranged for his body to be frozen has become as well known as the man himself. Nearly everyone familiar with the name ‘Walt Disney’ has heard the story that Disney’s corpse is stored in a deep-freeze chamber somewhere (directly under Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is the most frequently mentioned location) awaiting the day when science can repair the damage to his body and bring ‘Uncle Walt’ back to life. But where did this urban legend originate? Why has it become so ingrained in the history of the man who created magical kingdoms for the world to enjoy? Let’s find out the answers to these questions in today’s featured article…

A few years ago, I set out to find everything I could on one of the most popular urban legend’s of all, that Walt Disney had been cryogenically frozen shortly after his passing. “Could this be true,” I briefly pondered out of pure wishful thinking. “Of course not, but where did this rumor start,” I immediately thought. I wanted to know the answers and find out where this myth was born. After doing a bit of research, I eventually came across an article on snopes.com that I believe puts it all into perspective and then some. You’ll find that article below in its entirety with a few Walt pictures added for some visual content including his death certificate. I think you’ll come away enlightened. Have a look…

Walt Disney’s health had been deteriorating for many months before he finally agreed to enter St. Joseph hospital in California on November 2, 1966, for tests concerning the pain in his leg and neck. Doctors discovered a walnut-sized spot on the x-ray of his left lung and advised immediate surgery.
Disney left the hospital to attend to studio business for a few days, then re-entered St. Joseph on Sunday, November 6, for surgery the next day. During Monday morning’s operation, doctors found his left lung to be cancerous and removed it. His over-sized lymph nodes were an indication that Disney hadn’t much longer to live.

After two weeks of post-operative care, Disney was released from the hospital. He crossed the street to his studios and spent another ten days tending to studio business and visiting relatives before he grew too weak and had to return to St. Joseph on November 30. His health started to fail even more rapidly than expected, and drugs and cobalt treatments sapped what little strength he had left. Walt Disney died two weeks later when his circulatory system collapsed on the morning of December 15, 1966.

Was Walt Disney aware of the possibilities of life extension through cryogenics? He certainly could have been aware of the progress being made in cryogenics research. Numerous articles and books on hypothermia and the preservation of animal tissue through freezing appeared in both the scientific/medical and general press in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Anyone with an interest in the subject could easily have located this reading material, and even someone without a particular interest in the subject may have run across one or more articles on the topic in the general press.

The subject of cryonics was further brought to the public’s attention with the publication in 1964 of Robert C.W. Ettinger’s book, The Prospect of Immortality. Ettinger’s book, drawing on much of the available literature about cryonics, covered the practical, legal, ethical, and moral impact of freezing and reviving human beings. Ettinger, while admitting that science had as yet no way of reviving frozen human beings, was unflaggingly optimistic that a viable means of reanimation would eventually be found, telling his readers:

“The fact: At very low temperatures it is possible, right now, to preserve dead people with essentially no deterioration, indefinitely.
The assumption: If civilization endures, medical science should eventually be able to repair almost any damage to the human body, including freezing damage and senile debility or other cause of death.
Hence we need only arrange to have our bodies, after we die, stored in suitable freezers against the time when science may be able to help us. No matter what kills us, whether old age or disease, and even if freezing techniques are still crude when we die, sooner or later our friends of the future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us.”

Given the prevalence of articles published about cryonics in the mid 1960’s, and the relative popularity of Ettinger’s book among science buffs (even if few of them had actually read it), it is certainly possible that Walt Disney was aware of the potentiality of cryonic storage of humans.

Whatever the possibilities, however, there is no documentary evidence to suggest that Walt Disney was interested in, or had even heard of, cryonics. Documentation of Disney’s alleged fascination with preserving or extending his life through cryonics did not appear until decades after his death, and what little information is available has predominantly been provided by some extremely questionable sources.
Claims about Disney’s interest come primarily from two of the more recent Disney biographies: Robert Mosley’s 1986 effort,Disney’s World, and Marc Eliot’s 1993 entry, Walt Disney — Hollywood’s Dark Prince. Both books have been largely discredited for containing numerous factual errors and undocumented assertions, rendering them rather untrustworthy as sources of reliable background material.

Eliot’s biography, which dwells unrelentingly on every salacious incident and rumor connected with Walt Disney’s name, is fairly easy to dismiss. Charitably described as “speculative,” it contains a single passage concerning Walt Disney’s alleged interest in cryonics:

“Disney’s growing preoccupation with his own mortality also led him to explore the science of cryogenics, the freezing of an aging or ill person until such time as the human body can be revived and restored to health. Disney often mused to Roy about the notion of perhaps having himself frozen, an idea which received . . . indulgent nods from his brother . . . “

Not surprisingly, the source behind this piece of information is nowhere to be found in Eliot’s notes. And as there is no record of Roy ever having spoken of his brother’s alleged interest in cryonics, Eliot’s “source” was likely nothing more than repetition of rumor.
Mosley’s Disney’s World is also rather long on rumor and short on facts. The book has been described as “poorly researched and filled with inaccuracies”, a biography that seemed “to promote certain preset points of view, regardless of evidence”. The same critique goes on to say, “One of its central themes, for example, is Disney’s fascination with cryogenics and the strong suggestion that his body was frozen following his death.” It makes for titillating reading; however, few facts support Mosley’s claims.

Disney’s World paints a picture of an anxious Walt Disney desperately searching for a way to spring back to life in order to prevent or correct the horrible mistakes his followers were bound to make in turning his EPCOT dream into reality:

“[T]he chief problem that troubled Walt was the length of time it might take the doctors to perfect the process. How long would it be before the surgical experts could bring a treated cadaver back to working life? To be brutally practical, could it be guaranteed, in fact, that he could be brought back in time to rectify the mistakes his successors would almost certainly start making at EPCOT the moment he was dead?”

Mosley’s book is filled with repetitions of the claim that Walt Disney grew increasingly interested in cryonics as his health waned in late 1966, such as this paragraph:
“It was about this time that Walt Disney became acquainted with the experiments into the process known as cryogenics, or what one newspaper termed “the freeze-drying of the human cadaver after death, for eventual resuscitation.” 

Mosley’s statements regarding Disney’s belief in the feasibility of cryonics are somewhat difficult to take seriously, given that his book includes such ludicrously erroneous (or fabricated) statements as:

“The surgeons had taken away his diseased lung to examine it, and then were going to preserve it. Walt was pleased when he heard that. He knew enough about cryogenesis by now to be aware that it was important to hold onto all the organs — just in case the surgeons needed to treat them before putting them back where they belonged.”

Mosley provides no source for his statements, other than to assert that Disney’s “closest colleagues and advisers” were “confident” that Walt Disney “eventually became convinced of cryogenesis as a viable medical process and was persuaded that, even in 1966, it was possible for a human being to have himself brought back to life after death”. In fact, these “close colleagues” of Disney’s turned out to be a few employees on the periphery of the Disney organization who had never spoken to Walt about cryonics, and were merely repeating the same decades-old rumor for Mosley’s benefit. On the other hand, someone much closer to Walt Disney, his daughter, Diane wrote in 1972:

“There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that my father, Walt Disney, wished to be frozen. I doubt that my father had ever heard of cryonics.”

Despite the persistent rumors, available documentation indicates that Walt Disney was in fact cremated. Although Disney’s preferences regarding the disposal of his body are not public record (instructions or provisions for his funeral and burial were not included in his will), other publicly-available material is entirely consistent with the claim that he was cremated:

  • Walt Disney publicly stated — ten years before his death — that he wished not to have a funeral.
  • Disney family members have confirmed that cremation was Walt’s wish.
  • Disney’s death certificate shows that he was cremated two days after his death. (The name, license number, and signature of the embalmer appearing on the death certificate are those of a real embalmer who was employed at the Forest Lawn mortuary at the time.)
  • A marked burial plot, for Walt Disney (and his son-in-law) can be found at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale (the logical resting grounds for someone whose cremation was handled by Forest Lawn’s mortuary), and court papers indicate that the Disney estate paid $40,000 to Forest Lawn for interment property.

Walt’s Death Certificate

Since Disney’s demise, several unremarkable events and circumstances surrounding his life and death have been combined to try to establish a pattern of mystery and secrecy concerning the disposal of his body. All of these events, however, have straightforward, non-mysterious explanations:

  • “Disney had a long preoccupation with death”
  • “Disney had a neurotic fear of death”

Statements concerning Disney’s alleged preoccupation with death are generally attempts to sensationalize the topic by distorting the facts. Although he did worry about dying prematurely, Disney was not “obsessed with death”. Having been told by a fortune-teller that he would die when he was thirty-five, Disney did brood about his inevitable demise during occasional bouts of depression, even after he had long passed the allegedly fatal age. Contemplating one’s mortality is not an unusual behavior, and there is no evidence that Walt Disney did so to an excessive degree.

William Poundstone quotes some ridiculous passages from Anthony Haden-Guest’s The Paradise Program to try to establish Disney’s preoccupation with death, detailing a “gruesome seven-minute Mickey Mouse cartoon” made in 1933 in which “a mad scientist tries to cut off Pluto’s head and put in on a chicken. The cartoon in question is The Mad Doctor, which was nothing more than humorous spoof of 1930’s horror films. Even in the cartoon itself the “horrific” events are not portrayed as real: the whole episode turns out to be nothing more than a nightmare of Mickey’s. Although Poundstone wrote that the film was pulled from the Rank film library in 1970, it has been readily available in the Mickey Mouse: The Black and White Years laserdisc set since 1994.

  • “The news of Disney’s death was deliberately delayed.”

This claim that the announcement of Walt Disney’s death was deliberately withheld from the press for several hours has been made most persistently, presumably because Disney’s aides would have needed time to furtively whisk his body away from the hospital to the secret cryogenic chamber before the presence of reporters made the task impossible to accomplish in privacy. Leonard Mosley’s description of the event features some of more absurd stretches of truth made in this regard:

“And this is where the mystery begins. It was Walt himself who had asked Roy Disney to keep his illness secret, but the manner in which the world was apprised of his death remains surprising.

In fact, it was not until hours after he was declared dead that an announcement was made. First came radio announcements, then a curt official notice informed the press and public that Walt Disney was no more. It added that there would be no funeral. He had already been cremated, the announcement said, and his ashes interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Only immediate family members had been present.”

It is true that Disney’s death was not officially announced to the press until several hours after it occurred at 9:30 AM on Thursday, December 15, 1966, but the reasons behind the delay were perfectly ordinary ones. First of all, Disney’s death would not have been announced immediately under any circumstances. Several family members had to be notified before a public announcement could be made, and Disney studio executives had to be located and informed that the head of their organization had passed away before the information would be released to the press. Additionally, the gravity of Disney’s illness had largely been kept a secret from the press, so there were no hordes of reporters crowding the hallways of St. Joseph Hospital, waiting for the inevitable announcement of his death. The reason for Disney’s original hospitalization had been announced to the press as “treatment of an old neck injury received while playing polo,” and when Disney re-entered the hospital for the final time two weeks before his death, the statement made to the press was that Disney was undergoing “a routine post-operative” checkup. Although it was certainly no secret that Disney was quite ill, the seriousness of his condition was not generally known. The extent to which the details of Walt Disney’s illness were kept from the press are evidenced by the newspapers reports of his death, which stated that his left lung had been removed during an operation on November 21 (an error which Poundstone repeats in Big Secrets). That operation had actually taken place two weeks earlier; November 21 was the date of his original post-surgery release from the hospital.
So, given that relatives and studio heads had to be notified before any statements about Disney’s death were made to the press; that the media were not on a “Disney death watch,” busily preparing obituaries and tributes; and that communications in 1966 were certainly slower than they are today, it is not at all surprising that official news of Disney’s death did not reach the public until a few hours later.

Mosley’s other statements, about Disney’s funeral and cremation, are just further examples of sloppy research on his part. Disney was not cremated until two days after his death; no press announcement made “hours after he was declared dead” claimed that he had already been cremated.

  • “The cause of Disney’s demise was never formally announced.”
  • This statement is both inaccurate and irrelevant. The cause of Disney’s death was initially announced as being “acute circulatory collapse,” which meant simply that his heart had stopped beating. As facile as the official announcement may seem to those who know he “really” died of lung cancer, it does reflect the proximate cause of his death. This notion is borne out by the official death certificate, which lists “cardiac arrest” as the primary cause of death. The fact that cancer was what caused Disney’s heart to give out was, medically, of secondary importance.

  • Official statements released to the press after Disney’s surgery (and before his death) had already revealed that a tumor had been found, necessitating the removal of a lung. Whether stated “officially” or not, it was quite clear to the public that Disney had died of lung cancer. In any case, what possible difference could it have made what Walt Disney died of? How could dissembling about the “real” cause of his death possibly have facilitated the goal of secretly storing his body in a cryonic chamber?

  • “Disney’s funeral services were held in secret.”
  • Disney’s funeral was in fact conducted quickly and quietly — at the Little Church of the Flowers in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale — at 5:00 PM on Friday, December 16 (the day after his death). No announcement of the funeral was made until after it had taken place, no associates or executives from Disney Studios were invited, and only immediate family members were in attendance. Forest Lawn officials refused to disclose any details of the funeral or disposition of the body, stating only that “Mr. Disney’s wishes were very specific and had been spelled out in great detail.”
    None of this secrecy surrounding Disney’s funeral should be the least bit surprising to anyone, however. In the biography The Story of Walt Disney, written a decade before Disney’s death, his daughter Diane had noted:

    “He never goes to a funeral if he can help it. If he had to go to one it plunges him into a reverie which lasts for hours after he’s home. At such times he says, ‘When I’m dead I don’t want a funeral. I want people to remember me alive.'”

    Is it so remarkable that a man who had an aversion to funerals — and who had stated a ten years earlier that he didn’t want a public funeral — was sent off with a very quick and very private ceremony? If the clandestineness of the funeral had been intended to cover up the fact that Disney’s body had already been deposited in liquid nitrogen at a secret facility, there were certainly better, less obvious ways of accomplishing the deception: Disney could have been given a simple closed-casket ceremony, with nobody the wiser.

  • “Disney specified the public was never to be told the location of his grave.”
  • Again, this claim is not the least bit extraordinary. It is true that officials at Forest Lawn Memorial Park will not divulge the location of the Disney family plot. Many celebrities do request that the locations of their burial plots not be given out to visitors as a simple matter of privacy. The burial sites are not intended to be “secret,” however; if they were, they wouldn’t be marked and located on publicly-accessible grounds. Disney’s plot was not, as Mosley claimed, “already filled with family ashes from which the public would always be barred.” Disney’s plot is far from obtrusive, but it is located in an unrestricted part of the park and marked with a plaque identifying its occupants; anyone who so desires is perfectly free to visit, leave flowers, take photographs, etc. The plot was certainly not “already filled with family ashes” at the time of Disney’s interment; even today it holds the remains of only one other person: Ron Brown, a son-in-law who died the year after Disney. In fact, according to the book Wills of the Rich and Famous, the interment property was not even chosen until September 19, 1967, making it rather difficult to believe that it could have been “already filled with family ashes.”

    If Disney was not really frozen, then how and when did this rumor originate? The exact origins of the rumor are unknown, but at least one Disney publicist has suggested that the story was started by a group of Disney Studio animators who “had a bizarre sense of humor.” The earliest known printed version of the rumor appeared in the magazine Ici Paris in 1969.
    Even if the origins of the story are unknown, it is certainly easy to see why the rumor is so believable. In the years immediately preceding his death, Disney was involved in a number of projects which cemented his image as a technical innovator in the public’s mind. Disneyland attractions such as the monorail, the House of the Future, the Voyage to the Moon; the introduction of audio-animatronic figures at the 1964 World’s Fair, and Disney’s plans for his “community of tomorrow” (EPCOT) in Florida made it easy to believe Walt Disney was ahead of everyone else in his planning, even when it came to his death. When you consider that the first cryonic suspension took place just a month after Disney’s death (Dr. James Bedford, a 73-year-old psychologist from Glendale, was suspended on January 12, 1967), it’s not so far-fetched to imagine that Disney could have made similar arrangements. (END)


    So there we have it. This highly informative article explains, in great detail, the events following Walt’s passing and where the urban legend originated. Walt was a wonderful man, a real American success story. Although we know Walt Disney was never cryogenically preserved, his spirit certainly does continue to live on in his Parks, and for that we can be thankful.

    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.

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    The Day Walt’s Dream Became A Reality: Celebrating 60 Years of Disneyland

    By Keith Mahne

    60 years ago today, Walt Disney’s dream that started “from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too” became a reality. Disneyland is a place like no other. Walt once said, “Disneyland would be a world of past and present, seen through the eyes of my imagination – a place of warmth and nostalgia, of illusion and color and delight.” As we all know, anything created from Walt’s “imagination” is, without a doubt, going to be very special. And so, as we celebrate 60 years of magic, join me as we take a look at the creation and opening of Disneyland and the man who made it all possible…

    In 1954, construction starts in Anaheim, which often continues 24 hours a day to get the park ready in time. Hollywood studios and amusement park owners couldn’t understand Walt’s concept of a “theme park,” and figured it would fail within months of opening. Burbank was the desired location, but the city rejected the project fearing the “carnie” type atmosphere and increased crime that was associated with amusement parks of the day.

    Disneyland, in fact, was based much less on the traditional amusement park and much more on the world’s fair, Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, Greenfield Village and the “garden city” concept, which also became the model for most of America’s suburbs developed during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (most of Disneyland’s patrons came from those suburbs, and it’s a small wonder they found it so appealing). ABC, the smallest of the three networks, begins airing the Disneyland television show, which eventually becomes the Wonderful World of Disney. The show is the first time a major Hollywood movie studio has partnered with television, and puts ABC at the top of the rankings. The hour-long show’s programming is divided into four guiding themes,  Fantasyland (Disney animated shorts),  Frontierland (the amazingly successful Davy Crocket),  Adventureland (True-Life Adventures series – the first such films to capture animals in the wild) and  Tomorrowland (original programming such as Man In Space).

    (Please pause the Disney Avenue Music Player above prior to watching the videos below if you are on a desktop computer.)

    Not only was the show a great way to remind audiences of Disney favorites of the past, but it also was the first time future movies were promoted using television, a practice that is now commonplace. In addition, Walt used the show to show the public plans for his theme park concept and becomes the first publicly recognizable studio head in Hollywood history.

    It took a lot of work to create the happiest place on earth. See for yourself…

    Join legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter on the creation of Disneyland in this wonderful video below…

    Walt wanted his Park to be perfect. He wouldn’t stand for anything less and was involved in every little detail, a true testament to what Disneyland meant to him personally. This amazing video below gives you a good idea of what I mean…

    Disneyland finally opens to the world on Sunday, July 17, 1955 with 18 attractions, at a cost of $17.5 million. A special ‘International Press Preview’ event was held, which was only open to invited guests. Six thousand invitations to the Grand Opening had been mailed to studio workers, construction workers, the press and officials of company sponsors.



    The five original lands are Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street, USA. Opening day ceremonies are overseen by Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter and Robert Cummings. All three will return for Disneyland’s 35th in 1990, and Art Linkletter will be present for Disneyland’s 50th in 2005. Park crowds swell to 30,000 as more than double the invited number of guests enter as people climb fences and walls around the park to get in. Most attractions break down within the first few hours and many women lose the heels of their shoes as the asphalt paving on Main Street, USA had just been poured hours earlier and was still soft. Disneyland is deemed a disaster in Anaheim, although the televised grand opening attracted the largest TV audience in history to that date – over 90 million viewers, which in 1955, was almost everyone that had the ability to view a television.

    There is a great story by Wally Boag, who played the Pecos Bill/Traveling Salesman character in the Golden Horseshoe Revue, about the live, opening day broadcast…

    As one of Disneyland’s Opening Day attractions, the show was to be part of the Dateline: Disneyland television program, the live broadcast seen by ninety million viewers—but in one of the many glitches that plagued the televised proceedings, Wally Boag wrote in his 2009 memoir, “our Horseshoe show didn’t get on. They were supposed to switch to the Horseshoe just as the dancers were beginning the can-can number, and they were going to shoot the reflection in the mirror that hung behind the bar.  But they were late in switching to the Horseshoe, so they only got a few seconds of the show’s closing and us taking bows.  But that was all right, because the next day, we opened up to the public and began what would eventually become the longest-running live stage show in the history of show business.”

    Have a look at these absolutely breathtaking, color photos of Disneyland on opening day…

    Imagine for a second the amount of stress and pressure a normal person would have if they were to create something as extravagant as Disneyland. Walt put up everything he owned to make it happen! His home, his life insurance policy, anything he owned to draw up enough funds to have Disneyland be created properly. On top of that, nearly everyone thought it would fail. What if it did? What would have happened to Walt and his dreams? What about the studio or even his family? We will never have to answer those questions because we know what happened. History was made. A dream came true. Magic became a real thing. Although I can’t help but to assume all of this was in the back of Walt’s mind, I honestly don’t believe he ever felt it would fail. And that my friends is exactly why it didn’t! He had so much faith in what he was doing that it couldn’t fail. That is what was so special about Walt.
    Take for instance when Walt welcomed the very first children to enter Disneyland. Does this look like a worried man…

    …not at all. Walt’s gift was knowing what people wanted and how to give it to them. Wouldn’t you have loved to be one of these lucky kids?!

    One of my favorite Walt stories about him around the opening of Disneyland took place during a special pre-opening presentation of the Golden Horseshoe Revue’s first official performance. The show was staged in honor of Walt and Lillian Disney’s 30th wedding anniversary on Wednesday, July 13, 1955, four days before Disneyland would open it’s doors to the world. An invitation went out to 300 people for this “Tempus Fugit Celebration.” Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller explains…

    “It began,” recalled Diane, “on the Mark Twain Riverboat with mint juleps and then moved over to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon for dinner and the ‘revue.’ Suddenly Dad appeared in one of the balcony boxes on the side of the stage.  At this point in the show, Wally Boag, as Pecos Bill, was firing blanks—Dad returned fire with his thumb and forefinger, then began to climb down to the stage.  I think that everyone got a bit worried—I know I did.  When he got to the stage he stood there beaming at everyone.  He was so happy.”

    When Lillian Disney reluctantly joined her husband on the Golden Horseshoe stage, Walt started dancing with his bride of 30 years. Lillian didn’t know it, but Walt had taken some dancing lessons, because he knew how happy it would make her and soon everyone was dancing. Look at the photo above from that night. Walt’s Park was about to open to the entire world and, as Diane Disney mentioned, he truly was beaming.

    As we celebrate 60 years of Disneyland, we celebrate not just a park, but a man with a passion. A man who was never afraid to dream. A man who loved people, knew how to make them happy, and did so no matter the cost. Disneyland is so special to so many people because it was special to Walt. He didn’t create it to make money, he created it to make people happy. He didn’t create it just to please children, nor did he do so for adults. He did so for EVERYONE! He kept the admission prices low so that every class of people could experience the magic together. And, most importantly, he did it out of love, out of a dream, out of his heart. That is why we are here celebrating 60 years, because of you Walt. We thank you for bringing so much joy to this weary world, for creating a place we can all escape to and leave our worries behind, a place…where a daddy… with two daughters… wondering where he could take them… where he could have a little fun with them, too. Thank you Walt and we sure do miss you! Here’s to 60 more magical years of your dream coming true…

    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.


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    Disneyland During Walt’s Time

    By Keith Mahne

     Have you ever wondered what Disneyland was like during Walt’s time? I recently set out to try and answer that question, to really get a good idea of what Disneyland was like during the years Walt was still calling the shots. I wanted to know how many people were employed, attendance figures, highlights and even what the payroll may have been. After a bit of research, I now have those answers and would like to share them here with you. Continue after the page break as we take a look at Disneyland during the years of Walt…

    When Disneyland opened in 1955, employees considered their jobs to be temporary as the park was expected to fail. Musicians, actors and entertainers where given only two week contracts.

    Another thing to consider when Disneyland opened in 1955 is that Anaheim had only five hotels, two motels and 34 restaurants total in the city.

    The thing that was so great about Disneyland during Walt’s years was that Walt’s main concern was always for the guest and that all available money, after paying the bills of course, was to be spent on the show where the guest could see it. When an expensive administration building was proposed, Walt rejected it and stated “There isn’t going to be any administration building. The public isn’t coming here to see an administration building.” Dick Nunis told Disney historian Jim Korkis a story that Walt didn’t want to put air conditioning in the Main Street Town Hall offices because he was fearful that his supervisors would hang out inside instead of circulating throughout the park and helping with the guests.


    Walt once rejected the design for a building with the comment: “I think the fellow is attempting a monument to himself rather than designing something that is for people.”

    Below is a list of what Disneyland was like during Walt’s time:


    • Attendance: 1.2 million (remember this begins from mid-July)
    • Employment: 1,280
    • Payroll: $6,350,000


    • Disneyland opens July 17
    • Eighteen major attractions along with three “free” non ticketed ones
    • Disneyland welcomes its 1 millionth visitor

    • Attendance: 3.8 million
    • Employment: 2,190
    • Payroll: $7.8 million
    • Thirteen new attractions added including Tom Sawyer Island, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Skyway Journey, Astro-Jets, Junior Autopia and Rainbow Cavern Mine Train
    • “Fantasy in the Sky” fireworks display debuts
    • Disneyland welcomes its 5 millionth visitor


    • Attendance: 4.3 million
    • Employment: 2,960
    • Payroll: $10 million
    • Eight new attractions added including House of the Future, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Thru and Midget Autopia


      • Attendance: 4.4 million
      • Employment: 3,450
      • Payroll: $10.5 million
      • Additions include Main Street Fire Trucks, Sailing Ship Columbia, Alice in Wonderland, Grand Canyon Diorama


        • Attendance: 5 million
        • Employment: 3,650
        • Payroll: $12 million
        • Submarine Voyage, Disneyland-Alweg Monorail, Matterhorn Mountain and Bobsleds, Motor Boat Cruise added
        • Tradition of Rose Bowl teams visiting Disneyland begins with the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin
        • Premier Krushchev of Russia denied Disneyland visit

        • Attendance: 4.9 million
        • Employment: 3,693
        • Payroll: $12.2 million
        • Nature’s Wonderland, America the Beautiful and Art of Animation
        • Total number of park attractions: 45
        • Disneyland hosted its first Private Party for outside groups on May 13th when 5,042 Knight of Columbus enjoyed exclusive use of Disneyland 


        • Attendance: 4.7 million
        • Employment: 3,819
        • Payroll: $12.5 million
        • Disneyland-Alweg Monorail system expands to connect with Disneyland Hotel
        • New and popular attraction: Flying Saucers
        • First all-night Grad Nite Party held in June
        • Tinker Bell begins summer flights from peak of Matterhorn to set off “Fantasy In the Sky” fireworks


        • Attendance: 5.1 million
        • Employment: 3,880
        • Payroll: $13 million
        • Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Safari Game Shoot, Plaza Pavilion Restaurant, Tahitian Terrace and new scenes on Jungle Cruise

        • Attendance: 5.6 million
        • Employment: 4,106
        • Payroll: $13.8 million
        • Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
        • First cultural exhibit: “Salute to Mexico”


        • Attendance: 5.9 million
        • Employment: 4,190
        • Payroll: $15 million
        • Below deck sailing quarters on Columbia Sailing Ship and Trapped Safari/African Veldt added to Jungle Cruise
        • “Fantasy On Parade” Christmas parade debuts


        • Attendance: 6.4 million
        • Employment: 4,590
        • Payroll: $15,500,000
        • Celebration of Disneyland Tencennial
        • Very first Disneyland Ambassador: Julie Reihm

        • Attendance: 6.7 million
        • Employment: 4,580
        • Payroll: $18,800,000
        • “it’s a small world,” Primeval World addition, New Orleans Square

        During the year after Walt passed in 1967, Disneyland celebrated the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean and the New Tomorrowland with the Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, a re-designed Flight to the Moon and Rocket Jets. Also in 1967, attendance jumped to almost 8 million and in 1968 to just over 9 million and then stayed at roughly 10 million people a year every year up until 1979. In 1968, employment jumped to 5,510 and at the end of 1979 it was up to 7,609 while payroll in 1968 was $25.4 million and by 1979, $66.4 million.


        Walt once said, “Disneyland is not just another amusement park. It’s unique, and I want it kept that way. Besides, you don’t work for a dollar—you work to create and have fun.” Thanks Walt!
        Thanks to Jim Korkis for sharing these Disneyland statistics with us.



        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.    

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        Walt’s EPCOT

        By Keith Mahne

        The name EPCOT derives from the acronym “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”, a Utopian city of the future planned by Walt Disney. In Walt Disney’s words: “EPCOT… will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.” Continue after the page break and let’s see for ourselves what Walt’s EPCOT might have been like…

        Gosh, I love those videos!! As a recap, Walt Disney’s original vision of EPCOT was for a model community, home to twenty thousand residents, which would be a test bed for city planning and organization. The community was to have been built in the shape of a circle, with businesses and commercial areas at its center, community buildings and schools and recreational complexes around it, and residential neighborhoods along the perimeter. Transportation would have been provided by monorails and PeopleMovers (like the one in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland). Automobile traffic would be kept underground, leaving pedestrians safe above-ground.

        Walt Disney said, “It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT, there will be no slum areas because we won’t let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed.” The original model of this original vision of EPCOT can still be seen by passengers riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority attraction in the Magic Kingdom park; when the PeopleMover enters the show house for Stitch’s Great Escape!, the model is visible on the left (when facing forward) behind glass.

        What if Walt would have made it long enough to build his original plains for EPCOT? Would it have succeeded back then or even in today’s world? If Walt’s EPCOT would have been built the way he originally intended, I like to believe, just like he did for the theme park business, it would have paved the way for American communities and how they are designed today. Walt had an incredible talent to see things with one foot in the past and another in the future. Unfortunately, Walt never lived to see what could have been his best creation come to life. Just like when he decided to create Disneyland, people doubted it would work. Walt has shown that he certainly wasn’t afraid of the unknown and proved that time and time again. Sadly, we will never know for sure if it would have made it as an actual city. If there is one thing we do know for sure it’s that usually whatever Walt Disney dreamed up… eventually succeeded and the world came away better for it! We sure could use you now Uncle Walt.

        For an INCREDIBLE look into Walt’s EPCOT and its possibility of success, I highly suggest you check out Sam Gennawey’s amazing book Walt and the Promise of Progress City. It’s a great read for any Disney fan and especially the EPCOT lovers! Check it out below…


        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 everyday.

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        Walt Disney: From Start to Finish

        By Keith Mahne

        I really enjoy looking at pictures of Walt Disney’s wonderful life. Thinking about all the love and happiness his life brought to the world is what really resonates with me as I look at these special photos. Today, I thought I’d share this short post with you featuring the earliest picture we know of Walt, to his last filmed appearance. Continue after the page break and have a look…


        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.

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        The World of Walt Disney

        By Keith Mahne

        Have you ever wondered what Walt Disney’s world was like? This 1962 Newsweek article does a pretty good job of answering that question. As the article begins, “In the world of children, he is the rich uncle – the casual ordinary-looking man with the graying mustache and the baggy eyes who shows up from time to time, does funny tricks and gives wonderful presents, and then goes away until the next time. He makes everybody laugh, and everybody wonders about him – because like any proper rich uncle, he presents a fascinating mystery.” Continue after the page break as we take a look back at the “World of Walt Disney” in 1962…

        Click on each photo to enlarge the article:


        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.



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        The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney – National Geographic Aug ’63

        By Keith Mahne

        The 1963 issue of National Geographic magazine provided an amazing snapshot of what the Disney company was like in ’63. This lavish article your about to see is all about Walt Disney and Disneyland. The article is truly spectacular at 50 pages in length! Including some of the best photos of Disneyland at that time, it also boasts a three page fold out map of the park and, on the reverse side, a nice three page panorama shot of the Rivers of America. Let’s take a look at it all in today’s new article…

        The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney


        Illustrations by National Geographic photographer THOMAS NEBBIA

        ONE AUTUMN EVENING in 1928, a new actor appeared at the Colony Theatre in New York in a movie called Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon ever produced with sound. He had ears bigger than Clark Gable’s, legs like rubber hose, a grin wider than Joe E. Brown’s, and a heart of gold. His name was Mickey Mouse.

        Beginning that night, Mickey and his creator, Walt Disney, grabbed the world’s funny bone and have never lost their grip.

        The New York Times praised the new film as “ingenious.”

        “A wow!” cried the Weekly Film Review.

        Thus was born history’s most influential mouse. Mickey led the way in the development of animation as a new art, to the exploration of the world of animals and faraway people and of their adventures and geography.

        Mickey Mouse has skipped from triumph to triumph – always preceded by three words in big letters: “Walt Disney presents.”

        Mickey is featured in comic strips and books in 15 languages, became the star of television’s Mickey Mouse Club, and, finally, founded a magic kingdom called Disneyland.

        He is Topolino in Italy, Mik-kii Ma-u-su in Japan, Raton Mickey in Mexico, Micky Maus in Germany, Mikki Hiiri in Finland, and just plain Mickey in scores of other lands. He is known around the world – always with approbation and love.

        Mickey, a versatile fellow, has been everything from farmer and magician to great lover and fire chief. He has directed planets and comets in their courses. He has defied time, space, and gravity. But, though bound to win, he has always fought the clean fight.

        True to character, “Mickey Mouse” was the designation in World War II for diagrams of convoy movements toward Normandy’s D-day beaches, and Mickey rode into battles as the insigne on hundreds of ships and planes.

        When King Bhumiphol of Thailand presented Walt Disney with a medal, he said quietly for Walt’s ear alone: “This is an honor from my government, but more than that, it comes from me. I grew up on your cartoons.”

        Franklin Roosevelt demanded Mickey in the White House. Dowager Queen Mary of Britain liked to find Mickey on the bill when-ever she went to the movies.

        It can be said that Walter Elias Disney, the man, and Mickey, the mouse, have made a lasting impact on mankind.

        700 Awards From Around the World

        Last fall, in Walt Disney’s outer office at the studio in Burbank, California, I got a glimpse into the dimensions of this durable pair, 35 years after the mouse clicked in the fertile Disney mind.
        In cases ranged along the walls, on shelves and tables are some of the more than 700 awards the Disney organization has received (page 167). There are dozens of medals, citations, and plaques from appreciative governments attesting the international amity created by Disney’s make-believe characters Mickey, Donald, Goofy the dog, and all the others.

        Walt once sent a proud director home with a newly won Oscar. “How did the family like it?” he asked next day.

        “The kids weighed it first thing,” the director said. “You might like to know an Oscar weighs 6 pounds, 12 ounces on our bathroom scale.”

        The awards from the film industry mean most to Walt. But he is proud that conservation groups have also recognized his interest in protecting wildlife. He is proudest, perhaps, of the Audubon Society Medal awarded in 1955.

        Walt’s office has become so crowded that recently four cabinets of awards were placed in the studio commissary. Some of the employees promptly nicknamed the commissary “the awards room.”

        Disney Films Used in Teaching

        Although Walt constantly denies he is an educator, his nature films, which he calls True-Life Adventures, have received accolades from educators. Films like Seal Island, In Beaver Valley, and The Living Desert were pioneering achievements. Walt’s early edict for them and all the True-Life Adventure pictures was to get the complete natural history of the animals with no sign of humans: no fences, car tracks, buildings, or telephone poles. This concept, plus the intimacy, the extreme close-up view of the animal, completely won the public.

        The True-Life Adventures; films of the nomadic Blue Men of Morocco, Japanese fishermen, Siam, the Alaskan Eskimo, and Switzerland; Donald Duck’s adventures in Math-magic Land; the man-in-space series, with technical advice by Wernher von Braun; Disney safety films, and many others are a solid part of the curriculum for thousands of school children, not only in the U. S. but abroad – including countries under Communist control.

        I first saw Walt Disney sitting at a low coffee table, wearing his usual working garb: a short-sleeved sport shirt with a woolen tie, slacks, and a sleeveless alpaca sweater.

        An aerial photograph of Disneyland dominated one wall. There were photographs of his family, including his five grandchildren; the Disney coat of arms; his first Academy Award.

        “That first Oscar was a special award for the creation of Mickey Mouse,” he said. “The other Academy Awards belong to our group, a tribute to our combined effort. The whole thing here is the organization. And the big problem was putting the organization together.

        “Look at Disneyland,” he went on, waving toward the aerial photograph. “That was started because we had the talent to start it, the talents of the organization.”

        “What’s your role?” I asked.

        “You know, I was stumped one day when a little boy asked, ‘Do you draw Mickey Mouse?’ I had to admit I do not draw any more. ‘Then you think up all the jokes and ideas?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t do that.’ Finally, he looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Disney, just what do you do?’”

        ‘Well,’ I said, ‘sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everybody.’ I guess that’s the job I do. I certainly don’t consider myself a businessman, and I never did believe I was worth anything as an artist.”

        Until a few years ago, Walt was president of the company, Walt Disney Productions. He resigned and was made board chairman. His older brother Roy became president. Then Walt, tired of signing things, resigned as chairman too.

        Walt laughed at the memory. “Now my only title is executive producer. I’m the boss of everything that’s produced here. I work on story ideas and gags; I work on every script, writing dialogue and planning scenes. When the story is set, I turn it over to the boys, and they make it.

        “We film 25 new stories for television and six feature-length pictures a year – and, of course, we think up ideas for the park, Disneyland. The corporation gets its vitality from what we create.”

        The corporation exhibits considerable vitality: In 1962 this magic world showed a gross income of $74,059,000—more than $20,000,000 from Disneyland alone – and a net of $5,263,000.

        The Secret Life of Mickey Mouse

        All this vitality stems from a mouse that was conceived in desperation, gestated in secrecy, and almost died at birth.

        In the fall of 1927, Walt Disney returned to Hollywood from New York without a staff and without a star. He had gone east to negotiate a new contract for his series Oswald the Rabbit. His distributor refused to meet his price and threatened to lure his whole organization away.

        “I’ve already signed all your animators,” the distributor told Walt.

        Walt and Lillian Disney, his bride of two years, had a doleful trip across the continent. Walt needed a whole staff of animators. He also needed a new character fast.

        The idea for Mickey Mouse was born on the train. “I’ve got it,” Walt told Lilly. “I’ll do a series about a mouse. I’m going to call him Mortimer Mouse.”

        Lilly Disney frowned. “I like the idea, but Mortimer sounds too dignified for a mouse.”
        Walt thought a few minutes. “All right, we’ll call him Mickey Mouse. Mickey has a good, friendly sound.”

        In Hollywood, Walt and Roy Disney and chief animator Ub Iwerks, now director of technical research, began work on Mickey. The defecting animators were still at the studio finishing the Oswald contract, and Walt did not want them to know he was starting a new series. So Ub Iwerks was sequestered in a locked office, and there in four hectic weeks, he animated an entire Mickey Mouse cartoon.

        That first Mickey was entitled Plane Crazy, a bit of nonsense inspired by the Lindbergh flight. To get the drawings inked and painted on celluloid for the camera, Walt set up tables in his garage at home. There, Lillian Disney, her sister, and Roy’s wife Edna did the job. A cameraman returned to the studio at night to put the pictures on film.

        When Walt took the movie to New York, distributors were not interested. They were also not interested in a second Mickey, produced while Walt was traveling.

        Mickey Saved by Plinks and Toots

        Mickey was close to death. But he was literally saved by the bell – bells, whistles, plinks, and toots. Sound had made its first real impact on motion pictures with the release of The Jazz Singer in the fall of 1927. Walt decided to try it.

        He and Iwerks rigged a homemade radio with a microphone. They put up a white sheet as a screen and, with two helpers, stood at the mike behind it with noisemakers, a mouth organ, and a xylophone. For six hours, Roy projected a short bit of animation from Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey film. The sound makers watched the image and whanged away. It was ragged, but it convinced them that sound was for cartoons.

        Walt hurried to New York with the film, and there Steamboat Willie was completed with sound. And it was ingenious and funny sound which transcended the mere novelty of actors singing or mouthing lines.

        Sound was added to the first two Mickeys. Suddenly and dramatically, evervbody wanted the talking mouse.

        Walt and the mouse have come a long way since. Nothing about Walt Disney’s background easily explains his success, though he began to draw at an early age.

        His father, Elias Disney, was a carpenter in Chicago when Walter Elias Disney was born there in December of 1901. When Walt was four, the family there were three older brothers and a younger sister moved to Marceline, Missouri. Walt still recalls the horsecar ride to the railroad station.
        At Marceline, one of Walt’s first chores was to herd the pigs on the family farm. The Disneys were forced to sell the farm, and in 1910 moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There Walt’s father bought a paper route with 800 customers. Roy and Walt were delivery boys. They started work at 4:30 in the morning and made their rounds on foot.

        The family moved back to Chicago in 1917. Walt went to high school, attended the Academy of Fine Arts, and took correspondence courses in cartooning. He also worked at the post office sorting mail and delivering letters.

        “As long as I can remember, Walt has been working,” Roy Disney told me. “He worked in the daytime and he worked at night. Walt didn’t play much as a boy. He still can’t catch a ball with any certainty.”

        When Walt was 16, he joined an American Red Cross unit as an ambulance driver, but he did not set overseas until after the Armistice. He had 11 months in France, then went to Kansas City and set up as a commercial artist. He finally landed with the Kansas City Film Ad Company in 1920, preparing animated commercials for silent-movie houses.

        Walt recalls those days. “The pull toward Hollywood became strong. Animation was big there, and if I couldn’t be successful at that, I wanted to be a director or a writer.”
        In 1923 he went off to Hollywood with $40 in hand, and for two months tried to hitch on at the studios. His $40 disappeared.

        “Before I knew it, I had my animation board out,” Walt recalls. He finally got an offer for twelve cartoons – Alice in Cartoon-land at $1,500 each.

        “I talked my big brother Roy into going in with me,” Walt told me. “I couldn’t get a job, so I went into business for myself.”

        Business was good. Alice was followed by the successful Oswald the Rabbit series. Then came Mickey.

        “The mouse gave us an opportunity to improve the cartoon medium,” Walt says. Experiment and expansion began in 1929 with the first Silly Symphony, in which music played a key role.

        Walt worked at the studio all day and every night. Only in recent years has he mastered the compulsion to work all the time. “I still take scripts home,” he told me, “but I don’t read them at night. It’s a temptation to peek, but I wait until morning. I used to read at night and then worry until morning. I used to be tied up all night, but no more.”

        Donald Duck Becomes a Star

        Walt’s next enthusiasm was Technicolor’s new three-color process for film. A Silly Symphony, Flowers and Trees, was already fully photographed in black and white. Walt decided to remake it in Technicolor. It was a gamble, since Technicolor was extraordinarily expensive.

        The picture was made in color and caused a revolution in the animated-cartoon industry. In 1932 it became the first cartoon to win an Oscar. Some of Walt’s funniest pictures were Silly Symphonies – notably The Three Little Pigs and The Tortoise and the Hare.

        In 1934 Donald Duck made his first sputtering appearance in The Wise Little Hen. That egregious fellow became an immediate hit—and now has surpassed Mickey as the star of the stable.

        “We’re restricted with the mouse,” Walt told me. “He’s become a little idol. The duck can blow his top and commit mayhem, but if I do anything like that with the mouse, I get letters from all over the world. ‘Mickey wouldn’t act like that,’ they say.”

        Scenes Gain Depth and Motion

        As the pictures were ground out, the art of animation progressed. Characters were being drawn in the round and in perspective, as contrasted with the first flat figures. But Walt was never satisfied. “I knew that locomotion was the key,” he told me. “We had to learn to draw motion. Look, pull your hand across your face and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t see a single hand; it’s sort of stretched and blurred. We had to learn the way a graceful girl walks, how her dress moves, what happens when a mouse stops or starts running.”

        Disney set up an elaborate school for his artists. “It was costly, but I had to have the men ready for things we would eventually do.”

        What “we would eventually do” was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length cartoon. When word of this project got around Hollywood, many movie people said Disney was making his biggest mistake.

        “They were thinking of the short – thought we were just going to string some together,” Walt said.
        “But we had a story to tell. They couldn’t get that through their heads.”

        While his artists were training, Walt had technicians working on a new kind of camera he planned to use for Snow White. He was no longer satisfied with just round figures; now he wanted the illusion of depth. To achieve this, he developed the radically different “multiplane” camera and won an Academy Award for it.

        In photographing animated films, three separate drawings are usually involved, each done on a sheet of transparent celluloid. One shows the foreground, one the animated figures, and the last the background. Before the multiplane camera, the three celluloids were simply stacked together and the camera shot through them all, giving a flat image. With the multiplane, more than three celluloids could be used, and they could be placed in different planes, sometimes as much as three feet apart. The camera could focus in and out among these planes to give an astonishing effect of depth and motion.

        Snow White brought up a new problem. “We had to learn how to put personality into the characters,” Walt told me. “Up to Snow White, we’d just had stock characters.”

        A Disney artist enlarged on the theme. “Remember in Snow White when the dwarfs had the pillow fight and Dopey ended up with a single feather?” he asked. “Remember how he fluffed it out and lay down with it under his head? It was funny, but more, it was Walt’s way of expressing what kind of character Dopey is and creating audience sympathy for him.”

        Snow White cost one and a half million dollars, and the bankers became restive before it was completed. Walt reluctantly had to show a man from the bank the unfinished product to try to retain their confidence.

        “We needed a quarter of a million dollars to finish the picture, so you can guess how I felt.

        “He sat there and didn’t say a word,” Walt told me. “Finally the picture was over and he walked to his car, with me following him like a puppy dog. Then he said, ‘Well, so long. You’ll make a pot of money on that picture.’ So we got the money.”

        Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went on to make theatrical history and brought many honors to Disney. In 1938 Yale gave him an honorary master of arts. In presenting him as a candidate for the degree, Professor William Lyon Phelps said:

        “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, and Walter Disney has charmed millions of people in every part of the earth… He has endeared America to the hearts of foreigners.”

        That same year brought honorary degrees from Harvard and the University of Southern California. (In 1960 Walt received an honorary diploma from the Marceline, Missouri, high school, which was pleasant, since he had never finished high school.)

        After Snow White came other feature-length cartoons: Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi. Fantasia, released in 1940, started out to be a kind of super Silly Symphony for Mickey Mouse, with Leopold Stokowski directing a full orchestra in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Walt built it into something more, a brilliant combination of animation and fine music from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Fantasia introduced stereophonic sound 15 years before it was generally used in motion pictures.

        Bambi Points Way to Nature Films

        Bambi was the fictionalized story of a deer, and the animal studies it involved made it the forerunner of one of Disney’s” most important contributions: the True-Life Adventure films, about live animals in nature. “One thing always leads to another around here,” Walt told me. “In Snow White, we had cute little animals, more on the fantasy side. In Bambi we had to get closer to nature. So we had to train our artists in animal locomotion and anatomy.”

        Walt introduced live animals into the studio, deer and rabbits and skunks. “But they were no good,” he says. “They were just pets. So we sent the artists out to zoos, and all we got were animals in captivity. Finally, I sent out some naturalist-cameramen to photograph the animals in their natural environment.

        “We captured a lot of interesting things and I said, ‘Gee, if we really give these boys a chance, I might get something unique!’”

        But the war intervened: Walt Disney Productions became virtually a war plant for the duration. Disney training films for the Army and Navy, pictures for bond drives, and similar projects made an important contribution to our war effort.

        As one of his first postwar projects, Walt sent Alfred Milotte and his wife Elma to Alaska. They sent back miles of film. In the footage or mileage Walt stumbled on one of the great stories of nature: the saga of the fur seals coming up from the sea to crowded island beaches in the Pribilofs, there to calve and mate.

        The Milottes caught the cruel and mysterious reality of the fur seal – the courting and mating, the fury of the bulls defending their harems against bachelor seals, with babies being trampled and crushed in the turmoil. And, in the end, the eerie disappearance of the herds into the sea.
        The picture was Seal Island. It won an Oscar as 1948’s best two-reel subject.

        This success was followed by another, In Beaver Valley. Walt will go to the nth degree to get perfection, and for this film he kept cameraman-naturalist Milotte in the wilds for more than a year, studying the beaver’s life habits as he photographed. Out of Milotte’s footage came the story of a talented, fascinating animal.

        The True-Life Adventure pictures used techniques learned in cartoons.

        “Any time we saw an animal doing something with style or personality say a bear scratching its back we were quick to capitalize on it,” says a Disney writer. “Or otters sliding down a riverbank humorous details to build personality.

        “This anthropomorphism is resented by some people they say we are putting people into animal suits. But we’ve always tried to stay within the framework of the real scene. Bears do scratch their backs and otters are playful.”

        Old Indian Trick Still Works

        The cameramen spent months in primitive areas, in African heat, in Alaskan blizzards, in South American jungles. A film by Murl Deusing for a National Geographic Society lecture formed the basis of many important sequences in Nature’s Half Acre, and many of the Society’s lecturers over the years have contributed footage to Disney nature films.

        Disney’s cameramen-naturalists worked with telescopic lenses, zoom lenses, time-lapse cameras, and underwater cameras; from behind elaborate blinds, high in the treetops, and from fixed platforms.
        Tom McHugh, photographing a buffalo herd for The Vanishing Prairie, found he could not get close enough, even with a telescopic lens. Then he remembered an Indian trick. He covered himself with a buffalo skin and sneaked in for close-ups.

        James Algar, the writer and director of The Vanishing Prairie, recalls being surrounded by the torrential rush of buffalo.

        “I’d always heard of the thundering herd, and the herd thundered all right. But what I had never heard of was the sibilant, silken swish which accompanies the stampeding buffalo. It was even more terrifying than the thunder.”

        Alfred and Elma Milotte spent almost three years in Africa photographing The African Lion. One of their notable sequences shows a rhinoceros bogged in a water hole, helpless and raging. The, exertions and grunts of the doomed rhino attracted an audience of jungle creatures. Birds added their raucous cries. Antelope watched. An elephant surveyed the scene, panicked, and ran away. A baboon sat on the bank thoughtfully, as though trying to contrive some plan that would be of help.

        Enraged Rhino Charges Benefactors

        In the film the rhino was left to die. Actually, the Milottes decided to rescue him. Dodging the desperate animal, they got a stout rope under his head and rump, tied the line to a truck, and pulled him free.

        The rhino was ungrateful. Once on dry land, he charged the truck, and they barely managed to get away.

        The Milottes brought back much distinguished footage. They recorded a leopard lurking in a thorn tree above a herd of wildebeests, showed him drop on a calf and drag it back into the tree for his meal. They also filmed the kill of an antelope by a lion.

        Other outstanding film records were produced by Disney’s naturalist-photographers: a bobcat in hot pursuit of a marten; the private lives, births, mating, and the search for food of the pine squirrel, golden eagle, raccoon, and crow; a goshawk striking a flying squirrel in mid-air.

        They also recorded a goshawk slamming into photographer Paul Kenworthy’s shoulder as he worked high in a tree to film close-ups of its young.

        As the technique improved, the photographers worked in compounds sometimes as big as 50 acres. “It was a short cut” a writer told me. “We’re not faking nature. We gave the animals the opportunity to appear before the camera.

        “Take the spectacular shot of the screaming bobcat scrambling to the top of a saguaro in The Living Desert. It may have been taken in a compound but it wasn’t faked. The cat streaked up that cactus because he was frightened by wild pigs.

        “When we follow the animals underground, we of course expose their tunnels. In Perri, the squirrel goes underground. We spent days conditioning her to the bright lights needed for color photography. Then, when we came to shoot, she didn’t pay any attention to us. We wondered if she had needed conditioning at all.”

        “Our naturalist-photographers probably wound up knowing as much about animals they photographed as anyone around including the scientists,” Walt said. “I don’t think there’s an animal on the North American Continent we don’t have coverage on.”

        Merely documenting the lives of wild creatures was not enough. The cameramen’s footage contained drama, but it took the dramatist’s hand to make it coherent.

        A fascinating fragment of one of Walt Disney’s critiques taken down during a screening of The Living Desert survives and shows him at work:

        “In sequence where tortoises are courting, Walt said: They look like knights in armor, old knights in battle. Give the audience a music cue, a tongue-in-cheek fanfare. The winner will claim his lady fair….

        “Pepsis wasp and tarantula sequence: Our heavy is the tarantula. Odd that the wasp is decreed by nature to conquer the tarantula. When her time comes to lay eggs, she must go out and find a tarantula. Not strength, but skill helps her beat Mr. Tarantula….

        “Then the hawk and the snake. Our other heavy is the snake…. With wasp and tarantula it’s a ballet or more like a couple of wrestlers. The hawk should follow. Tarantula gets his and then Mr. Snake gets his… Pepsis wasp doesn’t use brute strength, but science and skill. Should be ballet music. Hawk uses force and violence. One could follow the other and have a different musical theme as contrast.”

        Nature Documentaries With a Plot

        Walt has an amazing capacity to dramatize his work. When he is in a story conference, he takes the parts himself. Before Snow White he gave a four-hour performance of the entire picture, taking all the parts from Snow White to the smallest rabbit.

        “That one performance lasted us three years,” an animator told me. “Whenever we’d get stuck, we’d remember how Walt did it that night.”

        Next Walt Disney laid plans for a new kind of animal picture. “We decided to combine nature’s truth with fiction,” Walt told me.

        “We would use the documentary material straight from nature, but give it a plot.”

        Perri, the story of a squirrel, by Felix Salten, who also wrote Bambi, was the first of these. Naturalist-photographers spent three and a half years in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, filming the life cycle of every animal in the cast. They sent back more than 200 miles of film!

        “Just viewing their films took weeks,” Winston Hibler, the co-producer, told me. “Then it took painstaking editing to fit the film to the story. And by adding music and animation, we produced a paradox a true-life fantasy.”

        Petri was followed by a continuing series of similar pictures that tell stories about animals in relation to man.

        “The animals have names and we kind of pull for them,” a writer told me. “Stories are believable as long as-the audience knows the things actually happened. We have to contrive to get the animals to do what the plot calls for without their appearing to be trained animals. But we aren’t asking them to talk.

        “In The Legend of Lobo, for example, the script called for the main character, the wolf, to walk a narrow log spanning a deep chasm. This was achieved by training the wolf, first to walk across a log near the ground, then to continue to cross the log as it was raised higher and higher.

        “When the picture was shot, the wolf actually crossed a log about 75 feet long spanning a chasm several hundred feet deep.”

        From animal pictures Walt Disney has gone on to live-action pictures about people on an astounding variety of subjects.

        Disney stuck to timeless pictures at first: Treasure Island, Robin Hood, and Davy Crockett films which can be released many times. “Then I got to thinking, ‘When it comes to making comedy, we’re the ones’; so we did The Shaggy Dog. So far it’s been seen by 55 million people.” The live-action comedies closely follow the Disney cartoon techniques. “We’ve always made things fly and defy gravity,” Walt told me. “Now we’ve just gone on to flying flivvers, floating football players, and bouncing basketball players.”

        The geographic scope and variety of the Disney activities are awesome. Besides a company in the Burbank studio filming a new movie called Summer Magic, Walt had camera crews in Florida, Yellowstone Park, and New England, a complete production unit in Canada for The Incredible Journey, a production unit in Majorca and another in Vienna, a feature cartoon in the works, plus four television cartoons, and a Western being shot at the studio ranch.

        I had been told that Walt makes all major decisions on all his pictures, and I wondered how he kept track of things.

        I found out when I sat in with him as the “dailies” excerpts from various pictures were projected. About fifteen of the staff musicians, directors, song writers, producers, and writers came in.
        We listened to Burl Ives sing “The Ugly Bug Ball” a dozen times as the camera covered him from different angles. Sad Sam, the original shaggy dog, appeared on the screen with a caterpillar on his nose. We saw a scene from a Western played over and over from different points of view. The dogs in The Incredible Journey went through their paces.

        Disney himself, in full color, flashed on the screen in a lead-in for his television program, The Wonderful World of Color. He began suavely and then blew his lines.

        “I’m not only getting wrinkles,” he said from the back of the room, “I’m losing my eyesight, too.” He told a cameraman, “Don’t use that diffusion on me. I look out of focus. Let the wrinkles show.”

        We were in the projection room two hours. This, I learned, was how Disney keeps on top of his many projects. His men send their product to be appraised. A shipment of film from Europe arrives every Tuesday. Walt also makes frequent trips to Europe and flies key personnel to the studio for conferences. He is not a memo-writing man.

        “After we tie down the shooting script, it’s up to the boys to make the pictures,” Disney told me. “If they run into trouble, I always tell them, ‘If you bring me a problem, have a solution.’ Lots of times, their solution is the answer and it’s just a matter of saying O.K.”

        Magazine a Friend to Researchers

        On one of my first trips around the studio, I saw the National Geographic almost everywhere I went: in the animators’ offices, in the machine shop, on writers’ desks. I saw it in the wardrobe department, where it’s used in designing the correct clothing for various countries, and in the staff shop at Disneyland, where the realistic animals are cast for Adventureland.

        “Looks like I planted them,” Walt said, “but we really use the Geographic. We couldn’t be in business without it”.

        When I dropped into the library to inquire about the meticulous research that backs up every Disney picture, Koneta Roxby, the chief of research, told me: “The Geographic is one of our basic research sources. We use it almost every day.

        “We certainly used it when Disneyland was being built,” she went on. “This library was a madhouse. There would be ten or fifteen people waiting in line for research materials and, of course, the phone rang every minute.”

        Disneyland really started more than 20 years ago, when Walt got the idea for an amusement park that grownups as well as children would enjoy.

        “I had all my drawing things laid out at home, and I’d work on plans for the park, as a hobby, at night.”

        At the time, amusement parks were dying all over the country. “I talked Disneyland, but no one could see it,” Walt recalled. “So I went ahead and spent my own money.”

        In 1954, for the site of his kingdom, Walt bought 244 acres of land mostly orange groves miles from Los Angeles, near Anaheim, California. “I wanted flat land that I could shape” he said.

        He surrounded the entire park with a high earth embankment. “I don’t want the public to see the real world they live in while they’re in the park. I want them to feel they are in another world.”

        When the preliminary plans for the park were completed, the cost estimate was $4,700,000, but Joe Fowler, who is in charge of Disneyland, says, “That was only a guess.” The over-all cost to date is approximately forty-four million dollars!

        Disneyland: the Geography of Imagination

        At the Disneyland opening, in July, 1955, a year after the first orange tree was uprooted, Walt said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” It seemed, at the time, a pleasant sentiment, but few took it literally. Walt did, and that is why Disneyland remains unique; he is forever enlarging it. Now he is building an old New Orleans Square, complete with a bayou boat ride.

        Disneyland, on a fall day, is full of warmth and zest. I paid my respects to the giant portrait of Mickey Mouse, in living flowers, that adorns the slanting earth embankment at the park’s main entrance.

        I stepped into the Town Square and right into Walt Disney’s childhood: The Square with its red-brick Victorian elegances is a distillation of Walt’s early memories of Chicago and Marceline and Kansas City shortly after the turn of the century.

        A gaily cockaded band was tootling. A horsecar rolled along, the horse’s rubber shoes making muffled thumps; a double-decked bus stood at the curb; and a balloon seller, hidden behind a great cluster of his wares, looked like a gigantic chrysanthemum. Over a loud-speaker from the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad station came the measured voice of the train announcer:

        “… now leaving for Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland all aboarrrd!”

        Main Street, U. S. A., sets the tone and pace of Disneyland: It is a place for strolling. People stop to peer into the windows of the apothecary shop and the old-time general store, and to look over the shoulder of a sidewalk artist as he sketches a portrait. Most of the visitors are grownups. As the park statistics prove, adult guests outnumber children three and a half to one.

        Visitors Fooled by Live Swans

        At the end of Main Street, faraway jungle noises made me turn to the left and enter Adventureland.
        I took the jungle river cruise aboard the sturdy river boat Ganges Gal, which chugged past menacing crocodiles, a ruined temple, and a group of bathing elephants. Gorillas and a tremendous African elephant roared from the tropical vegetation which choked the banks of the stream.

        There was some discussion among the passengers about the animals. Were they real? (They were, of course, animated.) But in Disneyland, it is sometimes hard to know where fantasy ends and reality begins. A little later, I watched a pair of ladies peer intently at the live swans sailing on the moat of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

        “They are not real,” one lady finally said with authority.

        I met Bill Evans and Ray Miller, landscape architects for the park, and complimented them on the effects they have created along the jungle stream. They have made Disneyland a must for visiting horticulturists. The park has close to 700 species of plants. It takes at least 30 gardeners to keep them in trim.

        We wandered to the base of the Swiss Family Tree House, which opened last fall. I asked what kind of tree it was.

        “It was modeled after the ban-van tree, Ficus benghalensis” said Ray Miller, “but we call it Disneyodendron eximius, which means an out-of-the-ordinary Disney tree.”

        The 70-foot tree is a copy of the Swiss Family Robinson’s tropic domicile, complete with furniture salvaged from their ship.

        I took a short cut through Frontierland (pages 183-5) just in time to be caught in the middle of a running gun fight between a rootin’-tootin’ sheriff and a Western bad man. Happily, they were using blank cartridges, or the slaughter would have been awesome.

        The Mark Twain, the stately white river packet, was just leaving her dock for a cruise on the Rivers of America. Across the water, I saw some energetic boys romping on Tom Sawyer Island, while others helped Indians paddle war canoes or rode the high-sided keel boats, the ones used in Disney’s Davy Crockett movie and television series.

        In Fantasyland I found myself face to face with larger-than-life-size impersonations of famous Disney characters: the Big Bad Wolf, one of the Three Little Pigs, Minnie Mouse. The Mad Hatter, his rubber jowls quivering, was trapped in a corner. He was having a hard time defending himself against a mob of children.

        The Most Marvelous Submarine

        In Tomorrowland, I boarded the submarine Skipjack, one of eight submersibles in the Disney fleet. It took me on one of the incredible journeys of the world, though it was made in a mere six million gallons of water rather than an ocean.

        The sub “went under” in a swirl of bubbles and sailed serenely (guided by sonar, the skipper said) through treacherous coral reefs ablaze with animated tropical fish. Giant turtles dined on sea grass. Barracudas, sharks, and a dangerous moray eel loomed from the shadows. In a plunge to the abyss, we saw phosphorescent creatures of the deep.

        We passed through the hull of a sunken ship and glimpsed chests filled with gleaming treasure. And, as the skipper explained that we could not expect to see mermaids since they were only figments of imagination, we nosed impolitely into a mermaids’ boudoir.

        The sub visited the lost continent of Atlantis, went under the polar ice cap, and finally passed what may be the largest sea serpent in the world. Certainly the largest cross-eyed sea serpent.

        When I talked with Joe Fowler, the retired admiral who is vice president for Disneyland operations, he said his former Navy colleagues are delighted with the submarines. One, a sub skipper, said,

        “That’s the only time I’ve ever been on a sub and could see where I was going.”

        “We were apprehensive that some guests might suffer from claustrophobia in the subs,” Fowler told me. “But in my Navy experience, I had learned that few people suffer from claustrophobia if you have moving air and something to see. That’s why there’s an air jet in front of every porthole.”

        How to Build a Mountain

        Fowler has one besetting problem: “Almost everything we undertake in the park has never been done before,” he told me.

        He cited the Matterhorn as an example. The 146-foot-high mountain, which is one hundredth the height of the real Matterhorn, contains 500 tons of structural steel, and almost no two pieces are the same length, size, or weight.

        The Disney Matterhorn is a close copy of the real mountain. Disney designers studied hundreds of pictures of the rugged peak, pictures taken during the filming of Third Man on the Mountain. Like the original, it also has its mountain climbers, athletes in alpine attire who scale and rappel it eight times daily.

        Whereas the real Matterhorn is extremely solid, the Disneyland version is hollow and houses an exciting bobsled ride.

        I rode one of the bobsleds and was lifted high inside the mountain. Then my bobsled dipped over a sharp edge and I was on my own moving around curves, through icy grottos, past waterfalls, and under the Skyway’s ski-lift buckets, which take visitors through the mountain for a view of the ice caves. Finally my bobsled dashed into a tumbling mountain stream, which braked it, and the ride was over.

        One of the greatest attractions is the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System which loops in and out of the park. Disney and Alweg engineers collaborated in the design, and the trains were built at the Disney studio. The monorail is the first of its type “piggy-back” design in which the cars are locked to the track.

        I rode the monorail from the Disneyland Hotel to the park several times. A uniformed girl handed me aboard the long silver train. It started gently, smoothly. We glided over the magic kingdom at 20 miles an hour, silently surveying the wonders below like some satellite from space. Most passengers, myself included, leave the monorail convinced it is the answer for rapid transit of the future.

        I wandered backstage at Disneyland to visit Bud Washo, the head of the staff shop. There I got a glimpse of the Disney future, though its subject matter in this case was the dim past.

        At WED Enterprises in Glendale, where all the design work for Disneyland is done, I had watched Blaine Gibson modeling a series of small-scale dinosaurs, cave men, and other prehistoric creatures. Now Bud Washo took me into a barnlike room where Gibson’s dinosaurs were being re-created life-size. An enraged Tyrannosaurus rex with a two-foot mouthful of six-inch teeth is something to stand beside even if it is just clay.

        Once the clay figures are completed, plaster molds are made, and then the carefully detailed skin is cast from 3/s-inch Duraflex, which Washo described as a “hot-melt vinyl reformulated for strength.”

        “Hardly anything affects it,” Washo said.

        “It can take weather, most oils, or gases. It’s enormously flexible and durable.”

        When the casts are finished, the figures are trucked carefully to the studio machine shop, where their animation machinery is installed.

        Dinosaur Will Go to World’s Fair

        I pointed to a sail-backed dinosaur which was being fitted into its skin and asked: “What will that one do?”

        “It will be able to swish its tail from side to side, open its mouth, flex up and down like a lizard, and the sail will sway,” Washo said matter-of-factly.

        “Where will the dinosaurs and cave men be used?” I asked.

        “They’re for the Ford Motor exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York,” Bud said.

        Plastic Birds Come to Life

        One day after lunch, Walt grabbed my arm. “Come on,” he said. “I want to show you something.”
        We walked in the bright sunshine between the stages on the movie studio lot and turned into the machine shop. Four elephants without skins sat in a row, gravely nodding their heads. On a bench lay what looked very much like a human hand, closing and opening silently. Farther down, a prehistoric man waved his arm; someone had incongruously placed a handkerchief in his hand.

        On the machinists’ benches stood a variety of plastic birds, opening and closing their beaks, turning their heads, and flipping their tails.

        Walt stopped to talk to a machinist. I looked at one of the birds. Without its feathers, the creature was a mass of wiring and air tubes. As I watched, this unearthly bird puffed out its chest and began to sing.

        A machinist told me that every bird contains five air lines and four sets of wires, plus a tiny loud-speaker.

        “This is the latest thing we’ve done with Audio-Animatronics,” Walt said. “We are using the new types of valves and controls developed for rockets. That way we can get extremely subtle motions.”

        “About that word,” I said, “Audio-Animatronics.”

        “It’s just animation with sound, run by electronics,” he smiled. “Audio-Animatronics. It’s an extension of animated drawings.

        “We take an inanimate object and make it move. Everything is programmed on tape: the birds’ movements, lighting effects, and sounds. We turn on the tape and the birds do their stuff. At the end, the tape automatically rewinds itself and starts all over again. With tape we could present a program of an hour and six minutes without repeating anything.”

        “Is anyone else doing this kind of thing?”

        “I don’t know anyone crazy enough,” Walt laughed.

        Disney Birds Sing Popular Songs

        Several weeks later, Walt invited me to the studio for a showing of the completed mock-up for the Enchanted Tiki Room, scheduled to open in the park this summer.

        Now all the birds had been bedecked in colorful feathers, and were individually lighted. Four macaws opened the show with a line of chatter and then swung into a lively calypso number, followed by Offenbach’s “Barcarole.” A fountain jetted in time to the music under colored lights.

        The fountain sent up a particularly high jet and, as it fell back into the bowl, a Bird-Mobile slowly descended from the ceiling, bearing yellow and white cockatoos. They broke loose with

        “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing,” and brought down the house.

        There was much more: songs sung by orchids and bird-of-paradise flowers; a rain storm; chants by tikis carvings representing various native gods accompanied by animated drummers. It is a tremendous show the climax of more than two years’ work at a cost of approximately a million dollars.

        Abraham Lincoln Returns to Life

        I went out into the street again with Walt and Wathel Rogers, who supervised the Enchanted Tiki Room. We entered another building and I got a shock; I almost bumped smack into Abraham Lincoln!

        The illusion was alarming. The tall, lonely man sits in a chair much as in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. But this is no cold stone figure; this Lincoln is man-size and so realistic it seems made of flesh and blood.

        Wathel Rogers made adjustments at an electronic console, and Lincoln’s eyes ranged the room. His tongue moved as if to moisten his lips and he cleared his throat. Then with a slight frown, he clasped the arms of his chair, stood up, and began to talk in measured tones.

        “What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?” he asked.

        And then he answered: “Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us….”
        To get an idea of the tremendous animation job this is, try it yourself. Sit in an armchair and pull yourself to your feet, observing how many muscles are called into play and the subtle balance required.

        The Lincoln skin is the same Du-raflex that has worked so well on the other Audio-Animatronic figures.

        “Duraflex has a consistency much like human skin,” Rogers said. “It flexes as well as compresses. Rubber, for example, will flex, but won’t compress correctly for our needs.”

        Rogers described the mechanics: 16 air lines to the Lincoln head, 10 air lines to the hands and wrists, 14 hydraulic lines to control the body, and two pairs of wires for every line. Rogers ran the Lincoln face through some of its 15 expressions. Lincoln smiled at me (first on one side of his face, then the other). He raised each eyebrow quizzically, one at a time, then, fixing me with a glance, frowned and chilled my marrow. And just to show he wasn’t really angry, he ended by giving me a genial wink.

        “Lincoln is part of a Disneyland project called ‘One Nation Under God;” Wathel Rogers explained. “It will start with a Circa-rama presentation of great moments in constitutional crises.

        “Circarama is a special motion-picture technique Walt developed for Disneyland and the Brussels World’s Fair. The Bell Telephone Circarama now at Disneyland tells the story of the great sights of America. It has a 360-degree screen. The audience is surrounded by the continuous action, as if they were moving with the camera and able to see in all directions.

        “The Circarama for the ‘One Nation Under God’ showing will have a 200-degree screen. After the Circarama showing, a curtain will close, then open again to reveal the Hall of Presidents. The visitor will see all the Chief Executives modeled life-size. He’ll think it’s a waxworks until Lincoln stands up and begins to talk.”

        Audio-Animatronic figures are now being planned for Disneyland’s French Quarter square in old New Orleans. They will also add chilling realism to the Haunted Mansion now under construction in Frontierland. (Visitors who ask about the mansion are told, “Walt’s out capturing ghosts for it now.”)

        Never Do the Same Thing Twice

        What next? Walt enjoys the past but he lives for the future.

        “The fun is in always building something,” he told me. “After it’s built, you play with it a little and then you’re through. You see, we never do the same thing twice around here. We’re always opening up new doors.”

        I asked him a doleful question, “What happens when there is no more Walt Disney?”

        “I think about that,” he said. “Every day I’m throwing more responsibility to other men. Every day

        I’m trying to organize them more strongly.

        “But I’ll probably outlive them all,” he grinned. “I’m 61. I’ve got everything I started out with except my tonsils, and that’s above average. I plan to be around for a while.”


        Here are some close up shots at some of the pictures throughout this wonderful article:




        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.

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        A Rare Look at Walt Disney Like You’ve Never Seen Before!!!

        By Keith Mahne

        A hand-made spiral-bound book popped up at an auction in 2011. Titled “Walt Disney demonstrates an appendectomy with Drs. Bowers, Avery & Nelson,” the photos depict Walt doing all sorts of crazy things like wearing his suit inside-out, checking his heartbeat, wearing a make-shift surgical cap and mask, and performing an operation on an orange. The set ends with a priceless maniacal look as he cuts into an orange. Continue after the page break for a rare look at Walt Disney like you’ve never seen before…

        Sometimes people can advertise Walt Disney as being all business. Aside from his TV appearances and his time spent at Disneyland, its been said that behind close doors while getting business done he could be a little gruff and slow to crack a smile. That’s not the Walt I think of though. The Walt I imagine is displayed in these revealing snapshots taken at a private party, away from the confines of work and business, which unveil a man who knew how to have a good time, who could be playful and goofy, and who doesn’t fit the stereotypes often invoked about him. Disney animator Ward Kimball, who knew Walt on a more personal basis than almost any other Disney employee, often described Disney as excitable and child-like. These photos are the clearest visual evidence of that side of Walt.

        The original mailing envelope was from Warner Bros. Pictures, and was addressed to Disney’s story director William Cottrell, who also happened to be Walt’s brother-in-law. The photographer of these pieces was Earl Theisen, who had a knack for taking candid snapshots of famous people.

        What a great time this must have been for Walt and all the people in the room being entertained by him. This is certainly a moment in time that I would love to travel back to.

        We sure do miss you Walt.

        (function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i[‘GoogleAnalyticsObject’]=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){ (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o), m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m) })(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’); ga(‘create’, ‘UA-52889002-1’, ‘auto’); ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);
        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.

        Home Movie Footage of Walt Disney and Ward Kimball

        By Keith Mahne

        Outside of the studio, Walt Disney and Ward Kimball shared an amazing love of scale-trains, thanks to Ward introducing Walt to this wonderful pastime. Another thing we can thank Kimball for was his far-sightedness to film his life. As you’ll see in a moment, we have some fantastic home movie footage of Walt Disney personally operating a scale-train for the first time in his life. It’s truly a fantastic moment to witness. Continue after the page break for some great home movie footage of Walt Disney and Ward Kimball…

        In a moment, you’ll watch a rarely seen piece of movie footage shot by Ward Kimball himself. For those that may not know, Kimball was one of Walt Disney’s most creative and gifted artists and was one of Walt’s Nine Old Men.

        Let me tell you more about the footage you’re about to see just to set the tone a bit. It was recorded April 4, 1948 and in it, Ward and Walt Disney visit the home of Dick Jackson, a wealthy businessman who operated a scale-railroad in the backyard of his Beverly Hills home.


        Kimball had been a close friend of Jackson’s for years, and would often drop by for a little backyard steam train fun. In fact, over six years earlier, on December 7, 1941, as he was driving to Dick Jackson’s, he heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Naturally, hearing the news unsettled him, but he soon “forgot it all with Jackson’s locomotive,” is what he once wrote about the day in his journal. During this time in American history, backyard railroading had a soothing effect of temporarily allowing people to put the real world on hold for a short while, which I’m certain, is why Walt fell in love with it immediately. One can only imagine the stress of running a studio. It’s easy to understand why Walt would love escaping on his backyard steam train and how relaxing it was for him.

        In spring 1948, Ward had become aware of Walt’s new found interest in scale-model trains, and so that April day he invited Walt to come along to Dick Jackson’s place for an afternoon of railroading. According to Ward’s journal entry of the day that you’ll see in a moment, this would be the very first time that Walt had ever personally operated scale-trains. Disney was hooked during the visit, and soon after he began constructing his own personal backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific.

        Kimball’s unusually close friendship and shared love of trains allowed him to capture these unguarded moments of his boss. As you’ll witness in the footage, Walt appears to be enjoying every second of the railroading experience. He often takes the time to acknowledge Ward’s camera on multiple occasions. Ward wrote about the day’s events in his private journal:

        Sunday, April 4, 1948

        Up with bright sun. Kids helped me put nitrogen around orange trees. If they didn’t, no Jackson train ride. Damp grass. At 12:45 left for Jacksons in Beverly Hills. 1st over there. He started the Colorado Central. Steam up at 2:00. Walt Disney arrived soon after. Got a big kick out of it all. We showed him the works. He couldn’t quite believe that it was all scale! He tried it out—got scared when drivers spin. “What the hell was that!” he’d ask me. He had lots of fun. We all took movies and Jackson took stills. Showed Walt Jackson’s shop. Kids rode and played “Train Robbers.” Home at 5:30. Broiled corn beef over fire place.

        Here now is the original film with background music of Kimball’s band, The Firehouse Five Plus Two. Enjoy!

        (Please pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of this page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)

        Below are identifications of the people in the film, including Ward’s wife Betty and their three children:

        This truly was a memorable day in the life of Walt Disney and we can thank Ward Kimball for preserving these special moments for generations to come.

        Source: Cartoon Brew

        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.

        You can find all of Keith’s articles here.


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        A Trip Through Walt Disney Studios – 1937

        By Keith Mahne

        In 1925, Walt Disney was in the process of making the Alice Comedies out of a store front and decided it was time for a stand-alone studio. Before Walt married his life-long love Lillian Bounds, he and his faithful brother Roy placed a $400 down payment on a plot of land between Griffith Park Boulevard and Monon Street on Hyperion Avenue. This plot of land became the Walt Disney Studios and the rest is history. Now, let’s take a tour of the old studio and even watch a video of what it was like back then. Continue after the page break and have a look…

        In 1926, Walt and Roy filed a permit for a three-room artist studio. This was the beginning of the studio at 2719 Hyperion Avenue. The new studio included two small offices for Walt and Roy Disney, a camera room, and a large partitioned work area for the animators and ink and paint staff.
        Walt’s original office in the Animator’s Building
        1927 and 1928 were significant milestones in film making history and in the history of the Walt Disney Studio. In 1927, The Jazz Singer debuted which was the first feature length film with synchronized sound, and in 1928 Walt lost the rights to his most famous character at the time, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt saw these events as opportunities and soon introduced Mickey Mouse and the first cartoon short with sound, Steamboat Willie.
        As Walt and his animators became more creative and innovative technically and artistically, the studio had to grow to meet the demands of Walt’s vision. During the next four years the original studio building went through several renovations and additions until a two-story building called “Animator’s Building # 1” and a sound stage were added in 1931.

        Walt and Roy purchased additional plots of land surrounding the studio and built the “Animator’s Building #2/Shorts Building”in 1934, Ink and Paint and Annex buildings in 1935, and a “Features Building” in 1937. Several other smaller buildings were constructed on the property, including a Wurlitzer Organ building, warehouse, film vaults, sound stage monitor room, camera room, and a garage for Mickey Mouse’s car.
        By 1939 there was no more room to grow on the Hyperion Studio lot. By this time, the Disney Studio had 1,500 employees and the layout of the Hyperion Studio was so haphazard there was a feeling among some that the Hyperion Studio could no longer meet the goals of the Disney Studios.
        The Ink and Paint Building

        Walt in the Sound Stage Monitor Room
        In June of 1938, Walt and Roy paid a $10,000 deposit for a 51 acre plot of land in Burbank and construction on a new studio began shortly afterwards. In the fall of 1939, the first staff moved into the new Burbank studios. Walt, being a pioneer in recycling, transported buildings from Hyperion to the new studio in Burbank.
        Walt Disney’s renovated office in 1937. Notice the rolled up blueprints for the new Burbank Studio in the right corner.
        During the short 14 years Walt spent at his Hyperion Studios, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck,  Snow White, Pinocchio and many other beloved characters were given life. In many ways, the Hyperion Studios represents “the golden age” of Walt Disney’s imagination.
        Now, let’s take a trip back to the Walt Disney Studios in July of 1937:
        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.


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