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Kenversations(tm)
Page 1 of 3

by Ken Pellman (archives)
December 27, 2001
Ken looks at Walt's 100th birthday and how Disney did thie year upholding the legacy.

Happy Holidays! What a year it has been! Very eventful.

Here I am, still writing for the same great web site. By today’s standards, I’m a seasoned veteran here now! That hasn’t changed, but a lot in the world of Disney has.

Happy Birthday, Walt

The Man, the Myth, and the Legend
This month, as you know, marked the centennial anniversary of the birth of Walter Elias Disney. At least, according to the official company info, anyway. I’m sure there will be a biography soon that claims he was actually born on a different date, the son of Gypsies, or that he was a space alien entrusted in the care of the Disney family.

Poking around this site and using the directory, you can easily find lots of information about Walt and what people who knew him and worked with him thought of him.

Walt was one of the great, defining figures of the twentieth century. Indeed, he might have won the title of Person of the Century if Disney hadn’t abandoned the polling program early in the 1990’s. With his brother, he founded one of the few studios that still remains today as one of the major Hollywood players. He was an animation pioneer, developing the art and pushing it forward. Some of the actual animation produced under his direction has yet to be matched in sheer skill. Walt revolutionized the location-based entertainment business, and the amusement park industry by heralding the genre of the immersive theme park with the creation of WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) and Disneyland Park. In the process of doing that, he developed a Studio/Theme Park/Television synergy that forced other studios to get involved in the fledgling medium of television.

Always looking to get into something new, he’d progressed from short films to full-length films, to theme parks, animatronics, and transportation systems, and, had he lived longer, probably would have developed an experimental community unlike any other. His work directly paved the way for the unparalleled vacation destination now known as the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Original Team Disney
Perhaps most remarkable was Walt’s knack for hiring talented people, developing their skills and talents, and directing them effectively in a team effort to produce touching works of art and innovative entertainment, create new industries, as well as producing pop culture phenomenon. As the general public is beginning to see with various books and documentaries that are now hitting the market, these individuals who worked for Walt are amazing individuals in their own right, most with a variety of talents.

I couldn’t possible name all of them here, but consider just the famed Nine Old Men, guys like Marc Davis, who has provided inspiration to so many artists after him, a man who could create characters and bring them to life no like nobody else, and Ward Kimball, who could be an animated character disguised in flesh. Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Les Clark, Milt Kahl, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, and Wolfgang Reitherman…each of them a key person in animation history.

Richard and Robert Sherman - some of their songs are so much a part of our culture that many of them are instantly recognizable to the average American.

John Hench - an Imagineering institution who has been billed as Disney’s longest tenured employee.

Herb Ryman - whose artwork helped Roy Disney get funding for Disneyland Park.

Ub Iwerks, Claude Coates, Yale Gracey, Rolly Crump, Ken Anderson, Roger Broggie, Bill Evans, Joe Fowler, Blaine Gibson, Mary Blair, Peter Ellenshaw, Harper Goff, Bob Gurr (LaughingPlace.com columnist!), Alice Davis, Wally Boag…the list goes on and on. Above all, Walt’s own brother Roy who was the partner who kept the whole ship afloat.

Walt was able to conduct this orchestra of superb talents (to borrow an analogy from Mr. Ryman) in a way that turned Disney into one of the strongest brand names in the world, and has been a significant factor in the success of his corporation he left behind to this day. Through the work of these people, Walt Disney, as Walt realized, had come to mean something much different than the person he was. His name transcended his death.

Walt Still Inspires
The 15th of this month also marked the 35th anniversary of Walt’s passing. Disneyland Park operated under his eye for only eleven and a half years of its forty-six and-a-half years. The Walt Disney Company is a much larger, much different animal than the Walt Disney Productions Walt left behind when he passed away. Yet, this man’s presence is constant in the Disney corporate culture and among many of the fans of the various Disney products.

He certainly has had a huge impact on my life, even though I was born years after he passed away. Walt has inspired me through Disneyland Park, movies, television, toys, and music. I grew up a short distance from Disneyland Park, and was treated to many visits throughout my childhood. I can remember seeing new and classic Disney films in the theaters, catching Disney programs on television, and reading books featuring Disney characters.

As a teenager, I became an annual passholder and would frequent the park every week or two, later becoming a cast member. In college, I fashioned my own major geared towards theme park design, emphasizing show writing.

I made two trips to the Walt Disney World Resort this year. I’ve gone two years between trips a couple times, but have otherwise gone about once a year since 1989.

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