Bob Welbaum: Disneyana Fan Club Presents Awards to the Disney Family
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But the matriarch was more pragmatic. Diane recalled an interview she had read in the Los Angeles Times Sunday supplement magazine with a man who was in the cryogenics business. “He was trying to sell it, and he told people Walt Disney was [preserved with cryogenics]. I think it was the story, somebody trying to promote cryogenics.” Diane discussed the rumors a bit more, then dismissed them with authority. “I know if he’d heard about it, I would have heard about it at the dinner table. ‘Do you know that some people are getting themselves frozen?’… I know I would have heard it. Because that’s the kind of information he liked to get excited about. Anything new and scientific. So I think there was a commercial motive for it.”
Finally, how would each of them define what they perceived to be Walt’s legacy?
Diane went first. She chose her words thoughtfully, and seemed determined to give as complete an answer as possible. “I think the type of entertainment that he popularized, the ethics in it, doing it as family-based, for family entertainment, people of all ages, and doing it as well as you possibly can. Just not cheating on it in any way, but presenting it, whatever it is -- a fairy tale [for example]. And anything you do, do it for a broad audience and as well as you can possibly do it. I think that’s it. It’s just quality, and I think what he hoped to do is give pleasure, give joy, and give good entertainment. He was an entertainer, a consummate entertainer.”
Ron went next. “ Very much the same. He was a great entertainer. He grew on his job, he went from one challenge to the next challenge, with each challenge it led him to something new. Unfortunately he died before EPCOT. It was a huge challenge, but I think if he had lived it would’ve become a reality. He was known for wholesome entertainment. In today’s language, wholesome doesn’t exist. But he used all kinds of media, and he took that media and took it to a step beyond where it was then. He just was a tremendous individual. No one like him since.”
Joanna had to search for words to add to those of her parents. “One thing I’ve always said, stemming from the anti-Semitic thought that how foreign that was. I always thought Grandpa liked, almost celebrated differences. He loved culture. He took us to see the Ballet Folklorico. He took us to see so much. But I think he loved, just detail and differences in between people.”
Walter had the last word. “Great entertainer and great storyteller and improved people’s lives through entertainment. But I think he was a great manager of people, too, and made better organizations, and I can remember years ago when you were at Peter Ellenshaw’s, hearing my dad and Peter Ellenshaw, we were in Montreal and you were reminiscing, and Peter said that he [Walt] loved people. He wasn’t intimidated by anybody. He just loved people. He loved to hear about people. So I think his legacy was he was a great manager and he just loved Mankind. He was proud of his organization more than anything, and making things work, with the futurist and developing cities and I think his legacy would have grown, perhaps making life better for people.
It was time to fulfill the luncheon’s stated purpose -- present the Disney family with the DFC’s second Heritage Award, but first came the surprise. In Allan’s words: “ One of the things that I like about this job is the surprises. I’m really big on surprises, and so we do in fact have a surprise today, for Ron. You all heard me talk earlier about the Legend Award for those people who actually work in the organization and contribute to the magic that’s so important to us, and you certainly qualify.”
Thus Ron Miller became the 105th Disneyana Fan Club Disney Legend! Allan next read the litany of Ron’s many accomplishments during his thirty-one-year career.
Ron received his award to the obvious joy from the other family members, and when he’d returned to his seat, he deadpanned “You didn’t mention the acting.”
This led to a bit of insight on establishing the Touchstone label. Diane told of her father’s reaction when he screened To Kill a Mockingbird: “Ron was very intense about getting a second label because my dad felt constrained by his image. We had a projection room at home and we watched To Kill a Mockingbird.” After the screening there was silence and Walt muttered that he wished he could make movies like that. She thought the first Touchstone movie release Splash was very exciting.
Ron then told how he announced Splash at the annual shareholder’s meeting at Walt Disney World and the reception it received. “In front of 3500 shareholders, I said ‘Look, we’re going to run Splash, it’s going to be the first film that’s under the Touchstone label, and afterwards, we’re hosting a cocktail party. Any of you, if you want, you can express your likes or dislikes. I will be there.’ I didn’t run out and I didn’t hide, like a stupid idiot I stayed there. But they saw the film, they thoroughly enjoyed it, and out of all those people I think two people came up to me and said ‘There are certain elements that I don’t like and I cannot recommend it,’ but that’s a pretty damn good percentage.”
Allan then presented the Heritage Award with these words: “Nobody has done or ever will do more to help protect and promote Disney history, so this is probably the most appropriate award we ever will give, and we’re thrilled to be able to present it to all of you this afternoon.” The award was accepted by Walter on behalf of the family.
Diane quickly expressed her gratitude. “We thank you too, because you’re doing as much.”
On behalf of the 5000 members of the Disneyana Fan Club, President Gary Schaengold closed the luncheon by saying to the Disney family, “You embody family values that we respect and prize. And while it may just be day-to-day like in your family, it is something that we look up to, and we say thank you for maintaining those family ideals that Walt and Roy first envisioned, and then used to create what they did for the rest of us. So we say thank you.”
The special gift for attending was a Mickey Mouse doll created exclusively for the Museum.
-- Bob Welbaum
Bob Welbaum is a longtime Disneyana fan and NFFC member from the Dayton, Ohio area.
-- May 26, 2011