With 2016 in the rear-view mirror, we take a moment to look back at some of those that made an impact on The Walt Disney Company that we lost. While the list is not exhaustive, it allows us to remember the impact these 13 individuals had on the storytelling company that we all love.
One of sports television’s most enduring, versatile and congenial personalities, Simpson worked for all three broadcast networks of the time, TNT and notably for ESPN at its launch over his 50+ years in the business. His move to a fledgling cable network during its first month on the air in September 1979 defied conventional wisdom, but gave ESPN a much-needed prominent lead personality and made the industry take notice. For the network he called games for college football, college basketball, college baseball, the USFL, and the NBA.
While not as well-known as many other Disney Legends, there is no question tat Al Konetzni left his mark at Disney. He joined the company in 1953 working for the character merchandising division. His artistic abilities combined with her self-taught sales, marketing, and legal knowledge made him the perfect person to work with industry partners on licensing opportunities. Among his iconic products is the Mickey and Donald Pez dispensers and the lunch box set featuring Disney characters on a school bus. He retired from Disney in 1981 and was named a Disney Legend in 1999 and was known for his passion for Disney for his entire life.
Before Walt Disney World was built, Phil Smith became the attraction’s first permanent employee. Although he was apparently only a few years out of law school when he was hired, Disney Legend Dick Nunis remembers that Smith was extremely competent. “Under Phil Smith I never had to worry about any legal problems. I knew we had a very competent guy that would take care of it,” he said. Nunis also said that Smith’s common phrase was “Let me see if I can find a way.”
A former child star, Jack Lindquist became Disneyland’s director of marketing in 1965 and had a hand in the marketing of Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. He was named President of Disneyland in 1990. Among the projects that Lindquist lead were the Magic Kingdom Club, Disney Dollars, The Disneyland Pigskin Classic, and Grad Nites. He also led efforts to expand Disneyland beyond the single theme park. Jack Lindquist was named a Disney Legend in 1994.
“Jack Lindquist was a Disney original in every sense. He started his career as Disneyland’s first advertising manager, and later served as the park’s first president, a role he always referred to as ‘the best job in the world,’” Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “He made sure Disneyland was the Happiest Place on Earth for each guest who walked through the gates, setting the standard for every leader that followed. Those of us who had the good fortune to know Jack will always remember the kindness, humility, and dedication that made him such an important part of this company and a true Disney Legend.”
While best known as a comedian and star of The Larry Sanders Show Starring Garry Shandling, his connection to Jon Favreau brought him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Senator Stern in Iron Man 2. His memorable line in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, became the basis for the “Hail Hydra” meme to went viral. Favreau brought him back into the Disney fold for what would be his final film as the voice of Ikki the Porcupine in the live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book.
Drawn to the world of radio from an early age, Erik Bauersfeld was working with Lucasfilm on a project when he was asked to audition for a role in Return of the Jedi by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt. He played the role of Jabba the Hutt’s staffer Bib Fortuna but is best remembered for his role as Admiral Ackbar with his iconic line, “It’s a trap!” Bauersfeld continued working in radio and voice-over work, but returned to reprise the role of Ackbar in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
A prolific actor, it is hard to determine for which role he gained the most fame, though many would point to his role in the Patty Duke Show as father Martin Lane. But with that being said, his most famous Disney work would be for Professor Quigley in the Dexter Riley films or as kindly Wesley Hodges in The Torkelsons. Some of his other Disney work included Elfego Baca, Dinosaurs, Desperate Housewives, and According to Jim.
Best known for his role as Wilbur Post on Mister Ed, Alan Young had many Disney credits including being the official voice of Scrooge McDuck from 1974 to 2016 as well as voicing Hiram Flaversham in The Great Mouse Detective. Beyond voice work, Young performed as Dr. Winger in 1978’s The Cat from Outer Space. With DuckTales being relaunched next year with David Tennant taking over as Scrooge, we remember the man that voice Mr. McDuck for several generations.
Prolific in both television and film, Garry Marshall’s career spanned several decades. For ABC he created series such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy. For Touchstone Pictures he directed Pretty Woman, Raising Helen, The Other Sister and Beaches. And of course for Disney he helmed the two Princess Diaries films. He voiced Buck Cluck in Disney Animation’s Chicken Little, and appeared on camera in Race to Witch Mountain, Hocus Pocus, and an episode of Liv and Maddie.
“Garry Marshall was an original, with an incredible knack for finding and telling stories that resonate in the moment and also stand the test of time. He was also a beloved part of the family at ABC and Disney, creating an incredible string of iconic hits from Happy Days to Princess Diaries,” Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “We consider it a great personal privilege to have known him and will miss his great talent and wonderful humor.”
ESPN lost another one of their iconic anchors with the passing of John Saunders. Saunders covered all four major sport leagues for ESPN but perhaps was best remembered as host of The Sports Reporters and leading ABC’s coverage of College Football. But perhaps his most important role was as a board member and support of The V Foundation for Cancer Research
ESPN President John Skipper said, “John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades. His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research. He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed.”
The man inside everyone’s favorite astromech droid, R2-D2 passed away this year. “Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances,” said George Lucas. “A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him.
Best known for his role as Dr. Jason Seaver in ABC’s Growing Pains, a role he reprised in a pair of TV reunion films, Thicke’s Disney association began before Disney acquired ABC. He graced Disney Channel as Dr. Jonas Carson in a trilogy of Not Quite Human television movies. Of course, Disney fans will remember him as a Christmas tradition as he hosted Walt Disney World Very Merry Christmas Parade from 1983 to 1990 with Joan Lunden.
Having covered the opening of Disneyland, Charlie Ridgway joined the park’s publicity staff in 1963. From there he moved out east and played a crucial public relations role for the construction and opening of Walt Disney World. He also coordinated media coverage for Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disneyland Paris. Among his most recognizable projects was supervising the last image taken of Walt Disney at Disneyland to the photo of 3,000 cast members that graced the cover of LIFE magazine. He retired in 1994 and was named a Disney Legend in 1999.
Not only did Carrie Fisher portray galactic royalty, she was cinematic royalty. While best known for her role in Star Wars, drawing upon her showbiz heritage, her Postcards from the Edge, propelled her into writing. This brought her script work including most of Maggie Smith’s dialogue in Sister Act. Though her iconic role in Star Wars would bring her into the Disney family as she returned to the role of “General” Leia in The Force Awakens and the upcoming Episode VIII.
“Carrie Fisher was one-of-a-kind, a true character who shared her talent and her truth with us all with her trademark wit and irreverence. Millions fell in love with her as the indomitable Princess Leia; she will always have a special place in the hearts of Star Wars fans as well as all of us who were lucky enough to know her personally. She will be sorely missed, and we join millions of fans and friends around the world who mourn her loss today,” said Bob Iger.
One day after we lost Carrie, we lost her mother, Debbie Reynolds. While an MGM legend for such films such as Singin’ in the Rain, she gained many younger fans for her role as Agatha Cromwell in the Halloweentown films. She also voiced characters in The 7D, Kim Possible, and Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil. For more on the impact she had on her young co-stars, read the piece Kimberly J. Brown wrote for Variety.
You know you have talent when you can be named a Disney Legend after spending just three years at the Walt Disney Studios. Tyrus Wong was an in-betweener when pre-production began on Bambi. He submitted art that caught Walt’s eye and had a profound impact on the style of the film. While Wong left before the film was released, his impact cannot be understated and was recently celebrated as an exhibit dedicated to Wong’s life at The Walt Disney Family Museum. Tyrus Wong was named a Disney Legend in 2001.