Saturday, December 19, 2009
I wanted to write a few words about the passing of Roy E. Disney the other day. While working at what was then known as Walt Disney Feature Animation I had many encounters with Walt's nephew, at screenings or meetings for the new movies. In fact, my last desk at the company was right around the corner from his ceremonial office, located in the rotunda of the Sorcerer's Apprentice hat.

The Feature Animation Building in 1995 (Photo: Peter Aaron / Esto).

I guess could tell you how this multi-billionaire, who will go down in history as the savior of the Disney empire in both the 1980s and the 2000s (read Storming the Magic Kingdom and DisneyWar and you'll see what I mean) would always be early for meetings. How he'd wander around the halls an hour before his meeting, just chatting to the artists. I could tell you how he was genuinely interested in the proceedings of the movies, while so many of the "creative" executives would rush about with no regard to the artists who come up with and draw the movies we were all there to make. And how they were always late to meetings. Always.

No, instead I want to tell you about the first time I ever saw Roy E. Disney in real life.

It was in 1990 (or perhaps 1992). My family was at Walt Disney World in Florida at what then was the Disney-MGM Studios theme park. The brand-new Disney-MGM Studios theme park, back when there were real animators for Feature Animation in the Magic of Disney Animation attraction.

Needless to say my brother and I loved that tour from the very first minute we stepped in the building. We were just a pane of glass away from real Disney animators!

My brother (left) and me (right) back in 1990 (Photo: My Mom).

As we walked through the tour spying down into the fishbowl of animation desks the host said, "And in the back there you'll see Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney's brother".

"Oh my G-- wait ... what?"

Now, as we all know, Roy O. Disney was Walt Disney's brother, but he passed away on December 20, 1971, mere months after Walt Disney World in Florida opened to the public.

And we also all know that he was Walt's older brother, so by February of 1990 he'd have been pushing 97 years old.

But the man in the fishbowl did not look a hundred years old.

Or dead.

So I did what any meek thirteen year old kid from Maine would have done in my shoes ... I walked right up to the host with the microphone and told him, no, you're wrong. That is Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney's brother passed away on December 20, 1971 mere months after Walt Disney World in Florida opened to the public and were he alive today Roy O. Disney would have been pushing 97 years old.

The host wasn't impressed.

But looking back I think that was the first time that I realized I have a ridiculous knowledge of all things Disney, more so than even Disney theme park hosts.

And we're not just talking the guy loading kiddies onto the Mad Tea Party tea cups ride or the one selling freeze-pops in Fantastyland - this guy worked in air conditioning. This guy had a tie and blazer. He must have been somebody.

I always wanted to tell Roy that. I almost wrote him a card when he started the Save Disney campaign, but I never did.

Sure, I had more personal interactions with Disney once I worked at animation - but that day in 1990 will always stick in my mind as a pivotal point in my Disney career, before I even had a Disney career.

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posted by Josh at 3:12 PM |