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Toon Tuesday : My Luncheon with Roy

Toon Tuesday : My Luncheon with Roy

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I don’t know who came up with the bright idea, but it was a darn good one. What about spending our noon hour with the Vice Chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation? Would Roy Edward Disney accept our invitation, we wondered? The only way to find out was to simply ask.

The early 1980s proved to be a turbulent time at Walt Disney Studios. The Company had just evaded a takeover by green-mailers, and new management was finally in place. A good deal of these changes were initiated by none other than Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy Edward Disney. Frank Wells had been brought over from Warner Bros. and Michael Eisner & Jeffrey Katzenberg arrived from Paramount. Sweeping changes were happening daily at the Disney Studios, and more than a few Mouse House staffers were concerned. Suddenly, Disney had a bold new future. But what would this future bring?

You can imagine the number of questions we had prepared. And who better to answer those questions than the man who not only represented old Disney, but the new incarnation of Disney as well? Better yet, we knew we would not be dealing with the typical Disney suit. A businessman to be sure, Roy Edward Disney was that unique combination of tough business guy and creative individual. Affable and easy going, Roy knew who he was, and had nothing to prove. What the heck! His name was on the damn building.

We reserved a small table in the Coral Room, a cozy dining area adjoining the Disney commissary. Roy arrived exactly on time, and greeted each of us warmly. I won’t bother listing the names of the artists and writers who attended. But oddly enough, each of us worked in the building next door that was named after Roy’s dad.

Roy Disney still sported a mustache in those days, and he had not yet given up smoking. As you can imagine, the first thing Roy did was light up a cigarette. He bore an incredible resemblance to his famous uncle, and like Walt, his manner was warm and friendly. We ordered juice and coffee, and our conversation began.

Floyd's depiction of lunch with Roy Edward Disney back in the eighties
We spent our lunch hour in conversation with Roy Edward Disney back in the 1980s.
I'll never forget that special afternoon

“Are you happy with the way things are going at the Studio,?” we ventured. Roy’s answer was simple and direct. “I am now!” he replied with a broad smile on his face. Roy spoke of his concern with the studio’s direction during the past few years. Disney had grown irrelevant and was now being upstaged by creators like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. In the eyes of many in the Hollywood community, Disney was totally out of touch, and Roy was determined to change all that.

The subject of Filmation came up. At that time, this sizable animation enterprise had just embarked on production of a feature length motion picture entitled “Pinocchio.” Well, Roy was furious about that, and vowed he would do everything possible to prevent this well-known television animation company from riding on Disney’s coat tails.

I gather Roy was ready to turn up the heat on Filmation should they attempt to market their feature film in any way that connected it to Disney. I don’t remember how this battle eventually resolved itself, but I doubt if anybody even remembers that second rate animated motion picture today.

Of course, I had my own questions, and my main issue with the Disney Company was having animation booted out of their own facility and exiled to warehouses & trailers in nearby Glendale. To his credit, Roy apologized for that indignity to Walt Disney’s premiere animation unit. It was a necessary concession to the new management. There was no other facility on the Disney studio lot large enough to house all of the new production units that would soon be ramping up. Roy gave us his word that a new animation facility would be constructed to house Walt Disney Feature Animation. It took a few years, but Roy Edward Disney delivered on that promise.

Unlike today’s politically correct weaving and dodging, no questions were off limits. We had concerns that Walt’s studio would now be run by major Hollywood players and studio bigshots with their inflated egos & bloated salaries. Would they accept the Disney culture, or even understand it? Roy implored us to cut the newcomers some slack, and give them a chance to prove themselves. “These young guys (Eisner was only 43 at the time) have some good ideas,” said the vice chairman. “Let’s see what they can do before you judge them.”

The invitation to Roy Edward Disney's memorial service at the El Capitan in Hollywood
Over a thousand people attended Roy's memorial last week at the El Capitan in
Hollywood. It was not a sad occasion. It was the celebration of a remarkable life

Eventually, the conversation moved to animation, and that’s when Roy truly got excited. “We’ve got some terrific projects in development,” said the vice chairman. “Animation is on the way back, and people are going to be amazed when they realize that Walt Disney Studios is just as creative as it ever was. We’re going to see some remarkable things in the next few years.

The dessert plates were being cleared away, and before we knew it, our lunch hour had come to a close. Since Roy had been our guest we insisted on picking up the check. However, Roy Disney would have none of it, and he made sure the lunch tab went on his own personal account. I guess he was good for the money. The waitress didn’t even bother asking for his credit card.

Roy Edward Disney has now joined his dad and uncle in the big studio upstairs. The Disney tradition remains intact today largely because of his efforts and dedication. As for myself, I’m just glad I’ve been a small part of this creative enterprise, and was able to spend a very special lunch hour with a personal hero.

Did you enjoy Floyd’s look back at his luncheon with Roy E. Disney? If so, I should probably let you that Mr. Norman currently has three books on the market that talk about all of the other amazing  & amusing adventures this Disney Legend has had while working in the animation industry.

These volumes include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's Cataroo) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman posts his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I'm guessing that I'm the only one that remembers Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night?

    Oddly enough, I believe I had first seen that movie on The Disney Channel, though I could be mistaken.

    Filmation seemed to be a Disney sequel studio for a while...

  • Bravo, Mr. Norman! Your articles always add so much to this site! Keep 'em coming...and wow, you knew both Roy AND Walt! Do I envy you...

  • Frumious> Actually, you could say Filmation created the DTV sequel. :P There was P&Emperor of the Night, Happily Ever After (Snow White 2) and Journey Back to Oz which basically traced shots from Sleeping Beauty.

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/GeneralDisney/Floyd_Norman_My_Luncheon_with_Roy

  • It's always nice to read a lovely anecdote from Floyd, and I'm grateful for this tribute to Roy. To really get a good feel for what Roy Disney was like, I highly recommend watching Leonard Maltin's interview with him on the Disney Treasures DVD, "On the Front Lines", in which Roy shares some lovely memories of being a young boy back when his Dad would bring him to visit the studio during the war years. Roy had a great love and respect for what Disney was producing during that time for the war effort, and his childhood love of the model planes and ships that were on display as reference material while Disney produced such films as "Victory Through air Power". Roy's enthusiasm for the subject is evident and he really comes across as a sincere, affable, and approachable guy. Thanks again for sharing this memory of Roy, Floyd!

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