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What's the connection between Roy E. Disney's camera and the 1965 Watts Riot?

What's the connection between Roy E. Disney's camera and the 1965 Watts Riot?

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Back in Disney's old days, life was simple. It was before corporate laid down dozens of rules, protocols and regulations that complicated the heck out of everything. When an employee wanted to sell something, he or she simply posted it on the company bulletin board. That meant any Disney employee could take advantage of the dozens or hundreds of potential buyers who walked the hallways each day. It was craigslist before there was a  craigslist and eBay before there was an eBay. A slip of paper, a pushpin and a bulletin board was about as high tech as it got. However, this particular acquisition has an unexpected twist, but we'll get to that later.


Roy E. Edwards' 16MM Bolex. I have no idea where it is today.

As I made my way down the hallway of Walt's animation building one morning I spotted a very special posting. Someone was selling a movie camera. A 16mm Bolex that also shot single frames. As an aspiring animator and filmmaker, this was exactly the camera I needed. Plus, the seller only wanted a few hundred dollars for the used camera. In anybody's book, this was a bargain. And, who was the seller, you ask? It's a name I'm sure you know. He was the son of one of the founders of the company and the nephew of Walt Disney. Yes, I'm speaking of Roy Edward Disney.

At the time, young Roy had been active on a series of projects for the Disney Company. He had worked in editorial and even as a cameraman on the Disney True Life Adventure series. Roy was earning his chops as a filmmaker and working his way up the ladder as a writer-producer. Even though Walt's nephew could hardly be consider a major player at the Disney company, he was still somewhat intimidating to guys like us. Consequently, I was reluctant to make the walk to the upstairs executives offices to bargain with Roy E. Disney.

I was in danger of missing out on a great deal because I simply didn't know how to approach Roy Edward. Today, I look back on this incident and laugh because Walt's nephew has always been approachable and a very nice guy. However, I was young and new to the company. Even the name Disney sent chills down the spine of this young animation assistant.


A visit to Roy E. Disney's office could be somewhat intimidating to a
young kid working at Disney Studios

Lucky for me, animation artist John Kimball happened to be a friend, and we worked together on the first floor animation department. The son of one of Walt's "Nine Old Men," John Kimball was quite comfortable dealing with the studio "big shots." Supported by Ward Kimball's son, I headed upstairs with cash in hand, and in no time a deal was struck. Roy Edward Disney was two hundred and fifty bucks richer and I had my camera. However, the story doesn't end here.

As I mentioned earlier, Roy Disney had taken his camera into the field to photograph Walt Disney's True-Life Adventure series. Now, a totally different True Life adventure was about to take place. My original reason in purchasing the movie camera was to photograph cartoon drawings on my homemade animation camera stand. Suddenly, my innocent cartoon world of fairies and bunny rabbits was interrupted by unexpected real life events that would shake the nation. The city of Los Angeles erupted in chaos and flames as riots tore through the city.

My associates, Leo Sullivan and cameraman Richard Allen quickly grabbed our equipment which consisted of two 16mm Bolex cameras and armloads of film. This was 1965, and the mainstream media didn't have the stomach to enter the urban battlefield of south central Los Angeles. It's difficult to explain an event such as an urban riot. It was terrifying with an almost surreal quality. The hapless rioters thought they were "stickin' it to the man." In reality, they were simply burning down their own neighborhood. After photographing the unnerving nighttime events, the footage was delivered to NBC in Burbank where newsman, Tom Pettit quickly edited a television special that went on the air nationwide.


All hell broke loose in Watts in 1965. But we were there to capture in all on film for NBC

I'm willing to bet you probably didn't know that all of this had a Disney connection, did you? That's right, boys and girls. The very same 16mm Bolex camera that Roy Edward Disney used to photograph Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures was used to document another most unlikely True-Life Adventure. The historical event known as the 1965 Los Angeles Watts Riot.

And speaking of True-Life Adventures ... If you'd like to learn more about the many  amazing & amusing adventures that this Disney Legend has had during the 40+ years that he's worked in the animation industry, then you definitely want to check out some of the books which Mr. Norman has written.

Floyd's most recent effort - "'Disk Drive: Animated Humor in the Digital Age" - is available for purchase through blurb.com. While Mr. Norman's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" - is still for sale over at John Cawley's Cataroo.

And if you still haven't had your fill of Floyd ... Well, then feel free to move on over to Mr. Fun. Which is where Mr. Norman posts his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • Thanks for sharing. Very exciting. I think that everyone understands that Disney is the whole industry that used to rule the world of cinema. It is very interesting to learn such subtle details!

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