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Wandering the halls with Roy E. Disney

Jim Hill

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Wandering the halls with Roy E. Disney

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To hear Roy Disney tell the tale, he basically owes his entire career in animation to his mother needing a babysitter.

"When my Mother needed to go shopping, she'd drop me off with my Dad's office," Roy explained. "And my Dad would eventually say 'Get out of my office and find someone else to play with.' So I'd then wander the halls and see what the other people were working on."

Of course, the place where Disney's dad worked wasn't your average office. But -- rather -- the old Hyperion Studios. And what seven-year-old Roy got to see as he wandered up & down those hallways were animators hard at work on the studio's first feature-length film, "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs."

Which -- you'd think -- would have compelled Roy O. Disney's son to become an artist. But that wasn't actually the case.

As this Disney Legend told the crowd that had assembled at the Prince Music Theatre last Saturday night, Roy's dream was to design airplanes.


Photo by Jeff Lange

"I grew up right under in the flight path for Lockheed. And back then, their Burbank plant were cranking out two new B17s every day," he explained. "I'd see those planes flying over the house and think that designing stuff like that looked like a really good job."

So with that goal in mind, Roy started college in 1946 at the very young age of 16. He then studied engineering for two years at Pomona College 'til a failing grade in calculus pretty much grounded his dream of ever designing airplanes.

From there, Roy started his show business career the way that so many other people have: At the very bottom. Not working at his father & uncle's company, mind you. But as a page at NBC. And when that job ended after five or six months, Disney then became an assistant editor on the "Dragnet" TV show.

Once production of that Jack Webb series wrapped for the season ... Well, given that this early incarnation of "Dragnet" was actually shot on the Disney lot, Roy just walked down the hall to Disney's own editing department and applied for a job. Which is how he eventually wound up working on the True-Life Adventure series.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Now it's important to stress here that Roy never ever played the "Do you know who my uncle is ?" card when applying for work at the Mouse Factory. Which is not to say that his Dad -- from time to time -- didn't try to lure him into Roy O.'s side of the operation.

"Dad tried to push me into the accounting side of things," Roy remembered. "But I wasn't really interested in that. I enjoyed writing & editing those nature films. Taking all that raw footage and then finding a way to turn that into a coherent story."

Mind you, all those years of dealing with story problems wound up serving Roy well. Particularly in 1984 after he and Stanley Gold had helped to oust then-Disney CEO Ron Miller and installed Michael Eisner & Frank Wells as the new heads of the Mouse House.

Now Roy (Who had spent his formative years wandering the hallways at Hyperion as well as at the "new studio" at Burbank) felt a special affinity for animation. Which is why he asked Michael and Frank to put him in charge of that department. Which -- to be frank -- could use all the help that it could get right about then. Given that Walt Disney Productions was getting ready to release "The Black Cauldron."

Having seen a rough cut of this Ted Berman / Richard Rich film, Roy knew that "The Black Cauldron" wouldn't do all that well at the box office. More to the point, given that the studio had just spent $25 million (A truly  astronomical sum back in 1985) to produce this 70MM disappointment ... Well, Disney was worried that Eisner & Wells would take one look at this movie and then shut down Feature Animation forever.


Photo by Jeff Lange

But as he wandered the halls of the old Feature Animation building, Roy discovered two young animators -- John Musker & Ron Clements -- hard at work on another project. Which was an animated adaptation of Eve Titus' "Basil of Baker Street."

" Ron & John had recognized early on that 'The Black Cauldron' had some serious problems," Roy explained. "So they begged to be taken off of that project so that they could then work on a film of their own. And you know who was a good friend of theirs back then? Working on his own film right across the hall? John Lasseter."

Roy immediately saw the potential in "Basil of Baker Street." Which is why he arranged for Eisner & Wells to meet with Musker & Clements one Saturday morning to sell these Disney executives on the idea of putting this new film into production.

"And the 'Basil' storyboards ran down one entire hallway, through some animator's room, then down another hallway," Roy laughed. "And Michael & Frank were big guys -- six feet tall -- and they filled whatever space they stood in. And Ron & John are walking them down this corridor, trying to act out the story as they went. With Eisner & Wells really struggling to connect what Musker & Clements were telling them with the images that they were seeing on the boards. It was pretty funny."

In the end (in spite of the fact that Michael & Frank never quite did get what was going on with all of "Basil" 's storyboards) Eisner & Wells did eventually greenlight production of "Basil of Baker Street." Which led to a second golden age of Disney Animation.

Of course, that was 23 years ago. But the way Roy sees it ... Things today honestly aren't all that different from the way they were back in 1984. I mean, Ron & John are back at WDFA working with their old pal John Lasseter. Once again trying to revive & revitalize Walt Disney Feature Animation by putting an ambitious new project into production.

And Roy? He's back too. When Bob Iger negotiated that settlement with Disney & Stanley Gold back in July of 2005, Disney's soon-to-be-CEO asked Walt's nephew what he wanted. And Roy replied:

"I really want a job. Give me an office and pay me something. After all, everyone knows me there. So let me walk around and see what's going on."

So, some 70 years after Edna Disney first dropped off Roy at Hyperion and Roy O. then shooed his son out of his office ... Roy E. is once again wandering the halls at Disney, sticking his very-familiar-looking face into offices, helping out where he can.

And for some reason ... That just seems right.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Special thanks to Leonard Maltin for doing such a superb job interviewing Roy Disney this past Saturday night.
All of the stories that are featured in today's article were actually culled from Maltin's interview with Disney.

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  • ah shucks   gee whiz

    I'm sure no one in Hollywood knew who he was when he "applied" for jobs that just happened to be on the Disney lot.   wink wink  nudge nudge    Things haven't changed much over time. After 50 years it's still "Give me an office and pay me something." How about, "I'd like to have some say in corporate charitable donations," or "I'd like to see what I can do to improve cast member morale."

    He was there when Black Cauldron was greenlit and animated, but all those years of dealing with story problems didn't seem to help much on that film. Guess it only helps on selected films.

    Really don't need to get into accounting when you inherit that much stock.

    I've got some questions for him, but I guess that's why Maltin does the interviewing.

  • Roy E. Disney, with your now defunct website, SAVEDISNEY, you had taken on the responsibility to stop the apparent corruption within the Walt Disney Company, in particular, with it’s board of directors, it’s CEO Michael Eisner and the so-called CEO selection process which you called a “sham”. Yet abruptly, you changed your tune, as you have made some type of deal with the Walt Disney Company, which is evidently to mostly satisfy only a personal need of being a token name at the Walt Disney Company.

    I now believe that you had no intention of following through with your promises. Clearly, it was all about you, not the legacy of Walt Disney, the hard working righteous employees who make Disney what it is, nor is it about the artists. You fooled everyone. As documented, you have folded into the very operation which I am currently fighting and you have known about.

    Roy E. Disney your heart has proven to be made of stone for you have chosen to stand for photo opportunities rather than stand for righteousness.  The facts substantiate that Disney is company infected with unscrupulous business practices, such as to make false claims against me while it also petitions the court to not allow the facts and evidence to go before a jury.  To prevent me from a day before a jury and to punish me for seeking the court’s involvement is part of Disney’s defense.  Meanwhile Disney (along with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) twists facts, concocts and rewrites history of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride attraction with which to attribute my uniquely original creative materials to the talents of the “Disney Legends” of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride attraction, notably Marc Davis and Francis X. Atencio.  Is this the legacy you are proud of?   See www.disneylawsuit.com for photos as originally filed in federal court.

    Clearly, I can not stop big influence that prevents full reporting of the facts. I can not stop corporate power that uses legions of blind followers to jump up and down with pitchforks and controls all aspects of the media.  As I fight a battle against the everlasting putrid Eisner tactical procedures, I wonder what you, Roy Disney, Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush and Disney’s board of directors are doing while all of this is taking place?

  • I think that Roy Disney is great.  He's trying to get "Song of the South" on DVD, he helped "Destino" finally get completed, and he has introduced the Legacy Collection.  He's definitely an asset to the company, with all his experience.

  • So Rocketrod1, you're the scam artist claiming you came up with the idea for Pirates of the Caribbean?? What a joke ...

    You're an idiot. No one cares what you think. Beat it, you fraud.

  • Your simple article got under the skin of a couple of people Jim.

    I enjoyed it  though.  Roy E. Disney is still a valuable asset to the Disney company.

  • Agreed.  It's just not Disney without an actual Disney involved with the company.  At least that's how I feel about it.  It's good to know that Roy is there and relatively active in the company.

  • Roy, SaveDisney.com and all the Disney fans got what they REALLY wanted, which was a return of the Disney company to it's true greatest.

    Did Roy become a "king maker"?  No

    Did Roy become some "all-powerful" player at Disney?  No

    Did we get a new CEO from the outside? No Did we get a CEO that better "understands" Disney?  yes

    Did Disney (and Iger) mend fences with the people that mattered (eg Steve Jobs/Pixar, George Lucas, Speilberg, etc)?   Yes

    Did Disney (and Iger) bring talented people back into the fold (eg Lasseter, Catmull, Ron & John, etc)?   yes

    Is EVERYTHING right with the company?   not yet

    I think that resolves the question of "was this REALLY about Roy Disney or the Walt Disney Company and it's legacy".

  • Roy Disney is one of the most important people in Disney history of the last couple of decades. And he still remains that. People like Rocketrod1 (who clearly has some mental issues) just only see the negative.

    Disney has been created by the Disney family, and it is good that someone from that family keeps participating in the future of the company. Especially someone as talented as Roy, who has supported some of the best animation projects of recent times (e.g. "Destino" and "Fantasia 2000").

    curmudgeon said:

    "I'm sure no one in Hollywood knew who he was when he "applied" for jobs that just happened to be on the Disney lot."

    NBC wasn't on the Disney lot...

    And:

    "He was there when Black Cauldron was greenlit and animated, but all those years of dealing with story problems didn't seem to help much on that film."

    Well, he wasn't animation chairman when B.C. was green-lit so...

  • I'm sure the name "Disney" on the job application was completely overlooked by the personnel office. Yeah, that could happen.

  • Sometimes I read these stories and then peruse through the comments and just shake my head in amazement.

    Why is it soooo difficult to understand that not all interiews are meant to be hard hitting, ground breaking, or scandal inducing? This was one big Disney fan (Maltin) talking to Roy Disney (also a Disney fan I assume) about warm and fuzzy Disney stories. There were no subpoena's to appear before the senate, this was not 60 minutes, it wasn't Hardball or anything of the kind.

    Enjoy it for what it was. Breathe people... breathe.

    Oh, and RocketRod1..... I think you forgot to take your meds this morning. The nurse would like to see you now.

  • Great post, captainhook91. Couldn't agree more!

  • "I really want a job. Give me an office and pay me something."

    Just affirms my view that the only reason SD happened was because Roy was about to lose his job.

  • I think Roy seems like a great guy (but of course seeing Disney on the job application would make the human resources people a little biased.)

    He may not be important to the company as far as making decisions goes, but I think he's definately an important figurehead.  It gives the company the appearance of being very united, when it's really this huge hydra (and I'm sure everyone here saw Hercules, and knows how dangerous those things can be ;) )

  • AskMike1 - C'mon my friend. You know as well as I that any comment, not only taken out of context, but without any knowledge of mannerisms and such, can be twisted to fit ANYTHING that we want it to be. While I am no Roy Disney apologist I am also not a Roy Disney basher. Maybe he winked after saying this, or made some other comment that alluded to how he wished for more. Or the whole comment could have been made tongue in cheek. Whatever the case may be, the fact is that neither of us know. Why do you assume the worst? I can only imagine what your response would be if I found some old quotes of yours on this very website, pulled them out of context, and then used it to show you in a very negative light... for no reason other than to bad mouth you and to prove some negative assumption (on my part) about you.

    You're smarter than that. C'mon.

    Roy Disney ain't perfect... neither are we. Unless everything you've done has been only for noble causes and with nothing short of the best intentions and with great results, give the guy a break. Enjoy this fluff article and interview for what it is.

    (Sniff) lately I had been agreeing with many of your comments... now I feel that we're drifting apart!   ;o)

  • Geez folks, take it with a grain of salt.  Besides, if he doesn't have a true job within Disney, how would he have any real control within the day to day stuff?  Of course he wants a part of his family's legacy.  Roy's main purpose with SaveDisney.com was to get rid of Eisner because he had become egomaniacal in recent years and was taking the company in a direction that appalled fans and his family.  He did what he accomplished and let it go.  So should you!

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