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The story that Walt didn't want you to hear

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

The story that Walt didn't want you to hear

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My apologies, folks. I know that JHM has been somewhat erratic lately when it comes to maintaining our usual Monday-through-Friday publishing schedule.

It's just that -- in order to score new stories for this website -- I sometimes have to do a little traveling. That's what I'm doing today, anyway. Flying down to Orlando so that -- this coming weekend -- I can then take part in a walking tour of Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure that Orlando Fun Tickets was nice enough to set up for a bunch of us webmasters. I'll later be heading on over to SeaWorld Orlando with the hope that I'll then be able to persuade the powers-that-be to take me on a tour of the Aquatica construction site.

Plus -- of course -- a stop at WDW to check out what's new at that resort. Take a peek at the revamped Spaceship Earth. Maybe grab a bite to eat at the Yak & Yeti and/or Tutto Italia.

Don't worry, though. I won't be gone long. This is strictly a hit-and-run trip. I'll be back home in New Hampshire by Tuesday night. Hopefully with lots of great new stories to share.

And speaking of great stories ... The following is an excerpt from Richard Collier's "Wish Upon a Star: The Magical Kingdoms of Walt Disney." Which was the Feature Condensation in the October 1971 issue of Reader's Digest:


Copyright 1971 Reader's Digest. All Rights Reserved

In (the Spring of) 1955, a letter arrived on Walt's desk from a woman in Tennessee. She and her family were faithful watchers of Disney's weekly television show, on which Walt had recently been describing his plans for Disneyland. Like millions of other youngsters, her 11-year-old son voiced the hope that he could one day visit the park. But Disneyland would not open for some months, and the boy no longer had the time. He was the victim of leukemia. Was there some way, his mother asked, that his dream could come true.

Walt at once made the arrangements. On a Saturday morning, weeks before the official opening of the park, the family arrived. Main Street and the central plaza were still unpaved, the landscaping was still underway, and the ... train, which was to circle the area, was still in the shed unpainted. But Walt ordered the locomotive and coal car out anyway. The boy climbed in and Walt took the throttle.

For two full hours they rode the train, backing and switching along the completed portion of the track. At one point a member of Disney's staff saw the train halt far off on the skyline. Walt's left arm was tight around the child's shoulder, his right was gesturing into the distance. Across the underdeveloped acres, Walt's ideas were dancing like will-o'-the-wisps, as he talked of things unrealized on any drawing board -- Rainbow Caverns, Tom Sawyer's Island, the Haunted Mansion.

Walt had chosen to share these dreams with a child who could never see them come true. But those who had seen him act out every role in "Snow White" knew that the visions that he was sketching for the boy were just as vivid as the real things would ever be. This is how (Walt's) friends remember him, the dreamer, the spinner of enchantment, in whose heart and mind there always lived the magical world of childhood.


 Copyright 1958 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Isn't that a great story? I've often wondered why this particular tale hasn't turned up in any of the Walt biographies that have been published over the past 30+ years. But from what Van France once told me (He was supposedly there the day that Disney actually took this young boy out for that train ride) Walt gave some very specific instructions to those who were at the Disneyland worksite that Saturday: "No pictures. No publicity."

I don't know why it is that I find that particular aspect of this story so appealing, so refreshing. I guess -- given that we live in a world where celebrities won't even show up for a charity event until they've been assured that there will be cameras there -- to have Walt insist that this should be a private moment, something that only this boy and his family would ever know about ... That (to me, anyway) says an awful lot about Walt Disney and his character.

That said, I am happy that -- some 15 years after the fact -- Richard Collier saw fit to share this story with the world. Only to then have this tale fall through the cracks for the next 35+ years.

Anyway ... I hope you enjoyed the above story. Just as I hope that I enjoy my next few days in Orlando. See you next week, okay?

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  • This type of stuff still goes on through Disney character visits to children's hospitals, with voice talents making phone calls and such.

    Hollywood celebrities do this type of thing as well -- working at shelters, dishing up holiday meals, walking the picket line in support of striking writers, etc. They don't always do these things for selfish reasons or self-promotion.

    From what I've learned, read and heard from various people who knew Walt -- he was, at times, a generous and giving man -- to his employees, his guests, and to others.

  • actually, this story was discussed in "how to be like walt" by the orlando magic's pat williams

  • I suppose by definition, one would never hear about the times that celebrities do something *without* promotion; thus, it's fallacious to say they *never* do it.  =)

  • As LtPowers said, how would we know if any group of people never did things without publicity if they did things without publicity?

    Anyway, as I recall, it was a Walt Disney World general policy not too many years ago to keep most humanitarian acts out of the spotlight. Many such things are still done quietly and without fanfare. They only started really publicizing charitable things in a big way as a reaction to the negative image that had developed in other areas and situations.

  • " given that we live in a world where celebrities won't even show up for a charity event until they've been assured that there will be cameras there"

    Ehm... How would you know such a thing?:D There's no way you could.. since.. those things aren't recorded.. or made public..

    This story on the other hand.. DID get out..

    Not that there's anything wrong with that... But still..

    You criticize people for doing what Disney has done here:)

  • This seems like a great story for the Disneyland CD.  Which of course leads to the question......What is the status of the Disneyland CD?

  • Ayefour: Do you mean the Disneyland Secrets and Magic or what ever they call it? It's now available on the Amazon web site.

  • Hi Jim; I have heard this story before as well. I may be wrong but I think Michael Broggie may have mentioned it in his book. Learning things like this is what makes me wish that I had met the man. He could ne tough with people at the studio. (I suspect the 1941 strike had a lot to do with that) But then one hears other things. What a loving husband, father and grandfather he was. And what a treasue he was and still is to our country! Even with everything the current Disney Company has become, both good and bad, It's still Walt who eventually shines through.

  • It doesn't appear in Broggie's book. However, Jim, it has appeared in a Disney biography--and a good one. The story appears in Bob Thomas' book, "Walt Disney: An American Original." For you collectors out there, it can also be found in the August 1981 issue of "The Main Street Gazette," which was sort of like the current Disneyland Line.

  • I just wanted to comment that a current star on the Disney Channel took time from her day to leave a message for my daughter and her dance studio for a charity event supporting The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). A friend of the studio knew the stars choreographer and called to see if she could leave us a message which she did. It was a huge hit at the event that all the girls still talk about today. We were also asked not to make it public or post it on any website which we haven't - other than this and I'm not naming names! It is really cool to see what some stars will do for their fans and not want to be recognized for their actions.

  • Yep, one star was embarrassed when he was outed for donating half a million dollars to tsunami relief - he declined a public "thank you" and his pastor said in an interview that he gives most of his money to charity, anonymously, because helping people is more important than glory.  

  • aww, that was sweet

  • cricketycrujo beat me to it. Pat Williams wrote about this story (in much greater detail) in "How to be like Walt"

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