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The "UFOs are real" documentary that Walt Disney Studios almost made

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The "UFOs are real" documentary that Walt Disney Studios almost made

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I have long been a fan & supporter of Didier Ghez's "Walt 's People" books, that series of paperbacks which collects amazing interviews with  Disney Legends. But with Volume 11 of this series, Ghez has truly out-done himself. This 630-page book features 36 separate interviews which have been done by some of the top animation & theme park historians working today (EX: John Canemaker, John Culhane, Christopher Finch, J.B. Kaufman, Jim Korkis and Dave Smith, among others).

"So what's the very best story to be found in Volume 11?," you ask. For my money, it would have to be John Canemaker's March 1998 interview with Ward Kimball. Where this Disney Legend then went on the record about that aborted "UFOS are real" film which Walt Disney Studios was supposed to have produced in the mid-1950s with the U.S. Force's help

As the story goes,  Kimball had been working with Wernher von Braun on three space-themed episodes of the "Disneyland" television series. And this outer space documentaries had been proven to be so popular with the public (i.e. When the first film in this trio -- "Man in Space" -- aired in March of 1955, it was viewed by over 42 million people) that they have since been credited with unofficially kick-starting America's efforts to enter the space race.


Disney Legend Ward Kimball introducing the "Man in Space" episode of the "Disneyland"
TV series. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which (as Kimball recounted to Canemaker) ...

... did not go unnoticed by Al Meyers and (Edward) Heinemann, two big shots in Douglas Aircraft, plus George Hoover, who was head of the office of naval research. (They) came to me and wanted Disney to do a UFO picture.

(These three) all knew that UFOs were for real. They had proof, they had everything. And I said, "Sure." I'd been collecting material on UFOs for years anyway, and I had a cupboard full of stuff there. Every report and all the books, you name it. I was a student of Charles Ford, and that was my dream to end the ("Disneyland" television series of outer space documentaries) with (a fourth film about UFOs).


The saucer-like craft that man would supposedly use to reach the Red Planet in the
"Mars and Beyond" episode of the Disneyland television series.
Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Walt sort of went along with it. But we never had any payoff footage. You've got to end up that last ten minutes with some real stuff.

Our disappointment came when we talked to Colonel Miranda from the Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base]. Bill Bosché (i.e. the writer that Walt had assigned to work with Ward on these outer space documentaries for the "Disneyland" television series) never believed in UFOs even though Clyde Tombaugh, the guy that discovered the planet Pluto, had seen four or five in Arizona  ...  

So we're having lunch with this Colonel Miranda over in the commissary, and he, at Wright-Patterson, had all the footage shot from fighter pilots, everything, and most of it classified. He told us what we could have for our picture and what we couldn't have.

 
And so Bosché ... He gets a smile on his face and he says, "What about flying saucers? I don't suppose you have anything on that?"  (And then Miranda replies by saying) "Oh, hundreds of feet!" (And) Old Bosché looked like he'd faint.


I don't think that these are the sorts of flying saucers that Bill Bosché was talking about.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

(The Colonel continues by saying) "We've got all sorts of film that we can't show you, it's secret, and it's going to remain classified until we can take one apart and analyze it."

And he [Bosché] says, "Well, how come?" And that's when (Miranda) taught us our lesson, he says, "Look! Everyone would ask the Air Force, 'What are these things?' And if we couldn't answer that question, we would be in trouble. We could have a war start. They would accuse the Russians of doing it, they're ahead of us." He went through a whole line of reasons why this couldn't be divulged.

(Which was endlessly frustrating for Kimball. Since the Colonel then went on to say that)  "We have shots (of UFOS) taken from gun cameras, we have beautiful footage. We've got 'em all shapes and size, port holes, lights ...  (But) We don't know what they are yet. Until we can dissect (one), and give a reasonable explanation without our society coming unglued, we can't. It's going to remain classified."


Are these Egyptian hieroglyphics depicting unidentified flying objects?

Which kind of drove Kimball nuts. Given that Ward had already done a lot of the research necessary for this proposed fourth outer space documentary for the "Disneyland" TV series.  As Kimball recalled to Canemaker:

And I had everything up to the last ten minutes (of that show) ... We had these drawings that people have made (of)  the spaceships that had passed for a good part of a day over the Egyptian army in Egypt in 2000 B.C. They described the stench and the fumes, the whole thing; it was even done in hieroglyphics. We wanted to bring that to life (through animation). Great thing, you know. Pictorially, it (would have been)  a wonderful thing to do.

But without the last 10 minutes of that show, which was to have featured the Air Force's footage proving that UFOs were in fact real ... This proposed fourth installment of the outer space documentary series just had no pay-off.


Ward shows Walt a model of the saucer-shaped craft which will be featured in
"Mars and Beyond." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which isn't to say that all of that prep work that Ward had done on this "UFOs are real" show went to waste. As Kimball pointed out to Canemaker in that 1998 interview:

You noticed on the ("Mars and Beyond") show I got in the saucers at the end.

But even so, as you read this interview in Volume 11 of "Walt's People: Talking Disney with the Artists who knew him" (Xlibris Corp, September 2011), you can sense Ward's frustration. Especially since -- in the years that followed Colonel Miranda's refusal to release that footage ...


Air Force officials at a Project Bluebook press briefing in the late 1950s

The Air Force spent millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars on Project Blue Book, to pooh-pooh UFOs.

And I had everything (I needed) up to the last ten minutes (of this show).

Which isn't to say that Ward didn't get to meet some pretty out-of-this-world characters during the 88 years that he spent on this planet.  Take -- for example -- Kimball's close encounter with "Captain EO" himself, Michael Jackson.  Which all came about because ...


Copyright Sony Inc. All rights reserved

... my daughter (Kelly) was the costume designer (on)  Thriller. John Landis was the director (on this music video) and the first day (of production Michael asks) "Who's doing the costume?" John says, "Why you should meet her. You're always talking about Ward Kimball. She's Ward Kimball's daughter."

(Jackson then says) "Wow!" So he goes over and introduces (himself) to Kelly. She did all that ghoul stuff (on "Thriller"). And (Jackson) said he'd like to meet me. (My daughter) thought he was bull$#itting. So did I when she came and told me.

But no (Michael came to my house) with a driver in his Bentley parked out in front. Came in and just wanted to talk about Walt. Cause he had all this state-of-the-art motion picture 35mm theatre. He had all the Disney films and he'd go in there to look at them.


Ward Kimball, Michael Jackson and Betty Kimball during the King of
Pop's 1982 visit to Grizzly Flats.

And he showed (my wife Betty, Kelly and myself) his whole place. That was before he moved off to the ranch. We went out there and had no booze, no smoking, sat at this long table, banquet table set for twenty-five people. So he sets me at the end, Betty on my left, couple of his friends and he on the left side. I would feel I was being looked at and I'd look at him and he'd be staring at me. We'd make eye contact and he'd just say, "Ward Kimball." No kidding!

What else did Ward remember about the times that he spent with the "... Quiet. Whispery ..." King of Pop? As part of Volume 11 of "Walt's People," Kimball suggests that Canemaker talk with Frank Thomas about ...

... what happened the time we went out (to Neverland Ranch) with our wives. Blinking lights in the trees just like Disneyland. He's in love with the place.


The Disneyland-inspired train station at Neverland Ranch

These are the sorts of stories that you'll only uncover by reading the interviews which have been collected in this amazing set of paperbacks. And with Volume 12 of the "Walt's People" series reportedly already in the works ... If you haven't yet started reading these books, you'd best get started. Otherwise you'll really be missing out on an out-of-this-world collection of stories that come directly from a group of Disney Legends who actually worked with Walt.

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  • Hahaha... You tangenting off into talking about Michael Jackson makes it look like the Men in Black got to you in the middle of writing the article.

  • To bad Ward Kimball didn't come to our WED Griffith Park lunch talks with Disney VP Gordon Cooper, and hear about his experiences with UFO's while in the test pilot and space programs in the mid 70's when both Space Mountains were being designed and built.

  • Interesting story, Jim, but I can't help but wonder if Ward wasn't having a little fun at John Canemaker's expense.  An Air Force officer that would casually tell a civilian, especially one with connections to Hollywood, "We've got lots of footage of UFOs,but we can't show it to you"?  It's not impossible, but it doesn't seem very likely.

  • Rusty, I was also at that lunch talk with Gordo and about 30 other Imagineers that day. After about two hours of UFO stories, nobody wanted to go back to work! I continue to do research into the subject and was director of investigations for MUFON-LA for over ten years. Ward Kimball was genuinely interested in UFO'S!

  • Ward Kimball is the source of the frozen Walt Disney story. It comes from an interview he gave for the book Disney's World.

  • Ward Kimball is the source of the frozen Walt Disney story. It comes from an interview he gave for the book Disney's World.

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