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Remembering Card Walker (1916 - 2005)

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Remembering Card Walker (1916 - 2005)

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The Walt Disney Company -- as we know it today -- exists in large part because of the efforts of Card Walker.

Walker, who sadly passed away this past Monday due to congestive heart failure, was the executive who largely decided the course that the Disney Company took in the years between 1971 (When Roy O. Disney passed away) and 1984 (When Michael Eisner picked up the reins).

There are those who -- even today -- say that they wish that Card had been a bit more creative during his tenure as head of the Mouse House. That they wish that he had made some bolder choices. Like -- for example -- actually okaying construction of that futuristic city that Walt had once wanted to build at the center of Disney World property.
But me? I think that it's finally time to take a kinder, more clear-eyed look back at the period when Walker was in charge of Walt Disney Productions. More importantly, remember what was actually happening back in the 1970s and early 1980s. When Card was calling the shots.

Literally months after Walker became the president of Walt Disney Productions, the United States was suddenly plunged into an energy crisis. And attendance levels at Disney World plummeted as gas prices soared.

It was this event -- more than any other -- that forced Card Walker to take a much more cautious approach to the whole Epcot project. Because he didn't want to do anything that would ever possibly put Walt Disney Productions at financial risk.

Walker eventually abandoned Walt's idea of building a city out there in the swamps of Central Florida. He even shied away from a plan that would have broken Epcot down into three key components (I.E. The Future World theme center, World Showcase and the International Village), opting instead to go with a much safer choice. Which was Epcot, the theme park that we know today.

Again, there are those who would hammer on Card for making safe choices like this. For not being the bold visionary that Walt Disney was.

But you see ... All Card ever wanted to do was keep Walt Disney Productions safe. Having started at the studio back in 1938 as a "traffic boy," he had a deep emotional attachment to the place. Which is why Walker wanted to make sure that the Disney corporation would survive & thrive long after he was gone.

Okay, sure. Maybe Card did spend a little too much time wondering what Walt would do. Which probably led to the creative drift that the company experienced during the late 1970s. 

But -- to be honest -- given what was going on in Hollywood at the time (I.E. The rise of the "R" -rated movie as family entertainment kept getting more & more marginalized), Walker liked being out-of-step with what was going on in the entertainment industry. More importantly, he felt that the Disney way of doing things was actually something that was worth preserving. Which is why Card actively made an effort to imitate the way Walt had run the corporation.

And it's not like Walker wasn't capable of occassionally making a bold choice. The decision to first take the Disney theme park concept international? That was Card. Walker also played a key role in the creation of the Disney Channel.

Getting back to Epcot now ... When it finally came time to begin building what was then called "Walt's last and best dream," Card didn't stint. That project's initial construction budget was a staggering $800 million. And when it became necessary (in order for EPCOT Center to meet its previously announced October 1, 1982 opening date) to throw even more dough at the project, Walker didn't hestitate. Eventually kicking in an additional $400 million into Epcot's construction budget. Just so this futuristic theme park would then have the same high level of quality, the same incredible attention to detail that Walt Disney had always insisted upon.

Make no mistake about it, folks. Card Walker had ridiculously high standards when it came to Walt Disney Productions. He insisted that only the best of the best be allowed to work at the company's theme parks. Which is why -- during Card's tenure as head of the corporation -- Disney HR department would interview upwards of 30 candidates for every single position that they were trying to fill at Disneyland and WDW's Magic Kingdom & EPCOT Center.

Of course, this was back on the day when Walt Disney Productions prided itself on being a great employer. Which meant that many of the jobs at the theme parks were 40-hours-a-week positions with terrific benefits.

More importantly, this was back when Walt Disney Productions also liked being thought of as a good neighbor. Which is why Card Walker continually put off constructing any new hotels on WDW property.
"Why would he do that?," you ask. Here's a quote that has long been attributed to Card:

"We do quite well with the theme parks and the hotels that we already have. So why not let some money flow back into the local community? After all, we wouldn't want the public to ever get the idea that Walt Disney Productions was getting greedy. Our good name is all we have."

That's the real key to understanding who Card Walker was. He was the man who -- after Walt and Roy O. were gone -- dedicated himself to preserving Walt Disney Production's good name.

Which was a pretty admirable goal. At least to my way of thinking.

The staff of JHM wishes to extend its heartfelt condolensces to the friends & family of Card Walker in their time of sorrow.

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