June 13, 2012

Wednesdays With Walt : The Man Behind The Myth

For this Wednesday with Walt installment I decided to pose a very important question... Who was Walt Disney? Many Disney fans and historians have strong opinions on the answer to this question but in all honesty it's very hard to know what comes from fact and what comes from fiction when it comes to Walt Disney.

A natural storyteller, I'm sure that Walt wanted some real input on his own legacy. Who wouldn't? I know I would. I recently read a Walt Disney quote where he himself said that the Walt we saw on TV and in the media wasn't the Walt Disney that went home to his family every night. Essentially he was admitting that he had chosen to create a Walt Disney myth to partner the man he really was in life. Some people find this fact to be somehow dishonest but I feel quite the opposite. How many of us put on a happy face at work even when we would rather not? How many of us show who we really are deep down to our co-workers, employees and customers on a constant basis? I choose to enjoy the fact that Walt kept a little piece of himself for himself and his loved ones. Good for him! 

It is well-documented that Walt Disney expected a lot (maybe too much at times) from his employees and this is the main criticism that I have heard about Walt Disney the man. I argue that the same can be said about the visionaries behind each and every single successful entertainment company and studio in Hollywood. In fact, as nice and as humble as I have heard that John Lasseter is in real life, there is a nasty blog online that makes fun of him on many topics, from his looks to his personal management style. Sadly, based on the content, it looks like it was one of his own animators who created it. Do such statements mean that either John Lasseter or Walt Disney are evil employers who don't really care about their employees? No, they don't. It is obvious that they care a lot and their decisions can often be controversial. It means that they have had high expectations and standards, two things that should be treasured, not criticized.

People still like to speculate on exactly what Walt Disney the man would have wanted and what he wouldn't have wanted for Disneyland and beyond but in all honesty very few people alive could really answer those questions. I'm lucky enough to know someone who worked directly with Walt for years and he has nothing but glowing things to say about him. I have never met anyone who had any serious problems with Walt personally but I have met a few people who have said that he was a great boss to work for because he always pushed himself and those around him for more. They didn't resent this because they saw it as a challenge, not a burden. Walt was a great animator, entertainer and storyteller. He was a family man who wanted to make the world and America a better place. He valued hard work and creativity. I guess for me, that is all I need to know.

Walter Elias Disney (1901 –1966)
 Photo Courtesy of Disney Parks


  1. Hi Beth,

    I too, write a Disney blog.

    Your thoughts here are very interesting, and very much on point. Keep up the great job.


  2. Well said! In his love for work and creativity, Walt was "super human", and by expecting it from his staff, he made many do things they never thought they would ever be capable. Kind of "Socratic" and miraculous.... What is there better than bring out the best, creativity wise, in people? That is why those who stuck with him are so grateful....

  3. I too knew someone who worked for Walt as an animator starting at WDS in 1935. He said that Walt was a taskmaster who always challenged everyone around him and the work produced was always better for it.

    All people have a "public face" and have a right to their privacy and the abilty to let their guard down and enjoy their time with family. He was an innovator and a risk taker, putting everything he owned on the line more than once to see his vision realized and the world is a better place for it.

  4. He worked his staff hard but he rewarded them when he could. He did not like to go on TV and that is why he always had props with him, to take him mind off being on TV.