It is said that a “Picture is worth a thousand words.” That is to say that a single still image can produce extensive and complex stories. I have always loved this photograph, because to me, it is worth a 1000 words about what Walt Disney was about. A candid photo, it shows Walt at Disneyland picking up trash in front of the Fire Station. It exemplifies Walt’s passion for attention to detail, if there ever was any doubt about it or lack of proof.
The interviews I have done are replete with memories of Walt and how interested he could be in just the smallest details. I remember an interview I did when I was working on an essay for the Disney Family Foundation on Walt’s involvement in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. I was told a story about when Walt spent several hours talking to a ski-lift operator about every possible fact on the operation of said lift, how people reacted, could the system be improved, what were the complaints, and so forth.
Most Disney enthusiasts have heard the Frank and Ollie (and Ward Kimball too) tale of how one time they removed the tale of Mickey Mouse from a frame of film, just to see if Walt would notice. They were viewing the rough animation, and the frame went by without Walt saying a word. Comments on the animation were made and discussed, and the meeting was adjourned …. still, without a word on the missing tail. As Walt left the sweatbox, and the animators thought they had pulled one over on their boss, he turned around and said, “Oh, and put the tail back!”
Walt loved Disneyland. It was his baby. In the film Walt: The Man Behind the Myth Imagineer Bruce Gordon has a great quote about Walt’s love for Disneyland. Bruce declared, “I think Walt built Disneyland, because he wanted one.” (A quote we are to understand was originally attributed to Tony Baxter.) The care and concern for his park, a care and concern that would require more than a thousand words to try and describe, comes through loud and clear in this picture!
The photo is from the book When Hollywood Was Fun: Snapshots of an Era by Gene Lester (Carol Publishing Group, Secaucus, N.J., 1993). The book features a wonderful collection of Lester’s candid photos from his career as a professional celebrity photographer. (Happily, the book is still available, and in the Institute Gift Shop: When Hollywood Was Fun.)