MEMORY OF WALT AT DISNEYLAND
A "Damned Expensive" Employee
by Paul F. Anderson
Whether he liked it or not, Walt Disney was definitely an attraction at Disneyland; an E Ticket attraction in this writer’s opinion! Admittedly I am altogether biased in this regard, having spent more than half my life studying Walt Disney and his legacy. Yet, this aside, I dare say that most people visiting the Happiest Place on Earth would consider a Walt sighting a highlight of their visit. On the other hand--to Walt--being recognized at Disneyland was a nuisance. In January 1964 Hooper Fowler of Look Magazine asked Walt about his personal trips to Disneyland. Walt had this to say:
“Oh, I might average once a month. Most of my interest in Disneyland is planning and improving it and I do a great deal of that here at the Studio. So I only go down to check on things, to see what ought to be done for the coming year. It's pretty hard to get around Disneyland when people are there. I mean, they're friendly, they're wonderful and I love to meet them, but I can't stand still long because I'll - oh, I don't mind giving autographs, I think it's wonderful that they do want your autograph. But when I'm at Disneyland, if I stop to sign one autograph, before I can get that signed, there are some more up there and it accumulates quite a crowd and it always makes it awful hard to get away.
“So when I go through Disneyland, I walk fast, and it isn't much fun. So I go down when Disneyland is closed with my staff and we go through everything. Or I go down when there is a big crowd, a very big crowd, and I walk very fast and watch every part of it and find out where we need to improve our crowd control conditions to make it easier for people to get around and our shade areas and all the problems that we have in the summer when we have the half million plus people a week.
“So that's mainly my interest in Disneyland has been building that thing, in keeping it alive and keeping it fresh and keeping it successful by doing these things. So most of my fun comes from that end of it.”
There exists another group of people inside Disneyland that were also quite attentive to whether Walt was in the Park or not--cast members! Their feelings were mixed, ranging from an E Ticket experience down to the angst that Davy Crockett must have felt as he saw 6,000 Mexican soldiers storm over the walls of the Alamo. The latter rush of emotion would only come if the cast member was not performing their job in a manner that Walt would have expected. In fact, most cast member encounters with Walt that this historian has had the pleasure to hear are quite positive, and typically include a humorous element.A perfect example of this notion is that of merchandise host Willard Davis, who had the pleasure of helping the boss one day in the mid-1960s. Davis recalled: “Walt walked up to my register one day with a plaque he wished to purchase. When I told him how much it would be, he said, ‘Son, that’s not right.’ I told him that was the price with his discount. ‘Discount?’ he asked. ‘You’re an employee and get a discount,’ I answered. He looked puzzled and then replied, ‘You’re right! I am an employee--a damned expensive one!’”
Walt got the plaque and his discount. A half decade later Institute readers, thanks to oral history, got a look at Walt’s sense of humor.