By Paul F. Anderson
INTRODUCTION It has been quite some time that I posted a “Journal of a Disney Historian” (you can see the previous entries here). They have been pretty popular (as witnessed by the number of hits), so I thought it was probably time for another one. It is supposed to be an attempt by me to answer questions and emails, update folks on future entries here at DHI, tie up any loose ends from previous essays and entries, and also include short bits and pieces from the exciting world of Walt Disney history. I am always interested in ideas and suggestions. 

WELCOME POPE FRANCIS: The “Covering Disney” Way

Catholic Preview of Entertainment, April 1959

“Covering Disney” is a regular feature here at the Institute, and I thought it fit in quite nicely with this Journey of a Disney Historian column. Covering Disney is where we explore the history of Walt Disney’s use of the magazine for promotion and exploitation (the preferred method before the Internet came along). You can read my original historical essay on this topic here. To see all of the essays and magazine covers, go to: Covering Disney.

Eyvind Earle, who’s storybook style create the
look and feel for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Most of you are well aware that with this feature I try to celebrate the various holidays, milestones in Disney history, or just current events in the news. I have several different Catholic magazines that feature Walt or Disney characters on the cover, and quite a few that have articles on Disney. But this particular issue is my favorite as the color art strikes a stark contrast against the black-and-white Disney characters. In a way, playing to the nature of the magazine, it is almost as if the white light coming down is a halo, or God is shining down on Walt. This particular issue, I believe, is also the rarest of all the Catholic periodicals, for I have only ever seen just this one copy (and even that was kind of rare, as I ended up spending a couple of hours digging through the Institute’s holdings trying to find it). It features a lengthy 10-page article inside by Walt (or as we now know, outlined by Walt, written by the publicity department, and then okayed by Walt).

For the most part the article is a strong promotion for the release of the upcoming animated feature Sleeping Beauty, but it does briefly talk about many of the pictures that are in the works at the Disney Studio. There is also a nice collection of black-and-white photographs (including a few behind-the-scenes images–including the one to the left that features Walt Disney after the breaking up of a story conference).

So our congratulations go out to the Catholics of the world as they welcome their new leader, with a subtle nod from the Disney History Institute.  Enjoy!


From The Playgoer: The Magazine in the Theatre, April 1938
(Official publication of the Biltmore Theatre)

One of two known lamps that were in the window of Walt’s Apartment at
Disneyland during Walt Disney’s lifetime. The current lamp was purchased
by Disneyland after Lillian Disney removed many of the personal items in 1986.
If you have not been following our Disney History Institute Facebook group page, then you should. There is quite a bit of good Disney historical discussions going on over there, as well as the sharing of numerous rare images. Last week I wrote a bit about Walt Disney’s apartment at Disneyland, and included some information on the original Walt Disney lamp. The lamp that is currently in the apartment is a replacement, as Lillian Disney removed a lot of items from the apartment back in 1986. Quite a few people wanted to know why, and so I wrote the following explanation as well as a little anecdote about Lillian and the apartment. So consider this in essence an answer to the question that I received dozens of requests about: “Why were the items removed from the apartment by Mrs. Disney?”

The reason does stem from the corporate raiders and take over attempts on Disney that started around 1984. Before continuing, it should be known that I have a decided bias on this topic, which has been erroneously billed as the Walt kids versus the Roy kids. My sensibilities strongly fall on the Walt side (imagine). I will be the first to note that the run-by-committee operation of the 1970s left things stagnant and that a change was desperately needed with the start of the new decade (“What would Walt do”–at least as envisioned by those that were left to run the company–was not working). However, too often I hear how Roy E. Disney was the savior. In fact, no, it was Ron Miller (this will open up a can of worms that I really don’t intend to open, so lets keep the discussion related to Walt’s  apartment). Remember that many of the changes that are frequently tossed out as the reasons for the turnaround, took place under Ron’s regime; things like the creation of the Disney Channel, and the establishment of Touchstone Pictures, just to name a few (and there were many other subtle changes at Disney, done at the behest of Ron Miller, that greatly facilitated the saving of Walt’s company). It should also be noted that Miller contacted Michael Eisner before his ouster in an attempt to continue the turn around on the company. Unfortunately, an end run (to keep with Miller’s prior profession) was done, and the great work that Ron had done was a bit too late, and there was an apparent need for a scapegoat (which if one reads the history of what happened, was not really necessary!).  Without delving into this any more, suffice it to say it was a very difficult time for Walt’s family and it was not deserved. Moreover, it is an understatement to say that it was quite hard on Lillian. With this in mind, yes, the change over in management was largely the reason for the removing of the items from the apartment.

It is believed that Mrs. Disney’s last visit to the Park was for Candlelight in 1983. She did attend the Walt Disney birthday celebration on December 4, 1984, but refused to go into the Park. From this point on, she did not go to the apartment or Disneyland again (so it is believed).

Flora Disney. The original framed
photo that hung over Walt Disney’s bed.
On April 18, 1986 she notified Disneyland management that she wanted to remove “all personal items of Walt Disney and mine from our apartment at Disneyland.” Her wishes were acknowledged and handled with great care and respect (with the exception of one instance which I shall never write about). The first set of items were removed in May of 1986 and were, as requested, “personal items” (the pictures of the mothers, hairbrush, portable radio, raincoats, scarves, etc., just to name a few examples). The remainder of the “personal property” was removed later that summer (most of it), which included many of the antiques and collectibles that she and Walt had collected over the years. An internal facts sheet from Disneyland later acknowledged that “very few of the current bric-a-brac items actually belonged to the Disney family. They do, however, closely mirror the original style of Lillian’s collection.” Some Walt-era items are still in the apartment.

From an Institute perspective, we are interested in the history of Lillian’s wishes and last visits to the apartment. An interview I did back in 1997 with Cicely Rigdon does talk about one of Lillian’s last visits to the apartment, and how sentimental the place was to her.

Jeannette Bounds. The original
framed photo that hung over Lillian
Disney’s bed.
Rigdon started at Disneyland in 1957 as a part-time Ticket Seller, and became a Tour Guide when the program started. She immediately moved into a Lead position and eventually a Supervisor, where she, in essence, created the Tour Guide program; later she became the Manager of the Ambassador Program where she remained until her retirement in 1994. She told the Disney News magazine: “I worked very hard to make the Tour Guide program successful–which it was. We had 11 different languages and 120 Tour guides during the summertime. We would sell as many as 4,000 tickets on a given day.” She also had nice memories of her interaction with Walt at the Park, and reminisced that, “Walt really liked the Tour Guides. Every time he would come to the Park he would always stop by and see us and talk to us. He used to make suggestions, like, ‘Well now, all these people that take this guided tour, you should make sure that they all get into the Golden Horseshoe. They pay more than anybody else. You should get them in there.”

In regards to our Lillian story, Mrs. Disney’s favorite “host” to assist her while in the Park was the always gracious and attentive Cicely Rigdon. Rigdon shared a heartfelt story with me (one of her favorites, I am sure) about one of Lillian’s last visits to the apartment. It was shortly after John L. Truyens had passed away in 1981 (Lillian’s second husband). Lillian pulled in to her favorite parking place just behind City Hall. There to meet her was Cicely. She assisted Lillian up the stairs to the apartment, unlocked the door, and opened the door for her. Shortly after crossing the door’s threshold and entering the little hallway into the main room, it was almost as if a rush of emotion and pleasantries for the space caught up with her; she longingly looked back to Cicely and said, “Oh how I miss my Walt.” Don’t we all!

Work is underway on the Primeval World for the Disneyland & Santa Fe Railroad.

STARTING TOMORROW AT THE INSTITUTE: Get ready for an absolutely magnificent 10-part essay by my DHI Fellow, Todd J. Pierce, on Walt Disney’s unrealized St. Louis project. The essay is ground breaking and will quickly become the seminal work on this nearly forgotten aspect of Disney history. I dare say that well over half the information contained in the work has never seen the light of day. So little is known on this aspect of Walt Disney’s legacy, and believe me Todd has left no stone unturned in attempting to find out every little detail about this project. Don’t miss it!

So ends this Journal entry. If you haven’t checked out our Facebook group, you should. There is a lot of wonderful historical information posted over there, as well as continued discussion on the various essays posted here at the Institute. Check it out here: Disney History Institute Facebook Group.

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