Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 2000 / 7 Elul 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LIKE MOST KIDS of my generation, I grew up watching Walt Disney every Sunday night on television. My favorite episodes, besides the cartoon specials, were the ones where Walt would take us “behind the scenes” to catch a glimpse of the construction of Disneyland, or the making of the latest animated feature, or simply a tour of the studio itself, of which he seemed so proud. Watching how his staff of artists created all that magic thrilled and inspired me. I wanted to do what Walt’s guys did. I wanted to work with Walt Disney. I almost made it.
Unfortunately, by the time I started at the studio Walt had already passed away. It had been just over three years since his death but the company was still very much as it was when Walt was alive. Most of his key executives and creative staff were still in place when I arrived. Walt’s brother, Roy, continued to be very involved in the day to day operations. His life long collaborator and pal from the Kansas City days, Ub Iwerks, was still around --- working on technological innovations for the studio. Yes, Walt was gone, but Walt’s guys were still there --- still making magic.
Several generations of Walt’s team were on board when I got there. These were the guys that gave the classic films that special “Disney touch”. These were my heroes as a kid --- they became my teachers and mentors as a young apprentice -- later many of them became my friends.
One of Walt’s guys was instrumental in getting me hired at the studio. Roy Williams was a huge bear of a man who had started at the studio in 1930. A naturally funny guy who had a knack for zany practical jokes, he gained a reputation as one of the most prolific gag writers in Hollywood. In the 1950’s Roy became famous to children coast to coast as “The Big Mooseketeer” on the original Mickey Mouse Club television show.
In 1969 and 1970 I had animated and shot several short films on my own, in an effort to learn how it was done. As luck would have it, my Aunt Jean knew Roy Williams’ wife, Ethel, and had told her all about me and my work. One evening, Ethel arranged for me to meet Roy and run my movies for him at their home. As I nervously set up my projector and screen in his living room, I remember thinking how he looked exactly like he did on the Mickey Mouse Club --- he was even wearing a T-shirt. All that was missing was his name across his chest and the mouse ears on his head.
It was an evening that changed my life. After Roy previewed my films he took me out to his office/studio, located in his Polynesian style backyard behind the house to talk and share some of his personal mementos with me. The walls were filled with photographs and cartoons representing his more than forty years with the studio. He was especially proud of a framed stock certificate hanging just above his desk and personally signed to him by Walt Disney. It was one of the first issued when the company went public in the forties. “I’ll never cash it in,” Roy told me. “ It means too much to me. I really loved that guy!”
Roy saw some potential in those crude animated films of mine, and set up an interview for me with the personnel director at the studio. I was hired and remained with The Walt Disney Company for the next 27 years.
Roy Williams remained loyal to Walt and the company to the very end. His last wish was
to be buried in his Mickey Mouse ears when he died. As far as I know, that wish was carried
JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.
09/01/00: In Honor of Those Who Never Were