A Final Farewell to One Man's Dream

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

The Disney theme parks are constantly changing, often without advance notice. Things close. Things change.

I will definitely miss the Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream exhibit at Disney Hollywood Studios that will be gone by the end of September. I am trying to take some comfort in the fact that the Disney Company did something like this at all and that it stayed at Walt Disney World more than a decade longer than it was originally intended.

In fact, I still have the memo that was sent to Disneyland cast members who grumbled that Walt’s working office, which had been displayed alongside Walt’s formal office in the pre-show area of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for 25 years, was packed up and shipped off to Walt Disney World.

The memo tried to explain that this would allow it to be enjoyed during Walt’s 100th birthday by many guests that might never make it out to Disneyland, and that it would return no later than early 2003, right after the holiday season.

That office has already been packed up before the official closing, with some sources saying it is headed for the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco rather than returning to Anaheim.

In 1975, The Walt Disney Story opened on Main Street U.S.A., in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World and the pre-show areas had many authentic artifacts of Disney history. Both Walt’s formal and working office were displayed in the Disneyland attraction.

One Man’s Dream was opened as part of the year-long 100 Years of Magic: Share a Dream Come True event that was to kick off on Walt Disney World’s 30th anniversary on October 1, 2001, and be a spectacular celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Walt Disney. Of course, a Disney year event actually meant almost 18 months.

“Celebrating the legacy of Disney’s creativity and spirit of adventure, 100 Years of Magic encompasses all four Walt Disney World theme parks and features a record number of new shows,” claimed the official press release, “Because Walt Disney’s story began with film, Disney MGM Studios will be the center of ‘100 Years of Magic’ with a 12-story celebration icon in the shape of Sorcerer Mickey’s hat.”

That structure was only supposed to be there for 18 months, as well, but was finally removed earlier this year.

Among the actual temporary additions that I enjoyed were interactive Discover the Stories Behind the Magic kiosks of Disney history located at the Main Street U.S.A., Exhibition Hall, under the Sorcerer’s Hat at the Studios, the Wonders of the Wild at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, and Innoventions East at Epcot.

Of course, for me, the highlight was Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, described by Disney as “stepping into the amazing journey that was Walt’s life. Disney Imagineers have uncovered artifacts and interviews the public has never seen, to create a new multi-sensory entertainment experience based on this man who was willing to bet everything on his dreams.”

Disney has a tendency to use certain words and phrases like “Hyperion” for many different things over the years, and that was true of the phrase “One Man’s Dream” as well which sometimes causes confusion for fans trying to find out more information on the exhibit.

One Man’s Dream was the title of an entertaining and fairly accurate two-hour television show hosted by Dick Van Dyke and Michael Landon that aired on December 12, 1981, tracing the dreams of Walt Disney from his birth to the upcoming opening of Epcot Center.

One Man’s Dream was also the name of an elaborate Disney character live stage show that debuted in Tokyo Disneyland as part of its fifth anniversary celebration in 1988 and ran until 1995 (a shortened version ran at the Videopolis stage in Disneyland in 1989-1990). Tokyo even had a sequel titled One Man’s Dream II: The Magic Lives On! that premiered in 2004.

For the exhibit called One Man’s Dream, I got to interview and see the intricate Imagineering model for the exhibit with Imagineering Senior Show Producer Roger Holzberg, who was in charge of the exhibit, for the Walt Disney World Insider (Fall/Winter 2001), a Disney produced magazine.

“One Man’s Dream will enable Guests to journey into Walt’s imagination that is why the pathway flows back and forth like a wave. His imagination still speaks loudly to the child in us all."

“Guests’ footsteps will set into play a remarkable collection of rarely-heard audio commentary by Walt himself. The attraction will culminate in an inspiring and emotional fifteen minute film about a man who was never crushed by failure, and never spoiled by success.

"When we were researching the attraction, we found that many of our guests under the age of 15 did not know Walt Disney was a real person. They thought it was just the name of the company. We want to present the idea that Walt was an individual, not an icon. This tells the story of Walt the man, and we hope that guests will be moved by the scope of his imagination, what he accomplished, and what he inspired." It was an incredibly well done exhibit with many objects never before seen or heard outside of the Disney Archives and was a true tribute to Walt’s accomplishments and legacy.

"It's important to note that 'One Man's Dream' is in no way a retrospective," said Marty Sklar, who was then vice chairman and principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering and on site for the installation. "Walt always said he had one foot in the past and one in the future. We want to inspire the young creative minds of today to help invent the future."

Disney Archivist Dave Smith supervised the collection and transportation of more than 400 items that arrived at Walt Disney World via Federal Express from California on an Airbus A300 designated the “Spirit of Imagination”. The coast-to-coat delivery took just a few hours on June 29, 2001.

The attraction was a walk-through exhibit with the curving pathway underneath the Guests’ feet reflecting the different decades of Walt’s life, beginning with a yellow brick road that transformed into a wooden path in the Marceline, Missouri, era and linoleum in the 1950s. Overhead was a swirling banner that listed what was happening in the world during the same time period, along with appropriate photos.

Near many of the exhibits were “Connection Cards” that connected what was seen like Walt dressing up as President Lincoln in grammar school with the Audio-Animatronics Lincoln figure for the 1964 New York’s World Fair later in the attraction.

Translator units for Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Japanese were available. It was also designed so that guests could remain in their wheelchair, motorized scooter or ECV to enjoy the attraction at their leisure.

Not all of the artifacts were owned by the Disney Company or came from the Disney Archives. Some were borrowed from other sources and, after the first year, were given back to the owners with replicas sometimes taking their place.

For instance, many guests are under the impression that in one of the first display cases was Walt’s elementary school desk from Marceline’s Park School. No, the actual desk was never ever in the exhibit.

The desk belongs to Marceline, Missouri, that displays it there under plexiglass during the year at the school and sometimes at Walt Disney’s Hometown Museum.

When the exhibit opened, the desk was on loan to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum for its exhibit, Walt Disney: The Man and His Magic (May 13-September 4, 2001) and once it was finished there, it was returned to Marceline because it was larger than the display case in the One Man's Dream exhibit among other reasons.

Walt showcasing EPCOT at One Man's Dream in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The real desk that Walt rediscovered on a July 1956 visit to Marceline is large enough for both Walt and his wife Lillian to sit in, although it was a tight squeeze. The card in One Man's Dream only implies that the desk is the same one seen in the photos displayed. The photo of Walt pointing at his initials is carefully cropped to let guests assume the desk was as small as the one on exhibit.

Also in the Reagan exhibit was the famous Oscar and seven little Oscar statuettes given to Walt for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). That icon did make its way to One Man’s Dream to sit on top of Walt’s actual office desk from the Hyperion Studios, but when the Walt Disney Family Museum opened in 2009, the Disney family took it back since it was their personal property. It is now displayed at that San Francisco location.

When the exhibit opened that was indeed an authentic animation desk in the display that was on loan from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Walt himself donated the animation stand to the museum in 1938 and claimed that he had used that very stand for the production of Steamboat Willie (1928) after it had been upgraded from being used on the Alice Comedies. Since the attraction was only supposed to last 18 months, that was also the agreement for the loan, so then it had to be returned and a replica created to take its place.

Originally, the exhibit had the actual model (with some minor restoration) of Sleeping Beauty Castle done by Imagineer Fred Joerger, but when Disneyland celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005, the real model was shipped back for a display at Disneyland. Once again, a replica took its place in Orlando. However, that is the original model (after some restoration) of Main Street U.S.A., that Walt used on his first television show.

When the attraction first opened, guests were able to view, up-close, the white dress worn by actress Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins (1964). However, after a few years, an examination revealed that the heat and light were damaging the dress despite all precautions so it was replaced with the suit worn by actor Fred MacMurray in the feature film Bon Voyage (1962).

The multiplane camera was not the real one, as well, but a small replica. Three original Disney multiplane cameras still survive. One is at the Burbank Studios in the lobby of the Disney Archives, another one is at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and the third is at the Art of Disney Animation attraction in Disneyland Paris.

Hanging overhead above the display of authentic Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse dolls was a Mickey Mouse rocking horse. That was a donation from Roy E. Disney and was his actual toy from the 1930s.

Of course, a nice addition to One Man's Dream in 2009 was when Disney Archivist Becky Cline found in the Disney studio prop department two of the trunks used personally by Walt on his travels. One of them was placed by his desk from the Hyperion Studio.

Yes, that is indeed Walt’s actual desk, and it was used by Dave Smith as his desk for several years when he first became the head of the Disney Archives until he found it was too small for his needs. So another Disney Archivist, Robert Tieman, inherited it for a while before it ended up in the exhibit.

Also on the desk is a Mousecar (Mickey Mouse Oscar), an award created by Walt himself to honor distinguished people at the studio. Walt gave the first Mousecar to his brother Roy in 1947. The Disney Company has no official record of how many Mousecars were handed out over the years.

Here are a few things you may have missed or might discover on your vacation photos and videos.

Walt Disney’s Working Office.

Walt Disney had two side-by-side offices on the third floor at the Animation Building at the Disney Studio in Burbank. One was the formal office (recreated for the weekly television show introductions) filled with awards, a baby grand piano (that the Sherman Brothers would play for Walt), some of Walt’s miniature collection, awards, bookshelves, and more. This is the office Walt would use to entertain guests including reporters.

When his secretaries were relocated near the end of 1967, Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney locked Walt's offices to ensure the safety and preservation of some items, such as a case full of Oscars and other awards.

However, to say the offices were "sealed" would be misleading, as some executives and custodians had constant access to the offices, which were cleaned once a week while a plan was developed to properly preserve these items. However, things that were on the desks and in cabinets were just dusted and not disturbed.

When Dave Smith was brought on to create the Disney Archives in 1970 the rooms were re-opened for Smith to inventory, photograph and catalog everything.

“It was an eerie thing to sit … in his chair and count the paper clips in the drawer," Smith once told me.

The working office at One Man's Dream was where Walt would meet with writers, directors, and other creative staff and is actually where he spent most of his work day. Everything in the room is original including the furniture, knickknacks, and even the wood paneling and drapes. Smith was even able to save the phone from being taken by the phone company when the office was originally dismantled.

Behind Walt’s chair is the actual battered brown briefcase that he used to take home paperwork and scripts at night. The two large maps on the wall are one of Disneyland from 1966 and his plan for the abandoned Epcot project. In fact, the room was turned from how it was displayed at Disneyland so that the maps are more prominent.

The photo of Ed Wynn is there because Ub Iwerks’ son was getting into portrait photography and gave that to Walt as an example to persuade Walt to have him sit for a portrait.

Major displays, like the New Fantasyland model, and minor props from films, like Tron and Honey I Blew Up The Kid have been seen over the years in One Man's Dream. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

On the cubbyholed cabinets are lots of authentic surprises including a model of the big Grumman company plane that was displayed on the now closed Backlot Tour. The gold crown is one of only three that were made by Joyce C. Hall (founder of Hallmark, which uses a crown as its symbol) who was a good friend of Walt’s.

In another display, often missed by guests, is one of Hall’s letters to Walt. On a plane trip headed to California, Hall asked three children seated nearby what they most wanted to see in Southern California which was filled with so many interesting places and things. All agreed eagerly that the most important thing was to visit Disneyland.

Then, Hall asked the oldest girl what she thought Walt was, whether he was a real man or somebody more like Santa Claus. She pondered the question for a moment and answered in thoughtful seriousness, “Both.”

Also on the area behind Walt’s chair is the famous mechanical bird in a gilded cage that Walt picked up at an antique shop in New Orleans in the late 1940s and was the inspiration for Audio-Animatronics. Yes, the figure still works and somebody at Disney should photograph it in action. Actually, there is a secret few people know. There are two birds in a gilded cage. One is in the exhibit and the other is at the Disney Archives.

Granny Kinkaid’s Cabin was hand built by Walt Disney himself in 1952 as the first display for his traveling Disneylandia project that later evolved into a full size Disneyland.

So all those poorly hammered nails, clumsily strung cords and scribbled writing are all examples of Walt’s work himself. The Los Angeles Times newspaper from December 1952 described it as “an 8-foot long replica of a Midwest pioneer farm home, handicrafted (sic) by Disney in every minute detail of structure and the furniture supplemented by objects from historical collections.”

I see guests rush by it all the time, never stopping to examine it. It is not complete. For example, some of the miniatures that were part of Walt’s personal collection were removed before it was installed.

Project Little Man

In February 1951, while live-action reference filming was being done for the animated feature Peter Pan, Walt used part of the soundstage to set up a massive grid and raised platform stage where he directed actor and dancer Buddy Ebsen who was doing some live action reference modeling for Hook’s pirates.

Attired with a vaudevillian bowtie, hat and suit, Ebsen went through a series of entertaining impromptu tap dances. He was filmed in 35 millimeter (an example is shown on an overhead screen), so that the individual frames could be studied and duplicated for a small 9-inch-tall model sculpted by Charles Cristadoro that wore the same outfit and operated through a system of cams and cables like a music box.

“We built the figure 9-inches tall. We put springs up through the feet of this figure and operated these cables and that made the figure dance. It was very cumbersome," said Imagineer Roger Broggie. “The cam had to have a three-foot diameter for a two minute show, and the controls that went up and down it had to be patterned around that perimeter. And we had to synchronize the sound with the cam."

When this display was first installed, Imagineer Marty Sklar was asked if it still worked.

“It did the last time we plugged it in,” he replied. “But I am not going to be the one responsible if we plug it in now and it breaks.”

I would suggest to the Disney Archivists who are coming out to repack these exhibits that they set up a series of cameras in front, at the side and behind and plug it in so they can record it for posterity, something that should have been done when it was first installed. By the way, Walt helped build the proscenium stage along with Imagineer Ken Anderson.

Originally Disney CEO Michael Eisner was the narrator for the final film, but when he exited the Disney Company in 2005, he was replaced by Disneyland 50th Anniversary Ambassador actress Julie Andrews reading the same script. A lot of Walt’s voice-over came from the recorded interviews he did with Saturday Evening Post writer Pete Martin in June and July 1956.

The exhibit was briefly closed and rehabbed (with such things as the swirling timeline banner removed) and reopened in March 2009 with some new items from the Disney Archives and sponsored by D23, in hopes of nudging true Disney fans into joining that organization.

There was even a display of a typical Disney fan’s room, which was supposed to represent Senior Vice President of Imagineering Eric Jacobson with his D23 membership certificate prominently displayed on the wall.

From August 16 to November 2, 2010, Walt Disney: One Man's Dream received a refurbishment that removed some of the displays and added new ones in its place including a final section entitled “The Legacy Continues” to showcase achievements after the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971. The interior color palette was changed.

One of the new additions was an Imagineering Workshop display with the President Lincoln Audio-Animatronics figure from the 1964 New York World’s Fair standing in front of concept pieces for It’s A Small World. Originally, there was a display with an actual Audio-Animatronics figure that had basic functions that could be operated by a guest to synchronize with an audio-animatronics figure.

There were many joys to see over the years in this hidden treasure of an attraction including the robot butler from Horizons, a Figment Audio-Animatronic, a Rocketeer jet pack, a mask used in the Broadway production of The Lion King, and a Tron helmet, as well as many Imagineering models for various Disney theme parks around the world. The model for New Fantasyland was on display briefly in 2012 but removed.

I have to admit that, for years, attendance has been minimal for this attraction and that in a business sense, the space could be put to a better use and that the primary reason Disney had not closed it earlier was the expense to uninstall it, pack it up, insure it and ship it back to California and nothing to replace it.

I will still miss this attraction and hope Disney releases the final film in some format for us fans.

Here’s something very few people know about the attraction. Dave Smith has a particular memory about the attraction that sticks out in his mind:

“Probably the thing that’s always going to remain in my mind most vividly about that attraction is that when I was down in Florida helping to install it, some of the final work was being done on September 11, [2001] and we were hearing the news coming out of New York about the Twin Towers and we had to evacuate. It was a scary time.”



  1. By danyoung

    Thanks for this article, Jim. I've enjoyed many visits through this exhibit, and I've really enjoyed studying things like the Lincoln AA figure and the Dancing Man. I will miss it by just a few days this trip, but I'm glad I got to see it all with my own eyes.

  2. By Dave1313

    Good summary, thanks for writing this story.

    I'm sorry to see it go, but happy I got to visit it and enjoy the history. I loved all the models of park icons/Castles, etc.

  3. By kdyounger

    Nothing about the replica of the NAUTILUS built by Tom Scherman that was suspended from the overhead? Aside - they are removing the heart of the magic at the studio, as far as I am concerned. I can only hope the displays find a good permanent home to be shared.

  4. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by kdyounger View Post
    Nothing about the replica of the NAUTILUS built by Tom Scherman that was suspended from the overhead? Aside - they are removing the heart of the magic at the studio, as far as I am concerned. I can only hope the displays find a good permanent home to be shared.

    I agree. Even if not every item that is currently in there, it would be nice if some level of an historical display like this could be retained.

  5. By Buddy Boyle

    Oh, there is no question that the display must be relocated. These are historical artifacts that must be preserved for future generations to see so they can learn how and why everything "Disney" came to be.
    ~ Does anyone know what the last day of operation will be for One Man's Dream?

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