Walt Never Said It

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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I just sent off the final manuscript to my latest book Walt's Words: Quotations From Walt Disney With Sources! to my publisher Theme Park Press so it will be available for purchase by the first week of October just in time for the holiday sales period.

It was tough finding good quotes from Walt, especially those that didn't already appear in Dave Smith's wonderful book The Quotable Walt Disney. It is a book I recommend including in your Disney library. My personal library is filled with Dave Smith books. However, it was even tougher verifying Walt's quotes.

I am sure most of us have found websites with quotes attributed to Walt, but with no source from where they were "borrowed". For the most part, they were taken from Smith's book or his earlier cast member-only versions beginning in 1974.


Several sources claim to quote Walt Disney, but many times it wasn't his quote.

In fact, some quotes are so popular and so engaging that they are repeated over and over and over—thanks to the marvels of cut and pasting and the belief that everything on the Internet is public domain. It is not, by the way. These quotes are used in articles and in books as well, again with no source citation.

By now, I think almost everyone knows that the quote "If you can dream it, you can do it" was never said by Walt. It was the creation of Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald for the Horizons attraction at Epcot, but it so captured the spirit of Walt's philosophy that for years people attributed it to Walt Disney. Fitzgerald admits he is flattered that people confuse it with something that Walt actually said.

Are you familiar with the following quote?

"Somehow I can't believe there are many heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C's. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage and Constancy, and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe a thing, believe it all over, implicitly and unquestioningly."

I think most Disney fans are familiar with that particular quote. It certainly appears almost everywhere.

I have huge respect for Michael Broggie and feel he has enriched Disney history with his book Walt Disney's Railroad Story, which is thankfully still in print so can be added to your Disney library, as well, for those starting their Christmas wish list of books.

In 2010, Broggie wrote a small book titled Walt Disney's Words of Wisdom, which was not exactly a book of quotations, but took these initial four concepts, beginning with the letter "C," and expanded it to a total of 30 concepts, beginning with the letter "C," that helped to give insight into Walt Disney's philosophy. So Broggie based an entire book around this familiar quote.

The only problem? Walt never said that quoted quotation about the four Cs.

In my book, How To Be a Disney Historian, I point out that a Disney historian should never fully trust the research of other people, no matter how reliable they have been in the past (and this includes me, as well), and whenever possible should go to the original sources.

In my research for my book of Walt quotes, I went through hundreds of original documents to locate the exact source for a quotation, rather than rely on previously published quotations, especially those that had no identification. I have some amazing quotes by Walt that do not appear in the book because I cannot find a reliable source to credit to them.

I even avoided instances where people paraphrased Walt. In more than 35 years of interviews, I have examples where Imagineers or animators would say something like "After the meeting, Walt told me such and such."

I avoided those examples because while they may (or may not) have captured the intent of what Walt said, it is not an actual word-for-word account and is definitely colored by their feelings at the moment and the erosion of time over the years.

Imagine my surprise, now experienced by you who are reading this column, when I found the following magazine article: "The Amazing Secret of Walt Disney" by Don Eddy in The American Magazine, August 1955:

"On the surface, it would appear that Disney has reached the pinnacle of success and fame. That worlds are left for him to conquer? But then I remembered—they have been saying that about him ever since Mickey Mouse first took the world by storm, and Snow White brought in its first $10 million. And, somehow, you can't believe there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true.

"This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four Cs. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage and Constancy, and the greatest of these is Confidence. Without confidence, Disney would not be where he is. When he believes a thing, he believes it all over, implicitly and unquestioningly.

"From his insatiable curiosity, as persistent and all-embracing as a child's, he gets his ideas. When he settles on one idea, his confidence takes supreme command; nothing can shake it. His courage keeps it alive and active against all obstacles, and he has plenty of obstacles. And he is constant to it until it becomes a reality. Then he drops it abruptly and rarely mentions it again.

"One night down in the barn workshop (in his backyard), I told him my theory of the four Cs, and then asked him point-blank if he knew the secret of his own success, and if he could tell me and others like me how to make our dreams come true, as he had done.

" 'Why, sure,' he growled, glancing up from a lathe where he was shaving threadlike curls from a brass rod. 'You do it by working. Working, just like I've always done'."

So that often repeated Walt Disney quote is not from Walt Disney, unless he liked the concept so much that he later plagiarized it word for word. I sincerely doubt that happened. Walt was clever enough to take a concept and reformat it into his own words.

So why do so many people, including myself for decades, believe that Walt said it? Because the Disney Company told us Walt did.

In fact, Dave Smith, who is meticulous in what he says and writes, said that Walt said it. It's right there on page 247 in his book on Walt's quotes and probably the source for others using it. Dave also included it in the Disney employee handbook titled "Walt" that was first released in 1974 so it has been floating around for 40 years.

Oops, that's wrong. It has been floating around for nearly 57 years. Let me explain.

How could Dave make such a mistake as saying Walt said the four C's? He was probably fooled by the same source that I was for many years. That quote appeared on page 79 in the hardcover edition of Wisdom magazine (Volume 32) December 1959 in a three-page section titled "From the Wisdom of Walt Disney".

So for decades, Michael Broggie, Dave Smith, myself and countless others who are supposedly authorities were fooled into thinking Walt said it. If I had asked any of the seventeen respected historians noted for their dedication to research and accuracy who contributed to my book on writing Disney history, I am sure every one of them without hesitation would have said "That is a Walt quote."

I can hardly blame you if you thought Walt said it, as well. But now you know better so stop doing it and tell others to stop doing it.

I am going to assume that someone in the publicity department at the Disney Studios (perhaps Joe Reddy) in the late 1950s found that quote from The American Magazine and may have been skimming so quickly they thought Walt had said it, since there are direct quotes from Walt in the article (some of which are in my book exactly as they do appear in the article).

Why do I assume that situation? Because they transformed other pseudo-quotes from the same article, as well.

Remember this quote from Wisdom magazine (page 79) and Dave's book (page 263)?

"Why worry? If you've done the very best you can, worrying won't make it any better. I worry about many things but not about water over the dam."

Well, Walt ALMOST said it like that. From Eddy's article:

"When I asked Walt how he kept from worrying about profits - which I found difficult to believe - he shrugged and said, 'Why worry? If you've done the very best you can, worrying won't make it any better. Anyhow, I've noticed that most things in life even up in the long run'. He worries about many things but not about water over the dam. I wish I could do likewise!"

Okay, let's try another one from Wisdom magazine (page 79) and Dave's book (page 119):

"Money is something I understand only vaguely, and think about only when I don't have enough to finance my current enthusiasm, whatever it may be. All I know about money is that I have to have it to do things."

Let's look at Eddy's article again after Walt explained how he had made a mistake on the Newman Laugh-O-Grams series by only asking for the actual cost to make them rather than including a profit:

"Then, as now, money is something Walt understands only vaguely, and thinks about only when he doesn't have enough to finance his current enthusiasm, whatever it may be."

So for decades, we have been quoting writer Don Eddy thinking it was Walt Disney. I have found no other examples of Walt using any of these quotations anywhere else and he often repeated himself if he would find a phrase or a story he liked.

Eddy was a physically large man with a little black mustache and an easy smile almost looking like actor Oliver Hardy. Eddy wrote for The American Magazine from around 1940 and maybe even earlier but that is the earliest article by him I found.

The magazine went out of business in August 1956, which may be why you never heard of this particular periodical or Eddy. It was published by Crowell-Collier Publishing, that also cancelled two of its other general interest magazines, Coronet and Woman's Home Companion, in late 1956, that also included articles on Walt over the years.

By the way, if you can't track down a copy of The American Magazine, that article, along with 18 other articles on Walt appear in the book Walt Disney: Conversations by Kathy Merlock Jackson, who I personally think does not receive enough recognition for her contributions to Disney history. She has written three other recommended books about Disney.

Let me point out that not all of the quotes in Wisdom magazine were embellishments from other sources. Many of them were indeed actual quotes, but who in 1959 would have ever tracked down the original sources? The Disney Company said that Walt said them, and Walt never seemed to complain having them credited to him in a prestigious and scholarly magazine, which he probably just skimmed briefly as that year introduced the first "E" Ticket attractions to Disneyland.

There are three articles credited as being written by Walt in the magazine on animation, live-action films and the film Pollyanna, and were all probably composed by the publicity department, but at least two of the articles have the phrasing that I associate with Walt. The one on animation is way too technical compared with the way Walt would generally describe the process.

As long as I am venting, another challenge was that if Walt liked a phrase or a story, because it always brought a laugh or a knowing nod from his interviewer, he would not hesitate to repeat it but in such a way that it seemed as if he had just thought of it. That is the actor in him.

There are lots of quotes where Walt soulfully mourns that he is surrounded by nothing but women, and it is so bad that even his dog is female.

Diane Disney Miller told me that the Disney family considered it just a family joke, not a real concern. In fact, the Eddy article states, "The baby grandson, Christopher Disney Miller, is the apple of Walt's eye. 'He's the first man I ever had in the family,' he says with unconcealed pride. 'You know, "I've been henpecked by my women folks all my life'. Nobody, incidentally, including Walt, believes this; it's a family joke."

Walt loved and respected the women that surrounded him. He seriously encouraged their counsel. In addition, Diane explained that when the statement would be brought up by a reporter, her mother Lillian would firmly state that no woman had ever been able to henpeck or cajole Walt in to doing anything he didn't want to do.

She did not find the statement amusing even if it were a family joke.

"I can assure you it isn't true. No matter how hard the rest of us squeal, Walt goes ahead and does what he wants to do," said Lillian in "I Live With a Genius" in McCalls magazine, February, 1953.

Let's pull out another famous and often used quotation that may be familiar to you:

"My role? Well, you know I was stumped one day when a little boy asked, 'Do you draw Mickey Mouse? I had to admit I do not draw anymore. 'Then you think up all the jokes and ideas?' 'No,' I said, 'I don't do that'. Finally, he looked at me and said, 'Mr. Disney, just what do you do?' 'Well,' I said, ' sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everybody. I guess that's the job I do'."

No, I am not going to shatter any illusions or break any hearts. This is indeed an actual quote by Walt Disney and there is even a sound recording to back it up word for word. I often used that recording in business classes I taught at Disney Institute and it included Walt's famous chuckle at the end that doesn't reproduce, as well just in plain type. I'll bet in person he had a broad smile and a mischievous glint in his eye.

However, it did supply me with another challenge. Walt said this quote too often and sometimes exactly word for word as in the article "The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney" by Robert De Roos for the National Geographic magazine, August, 1963. So which source should be credited? The first one? The most complete version?

The first time I came across him comparing himself to a bee was in The New Yorker magazine for November 1, 1941, in an article appropriately titled "Pollen Man" but, in this version, he said:

"Sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everybody. I guess that's the job I do. I certainly don't consider myself a businessman, and I never did believe I was worth anything as an artist."

Then in the article "The Fantastic Walt Disney," by Bill Davidson, in the Saturday Evening Post magazine, November 7, 1964, Walt said it this way:

"I'm like a bee that flits from flower to flower, taking a little pollen here, a little pollen there, and I build up the honey in the honeycomb."

For my book, I decided to include several different versions with the appropriate sources since each had a significant difference, usually the tag line.

I have friends who are hoarding some real Disney treasures, because they are afraid that once they allow that information to be published, people will "borrow" that material without credit or permission.

They have warned me not to publish this book of Walt quotes because it is like tossing out a handful of raw meat to unappreciative hungry scavengers who will let people assume they are the founders of the feast. No one credits Dave Smith's book when they "borrow" a quote because, after all, isn't all information free? No, it isn't and sometimes it has taken decades, money, struggles and more to locate the material and make sure it is accurate.

For me, an even greater fear is that we are seeing more and more people misrepresenting Walt Disney.

He has ceased being a real human being and become some mythological creature where people attribute dark hidden motives to his words and actions. People who were not even born when he passed away speak with flippant confidence about what he was thinking and why he did things. It is only getting worse.

I know his oldest daughter, Diane, struggled with all of this nonsense and that it was hurtful to her and her family. I dedicate the book to her because she wanted people to see her father as a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a grandfather.

So, the book presents Walt's actual, verified words (and some do not necessarily portray him in a flattering light but he did say them at the time). If this can help people to write a truer portrait of an amazing dreamer, then I am willing to take the risk that I will never receive any credit. Those lazy writers might, hopefully, include at least the credit to the original source since others will be "borrowing" from them, as well.

However, I am not as altruistic as that last paragraph makes me seem. I did not include all the quotes that I have that Walt said. I still have many hidden treasures to fill another book if I decided to do so. Let's see what happens with this book first.

 

Comments

  1. By goaskal

    This is a most interesting effort. I have to wonder how one classifies things Walt said that were written for him by his personal speech writers. I once had the pleasure of meeting Jack Speirs who wrote for Walt Disney on a few television shows, including "Disneyland" and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color." It was pretty certain that if Walt said it on one of these shows, Jack wrote it. I am sure the same held true for other filmed appearances and other speech writers.

  2. By Jim Korkis

    Quote Originally Posted by goaskal View Post
    This is a most interesting effort. I have to wonder how one classifies things Walt said that were written for him by his personal speech writers. I once had the pleasure of meeting Jack Speirs who wrote for Walt Disney on a few television shows, including "Disneyland" and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color." It was pretty certain that if Walt said it on one of these shows, Jack wrote it. I am sure the same held true for other filmed appearances and other speech writers.

    Jack Speirs was another of the amazing and unrecognized talents who worked at Disney. While Jack did write many of the early introductions to the show (Jack Bruner wrote many of the later ones when Speirs decided to leave), he always emphasized that Walt controlled what was written and what he said. It was not uncommon for him to add, eliminate or shift around things and several people I talked to who directed those introductions like Jack Hannah and Ron Miller told me that Walt would often ad-lib even though the dialog had been written AND storyboarded.

    Here is what Jack said:

    “He (Walt) seldom used fancy or uncommon words but he would not talk down to his viewers either. For one of his nature shows featuring ants, he refused to change ‘mandibles’ to the more familiar word ‘jaws’. ‘They’re properly called mandibles’, Walt said. ‘Let’s stick to that’.

    “The secret in writing for him was to keep the dialogue simple and in character. He wouldn’t be shy to tell me what he liked or didn’t like. He was actively involved. He didn’t just parrot what I wrote.”

    Walt had many speech writers including famously Marty Sklar but they usually were transcribing and formalizing what Walt wanted to say. Marty told me that while it got to the point that Walt sometimes let him write the first draft like for Walt's introductions to the stockholders' reports, Walt would always take a red grease pencil and make changes. So, my opinion is that if it is credited to Walt during his lifetime...like those article by-lined by Walt but obviously written by the publicity department...that Walt approved them before they went out under his name.

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