In Walt's Words

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

One hot, crowded day at the Disneyland theme park several decades ago, Walt Disney was walking through Sleeping Beauty castle when he turned to his companion and said, "This would be a great place if we could only get rid of all these people."

The person who shared the story with me is someone of unquestioned integrity and someone who truly loved and respected Walt Disney. He was quick to point out to me that this was an atypical remark from Walt. Walt loved people. He loved people coming to his park. However on this day, Walt was as human as the rest of us and this quote will never be incorporated into any official Disney publicity.

The Disney Company loves quoting Walt, often to try to justify to the public who grew up in the world of Disney, that Walt would have approved of changes that get made.

In the 1970s, the Disney Company produced a 48-page publication printed on tan paper stock for internal use entitled simply "Walt." It contained Walt's quotes on a variety of topics. "During Walt Disney's long career, he frequently commented on his philosophy of life, his ideals, dreams and his hope for a better world. This book is a collection of Walt Disney's quotations which have been drawn from speeches, interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, press conferences, film scripts and from company publications. The publication of this book has been a joint effort of the Walt Disney Archives, the Studio Publicity Department and the Disney Universities of both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The sources for individual quotations are available upon request from the Archives."

The publication was so popular and useful that it was reprinted several times over the years. In fact, the publication was updated and reformatted and released as the book, Walt Disney: Famous Quotes in 1994. It was "printed exclusively for Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts" by "Disney's Kingdom Editions."

In 2001, it was reformatted and updated yet again and released in book form as The Quotable Walt Disney by Disney Editions. I often turn to these resources when I need a Walt quote but I also turn to Volume 32 (December 1959) of Wisdom magazine, which features several pages of terrific Walt quotes under the heading "From the Wisdom of Walt Disney." Some of these quotes have never appeared anywhere else to the best of my knowledge.

It has actually become more frustrating over the years to find good Walt quotes because Walt was not the most articulate person in the world and often couldn't explain in words what he wanted. It was highly frustrating to his staff over the years and I could probably write a column filled with examples of artists who were often left asking: "What the Heck did Walt mean by that?"

In addition, things that Walt practiced he never felt the need to pontificate about in public. Walt certainly believed in diversity and there are many examples of him supporting that concept, but there is not one quote where he defines what diversity is or why he feels it is important.

Many of Walt's most famous quotes are actually the craftsmanship of other writers who took Walt's concepts and phrased them for a better sound bite. While some Disney fans may be familiar that Marty Sklar wrote some of Walt's presentations (and always peppered those speeches with the word "things"), how many know that Jack Sayers wrote many of those memorable introductions to the Disney television programs (and found that Walt preferred the phrases to be as simple as possible) or that Joe Reddy, who was in charge of Disney publicity for years, gave Walt quotes to the news media?

One of the things I have been working on lately is putting together some Walt quotes that don't exist in the official Disney publications, and I thought I would share some of those occasionally with the readers of MousePlanet. This time, I picked some quotes that focus on Disneyland and some quotes that from what little knowledge I have of the way Walt spoke, were probably by Walt himself.

"Since Disneyland opened, I've poured another $25 million into it. To me, it's a piece of clay. I can knock it down and reshape it to keep it fresh and attractive. That place is my baby; I would prostitute myself for it." – Look magazine, February 11, 1964.

"In Disneyland, clocks and watches will lose all meaning, for there is no present. There are only yesterday, tomorrow and the timeless land of fantasy. Disneyland is based on the dreams and hard facts that have created America. When they visit here, the older generation can recapture the fun and nostalgia of yesterday, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future." – Look magazine, November 2, 1954.

"The ('Disneyland' television) show will never be a showcase for old movies. Everything will be written and produced for TV. But occasionally, we may drop in a request movie. After all, an entire generation of kids has never seen Mickey Mouse." – Look magazine, November 2, 1954.

"International Street, or as I call it, the street of heritage where every American can find the home of his forebears, has a two-way view. Visitors walking one way may be in Italy or Ireland; turning around, they will be in France or England." – Look magazine, November 2, 1954.

"Mickey Mouse isn't actively involved in the project ('Disneyland') but his spirit is very much around. We often ask, "Now would Mickey approve of this?" – Look magazine, November 2, 1954.

"I want this to be a place for parents and children to spend pleasant times together: and for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education." – Look magazine, November 2, 1954.

"I had all my drawing things laid out at home, and I'd work on plans for the park, as a hobby, at night. I talked Disneyland but no one could see it. So I went ahead and spent my own money. I wanted flat land that I could shape. I don't want the public to see the real world they live in while they're in the park. I want them to feel they are in another world." – National Geographic, August 1963.

"Every day I'm throwing more responsibility to other men. Every day I'm trying to organize them more strongly. But I'll probably out live them all. I'm 61. I've got everything I started out with except my tonsils, and that's above average. I plan to be around for a while." – National Geographic, August 1963.

"I was always trying to think of a place to take my two small daughters on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon—a place where I could have fun, too. At an amusement park the only fun provided for a father, besides having his bottom dropped out from under him on the roller coaster, was the same he enjoyed all week: buying the tickets." – Reader's Digest, April 1960.

"It's not apparent at a casual glance, but this street is only a scale model. We had every brick and shingle and gas lamp made five-eighths true size. This cost more, but it made the street a toy, and the imagination can play more freely with a toy. Besides, people like to think that their world is somehow more grown-up than Papa's was." – Reader's Digest, April 1960.

"I put in all the things I wanted to do as a kid (on 'Tom Sawyer's Island')-and couldn't. Including getting into something without a ticket." – Reader's Digest, April 1960.

"Two of the leading figures in the space field, Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley, helped us with the engineering of this ride ('Flight to the Moon' in Tomorrowland) But the biggest help was the father who, 20 years ago, longed to sit with his children and enjoy not just a thrill ride but also a genuine sense of wonder." – Reader's Digest, April 1960.

"When talking about audio-animatronics characters, Walt talked about plans of creating an attraction for "all of the Disney characters, so everyone can see them... I have in mind a theater, and the figures will not only put on the show but be sitting in the boxes with the visitors, heckling. I don't know just when I'll do that." – Newsweek, December 31,1962.

"Hell, I'm Disney, and I don't know (what a Disney picture is). I've produced every type of picture except sick ones. The truth of the matter is, I try to make movies to please my own family. We don't aim at children specifically. When does any person stop being part child?" – Newsweek, December 31. 1962.

As for the Disney "touch," Walt added:

"It's my group; it's group thinking. We've grown up together. It's trial and error. Try out ideas. Throw out the old and search for something better. Take it back and hypo' the act." – Newsweek, December 31. 1962.

"I saw very early in this business one thing—that organization was where you had to put the emphasis. You have to break things down, specialize." – Newsweek, December 31. 1962.

"I don't doodle: I've never drawn anything for my grandchildren. I've got too many good artists around here. If they got hold of some drawing I'd done, I'd be in trouble." – Newsweek, December 31. 1962.

[And while this isn't a Walt Disney quote, it is a quote from a Walt about Walt Disney that I found interesting from Newsweek, December 31. 1962. Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo and a Disney alumnus: "He has great sensitivity to people in the mass. He knows, instinctively, how to reach Mr. And Mrs. America; he's a great entertainer. But he can't get close to people as individuals. Sure, he only wants to make good movies-that's all he can do."]

And here's a final thought when it comes to adding new things to the theme parks.

Last week Disney was busy planning a $5,000,000 addition to his California land of fantasy. Next year there will be a Liberty Street, a row of Revolutionary-era shops leading off Independence Hall, and Thomas Edison Square, showing the world as it was before and after the light dawned. Then comes Scienceland, New Orleans Square and a 300-ft. "tunnel" along Disneyland's railroad route that will show three-dimensional views of the Grand Canyon. As a Disney associate says: "By the time Walt gets through, this will not only be the seventh wonder of the world, but the eighth, ninth and tenth as well." Time July 29, 1957.

If you’d like to see some of the other Walt quotes I’ve dug up out of magazines from the '30s and '40s, let me know.