Ray Bradbury Shares Walt Disney's Vision and Legacy

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Ray Bradbury Shares Walt Disney's Vision and Legacy

It is hard enough even with the help of eBay to find old magazines with Disney articles. It is even harder to find those "oddball" magazines with Disney articles that were specific to a particular demographic like miniature collectors, railroad enthusiasts, Old West fans or readers of a local community like Palm Springs. Those magazines had a much, much smaller print run than Look or Life or Cosmopolitan and often ended their existence in a local school paper drive.

I remember as a kid being horrified when I helped out at my elementary school's frequent paper drives to see comic books I had never before seen bundled tightly to stacks of newspapers and magazines waiting to be hauled off by a huge dump truck for pennies on the pound. Those comics strained against string and wire, begging me to save them from their final fate, and I was helpless.

However, it is even more difficult to find information that appeared just once in an advertising supplement for newspapers. To celebrate Walt Disney's World Tencennial in October 1981, there was a special color Sunday advertising supplement prepared just for the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel Star, West Palm Beach Post Times, Tampa Times Tribune, St. Petersburg Times and Jacksonville Times. The supplement was titled, "Walt Disney World: Come Celebrate a Decade of Dreams."

It is 12 pages in full color with an uncredited essay ("Smiling Since The World Began") and color photos (including Sophia Loren and her son on Discovery Island, Loni Anderson and Gary Sandy riding the carousel in Fantasyland, singer John Denver with the Country Bears on a Tom Sawyer raft, Phyllis Diller clowning on the monorail, etc.) and short endorsements by celebrities:

"For some 70 years, I have been spending much of my time filming and writing about the Wonders of the World...We must add to any list of Wonders the incredible, exciting and inspiring Walt Disney World in Florida." – Lowell Thomas

"Ponce De Leon couldn't find the fountain of youth in Florida, so Walt Disney created it 10 years ago." – Bob Hope

"The spirit of fun prevails at Walt Disney World. It's the spirit of America. It's one of the signs that America is alive and joyful." – singer John Davidson

In addition to all of this, there were three essays by Art Linkletter, Ray Bradbury, and William F. Buckley Jr.

Being a California boy, I never knew such a supplement existed. I was enthralled with Disneyland and those half-hour television specials about Disneyland special events, like the Disney Afternoon Avenue, that only ran on KHJ and KCLA and some of which I was fortunate to capture on my Betamax—and later found out that my Florida friends never even knew those programs existed. Little did I suspect that those treasures I had on Betamax tape would be inaccessible in the future as my final Beta machine was butchered by a Florida shop before I could transfer over those tapes that were often unlabelled.

Thanks to a good friend, I was recently able to get a copy of that Sunday advertising supplement for Florida newspapers that I mentioned to add to my personal archives. Since I've discussed Ray Bradbury's relationship with Walt Disney previously for MousePlanet, I thought I would reprint his essay since it gives a clearer picture of Bradbury's amazement at Walt's vision. I reprint these "oddball," hard-to-locate articles not only to share it with current readers but to preserve it so that it can be used by future writers.

Finding this piece of decaying paper from 15 years ago was tough enough for me, but how difficult will it be for other Disney researchers in the next five or 10 years or beyond? Surely, those who love Ray Bradbury and love Disney would want to be able to read this short essay that appeared to a very limited audience. The Disney Company seems to have little interest in discovering and preserving this material and even less interest in sharing with its cast members the material it does preserve. If not for the many "unofficial Disney Web sites" like this one, that material would disappear forever.

Linkletter's essay is the shortest of the bunch and covers material that has appeared before in the many interviews he has done about his relationship with Walt Disney.

Buckley's piece strikes me as a bit odd as he seems to not want to truly surrender to celebrating Walt Disney World's Tencennial at all. Buckley seems embarrassed that when he was forced to finally go that he ended up liking the place. The rest of the article is peppered by references to other loftier things as if to forgive the fact that he finally has to admit that Walt Disney World delivers "uncomplicated pleasure to so many people."

When you are reading Bradbury's essay, remember that Bradbury is a poet and when he quotes Walt Disney, you should not assume those are exact quotes but just the remembered impression that Bradbury had of that particular conversation. I have no doubt that Walt said something similar to what Bradbury credits to the builder of Disneyland but I also know that the cadence and selection of vocabulary seems different than how Walt talked at the time. However, there has never been a more passionate and articulate supporter of all things Disney than Ray Bradbury and I find his enthusiasm about the vision of Walt very inspiring and hope you might find it the same.

Here is Bradbury's untitled essay:

"Can one man dream and build one city and change world history?

"One man could. One man did. Walt Disney.

"And you all know the "city": Walt Disney World.

"Disneyland came first, of course. But Walt felt he needed more room for his architectural elbows. So he got his planners to imitate Alice in Wonderland. That is, swallow a vast sea of fresh blueprints from a bottle marked "Drink Me".

"The result? Disneyland shot up, out and around to become Walt Disney World, a new kind of vacation city.

"As a sometime science fiction writer, I am often asked to dare predictions. Dare I, then, in this Tencennial Year of the birth of Walt Disney World, predict that the social/psychological/building climate of America and many lands beyond, will be sensationally changed because of one man, one mouse, one dream?

"I do so predict.

"True, we rarely think that just one man can shake and move a history of ideas and the world that grows from them.

"But let us think the unthinkable.

"What if Walt Disney had never been born?

"Who, in his place, would have shaped the history of animated cartoons? Name some other man who might have made 'Snow White,' 'Pinocchio,' or risked his fortune on that incredible experiment, 'Fantasia'?

"Who, in all the continental United States would have had the smarts enough to build our first monorail system?

"Do you have a list handy of creative geniuses anywhere between L.A. and New York who could ever dream, much less build, two Magical Kingdoms here, plus, in a few years—Tokyo Disneyland?

"You have no such list, nor do I.

"Yes, Walt surrounded himself with geniuses of every size, texture, artistic and technological ability. But they were pomegranate seeds. Walt was the whole damned pomegranate!

"Mobs of kings built the cities of France. Napoleon touched parts of Paris. John Soanes restructured London in his night thoughts but never saw it brick on brick. Rome and Florence were mortared up by princes, popes and your occasional Michelangelo or Bernini. But Walt and his bright noon fancies stand alone in a wicked world and say: 'Let's Do Everything Over and Do It Right.' Walt says terrible things like: Joy, Smile or We Guarantee the World Won't End Tomorrow.

"How did all this happen? Why is it so?

"Allow me to change my metaphor —

"I saw early on that Walt was an incredible new species of plant, a burning bush with its head in the past and its roots in the future. And, indeed that's where our roots should be, not behind where you can't see, but ahead.

"I saw this on a number of occasions when I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Walt, way back in 1963 and 1965.

"I remember one noon when, arriving for lunch, Walt's secretary warned me: one hour, no more, just one! Walt had appointments. Walt had to run.

"Seated there over soup and salad, casually set out on a card table in Walt's office. I listened to him talking about his childhood much like my own, comfortable with candy butchers and horse-drawn milk wagons, beginning to fall in love with the newly invented movies.

"There lay Walt's greatest strength. He displayed constant proofs of his childhood. He wasn't childish in any way. He didn't let his memories get in his path. But he did use them and grow with them. He didn't let anyone talk him out of his loves, as most of us do by the time we are 17 and our so-called friends and well-meaning but ignorant relatives have brainwashed us into insignificance. Walt spoke of his past with immense affection, but the Future, now! Well, that was really something!

"My time was up. The hour was over. I leaped to my feet and headed for the door! The secretary was there, eyeing her watch.

"'Wait!' cried Walt. 'There's one last thing I have to show and tell!'

"He swept me past a glaring secretary and out across the studio lot to confront a strangely beautiful mechanism.

"'What do you think of that?' he said, beaming.

"'It's nice, but what is it?' I said.

"'Nice?' cried Walt. '"No, it's incredible. That's our PeopleMover. Climb aboard!'

"I climbed. We rode a fair distance up in the sky, in our individual brightly colored car. Walt enthused.

"No use talking about the future, unless you build it. Some day, there'll be PeopleMovers like this around every city, and in every airport. Move more people efficiently. Leave cars behind."

"'How,' I said, 'did you get into all this? Disneyland. Walt Disney World?'

"'My family taught me. Taking my kids to various pier parks or kiddie rides. I gradually grouched myself in the direction of putting things right, cleaning up the perspiration and rust, as it were, firing the freaks, leaning the tent poles in the right direction, creating clowns that didn't terrify. Can't we, can't I, I wondered build a place that's beautiful and honest, where you can go without having to worry that the place is a secret pesthouse run by dope fiends on the lam?"

"We were off the People Mover now and into a building where Abraham Lincoln lay on a table, in the final stages of being brought to audio-animatronic life.

"'Good Lord,' I said, as Lincoln's lips moved and he began to speak. 'Walt, do you know what you're doing?'

"'Tell me.'

"'We've been writing and talking about humanoid mechanical creatures for centuries, but you're the first to really pay attention. By 2001, educational groups, finally catching on, should learn from your lead and build historical or philosophical rooms in high schools, universities. Places where you walk in, find and ask Plato, 'How goes it with the Republic?' and he tells you."

"'Great!' Walt's eyes lit up. 'How about Ben Franklin?'

"'Should be a Ben Franklin, lightning bolt conductor, electrical experimenter, political interlocutor in every school broom closet in the country to take stock and speak wisdoms. But you started it, Walt, no one else ever tried.'

"We were off again at a good pace.

"This time we wound up at a spread bas relief of Walt Disney World, still up ahead in the future. Walt leaned over it with the same happy look of a boy with his first Christmas morn electric train.

"'Room,' he said. 'That's what we need. Disneyland's too small. We didn't buy enough land. But in Florida, we can do all the things we always wanted to do, plus controlling and protecting the environment, experimenting with solar energy. Remember those fabulous architectures in H.G. Wells motion picture 'Things To Come' back in 1935? Wouldn't it be great to build a hotel like that, and tunnel a monorail into it, so you could glide out of the Present and pull up, all fresh, in the Future? We'll do it!'

"We arrived back at Walt's office, two hours late for his appointments. His secretary started to protest when Walt steered me past, saying, 'Coffee, and a few final points!'

"'Thanks to Dr. Schweitzer,' I said.

"Walt cocked his head at me. 'Schweitzer?'

"'The good doctor was always saying, 'do something.' Someone may imitate it. Especially do something good or excellent. Well, that's you. People will be imitating you far beyond the end of the century. You haven't just built a family amusement park, you've shown people how to walk, sit, look at others, relax, stay human, stop swearing, start smiling."

"Thousands of city planners, urban redevelopers, ramshackle architects, big-time builders will march through Walt Disney World in the next 20 years, and go home wondering: 'Where can I buy a bottle of that stuff marked "Drink Me" so I can get drunk on Walt's dream, rebuild my town, replant the city gardens, reinvigorate the fountains, collect sun power, rethink the citizens, replan our future, bigger if need be, smaller where necessary?'"

"Most of the young architects I have met in the last 15 years, one way or another, have come under the spell of this Kingdom that truly works. It is these same architects who are spreading out now, across country, to redesign and save parts of San Diego, Dallas, St. Louis and beyond. They are drunk on the future, and Walt Disney has made them so."