Walt Disney Recognition Day

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Can one man make a difference?   My personal belief is that, of course, one man can make a difference.  Certainly there is no doubt that Walt Disney made a huge difference and continues to do so even decades after he passed away. 

However, you don’t need to be as magical as Walt to make a difference.  In an earlier column, I discussed how one man saved Walt’s original studio garage.  Well, that same man also did something else that made a difference in the history of Walt Disney.

In 1985, Art “Buddy” Adler, who had created the “Friends of Walt Disney” that saved Robert Disney’s garage and found a home for it in Garden Grove, sent a letter to Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.) stating that there should be a day recognizing Walt Disney. 

Dornan agreed and introduced a Joint Resolution (H.J. Res. 377) to designate December 5, 1985 as “Walt Disney Recognition Day.”  He got 30 co-sponsors in a relatively short time.  Eventually, more than half the House of Representatives ended up as co-sponsors.  Six or more representatives actually turned down the opportunity to co-sponsor the bill, not because they disliked the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland, but because they felt that Congress spent too much time and money voting on commemorative days and weeks for various people and causes.  At the time, roughly 500 resolutions were introduced for that year for commemorative days.  Apparently, that was a common number every year.   

Unfortunately, it was not the type of holiday where schools and banks closed.

“These laws just express a sentiment," said Lillian Fernandez, then the staff director for the House subcommittee that handles commemorative holidays. "People don’t have to go out and celebrate these things. They’re good-will legislation and they make a lot of people happy.”

“I was surprised to discover that there was no holiday or day of recognition for Walt Disney.  I thought something should be done about it and that this was a particularly opportune time for such a day since Disneyland is celebrating its 30th anniversary and December 5 is the 84th anniversary of Disney’s birth,” Adler told a local newspaper at the time.

The Congressional Record for December 3, 1985 had Dornan making the following statement:

“I want to thank 227 of my colleagues for joining me in cosponsoring a joint resolution that the President will sign this week to set aside a commemorative day for a truly unique and great American, Walt Elias Disney….this American, Walt Disney, from very humble beginnings in the Midwest, probably created more joy for his fellow citizens, particularly our children and grandchildren, than any many who has ever lived in this country, indeed the world.  His cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, his books, films, records and wildlife series, educational materials, and internationally known theme parks, have made the name Walt Disney immortal and synonymous with joy, good will and integrity.  I want to particularly thank Arthur ‘Buddy’ Adler, a wonderful actor and former Disneyland employee for bringing the suggestion to me for a long-overdue tribute to a man who passed away in 1966 to what I am sure is a great eternal reward.  Walt Disney’s good works have been recognized worldwide and I believe that it is only proper that we formally recognize Walt Disney’s accomplishments.  Thank you for this commemorative to Walt Disney.”

However, even though the resolution passed easily, the official day was amended for a year to give the White House enough time to hold a full-dress ceremony with then President Ronald Reagan signing the bill.   Basically, both President Reagan and Vice President George Bush would both be out of town in 1985 during the time the bill could be signed.

Ronald Reagan had a long connection to Disney history.  An interesting sidenote is that President Ronald Reagan's second inaugural on January 21, 1985 had to be held indoors. The outside temperature at noon was only 7 degees F. Instead of an outdoor parade, the president and first lady presided over a hastily organized miniparade in the Capital Centre sports arena, some 10 outside the city in Landover, Md. Only five of the 33 bands originally scheduled to march got to perform for the TV cameras.

Several months later, in a precedent-setting move, President Reagan accepted an invitation for a smaller version of the inaugural parade—with the disappointed bands that were unable to participate in the 1985 Inaugural Parade—to be staged on the promenade of World Showcase at Epcot at Walt Disney World. He was brought in by helicopter that landed behind the American Adventure pavilion.

The President spoke at 12:41 p.m. on May 27, 1985 from a reviewing stand resembling a huge plexiglass box in front of the American Adventure Showcase at EPCOT Center. Michael Eisner and his wife were also there.

Reagan, of course, was one of the three hosts for the opening of Disneyland in 1955.  When Reagan became governor of California in 1966, one of the things he did was to eloquently promote through correspondence with the postmaster general of the United States the creation of a commemorative Walt Disney stamp which was eventually issued on September 1968.

The very first person to be honored as part of the "Spirit of America" exhibition at the Ronald Reagan President Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., was Walt Disney in an exhibit labeled "Walt Disney: The Man and His Magic" which ran from May 13 through September 4, 2001 and featured everything from Herbie the Love Bug to the special Oscar presented to Walt Disney for "Snow White" to Walt's elementary school desk from Marceline.

Here is the official proclamation from then President Ronald Reagan for Walt Disney Recognition Day which I think should be celebrated every year:

Proclamation 5585 – Walt Disney Recognition Day, 1986

December 5, 1986

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

December 5, 1986, marks the 85th anniversary of the birth of Walt Disney. "Uncle Walt,'' as he was affectionately known to his moviemaking colleagues in Hollywood, was just that to several generations of American families: a warm, generous uncle who sat us on his knee and told and retold us stories of comedy, imagination, and adventure. He was a superb animator, a technical wizard, an astute manager and businessman, but above all he was a man who never lost touch with his child's heart and sense of wonder.

Walt Disney's work and the countless characters he created or brought to the screen—Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and so many others—are known the world over. But if he is both legend and folk hero today, it wasn't always clear that he was destined to achieve so much. Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago in 1901. His family soon moved to Missouri, and he worked at a variety of jobs. He returned to Chicago in 1917 and studied photography and art, but he never graduated from high school. After serving in World War I as a Red Cross ambulance driver, he joined an advertising firm in Kansas City as an apprentice cartoonist.

The real harbingers of his future success in this period, however, were the cartoons he produced in a makeshift studio he built for himself above his father's garage. In 1923, he went to Hollywood with $40 in savings and, with his brother Roy, converted another small garage into a studio and set to work. He put together two silent movies with a new cartoon character named Mickey Mouse, but he was unable to get them released commercially. With Steamboat Willie in 1928—a sound film with Disney's artwork and his own voice for the diminutive hero's—Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney had an instant hit, the first of many.

Achievements and awards followed in droves. Disney won 30 Academy Awards. He produced the first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937; launched numerous technical innovations in sound and color; produced the first television series in color in 1961; found new and effective ways of combining live actors with cartoon characters in films like Song of the South and Mary Poppins; and everywhere, in classic movies from Fantasia to The Jungle Book, he celebrated the power of delight through music.

The standards of excellence Walt Disney upheld in animation extended to his later productions, from nature films to movie versions of ancient fables, tales of American heroes, and stories of youthful adventure. His love for technology and the future, his desire to entertain and educate, and his sense of childlike wonder led him to establish two popular amusement parks, Disneyland and Disney World, which today draw visitors from around the globe.

Walt Disney's true drawing table was the imagination, his themes were virtues like courage and hope, and his audience was composed of young people—in years or at heart—who, through the creations of this American genius, found new ways to laugh, to cry, and to just plain appreciate the "simple bare necessities of life.''

The Congress, by Public Law 99 - 391, has designated December 5, 1986, as "Walt Disney Recognition Day'' and authorized and requested the president to issue a proclamation in observance of this event.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, president of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim December 5, 1986, as Walt Disney Recognition Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this very special day in the spirit in which Walt Disney entertained young and older Americans.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 5th day of December, in the year of our Lord nineteen-hundred and eighty-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two-hundred and eleventh.

Ronald Reagan

[Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 2:08 p.m., December 5, 1986]