What Walt Saidby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Anyone who has a copy of my book, “The Vault of Walt” knows that I love stories—especially stories about Walt Disney himself. One of the reasons I scour through old magazines and newspapers is that the search frequently uncovers a terrific Walt story that has never been reprinted.
One of my favorite Walt stories only appeared in Pulitzer Priz-winning author Henry Pringle’s article in McCall’s Magazine, August 1932, titled “Mickey Mouse’s Father.” Pringle visited Walt at the iconic Hyperion Studios and wrote the following:
“The best clues to Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse, are to be found in a large building of white stucco located on the outskirts of Los Angeles, just off Hollywood Boulevard. Mickey himself, his hand stretched out in welcome, is perched on top of an electric sign which announces that this is the Walt Disney Studio.
“The courtyard is divided, in California style, into little sections of green grass. There is a ping pong table in one corner, where, if it is the lunch hour, some people are playing. At the extreme right is a two-car garage: a miniature garage in which two very small sedans are kept. Name-plates proclaim that Mickey owns one of the cars and Minnie, his playmate and leading woman, the other…As a matter of fact, the two small automobiles are entirely serviceable and are used by the studio staff…Mickey gets bags of fan mail from children throughout the world and his picture is mailed to thousands who ask for it.
“The embarrassment arises when some small boy or girl gets into the studio. Such visits are not encouraged, for they often end in disappointment. One little girl of 5, the daughter of a friend, confronted Disney one day and demanded that he produce Mickey in person.
‘He’s gone to the grocery for some cheese,’ answered Disney, a stock excuse for such crises.
‘Why hasn’t he taken his car?’ she demanded suspiciously, pointed to the dwarfed sedan which stood in front of the garage.
“Disney did some fast thinking, ‘Why you see,’ he said, ‘Mickey was getting fat and has been ordered to walk several miles every day. He’s gone to a grocery at the other end of town. He won’t be back for hours.’”
As a former Walt Disney World cast member, I got reprimanded a handful of times for showing up to work early or staying late to make sure the job got done. While I could understand being reprimanded for clocking in late for a shift, it seemed counter-productive (except from a financial bookkeeping standpoint) to chastise cast members for showing up a little early to make sure everything was working or to catch up on information missed on the previous days off or to stay an extra few minutes to clean up a mess rather than leave it for someone else to clean up.
What did Walt Disney think about time clocks? Well, it is known that he tried not to use them in his own studio until he was forced to do so.
I recently uncovered this wonderful little insight from an article titled “Disney’s Philosophy” by Douglas Churchill in the March 6, 1938 edition of the New York Times.
“In one place where he worked he refused to punch a time clock and was told that his rebellion had a bad morale effect on the other employees. ‘I told them that if I punched it, it would have a bad morale effect on me,’ he (Walt) says. He used to give the bookkeeper many unhappy hours for when he finally consented to abide by the regulations he would punch all four places on his card at the same time. He feels that a time clock places a premium on deception and that it is no bar to dishonesty. He judges men by their attitude and weeds them out if they do not fit.”
That article also contains some direct quotes from Walt that I think deserve to be shared again since they have been “lost” for more than seven decades. Commenting on future projects, Walt mentioned there were some story challenges with Pinocchio so that the film to debut after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be Bambi, the story of a “deer to whom all humans are villains”. Walt also talked about the development of Alice in Wonderland and said that “we regard it as a natural for our medium.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had just opened and was garnering a great deal of attention when Walt shared these thoughts:
“All we are trying to do is give the public good entertainment. That is all they want.
“We have but one thought and that is for good entertainment. We like to have a point in our stories, not an obvious moral but a worthwhile theme. Our most important aim is to develop definite personalities in cartoon characters. We don’t want them to be just shadows, for merely as moving figures they would provide no emotional response from the public. Nor do we want them to parallel or assume the aspects of human beings or human actions. We invest them with life by endowing them with human weaknesses which we exaggerate in a humorous way. Rather than a caricature of individuals, our work is a caricature of life.
“In Snow White was an illustration of what I mean. There were the parent birds consumed with pride over their offspring’s singing. Suddenly, he hit a sour note and their wincing showed their humiliation. It was funny because it resolved human reactions into caricature. It hit home because it was logical. Somehow or other we think birds could do just that. We don’t want our animals to ape human beings in an illogical way. We want them to caricature humans in a way that is natural for them to act.
“We try to appeal to children at the age when they want to think that they are grown up and to grown ups who want to feel that they are children again.
“We don’t have to answer to anyone. We don’t have to make profits for any stockholders. New York investors can’t tell us what kind of picture they want us to make or hold back. I get the boys together and we decide what we want to do next. It is my ambition to set the thing up so that it belongs to the people in that organization. I want a plan that will always keep the studio alive. The revenue from a Snow White gives us a chance to gt back money we have lost and to go ahead. Contrary to prevalent belief, we have not made any great sum out of our shorts. Three Little Pigs’really didn’t pay. Looking back, we see how it could have been made into a feature at a huge profit. Because it was short, its revenue was limited.
“We accomplished a great deal with Snow White and we want to go on from here. We have learned that the tempo of a feature differs from that of a short. We learned hundreds of things that cost us a lot of money. We have learned that Hollywood’s contention that new names and new faces are not ‘box office’ is fallacious and every year we hope to give the public something it has never seen before.
“We have an organization of young men to whom nothing is impossible. We have liked every mechanical difficulty that our medium has presented. But one fear is constantly before us, the fear that our next effort will not be regarded by the public as highly as the last.”
Finally, here is a magazine editorial titled Check Up! credited to being written by Visiting Editor Walt Disney that appeared in 1941:
“'It’s good to have money and the things money can buy but it’s good too to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.'” George Horace Lorimer (editor in chief of the Saturday Evening Post for many years) said that and it’s fine advice for a young fellow starting to make his way in the world.
“The most important thing is choosing your life work is to figure out what job will give you the most satisfaction in the doing, not what job will get you the most money.
“A lot of people put more hard work into their hobbies than they do into their bread-and-butter occupations. That’s because the hobbies are jobs they really love to do. A person ought to feel the same about the way he earns his living. Your work ought to be something you’d want to do if you didn’t get a penny for doing it.
“Every now and then you read in the papers about some many who couldn’t get a job and put all his time on his hobby. By doing the best work possible on a task which interested him, he eventually found he had created something other people were willing to pay him for doing. Which shows what John Ruskin meant when he wrote “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
“Hans Christian Andersen wrote a number of serious novels and plays, but the world loves him for his simple fairy tales. John Phillip Sousa wrote many operas but he’s remembered for his stirring marches. They both excelled at things they really enjoyed doing…and they had their financial rewards, too.
“America is still the land of opportunity. Just because you can’t jump into a covered wagon and go out and develop new territory, don’t think there isn’t room to grow!
“In 1922, when I became interested in the animated cartoon business, I was actually afraid I’d got my start too late. Cartoons were about six years old then and people thought they’d been developed as far as possible. I had two choices at that time. I could take a salaried position which I was offered, or I could risk everything on animated cartoons, which I loved but which didn’t hold much promise of financial gain.
“I’ve never been sorry for my choice. The cartoon business has gone a long way since 1922, but I still feel that we’re only getting started, and that we have a lot of good, hard work ahead.
“As Theodore Vail pointed out, if the world does owe you a living, you must collect it yourself.
“It looks as though I’ve done a lot of quoting but I’ve found the best advice in what smart men have told other people.
“And to finish, here’s a reminder from Max O’Rell: 'Luck means the hardship and the privation which you have not hesitated to endure, the long nights which you have devoted to work.'"
It is always surprising to me to run across these wonderful quotes from Walt that have never been reprinted in decades. There are still many Walt treasures to be uncovered. Just recently I learned that the Disney Archives has an hour and a half interview done by Walt during the making of “Victory Through Airpower” that has not been heard since it was first recorded.
Why? Because it is on one of those old, fragile radio transcription discs and the Disney Archives does not have the equipment to play it and transfer it to another format. Former Disney Archivist Dave Smith once told me during one of our conversations that he worried that technology was becoming obsolete so quickly that one day nobody would be able to access information stored on archaic devices…..like floppy discs or Betamax video tapes.
I will be sharing more of these stories in Anaheim at the Disneyana Fan Club convention where, on Wednesday, July 13, I will be talking about the early days of Walt Disney World and, on Thursday, July 14, appearing on an authors panel. Then, the following week, I’ll be at the Disney Family Museum, on Saturday, July 23, where I will be talking about “Walt and Outer Space.”