Walt Disney: Myth And Reality

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In the early fifties he had had to borrow on a modest life insurance policy to finance planning for Disneyland; at about that time, he claimed to have only about a thousand dollars in the bank. When he died, his estate was worth twenty million dollars and also contained deferred payment and royalty arrangements of inestimable value. His wealth had at last caught up with his fame, yet he continued to live with ostentatious modesty. To associates he grew less approachable and more enigmatic than ever, though he continued to exercise personal control over the smallest details of the operation.

He remained suspicious of outsiders, strangely small-minded on questions of aesthetics and narrow-minded on morals, and deeply wedded to the propagation of the happy myth of small-town, turn-of-the-century virtue. At once the greatest entrepreneur of innovation the entertainment business had ever seen and a man nostalgic for a lost, perhaps never-existent past, he withdrew into the “magic kingdom” of his own creation where he could rule absolutely. His real nature remained a well-kept secret, and the public were as content with the folksy persona that Disney and his press agents gave them as they were with the studio’s products. Indeed, now that he is gone they seem to miss the myth rather badly. The biggest problem facing the committee of more conventional, less colorful businessmen who have succeeded Disney is to destroy the cult of personality which, until a year and a half ago, most of them had worked so assiduously to build. If they succeed, the beautiful money machine which Disney labored so hard to build, and which reached perfection only recently, should continue to function without friction. It will be interesting to see how much it needed its founder’s guiding hand and what capacity he built into it for self-perpetuation.

—R.S.