Sunday, December 23, 2001

Travel: One on One with Disney's Brass

Greensboro News & Record (NC)-December 23, 2001
Staff Writers
Edition: ALL
Section: TRAVEL
Page: I2

        Though it was all started by a man and a mouse, there are thousands of people who have worked to continue the magic, entertainment and delight started by Walt Disney.

        During the kick-off event for 100 Years of Magic at Walt Disney World, several of the Disney honchos met with the media to answer questions about what it is like to run the operation that now employs more than 50,000 people in Florida.

        Many of these characters worked with Disney before his death in 1966. The rest of them have captured the spirit of what he wanted to do. Here's what they had to say:

        Roy Edward Disney

        As the nephew and son of the Disneys that started it all, Roy E. Disney grew up immersed in the Disney culture.

        ``I took it for granted,'' he said. ``But now, I feel such gratitude to be lucky enough to be a part of it all.''

        His favorite recent addition is the newest roller coaster ride at Disney-MGM studios that goes from zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds.

        ``I guess I'm a roller coaster freak,'' he joked.

        Roy Disney joined the Walt Disney Company in 1954, after working as an editor on the TV series ``Dragnet.'' Since then, he has been a writer, producer, director and vice president. He became a member of the board of directors in 1967.

        Roy, who offers credit to his father, Roy O. Disney, and his uncle, Walt Disney, was nominated for his own Academy Award for a 1959 short, called ``Mysteries of the Deep.'' He also worked on the Oscar-winning ``The Living Desert'' and ``The Vanishing Prairie,'' two of Disney's nature projects.

        Nowadays, Roy Disney thinks that his uncle would have had a ball with new animation technology.

        ``Boy, he would have had fun with that,'' Disney said. ``It would have been really fun to see where it took him.

        ``He was a creature of constant curiosity. That was one of the things that he had to make films,'' Roy Disney said of Walt.

        And as Disney World has grown up and expanded, Roy takes to heart something that his uncle would say.

        ``Walt said, 'We don't make movies for children. We make movies for the children in all of us.' ''

        Eric Jacobsen

        The magic of Disney is in the details.

        Such was the case during the renovation of the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom.

        Jacobsen said when George W. Bush was being added to the attraction, which features all of the presidents in audio-animatronic form, he and three colleagues went to Washington.

        Bush recorded the speech for them - twice. The White House provided Bush's exact measurements, so that the moving, talking stature could look as realistic as possible.

        ``We got photos of his watch, belts and shoes,'' Jacobsen said. ``We had samples of fabrics that he wears.''

        And though the audience can never see the watch that is on Bush's wrist from the theater in Liberty Square, it is identical to the engraved Timex Indiglo watch that he wears.

        ``We love that attention to detail,'' Jacobsen said.

        So it was that one of the imagineers on Jacobsen's team noticed that since Sept. 11, Bush began wearing a flag pin on his lapel.

        Disney's version of the Commander in Chief now also proudly wears the stars and stripes.

        ``It is really fun to do something so authentic,'' Jacobson said.

        Dave Smith, director of archives for the Walt Disney Company

        As the final authority of Disney history, Smith was used extensively as a resource for the exhibits of the 100 Years of Magic event.

        As a librarian at UCLA, Smith compiled an extensive bibliography in 1967 on Walt Disney. He spent a year researching all Disney publications and productions.

        The Disney Archives were later established on June 22, 1970, with Smith at the helm.

        ``It was difficult to decide what to include (in 100 Years of Magic),'' Smith said.

        Smith said he had lots of help from the Disney family, who donated artifacts, stories and recordings from Walt Disney's life.

        ``We wanted people to know that he was a real person,'' Smith said, ``and that he was the voice of Mickey Mouse for 20 years.''

        The 8,500-square-foot archives contain millions of documents, including 200 boxes of Walt Disney's personal correspondence.

        Treasures continue to be added to the archives as well. Roy Disney recently found Walt Disney's parents' marriage certificate in a box in his garage.

        It's just the newest part of the old history that Smith will be charged with preserving.

        Marty Sklar, vice chairman and principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering

        Now in his 46th year at Disney, Sklar supervised the creation of Tokyo Disneyland, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom. He worked closely with Walt Disney to bring his ideas to the public.

        ``Working with Walt was incredible,'' Sklar said. ``What fun he had creating things. He had a belief in family entertainment and a belief in quality.''

        So when Sklar is given a blank piece of paper to create new things in Walt's footsteps, he said it can be the most frightening thing in the world.

        ``Or it is the greatest opportunity in the world,'' Sklar said.

        As an employee of Disneyland's Public Relations Department at its 1955 opening, Sklar has seen it all.

        ``We always said that Disneyland was Walt's Magic Kingdom,'' Sklar said. And so, the first park at Walt Disney World was named.

        Rich Taylor, vice president of Walt Disney Entertainment and Costuming

        With more than 4,700 ``cast members'' under his watch at the Walt Disney World Resort, Taylor keeps awfully busy leading a team that creates, produces and operates all live entertainment.

        And with the 100 Years of Magic celebration, Taylor's days became even busier. Four new parades - one for each theme park - were created from scratch. Behind the scenes, there is a creative team of 250 people working to create parades.

        ``We worked for two years on 100 Years of Magic to come up with four new parades,'' he said.

        The idea for the Share a Dream Come True Parade at the Magic Kingdom came from a last-minute idea.

        Taylor said a member of his creative team was shopping at a store on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, and he noticed the snow globes with characters inside. And boom - a new concept for a parade was born.

Copyright (c) 2001 Greensboro News & Record