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Chapter One It All Started with a Boy
It All Started with a Boy
When Walt Disney was just a boy, his father put him to work in the harsh conditions of a Kansas City blizzardthen kept the money Walt earned. Even so, Walt embraced a nostalgia for his early years while dreaming big dreams of the future.
I came to Orlando, Florida, in 1989 to help build a brand-new NBA basketball team, the Orlando Magic. Soon after I arrived, I discovered that everywhere you look, Orlando bears the imprint of one personality: Walt Disney.
Walt never lived in Orlando. He only visited the town a few times before his death. Yet his vision and values have made Orlando what it is todaya city unlike any other. You sense it in the optimistic spirit of the people you meet. You see it in the clean, broad streets and beautifully designed buildings. Walt's spirit is alive in this town.
We named our team the Magicnot only because the Magic Kingdom is practically next door, but because of the way Walt's magical personality has touched this community. While working to build our organization, I received help and encouragement from Disney executives, and came to know many of them well. Some, such as Bob Matheison, Dick Nunis and Bob Allen, were personally mentored by Walt.
In August 1986, at an event at a Disney hotel, I sat next to Dick Nunis, who was then head of Disney Attractions. Dick began with Disney in 1955 and had known Walt well. So I asked him, 'What made Walt Disney so successful?' Then I spread out a napkin and jotted down everything he said. Dick shared story after story of Walt's lifeand I wrote each one down. Those stories helped shape my previous Disney-inspired book, Go for the Magic.
In the years since I came to Orlando, I've made a second career of studying the life and words of Walt Disney. I've read every book I could find about Walt, and have spent hundreds of hours interviewing people who knew him. Though I never met Walt, I feel I know him well.
Some people have told me it's impossible (even foolhardy) to attempt a book called How to Be Like Walt. 'The man was one of a kindnobody can be like Walt!' they told me.
Yes, Walt was uniquebut does that mean there is nothing we can learn from him? Don't you believe it, my friend! There isn't a day that goes by that I don't apply one of the lessons of Walt's life to my own career and personal life. Though I never met him, Walt is one of my mentors. My life has been deeply impacted by this man. It would be fair to say that the Orlando Magic would not exist if not for Walt's influence.
The title of this book is How to Be Like Waltbut I'm not suggesting that you should open a cartoon studio or build a theme park. Whatever your dreams and goals, the lessons of Walt's life will serve you well. Whether you work in the field of entertainment, the arts, finance, industry, sales, government, philanthropy or religion, you will have greater success and make a greater impact on the world if you apply the principles of Walt's amazing life.
Walt once said, 'I only hope that we never lose sight of one thingthat it was all started by a mouse.' In reality, it all started with a boy. Here is that boy's story.
The deacon's son
Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901. He was named Walter after Rev. Walter Parr, pastor of Chicago's St. Paul Congregational Church. Young Walter was raised in the strict Congregationalist tradition.
Walt was the youngest of four sons born to Elias and his wife Flora. His three brothers were Herbert (born 1888), Raymond (1890), and Roy Oliver Disney (1893). His sister Ruth was born in 1903. Walt's father traced his lineage back to Hughes d'Isigny, a knight from Isigny-sur-Mer on the coast of Normandy, France. D'Isigny fought in the Norman conquest of England in 1066, then settled in Ireland. Walt's great-grandfather emigrated to Canada in 1834, and his father Elias was born in Ontario in 1859.
Elias married a schoolteacher, Flora Call from Ohio. In the early 1890s, Elias moved his family to Chicago, where he took a job as a carpenter at the 1893 World's Fair (the Columbian Exposition), working seven days a week for a dollar a day.
Elias Disney was an inflexible, unimaginative, and almost humorless man. Devoutly religious, he maintained a severe approach to child-rearing: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.'
Once when Walt was in his early teens, Elias growled at the boy for being slow in handing him a tool. Walt shot back, 'I'm working as fast as I can!' Elias ordered Walt to the basement for punishment. Walt's brother Roy told him, 'Don't take it from him anymore!' Steeled by Roy's advice, Walt went to the basement with his father. As Elias was about to strike Walt with the handle of his hammer, Walt snatched the hammer from his father's hand.
'I held both of his hands,' Walt recalled in later years. 'I was stronger than he was. I just held them. And he cried. He never touched me after that.'
There's no excuse for violence against children. Yet it would be a mistake to write off Walt's father as a two-dimensional villain. Elias Disney loved his family, and Walt loved his father despite the man's flaws. Elias possessed a number of good qualities that shaped Walt's life in a positive way.
First, there was Elias Disney's Protestant integrity. He taught his children the importance of honesty and a good reputationa crucial lesson for young Walter. If Walt Disney had ever sullied his name with scandal, the trusted Walt Disney corporate identity would have become worthless.
Second, there was Elias Disney's Protestant work ethic. Elias worked hard and usually earned a decent living for his family. When misfortune pushed him out of one business, he would start a new business, often in a different part of the country. Young Walter watched his father take risks and battle adversity, and he learned crucial lessons about hard work and persistence.
Walt's father was compassionate toward his fellow man. Elias frequently offered a free meal and a place to sleep to complete strangers. 'He'd bring home some of the weirdest characters,' Walt later recalled. Walt's sister Ruth remembered Elias as 'very sociable. He had such a gracious way with people who came to our house. I always wanted to be like that.'
'He was a strict, hard guy with a great sense of honesty and decency,' said Walt's brother Roy. 'He never drank. I rarely even saw him smoke. . . . He was a good dad.'
'I had tremendous respect for him,' said Walt. 'I worshipped him. Nothing but his family counted.' Walt chose to emulate his father's best traits: faith in God, faith in his fellow man, a strong work ethic, honesty and integrity, perseverance, a tolerance for risk, compassion for people, love of music, and love for family.
The farm boy from the big city
Walt's personality was profoundly shaped by his mother. Flora Call Disney was an even-tempered woman who almost never displayed anger, though she was tough and assertive when she had to be. The daughter of a scholar, Flora loved good books. She taught Walt how to read before he started school.
Flora was a skilled seamstress and made most of the children's clothes. She was also good with finances, and often helped in her husband's business enterprises. She drew the plans for the Disney family home at 1249 Tripp Avenue in Chicago. Elias built the house and painted it white with blue trim. Walt was born in an upstairs bedroom of that house.
In 1906, increasingly alarmed about the corrupting influences of the big city, Elias and Flora bought a forty-five-acre farm near Marceline, Missouri, a hundred miles northeast of Kansas City. This move profoundly affected Walt's life. He would later recall nothing of those early Chicago years; his earliest memories were those of a Missouri farm boy.
Though Walt would become a man of the big city, his life was shaped by life in Marceline. Small towns and farms formed the backdrop for most of Walt's cartoons and feature films. Disneyland's Main Street USA is an idealized version of Marceline, Missouri. One of Walt's closest associates on the Disneyland project, Harrison 'Buzz' Price, told me, 'Walt was rooted to reality in Marceline. He grew up there around real people. He lived close to the earth, close to nature. He maintained that farm boy quality all his life.'
Flora had a great sense of humor, enjoying a good jokeeven if the joke was on her (young Walter was an incorrigible practical joker). 'We had a wonderful mother,' Walt's brother Roy recalled. 'She could kid the life out of my dad when he was peevish.' Flora Disney's love of laughter helped compensate for Elias' austere personality. Her warmth brightened the Disney home and helped shape the optimistic outlook of young Walter Elias Disney.
Increasingly unhappy with life on the farm, Walt's two eldest brothers Herbert and Ray left home one night, taking the train to Chicago. Their departure made life all the harder for Roy, the third Disney brother and only remaining farmhand.
Roy Oliver Disney was eight years older than Walt. Despite the gap in their ages, Roy and Walt were close. Roy saw himself as his little brother's protector. Little did Roy know that he would make a career of looking after Walt.
From his earliest years, Walt was a risk-taker. On several occasions, he talked his reluctant sister Ruth into cutting across a nearby pasture. When they did, they were invariably chased by a bull. Sometimes they escaped being trampled by a mere second or twoa memory that was the basis of a scene in Disney's Song of the South (1946).
Young Walter saw the animals on the farm as friends and companions. He would go out to the barnyard every morning, greet them all by name, and invent stories about them. One of Walt's closest pals was a fat piglet named Skinny who followed him around like a puppy.
One year, a circus parade came through Marceline. Walter stood on the curb with his mother and sister, watching the parade pass by: clowns, acrobats, elephants, tigers and more. Walt's parents couldn't afford to take him to the circus, so Walt went home, made a tent out of burlap sacks, caged up some farm animals in wooden crates, and charged neighbor kids ten cents to see his homemade 'circus.' When Flora found out, she made him refund every dime. Walt's love of circuses and parades would last a lifetime.
Marceline was a small but bustling whistlestop on the Santa Fe Railroad. Uncle Mike Martin, a Santa Fe engineer, would bring candy for Roy, Walter and Ruthie, then sit on the front porch swing and talk about life on the railseverything from his own railroad adventures to the legend of Casey Jones. Walt was fascinated.
Walt's father had once worked as a machinist with the Union Pacific line, and had helped lay track across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Whenever Uncle Mike was telling railroad stories, Elias would swap a few of his own. One story Walt never tired of hearing was the time Elias met 'Buffalo Bill' Cody, the legendary founder of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
In Marceline, Walt saw his first theatrical playa road performance of Peter Pan starring Maude Adams. Walt also saw his first motion picture in a Marceline movie housea depiction of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The powerful images made a lasting impression on the boy.
Young Walter spent his happiest days on that farm outside of Marceline. 'To tell the truth,' Walt once said, 'more things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened sinceor are likely to in the future. . . . I'm glad I'm a small-town boy and I'm glad Marceline was my town.'
Young Walter's favorite pastime was drawing pictures. To amuse his sister, who was sick with the measles, nine-year-old Walt created a flip-book animated with walking stick figures. Ruth giggled with delight as she flipped the pages and the stick figures moved.
One of the greatest encouragements Walt received for his budding talent came from Dr. L. I. Sherwood, a retired doctor who lived near the Disney farm. On one occasion, the doctor commissioned Walt to do a drawing of his prize Morgan stallion. 'I think the doctor must have held that horse nearly all day, just so I could draw it,' Walt later recalled. 'Needless to say, the drawing wasn't so hot, but Doc made me think it was tops.' The twenty-five cents Walt earned opened his eyes to the possibility of drawing pictures for a living.
Whenever Walt's Uncle Robert and Aunt Margaret came to visit, Aunt Maggie would bring pencils and Crayola paper tablets for Walt to draw on. Aside from Aunt Maggie and Doc Sherwood, though, other grownups were not so encouraging.
Walt's father often rebuked him for 'wasting time' drawing pictures at the expense of his farm chores and schoolwork. 'He just scoffed at me,' Walt recalled, 'and said that if I was foolish enough to want to become an artist, I should learn the violin. Then I could always get a job in a band if I was in need of money.'
A fourth-grade teacher once scolded Walt for exercising his Disneyesque imagination on a class assignment. The students were shown a bowl of flowers to sketch. Walt drew the flowers with facesa foretaste of the humanized flowers in the Silly Symphonies and Alice in Wonderland. 'Flowers,' the teacher sternly admonished, 'do not have faces!'
Electrified in Kansas City
In 1909, Elias became seriously ill. Unable to keep the farm going, Elias sold the property for $5,175less than he had paid for it. It broke Walt's heart to leave the farm. He cried openly when his favorite animals were auctioned off.
Elias moved his family to Kansas City. From the sale of the farm, he purchased a Kansas City Star distributorship. He hired several delivery boys, and made Roy and Walt deliver papers without pay. Every morning at 3:30 a.m. the boys were awakened to deliver newspapers with their father.
Elias insisted on quality work and made the boys place the paper inside the customer's storm door, even if the boys had to walk through four-foot snowdrifts. Some have suggested that Walt's memories of those harsh winters might have been exaggerated. But Disney historian Dan Viets, co-author of Walt Disney's Missouri, told me, 'Walt told the truth about his boyhood. He talked about one winter in Kansas City with enormous chest-high snowdrifts. I checked the weather records for that winter and, sure enough, it was a hard winter with lots of snow.'
Between newspaper delivery, school and a job after school, Walt put in the equivalent of an eight-hour workday every day. It's no wonder that, as an adult, Walt rarely took vacations. From boyhood on, working hard was all he ever knew.
Those were traumatic years for Walt. Throughout his life, he experienced recurring nightmaresdreams in which he trudged endlessly through blizzards, or was punished by his father for failing to make a delivery.
At nineteen, Roy decided to leave home. 'Dad treats me like a little boy,' he told Walt in the summer of 1912. Roy left home in the middle of the night and headed to Kansas, leaving Walt without his longtime friend and protector.
At the Benton Grammar School, Walt was a mediocre student. His teachers complained that he was more inclined to daydreaming and drawing cartoons than completing assignments. He sometimes fell asleep in class, due to exhaustion from hard work.
Walt's best friend in school, Walter Pfeiffer, recalled an incident from Walt's fifth-grade year. 'On Lincoln's birthday,' he said, 'Walt came to school all dressed up like Lincoln. He had a shawl that I guess he got from his dad. He made this stovepipe hat out of cardboard and shoe polish. He purchased a beard from a place that sold theatrical things. He did this all on his own. Principal Cottingham saw him and said 'Walter, you look like Lincoln. Why are you dressed this way?' Walt said, 'It's Lincoln's birthday and I want to recite his Gettysburg address.' He had memorized it. Walt got up in front of the class and the kids thought this was terrific, so Cottingham took him to each one of the classes in the school. Walt loved that.'
Walt considered Mr. Cottingham a friend and sent his family Christmas cards over the years. In 1938, Walt contacted Cottingham, who was still the Benton School principal (he retired in 1940), and invited the entire student body to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for free.
Walt enjoyed his time at Benton School. He entertained friends with convincing impressions of his hero, silent film star Charlie Chaplin. He also displayed his cartooning skills in class. One of his teachers liked to have Walt tell stories to the class and illustrate them on the chalkboard as he spoke.
Walt and his chum Walter Pfeiffer once performed a skit for a school talent show called 'Fun in the Photograph Gallery.' The boys pretended to take a classmate's picture with a trick camera. First, the camera squirted water, soaking the unsuspecting classmate. Next, Walt pulled a sheet of paper out of the cameraacaricature of the victimized student (Walt had drawn it in advance, of course). This early show-business experience employed three of Walt's skills: showmanship, comedy and cartooning.
Billing themselves as 'The Two Walts,' the boys put on skits and comedy routines at amateur night contests around Kansas City. Elias Disney frowned on show business, so Walt would sneak out and meet Walt Pfeiffer at a local theater. 'I'd sneak him out of the window, so his dad wouldn't know,' Pfeiffer recalled. 'When we'd get through [with a show], I'd shove him back in the window and go home.'
Walt studied the fine points of acting, including facial expression, gestures, vocal variation, emotion and comedic timing. Throughout his career, Walt used his acting skills to dramatize characters in his cartoons and features. He even invented a comic dance step used as an animation guide for Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book, the last animated feature Walt personally supervised.
Walt was undoubtedly influenced by two amusement parks in Kansas City. One was Fairmount Park on the east side of the city, just two blocks from Walt's first Kansas City home at 2706 East 31st Street (Walt's family later moved to 3028 Bellefontaine Street). It featured giant dipper rides, a nine-hole golf course, a zoo, and swimming and boating on a natural lake. An elaborate July Fourth fireworks show attracted crowds of over 50,000 people. Walt's sister Ruth once told an interviewer that she and Walt would peer through the fence, longing to enter that 'fairyland' (as she called it), but lacking the price of admission.
The other park that influenced Walt's imagination was Electric Park. Located at 46th Street and the Paseo, it was one of the largest amusement parks in America at that time. Like Disneyland, Electric Park featured band concerts, thrill rides (the Spiral Coaster, the Log Flume Plunge, the Ben Hur Racer), and spectacular nighttime fireworks displays. Electric Park also featured a steam-powered train that circled the park, just as a train now circles Disneyland. Perhaps the adult Walt Disney was recalling Electric Park when he said that Disneyland 'has that thingthe imagination and the feeling of happy excitementI knew when I was a kid.'
Electric Park got its name from the 100,000 electric bulbs that transformed it nightly into a magical fairyland of illumination. Edison's light bulb was still a novelty in those days, and only a third of American homes had electricity. Electric Park hosted crowds of up to 50,000 visitors a day before it burned to the ground in 1925. If you visit Disneyland at night and see the park lit up with thousands of lights, you may be catching a glimpse of the incandescent glory of Electric Park as it shone in Walt's memories.
Walt's teenage years
Walt fell in love with Snow White when he was fourteen years old.
The year was 1916, and Walt was one of scores of Kansas City newsboys invited to a special screening of the silent movie version of Snow White, starring Marguerite Clark. It was the first feature-length film Walt had ever seen, and it made a deep impression on him.
When Walt was fifteen, Elias Disney sold the newspaper route to invest in a jelly-canning firm, the O'Zell Company of Chicago. Elias moved his wife and daughter to Chicago and became an O'Zell executive. Walt stayed with brothers Herbert and Roy in the Bellefontaine Street home. Herb was married with a two-year-old daughter, and Roy was an unmarried bank clerk.
Roy helped Walt get a summer job as a 'news butcher' for the Van Noyes News Company, selling newpapers, candy and tobacco to passengers on the Santa Fe Railroad. Walt bought the railroad men cigars and chewing tobacco from his own box, and they let Walt ride with them and blow the steam whistle.
At the end of that summer, Walt joined his parents and sister in Chicago. By day he attended McKinley High School; by night the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His art teacher, Carl Wertz, encouraged students to observe and draw live models, both animals and people. Wertz admired the comic touch Walt brought to his drawings.
Leroy Gossett and Carey Orr, two prominent Chicago newspaper cartoonists, mentored Walt, and inspired him to seek a career as a newspaper cartoonist. Walt also worked as a cartoonist on the McKinley High School magazine, The Voice. When not in school, Walt worked part-time at the O'Zell Company.
During the summer of 1918, Walt applied for a job with the post office, but was turned down because of his age. Undaunted, the sixteen-year-old Walt put on one of his father's hats and a false mustache, then returned to the post office. The same man who had turned him down an hour earlier promptly hired him.
By the fall of 1918, World War I had been raging for over four years. Roy had joined the Navy and Walt vowed to get into the war as well. He and his friend, Russell Maas, were too young for the Army, so they decided to enlist in the Canadian Army, where the age limit was lower. Russell's mother uncovered their plan and tipped Flora, which ended that scheme.
A few weeks later, Russell told Walt that the American Ambulance Corps had been formed by the Red Cross and was accepting seventeen-year-olds. Walt and Russell showed up at the Red Cross office claiming to be brothersWalter and Russell St. John. Their plan fell through when the Red Cross asked to see their passports.
Walt told his parents he wanted their permission to join the ambulance corps. Elias refused, but Flora surprised Walt by taking his side. 'Three of my sons have left this family in the middle of the night,' she said. 'Walter's determined to go, Elias, even if he has to sneak out like his brothers. I'd rather sign this paper and know where he is.'
After a heated argument, Elias finally said, 'Forge my name if you want, but I won't sign!' And he stormed out of the room.
Flora forged his name, and it was doneexcept that she had entered Walt's real birthdate on the passport application. Walt solved that by changing '1901' to '1900.' With the stroke of a pen, Walt became a year older and eligible to volunteer. Walt's Red Cross training was interrupted by the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918.
Though sick herself, Flora took care of Walt and his sister while they suffered fever and delirium. Thanks to Flora's nursing skills (and a lot of quinine water), Walt and Ruthie survived. When Walt recovered, he found that his ambulance unitand his friend Russellhad shipped out to France. Walt was assigned to a new unit undergoing training in Sound Beach, Connecticut.
There, Walt became acquainted with a fifteen-year-old ambulance corpsman (who also lied about his age) named Ray Kroc. Kroc would later become famous as the founder of the McDonald's fast-food empire. During breaks from training, Kroc and his friends would go into town. Walt stayed by himself in camp. As Kroc later recalled, he and his comrades 'regarded Disney as a strange duck, because whenever we had time off and went on the town to chase girls, he stayed in the camp drawing pictures.'
On November 11, the Armistice was signed at Compiegne, France, ending the warand Walt's dreams of glory. The Red Cross still needed ambulance drivers, however, and Walt shipped out on November 18. He sailed to Le Havre, France, aboard the SS Vaubin, a converted cattle ship. After passing through mine-infested waters, Walt arrived on December 4, the day before his seventeenth birthday.
Walt took the train from the coast to Paris (he noted that French locomotives were much smaller than the high-powered American engines). After a brief tour of Paris, he reported to Red Cross headquarters at St. Cyr. He slept on a cot in a cell-like room of an unheated chateau, using an old newspaper for a blanket.
Walt chauffeured military officers around Parishardly the battlefield duty he volunteered for. Later, he drove relief supplies to war-ravaged areas. He decorated his ambulance with cartoons and picked up extra money by painting discarded German helmets to look like battlefield souvenirs. He sent the money home to Flora via American Express with instructions to buy Ruthie a watch and put the rest in the bank.
While in France, Walt started smoking cigarettes for the first time in his life. Smoking would eventually become a three-pack-a-day habit leading to his premature death (if there is one way you should not be like Walt, this is it: don't smoke).
In September 1919, Walt's ambulance unit was disbanded. Walt returned to America with the goal of becoming a newspaper cartoonist in Kansas City. On his way back to Kansas City, he stopped by his parents' home in Chicago for a brief visit.
An incorrigible prankster, Walt told his mother that, from the deck of the troop ship, he had seen the words 'Prudential Insurance' in neon lights across the Rock of Gibraltar. He also showed her a battlefield souvenir he kept in a little box. When he opened the lid, his mother screamed at the sight of a bloody thumb. It was actually Walt's own thumb, stained with iodine and poking through the bottom of the box.
That evening after dinner, Walt's father called him into the living room for a serious discussion. 'Walter,' Elias said, 'I have a job for you at the jelly factory. It pays twenty-five dollars a week.'
'Dad,' Walt replied, 'I don't want to work at the jelly factory. I want to be an artist.'
'You can't make a living drawing pictures,' Elias said. 'You need a real job.'
'I'll get a real job,' Walt said, 'as a newspaper cartoonist.' Seventeen-year-old Walt Disney had a dream, and was determined to make his dream come true.
How to Be Like Walt
Lesson 1: Live the Adventure
Walt's boyhood on the farm near Marceline inspired a sense of wonder and imagination that stayed with Walt throughout his life. Yet he also experienced treatment from his father that, by today's standards, can only be considered abusive. Wounds in the flesh will heal; scars in the soul last a lifetime.
The relationship between Elias Disney and his sons was a complex mixture of love and hate, respect and resentment. All four boys loved their father, yet hated the way he forced them to work and donate every cent to the family till. They respected their father's faith, honesty, integrity, charity to strangers and hard workyet they resented his violent temper and harsh demands. It's significant that all four Disney sons left home between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. They couldn't wait to get out of their father's house and live on their own terms. Clearly, there was an oppressive atmosphere in the Disney home.
Walt's boyhood years are instructive because of the way he chose to deal with his childhood memories. He spoke with heartbreaking candor about having nightmares throughout his life, yet he never let childhood pain darken his optimism. Walt chose to focus on the good in life while letting go of the bad. He shaped his life around warm, nostalgic memories of Marceline, the romance of the railroad, the thrill of his first circus parade, the joy of seeing Snow White on the silver screen. He chose to emulate his father's positive traits while disregarding the negative traits.
Walt's positive attitude was a crucial factor in his success and personal happiness. Unfailing optimism was central to the personality of Mickey Mouse, and a consistent theme throughout Walt's cartoons, feature films and television shows. Walt once said, 'I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter. With the laughs come the tears, and in developing motion pictures or television shows, you must combine all the facts of lifedrama, pathos and humor.'
Walt's formative years provided the foundation for a lifetime of success. From his mother, Walt learned the value of fun and a good sense of humor. From his father, he learned the value of faith, honesty, integrity, hard work, persistence and a willingness to take risks. Walt sifted his childhood memories, savored the good experiences, and distilled all of those good memories into his films and theme parks.
Stacia Martin is both a Disney character artist and a Disney historian. 'My life has been impacted by Walt's unfailing optimism,' she told me. 'He had a difficult childhood, and received little encouragement to pursue his dreams. But Walt never stopped believing in himself. He kept faith with his dreams, and saw them through to conclusion. You can't undergo as much hardship as Walt did without a great reservoir of optimism down deep in your spirit. Walt's example inspires me every day.'
Author Ray Bradbury, a friend and admirer of Walt Disney, told me, 'Everything Walt achieved in his life was something he was told he couldn't do. His father told him he could never make a living by drawing cartoons. He spent his entire career proving the doubters wrong. And he had a wonderful time doing it.'
Ray once told an interviewer, 'Walt Disney was more important than all the politicians we've ever had. They pretended optimism. He was optimism. He has done more to change the world for the good than almost any politician who ever lived.'
It's true. Walt was so much more than a great showman. He was a great human being who touched and changed our lives. The joy and inspiration he gave the world is far more important, more uplifting to the human race than almost any invention, law or idea in human history. Because Walt walked among us, the world is a kinder, more compassionate, more hopeful place than it would have been without him.
Walt believed in the family and he produced inspiring, illuminating entertainment for the entire family to enjoy together. He enshrined the great legends of American history. In the process, Walt enriched and elevated the way we view ourselves and our place in history.
Today, it's hard to imagine growing up in a world without Disney theme parks, Snow White and Mary Poppins, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Critics may call the Disney worldview simplistic or unreal. Pollyanna, after all, was a Disney movie! Well, let the critics complain. The world would never miss a thousand critics, more or less, but the world would be a much poorer place if there hadn't been just one Walt Disney.
That is why I have written How to Be Like Walt. My own life has been transformed by my study of Walt Disney. The more I learn, the more I want to be like Walt.
I'm not claiming Walt was a saint. He was a flawed human being, and in these pages we'll talk honestly about those flaws. But he was also a great human being. His life deserves our study and emulation. And the first lessons we learn from Walt's early life are these:
Accept the pain of the past. Learn the lessons of the past. Embrace the nostalgic memories of the past. Then dream big dreams of the future and start chasing them!
Above all, live your life as a grand adventure. When Walt was just sixteen, he couldn't wait to break the boundaries of his existence, to rush out into the world, to drive an ambulance through a world war. So be like Walt. Live the adventure. Wade out into the depths of this life and meet it on your own terms.
And the next time you visit a Disney theme park or watch a Disney movie, remember that it all started with a boya Missouri farm boy whose father told him to stop dreaming and get a 'real job' in a jelly factory. A Missouri farm boy who changed the world.
It doesn't matter where you came from, or who your parents were, or what happened to you when you were a child. All that matters is that you are willing to live the adventure and dream big dreams, then make those dreams come true.
©2008. Pat Williams, Jim Denney. All rights reserved. Reprinted from How to Be Like Walt. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442