Walt Disney made 4 exhibits for the 1964 World’s Fair. Walt worked hard to get sponsors for his exhibits, a practice that continues in Disney World to this day. In the end, Disney made a car exhibit sponsored by Ford, a Carousel of Progress sponsored by GE, a boat ride through the countries of the world sponsored by Pepsi, and a President Lincoln audioanimatronic sponsored by the state of Illinois. You just may recognize some of those rides!
Each of the projects was completed with the usual amount of panic and last-minute changes. This was exactly the environment that Walt thrived in. He was as engaged in the World fair projects as he had become disengaged with Disneyland. As usual, the blood sweat and tears paid off. The attractions were very popular at the fair, and their success ultimately led to more corporate sponsors becoming interested in sponsoring Disney attractions- which had been Walt’s goal. At the end of the fair, all the attractions apart from the Ford one were moved to Disneyland.
But, Walt was already moving on. Or, in some ways, moving back: he got involved in a new film, more involved than he had been in a film for some time. It was a combination live action and animation piece, based on P.L. Travers’ book about a nanny named Mary Poppins. Through it Walt discovered the incredible talents of Julie Andrews- for which I, for one, am very thankful! He also rediscovered his old passion for movies.
Yet that passion very quickly burned out. No sooner was Mary Poppins complete than Walt was looking to the next project: A futuristic city, located to take advantage of the sunny Florida weather. Why make a movie, when he could make something in real life? Walt was constantly looking for ways to transform reality into his own personal fantasy world, and his latest idea was his grandest scheme yet. He imagined himself and his family living at the center of a large, thriving city. The city would be the height of new technology, and in it Walt hoped to at last create an alternate reality in which he could not just escape to, but live.
Yet just when it seemed his achievements would never cease, Walt’s habit of chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes finally caught up to him. Tragically, Walt would not live to see his greatest dream made reality. There were fantastic rumors that Walt was frozen to be re-animated in a time when his illness could be cured. But in reality, the apparently magical man turned out to be a mere mortal: without much warning, he died of lung cancer.
Without Walt to keep making the impossible possible, the futuristic Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow did not become a real city. Only Walt had the vision and confidence to take on a project of that scale. Without him, it became another theme park. While Epcot is a fantastic park, I have no doubt that Walt would have been highly disappointed at how far his dream shrunk before it took on physical form.
Thus ended the life of Walt Disney the man, but the Walt Disney legacy, and empire, live on stronger than ever. Whether you love Walt Disney or hate him, you have to admit that his accomplishments are impressive. But how did he do it? What kept Walt going in spite of his numerous obstacles, which often appeared insurmountable? After all that failure, what were Walt’s keys to eventual success? Throughout his career, I noticed some common themes: Optimism, almost to the point of foolishness. Drive, scrimping and working ridiculous hours when necessary. Confidence, never doubting himself even after facing rejection after rejection. Innovation, always striving to be better instead of coasting on success.
We could all learn a thing or two from Walt Disney: I leave you with a quote of his. It’s simple, but as I’ve gone through life, I’ve come to find it relevant on many occasions.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
What surprising facts have you learned about Walt Disney?