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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Walts of the world

Monday, December 5, 2011

Recently I received the following letter from an old friend:

Dear Walter,

I continue to be dismayed about failing to name any of my four children Walter, or my children failing to name any of their children Walter. I spoke about it to our daughter, Sara, the nurse, and she reported that she is aware of the problem and is working on it. For each of her post-partum patients, who have not selected a name for the baby, she suggests Walter. The last one refused, saying her husband is Walter, his father and grandfather were both Walter and she refused to take it further.



It is a pity that no one names their baby Walter any more (of course I could say the same about George, or William, or John). It's too bad. Any mother should be proud to have her son named after Walter Raleigh (the very epitome of chivalry), who lay down his plush and expensive cloak over a mud puddle so that Queen Elizabeth would not soil her royal and dainty tootsies. Again, some child might be inspired to be named after Walt Whitman, the great poet, or Walter Matthau, the great actor, or Walter Payton, the great running back of the Chicago Bears. In fact, that child might be named Walter Emmett, after two of the all-time great running backs, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. No, scratch that thought. Walter Emmett is my name and it did absolutely no good toward my athletic prowess.

When you stop to think about the Walts of the world it is a bit ironic that the most famous Walt of them all should be "The Keeper of a Mouse"!

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago in 1901, one of a family of five children. His father was of Irish descent, who had come to the United States via Canada. In high school Walt was torn between drawing and photography, contributing both to the school paper. At night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. After World War I he worked as an advertising cartoonist for a Kansas City MO newspaper, and perfected a new method for combining live-action with cartoons for the screen. But the call for such films had a limited demand in Kansas City.

In 1923, Walt Disney joined his older brother, Roy in Hollywood. Pooling their meager bankrolls, and a loan of $500, they produced their first film, using their uncle's garage for their studio. The cartoon character, Mickey Mouse appeared for the first time in 1928.

The early years were not without their problems, but the two brothers, co-founders of the Walt Disney Company endlessly pursued Walt's goal of perfection in the field of animation. In 1937 they broke new ground in the movie industry with the release of the first full-length animated musical, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" -- the picture that separated Disney productions from all other animated films.

Over the next 20 years, The Walt Disney Studios became known for innovative animated movies, and for wholesome, family type feature films with live actors. These films gave rise to Walt's next dream, Disneyland, a fabulous Magic Kingdom, located in Anaheim California, in 1955. In the following 30 years Disneyland played host to some 250 million people, including presidents, kings and queens from all over the world, and countless little girls who could fulfill their own dreams of being a fairyland princess, if just for a little while.

During these years the new medium of television was beginning to change the way America lived. Walt Disney saw TV as a springboard for promoting his movies, both animated and live, his Theme Park, and his cartoon characters. He was a pioneer TV producer with his popular show, "Wonderful World of Color", which Walt himself emceed, and "The Mickey Mouse Club," which launched the careers of scores of young actors.

All of these ventures seemed to be just preludes for what would be Walt Disney's greatest project -- the gigantic magic kingdom of Disney World. In the early '60s, Disney began buying up land in Central Florida, near Orlando for a theme park/resort like none other the world had ever seen before. The secrecy of the operation would have made the CIA envious. More than a score of real estate agents were used, buying small plots of ground, in order to keep the price down.

The land purchased was virgin property, much of it swamp land. By the time the agents were finished they had bought up more than 43 square miles of property, twice the size of Manhattan Island. That worthless swamp land has been transformed into a series of lakes, around which are built the various parks and resorts, enabling visitors to travel from place to place via regular water taxis -- other transportation choices include bus service and monorail, and smooth sidewalks for walkers and joggers.

Walt Disney masterminded the Florida project himself, with the aid of a small army of artists, innovators, and engineers. He envisioned an entirely new form of entertainment for people of all ages, to include theme parks, motel-hotel resort vacation centers, an RV park like no other, Convention Centers, and his pet project, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. After more than seven years of master planning and preparations, and 41⁄2 years of actual construction, Disney World opened its doors to the public as scheduled, in October 1971.

Disney World has continued to grow. The Magic Kingdom, opened in 1971, followed by EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), in 1982, Hollywood Studios, 1989 and Animal Kingdom, 1998. Today, in addition to the four theme parks there are two water parks, 23 hotels, a luxury camp ground, two health spas and physical fitness centers, and five golf courses, all geared toward making Disney World a preferred extended holiday destination.

Walt Disney planned for the EPCOT Center to be a planned community of 20,000 citizens, a model for communities of the future. This goal has changed, and today EPCOT is a giant World's Fair, where nations are represented, showing off the attractions of their country in cuisine, entertainment and crafts in beautiful pavilions, typical of the countries depicted. Young adults are recruited from their home countries to man these exhibitions.

The futuristic exhibits of the original EPCOT, showing Disney's idea of what homes, transportation and the like would be in the 21st Century did not materialize as envisioned, yet Disney World is still truly a magic land. All hotels follow a certain theme, and are models of efficiency and cleanliness -- what the millionaires of another day would have had if modern technology had been available to them. Everyone is friendly and helpful.

Rides conform to a theme -- a roller coaster is a ride through a magic mountain, a merry-go-round is a trip in a turning tea cup. Entertainment features characters and music from Disney films, which are always on display. Mickey Mouse is the ruler of the kingdom. His likeness is found everywhere, woven into carpets in the hotels, to costumes in ever present gift shops throughout. Mickey and his pals, Goofy, Donald Duck, and the seven Dwarfs are apt to be seen and spoken to anywhere, and any time -- all encouraging one and all to have a good time, perpetuating the make believe world, and advancing the idea that all nations -- all men worldwide, can, and should get along.

Unfortunately, Walt Disney did not live to see his dream fulfilled. He died, of lung cancer in December 1966. It is our good fortune that others have perpetuated his dream. It has been said that "Walt Disney is a legend and the folk hero of the 20th Century. His world-wide popularity is based upon the ideas which his name represents -- imagination, optimism, and self-made success in the American tradition. Walt Disney did more to touch the hearts, minds, and emotions of millions of Americans than any other man in the past century. Through his work he brought joy, happiness and a universal means of communication to the people of every nation. Certainly, our world will know but one Walt Disney."

Source: various Walt Disney biographies

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By