An Interview With...
Roy Patrick Disney
When you were a little boy, did you always know that you were related to the founders of Disneyland? Do you remember the first time you made the connection that this was your family?
To this question, I suppose it's more useful to look at it the other way around; my whole life from inception to now is as a Disney, so really I can't compare what it would be like to not be one. I never "made a connection" other than we sometimes got to go places other people couldn't go. All that being said, I always spent my time at Disneyland doing just what everyone else did, using "E" tickets and standing in lines. As for the birthdays and other special events, we spent those at home. Most times when we went to Disneyland with my grandparents, it was work related for my grandfather.
What were the ups and downs of "growing up Disney" (as the grandson of Roy Oliver Disney and the grand nephew of Walt Disney)?
Well, growing up Disney meant I got to go to Disneyland a lot. That part was fun. The downside of it was that it was always difficult to know who my true friends were. Did people like me for me or did they like me because they thought I could get them free passes to Disneyland? I got two generally annoying questions from other kids: 1) Do you get free tickets to Disneyland? (sometimes we did and most times we did not!) and 2) Is Walt Disney frozen? (He was cremated the day he died and his remains are at Forest Lawn Glendale.)
Do you (or family members) ever get asked: "Do you own Disneyland?"
The building of Disneyland in 1955 cost a lot of money, more than the company had. To that point, the studio had survived by continued borrowing from the Bank of America. It is also true that the company (Walt Disney Productions) had gone bankrupt on five separate occasions. Both Walt and Roy sold their homes and cashed in their life insurance policies to keep the company going. When the decision was made, in 1954, to build Disneyland, it quickly became apparent that outside sources on money would be needed, including loans and the issuance of stock (or part ownership) in the company. In the end, Disney was no longer a family-owned company. By 1960, Walt and Roy owned about 20% of the company and today the whole family owns less than 3% of it.
What are your favorite memories of your grandparents, Roy Oliver and Edna Disney?
I loved my grandparents and I loved spending time with them. I spent many a weekend at their house. I remember sitting on the front porch with my grandfather in his rocking chair in the late afternoon watching the world go by. We travelled a lot with my grandparents, from Florida (of course) to Washington, D.C to Marceline, MO. I remember many happy Christmases, Easters and Thanksgivings at their house. My strongest memory with my grandfather was walking the parking lot at Disneyland with him. He would observe the license plates of all of the cars in the lot. He wanted to know who was coming to the park and how far they had come. Only later did I realize that this was a simple form of market research. Simple yet brilliant!
From how far away did people drive to get to Disneyland?
My grandfather liked to go through the lot and see how many license plates were from California and how many were from out of state. The ratio in those days, and remember I was 5 to 6 years old then, was about 50/50 (about 50% were from California and 50% were from other places). I can remember seeing license plates from all over the United States and Canada, as well as Mexico. Obviously none from Japan… that would have been a long, wet drive!
Incidentally, for those who don't know, there used to be a commercial helicopter service that ran from local airports and landed directly at the old Disneyland Hotel. Sounds like a great answer to beating traffic in L.A. I flew it twice in the mid 60's. You ask why is not still there if it was such a great idea? A week after our last flight both of the helicopters in the service crashed. End of story! The company was called L.A. Airways.
What were your favorite father/son activities with your father, Roy Edward Disney?
My father and I did a lot together. First and foremost we sailed and raced together. I think we must have sailed 150,000 miles or more! We travelled a lot together as a family. Finally I worked for him on many of the Disney Sunday Movies. In public, he was always the one out front. He looked a lot like his uncle Walt. People really wanted to see him. For the most part, we kids were there but in the background.
When you were young, did you spend any significant amount of time around the Disney Studios?
As a child I did spend a lot of time around the studio lot. We came to visit my Dad at work, to visit my Grandfather in his office and even to spend time in Walt's outer office (not with Walt, he was always too busy!) We got to go visit the set of movies being made, including Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues, The Love Bug and many more. The Studio held its Christmas parties on the lot as well as their shareholders conventions.
Do you have any specific memories of seeing Mary Poppins and/or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea being filmed?
I have a great story for this question. My sister, Susan, and I were visiting my Grandfather Roy on the lot one day in the early 60's. He wanted to take us to the back lot during lunch and show us something wonderful. They were filming Mary Poppins at the time. On one of the sound stages they had set up to shoot the Tea Party scene from the movie. It was the scene where Ed Wynn and the Banks children laughed their way into the air at a tea party. It looked like so much fun that we two got to get in the mechanical chairs (you cannot see them in the movie thanks to special effects) and get flown around the room. Because the cast was working so hard to make the movie, I never got to meet them until much later in life. I can tell you however, that Julie Andrews is as regal and wonderful in real life as she appears in her films.
20,000 Leagues was also shot partially on the lot, but well before Mary Poppins (1954 I believe). Several of the Submarines props were stored both on the lot and at Disney's film ranch in Newhall, CA. Also, Stage 3 still had the giant water tank used for the famous squid fight. That tank was not meant for swimming but it sure would have been fun! As for the sub models, I did get to spend a lot of time as a kid climbing all over them and through them and pretending to be Captain Nemo. In reality, most studio props are discarded after the films are made since they are of no further use to anyone, so in that sense, I was a very lucky kid!
Two other notes on 20,000 Leagues: It was primarily shot is the Bahamas and Jamaica (the same exact location where a 1916 silent film of 20,000 Leagues was made). Scuba diving was in its very infancy at the time and much of the gear we use today was first developed to make this movie. Finally, the great pipe organ that Captain Nemo notoriously plays on his submarine can be seen now everyday: at the far left hand end of the ghostly ballroom in the Haunted Mansion. It's the very same organ!
What memories do you have of Walt Disney?
I was 8 years old when Walt died so I don't have a lot of memories of him. I do have one strong memory of a day at Disneyland with Uncle Walt. There was a show in Tomorrowland where an astronaut flew around the park in the air with a jetpack on his back. It was very loud and very cool! Uncle Walt came over to me and asked me if I would sit with him in special chairs on the roof on the control tower to watch the flight. That day I felt pretty special!
What were your favorite Disneyland attractions when you were little? Do you have any favorite attractions today?
My favorite rides when I was a kid are different then they are today. When I was young it was all about doing stuff grown-ups could do and things that seemed "not safe" to me. To be specific, those attractions were Autopia, the Shooting Gallery and Tom Sawyer's Island. I was also fascinated with the future. I loved the old Monsanto House and "Adventure Through Inner Space". You can check out the following site if you want to know more about Disneyland's past: http://www.yesterland.com/
As for today, I actually have more fun watching others have fun. To be honest, I feel more like a tour guide than a guest. The rides I enjoy the most today are "Soaring Over California", "Haunted Mansion" and "Pirates". I also enjoy a trip around the park on the train.
One funny story I can relate to you about being a kid in Disneyland with the last name of Disney. It was a safe place to let your kids run around, which my parents wanted us to do. Occasionally, we would get a little lost and we were always told to ask a security guard for help. We were told to give them our last name. Well, you can imagine how many people might say that to a Disneyland Security Guard on any given day. Let's just say, they were always pretty skeptical, but ultimately helpful!
What was your favorite Disney movie when you were growing up?
My favorite Disney movie was "Davy Crockett" and my favorite TV show (besides my father's shows) was " Dr. Syn, The Scarecrow". The first major premiere I went to was for " Jungle Book" but no one ever asked us kids any questions. If they had, I would have said how excited I was to see the movie and how there was nothing like a Disney movie!
What do you remember about the first time you walked down the Red Carpet at a premiere?
I was 10 years old when I went down my first Red Carpet. It was for the "Jungle Book" movie. I wasn't asked any questions but I do remember it was a quiet and sad night. It was the last film Walt had worked on before he died and he never saw it finished. You could feel the sadness everywhere.
What was family life like in your Disney household?
My life as a child at home was pretty typical. I have two sisters and a brother. We are each a year apart and I am the oldest. We did everything together. We shared rooms early on. We all went to the same school. We had a pretty big backyard and every afternoon after school we played for hours in it. I usually did my homework at 5:00 pm before dinner and my bath. We took a lot of trips together as a family. Many were related to my father's movies. Many other weekends were spent on a boat sailing to Catalina Island (I grew up sailing). My brother and sisters aren't so close anymore as we all have our own families now and pretty much lead our own lives.
What are your favorite memories of your grandparents and other family members on your mother's side of the family?
My mother's parents lived with us for many years. They had lived in Mississippi and lost their home in a hurricane. My grandfather had a bad stroke just after I was born and we all took care of him till his death 17 years later. My grandmother lived in a house, four houses from ours, until she died in 1987. Both my parents felt a strong need to take care of their parents and we all lived very close to each other.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
I loved reading and English in school. My father loved words and their meanings and I guess that rubbed off on us. I won every spelling bee for two years. I wrote and produced a play in the 3rd grade (really as a way to make friends!) and it ran for 5 nights.
What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects?
I thought Geography was hard because it was dry. I found it hard to retain all of the information we had to memorize and it never made any sense in the real world. The only way I could remember was to draw pictures of the things they were telling us about. This made it more fun for me, but everyone learns differently.
When you were a young boy, what were your favorite activities outside of school?
My favorite activities outside of school are no big surprise: running, digging, climbing, riding bikes and swimming. When I got older I also liked to build models.
What did you dream you would grow up to be?
This one may sound silly, but I wanted to be President of the United States. Eventually I became president of my company and president of the Chamber of Commerce. Not quite the same thing but I am OK with it.
What did you grow up to become?
I graduated college and had a number of interesting jobs. Eventually I worked for the Walt Disney Company for more than 10 years. I worked at the Disney Channel, in Film Post Production and at Walt Disney Imagineering. For a variety of reasons, I had to leave the company and work on my own. I started and still run an investment company.
Do you have a favorite quote or person who inspires you?
I used this quote from the author John Donne when I graduated from High School. I think it is important to keep in mind.
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind... "
What advice do you have for children who read this interview?
It is important to understand that though my experiences are unique, the lessons in life are right in front of everyone if they are open minded and they choose to look forward. I have had some amazing and unique experiences but they have taught me plenty of things about people and the value of hard work and honesty and respect. I think you should always give more than you get. Only in this way will you take a away more than you give!
- 7 July 2010
19 August 2010
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