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January 10

January 10, 1930 – Disney Legend Roy Edward Disney is born.

“Roy was, yes, a Disney, but he was remarkable because he lived his own life and was well-known for sailing around the world. And he certainly took us all on an adventure.” – Don Hahn, Producer of Beauty and the Beast.

Only child of Roy O. Disney (Walt Disney’s brother) and Edna Francis Disney, Roy Edward Disney was born in 1930. He grew up at the studio while his father dealt with the business side of running it. In 1951, Disney graduated from Pomona College with a degree in English, and began working in his uncle’s company in 1954 as an assistant film editor on the True-Life Adventure films. He worked in various roles within the company; as producer, writer, director, and production coordinator for episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color; as a writer for shows such as Zorro; and as a cinematographer for Perri.

In 1967, Disney joined the company’s Board of Directors. Ten years later, he resigned as an executive from the company because of disagreements over corporate decisions, but retained his seat on the Board. In 1984, however, Disney resigned as Chairman of the Board, citing decisions being made over a corporate takeover battle. “And we finally came to the conclusion that we can’t do anything on the inside because I’m the lone voice of dissent on this board,” Disney explained. “So I resigned from the board of directors. And it got enormous amounts of attention.” Indeed, Disney stock jumped 15 percent the week that Disney resigned, topping off at about $58 a share.

Disney’s resignation brought about a shift in the company, with Ron Miller stepping down from his role of CEO. The hostile takeover attempt involved taking the company apart and selling it off piecemeal, but Disney fought against this plan with a group of investors. Disney also helped bring Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to the company as CEO and President of the Walt Disney Company, respectively. Disney then came back to the company as vice chairman and head of the animation department. “I came back to the company in 1984 and, [in a] rather cavalier way at the time, said to Michael [Eisner], ‘Why don’t you let me have the Animation Department, because I may be the only guy right now, with all these new people coming in, who at least understands the process and knows most of the people.’”

Roy (L) with the Board of Directors.

“We wouldn’t be watching movies from Pixar and Disney, or possibly Dreamworks for that matter, if it weren’t for a few amazing things that Roy Disney did during that time,” Don Hahn remarked. Disney helped to reinvigorate the then-failing Animation Department, beginning with the decision to release one new animated film a year, to helping bring in the Computer Animation Postproduction System (CAPS) to change the way films are animated.

One of Disney’s other projects was a sequel to his uncle’s 1940 film, Fantasia. Walt Disney had always planned to make a sequel, and Disney continued his work, acting as Executive Producer on the project. Production began in 1990, and the film was released in 2000. The film is a combination of the company’s past and its future, a sort of metaphor for Roy E. Disney’s time at the Walt Disney Corporation.

In 2003, Disney once again resigned from the board of directors because of tensions between him and Eisner, citing complaints of Eisner’s style of micromanagement, a refusal to create a successful succession plan, and the perception that Disney had become a soulless conglomerate. Disney then established the website to force Eisner out and replace him with new blood. Eisner stepped down on March 13, 2005, and Disney rejoined the company as the non-voting Director Emeritus and consultant.

Roy introducing the Snow White home video in 1994.

Peter Schneider, Former President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, had this to say about Disney: “People always talked about Roy as the idiot nephew. That was his nickname. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was smart, unassuming, and powerful. You could easily underestimate him, but you did so at your own peril.” In fact, Disney did a lot to change the company during the period known as the Disney Renaissance. On October 16, 1998, Disney was inducted as a Disney Legend based on his long and varied work with the company. After a long battle with cancer, Disney passed away on December 16, 2009. An animation studio in Burbank was dedicated in his honor on May 7, 2010.

Writer Patrick Pacheco remarked about Disney, “I think he had a lot to prove and I think he proved it…He wasn’t the type of guy to go out and say, ‘Yeah, I’m the guy that did this.’ But on so many levels, he’s the guy that did this.” Disney was able to help change the animation landscape through the simple act of resigning from the board and bringing in Eisner, Wells, and Katzenberg. His dedication to the art of animation and the Disney name truly helped bring the company back from near demise in the late 1980s and the 1990s.


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