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October 27

October 27, 1954 – The Television Series Disneyland Premieres on ABC

“…this year, we want you to see and share with us the experience of building this dream into a reality.”

On October 27, 1954, the first episode of the Disney anthology series Disneyland premiered on ABC. The show, named after the theme park Walt Disney was planning to build, gave audiences glimpses of the dream that would become the California theme park. The first episode was entitled “The Disneyland Story,” and was directed by Robert Florey.

When Walt Disney was in the midst of creating his theme park, he realized that the only way he could secure enough funding was to embrace the new medium of television. He struck a deal with the then-fledgling ABC network, which agreed to help provide financing if he created a weekly hour-long television show for them, with Walt as host. This show made Walt Disney a familiar figure in households nationwide, and created several staples in popular culture, including the Davy Crockett craze of the 1950s.

“The Disneyland Story” begins with an aerial view of the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California. There is then a behind the scenes view at what is going on at the studios, including a look at the upcoming film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a live-action model stage for Sleeping Beauty, and some strange music being composed in the music department. The narrator takes us to a place called the Disneyland Plans Room, where “something unusual is going on in the studio today, something that never happened before.” Walt then takes over as host, introducing his vision of Disneyland, the four worlds of the park, and the format of the four worlds of the television show. Introducing Frontierland, he then presents a segment about the Davy Crockett serial that will soon begin filming, and introduces Fess Parker, who sings the theme song.

Going to Adventureland, Walt presents producer Ben Sharpsteen, who talks about the planned area and shows some films they’ve done of the Galapagos Islands, the Falkland Islands, Lapland, Morocco, and Portugal. Walt introduces Tomorrowland, and director and animator Ward Kimball explains the plans and ideas for the Tomorrowland segments, including designing and building the first passenger-carrying rocket. The last realm Disney introduces is Fantasyland, where “in this land, hopes and dreams are all that matter.” He then says that Uncle Remus would have called it a “laughing place,” which leads into the “laughing place” segment from Song of the South.

Walt Disney pulls down a book from his shelves that chronicles the life of his greatest star, Mickey Mouse

To remind everyone that “it all started with a mouse,” Walt then presents the story of Mickey Mouse, starting with his humble beginnings in the short film Plane Crazy. He introduces Mickey’s friends and fellow stars – Pluto, Goofy, and Donald – before presenting one of the most important roles in Mickey’s career: the role of the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia. After exploring Mickey’s career, clips are shown of the next week’s episode, a presentation of the Disney film Alice in Wonderland.

July 13

July 13, 1925 – Walter Elias Disney Marries Lillian Bounds

“We shared a wonderful, exciting life, and we loved every minute of it. He was a wonderful husband to me, and wonderful and joyful father and grandfather.” – Lillian Bounds Disney

On July 13, 1925, Walt Disney married Lillian Bounds in a small ceremony at Bounds’ brother’s house, with Lillian wearing a lavender gown. They had a year-long courtship beforehand, with Walt coming by Lillian’s house often, long drives in his beloved Moon roadster, and dinner at Hollywood tearooms, and Walt proposed indirectly by asking Lillian to pitch in to either buy a new car or a ring; when Lillian said that she wanted the ring, Walt (with Roy’s help) bought a ¼ carat diamond on a platinum band surrounded by sapphires for seventy-five dollars. The couple remained married for 41 years, until Walt’s death in 196.

March 22

March 22, 1935 – The Silly Symphony, The Golden Touch, is Released to Theaters

“Is this the great man that bellowed, ‘Give me gold, not advice?’”

On March 22, 1935, the Silly Symphony, The Golden Touch, was released to theaters. Based on the tale of King Midas, it was directed by Walt Disney himself, who thought that this would be an easy task. Finding it was more work than he thought, Walt did not direct another short again. The music was written by Frank Churchill, and stars Billy Bletcher as the voice of King Midas.

Midas is shocked when Goldie easily turns his cat into gold

The short opens in the vaults of the kingdom, where King Midas is happily counting his gold. He introduces himself to the audience, stating that he never cared for women or wine, but instead loves and worships gold. He then wishes that he could have everything he touched turn to gold. No sooner has he made this wish when a strange creature appears named Goldie. Midas is afraid that Goldie is there to steal his gold, but Goldie tells Midas that he, Goldie, doesn’t want it, and shows Midas that he can turn things to gold with a single touch. Midas offers everything he owns for the golden touch, but Goldie warns Midas that this would be a curse rather than a blessing. Midas doesn’t want Goldie’s advice, so Goldie finally gives the king what he wishes.

Now armed with the golden touch, Midas is determined to test it out. He chases his cat up the stairs of the castle, and as Midas runs into a tree, the tree suddenly turns to gold, dropping 18K apples, and the 18K cat as well. Midas skips around gleefully, incredibly happy that he has the golden touch, and begins touching everything he can, from flowers to fountains.

The king becomes delusional from hunger and fear, seeing himself as a golden corpse.

Some time later, a hungry King Midas sits down to eat a hearty meal, only to find that he is unable to eat anything, as it all turns to gold. Angered, he begins to turn all of the food to gold, and seems to go mad over the fact that Goldie had been right about it being a curse. He moans that the richest king in the world must now starve to death, and is chased by illusions of death. He locks himself in his counting room and calls out for Goldie, who appears, laughing.

Midas, thrilled to see that Goldie has appeared, begs the creature to take away the curse, so he can eat once more. He offers everything he has, and even offers his kingdom for a hamburger. Goldie laughs and teases, “With or without onions?” The king begs for just a plain old hamburger, and Goldie finally agrees to take back the curse, in exchange for everything the king possesses.

"My kingdom for a hamburger!"

As Goldie disappears, Midas looks around wildly, before seeing his entire kingdom disappear before his eyes, as well as his clothes, save for his undershirt and boxers, with his crown now nothing more than a tin can. As promised, his hamburger appears in front of him, and as he sits down to eat it, he pauses, afraid that he still possesses the golden touch. He is relieved to find that it has indeed been taken away, and that Goldie also gave him onions.

February 24

February 24, 1997 – Pixar and Disney Jointly Agree on the Production of Five Feature Films

This newspaper article around the time Pixar went public described the reason for the need to become a studio, one that would be addressed in the extended contract

“We got the money in the bank, and then shortly after, Disney came to us and said, ‘We want to extend the contract.’ And Steve [Jobs] said, ‘Okay, we will extend it if we can be fifty-fifty partners.’ And they said, ‘Okay, we’ll do that.’” – Ed Catmull

After the success of Toy Story, which provided more income to the once-struggling Pixar Studios, a new agreement was signed on February 24, 1997, for a new five-film deal. This deal gave Pixar more of an equal share of the assets from their films. This extended deal only served to further prove that Pixar had something amazing to offer Disney and the film industry in general.

When Pixar signed the first three-film contract with Disney in 1991, the studio was cash-strapped and needed the deal, so they had agreed to a 10 to 15 percent share of their films’ profits so that Disney would fully finance the films. This left most of the profits and merchandising with Disney. “Financially, if one film did not do well,” Steve Jobs explained about the first contract, “we would be wiped off the face of the planet.” Jobs began to push Michael Eisner for a new contract a few months after the release of Toy Story, when he was confident in the film’s success both commercially and as a groundbreaking achievement for Pixar. Jobs realized at that point that Pixar needed to become a studio, instead of a production company, and to accomplish this, they would need capital. Their best option was to go public, and Pixar became the highest initial public offering (IPO) of 1995.

The success of Toy Story helped to make Pixar's IPO the highest of the year

Toy Story had given Pixar a massive success, and with the added bonus of their IPO, Pixar was able to co-finance their films, work on getting a higher percentage of the films’ profits, and get the proper credit for their work. Jobs offered Eisner the one bargaining chip he had: more films. Eisner could not say no, and in 1997, Pixar’s Chief Financial Officer, Lawrence Levy, and the similar representative for Disney, Robert Moore, signed a 42-page contract for five feature films (the first one being A Bug’s Life, which was beginning production and still known as Bugs), in which the production costs would be split 50-50, and Pixar would receive 50 percent of the profits, along with home video and tie-in product receipts, and equal advertising with Disney for the films. When Jobs and Eisner announced the extension of the contract, the Pixar stock jumped 50 percent.

February 15

February 15 1899 – Birth of Disney Legend and Wife of Walt Disney, Lillian Disney

Lillian, far left, stands with Walt, his sister Ruth, Roy, and Roy's wife Edna, in a shot from 1925

“I think my dad fell in love with her almost immediately … she was an independent little lady.” – Diane Disney Miller

Lillian Bounds Disney, wife of Walt Disney, was born in Spalding, Idaho, in 1899 as the tenth and youngest child of the family. In 1923, she traveled to Los Angeles to visit her sister, and a friend of hers recommended her for a job at the Disney Brothers Studio as an ink and paint girl. There was one condition: “Don’t flirt with the boss,” her friend warned her. “He’s all business.” Lillian, however, had no intention of flirting with Walt; this was not a love-at-first-sight romance for either of them, for Walt was too consumed with the business, and Lillian was not impressed with the shabbiness of his clothes. She took the job due to its proximity to her sister’s house and the salary of fifteen dollars a week.

Walt would drive Lillian and another coworker home after long days at the studio. Lillian later said, “When Walt started dropping the other girl off first so he could talk to me, I knew he was interested.” She also admitted that during these rides home, she started to see Walt differently, looking at him “like he was a somebody.” One evening as he dropped her off, he informed her, “I’m going to buy a new suit. When I get it, would it be all right if I called on you?” Lillian said that it would, and when Walt got his new suit in celebration of a check for their films, he arrived at her house and asked her eagerly about the suit. They dated steadily after that, and on July 13, 1925, Walt and Lillian were married. From then on, Lillian worked at the studio only in times of emergency.

One of the major contributions attributed to Lillian involved Walt’s famous creation, Mickey Mouse. While the story of Mickey’s creation has been shrouded in legend and mystery, the one common factor is that Lillian came up with the name for the new character. Walt wanted to name the mouse Mortimer, but Lillian decided that the better name would be Mickey, and he agreed.

Lillian accompanying Walt to the premiere of Mary Poppins

Lillian was not one to meekly listen to Walt, nor was she one to care about what the press reported about him. Walt once told a reporter that Lillian didn’t care what reporters would say about him. “I keep reporters away from her,” he explained. “She’s given them the lowdown.” Perhaps the success to their long marriage was the fact that Lillian was never overly impressed by Walt and his accomplishments. She did worry when he worked long hours, but overall, she didn’t regard him as a genius, as most people did. Walt, however, would show her affection by either physical actions, such as wrapping an arm around her, or learning how to dance so they could dance together during social functions.

After Walt’s death, Lillian stepped in the public arena to lend support to the Florida Project, which would be renamed Walt Disney World in his honor. She attended the dedication ceremony in 1971, saying, “I think Walt would have approved,” when asked what Walt would have thought of the park. She continued her late husband’s support of education by providing financial gifts to the California Institute of the Arts, particularly to remodel a campus theater in 1993, which was renamed the Walt Disney Modular Theater. In 1987, Lillian announced a $50 million gift to build a symphonic hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, now known as the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry and opened in 2003.

In 1969, Lillian remarried to John L. Truyens, but he unfortunately died in 1981. Lillian herself passed away on December 16, 1997, after suffering a stroke at the age of 98. She was named a Disney Legend in 2003, honoring all of her contributions in support of the company’s growth.

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 SaveDisney.com 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.