Inside Walt Disney’s World

American Icons, People
on December 20, 2011

On Dec. 5, 2011, Walt Disney would have been 110 years old. Here are some fun anecdotes about this legendary artist, entrepreneur and family man.

The 'Thing' at MGM
One day in 1927, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer reluctantly agreed to a meeting with his creative staff. It was so annoying, these so-called artists wanting to bother him with their smutty ideas. The mogul felt that family films were what the public wanted; to stray from clean content was a mistake. His employees always wished to push the envelope with what they called more adult subjects, like rape and murder. Now they were all excited to show him a new comedy.

The lights went down and Mayer was horrified by the images he saw on the screen.

"Stop the projector! I ought to fire all of you! Imagine if that thing were 10 feet tall in theaters. All the pregnant women would flee out into the street."

Mayer abruptly left, while his astonished personnel wondered who would tell the nervous young filmmaker in the next room, Walt Disney, that MGM would not distribute his Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Snow White's Evil Queen
Walt Disney felt the evil queen/peddler woman was the key element that would make or break Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. The princess was sympathetic, the little guys were humorous, but the villain had to be horrifying to keep the audience interested.

A renowned stage professional named Lucille La Verne, whose haughty tone was perfect for the beautiful queen, performed the evil monarch's vocals. The Disney staff was less satisfied by La Verne's interpretation of the villain after she magically transformed into the haggish peddler woman. After several misfires, she held up her hand to stop the taping. "Wait, I have an idea!"

Lucille left the recording room for a few minutes then returned. "I'm ready." The dialogue was now delivered in a way that chilled and thrilled her small audience at the studio.

After the performance, there was applause and someone asked what La Verne did during the break.

The actress smiled and said, "I took my teeth out!"

Walt's New World
The very controlling Walt Disney felt that the immediate area surrounding Disneyland looked like a cheap Las Vegas. When he opened his Anaheim park in 1955, he had only been able to purchase a few hundred acres. He couldn't prevent a slew of motels from popping up near it.

Disneyland was a runaway success and by the 1960s, Walt hatched a scheme to build a new magic kingdom in Orange County, Fla. He sent proxies east to buy marshland secretly.

The TV icon ignored warnings that if he were spotted in the vicinity, the real estate prices would shoot up; he had to get a close-up view of how things were going. While he was eating in an Orlando diner, a waitress asked him, "Pardon me, aren't you Walt Disney?"

"No, and if I ever see that blankety-blank Disney I'll give him a piece of my mind!"

By the time the sellers got wise, Walt's Florida land acquisitions were equal to twice the size of Manhattan.

Walt Disney Overcame Doubters
After World War II, the heavily in debt Walt Disney got tired of people telling him his ventures would fail. The frustrated entrepreneur had developed a half-hour featurette called Seal Island. Distributors told him there was no market for it.

Walt was also getting flack from bankers about his plans for a feature-length animated Cinderella; make less expensive projects, they said.

Then there was the scoffing about his attempt to make a fully live action version of Treasure Island; a Disney movie without cartoons would never sell.

Walt ignored the doubters and completed all three endeavors. Seal Island won the Oscar for best short subject, which led to many more highly profitable nature films, Cinderella became his biggest success in a decade, and Treasure Island did fine at the box office.

The positive results made it far easier for Walt to dismiss the negative voices that were making fun of his amusement-park idea.

Walt Disney's Nurse
After Walt Disney took a bad spill from one of his polo horses in 1936, his greatest confidant became his no-nonsense studio nurse, Hazel. Late at night, after most of the employees had gone home, she applied therapeutic treatments to his neck while Disney would talk to her about his hopes and dreams. They had a similar sense of humor and would often share a good laugh over the latest workplace gossip.

Like Walt, she held parent-like affection and impatience for his zany, childlike animators.

Once, Hazel was called to help one of the cartoonists who had gotten sick after
having lunch in the commissary. The concerned caregiver raced to the rescue and found the poor man lying on the floor clutching his stomach.

"What happened?"

She was told that he had taken a bet that he could drink 10 chocolate sodas.

"Oh, for Pete's sake!"

Her boss later approved of her remedy; Hazel kicked the already suffering artist in the rear.

Walt Disney's Daughters
Walt Disney's two daughters, Sharon and Diane, grew up sheltered from the limelight. The children had no images of Mickey Mouse around their home. Their father didn't go to many parties, preferring to stay in after a long day of work.

Sometimes he would playfully chase the youngsters upstairs, cackling like the evil peddler woman in Snow White. When they behaved badly, Walt would admonish them with a raised eyebrow; his stern demeanor inspired the character of the wise old owl in the 1942 animated feature Bambi.

As toddlers, the brainy Diane and beautiful Sharon stayed blissfully unaware that their parents worried about them being kidnapped and allowed no pictures of the sisters to be publicly circulated. Once in 1939, a curious classmate questioned 6-year-old Diane about her family. She went home and said, "Daddy, you never told me you were that Walt Disney," and asked him for an autograph.

Disney came up with Mickey Mouse in 1927 to replace Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, one of Walt's earlier characters, which he hadn't copyrighted and lost to Universal Studios. The young filmmaker made sure that from then on, he owned everything he created. Some on Disney's staff thought that he was like an overprotective father when it came to his favorite rodent. Never one to hold grudges, Walt had given Woody Woodpecker artist Walter Lantz (1899-1994) his blessing to draw the Oswald shorts, but it still killed Disney to see the cartoon bunny at another studio.

In 2006, 40 years after Walt passed on, Universal, now merged with NBC, began showing NFL football on Sunday nights. To obtain the services of 62-year-old broadcaster Al Michaels, still under contract to Disney-owned ABC, Universal transferred ownership of the Lucky Rabbit back to its original company. The trade thrilled Walt's 73-year-old daughter Diane to no end.

About the Author
Stephen Schochet is a professional tour guide in Hollywood who years ago began collecting little known, humorous anecdotes to tell to his customers. His new book Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies! contains a timeless treasure trove of colorful vignettes featuring an amazing all-star cast of icons, including John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Shirley Temple, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, and many others both past and contemporary.