Gates discussed the fact that Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday. His funeral service was held the next day, on Saturday, and then on Easter Sunday, pastors and priests all around the nation were comparing him to Christ. The point that Gates was making was that Lincoln was only a man, but there is something in the American spirit that encourages myth making, and turning figures into heroes.
Stick with me here. Lincoln was absolutely a commendable figure and a great president. He held the country together through the Civil War, freed the slaves, and accomplished a great deal in his time. But, if you read through his letters and papers, as Gates did, you see that he did not believe that blacks should have the right to vote, own property or many other basic human rights. So Lincoln was not perfect, although he was great.
It seems as though a similar thing has taken place with Walt Disney. If you read Disney centered web sites or fan writings, you would get a clear picture of who they think Walt is and what he would want. According to these fans, Walt Disney always went for quality over money, he was an artist first and a businessman second, and he despised sequels, preferring to break new ground. Is all of this true? No.
We’ve already seen in his early career, how Walt changed the artistic content of his films to meet the demands of Margaret Winkler, his distributor for the Alice Comedies. A stark example of Walt’s balancing act with money and quality was the opening of Disneyland. It always amazes me that people go to Disneyland to support their theories about Walt’s preference for quality over money. I mean, when that park opened, the Tomorrowland section was not complete, and there were only a few attractions throughout the park that operated.
In fact, Disneyland as opened was something that most Disney fans today would deride as a half day park, like Animal Kingdom. It consisted of the Fantasyland rides, the mule and stage coach rides in Frontierland, Autopia, the Mark Twain and Golden Horseshoe, and the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. There were other things, but not the lush, vibrant landscape we see today.
Make no mistake, Walt was a dreamer who wanted the best for his park and his films. But he was not afraid to cut costs if needed. That doesn’t make him any less great to my mind. Think of what he did during World War II, when he was able to continue making films, learn more about his craft, and emerge from the war as a live action and animation producer of the highest order.
As we move through Walt’s history on this blog, we’ll talk more about these contradictions between Uncle Walt that we all saw on television, and the real life Walt that his family and friends knew. Both were wonderful, but one was a real man, and the other was a character on television. Reconciling the two is part of what I’m interested in doing with this project.