In this day and age, it can be hard to remember sometimes, that the name Disney is not some kind of corporate-created name. A friend of mine who works at a local Disney Store, was once asked by some foreign visitors, “Why Disney? Why did the company decide on a name like that?”
Of course, for those of us who know its history, the name Disney was the last name of the company’s founders: Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy O Disney. While Walt seemed the dreamer of the two, it was Roy who often found himself trying to find the funds for his younger brother’s next big dream.
After their passing, many people would come to run The Walt Disney Company, but not with the same last name. However, in the last 30 years, there was a Disney who played an important role behind-the-scenes: Roy E Disney (Walt’s nephew, and Roy O’s son).
It was Roy’s idea in the 1980’s to bring in outsiders to help revitalize the company, as many lucrative business people looked at the studio as little more than a hot commodity to sell off. After searching high and low, Roy brought in Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells. These three men, over the course of the next 10 years, would help bring about a renaissance that would elevate the status of the company into an entertainment powerhouse, that is still growing to this day.
Still, one area that many fans like myself know Roy from, is in his love and struggles to keep alive what he felt was the studio’s legacy: animation. In the early 80’s, the animation division was in danger of getting axed. Even though he didn’t have any animation experience, Roy requested to the new management, that he be given a role in helping out with this portion of the company.
One person who was also there at the time, was Dave Bossert. A graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, Dave began his career as an effects animator on The Black Cauldron, which was in production during this transitional period. Since then, Dave has worn many hats at Disney, and currently is Creative Director and Head of Special Projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Over the course of his 30 years working at the studio, Dave was able to work with Roy in several capacities, notably on numerous animated features within the company. In regards to special projects, Dave would spend 5 years working with Roy on Fantasia 2000, and then another couple of years finishing up the uncompleted Walt Disney/Salvador Dali concept, known as Destino.
After Roy’s passing from stomach cancer in December of 2009, Dave had a small talk with Don Hahn (a producer at the Disney Studios), and they began to share their remembrances and stories about Roy. Dave felt there were so many things to say about this man, and Don recommended that Dave write them in a book.
Dave then began a 2 year journey, in which he would consult with members of Roy’s family (such as his wife Leslie, and his son, Roy Pat), and several others at the studio. The results of his work now occupy over 209 pages, in the latest release from Disney Publishing.
When starting to read this book, it is important to know that Dave is not here to tell you Roy’s life story. Moreso, it is his, and many others recounting a man who seemed elevated in status because of his famous name, but was something much more than that. One can see Roy E Disney walking down from that lofty pinnacle and asking us, ‘now, why did you put me up there in the first place? It’s much more comfortable down here.”
Dave’s recollections tell of a man so down-to-earth, that one of his favorite things, was eating a hot dog at his local Costco! That was one thing that Roy seemed to inherit from the Disney family: the ability to not let fame and celebrity status get the better of you. Roy wanted to be known on a first-name basis (much like how Walt would not let you call him “Mr Disney”), and he even had no qualms about driving his own car.
And, also like his Uncle Walt, he was not going to let some things just be ‘good enough.’ When a law required an art piece be added to the Burbank property Roy’s company (Shamrock Holdings) would occupy, a budget of only $25,000 was allocated. The first concept was shown to Roy by his business partner, Stanley Gold. Roy didn’t care for what was being considered, and told Stanley he’d handle things.
In the end, the art piece ended up being made by a member of Walt Disney Imagineering. It depicted a man behind an old-fashioned hand-crank film camera. Now, Stanley said their budget was $25,000. The final cost for the statue? $225,000. Of course, that extra $200,000 came right out of Roy’s pocket.
“That was his attitude,” Stanley was quoted as saying. “He didn’t know how much it cost. It’s typical of Roy. He would like to do it right, and he didn’t know, nor did he care how much it would cost.”
The book also gives an insight into one of Roy’s great passions: sailing. Dave gives a whole chapter over to telling of Roy’s love of sailing his boat, the Pyewacket, in the Transpac, a race from Newport, CA, to Honolulu, HI.
Much of the book is filled with pictures, the majority of which are in black-and-white. They cover everything from early family photos, all the way to the final months of Roy’s life. At times, it almost feels like the book overwhelms us with pictures, but they seem to act like a cocoon, keeping us enfolded in these remembrances.
Though I had heard Roy’s name mentioned many times through the years, his face really came into the public’s eye, when he set out to continue one of his favorite films, Fantasia. After a limited VHS release of the film in 1991 resulted in large sales numbers, Roy made a request to Michael Eisner to follow Walt Disney’s original idea of making another Fantasia. The result would be Fantasia 2000, and in the months leading up to its release, I remember I was rabid for any news I could find on it. I even provided information for a piece on the film in my hometown newspaper, The Waterloo Courier, when it came out in regular theaters in June of 2000.
That summer would also be the closest I would ever get to talking to Roy E Disney. During an online Q&A session about Fantasia 2000, I asked Roy if there were any plans for another Fantasia. At the time, Roy claimed they were working on pieces to include in a Fantasia that was being considered for release in 2004, or 2006. Sadly, this next iteration would not come to pass, as management at The Walt Disney Company would (at that time) begin to ‘streamline’ the company’s animation divisions. Of the proposed Fantasia pieces, only four would be completed, but find their way into other areas of the studio’s home video offerings.
It was around this time, that Roy began to grow upset with how the company was being handled. In a shocking move, he resigned from the Board of Directors at Disney, and started a campaign called Save Disney. With his business partner Stanley Gold, Roy set out to voice their opinions, that new leadership was needed, and that the Disney name at the time was being severely tarnished.
Roy’s second attempt (the first being in 1984) to save his family’s company succeeded, and with the appointment of Bob Iger as the company’s new CEO, Roy returned to the company, albeit as a consultant this time.
We all know there can never be another Walt Disney, and as Remembering Roy E Disney tells us, Roy himself was one-of-a-kind as well. Dave Bossert didn’t set out to change the world with his book, but to show the world, that there were several unknown sides to this person he considered a close and personal friend. In the end, it feels he truly has shed a little more light on a man some simply knew as, “Walt’s nephew.”
On September 13, 2013, I attended a book signing of “Remembering Roy E Disney,” at Anderson’s Bookstore, in Downer’s Grove, IL. Dave Bossert (left) and Roy P Disney (right) were in attendance, and graciously signed copies of Dave’s book, and took time to answer our questions and thoughts about Roy, and the Walt Disney Company.