View Full Version : Article: Roy O. Disney and the Florida Project

05-26-2012, 08:55 AM
I find it interesting how crucial Roy Disney was to the WDC. Remember, Walt Disney was not on the Board or held any of the the C-level positions.

The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Roy O. Disney and the Florida Project
Tom Richards, Updated 1d 3h ago

Much has been written about Walt Disney’s creative risks. Behind those risks—expensive ventures that could have derailed the company—was a steady, measured, dedicated financial man: Walt’s older brother. Roy O. Disney co-founded Walt Disney Productions and steered it through many hazardous storms. After Walt’s Death, it was Roy who pushed ahead with plans for the Florida Project; his leadership and foresight built the solid foundation upon which the Walt Disney World Resort as we know it has thrived.

In the book Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire, author Bob Thomas paints a portrait of a successful corporate executive whose foresight and humanity helped build an American institution. Those of us who love Walt Disney World owe an immense debt of gratitude to Roy O. Disney.

Disneyland: Building a Foundation Meant to Last

Early in Disneyland history, Roy realized that complete ownership of the park would benefit the guest experience—and the company’s interests—for years to come. In the frantic rush open Disneyland, Walt had permitted outside concerns to operate many of the shops and restaurants within the park’s berm. After Disneyland was an established success, Roy “paid off the concessionaires and returned control of those areas to the company. When Disneyland was finally a wholly owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions, Walt acknowledged Roy’s astuteness” by saying, Roy’s “Done a perfect job there.” The company was now able to control the entire guest experience, ensuring a pleasant, thoroughly “Disney” experience in the park. This philosophy of total control over the entire property is embedded in the early planning of the Florida Project.

After Walt: CalArts and the Future of Walt Disney Feature Animation

Roy’s role in the company naturally expanded after Walt’s death. He dedicated himself to fulfilling two of Walt’s greatest dreams: the California Institute of the Arts and the Florida Project. Under Roy’s guidance, Walt’s goal of creating CalArts was realized. Once again the foresight of the Disney brothers proved to be invaluable; graduates of CalArts would eventually animate the films of the Disney Renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s as well of those of Pixar Animation Studios. Clearly both Roy and Walt believed that the continued success of animated features could only be insured though investment in the artists who created them. It’s interesting to note that in the 1950s when Walt had hoped to release one animated feature a year, Roy had serious misgivings. He felt that the features might lose some of their “specialness” if the market were over-saturated. He also shared his brother’s disdain for creating sequels. Both the artist and the businessman acknowledged the vital role animation played in the company’s past and its ability to grow in the future. Roy tirelessly worked to realize Walt’s vision of a school which would train artists whose work would ensure that the rich legacy of Disney feature animations would continue.

Another of Roy’s greatest legacies was his passion for protecting Disney’s animated characters. It was his belief that the integrity of the characters must remains constant and that any products bearing their likenesses must be of the highest quality. This passion grew into the rich legacy of beloved characters, a necessary link to the past and a vital key to the future success of the Disney company.

The Florida Project: The Walt Disney World Resort

In addition to ensuring that the legacy of Disney animation would continue to years to come, Roy dedicated himself to completing the first phase of development of the Florida property. “One of Roy’s major decisions concerned the positioning of the Magic Kingdom. The financial people wanted to place it at the corner of two highways, I-4 and 192. That would make it readily available to the public and preclude the high expense of building infrastructure of roads and canals and preparing the land for future use.” Roy, however, had other plans. He insisted that Walt’s original vision for the property be followed. “We’re going to finish the Florida park, and we’re going to do it just the way Walt wanted it,” he told WED staff shortly after Walt’s death. Roy’s vision enabled future development of what is now Downtown Disney, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom.

Another decision early in the Florida development proved beneficial as well. Initially, the Contemporary and the Polynesian resorts were to be owned and operated by U.S. Steel, but Roy decided that Disney should buy back control. He wanted the company “to control its own destiny by owning and operating the hotels.” This move opened the door to what we now know and love as the Walt Disney World Resorts.

As Dick Nunis, former head of Walt Disney Attractions, said, “Without Roy, [the building of Walt Disney World} would never have happened.” In fact, it was Roy who insisted that the name of the Florida Project be changed from “Disney World” to “Walt Disney World” as a tribute to his brother. Roy’s foresight clearly set the stage for future expansion of the Walt Disney World Resort; the infrastructure of roads and land development was in place, Disney was in complete control of the property, and the philosophy of “exceeding guest expectations” was established and would endure and prosper for years to come.

Roy’s Legacy

As the opening of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom approached, Roy contemplated his long-awaited and often-delayed retirement. Yet before he could give it serious consideration, he wanted to guarantee a stable future for the company that he and his brother had spent the better part of their lives building.

In a letter to his niece in 1969, Roy wrote “ . . . we miss Walt very much around here. I only wish he had been given another ten years to reap some of the rewards of all the labor of forty years before. Certainly all that this company is today is rightfully attributed to Walt’s ideas and drive.” As Roy died a short two months after the opening of Walt Disney World, we would like to make that same wish for him.

The next time you are at the Magic Kingdom, stop in Town Square, right by the flagpole, and take a look at the Blaine Gibson sculpture of Roy and Minnie Mouse entitled Sharing the Magic. You might want to say a silent “thank you” to the man whose ideals, drive, dedication, and foresight made the Walt Disney World Resort a reality that we continue to enjoy today.

Please note that all quotations were taken from the Bob Thomas book Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire, copyright 1998 .

05-26-2012, 07:58 PM
I am a big Roy O Disney fan. Thanks for the article!

05-26-2012, 08:05 PM
Mike....have you ever read Building A Company? It's really fascinating, one of my favorite Disney biographies. I read it twice.