Roy Patrick Disney grew up the son of the son of one of the greatest businessmen who ever lived — Roy O. Disney, the man who expertly ran the business side of The Walt Disney Company and the brother of perhaps the most famous person who ever lived, Walt Disney. It has been a life lived, one ascertains rather quickly after just a few minutes into this riveting conversation with author Neal Gabler, under the towering shadow of his famous ancestors — men for whom work and family were all-consuming passions.
It was a youth lived at the height of the Company’s fame and output. Roy was eight when Walt died, but he nevertheless carries strong memories of this most monumental of men. “Walt just had an aura about him,” Roy says. “He was very striking — I wish I ended up with his hairline! Walt had beautiful hair, a very sharp face. The level of self confidence he had was just extraordinary, and you just felt it.”
“There was such a difference between the persona that the man had to inhabit and the man that he actually was,” Gabler said about Walt. “Did you ever get the sense of that when you were around Walt?”
“No, because all the times I was around him he was on,” Roy, who worked at Disney for many years and continues to work in the film business, says. “He was that person. In the end it didn’t matter that he was either because he was both. I knew him as that personality for the most part.”
Roy is clearly also in awe of his grandfather, the ingenious, faithful and dedicated Roy O. Disney. “My grandfather was ever-loyal, ever-faithful. You know, he was eight years older than Walt Disney. If any of you have siblings that are far apart in age, you probably don’t relate to them too well. It was a remarkable relationship between these two men. My grandfather had fundamentally retired by the time Walt got ill. He was ready to hang it up. But he came out of retirement to fulfill his brother’s dream, which was Disney World. And he finished it, opened it and died. Just a remarkable example of loyalty and brotherly love that is the essence of who they were and who this company is.
Gabler says what’s so extraordinary about The Walt Disney Company is that it didn’t operate as any other studio did — or any other company, for that matter. “Most companies make product,” he observed. “Even when it’s something as artistic as making movies, the head of the studio is usually self-aggrandizing. He’s the tyrant. But Walt never had to be self-aggrandizing because he was Walt Disney!”
Roy says Walt knew in his soul what needed to be done on any project, so everyone at his studio happily followed his lead. “There was no competition amongst artists, there was just a need to create art.” Indeed, Walt was a larger-than-life figure whose confidence seemed to pervade and inspire everyone at his Studio and in the world.
Including his brother, the Disney family, everyone at his Studio, Roy Patrick Disney and anyone who has ever seen any piece of entertainment bearing Walt’s hand.