In 1966 rumor suggested Walt Disney had been frozen at the time of his death-cryogenically preserved to await the day when science could revive him and cure his disease. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, Disney started a fire in the entertainment world that continues to burn decades after his death. Each year, millions view a Disney movie, visit his theme parks, watch his television shows, listen to his recordings, buy his products, and read his books. This man has held sway in much that has touched our lives, and he continues to inspire millions of people in all walks of life-especially business-to realize their potential:
- Arguably, Disney was a thought leader, but we cannot measure his influence as a film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist by numbers or encomia alone. We can only understand it in terms of how profoundly he reshaped American culture and consciousness. He gave people what they wanted before they knew they wanted it. A man of contradictions, he was both nostalgic with his small-town, flag-waving patriotism and futuristic in his forward-thinking television programs that helped shape attitudes about technological change.
- Never satisfied with the status quo, he constantly reinvented himself and the world around him. In the late 1920s he began reinventing animation, gradually turning it from a novelty that emphasized movement and elasticity into an art form that accentuated character, narrative, and emotion.
- Disney thrived on his vision–redefining pretend in ways that had never existed before. He described the terms of wish fulfillment and demonstrated on a grand scale how fantasy can empower us–how we can learn, in effect, to live within our own vision and even to transform the world into that vision. “When You Wish Upon a Star,” his television theme song, served as Disney’s anthem and guiding principle.
- Disney was a virtuoso. Like most virtuosos, he seldom dabbled. Those who knew him grew accustomed to the intensity with which he pursued his interests. Largely self-educated, he focused entirely on things that mattered to him-like animation.
- A vanguard, Disney distinguished himself by being one of the first to use television as an entertainment medium, with Zorro, Davy Crockett, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color among his most notable works.He also changed the shape of American recreation with his Disneyland parks, re-conceptualizing the amusement park as a full imaginative experience–a theme park–rather than a series of diversions, shows, or rides.
- A man who kept mission top of mind, Disney succeeded in wringing every possible profitable squeal and squeak out of such assets as The Three Little Pigs and Mickey Mouse–first by diversifying into a wide variety of activities, then by dovetailing them so all worked to exploit another. Disney didn’t do anything in one line without giving thought to its likely profitability in other lines.
During his lifetime Disney received four honorary Academy Awards and won twenty-two Academy Awards from a total of fifty-nine nominations, including a record four in one year, giving him more awards and nominations than any other individual in history.
He will be remembered as an entertainment virtuoso whose influence went beyond his initial area of concentration. He advanced film and television, but he also encouraged space exploration, urban planning, and historical awareness. In short, he demonstrated how one person can assert his will on the world and wish upon a star–the leader of the club that he made for you and me–every business professional’s avatar.
For more details, see Walt Disney: The Triumph of The American Imagination by Neal Gabler