Sunday, April 7, 2013

Walt, Roy and Retlaw

Retlaw, Walter spelled backward, was incorporated on April 6, 1953. The company would provide Walt a way to fund the development of Disneyland. He owned one-third of the company, and his daughters owned the other two-thirds. Walt negotiated a deal that in return for licensing his name to Walt Disney Productions, he would receive either a five-percent royalty from every merchandising transaction, or he would take a share of up to fifteen percent in every Disney project. Considering that the Disney name appeared on virtually everything, the agreement was especially lucrative to Walt and his family. This eventually created tension between Walt and his brother Roy. Continue after the page break for the remainder of the story...

Walt felt he had ample justification for the agreement. "I borrowed on the insurance I’d been paying on for 30 years, and sold my house in Palm Springs to get Disneyland to a point where I could show people what it would be,” he said. “My wife complained that if anything happened to me, I would have spent all the family money.” He did find one early investor, the Bank of America. One day Roy Disney was in his office when he got a call from a banker friend who said, “Walt was in my office today.” “Oh?” replied Roy. “It’s about the Park. We went over the plans he showed me. You know, Roy, that Park is a wonderful idea,” the banker said. Roy asked, “Did Walt try to borrow from you?” and the banker replied, “Yes, he did. And you know what? I loaned it to him.” Walt even had Hazel George, the Studio nurse and Walt’s confidante, to canvas the studio for additional investors. They called that group of early believers the Disneyland Backers and Boosters. Roy was impressed. 



Eventually, Retlaw would own the old-fashioned scale-model steam railroad that would circle Disneyland and, in time, the futuristic Monorail that would circle Tomorrowland. The railroad paid twenty percent of its gross revenues to Walt Disney Productions for the right-of-way.  Employees of Retlaw did not work for the Studio or Disneyland. They worked directly for Walt. Retlaw was also there to protect the Walt Disney family financially in case things did not go as well as planned.
Walt’s starting the new firm was a major sore spot between the Disney brothers. Walt wanted more control over his activities that were not directly related to the Studio. He suggested the arrangement was in the best interest of Walt Disney Productions as well as himself since the Studio could now count on the use of his name after he dies. Roy felt betrayed. The fact that Roy’s family did not benefit was the cause of the friction. Walt Disney Productions was a partnership between the brothers, and Roy did not appreciate the fact that only Walt's daughters and wife would benefit from the deal. He would still work with his genius younger brother but it was not the same. Retlaw was ultimately purchased by Walt Disney Productions on July 8, 1981, for $46.2 million worth of stock.

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