Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Roy Disney Builds the Magic Kingdom (Video)

By Keith Mahne

I'm a big fan of seeing how the Magic Kingdom was constructed out of swamp land and made into the vacation kingdom of the world. Seeing this brings of flurry of thoughts to mind. The one main thing though is witnessing Walt Disney's dream being carried on out of love. Love from his brother Roy Disney to see his baby brother's dream made into a reality. Today, I'd like to share with you some wonderful construction footage of Walt Disney World featuring Roy Disney leading the way...

The creation of Walt Disney World was a tremendous task especially with the Walt Disney Company's creative leader gone. The fate of the company, and Walt Disney World for that matter, rested on one man's shoulders, Roy O. Disney. Roy being the financial genius that he was, made Walt's dreams possible his whole life and he certainly wasn't about to stop now. Roy had been planning a much needed retirement and intended to spend this time of his life relaxing away from the office in the company of his friends and family. After Walt had passed and the question to proceed with the Florida Project loomed, Roy demanded that everyone continue to do exactly as they would if Walt were alive, postponed his retirement, and saw to it that WDW become a reality. “We are going to finish this park, and we’re going to do it just the way Walt wanted it,” Roy firmly stated. “Don’t you ever forget it. I want every one of you to do just exactly what you were going to do when Walt was alive.”

One of his first decisions was that the Disneyworld project would be officially renamed “Walt Disney World.” Roy was insistent that people be reminded that this was Walt’s project. Very few others in the company agreed with that choice because of marketing reasons. In a meeting, someone referred to it as “Disneyworld” and Roy’s hand went to his glasses, “I’m only going to say this one more time. I want it called ‘Walt Disney World.’ Not Disneyworld, not Disneyland East, not anything else. Walt Disney World.”

Roy Disney and other company executives during a property inspection of Walt Disney World

Roy Disney during a property inspection of Walt Disney World

As Roy O. Disney stood on the swamp lands prior to Walt Disney World, all that he could see was black water swamps and dunes of white sand. There were a handful of tethered gas balloons of different colors that also dotted the landscape to indicate the height and location of things to come like Cinderella Castle. Roy knew he was not as charismatic as his younger brother, nor as creative. He surrounded himself with a talented group of men to make Walt’s dream come to life. On the creative end, he deferred to Dick Irvine of WED who had also been instrumental in the creation of Disneyland. On the construction end, he relied heavily on Joe Fowler and Joe Potter whose military background and “can do” attitudes were invaluable to transform the rugged terrain into a magical kingdom under a nearly impossible deadline.

Because of Roy's love for his brother and his perseverance, Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. At the dedication, Roy was asked by reporters why a grandfather had felt the obligation to tackle this impossible project at this point in his life. Roy smiled, “I didn’t want to have to explain to Walt when I saw him again why the dream didn’t come true." Later, Roy spent time in a boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Magic Kingdom and when asked why he wasn’t in the park to handle all the media attention, Roy quietly remarked, “Today is my brother’s day. I want them to remember my brother today." When the television special, The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World aired on NBC on Friday October 29, 1971, Roy sat next to his wife Edna in their Bay Hill house and began weeping.

Soon after the grand opening of Walt Disney World, Roy went back to California and never returned to Florida. He had complained for some time about seeing something like a cloud over his vision but delayed going in for blood tests, assuming he just needed a new prescription for his glasses. Roy Disney fell into a coma on Sunday, December 19, 1971, about two months after getting WDW open, and was rushed to a hospital. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Monday night, December 20, 1971 in Room 421 at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California at the age of seventy-eight. It was the same hospital where he had sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of his younger brother a half decade earlier.

When you watch the construction footage of the Magic Kingdom below and when you see Roy, remember why he was there. Remember the love he had for his baby brother. That he postponed his life to make sure Walt's final dream came true. Roy was a special man, just as special as Walt, and Roy, wherever you are.....Thank you!


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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