Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Stories Behind Walt Disney's Last Photos at Disneyland

By Keith Mahne

In the fall of 1966, a couple months before the world mourned the loss of one of its greatest visionaries and most beloved figures, Walt Disney had publicity photos taken of himself at Disneyland. Joined by Mickey Mouse and a large group of other popular Disney characters, Walt posed in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle for the last time. Although we now know that these are the final publicity photos ever taken of Walt, which can be a bit somber, the stories behind them offer some comfort for the loss of the man who was never afraid to dream. Join us in today's new article as we hear the stories behind Walt Disney's last photos taken at Disneyland...

Just a couple of months before his death, Walt had publicity photos taken at Disneyland park. These are the two behind-the-scenes stories of the photos that took place that day...

The first story is about a set of photos that many of you have more than likely seen before. They are the ones most widely used of Walt at the Park since his death. Former Disneyland Chief Photographer, Renie Bardeau, who retired in 1998, took these first set of photos that would be one of the final of Walt Disney at Disneyland...

In a Los Angeles Times article, Renie Bardeau recalls the story of Walt's last photo shoot...

“There is a little story of when I was shooting that particular picture. It was shot on a Rolleiflex, and there are 12 pictures on a roll. I had shot 11 pictures of Walt at different angles… watching for his smile, watching to make sure Mickey was looking the right way, making sure the (castle) spires weren’t hanging out of Mickey’s ears. Anyway, I had shot 11 pictures, and I had said, ‘Thank you, Walt, that’s it.’ He asked me if I was sure, and I told him I was. He then told me that at the Studio we treat film like paper clips. You shoot, shoot, shoot all the film you need because if it’s not in the can, you will never have it. So he asked me to shoot one more. So, I shot one more and he said, ‘That’s fine, thank you, Renie,’ and he walked away.”

Here are a few more shots that Renie took of Walt on that day...

The second story comes from the coffee table book Boulevards Photographic: The Art of Automobile Advertising by Jim Williams. The book is about a advertising company called Boulevards Photographic based out of Detroit who produced some of advertising's most innovative and recognized automotive images. Mickey McGuire, a founder of the company, pioneered new techniques in the days before Photoshop to create compositions the likes of which had never been seen from a camera lens. There is a section of the book about the photo shoot below...

The text on that page reads:

SUBJECT: Walt Disney
LOCATION: Disneyland
CAMERA/FILM: 8 X 10 View Camera, Ektachrome Transparency

This obviously isn't a car picture, but it was a result of some extra work I did while on an experimental shoot for Ford. J. Walter Thompson, which was Ford's advertising agency, also had the RCA Victor account. The people on the RCA business had come up with a theme line, "Color so real you think you're there," and asked for my help in finding a way to illustrate it. I ended up taking all of the guts out of a television set and used it to frame scenes which I set up at various locations.

The client loved the results and since it was my idea, I got the actual shooting assignment. And the first ad they wanted shot was to be in Disneyland with Walt Disney himself. I'd grown up with Walt Disney as one of my heroes. So when I was asked to take a picture of him, I was probably the most nervous photographer in the world. I shot him with his many colorful Disney characters. It was quite an experience to set it up and to control the background to emphasize what was going on behind the TV screen. I gelled everything but the picture tube area and used some grease to make the background a little bit softer.

Mr. Disney turned out to be a patient and understanding model. I was a young man in my mid-twenties and little did I know I'd be making history. This was one of the last pictures made of Walt Disney who died shortly after the ad ran.

This is the result of that photo shoot...

Over time, all of these photos have created some of the most lasting and iconic images of Walt, but few people realize just how significant they are. Yes, it is a bit sad to think that they are some of his last. But after you get past that fact, it's easy to see the love he had for his company, his characters, and his Park. Let us take comfort in knowing that his spirit will always live on at Disneyland.


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.


  1. My favorite picture in this set is the one of Walt sitting with the Peter Pan story book and looking up at the children as if he is telling them something wonderful. Among my few keepsakes I still have a Peter Pan book just like that one which I received as a girl in the mid 1950's. I've always loved it.
    Thank for your heartful posts about Disney.

  2. The last picture where Walt is in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle with the many characters is also a post card.

  3. When I look at these photos not o ly does it remind me of how wonderfull growing up Disney was and is but of how proud I am of my dad for bringing so much magic into so many people's lives through his eye and camera Thanks Dad.
    Deborah Bardeau

    1. Hi Deborah! Was your father Mickey McGuire? As I researched him a bit for this article I was amazed to see his work, especially knowing that he didn't have the technology of today to do what he did. You must be so proud to know that your dad was responsible for these amazing photos of Walt. Did he talk about this day? Is there anything else you would like to add to his part of the article? If so, please email me via the contact tab above. Thanks

  4. In the photo depicting all of the characters getting ready for the photo shoot (Walt is not in that particular shot), who are those characters to the far right?!?

    1. One appears to be Dumbo standing on his front legs and I can't make out the other one. Never noticed that before you mentioned it.