Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Rare Look Inside WED Before and After Walt Disney’s Death

By Ted Linhart

When an eponymous corporation loses its founder, especially if he/she is still in charge at the time, that company is challenged with finding a new leadership team while still maintaining that person’s vision and continuing business as usual for the sake of its employees. The Walt Disney Company went through such an ordeal when Walt died on December 15, 1966. This article looks at a remarkable “Six-Month Report For WED Enterprises” that covers a unique time frame -  the three months before and after Walt's death when multiple, iconic Disney Park creations were coming to life. The copy of this report that you are about to see was sent to Roy O. Disney, Walt’s brother, and creates an extraordinary look at the DNA of Disney theme parks. Join us as we take a peak inside WED Enterprises during one of its most challenging and yet inspirational eras of its history...


(Click on each document to enlarge)

The title page of this report, shown above and which was printed on onion-skin paper, contains the 1960s WED Imagineering logo at the top left. The bottom of the page has the definition of Imagineering in the same style – “Imaginative concepts in Design, Architecture, Engineering and Entertainment".

Attached to the report is a green WED Enterprises “Inter-Office Communication” form dated 5/2/1967 which is addressed to “Those Listed” and is from “Mel Melton” who was President of WED at the time. “Those listed” are Roy Disney, Card Walker, and Larry Tyron.

The text on the form reads “Attached is a report covering WED and MAPO for the six months ended April 1, 1967. Basically, this report is a review of this six-month period and serves as a reference. The financials covering both companies are included. If you have any questions, please give me a ring”. Mel Melton has signed it with his first name

As you can see in the picture above, the form is stamped “Received, May 3 1967, Roy O. Disney’s Office.

The report addresses Walt’s death on page one:

“Along with all units of the Disney organization, WED Enterprises Inc., acutely felt the tragic loss of Walt Disney, its founder and Board Chairman, on December 15, 1966. His close personal association with the management and staff of WED through the years caused his passing to be particularly heavy blow to all our people.

As Walt would have it, WED recoiled form this shock and quickly rededicated itself to carrying on in the best Walt Disney tradition. We realized that Walt, in his own effective way, had been preparing for that day in December for many years … that his long and direct relationship with our creative staff had instilled in them the Disney ways of doing things, his philosophies, approaches, enthusiasm and foresight. This preparation assured that WED would carry on.

Even though this tragedy darkened the first six months of WED’s fiscal year, this period again witnessed accomplishment, progress, and preparation for our busiest years in all areas of the Company.”

Page two mentions “the Disney World project” in a section dedicated to “Company Facilities”. WED expected that “project” to require “a proposed structure of approximately 46,000 square feet which, if the Florida project materialized, would be constructed on land currently subject to WED.

The next section addresses the “WED Organization” and lists the Board of Directors as: Joseph Fowler (Chairman), Richard Irvine (Co-Chairman), Orbin Melton, William Cottrell, Robert Brown, Donn Tatum, John Hench. There is also mention of an Executive Committee which was “given the responsibility to consider and make decisions as related to engineering, design and manufacturing within the framework of policy established by the WED Board.”

The “Projects” section of the report begins on page four and covers “work on various planning and design stages of five major projects”. These are some of the most important projects in Disneyland’s history. They are as follows:

  • The Pirates Of The Caribbean — “The most intricate and demanding Audio-Animatronic presentation ever created by WED.  This show, featuring 119 three-dimensional, animated figures, opened temporarily during the Spring Vacation (Easter) period for trial runs with public attendance. (This presentation, located in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, was publicly dedicated and permanently opened at a special press reception on April 19, 1967.”

  • Club 33, Royal Street — “Completed and prepared for opening on the second level of New Orleans Square at Disneyland.  This sumptuous private facility was created to satisfy the need for special hosting accommodations by Disneyland lessees and Park personnel.”

  • Tomorrowland — “A complete $22 million redevelopment of the original area for underway at Disneyland in the late Summer. WED designed the new Tomorrowland as a major showcase for American industry and to crystalize Walt’s belief that the world of tomorrow can be created today through present know-how and technology”.

The report continues to outline the specific projects that comprise the new Tomorrowland:

  • Adventure Thru Inner Space — “Presented by Monsanto – a trip aboard Atomobiles into the world of the molecule.”

  • Flight To The Moon — “Presented by Douglas – a voyage into outer space aboard a new spacecraft”.

  • Carousel of Progress and Progress City — “Presented by General Electric – the tracing of electricity’s contribution to better living.”  [Author’s note – this seems like an odd and muted description of this legendary attraction even if technically true].

  • Refreshment Gardens (tentative title) — “Presented by Coca-Cola – dining and live entertainment in atmosphere of the world-to-come”.  [This would open as Tomorrowland Terrace].

  • America The Beautiful — “Presented by the Bell System (AT&T and Associated Companies) – an all-new filmed visit to the 50 states through the medium of Walt Disney Productions’ improved Circle-Vision 360 filming process”.

  • Goodyear Peoplemover, a WEDway Transportation System — “A unique means of moving people throughout new Tomorrowland and into its pavilion aboard trains of cars that never stop moving, even when loading or unloading passengers.”

The next topics of the Projects page addresses even larger scale endeavors:

  • Disney World — “While awaiting action later this spring by Florida legislature – action that would signal the go-ahead on this project – the WED staff continued to polish and finalize basic concepts for the massive new Disney World project, planned for 27,443, acres near Orlando, Florida. As presently envisioned, this undertaking will include a theme park similar to Disneyland, industrial park, motel-hotel complexes, a jet-age airport and, most significant of all, EPCOT – the Experimental Prototype of Community of Tomorrow”.  The WED staff is crystallizing Walt’s philosophies for this project, summarized when he said ‘Our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow will always be in a state of becoming.  It will never cease to be a blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can’t find anywhere else today.’”

  • Mineral King — “Preliminary concepts for year-round recreational facilities at this High Sierra location continued to be developed at WED during the first six months of this fiscal year, but were curtailed during the latter part of the period because of problems arising over the road issue.  In accordance with Forest Service stipulations, a new, modern all-weather access road to Mineral King must be assured before the Disney organization may proceed with its development”. [As we all know this was eventually abandoned].

Pages 7-9 covers various topics including “WED Personnel”, “Legal Office Activities”, “WED Public Relations”, “Research Group”, “WED Purchasing Department”, and “WED Financial Exhibits”.  Among the interesting facts within these sections are 1) there were 244 WED employees as of 4/1/67, 2) the WED press department received 620 letters and 2640 phone calls during those six months, 3) WED had $4.66MM on its balance sheet and net profit of $298,000.

The final pages focus exclusively on the MAPO subsidiary of WED. The pages do not mention that MAPO stands for Mary Poppins since it was the profits from that movie that funded the division. It does state that MAPO is “WED’s subsidiary for the research, development, and fabrication of unique components, devices and systems utilized by WED in its various projects.”

The summary goes on to note that MAPO has a large production facility in Glendale; that it had made or was making the animatronic figures for Pirates, Carousel of Progress, and Flight To The Moon and was also testing the ride systems for the Peoplemover and Adventure Thru Inner Space. Also, MAPO had 93 people on staff as of 4/1/1967 along with $499,000 on its balance sheet and $129,000 in net profit.

That about does it for this outstanding insider report from a tumultuous yet highly productive era for Disney and its Imagineering division. The author and readers of this report had to deal with their own grief and loss of a legendary leader while forging ahead with his goals for the company and for the American public. The works described in this report are some of the most famous in the Disney Park canon and, thanks to the preservation of this document, we can see how the Company addressed their development in the wake of Walt Disney’s death by way of WED Enterprises... the part of the Disney Company he loved so much.


Ted Linhart was born and raised in New York City and works at NBC Universal where he is an SVP of Research for the company’s cable networks. Ted has a passion for television and has long been a collector of many items. He is also quite passionate about the Disney Parks and, in particular, Walt Disney’s view of the future which was cemented the first time he went on Horizons in 1985. Over the past several years, Ted has been collecting letters, documents, brochures and other ephemera relating to the history, construction, and evolution of Disneyland, Disney World and EPCOT. Ted started posting pictures of his collection via his Twitter account @TedonTV and followers started asking him to post more pictures online.  That led Ted to create his blog where pictures of each of his items are archived.

You can find all of Ted's article here.

No comments:

Post a Comment