Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Time Walt Disney Passed The Peace Pipe To His Brother Roy

By Keith Mahne

The basic difference between Walt and Roy Disney was Walt's readiness and willingness to jump off and follow his dreams, while his brother Roy preferred a grounded approach to things that were a bit more solid. Since the two brothers were children of a working class family who had to count every penny to get by, Roy's somewhat conservative attitude is easy to understand, but Walt's seemingly boundless enthusiasm and confidence is not. Both were extremely talented and creative men, and both had great heads for business. Roy's somewhat cautious nature served as a perfect counterpoint to Walt's flamboyance, and that one characteristic strengthened the company. However, these differences between the two brother's way of thinking would sometimes cause them to clash just as they did in the early 1960s over the sale of Walt’s company WED Enterprises and all of its holdings. Join us as we return to Walt and Roy's negotiation over the sale of WED and learn what caused Walt to eventually pass the peace pipe to his brother Roy in today's new article...

Something that was well known to those who worked at the Disney Studio was that Walt and Roy Disney would regularly get into loud and even public verbal confrontations with one another. These clashes are easy to understand when you consider that, as their fledgling studio grew, Roy, who managed the finances, had an often difficult job because Walt always wanted to do things that were new, better and experimental. The cost of an exciting new project didn't interest Walt in the slightest and that lack of interest led to confrontations between the two leaders.

Walt Disney and his brother Roy Disney during a meeting with Bank of America Vice Pres. Bernard Giannini (center) to discuss a bank loan

Walt and Roy's back and forth feuding became particularly disastrous during the early 1960s when the two sides began negotiations for the sale of Walt’s personal company WED Enterprises and all of its holdings that included things like the Disneyland Monorail, Train and even the use of Walt’s name to Walt Disney Productions.

WED Enterprises, which would become Walt Disney Imagineering in 1986, was founded in December of 1952 and was personally owned by Walt Disney until 1965.

The cause of the brother's feud was documented in Michael Barrier's book, The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney...

The cause [of this disastrous argument] was Walt's continued ownership of WED Enterprises, the company he had set up in 1952 to design Disneyland and its attractions. In the early 1960s, after Disneyland itself became a wholly owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions, WED remained Walt Disney's personal corporation. Roy Disney had always seen legal perils in this arrangement, smacking as it did of self-dealing and conflicts of interest, and WED's prominent role in designing the Disney attractions at the 1964-65 world's fair may have brought his fears to a head. It was only after months of turmoil and argument and pained silences, ending late in 1964, that Walt Disney finally agreed to sell most of WED. The purchase agreement, dated November 20, 1964, and approved by the company's shareholders the following February, provided for a payment of $3.75 million for WED's rights in the world's fair exhibits and other assets. WED's design, architectural, and engineering staff, about a hundred employees in all, became employees of Walt Disney Productions.

Walt Disney was possessive about his private company, the source of most of his pleasure in his business for the previous ten years. Marvin Davis remembered the time [when the brothers were still at odds on the WED sale] that Roy Disney asked him and another WED executive, Dick Irvine, to have lunch with him at the studio. "Dick and I didn't know what the the heck was going on, but we couldn't turn down an invitation to have lunch with Roy Disney. On that day, Walt was sitting at this table over in the corner of the commissary. So we're there having a nice lunch, and Roy asked us about something down at Disney World...I've forgotten exactly what it was. When we finished eating, Dick and I were going to go back to WED. We got in my car, drove back to Glendale, and parked right by the door to my office. I went to unlock the door, and was just putting the key in the lock, when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and...God...Walt was standing right behind me. And I had just left him back at the studio having lunch. He must have gotten right up and followed us. He came in and sat down and asked, 'What did Roy want? What was he talking about?' And I said, 'Geez, Walt, he just asked us to lunch.' And Walt said, 'Well, I just wondered what's going on.' It just shows how intense he was about everything, especially his brother, who he didn't want to get ahead of him on anything."
After the sale of most of WED to Walt Disney Productions was completed in 1965, what was left continued under a new name, Retlaw (Walter spelled backwards). Retlaw kept ownership of the Disneyland Trains and Monorail [until 1982 when the Disney family sold the naming rights and rail-based attractions to the Disney Company].

(L to R) Edna Disney, Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney, and Lillian Disney

Sensing that the silence between he and his brother was lasting a bit too long and wanting to make amends, Walt eventually decided to visit Roy on his 68th birthday on June 21, 1961. Walt made his way down a flight of stairs to his big brother’s office with a peace pipe in hand. Utilizing the peace pipe, traditionally used by Native Americans for spiritual ceremonies and was often allowed to pass through enemy territory out of respect, Walt symbolically suggested they bury the hatchet. After placing the peace pipe on Roy's desk, Walt returned to his office where he sat down to write a note to his big brother...

Walt's note to Roy which states: “June 24, 1961. Dear Roy – It is wonderful to smoke the Pipe of Peace with you again – the clouds that rise are very beautiful. I think, between us over the years, we have accomplished something – there was a time when we couldn’t borrow a Thousand Dollars and now I understand we owe Twenty-four Million? But in all sincerity, Happy Birthday, and many more – and – I love you, [Signed] Walt.  P.S. I can assure you that Lilly subscribes to the above and wants to join me in wishing you many, many more Happy Birthdays to come. P.P.S. Maybe we can get together in Paris – we’ll be there from Sunday, June 25th thru Wednesday the 28th. Walt.”

Upon returning to his office, seeing the pipe of peace on his desk and reading Walt's heartfelt note, Roy Disney decided it was time to move on from their feuding, the fighting was over and the two longtime partners and brothers were back on speaking terms once again. Roy O. Disney cherished Walt's gift and put the pipe atop a large portrait of Walt that hung in his office. "We've made peace," Roy once explained to a visitor. He loved Walt's gift and would often show it off after his late brother's death...

A rare photo of Roy as he sits beside the photo of his late brother Walt. The peace pipe can be seen sitting atop the portrait, 1967

A rare photo of Roy holding the peace pipe Walt gave him, 1967

Roy's greatest challenge came after Walt's death in 1966. Abandoning plans to retire, he devoted his last years to completing the two projects dearest to his brother's heart: Walt Disney World in Florida and the California Institute of the Arts. Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt and son of Roy O., once recalled, "Walt died and the world believed that was the end of the company — so many CEOs called Dad's office wanting to know [his price to sell] that his secretary was turning them down without even calling him to the phone. It was not a good time to get big loans, and by then his conviction that he was not a creative guy had become so strong that tackling such ambitious projects scared him. But he stuck his chin out and made sure the things his little brother had wanted got done."

Roy O. Disney sits in front of his late brother's portrait with Walt's gift to him of a peace pipe resting above, 1967

Because of Roy and his love of his brother Walt, he saw to it that students began attending CalArts in September 1970 and that Walt Disney World would open in Florida, which it did to unprecedented crowds on October 1, 1971. Exhausted by his efforts, Roy Oliver Disney joined his brother Walt and passed away on December 20, 1971, of a cerebral hemorrhage, almost exactly 5 years to the day of his baby brother. If that isn't the definition of brotherly love, then I don't know what is...


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 everyday.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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