THE BLOG
09/24/2013 04:07 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

'Remember Roy E. Disney' Shines a Spotlight on Walt's nephew, who saved the Walt Disney Company Not Once but Twice

So it was Walt who dreamed up the Disney Company. And it was his older brother Roy O. who repeatedly found the funds necessary to turn Walt's dreams into reality. And it was Michael Eisner who took Disney when it was dead last in Hollywood (Out of the eight studios in town that were making movies at that time, Disney was eighth) and then turned into a multi-media powerhouse. And it's Bob Iger who -- through the canny acquisition of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm (not to mention the Company's international expansion. What with the Shanghai Disneyland project and the purchase of India's UTV) -- has properly positioned Disney for future growth.

So if that's what Walt, Roy O., Michael and Bob did, then where does Walt's nephew -- the late Roy E. Disney -- fit into the Company's corporate history? According to David Bossert, the author of "Remembering Roy E. Disney: Memories and Photos from a Storied Life" (Disney Editions, September 2013), Roy E. is the soft-spoken yet passionate guy who saved The Walt Disney Company not once but twice.

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Few people today recall how close the Mouse House came to collapsing in the early 1980s. How -- thanks to the massive cost over-runs associated with the construction of EPCOT Center coupled with the fact that it had almost been 15 years since the Studio had last had a hit (i.e., 1969's "The Love Bug") -- greenmailers like Ivan Boesky & Saul Steinberg had begun circling Disney. Supposedly with the idea of first staging a hostile takeover and then selling off the components of the Company (EX: its then-60 year-old film library as well as all of Disney's land holdings in Southern California & Central Florida) to the highest bidder.

"And Roy just couldn't stand by and watch this happen," Bossert explained during a recent sit-down interview at Walt Disney Animation Studios. "So back in 1983, he put together this group of investors and -- with the help of Stanley Gold -- installed a whole new management team. It was Roy & Stanley who brought Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg in to run The Walt Disney Company. So it was those two guys who effectively helped to make Disney's revival of the late 1980s / early 1990s possible."

But it's animation fans who probably owe Roy E. Disney the greatest debt. You see, when Eisner initially came to power at the Company, he & Katzenberg took a look at Disney's film library. And given that -- at that time -- Disney already had 25 full-length animated features in the vault, Michael & Jeffery gave some very serious thought to shutting down Walt Disney Animation Studios and then continuing re-releasing all of those library titles. Until Roy E. stepped in, that is.

"He was the one who actually understood how important animation was to Disney. How -- without new animated features continually making their way through the Company's development pipeline -- there'd be no new characters for Disney Consumer Products to sell, no new stories for the Imagineers to build new rides, shows and attractions for the theme parks around," David continued. "That's why -- when Disney's new management team was considering shuttering Feature Animation -- Roy spoke up. Saying 'Let me take care of that.' He believed that animation was just too important to The Walt Disney Company to let it just fade away due to some sort of short-sighted financial reason."

So Michael & Jeffery agreed to turn Walt Disney Animation Studios over to Roy E. Who then really dedicated himself into getting the Mouse Factory back up on its feet. As George Scribner -- the director of Disney's "Oliver & Company" and "The Prince and the Pauper" -- recounts in one of "Remembering Roy E. Disney" 's more memorable and insightful passages:

I'm an animation director because of Roy Disney. I have no idea where I'd be now if it weren't for him. For that I will always be grateful to him.

In 1985 I was a story person on an animated feature we were going to do, based on Oliver Twist. We had just begun to work on the story when we were told that Roy wanted to join our story sessions. We freaked. Roy? Were they joking? Were we in trouble and he was coming to fire people?

First we got rid of all those sketches trashing the studio or ourselves (of course) or him (he was great fun to caricature). We vacuumed and waxed the furniture. The room looked great when the big day arrived. Roy showed up and let it be known that he was just going to be another story guy. Relax. He just wanted to help out, that's all. ("Oliver & Company") was the first feature under his watch, and I think he always thought of himself as a story guy and wanted to try his hand.

Well, for about six months, he came every day. He would sit in the corner of our tiny little cinder block story room, smoking furiously, nodding, willing to say really stupid things (the mark of a great story guy) and throwing out ideas with the rest of us.

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I'd never met anyone like him. You just never felt like he was "Roy Disney." He was just this funny, quick-witted, laid back guy named Roy. I'd never met anyone so high in a company who just didn't seem to care about his position at all. It took some getting used to. And by the way, he did turn out to have very good story sense. Thank goodness he couldn't draw or we would all been fired. He could have done it alone.

About a month after our story session with Roy ended, I was named a director on Oliver & Company, now a full-length animated feature. My boss told me that Roy was the one who recommended me. I was overwhelmed and the next time I saw him I thanked him profusely. He told me to be quiet and quit being such a kiss ass. Ah, so Roy. He told me I'd earned (the job) and to try and live up to it. I've tried.

It's these sort of stories which make "Remembering Roy E. Disney" (which Bossert describes as more of a scrapbook than a traditional memoir) worth reading. If only because this 210-page hardcover finally shines a spotlight on a man who spent the 79 years he first walked & then sailed around this planet deliberately avoiding the spotlight.

So why exactly did Roy do it? All of this behind-the-scenes maneuvering that brought the Disney Company back from the brink not once but twice? Or -- for that matter -- the quiet putting-in-of-a-good-word which would then effectively change the course of a man's career at the Studio? In one of David's very last conversation with Roy E. before he then succumbed to stomach cancer in December of 2009, Walt's nephew revealed what continually caused him to put the needs of the Company & its employees ahead of his own.

The last thing I asked Roy was why? Why the takeover of the studio, the fight with shareholders, the resignations? His answer was pretty simple: when your name is Disney, you can't just stand by and not participate. "All these things we did," he said, "were always possible through even the worst of times with the right people and the right motivations. You just had to keep believing that it's in here [pointing to his heart] ... you can do it ... you know it's inside of you ..."

So if you want to learn more about the quiet, unassuming guy who -- thanks to he & Stanley Gold's efforts back in 1984 & 2003 -- helped keep the magic alive in Disney's magical kingdom, then be sure and check out David Bossert's "Remembering Roy E. Disney: Memories and Photos of a Storied Life."

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