Remembering Roy E. Disney At D23

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By Amber Lena

The room was filled with nothing but love and admiration at the Roy E. Disney tribute during D23 Expo on Friday. Those who had waited in line to pay homage to the man who helped shape the Disney company we know today were not disappointed. It wasn't so much of a presentation as it was a conversation between Dave Bossert and Roy's eldest son, Roy P. Disney. They fondly recalled some of their favorite anecdotes and gave everyone an insight into the man behind the name.

Roy E. Disney's career actually began at NBC as a production assistant. While many may think that having the last name Disney would have guaranteed him a job with the company, Roy had to apply for his first position with Disney Studios. He became an apprentice editor with Stormy Palmer and worked his way up like any other employee. Along the way he wrote, produced, and directed pieces for Disney before eventually taking over the company later in life.

In the early 1980s the Disney company found itself in a tough spot. While many financiers wanted to steer the company away from animation and toward live action films, Roy intervened with his "All in, or all out" philosophy and worked to preserve the animation tradition. He argued then what we all know today--that animation is the cornerstone of the Walt Disney company.

Attendees learned that, out of all the Disney parks and attractions, Roy's favorite was the Animal Kingdom. Bossert remarked on Roy's great fondness for wildlife and nature. Suitably, his favorite movie of all time was "Fantasia 2000." The "Fantasia" remake was a passion project for Roy, who traded the right to release "Snow White" on VHS for the go ahead to do another "Fantasia."

One of Roy's most extraordinary characteristics--something that both Bossert and Roy P. Disney continually emphasized--was his humility. Roy viewed his place at Disney much the same way he viewed his frequent sailing; he was part of a team working to achieve something great.

After the panel, I had the opportunity to catch up with Bossert and Disney to chat a little more about Roy. It was the nearing the end of the day and there were many remarks about various levels of exhaustion as everyone settled down into their chairs.

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MTV Geek: One thing I really wanted to ask that I didn’t get to during the panel is, does your book cover his college years at all? Because I’m a Pomona alum myself so I really want to hear more about Roy in College.

Dave Bossert: It doesn’t. I think Roy touched on it in the forward but none of my stories do, because I obviously didn’t know Roy when he was in college.

Roy P. Disney: Well I can tell you that he -- and I didn’t know him when he went to college either [laughs] -- but I can tell you that when he was sixteen years-old, which was young, he was a bright kid, and he went to school, it was just after WWII, so a lot of soldiers coming back from WWII on the GI Bill went to Pomona. So he was sixteen years-old with a school full of twenty-five, twenty-six year-olds, who’d all seen a lot of death. It was a surreal and different experience for him in college. But I can also tell you that one of his roommates, two of his roommates, or suite mates, were Robert Wagner the actor and Frank Wells. They were classmates at Pomona.

Geek: Got a lot of Sagehen pride going on right now.

Disney: There you go.

Geek: Another thing, as a kid who grew up in the nineties, I associated Roy’s face with Disney more than I did Walt. I knew the name Walt Disney but when I thought about it, it was Roy who I pictured. To me he was the face of Disney. Do you agree with that?

Disney: I think that was a result of, he started doing the lead ins for all the videos. He started introducing.

Bossert: Yeah, I think that really started in, sort of the mid 1980s. Especially the "Snow White" VHS, if you remember VHS at all. He did a really nice introduction on that. He also did an American Express commercial.

Disney: That’s correct.

 Bossert: So he kind of was out there a little bit and I think a lot of people, as the company really started to have this explosive growth in the 1990s they got a chance to see him more frequently.

Disney: Right. And the Walt T.V. show had ended a long, long time ago.

Geek: Now I’ve talked to some Disney employees from Imagineering, animation, and what not and they had nothing but positive things to say about Roy and when he led the company and his interaction with the employees and you touched a little bit about that during your presentation.

Bossert: I think from personal experience and I know a lot my colleagues that I work with who would feel the same way is that he was a really down to earth, approachable individual who participated and really cared about the people. Because to him it was all about the people working at the company that sort of made the magic if you will.

Disney: Right, yeah he just wanted to be one of the guys. He didn’t have staff do it for him.

Geek: Are there any stories that you want to share that you didn’t get a chance to tell during the presentation or any little tidbits that you really wish you could have had the time for?

Bossert: Yeah, I mean, there are so many different stories and we edited some of them out of the first manuscript that I turned in. There were, you know, I think like "Fantasia 2000" I didn’t even do a chapter on because I kind of felt like there’s so many stories associated with "Fantasia 2000," and I worked on the film with Roy for like five years. So, there’s just an awful lot that you can talk about, so I was really pleased with what we have in the book and the amount of pictures that are in the book. And the fact that people really can get a chance of kind of looking behind the curtain or being a fly on the wall if you will.

Disney: I like the story he told earlier about, you had dinner with Dad at the contemporary hotel and when it came time to go back to the other hotel, he and Dave went down to the monorail and stood in line. Like everybody else.

Bossert: Yeah, we didn’t jump the queue just cause it was Roy Disney. We just kind of got off the elevator and walked over to the monorail platform and just got on the queue with everybody. And I think there was a train that came in and filled up and left and we waited to get the next one that came in and we were able to get on that next one. And it was just, you know...

Disney: That’s a good window into who he was.

Bossert: Yeah, that was the kind of guy he was. So you know, he was respectful of the park guest. Always took the time to sign an autograph or have a picture taken and that was always nice.

Geek: Having known him so well, what do you think he would say about the Disney company today and all the expansion that’s happened?

Disney: He’d be pretty pleased.

Bossert: And I know he was in my office the year before he passed away and I asked him what he thought and he said he felt like the Lone Ranger riding off into the sunset and that he was real pleased with what Bob Iger was doing with the company and the fact that he was able to do the Pixar acquisition and he was real pleased with John Lassiter being back in the fold at animation and overseeing animation and I think all in all he was real pleased with the trajectory the company was on.

Disney: Yeah, I think he was happy that the company’s was doing the right things in the right way, in the right order.