by Liz Driscoll
As with all my Expo days, this one started by being in line around 6:45am. I wasn’t concerned with being first but I wanted to start each day by getting into the first panel I had chosen. This one was a little different because they started Sunday’s schedule at 9:30am. The other days’ panels started at 10:30am. No matter, I was never first but always got a good seat.
The session was led by Marty Sklar. He introduced Bob Gurr, Alice Davis, and X Atencio.
Marty began by asking each guest how they first met Walt.
Alice Davis recounted a chance dinner meeting where she ended up chatting with Walt about elastic. Walt, at the end of the chat, told Alice she would work for him one day. The story goes on fast forward to Alice getting called to work on the costumes for “it’s a small world”. Having grown up during the Depression, Alice told the room she didn’t have any dolls. Her friends who did have dolls didn’t share. Now, she could line up her dolls and she had more than them!
As for Bob Gurr, he was out back looking at a car frame. A bunch of guys were standing around talking about the cars when one more guy walked up and talked with the group. When that guy walked away and the other guys said, “Bye Walt”, Bob realized what had just happened!
X Atencio met Walt in an elevator. X Atencio greeted Walt, “Good morning Walt. How are you?” When Walt said casually, “Hi, X”, X Atencio was floored, “The great man knows my name!”
Mary Sklar saved his meeting for last. He was working for the UCLA Daily Bruin. He had to present the idea for a newspaper for Disneyland. He presented to THE Walt Disney.
Next, Marty asked each guest about their favorite project.
Bob related this to picking a favorite grandchild. He said getting the animated Abraham Lincoln to work was significant to him. He and Roger Broggie came to take a look at Lincoln, who wasn’t working properly yet. Walt wanted half the weight in Lincoln with twice as much motion. Bob laughed and said if it was Grover Cleveland he could’ve gotten all the parts inside! Lincoln was thin, which made it more of a challenge. Walt was so happy when he had it working and he had it first!
Alice looked back on her projects as going from small children to dirty old men. Her favorite was the small world dolls. Alice said of working with Mary Blair, “You couldn’t ask for better”. She also went back to the Lincoln animatronic. The Japanese pavilion was giving out ball bearings. People threw them at Lincoln to see if it was a dressed up person! When the workers would go to check on Lincoln, they’d slip on all the ball bearings! Alice also recounted that her degree required being able to do children’s, women’s and men’s clothing. She could do three jobs for the price of one! Alice also told about talking with Walt about costume costs. Walt told her she was to design the best costume. There were people in another building who would figure out where to get the money! Walt wanted to give everybody more than they expected.
X Atencio started talking about going from animation to Imagineering. While working on his first script he thought… this is fun… I like it! When working on writing the script for Pirates of the Caribbean, he was doing research and started doing the “Aye”. Hearing X sing, “Yo ho, Yo ho a pirate’s life for me…” was awesome!
Marty asked each guest to relate a favorite team member/team story.
Bob Gurr saw a big picture view from Walt. Walt wasn’t interested in what you’d done. Walt was interested in what you were going to do next. Walt would walk around and talk to people. If two or three people were standing in the hall, it was a meeting! Bob also noted that no modern technology “got in the way” of getting work done! He also took a moment to point out something from the “Saving Mr. Banks” trailer. If you listen carefully you will hear Walt clear his throat about five seconds before he appears at the office door. This was something Walt actually did that they put into the movie. Walt did this while walking down the hall as well. He announced himself in the office with this little sound. Alice followed this with her own anecdote. While working on Bambi they used the phrase, “Man is in the forest” when Walt came into the area.
Alice Davis talked about working on the costuming for “it’s a small world”. She related how kind Walt was if he saw that you were trying. Alice also saw Walt’s vision. Walt knew what was coming. When black and white was less expensive, Walt had started working in color because he knew it would be better in the long run.
X Atencio talked about the great feeling he had while working for Walt. The positive environment was always a good feeling.
To finish our session, they opened up to questions. Some great anecdotes and quotes came out of this.
Bob said Walt would say, “That’s kind of interesting… but what if…” while urging on ideas.
Marty related an interview Walt did for National Geographic, “I think of myself as a little bee, going around pollinating ideas.”
Alice told a story about a man who came to Walt with one drawing. What was Walt’s reply? “It’s very difficult to choose between ONE”. The man always brought a stack of drawings after that day!
I know this was a long post, but how can you say any one of these people wouldn’t be a ten page post on their own! The group of people who worked with Walt is getting smaller. I feel lucky to have been in that room on that day.
Liz Driscoll went to Walt Disney World for the first time when she was five years old, though her Disney passion began seven years ago. She has visited Walt Disney World about twelve times in the past seven years. In the non-Disney world, she is a teacher who enjoys bringing a little bit of pixie dust in the classroom each day.