As part of our celebration of the Disney 100 year anniversary, it’s only appropriate that this week I go way back into the Archives for an interview with Disney Legend Dave Smith, the founder of the Walt Disney Archives. 13 years ago, I was at work and literally had to lock myself in a closet at my office to interview Dave, who I had known for some time. His name is, and always will be, synonymous with Disney history.
From founding the Walt Disney Archives in 1970, to authoring numerous books, Dave Smith’s 40 year career with the company afforded him the opportunity to help preserve the magic that began with Walt himself. Dave and I discuss his career, including not just his role in the creation and legacy of the Archives, but its challenges, personal highlights, changes and his future, as he prepares to retire from this “temporary” job that lasted four decades.
It’s a fascinating conversation not just about the Archives, but the person who made it a reality, and was the guardian of Disney’s most treasured memories. Dave sadly passed away in 2019 leaving behind a treasure trove of Disney lore for generations to come.
Host Lou Mongello was privileged to have a heartfelt interview with the founder of the Walt Disney Archives, Dave Smith. Upon his retirement after 40 years of preserving Disney’s rich history, Dave generously shared some of his most memorable experiences, challenges faced and his future plans of staying connected with the archives.
In this episode, we uncover the treasures hidden in the formidable Disney archives. You’ll learn about the early days of establishing the archives, selection criteria for preservation, and sneak peeks into some of the most fascinating artifacts – including the first Disneyland ticket, Walt Disney’s personal childhood items, and much more.
Dave also shares his involvement in personalizing Walt Disney’s history and impact through attractions such as One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Hear about Dave’s exciting journey of inventorying Walt’s personal office and the growth and evolution of the archives over time.
We will also delve into the overwhelming challenges faced by the archives due to the rapid expansion of the company, with insightful stories from Dave’s early days to present. Hear Dave talk about the steps involved in acquiring items for the archives and the individuals who greatly supported these efforts – from Bob Iger to Card Walker.
And don’t miss the discussion on how events like the D23 Archives Tours and D23 Expos have broadened public interaction with the Disney Archives. Learn how Dave plans to continue his involvement with the Disney community through these events and his “Ask Dave” column for D23.
In tribute to Dave’s dedication to preserving Disney’s legacy, Lou Mongello expresses heartfelt gratitude and appreciation on behalf of Disney fans around the world.
Thanks to Disney Legend Dave Smith for not just sharing his stories, but everything he’s done for the Company, and its fans.
Timestamped summary of this episode:
- [00:00] Lou Mongello brings you classic Disney interviews.
- [06:04] Surprised to find few business archives existed.
- [07:53] Consulting job led to Disney company work.
- [10:32] Walt’s secretaries stayed on after his death.
- [15:48] Preserving old and collecting current company materials.
- [18:37] Disney collection expanded; may consider museum.
- [20:23] Diplomatic approach to gain access to files.
- [24:38] Archiving challenge due to electronic media volume.
- [29:22] Fans adore Dave’s Disney expertise and tours.
- [31:50] Impressed with preserved bird, Disney’s audio animatronics.
- [34:17] Preserving Walt Disney’s childhood and legacy.
- [37:33] Disney archivist mentors young people, sees success.
- [42:31] A question about your last day’s gift.
- [45:49] Interact with guests, share questions, personal appreciation.
- [46:50] Expressing gratitude and well-wishes for retirement.
The key moments in this episode are:
- Introduction to the Episode
- Announcement of guest Dave Smith
- Overview of Dave Smith’s career at Disney
- Origins of the Disney Archives
- Smith’s initiative to start the archives after Walt Disney’s death
- Smith’s work on the Disney bibliography and the establishment of the archives
- Overview of the Archives
- The range of materials housed in the archives
- Discussion about the growth of the archives
- Challenge of deciding which items to keep or discard
- Importance and Impact of the Archives
- Personalisation of Walt Disney’s history and impact
- Dave’s influence on young Disney fans
- The role of the archives in creating One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Walt Disney’s Office
- Access to Walt Disney’s office after his death
- Documenting its contents
- Future Plans for the Archives
- Potential museum opening
- Increase in collecting props, costumes, and set pieces from movies and iconic items from parks
- Dave’s Retirement Plans
- Continued involvement as a consultant for the archives
- Attending D23 events
- Continuing “Ask Dave” column for D23
- Closure of the episode
- Host’s expressions of gratitude and appreciation for Dave Smith’s work
- Announcement of sharing videos of Disney Archives tour
- Farewell and congratulations to Dave on his retirement
If you could visit the Walt Disney Archives, what is the one item from Disney history you would like to see?
Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse at WDWRadio.com/Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.
Lou Mongello: Hello, my friend and welcome to another episode from the WDW radio archives. I am Lou Mongello, and this is show number 755 and this and every week, I'm going to select an evergreen episode from the past to share that maybe you haven't heard before. or one that you haven't heard in a long time, whether it's an interview, a top 10, a review, a guide, a Wayback Machine, and more.
It's a great way to visit or revisit some of our favorite episodes, including some of the ones that you have suggested that I share from the archives. And as part of our celebration of the Disney 100 year anniversary, I think it's only appropriate that this week I go back into our archives for an interview with Disney legend, Dave Smith, the founder of the Walt Disney archives.
And I did this interview about 13 years ago and I was at work and literally had to lock myself in a closet at my office to interview Dave over the phone, who I had known for some time. And his name is, and I think always will and should be synonymous with Disney history. From founding the archives in 1970 to being the author of numerous books, Dave's 40 year career with the company really afforded him the opportunity to help preserve the magic that began with Walt himself.
And in our conversation, Dave and I discuss his career, not just his role in the creation and the legacy of the archives, But some of the challenges in creating it and his own personal highlights, as well as the changes that were coming in his future, as he was preparing to retire from what was supposed to be a temporary job that lasted for decades.
I think this is a fascinating conversation, not just about the archives themselves. But the person who made the archives a reality and really was the guardian of some of Disney's most treasured memories. Dave sadly passed away in 2019, leaving behind a true treasure trove of Disney lore for generations to come.
And my question this week for you is this. If you could visit the Walt Disney Archives, like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, What is the one item from Disney history that you would like to see? Let me know by posting your answer either in the W. W. Radio Clubhouse. I'll post the question there at W.
W. Radio dot com slash clubhouse. If you're listening on Spotify, I'll post the question there. You can answer right in Spotify or better yet. Call the voicemail at 407 900 9391. That's 407 900 WW1. And leave your answer there, and I will play it on the show, but for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's episode from the archives on the WDW radio show.
A name very well recognized and synonymous with Disney history has had a long tenure with the Disney company as not only the head of the legendary Disney archives. But also as an author, with numerous titles and publications to his credit. And in what was supposed to be a temporary role, in which he was given an empty office and told, just start, he went on to establish what is regarded as the model for corporate archives worldwide, and personally acts as the final authority on all matters of Disney history.
He has a master's degree in library science from the University of California at Berkeley, and he interned with the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. In his 40 year career with the company, Dave has witnessed transitions, growth, and the spreading of Disney magic to countless smiling faces worldwide.
So, it is my distinct honor to welcome somebody to the show who I've had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with in the past. Chief Disney Archivist, Dave Smith. Dave, welcome to the show. Hi, thank you. It's, uh, it's great to be able to talk to you and we're gonna, we're gonna talk about how you are coming to the end of your tenure at the Disney company.
But before we talk about that... Let's go back a little bit to the beginning and tell people how you went from being a librarian uh, over at UCLA to working for and with the Disney company.
Dave Smith: Well, I sort of was in the right place at the right time. Um, Disney was starting to, to wonder about what are we going to do about preserving our history?
And, uh, this was, of course, uh, uh, You know, it came to a head with the death of Walt Disney in 1966. So, I was, was working as a librarian at UCLA and, and I had done some work on a Disney bibliography, so I got to know some people at Disney. And, uh, so I was around when they, they started, uh, wondering. How they could preserve, uh, the history of the company.
And, uh, I thought I could help. So, I volunteered my services. And, uh, they didn't know anybody else, uh, that could do anything like that for them. And so they hired me.
Lou Mongello: So the, the Disney bibliography that you were working on, was this a personal project or something you were doing for the
Dave Smith: Well, it started out as a personal project.
Uh, I had done several other bibliographies, including a couple that had been published by UCLA. Um, so I started it out this way, but, uh, as I, uh, got farther into it, uh, uh, the people at the Disney Studio felt this would be something very useful to them. And so, uh, when I finished it, they, they bought it from me.
Lou Mongello: So were you surprised when you were first talking to them at that point in the company's history that there were no archives already in existence?
Dave Smith: Oh, I don't know that I was surprised. I knew very little about archives. I'd never had a class in archives, but I had studied library science and I had worked in a number of different departments at the Library of Congress with The, um, rare books and manuscripts and prints and photographs and maps and, and all that sort of thing.
So I, I was familiar with how to deal with different types of archival materials. Um, but I don't think it ever crossed my mind that, uh, uh, there were a lot of business archives in the, in the country and it was only after, um, I started, uh, um. Talking to Disney about an archive that I actually did a bit of research and found out there weren't very many business archives in the United States at that time.
Lou Mongello: did you basically get to live the dream and say, okay, here's my proposal for what I think I can do to set up this archive and they say, yeah, this sounds like a good idea. Go ahead, go do it.
Dave Smith: Yes, essentially, that's the way it happened. I did about a two month fall of
1969, wrote my proposal around the beginning of January 1970, and it took them six months to decide to go ahead, but they finally did, and we started the archives in June of 1970.
Lou Mongello: So, tell us what that, you know... I put in quotations, that first day is like, it's okay Dave, you know, walk into work on Monday morning.
How do you start? How do you start putting together the Disney archives?
Dave Smith: Well, you know, uh, it actually started, uh, Um, uh, there was a semblance of a start really when I was doing my, my consulting job for two months because I just went back to the same office I used, uh, during those, uh, two months. And during that two month period, I had, uh, um, contacted other, companies to see what they'd done with their archives.
But I also was going around the studio and, and the various areas of the Disney company itself. To find out sort of the quantity and the quality of the materials that had been saved. So, uh, I was getting to know people, uh, through the company and they were getting to know me. And, and so when I came in June of 1970, it was really just a continuation of what I started in the fall of 69.
Lou Mongello: Now you obviously must have been, I have to assume a Disney. enthusiast early on to have been working on this bibliography. I know I had read that, uh, you had met Walt Disney briefly as a, as a child in Disneyland, certainly not in your capacity as an archivist, but you also, you worked with Roy. He was, how, tell us about his role in helping to set up the archives.
Dave Smith: Well, the, the people that we're thinking about preserving the history were, uh, uh, in two camps. You have the, the Disney family camp and you have the Disney, uh, uh, company administration. And so I was working with both, both sides. And, uh, Roy was, of course, uh, uh, the one to make the decisions for the, the family side.
And Card Walker was, uh, making the decisions for the... for the company side. So, uh, I was working, as I say, with both of them and um, various assistants that, uh, that worked with them. So, um, I think Roy was very anxious to do something to preserve the history of his brother and, uh, it just sort of grew from that.
Lou Mongello: And tell us a story early on about Walt Disney's office, uh, how basically it was pretty much locked up after he passed away and you were one of the first people to, to gain access to that and start. Archiving what was in there?
Dave Smith: That's right. Uh, Walt's secretaries had actually stayed on the job for about a year after he died.
Cleaning up the files and answering correspondence and things like that and then they pretty much shut up the office and uh, so this would have been toward the end of 1967. Uh, I came along to do my, my consulting job two years later. So for two years it had pretty much been closed up and uh, the only one that went in there was, was the janitor who went in and cleaned every week or two.
And, uh, nobody else really had access to the office. So, um, when I started, one of the first jobs they asked me to do was to make an inventory of, of the offices. Because they knew that, uh, this valuable space at the studio just couldn't be sitting there all forever. They really needed that space and, uh, other executives needed, uh, offices and so forth.
So, um, they wanted to make sure that, uh, we documented exactly the way it was when Walt was there. And that included... Not only making an inventory, but photographing the office from all angles and drawing up, uh, uh, essentially blueprints of, of, uh, how it was laid out.
Lou Mongello: And I have to assume that that task fell on you because you were the Disney archives at that point.
Dave Smith: That's correct. It was just me. They gave me a, uh, a secretary from the publicity department to help me, uh, so, for a few months. So, she and I would go into the office and, and, uh, she had her little steno pad and I, I would, uh, uh, read to her the, the things that I was coming upon and she would, uh, put down on the list.
Lou Mongello: I have to assume, and I've sort of put myself in your shoes, what an over, forget the fact that it's overwhelming just in scope, but a daunting task because you, they open that door and you sit down at Walt Disney's, I mean, it's Walt Disney's desk. And I think that there's, you know, uh, there's something about the fact that it, it was his desk that had to have had some sort of special meaning for you.
Dave Smith: Sure, there was that aura around the offices and, and, uh, being the only person having access to the offices really seemed very, uh, eerie to me as a, as a brand new member of the staff of the company. And, uh, so I, I had, uh, uh. heavy mantle on our, on my shoulders and I, uh, I was hoping that I would be worthy of the task.
Lou Mongello: I could just imagine sitting down and, you know, taking a deep breath and saying, okay, just I have to forget about the fact that I'm sitting in Walt Disney's chair and looking at all the things that he was the last to touch before he passed away and sort of. Kind of go through the process of documenting everything.
I mean, I have to assume you had to go down to the most minute detail because it was so important to document exactly the way it was. Sure. I
Dave Smith: mean, I counted the paper clips in the desk drawer. But, uh, I mean, it's, uh, The exciting thing would be opening a drawer or a cupboard and finding something that was really iconic in Disney history that one would really not have expected it to be there in his office.
And that happened several times.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, and were there things that, I mean, I, you know, I, we hear about how much time Walt spent in his office, it was almost probably more of a home to him, were there a lot of personal things there that really weren't appropriate for the archives and, and, and you had to sort of distinguish what should go to the archives and what should go to his family?
Dave Smith: Uh, there was not a lot of personal memorabilia or, or items, uh, primarily because, uh, took them home. Uh, as I said, the office was open a year after Walt died and the secretaries were in there. So, um, I know that Mrs. Disney came in from, uh, on occasion and, uh, uh, took some of the personal things home. Uh, so there wasn't a lot of that when I came.
Lou Mongello: And then tell me about sort of the, the growth of the archives, certainly after you Finished the job over at, at Walt Disney's office. It must have snowballed, I guess, pretty quickly because, you know, there was film, there was television, there was animation, there was so much going on. Uh, was there any sort of rhyme or reason or direction or did you sort of guide and just sort of started going out and collecting what you could?
Dave Smith: Well, uh, two things. I, I tried to first find all the oldest stuff I could find because that was the stuff that was in the most danger of, of being lost. Uh, the things that, uh, were not in people's offices and, and had been stashed away and people had essentially forgotten about them. So that type of material I tried to get into the archives right away.
But at the same time, uh, When you start an archive, you, you have to start collecting current materials too because that's going to be the history of tomorrow. So, I had to make contact with all the different areas of the company, get on distribution lists when I could. Um, and, and just sort of keep in touch on a regular basis to make sure we were getting the things that we felt were important to tell the history of the company.
Lou Mongello: And so for people that maybe don't have never visited or aren't really sure what were the kind of things and what are the kind of things over the years that you collected and are found in the archives. I think many of us have this impression of the sort of last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, this giant warehouse with crates that are locked up.
But it may not be very far, right?
Dave Smith: That's us. Um First off, let me say what we don't have in the archives, and that's a lot of artwork. Um, there are other departments in the company, like the Animation Research Library and Walt Disney Imagineering, that maintain the artwork for the animated films and for, uh, the, uh, theme parks.
Um, practically everything else we have here. But, well, one other thing we don't have, the films. Uh, we have a separate film library in the company. But, uh, everything else, uh, is, is represented in our collection. That's everything from, uh, correspondence files of Walt and, and Roy Disney, uh, and other Disney executives.
Uh, to books and magazines and comic books and photographs and, um, awards and, uh, just a little bit of everything.
Lou Mongello: Now in addition to some of the art and things like that, I think a lot of people also probably would be surprised to find out that, and maybe disappointed. That the archives doesn't necessarily keep things like attraction props.
You don't have a 20, 000 league sub, you don't have Mr. Toad's car, you don't have a Skyway bucket necessarily in the archives. But you do have files for every theme park attraction, correct?
Dave Smith: Well, you know, uh, uh, actually this has changed a bit in the last few years. Um... As Bob Iger has, has said in some public statements, the, there is the thought that the company might want to do a museum someday.
So, um, three or four years ago, we were asked if we would collect some more props and costumes and set pieces from the movies, as well as, uh, iconic things from the parks. So, uh, we got more warehouses and we got... More staff, and we started doing that. So, uh, we do have a lot more of those large pieces now than we used to have.
Uh, in the olden days, I think people, uh, while they thought Maybe we were like a museum, we really weren't, because people were coming to us, uh, for information, not to see things, particularly. Um, and that lasted through our first 35 years or so. Today, as I say, we're getting more of the things, and we'll have more of a museum collection eventually.
Lou Mongello: I want to talk to you about what, that change that Bob Iger brought about, but before that, before Bob Iger, when, you know, you start out as a, as a young man at the company, was it difficult to acquire some of the things that you wanted? I mean, how does the, the new kid with the empty office go about and going to the different divisions saying, I need this.
I need to take this and bring it to the archives. Did you meet with any sort of, you
Dave Smith: know... Well, you had to be, you had to be very diplomatic. Uh, you had to convince the various departments that you were going to be around a long time. You would take better care of their files than they were. And they would still have access to them.
Those were the main things that the departments were, were... Now, there were some departments that We're a bit reticent in turning over their file sets of their materials because these were things that they needed to get into on a fairly regular basis and they wanted to make sure that they were still going to be accessible to them.
On the other hand, there were other departments that welcomed the archives with open arms because they needed the space. Here, take all this stuff. Get it out of here. So, uh, we had, we had both, uh, both sides of the coin and, and, uh, Um, pretty soon, we had pretty much convinced all of the departments that, uh, we were going to be around a while and, uh, their materials would be safe with us.
Lou Mongello: And as you alluded to, Bob Iger obviously seemed to be very much aware of the importance and the value of what you're doing. And tell me if this is true, that he basically sort of gave a mandate to all divisions saying, look, if Dave Smith and the archives want it, You get it. And, you know, is that sort of like you having your, your search warrant to go in and sort of pick and choose what you needed?
Dave Smith: Well, you know, uh, he's certainly reinforced that, but that started back in 1970 with Card Walker sending a memo out to all the divisions saying, uh, we started an archives, uh, Dave Smith is, is running it, uh, please give him, uh, uh, all the help that he requires, essentially. So. Walker did essentially the same thing that Iger is doing today, but Bob certainly reinforced it and had it apply to more things like the museum objects and so forth, which we hadn't been collecting in the past.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, in 1970, did you have to walk around with a copy of that in your pocket, just in case?
Dave Smith: No, I don't think I ever had to pull it out and show it to anybody. Um,
Lou Mongello: well, let me ask you this, you know, you're talking about the, the growth of the company and the expansion of the company. And even early on, there was so much going on with live action and animation and TV and then the theme parks.
And. Now, it's growing so much more, obviously way back when it was just you and your staff grew just a little bit. How do you and your staff, I mean, how do you kind of be in every place at once with so much going on to make sure that you are able to gather all that you need to? Or do you find that that the different divisions are voluntarily sending this stuff to you?
Dave Smith: Well, the The Archives staff has grown as the company has grown. So, as there are more demands on our time, uh, more people need information from the Archives, we've been able to add staff members. So, uh, there were maybe, what, 10, 000 employees in the company in 1970, and now there's 150, 000 employees, so it's a much different company.
But, uh, we had one. person in the archives then, and we have about eight people in the archives today. So, uh, we have grown, uh, as the company has grown.
Lou Mongello: Have you found it more or less of a challenge as time has gone on? I mean obviously part of preserving the history includes things that you spoke about before such as Documents and memos from Walt Disney and executives as time has gone on obviously computer email mobile technology Is that more challenging now for you to sort of gather and archive the electronic media?
Dave Smith: Well, of course, there's more of a challenge today, primarily, because there's more stuff to collect. Um, and... There is always the problem of, of the electronic media, uh, emails, for example, that, uh, um, the company saves some of the, of the emails of the top executives, but, uh, a lot of other stuff, uh, from various departments, uh, is done with email and, and on their computers.
There are no hard copies made, and so nothing is available to be archived. Um, it is a problem that, uh, all archives in the world are, are facing.
Lou Mongello: And what about in time, the acquisition of other companies? So I, I'm thinking about things like Pixar and Marvel. Is that something that as these companies are acquired, they start to be added to the archives at all?
Or is it from that acquisition forward? We're, we, we
Dave Smith: collect basic materials on the acquisitions and of course, uh, uh, keep track of, of, uh. newspaper and magazine articles that are written about, uh, our acquisition and about the companies once we have them, but. If you, you talk about, uh, uh, Pixar and you talk about, uh, Marvel, they both have their own archives already, and so those are existing, and so, uh, um, we don't have to, uh, go back and, and Uh, archive things from before the time that, uh, uh, that we, uh, acquired the companies.
Lou Mongello: One thing that was always disappointing to me as an enthusiast, as a researcher, is that while the purpose of the archives is to collect and preserve all of this history and make it available to people, it really has always been for the internal company's use, uh, for cast members, for executives, whoever might need it.
It's never really been open to the public for research purposes, correct?
Dave Smith: Well, no, don't say never. It was originally, and probably for the first 30 years or so, we were open to students and writers outside the company, but the company just grew so large, and the demands on our staff grew so great that we just didn't have the time to...
To work with students and others that, uh, wanted to come in and use our materials. And so we had to stop it at that time. And so today, uh, yes, we, we are only open to, uh, uh, employees and cast members of the company.
Lou Mongello: I missed the boat by just a few years, but, but, well, let me ask you this, though. How, what about the, the relatively recent opening, as it were, of the archives to Disney enthusiasts?
Uh, certainly not for research, but through things like the D23 Archives Tours and the D23 Expos, How has that changed things for you?
Dave Smith: Um, well, I like it. It hasn't really changed anything for me. It's just that I've been able to, um, acquaint more people with what we have done here. And, uh, I love, uh, uh, doing the D23, uh, Archives tours because, uh, these people are so, uh, entranced with the type of materials that we have in our collection and, uh, They just love to see some of the special things that I bring out to show them, um, as well as, uh, of course, having a chance to look at our, our few, uh, display cases and, and, uh, things that we regularly have on display here.
So, um, This is just, uh, another type of outreach that, uh, um, has, has been very gratifying.
Lou Mongello: Listen, you, you went from the empty room to a Disney celebrity, Dave. I mean, you're the face of the archives and, and really the face of the company for a lot of people, whether they... See you at events, or they meet you at some of the special events, or they read
Dave Smith: you at the...
I didn't always realize that, and so when D23 decided to throw me a retirement banquet down at Walt Disney World on the 15th of October as part of their Sip and Stroll event that they're doing, tied in with the Food and Wine Fest, so I thought, who's going to want to come and have dinner with me? They sold out in a day and a half.
I guess there's more people that want to have dinner with me than I thought. You're
Lou Mongello: really a Disney rock star, Dave. You have to just come to terms with it.
Well, I mean, you mentioned the, the, the Archives Tour, and I had a chance to do that. Myself, I was part of the group that was the very first tour that D23 gave, and I have to tell you, it was the highlight, and still is, of anything I had ever experienced, as far as my passion for Disney was concerned, to be able to, not just see you, of course, but to see some of the things, and to be in a place where So much important information and props and materials was being held.
What's been the reaction of other fans? I have to assume it's got to be just the same way. Yes,
Dave Smith: I feel it is the same way. I get a lot of feedback from people that have been on those tours and the archives is their highlight of their visit to the studio. Um... And, uh, they're just very thrilled to have a chance to at least see what the Archives is.
Sometimes they're, they're a little disappointed because they expect, uh, uh, Raiders of the Ark, Lost Ark Warehouse. But, uh, and, and maybe our display area isn't as big as they, they might have envisioned in their mind. But, uh, um, I, I think that, uh, they come away with a, uh, an appreciation of, uh, Of what we've done and how we've done it here.
Lou Mongello: know for myself and for a lot of people, when we were on the tour, I was almost watching their reactions as much as I was sort of in awe of where I was. And there were so many, you know, gasps and, Oh my God, I can't believe this. I can't believe that as they were walking from case to case. And, and I had even videotaped it.
And there was some of those, some of those reactions were caught on there and you could hear people's just joy in what they were seeing. What do you think that the one thing is? That people who have come into the archives, it seems to maybe amaze them the most, or that they comment on, or are surprised by most.
Cause I have one in particular for myself, so.
Dave Smith: Well maybe you're thinking of the ticket number one for Disneyland. Um, I usually pull that one out for the groups, and uh, that's always a highlight. Uh, thinking that yes indeed, this was the very first ticket that was ever sold at Disneyland.
Lou Mongello: And, and as impressed as I was with that, you know, and I'm, and I was happy to see that ticket number one was preserved for me.
David was the bird, and I tell this story to, to anybody that'll listen, and even some people that won't, about going on the tour. And I've, we've always heard the story about Walt Disney finding this animatronic bird, and, and I had this vision of, of this larger bird that Walt gave to the Imagineers. And they disassembled, they reversed engineered it, and so, you know, goes the birth of, of audio anatronics.
And you start talking about the bird. And you reach over casually on, on the, uh, a stand to the side and you bring over this little birdcage with this tiny, I don't know, four or five inch bird and you talk about how this was the bird. And there you are, you're just picking it up and handling it and winding it and I'm looking at it like it's the Holy Grail.
I'm like, my God, man, put on some gloves. It's the bird, so,
Dave Smith: um, I guess we get used to some of these things, we see them every day.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, I mean, and it was such a thrill for me to see that and it was, you know, I look back and I laugh and again, it's sort of, you know, just part of your normal day to have the bird there and what that represents for us was just like, you know, you imagine it should be in some sort of hermetically sealed case.
But let me ask you this, for you. Especially because you were a Disney enthusiast. Was there anything that you found during your 40 plus years that was your, um, and I have to assume there's many that wow moment, like, ah, I can't believe I'm holding Walt's paper clip, whatever it might be.
Dave Smith: Uh, I think a lot of the, the things that most excite me are the things related to Walt himself.
And, uh, I, I'm, I'm still terribly thankful for Roy E. Disney, who brought us a, uh, a tin box, uh, that he'd found in his garage that, uh, had belonged to his grandfather, Elias Disney, which had all of his important... Documents and papers in it. And, uh, one of the things that I found in that box was a postcard written by Walt when he was 15 to his mother.
Uh, with a drawing on the back, a beautiful drawing showing that this guy really had, uh, art talent even at that age.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, and it's so wonderful to know that that those things from his personal childhood before he was Walt Disney the icon are are preserved there as well I think I think we were talking especially about the theme parks before I think people may not realize that In addition to the archives and what you've been able to do by, by kind of sort of opening up the vault and sharing with fans, you and, as the archives, also had a role in the creation of something that, I hope, all Walt Disney World fans have had a chance to visit and go through and appreciate, which is Walt Disney One Man's Dream over at Disney's Hollywood Studios, that opened back in October for Walt Disney World's 100 years of magic celebration.
And really is a tribute to Walt Disney, the man behind the mouse. But there's a lot of authentic artifacts on display. Can you tell us about the creation of that attraction and your hand in it?
Dave Smith: Sure, uh, it was Walt Disney Imagineering, of course, that, uh, um, designed the attraction, but they came to us, uh, in the archives, and, uh, uh, we discussed various things, uh, from our collection that would be, uh, nice to have on display down there.
And through the years we've, uh, switched out some materials and then we are doing that right now. The attraction is currently closed, I believe until November. And, uh, uh, we have, uh, some of the old toys that were on display have come back to us. And, and we've gathered some different ones to put on display down there.
So, um, all the Disney fans that, uh, I think they've seen, uh, One Man's Dream and they're going to have to go back again after November because, uh, uh, there will be some different things on display.
Lou Mongello: I am excited. Listen, that's, that is actually one of my favorite attractions because I think it is so much about Walt and the history of the company and, you know, we talk about Walt Disney.
Dave Smith: It's very important, I think, for, for, especially for the young people of today that don't really know of Walt Disney, the man, and they know. Walt Disney as a company or as a place or a thing, but they don't think of it as an actual person. And this is at least one place where we can, uh, uh, testify to the fact that yes, indeed, there was a man who started this all.
Lou Mongello: I agree. The fact that it personalizes him so well is why I love that attraction so much, and why I think it's so... Very important and I hope never goes away and continues to change. Um, you know, part of the reason why I want to talk to you now, Dave, and have you on the show is like I said at the beginning.
I'm happy for you, but I'm sad to see you go. You know, like many people in the company, you start out as, you know, what was supposed to be sort of a temporary position. You were writing your little, uh, you're writing a little book. And now 40 years later, uh, you're retiring. And I'm going to ask you the difficult questions that, that I have to ask things like, you know, looking back.
What might be sort of the most rewarding or the most gratifying part of what you've done as your career as an archivist for the company?
Dave Smith: Well, the thing that I think that I'm most gratified about is is something that most people probably wouldn't think of but through the years I have been contacted by hundreds and hundreds of young people that are passionate about Disney. They have questions, so they contact the archives. Um, in a lot of these people, I have seen the spark.
I have seen the desire to, to work for the company and to uphold Walt Disney's traditions and so forth. And I have encouraged these people. I have mentored these people. And it's so gratifying today for me to see dozens and dozens of people throughout the company that I met when they were children, essentially.
And now they are, uh, members of the, of the company and, and serving the company very well. One good example is Clay Shoemaker, who is, uh, uh, the current ambassador at, uh, one of the current ambassadors at Walt Disney World. I met Clay when he was 13 years old.
Lou Mongello: Hmm. That's great. And that's great. I mean, the fact that you are able to help inspire people.
Like that in so many different ways, I think it is wonderful and certainly a testament to who you are as well. Looking back, did you find that there was anything, sort of maybe your biggest challenge along the way that you were, either were or were not able to overcome, but in your tenure with the company?
Or collecting things for the archives, I should say.
Dave Smith: Well, the challenge is, of course, the growing company and realizing you can't save everything. And trying to figure out, well, what other stuff should I keep and what do I not need to keep? What are the employees of the company going to need to see in 10 years?
And what maybe isn't as important? So you have to make ruthless decisions sometimes because you just cannot save everything. And that's always a challenge. And it's always gratifying when you've made the right decision. But it's also a bit daunting when you realize you got rid of something you shouldn't have.
Lou Mongello: Is there anything that you look back and say, Ah, I can't believe I didn't keep
Dave Smith: this. Right. I want a time machine so I can go back.
Lou Mongello: You know, it still is very much apparent that you are still very passionate about what you do. I mean, I have to assume, I know you had talked about retiring five years ago, but it still must have been a tough decision to decide to hang it up.
Dave Smith: Well, let's see, five years ago, I was reaching 65, and I thought, you know, everybody really retires at 65.
I should retire at 65, but I was still having fun. I was ready to retire at 65, so now this year, I'm turning 70, and I thought, well, maybe this is the time.
Lou Mongello: And you're certainly leaving the archives in very able hands of Becky and the rest of the staff. Are you going to stay on and help out or consult at all with the archives?
Dave Smith: I am very sure that I will be. I don't know just in what capacity. I'd probably be as a consultant in some sort. Uh, and they certainly will have me involved with the D23 events. Uh, um. I, uh, they're already talking about, uh, several for next year, and I'll be retired, but, uh, they want me to come back and do presentations at the Expo and things like that, so, um, I'm, I'm sure I'm going to be around.
I, I just live a mile from the studios, so it's very convenient, uh, for me to, to drop by, uh, if they have need for me for any reason, and, uh, so I, I assume that I will. Uh, continue to, to work for the company as long as I can and, and some, some basis, but, but not as a regular employee.
Lou Mongello: Well, we'll see if you leave on a Friday afternoon, we'll see how long it takes on Monday morning before your cell phone starts to ring.
Dave, we can't find this.
Dave Smith: Well, my retirement date is October 15th and I'm going to be in Florida still on a business trip for three more days. Well, I'm no longer an employee.
Lou Mongello: So you and I spoke, um, about five years ago and I asked you the question that if on your last day of work, you could walk out of the archives with one item as a gift from the company for all of your years of service and dedication, what would it be? And I'm gonna ask you that same question now, if I, you know, today because you are about to leave and they probably won't give you one thing for your choice, what answer did I give you last time?
Well, you can't cheat. I'll tell you, you said that you couldn't come up. I don't remember , you said that you couldn't come up with one because the collection was so very personal to you and so much of a part of you. I, I have to assume that's even more so for you now.
Dave Smith: Sure. That that's, uh, definitely true.
And, uh, I, I just. I have felt this is all my baby here, so, uh, um, it's not going away. I can come back and visit it anytime I want. And, uh, so, I don't really see that I, I need any of these things at my house, because, uh... They're nearby. ,
Lou Mongello: take the bird. I'm telling you, take the bird,
You know, as long as we're sort of talking about your entire career, I'd be very remiss if I didn't point out to people that in addition to the archives, you know, in your spare time you also authored a number of books, including Disney, the first a hundred years, uh, which you co-authored with Stephen Clark, who's from D 23.
And Disney A to Z, which is the literal encyclopedia of all things Disney. Quite accomplishments on their own, not even including the archives. Are you going to continue to write or update any of those books?
Dave Smith: I am planning to continue to update Disney A to Z. I feel that's something that's very important to the company as well as to fans.
As most people know, I have been doing a monthly update of that on the Disney website ever since the most recent edition, the third edition, was published in 2006. So I would assume that that's going to keep up. And, uh, uh, as long as I have access to the information to keep it up, it's not going to be as easy getting the information when I'm not reading everything that's crossing my desk.
But, uh, hopefully the, uh, the archive staff will, uh, put aside the things that I need to, uh, to keep that book updated.
Lou Mongello: Well, I was very happy to hear that. You are going to continue to attend some of the D23 events. I know Destination D is coming up. You've got the Sip and Stroll. Hopefully, you'll be at the Expo back at Anaheim next year.
Are you going to also continue the, um, the Ask Dave column? I know a lot of people like the fact that they can sort of reach out, although they can't visit the archives, they can reach out to you via the website and the newsletter.
Dave Smith: I really enjoy doing the Ask Dave column, and so I have offered my services to the D23 people, uh, that I would be willing to continue, uh, Ask Dave, and, uh, I think they're, they're, uh, glad to have me do that.
Lou Mongello: That's wonderful, because, again, it's a chance for us to get to sort of interact with you and pose questions that... Guests have that only you can answer, and I'll put a link, uh, on the website, uh, in the show notes where you can go and you can post your questions to the Ask Dave column. Dave, I have to make a quick personal aside.
I've told you this in the past, but when I visited the archives and was able to go in there, yes, I was impressed with the bird and some of the merry, and some of the things, but when you had told me years ago that, that you had put, um, copies of my books in the archives, It was, that was my holy grail. That was my, you know, most incredible honor.
When you said that you had them in the office, I again cannot tell you what that means to me on a personal level. So Dave, what I'm going to do is first, I'm going to post a couple of videos that I'm going to share with listeners, um, from my Disney Archives tour, as well as something you did last year at the D23 Expo.
You gave me a private tour of the Archives exhibit, and I've been holding on to that, and I want to share it now. with people, um, as sort of part of your retirement. And again, on behalf of myself, and everybody that's listening, and all the Disney fans who you have impacted by the important work that you're doing, I want to offer you my sincerest thanks, as well as my congratulations, uh, to your retirement, and best of luck of everything going forward.
Dave Smith: I thank you
Lou Mongello: very much. I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks in, uh, at D23. Okay. Dave, again, thanks so much for your time. I really do appreciate it. Sure.
Dave Smith: Take care. Bye. Bye bye.