Greatest Dead Angelenos #16: Walter E. Disney

As a blog reader I’m a huge fan of these “greatest” series posts that we do from time to time here on and the current Greatest Dead Angelenos series is no different. One of the things I like so much about them is the chance to learn more about this city and the people that helped make it what it is. It’s awesome to see some respects paid to personal favorites like Darby Crash and dish out props where they are due to the likes of PKD, and even Kent’s personal take on River Phoenix was a new take on someone most people know a little bit about. But what I think are the real values to these, the real gems so to speak, are when we get to write about those folks that most people have never heard of. The best kept secrets if you will. The folks who went above and beyond but for what ever reason have gone largely unnoticed in the history books. Writing about these folks seems like we’re doing a real service, and that’s why I chose someone I’d be surprised of more than 3 people reading this site ever heard of – Walter E. Disney

225px-Walt_disney_portrait.jpgIf you could only say one thing about Walter E. Disney it would be that he had an awesome mustache. Of course that’s not really enough to make you one of the greatest dead angelenos so you’d probably want to say more things about him. So if you were going to say more than that, you could also say he was a bit of a daydreamer. As you might expect being a dreamer and being in Los Angeles immediately puts you into the entertainment business and who was Walter to shy away from that. Like Orson Welles he’s most famous for the products of his early career even though he continued to produce work through out his life until he died in 1966. His most famous works were the Alice Comedies and a little character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. After the massive success of these two franchises he went on to create another character, this time a mouse but it never achieved the same fame as Alice and Oswald.

Another thing you could say about Walter was that he was a man who appreciated efficiency and didn’t like wasting time. In what can only be called a predecessor to many web 2.0 companies dropping the letter “e” from their name to create catchy brands like flickr and dopplr, Walter also shortened his name with the intent of saving an extra syllable every time he would introduce himself. Walter took it a step further than the modern versions and dropped both the last “e” as well as the following “r.” Unfortunately this didn’t stick as well as he’d hoped and no matter how many times he tried to tell people his name was Walt, they always ended up calling him Walter.

250px-Shermans042.jpgThis theme, of having an idea far before it’s time continued though Walt’s life. (I’m going to call him Walt out of respect for his wishes and since you already know who I’m talking about at this point) In this photo he can be seen with two other guys inspecting what I can only assume was an early laptop computer. The fact that it was made of wood and probably not very portable kept it from achieving wide acceptance at the time, but clearly this guy was thinking years ahead of his time.

Walt’s biggest dream, and perhaps his biggest disappointment was dream to create “theme parks.” Imagine if you will, a large area, like a park, but with everything within eyeshot relating to a common fantasy based theme. Walt felt this would create a more ideal world and would make people happy when they went to this “park.” Again this idea went over like a wet noodle when he would talk about it in public. That didn’t stop from actually building one of these “theme parks” though, and it’s still around today right in our back yard. There isn’t a lot of info about “Disney’s World” but a significant portion of it can still be seen in Orange County. I searched for hours to get an exact address or directions with no luck but I know people who have seen it in person so I know it still exists. If anyone knows more about this please post details in the comments. I’d love to try and take a group of people there and maybe take some photos or something.

Anyway, I’m rambling on and on about someone I’ve never even heard of until we started this series but I’m very intrigued by what I’ve found out so far. I’ve started a Wikipedia article on him that I hope some other people who know more will contribute to so that Walt’s legend will live on. It would be a shame this blog post was the last nod he ever got. It’s really too bad they don’t make guys like him anymore. When he died, someone should have frozen his brain.

* The rest of the Greatest Dead Angelenos series can be found here.

3 thoughts on “Greatest Dead Angelenos #16: Walter E. Disney”

  1. If the Los Angeles City Council didn’t give Mr. Disney such a hard time, Disneyland would have been located in Atwater Village, right along the Los Angeles River near Griffith Park.

    But they did give him a hard time, so he took interest in some orange grove in Anaheim…

    And yes he did have an impressive mustache. Maybe that’s why no one who works for his company is allowed to have one of their own…

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