If you've ever had a dead-end job, you're in good company. Walt Disney had dead-end jobs. So did many of the young men who later became Disney legends and luminaries. How were they able to turn the mundane into the magical?
In Disney Destinies, Karl Beaudry profiles two dozen Disney notables, from Walt Disney and Ward Kimball to Card Walker and George Kalogridis, and traces their paths from delivering newspapers, taking tickets, and washing dishes to the height of Disney fame and power.
Identifying patience, passion, and determination as the keys to success, Beaudry explores:
Not only does Disney Destinies tell you how others did it, this inspirational book includes practical advice for how you can find and follow your own destiny, Disney or otherwise.
What Is Destiny
The Myth of the Dead-End Job
2Morgan “Bill” Evans
5Vance “Pinto” Colvig
18Bill “Sully” Sullivan
The Magic Thread
All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
I must admit that the last two years of my life have been mostly miserable. Without a loving and faithful wife, great friends, and a firm belief in God, I don’t know where I would be right now. During these times, I often look upon my troubles as educational experiences that I can possibly share with others. Perhaps that is the reason I am writing this book.
On the other hand, I may be writing it simply to encourage myself as I struggle through employment issues. Two years ago, some friends and I formed a business relationship and put together an exciting business plan that would involve the travel industry and, in particular, Walt Disney World. My wife and I lived close to the parks at one time and used our annual passes to visit at least once per month. It was perhaps the most fun I had ever had, and the things I learned about traveling to Disney World became a valuable asset when my friends from the Chicago area or other parts of the country would visit. Like many other Disney fanatics, I wanted to help people enjoy the parks and I wanted to think of great ways to help them avoid wasting time.
Our business plan caught the attention of some venture capital investors and it seemed we were on our way! I could hardly contain my excitement as we began to make plans for hiring employees and purchasing equipment. This would be the Disney career we anticipated. Not only would we be our own bosses, we would be working with Disney theme parks! The funds were to arrive any day.
And here I am, two years later, oft-revised business plan in hand, waiting for the funds to arrive. The investors are still there. The attorneys are still there. The hopes are still there (though greatly diminished at this point). Little did we know how long this entire process would take! I often ask myself whether it is worth the wait because, in the meantime, I have been unemployed and struggling to get by each day. My wife and I have seen the loss of most of our possessions, and we have seen financial chaos like neither of us could ever have imagined.
So I had a choice.
I could sit and grumble each day or I could choose to make the best of my time and learn as much as I could about my future profession (while taking advantage of every income opportunity that came along). I chose the latter, and, since that time, I’ve read just about every book I could get my hands on relating to Walt Disney, Disney Productions, and the Disney theme parks. It nearly became an obsession for me, and I found myself reading several of the Disney biographies for the third and fourth times. I would plan Disney vacations for friends, relatives, and friends of friends. My business was moving despite all of the financial delays. I was becoming a true Disney-aholic!
During this phase, I began to realize that there were many famous Disney legends who were once in a position similar to mine. Many of the famous names I studied began their Disney careers doing things one just would not imagine a famous Disney legend doing, like sweeping the sidewalks and selling tickets. How did they get to where they are now?
The stories of these people were so utterly fascinating and so encouraging that I just had to share them. I began to use them as illustrations whenever I spoke at meetings or events. I encouraged others by writing notes and telling a story or two. It became clear to me that I was not alone in my financial struggle and my desire to follow my dreams. Everyone I met had a similar story. They wanted to do this or do that, and their reason for failure was always, “It is just a dream. It will never happen.” They would say those words with a chuckle and move on like it was supposed to happen that way to everyone in life.
Then I started noticing how contagious the bad attitude was. People would look at my situation and stop just short of calling me a fool for believing in my dream for so long. In so many words, many of them would say, “Why don’t you just get a real job like everyone else?” To them it was not logical to believe in something for so long without finally just moving on when it didn’t happen.
It was during this time that the connection between the stories of Disney legends and my own experiences was crucial. My encouraging wife and my knowledge of Walt Disney’s life were the catalysts that kept moving me forward. I knew that nearly every stage of Walt’s career started with someone saying, “You can’t do that.” It got to the point in Walt’s life that he would anticipate and even cherish the statements of naysayers because they were his confirmation that he was doing it right. If he began to do something that looked normal or logical to his friends or competitors, he knew that he was on the wrong track.
As I write these words, I continue to wait for the moment when our business can finally get an official start. I am as confident now as I was two years ago that it will happen, and I have begun to realize that time is not my enemy but my friend. During these years, I have learned more than I could ever have imagined. Had our business started right away, I would have missed out on the most wonderful literary and practical education ever.
With the stories in this book, I want to encourage everyone who is struggling to find a job or struggling to handle the job they have. There is no such thing as a dead-end career or a dead-end life. You’re only limited by your dreams.
Since this book can be of interest to Disney fans and non-Disney fans alike, I want to define some terms that may not be understood by those unfamiliar with Disney.
Cast Member Since Walt Disney preferred to think of his parks as theatrical in nature, all park employees around the world are referred to as Cast Members. Employees of the Disney Store are also referred to as Cast Members. Walt was convinced that when employees thought of themselves as going “on stage” for their job, they would think and act differently.
Imagineer While not original to the Disney company, the term refers to the employees of WED Enterprises, which later became known as Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). It describes their unusual work of creating theme park attractions and shows never seen before. Walt used words penned by Marty Sklar to describe it succinctly, “We call it Imagineering—the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.”
In-Betweener When creating animations, the key drawings are usually done by the animators themselves. All of the intermediate frames between those drawings that create the illusion of movement are then created by a large group of very patient and talented individuals known as in-betweeners. In the world of Walt Disney Studios, this job was usually a stepping stone to the more desired position of animator.
Main Street, U.S.A. An elaborately themed section of Disney parks that comprises the entrance and the main walkway to other “lands” within the park. Main Street, U.S.A. was perhaps Walt Disney’s favorite section of Disneyland because it revived memories of his childhood in Marceline, Missouri. The design of Disney theme parks is closely matched to the strategy of a feature film, in that Main Street provides the introduction and the windows along Main Street provide the credits.
Karl Beaudry became a Disney fanatic when he found himself standing underneath a monorail track waiting for his parents to buy Walt Disney World ticket books in December 1971. The anticipation of experiencing the Magic Kingdom combined with the fantasy of seeing transportation and architecture unlike anything he has ever seen were enough to cause a Disney obsession that continues to this day.
Multiple hundreds of visits and many annual passes later, Karl still feels the same thrill when arriving at the main gate of any Disney park. As an adult, however, his enthusiasm has extended beyond the parks and into the resorts and on-property activities that many people have never experienced. He and his wife find adventure by checking out things they’ve not seen before—another restaurant, boat ride, resort, or show is always there waiting for them to enjoy.
In addition, Karl has spent the past several years studying the history of all things Disney. He has always been fascinated with the stories of the great people involved with the legacy of Disney productions and projects. When he isn’t writing about Disney, he spends much of his time with church activities and planning vacations for future Disney fanatics. His hope is that he can encourage Disney park visitors to go beyond the parks and into the undiscovered country that is Disney.
If you have a question for Karl Beaudry that you would like to see answered, please ask it here.
In this excerpt, from "Harriet Burns", Karl Beaudry profiles Disney's first female Imagineer.
Many of the female Disney Legends did not have an unusual or notable start with the Disney Company. There were, of course, many great women who worked with Walt and, despite some rather ignorant public comments to the contrary, Walt never had a problem hiring women or minorities. His concern was only to hire the best available. He never paid attention to race, religion, or gender, and cared only that a person could do the job he had for them.
Harriet Burns was born in San Antonio, Texas. Although she received a music scholarship, she chose instead to pursue a bachelor’s degree in art from Southern Methodist University. After studying advanced design for another year, Harriet moved with her husband and infant daughter to Los Angeles, where she started a part-time job with the Display Industries Cooperative Exchange (DICE).
After DICE went out of business, Harriet heard of an opening at the Disney Studio where she was hired in 1955 as a painter and prop builder for The Mickey Mouse Club TV show, becoming the first female Imagineer. What was amazing about this task was that there was no need to do anything in color because the program was broadcast in black and white. Walt knew that one day there would be color television, but it would do no good to use color until then. Still, he chose to produce the show in full color because of its effect upon the performers. One can imagine how “alive” the stage was and how what could have been a drab production became something more like live theater. The colors surely had an effect on the quality of the show.
With Harriet Burns, the male world of the Imagineers was transformed by the addition of someone who wore color-coordinated dresses, high heels, and gloves to work. At the time, even the rest room was for men only, and Harriet had to walk over to a different building. There was no trouble with her fitting in, however, because her talents were quite evident from day one.
This was the late 1950s and early 60s—a time when Imagineering was an exciting frontier. Disneyland had already begun to show the Imagineers what they could do, and now they had an opportunity to show the world with the exhibits they would build for the New York World’s Fair. Since one of Harriet’s main tasks was to build models, she was extremely impressed that Walt would travel the globe and constantly bring back items they could use. The miniatures he found were stored for use in a later attraction but, more importantly, she knew that Walt never forgot about his Imagineers. He was constantly on the lookout for anything that would make their job a little easier.
Harriet’s work was never dull. One day, she could be painting the feathers of a parrot, then working with a life-size pirate the next. She loved to tell the story of building the robins who sang for Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) and the need to find robin skin at the local natural history museum. For parrot feathers, she would often have to send “the guys” to the local Hollywood Fancy Feathers shop, where strippers bought the feathers for their costumes. For some reason, the guys did not mind taking care of that task for her. Indeed, they would often volunteer.
Read more about Harriet Burns in Disney Destinies.
In this excerpt, from "Wally Boag", Karl Beaudry profiles a Disney performer who holds a Guinness world record for his work at Disneyland.
To this point, the Cast Members discussed in this book have all had some sort of strange or notable beginning with Disney. After all, it is the beginning that makes a destiny so much more interesting, since all who stand at a starting line cannot truly see the finish line, and what they anticipate is often far different than what ultimately appears. The stories told so far have proven that one’s destiny cannot be predicted by the events leading into a career or a simple job. Perhaps a more appropriate title or theme could be, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
For Wally Boag, the road to Disney was far different than most. Here was a man whose career was already settled. In fact, Wally was so well-known in his trade that some may have considered him over-qualified for the Disney job he accepted. A proficient dancer, Wally ran his own dancing school at the age of 16. By 18, he was appearing on stage at burlesque shows and preparing to hit the road to Hollywood. He hired an agent and signed with a touring group when he was just 19, traveling up and down the West Coast and earning about $30 per week. By the time Wally Boag was 35 years old, he had literally traveled the world, starring in movie roles, performing for the King and Queen of England, and even appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. (In one of his shows in London, Wally performed his balloon act with the help of a 12-year-old volunteer who was a charming little girl with a wonderful voice. Her name was Julie Andrews, and they would work together again years later at Disneyland, this time with Julie as a superstar celebrity.) He had gained the respect of fellow entertainers and was ready to set up another tour when something occurred that changed his life forever.
Like most everyone in the world, Wally Boag knew who Walt Disney was, but he knew little more than the average person on the street. He had read about Walt in Life magazine, and he even had a slight connection to him through relatives, since his wife’s cousin was Bill Evans, the landscaper we met earlier. When a friend of Wally’s told him about an opening for a new “soda-pop show” at Disneyland, he was interested because he was just back from a lot of traveling and not quite ready to get on the road again. The thought of staying in town for a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of months intrigued him.
Wally described the audition as being on a huge, empty soundstage with just a piano player and Walt Disney. He was not nervous, because he knew his act and he knew it well. Besides, to him the audition was just that—another audition for another week’s pay. He did some comedy, tap dancing, ventriloquism, and even a balloon-tying routine. Of course, Walt was not one to applaud or heap praise on anyone, so the only confirmation Wally had that Walt liked his act was the two-week contract offered for him to sign.
He was amazed when he got his first look at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon at Disneyland. It was unusual for a set to have so much detail. He met the other actors and actresses that he would be working with and began rehearsal for a variety show in which Wally would play a traveling salesman and “Pecos Bill”—roles that would take advantage of his comedic ability as well as his other great talents. Wally would feel right at home with this role—a good thing, since he performed it over 10,000 times for the next 27 years (a Guinness world record).
Read more about Wally Boag in Disney Destinies.