Now you'll know for sure, in this comprehensive collection of Walt Disney's wisdom, as delivered through interviews, speeches, television appearances, and more. Each of the over 800 quotes in this book is authoritatively sourced as well. You'll be surprised by what Walt said—and what he didn't say!
Disney historian Jim Korkis has devoted a lifetime of research into assembling the most complete, most accurate, most useful compilation of Walt Disney's quotes ever put into print. For fans, it's a deep dive into the wisdom of Walt; for authors and researchers, it's an invaluable reference, as Korkis also provides the source of each quote—something you won't find anywhere else.
Walt Disney had a lot to say, about many different topics, including America, animation and films, art and music, books, business, Disneyland, education, fear and failure, Mickey Mouse, money and work, religion, storytelling, television, and women. It's all here, uncensored and unedited.
The best way to learn about Walt Disney is to read what he said, not what others have said about him. Walt's Words is the closest we'll ever get to an autobiography of Walt Disney.
Animals & Nature
Animation & Films
Art & Music
Fear & Failure
Ideas & Experimentation
Money & Work
Religion & Personal Faith
Roy O. Disney
Walt (About Himself)
The Duckburg Times was a popular Disney fanzine, a limited-print-run amateur magazine produced by fans. In issue #12 released in July 1981, I wrote an article entitled “Uncle Walt Says” compiling some quotes supposedly said by Walt Disney that appeared in a variety of newspapers from around the United States in December 1966 in their tributes to Walt upon his recent passing.
Within a week of the fanzine being mailed out, I got a letter from the Disney Archives complimenting me on the article and asking if I could supply them with the sources for the quotes. Apparently, Disney Archivist Dave Smith already had most of the quotes, although some were in slightly different versions, but wanted to be able to connect the quotes to a specific newspaper and date.
The article proved so popular that I wrote another one filled with Walt quotes for The Duckburg Times #15 (August 1982).
I did not realize it at the time, but Dave was updating an internal Disney publication for the opening of Epcot Center.
The beginning of an internal-use official Walt Disney quote book began with Imagineer Randy Bright who was developing cast member training programs for the opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1971 and thought that it would be useful for newly hired cast members to learn more about what the company’s late founder thought about things.
Smith scoured publicity department files for material, researching Walt’s own memos, letters, and speeches as well as interviews and notations on film and television scripts. Smith organized the quotes by subject and the result was a 48-page booklet simply titled “Walt” handed out to cast members during orientations and seminars beginning around 1974. Smith told me:
It became a bible for people who were writing books about Disney and people who wanted to understand Walt Disney, the man. People often want a quote of Walt Disney saying a certain thing. They want to put words in his mouth. We found the most important and most meaningful things he really said.
It was done in sepia tone and included many full-page out-of-the-ordinary photos of Walt to supplement the quotes. The preface stated:
During Walt Disney’s long career, he frequently commented on his philosophy of life, his ideals, dreams and his hope for a better world.
This book is a collection of Walt Disney’s quotations which have been drawn from speeches, interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, press conferences, film scripts and from company publications. The publication of this book has been a joint effort of the Walt Disney Archives, the Studio Publicity Department and the Disney Universities of both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
The sources for individual quotations are available upon request from the Archives.
The publication was so popular and useful that it was reprinted several times over the years. In fact, the publication was updated and reformatted and released in 1994 as the 98-page book, Walt Disney: Famous Quotes.
It was “printed exclusively for Walt Disney Theme Parks and Resorts” by “Disney’s Kingdom Editions” and available for purchase to guests at the Disney theme parks. This time the photos and format were in black-and-white and it was published in the more traditional portrait format rather than the original landscape edition.
The following people were credited for their assistance: Randy Bright, Rebecca Cline, Jennifer Hendrickson, Rose Motzko, Bob Schneider, Paula Sigman, Ed Squair, and Robert Tieman.
In 2001, it was reformatted and updated yet again and released in book form at 265 pages as The Quotable Walt Disney by Disney Editions that still remains in print today and should be in any Disney fan’s personal library.
On September 27, 2006, I wrote the first of several “In Walt’s Words” columns for MousePlanet.com.
I included quotes and their sources that weren’t in Dave’s book. I was constantly uncovering forgotten interviews, by-lined articles, speeches, and other sources that revealed Walt’s thoughts and insights. Those discoveries resulted in my writing more and more quotation-oriented columns just so I could have all of these words gathered together somewhere I could easily find them.
I feel it is important to include the date and the source of the quote. Walt was pretty consistent in his feelings and philosophy, but over the decades he grew not only professionally but also personally. So a quote from 1930 might not always accurately reflect what Walt felt in 1964, and vice versa, because of that growth and experience (or lack of it).
In interviews, Walt was often more ambiguous and vague than we would have liked, not finding the exact words he wanted, mixing up nomenclature (on his television show, he once identified Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland as Snow White’s Castle) or chronology (on his television show, he stated more than once that Donald Duck’s first appearance was Orphan’s Benefit and that it was released in 1935 rather than the 1934 animated short The Wise Little Hen).
Walt could get so passionate about what he was trying to say that he didn’t always pay close enough attention to the particulars in order to make his broader point. In addition, Walt loved to embellish a story to make a point or get a laugh. For that reason, he often repeated, sometimes word-for-word or with a slight variation, previous things he had said.
In a by-lined article, while it is clear that it was based on Walt’s thoughts and often actual words, it was often massaged by the studio publicity department writers to be more formal in tone, removing some of Walt’s Midwestern “folksiness,” sometimes but not always correcting factual information, and adhering closely to the approved Disney brand narrative.
I once talked to Diane Disney Miller about something Walt said in an article that he supposedly wrote and she was quick to dismiss it as “a product of the publicity department. It just sounds too formal.” As we looked closer at it, it was obvious it contained information about Walt’s youth that only Walt himself would have known and was not shared elsewhere.
Diane finally decided that it must have been written by her dad or at least copied from a discussion with him and that the formality may have been because of the nature of the publication.
In a personal memo from Walt Disney to the Disney Studio publicity department on July 1, 1940, he wrote: “From now on, all publicity going out of this studio must have my O.K. before it is released. There shall be no exceptions to this rule.” That edict remained in force until his death.
The same was true of his introductions to his weekly television series. These introductions were written by others but based on Walt’s personal philosophies and feelings.
Walt approved every word that went out under his name and never hesitated to change the wording so that it sounded like he would talk and say what he wanted to say. Despite following the storyboarded script for the television show, it was not unusual for Walt to ad-lib when he was being filmed.
Imagineer Marty Sklar authored many things for Walt, from the script for the famous Epcot film to the introductions in stockholder reports. He recalled:
I didn’t do any of this writing without first talking with Walt. They were always his ideas, and after a while I got to understand what he wanted to say and how he wanted to communicate. He trusted me enough to let me write the first draft of many things. Then he would red pencil his notes to me. That’s probably why I still use a red pen today on work I review.
Jack Speirs wrote Walt’s introductions for the early weekly Disney television show. Jack Bruner wrote some of the later introductions. Speirs said:
He seldom used fancy or uncommon words, but he would not talk down to his viewers either. For one of his nature shows featuring ants, he refused to change “mandibles” to the more familiar word “jaws.” “They’re properly called mandibles,” Walt said. “Let’s stick to that.”
The secret in writing for him was to keep the dialogue simple and in character. He wouldn’t be shy to tell me what he liked or didn’t like. He was actively involved. He didn’t just parrot what I wrote.
Producer Winston Hibler recalled:
In the early days, Walt would help write his own dialogue for the show. He never liked stilted dialogue or anything that was too formalized. He said, “I like to talk the way that people talk.” He didn’t like to talk about himself. He didn’t mind being the butt of the joke if it worked.
So, even though some quotes credited to Walt were worked over by others, it is clear that Walt approved of the final result or else he would not have allowed it to be released. Even the President of the United States has speechwriters who help focus his intentions. But like the president, Walt would often add or leave out material at the last minute, even in a previously approved script.
Walt had many different writers producing material for him to meet the constant demands. Speck McClure, a former legman for gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, worked in the late 1950s writing speeches for Walt, among his other responsibilities like finding literary properties.
When Walt talked, he was keenly aware of the impact of what he said and how he said it might have on others, so he was sometimes careful not to damage the Disney brand.
One afternoon in 1965, when Marty Sklar brought him a proposal for the corporate annual report, Walt told him:
Walt Disney is a thing. An image that people have in their minds. And I spent my whole life building it. Walt Disney the person isn’t the image, necessarily. I drink and I smoke and there’s a whole lot of other things that I do that I don’t want to be part of that image. I’m not Walt Disney anymore.
I did not include quotes from Walt that were paraphrased by others. In interviewing so many people who knew Walt over the last thirty-five years, it was quite common for them to say something like, “Oh, I remember when after a meeting, Walt pulled me aside and said such and such.” While the intention of Walt’s remark was still clear decades later, it was not always an exact copy of what Walt really said but instead embellished by their own impressions or paraphrased to make up for eroded memory.
Going through piles of Walt’s interviews, it was also frustrating that people always kept asking him the same things, from how animation was done to how Mickey Mouse was born, about future plans for Disneyland and for upcoming films.
Walt sometimes used the same phrases or stories with slight variations to respond to these familiar inquiries, resulting in different versions of the same quote. That famous quote where he compares his job to a bee gathering pollen I have been able to document was said to at least five different writers and appeared in at least four different magazines over two decades.
It has taken decades and sometimes money I did not have at the time to obtain the source material. Then it was a process to select, balance, verify the quotes, create consistency in attribution, and assign each quote to a proper category. In some cases, I had to spend time transcribing as well.
I am fully aware that there are people out there who will post these quotes on their website or use them in articles without attribution or even take credit for locating these hidden treasures themselves. I have friends who hoard valuable information because of this situation and Disney history is poorer because of it.
However, I feel it is important that Walt’s true words be available to writers and Disney fans. I also feel that too often the same “usual suspects” of quotes are trotted out again and again and again while there are some other more interesting options not commonly known.
The quotes in this book were either said by Walt or personally approved to be credited to him as representing what he wanted said. They offer a different glimpse into the mind of an extraordinary man who changed the world.
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades. He is also an award-winning teacher, a professional actor and magician, and the author of several books.
Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, right next to Burbank, the home of the Disney studios. As a teenager, Korkis got a chance to meet the Disney animators and Imagineers who lived nearby, and began writing about them for local newspapers.
In 1995, he relocated to Orlando, Florida, where he portrayed the character Prospector Pat in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom, and Merlin the Magician for the Sword in the Stone ceremony in Fantasyland.
In 1996, Korkis became a full-time animation instructor at the Disney Institute teaching all of their animation classes, as well as those on animation history and improvisational acting techniques. As the Disney Institute re-organized, Jim joined Disney Adult Discoveries, the group that researched, wrote, and facilitated backstage tours and programs for Disney guests and Disneyana conventions.
Eventually, Korkis moved to Epcot as a Coordinator for the College and International Programs, and then as a Coordinator for the Epcot Disney Learning Center. He researched, wrote, and facilitated over two hundred different presentations on Disney history for Cast Members and for such Disney corporate clients as Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Blue Cross, Toys “R” Us, and Military Sales.
Korkis has also been the off-camera announcer for the syndicated television series Secrets of the Animal Kingdom; has written articles for several Disney publications, including Disney Adventures, Disney Files (DVC), Sketches, and Disney Insider; and has worked on many different special projects for the Disney Company.
In 2004, Disney awarded Jim Korkis its prestigious Partners in Excellence award.
If you have a question for Jim Korkis that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
I was about 15 when I interviewed Jack Hannah with my little tape recorder and school notebook with questions printed neatly in ink. I learned to develop a very good memory because often when the tape recorder was running, people would freeze up. So, I sometimes turned off the tape recorder and just took notes which I later verified with the person. I always gave them a chance to review what they had said and make any changes. I lost a lot of great stories, although I still have them in my files for future generations, but gained a lot of trust.
I was very, very lucky. I was a kid, and it never occurred to me that when I saw their names in the end credits of the weekly Disney television show that I couldn't just find their names in the local phone book and call them up. Ninety percent of them were gracious, but there were about ten percent who thought it was a joke and that maybe one of their friends had put me up to phoning them.
It was like dominoes. Once I did one interview and the person was pleased, he put me in touch with others. After some of those interviews were published in my school paper and local newspapers, it gave me some greater credibility. Later, when they started to appear in magazines, I got even more opportunities.
JIM: You know, one of the proudest things for me about my books is that not a single factual error has been found.
To do my research, I start with all the interviews I've done over the past three decades, some of which are some available in the Walt's People series of books edited by Didier Ghezz. When necessary, I contact other Disney historians and authorities to fill in the gaps. And I have amassed a huge library of books, magazines, and documents.
When I moved from California to Florida, I brought with me over 20,000 pounds of Disney research material. The moving company that had just charged me a flat fee was shocked they had so severely underestimated the weight, and lost thousands of dollars. That was over fifteen years ago and the collection has only grown since that time.
About The Vault of Walt Series
JIM: I was fortunate to grow up in the Los Angeles area at a time when I had access to some of Walt’s original animators and Imagineers. They shared with me some wonderful stories. I wrote articles about their for various magazines and “fanzines” of the time. All of those publications are long gone and often difficult to find today.
As more and more of Walt’s “original cast” pass away, I realized that their stories had not been properly documented, and that unless I did something, they would be lost. Everyone always told me I should write a book telling these tales and finally I decided to do it.
JIM: She actually contacted me. Her son, Walter, loved the Disney history columns and articles I was writing and would send them to her. I was overwhelmed that she enjoyed them. She was appreciative that I tried to treat her dad fairly and not try to psycho-analyze why he did what he did.
She also liked that I revealed things she never knew about her father. As we talked and I told her I was doing the book, I asked if she would write the foreword. She agreed immediately and I had it within a week. She even invited me to go to the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and give a presentation. She is an incredible woman.
JIM: Obviously, the ones about her dad were a big hit. She especially liked the chapter about Walt and his feelings toward religion. She told me that it accurately reflected how she saw her dad act.
JIM: That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I tried to put in all the stories I loved because I figured this might be the only book about Disney I would ever write.
One chapter that I have grown to love even more since it was first published is the one about Walt’s love of miniatures. I recently found more information about that subject, and then on the trip to Disney Family Museum, I was able to spend hours examining some of Walt’s collection up close.
About Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?
JIM: I wanted to read a “Making of the Song of the South” book, but nobody else was ever going to write it. I wanted to know the history behind the production, why Walt made certain choices, and as many behind-the-scenes tidbits that could be told. I didn’t want to read a sociological thesis on racism.
Fortunately, over the years I had interviewed some of the people involved in the production, had seen the film multiple times, and had gathered material from pressbooks to newspaper articles to radio shows of the era.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Song of the South. I wanted to get the facts in print and let people make up their own minds.
JIM: I thought I knew a lot after being actively involved in Disney history for over three decades, but writing this book showed me how little I really know.
For example, I learned that it was Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck for decades, who did the whistling for Mr. Bluebird on Uncle Remus’ shoulder. I learned that Ward Kimball used to host meetings of UFO enthusiasts at his home. I learned that the Disney Company tried for years to make a John Carter of Mars feature. I learned that Walt himself tried to make a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. I learned that Disney operated a secret studio to make animated television commercials in the mid-1950s to raise money to build Disneyland. And so much more.
Even the most knowledgeable Disney fans will find new treasures of information on every page of this book.
JIM: Walt Disney was not racist. That is one of those urban myths which popped up long after Walt died, and so he was unable to defend himself.
In my book, I make it clear that Walt had no racist intent at all in making Song of the South. He merely wanted to share the famous Uncle Remus stories that he enjoyed as a child, and he treated the black cast with respect and generosity.
Many people don't realize that the events in the film take place after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction. So many offensive Hollywood films made at the same time as Song of the South, even one with little Shirley Temple, depicted the Old South during the Civil War in an unrealistic manner. Walt's film got lumped in with them, and he was a visible target for a much larger crusade.
With John Cawley:
A sampling of Walt's wisdom on Disneyland. (The sources for each quote are given in the book.)
“I had all my drawing things laid out at home, and I’d work on plans for the park, as a hobby, at night. I talked Disneyland, but no one could see it. So I went ahead and spent my own money. I wanted flat land that I could shape. I don’t want the public to see the real world they live in while they’re in the park. I want them to feel they are in another world.”
“It’s not apparent at a casual glance, but this street is only a scale model. We had every brick and shingle and gas lamp made five-eighths true size. This cost more, but it made the street a toy, and the imagination can play more freely with a toy. Besides, people like to think that their world is somehow more grown-up than Papa’s was.”
“No liquor, no beer, nothing. Because that brings in a rowdy element. That brings people that we don’t want and I feel they don’t need it. I feel when I go down to the park I don’t need a drink. I work around that place all day and I don’t have one.”
I remember that we were dealing with all three networks. … They wanted our television show. And I kept insisting I wanted this amusement park. And everybody said, ‘What the hell’s he want that damn amusement park for?’ And I couldn’t think of a good reason except… I don’t know… I wanted it. ABC needed the television show so damned bad that they bought the amusement park.”
“When we built our studio, I thought we should have an amusement area that people could visit. They couldn’t visit our studio. It disrupts the work to have people all over the place and it spoils the illusions. Whenever I talked to my brother Roy about it, he got busy with figures and computing machines and he didn’t seem to hear me. I brought the drawings home and revised them. From an amusement park covering perhaps one city block, my plans started growing.”
A Disneyland is—well, it’s sort of a Disneyland. [Amusement parks] were dirty, phony places, run by tough-looking people. I could see there was a need for something new, but I didn’t know what it was.”
“It’s pretty hard to get around Disneyland when people are there. I mean, they’re friendly. They’re wonderful and I love to meet them, but I can’t stand still long. I don’t mind giving autographs. But when I’m at Disneyland, if I stop to sign one autograph, before I can get that signed, there are some more up there and it accumulates quite a crowd and it always makes it awful hard to get away. So when I go through Disneyland, I walk fast and it isn’t much fun.”
Topiary—the training of trees and shrubs to grow into odd shapes—is almost a lost art. But in Fantasyland where anything can happen, even trees in animal form will come to life and waltz and dance.”
“I have to keep improving on ideas. On the jungle ride, I want to get more animation in the animals. I want to really fix it. My monkeys have gone to pot. And I want new monkeys. I’m going to take them out Monday because I’d rather not have them in there looking like that.”
“This is one of my favorite times of the day here just about sundown. I like to be around when the lights come on. It seems like a new kind of magic takes over in Disneyland after dark.”
Continued in "Walt's Words"!
A sampling of Walt's wisdom on storytelling. (The sources for each quotes are in the book.)
"I wouldn’t put in any modern slang that wouldn’t fit, but the stuff can be modernized. I want to put my money into something that will go in Podunk, Iowa, and they will go in and laugh at it because they have experienced it. They wouldn’t laugh at a lot of English sayings that they’ve never heard or that don’t mean anything to them.”
“We have to simplify it—for the sake of the gag you have to simplify it. I think we complicate gags a lot. There is no need of it.”
“The very first essential is a good story. Then we get into story conferences and everybody tears it apart and we throw stuff out, and put new stuff in, and rebuild and add and all of that until finally we get a story that we feel is right.”
“That’s how we fool you into believing. If you were to see a man of Mickey’s [size] jump a fence 50-feet high, you wouldn’t believe your eyes. But if he first jumped a fence 4-feet high, then a 6-foot fence, then a 7-foot fence, then a 10-foot fence… You understand?”
“The story department prepares a rough, short outline which, when mimeographed, is distributed among the members of the staff. Everybody whom Mickey supports, chief animators to bill collectors, are supposed to think up gags and situations for the story. The staff is given about two weeks to ponder. Out of the original story outline and contributed ideas, the story department welds the final scenario.”
“I told [my animators]: ‘Put a kitten on the kitchen floor with a ball of yarn; pour a little molasses here and there and then watch it.’ A kitten will think up more cute tricks in five minutes than a gag man could in a lifetime.”
“I still take scripts home, but I don’t read them at night. It’s a temptation to peek, but I wait until morning. I used to read at night and then worry until morning. I used to be tied up all night, but no more.”
“I learned a lot about storytelling from Charlie [Chaplin]. He was full of fun. Loved to clown and act out his stories. Charlie taught me that in the best comedy you’ve got to feel sorry for your main character. Before you laugh with him, you’ve got to shed a tear for him.”
“Story ideas may come from anywhere. In the Disney studio library of about two thousand volumes, one of the most popular collections is that of the Sears Roebuck catalogs dated from the early 1900s. From the indexes and the pages of these catalogs come many ideas for gag situations. Sometimes the very word ‘garden hose’ or ‘screwdriver’ will set a story man off on an idea for a ridiculous episode.”
“They get this formula in Hollywood that everything must have a lot of heavy romance in it. I believe in the love interest when it belongs in there. It can be a love for a horse. It can be the love of a man for a girl. I’ll never force something in that I don’t think belongs there. I don’t think people always have to have this heavy romance stuff in every story.”
Continued in "Walt's Words"!