Thursday, July 28, 2011

Walt's Fascination with Outer Space

Walt Museum

On Saturday, July 23rd, I went to a presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum called “Walt's Fascination with Outer Space.” I was looking forward to this one because like Walt I am also fascinated with outer space. Some of what was discussed at the presentation I had read previously in different Walt biographies, but much of the information was new and very interesting. The speaker was Jim Korkis, longtime Disney historian and author of the book The Vault of Walt.

Jim displaying his book, The Vault of Walt - on sale now!

It was only supposed to last an hour, but Jim ran a bit over because he was having so much fun educating all of us. Jim is very friendly and charismatic, and engaged with the audience several times. He’d be in the middle of a story that took place in the 1950s and spot somebody who appeared to be around his age, and say, “I know you remember this!”

Here are just some of the fascinating tidbits he shared with us (editor’s note – I didn’t have time to fact-check all of these, so if any of them happen to be incorrect please let me know):

-The 1939 New York World’s Fair was what first inspired Walt’s fascination with space.
-After World War II, scientist Wernher Von Braun, champion of getting man into space (and soon to be Disney collaborator), was brought to America from Germany during Operation Paper Clip.
-It was Von Braun who came up with the idea for the rocket ship, and he turned to the Disney artists for help designing it.
-Von Braun wrote articles for Collier Magazine detailing his vision of the space program (the first series was titled Man Will Conquer Space Soon!).
-When Von Braun, a genius in his own right, was asked who he felt was a genius, he replied, “Walt Disney.” When the reporter laughed thinking Walt was just a cartoon maker, Von Braun advised him that when he and Walt were talking about the space program one day, Walt had asked him questions so sophisticated not even NASA asked him questions of that caliber 10 years later.
-Man in Space was the first of three films The Disney Company produced about space and the space program. It was so enormously successful that:
I President Eisenhower asked for a copy of the film so he could show it to the Pentagon.
II It was re-run more than once (which was unheard of back then) and eventually released theatrically, garnering an Academy Award nomination.
III It sparked a series of books published specifically for children's education.
IV Like Eisenhower, the Soviet Union asked for a copy as well (Korkis added a funny side note: Walt said no. Not because they were Russia, but because he had previously loaned them a print of Snow White for “two weeks” that they returned over 10 years later… scratched).
-Mars and Beyond was the third of the three space films Imagineer Ward Kimball directed for Disney. One scene depicts possible life forms on Mars. Some of them were “pretty out there,” so much so that Walt himself turned to Kimball after a screening and asked, “How do you guys come up with this crazy stuff?” Kimball couldn’t believe that someone with an imagination like Walt Disney asked him that question!
-The famous Moonliner in Tomorrowland got its name in part thanks to the Boeing Stratoliner.
-Imagineer John Hench designed a special entrance to the Moonliner for the pre-show of the old Rocket to the Moon attraction that showed guests just how they would be boarding their rocket. In those days when people traveled via air, they had to walk onto the tarmac and take stairs up to the airplane. Hench designed a covered, elevated walkway leading to the rocket’s entrance. Airports wouldn’t start using those, which we call jet ways, until 10 years later.
-In 1964 the U.S. was lagging on sending a man to the moon. Wernher Von Braun called upon Walt to re-spark interest in the space program by convincing him to pay a visit to Space Center Houston (which Walt Disney Imagineering helped design, by the way) and tour the facility. Walt, very curious by nature, wanted to take a crack at two different simulators there. This made Von Braun very nervous since he felt that if Walt botched either one, it could produce bad publicity and undermine the purpose of their visit. On top of that, a few professional pilots had just failed each simulator while demonstrating themselves. Walt completed both simulators successfully on his very first try.

After the event, Jim had a fun Q&A, and then a meet and greet/book signing. I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, but I waited in line anyway so I could chat with him. In the few minutes we chatted we covered a lot of stuff. His knowledge of Disney is extremely impressive, and I am happy to say that I actually impressed him with a few of my questions, which was pretty cool. After our chat it was picture time.

I still can't believe I was the only one who wore that shirt.

If any of you ever get the chance to attend a Jim Korkis event, I highly recommend you go. He is a very nice and knowledgeable man, and a pleasure to chat with. I myself was lucky enough to procure a ticket to the Carousel of Progress (my favorite attraction, ever) Event AllEars.Net is sponsoring in Disney World this December, which will in fact be hosted by Jim Korkis. Looks like I’ll have a pic for him to autograph this time!

Thanks Jim for the fascinating insight.


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