On Saturday, September 17th, I attended a very special presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum called “Our Grandpa, Walt Disney.” It featured a panel consisting of five of Walt’s seven grandchildren, and was moderated by Disney author and all-around good guy, Jeff Kurtti. Jeff has authored many Disney books, and I of course own a few of them!
|Both of these books are great!|
The five of Walt’s grandkids that were able to make it were: Chris, Joanna, Tamara, Jennifer and Walter (Ron and Patrick were unavailable). This presentation was all about them and their relationship with Walt, so Jeff wasted little time in bringing them out one at a time before the eager audience.
As Jeff asked them all questions, I did my best to jot down their answers before they moved on to the next question (recording devices were not allowed). So basically all of the following info is accurate, however some of it will be paraphrased. For those of you who don’t know much about the man who started it all, you will be pleased to learn just how humble he was.
Jeff: When did you first realize that your grandpa was the Walt Disney?
Walter: I think it was around 1st Grade, someone ran up to me and asked, “Is your grandpa Walt Disney?”
Tamara: Whenever he would take us to school, people would always come out and stare.
Jeff: Was there a difference between the Walt you saw on TV and “grandpa?”
Joanna: Sometimes when I saw him on TV I would run up to the TV and kiss him.
Jeff: Where do you picture Walt when you think of him?
Joanna: In the living room of his house, with granny while we wait for dinner.
Jeff: Do any of you have a key memory of being with your grandfather?
Walter: I was only 5 when he passed. But I remember being in his living room taking ice cubes out of his Scotch Mist.
Jennifer: Every time I smell petunias I think of Palm Springs (Walt and Lilly owned a vacation home in Smoke Tree Ranch, Palm Springs). We would be playing outside and he would watch us from his office (Walt had an office in his vacation home, but not his regular home). Even when he was working he was enjoying us.
Tamara: He always appreciated us. He never picked out favorites.
Joanna: Going to Disneyland was so different. He would always bring pre-signed autographs to save time. And he talked to every one of his employees so casually, with such warmth.
Walter: I remember always playing outside, at either the Carolwood house (The Disney home was located on Carolwood Drive in Holmby Hills) or the Palm Springs house. I also remember getting to spend the night in the Disneyland apartment a few times, and the sounds from the Jungle Cruise would keep us up (FYI: they didn’t leave JC running all night, ha – the kids were pretty young so they had an early bedtime).
Jeff: Was there a downside to being Walt’s grandkids?
Joanna: The worst thing for me was right after he died, people would come up to me and ask me if he was frozen.
Other grandkids: Walter had a good comeback for that when people asked him.
Walter: When people asked me if my grandfather was frozen I would just say, “Is your grandfather frozen?”
Jeff: Have any of you ever had any desire to go into entertainment?
(All the grandkids look at each other)
Jennifer: We all have a great appreciation for the arts.
Walter: Mine started and ended when I was 6 months old (Indeed young Walter had a small but pivotal role in the 1963 film Son of Flubber. Watch the scene here! And that’s Wally Boag as the father).
Tamara: Some of our children are starting to get into that field.
Jeff: What are your thoughts on the museum?
Tamara: I learn something new about him almost every time. Of course none of us like the last part of the museum (for those who have never been, gallery 10 chronicles when Walt passed away), we have to run through that part.
Jeff: Being Walt’s grandkids, have you ever met anybody who’s made you starstruck?
Tamara & Jennifer (at the same time): Dick Van Dyke.
Walter: Dick Van Dyke created the best haunted house every Halloween. I hear he still does.
Jennifer: We also lived in the same neighborhood as Annette Funicello.
Joanna: Also Hayley Mills.
Jeff: If you could have a conversation with your grandfather today, what would you talk about?
Walter: What do you think of computer animation?
Chris: I would have liked a chance to say goodbye, and I love you.
Tamara: It would have been amazing to be able to share our children with him.
Joanna: (excerpt moved to the end of the post)
Jeff: What do you want your kids to know about Walt?
Chris: That there’s something to be made of anything (remember, Walt arrived in Hollywood in 1923 with a cardboard suitcase and 40 bucks in his pocket). Plus the warmth of a close family—Family, friends, creativity.
Walter: That he was so approachable. There was nothing arrogant about him.
Tamara: Stay grounded, work hard, dream big.
Jeff: If Walt were around today, what would he be fascinated by?
Walter: I think he would be so frustrated with city planning—Lack of mass transit, lack of supersonic flight (I completely agree with this—Not many people loved progress more than Walt).
Jeff: Is there anything you didn’t know while going through the museum?
Joanna: When the military took over the studio during the war (The military took over Walt’s studio in 1942 during WWII, during which Walt and his staff churned out several pro-American propaganda films, such as the highly acclaimed Victory Through Air Power). I found it interesting and surprising.
Tamara: I learn something new every time.
Random comments about Grandpa Walt:
Chris: He never really got mad, but he did get impatient.
Tamara: Sometimes he’d be working, and we would build a fort out of lawn furniture around him, and he loved it.
Chris: As children we never realized just how much work he brought home with him.
Walter: Someone asked my dad (Ron Miller) once if grandpa had an office at home, and the answer was no he didn’t. His office was the living room.
After the Q&A ended, we were all treated to some amazing home video footage of Walt and each of his grandkids. The video showed things like Walt:
-With his grandchildren in Disneyland.
-Celebrating one of the grandkids’ birthdays.
-Very unashamedly sporting his very own pair of Mickey ears.
-On a family vacation in Vancouver, where he traded in his Mickey ears for a skipper’s hat.
The common theme in just about every minute of that incredible footage was that Walt was always either smiling or laughing.
After the presentation I bugged Jeff for a quick photo.
|Hangin' with Jeff outside of the museum|
Thanks for the photo-op Jeff, and thanks for doing a great job in the presentation!
Being a lifelong Disney fan I have heard my share of negative rumors about Walt. I have read more than one biography about him and of course I always knew that none of bad rumors were true. After attending this presentation it not only reiterated what I already believed, but it took it a step further. All the grandkids could talk about was how warm their grandfather was. How accessible. How much he loved and enjoyed them. I didn’t think it was possible to admire Walt Disney any more than I already did, until September 17th, 2011, when I got to hear from five people who were lucky enough to be able to call Uncle Walt, “grandpa.”
Oh, and remember that excerpt I left out from Joanna earlier? I am moving it here because I think it was my favorite thing that any of the grandkids said, and feel it is appropriate to close out this recap with. What she said was, “I think the world would have been a better place had he lived a little bit longer.”
Me too, Joanna. Me too.