Ten days before his 65th birthday, dying from lung cancer, Walter Elias Disney wrote down two words on a piece of paper, then rolled over and took his last breath. The date was Dec. 15th, 1966. The man who brought us “the Magic Kingdom” had lost his battle to the “Big C”. Walt’s life was filled with honors and awards (Walt holds the record for both the most Academy Award nominations (59) and the number of Oscars awarded (22) for he won far more battles than he lost. After losing one of Disney’s first characters, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, to Universal Pictures in 1928 it took 78 years for the Walt Disney Company to reacquired the rights to Oswald, through a trade with NBC Universal, where NBC got the rights to longtime ABC sports commentator Al Michaels and Disney got Oswald. (Sounds to me like when the Red Sox traded the Babe to the Yanks for cash so Boston owner Harry Freese could finance the musical “No, No, Nanette.” I always thought Oswald was weak in the booth). In 1980 Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Karachkina named a minor planet “Disneya”. I believe I have seen this planet late at night, deep in the Mexican sky.
But one of Walt’s biggest and most difficult battles was with P.L.Travers, the writer who created Mary Poppins, but despised Hollywood’s sickly sweet portrayal of her magical nanny. This stormy relationship will be explored in a new movie called “Saving Mr. Banks” with Tommy Hanks portraying Walt and Emma Thompson the Australian writer. Travers wrote Mary Poppins which was an immediate success and spawned several sequels in 1934. Travers’ Poppins was a vain, arrogant, aloof disciplinarian who distributed nasty scornful penalties and punishments instead of the familiar “spoonfuls of sugar”. Traver’s Mary Poppins was inspired by her own emotionally deprived upbringing where her boozy father failed as a bank manager and died young leaving the family helpless.
Walt spent 14 years wooing Travers who hated Disney’s animated films, but finally relented after a deal was struck which included a $100,000 advance, 5% of the profits, and full script approval . She despised the sweetening of the Poppins character, the hugely popular songs, and the addition of animation. Omitted from the guest list for the premier, she begged Disney for an invitation which she received. At the event she reportedly approached Disney and told Walt that the animated sequence had to go. Disney responded by walking away saying ” Pamela, the ship has sailed.” Enraged at what she considered shabby treatment from the main Walt and despite several attempts, she never allowed another Disney/Poppins adaptation. Although she never married she adopted an Irish baby boy, separating him from his twin brother. She refused to take the pair; the boys united later. Travers died in 1996 at the age of 96.
The two words that Walt wrote down shortly before he called it a day : “Kurt Russell,” the significance remains a mystery, even to the actor. Groove.