By early 1964, Walt Disney, whose company, The Walt Disney Studios, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, began to be more grumpy than before. It was a signal that he was at the end of his physical strength. He smoked two to three dozen cigarettes a day and worked late into the night, including on TV shows for ABC, constantly inventing something new. He didn’t want to hear about rest. His new toy was a robot. Disneyland’s future Abraham Lincoln attraction.
Walt Disney in one of the last photos from 1966.
| Photo: Wikimedia Commons, free work
To shine at the 1964 New York World’s Fair was Walt’s great ambition. He participated in several exhibitions, including the Pepsi Cola pavilion, where animated characters represented different countries and sang the song It’s a Small World. The golden nail, however, was to be a life-sized robot – Disney’s political favorite, a Republican, an opponent of slavery and, above all, the American president Abraham Lincoln. Studio Walt Disney and related tech companies had been developing a different model of a remote-controlled, walking, and talking puppet for several years. Lincoln should have followed him up. It was a big deal, as it was approaching the anniversary of the president’s second election (1864), a prestigious affair for Walt.
Hundreds of specialists from electronics to hydraulics were buzzing around the President Lincoln dummy. A structure was born with the joints and anatomy of a fifty-five-year-old man, which was finally wrapped in duraflex resembling human skin. The result stunned everyone, even Walt himself. The tests turned out excellently, the “president” talked and walked, so in April 1964 he “boarded” a plane to New York with his spiritual father and a group of technicians. Two days before the opening of the exhibition, he delivered his programmed speech, the project could be launched.
But then, for mysterious reasons, the robot rebelled and got stuck. As Boris Yachnin recalls in his book about Disney, he stopped moving, did not get up from his chair, and the sentences he uttered did not follow his movements. His face contorted strangely. The team around Disney he panicked. Some claimed that fluctuations in electronic voltage during the tests were to blame, others said that the Republican was not benefited from the plane trip, perhaps even the cold air here. It was crowned by Walt’s famous animator Marc Davis. “And isn’t God angry with us by any chance? That we created man in our own image?” he asked. No one had an answer to that.
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Despite the efforts of two hundred people working for Disney’s exhibits, the robot failed to operate on opening day. Anti-slavery activist Lincoln went on strike. It was a big mess, and Walt Disney had to admit willy-nilly in front of the cameras and reporters: “We worked like crazy into the night, but we can’t show you the robot, some whim seized him.”
Whim ran over the Lincoln dummy a few days later. The guests of the exhibition were enchanted by his speech about freedom and the American nation, the technical glitch fell into oblivion. The robot later successfully moved to Disneylandbut Walt still woke up many nights in a drenched sweat remembering opening day.
Welcome to the club
From the beginning of 1966, appointments with doctors’ appointments multiplied in Disney’s diary. In July, they told him that he should undergo surgery in view of the progressing calcification of the neck defects. But Disney was planning a winter sports center and a second Disney World park in Florida. At the next examination in November, the doctor’s prognosis was much sharper: a spot on the lobe of the lung and urgent surgery.
100 years with DisneySource: Diary“It has to wait a few more days,” said the thirty-two-year-old Oscars, lit up and went to the studio. Student dormitories for Disney’s prestigious film school were being approved, more films were being prepared. Among other things, Walt’s dream project returning animated heroes to nature: The Jungle Book.
A few days later, doctors operated on his left lobe lung with cancer and informed the family that the lymph nodes did not look good at all. The diagnosis was: a few months to live. “I’m doing great,” Walt Disney announced to family and doctors, and began receiving work telegrams and letters. Among them was a note from actor John Wayne, who also had one lung: “Welcome to the club, kid. Everything is possible, only heights are a bit of a problem.”
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In two weeks, Walt forced himself back into the studio. Despite the doctors’ warnings, he went back to the old regime – several meetings a day, screenings, new studies, inspection of plots of land with buildings, little food, a lot of cigarettes. His colleagues were horrified by his fallen appearance, but they did not dare to object. On November 24, he ended up in the hospital again. The metastases in the body progressed, he could not walk, his names fell out, then he stopped talking completely.
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He spent his 65th birthday weakened in a hospital bed, with visits from his closest relatives. The other days continued in the same way until December 14. “He’s walking and sensing again! It’s going to be okay,” Lily called happily to their daughter Diana, who remembers it in her memory. The next morning Walt Disney he died Cardiac circulation terminated the service. He did not live to see the premiere of the film The Jungle Book, the birth of which he had initiated and which he was so looking forward to. “This is an extraordinarily sad day for America and the world,” President Lyndon B. Johnson wrote to his family.
The poor farm boy who conquered the film industry is the embodiment of the American dream. He turned his love for animals and his desire to entertain himself and others into movies. He never knew how to rest, he drew, wrote and invented until his last breath. Literally.