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So Many Questions: Author Pat Williams looks at how to bring Disney inspiration to a day’s work

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PAT WILLIAMS
Pat Williams, author of “How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life”
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There’s no better way to get to know someone than to interview 200 of those that knew him best. In Pat Williams’ book, “How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life,” writing about one of the most widely regarded symbols of imagination and vision revealed some insights into the man behind the legend.

Disney was tough on employees and sparse with praise, but was able to see the potential in people that often times they couldn’t even see themselves. If everyone disagreed with an idea of his, that meant it was good. And often, people disagreed with Walt. But his uncanny knack for gauging public interest and knowing what people would pay for rarely failed to produce a winning result.

People of all ages, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, have been captivated by Walt Disney and his imagination. The book not only shows the positive side of this visionary maverick, but also is a cheering section to individuals looking to make their dreams come true.

Question: How would you define the Disney magic?

Answer: Fun. Exciting. Infectious. Universal. Never-ending. Over-the-top.

Q: Did you get the impression that Walt Disney knew just how much adults would appreciate his work, or was that a surprise to him?

A: One of his great talents is that he had these marvelous ideas and he had these marvelous characters and wonderful films he was producing, but that was only a small part of it. He knew what the public would pay for. I think that was one of his really great gifts. … If they hadn’t, none of this would have happened. He was creative and had great people around him and all these wonderful ideas, but if nobody bought it, nothing was going to happen.

Q: Did you ever get the feeling that he was a little nervous about that?

A: I think it was on his mind all the time. But, yet, if his staff told him this wasn’t going to work, to Walt, that was a sign it was going to work. … He didn’t need study groups. If they were all against him, he knew he had something good. The full-length animated feature in 1937, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — he didn’t have anybody supporting him on that.

The starting of Disneyland — he had nobody backing him on that one. And all of his people close to him said, “Nah, that will never work.” When Walt took Art Linkletter with him down to this open field and shared this idea he had for this park, Disneyland. And as they were walking back to the car, Walt said, “Art, do you want to go in on the deal with me?” And Art said, “No, Walt, I think I’ll pass.” And Art later said, “Every step back to the car that day cost me $3 million dollars a step.”

We could say that Walt, above all things, was a visionary. He saw in living Technicolor, while the rest of the people saw in grainy black and white.

Q: Couples choose to have their weddings and honeymoons at Walt Disney World. What does that say about the emotional tie that people have to Disney?

A: Well, it says that it’s far beyond children that are enraptured by the whole Disney thing. There’s an adult core out there — they have season passes, they come every weekend from different parts of Florida. They just camp out there. They are addicted to it. So, to be married here or have other important parts of your life journey take part on Disney property, that says they are infected to the core with Disney mania. They feel comfortable, they feel at home, they feel that they’re among friends. I think deep down they feel connected to Walt himself, even though they’ve never met him. They know the history of the whole Disney empire. They know the background. It has just become a huge part of their life, and if it were taken away from them, they would suffer beyond words.

Q: After talking to those that knew him best, was there one thing about the way Walt lived his life that surprised you?

A: I think I would say this: He was a tough boss. I talked to just about every Disney legend I could get who was still living. I’m so glad I did the research on this book when I did it. Most of them have passed away, and there were a number that were gone when I plowed in. Many in nursing homes or in retirement villages, and they talked about and reminisced about Walt.

He was very demanding. He was a fanatic for quality. He saw in these people more than they saw in themselves. He would reassign them into a different area of work and they thought, “I can’t do that,” and Walt convinced them that they could — and he was always right about that. He was very sparse in his praise — he was not a gusher. His thinking, I believe, was, “Let the public gush.” If they’re thrilled with your work, let the praise come from the public. Walt’s highest praise would be, “That’ll work.” If they heard that, these Disney employees were just thrilled.

His other famous line that many told me was, the film, for example, was finished, they thought it was just perfect and ready to go. And Walt would come in and check it and there was something that he wasn’t happy with and then he would say, “Plus it, boys. Plus it!” Meaning, not quite good enough — got to go back in and get this thing right. It’s not going out there unless we have it just right … meaning: Go, get it up to my standards.

Q: What do you think Walt would say is the No. 1 rule to live by?

A: On his deathbed, he said to his son-in-law, “If I could live another 20 years, I would get more done than in the previous 60.” I think he would be involved in world peace, saving marriages, education of our children. I think he would have gone way beyond the theme park and Mickey Mouse character world. I think he was really, really intensely interested in making a difference in the world and in people’s lives. I think he would have done things that we couldn’t have even imagined.

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