In 1957, approximately one year after I joined the staff at ABC-TV network in Hollywood..
I was assigned to be stage manager for a closed circuit broadcast between Walt Disney and Mr. Reynolds of the Reynolds Aluminum Company. The purpose of the broadcast was for Mr. Disney to show Mr. Reynolds the rough-cut pilot of "The Adventures of Zorro", a new Walt Disney TV show. It was hoped that Mr. Reynolds would become a major sponsor of the show. The closed circuit would enable Walt Disney and Mr. Reynolds to see each other as well as hear each other prior to the screening although they were in different cities.
Walt arrived at the studio 2 hours early. He had just come from the airport and was unshaven and dressed informally wearing a red checked casual sports shirt and slacks. Since the closed circuit did not begin for two hours Walt and I were alone on the stage and it was natural to strike up a conversation. I introduced myself to him and mentioned that Marc Davis, one of his chief animators, was a neighbor and a friend of mine.
As we sipped our coffee Walt explained to me that he had been traveling in Europe on a forced vacation. He had recently experienced a heart attack and his doctors recommended that he take a break from his busy schedule to give his heart a rest.
I asked him what was his favorite place to visit. He said he loved Switzerland and was particularly impressed by the beautiful Matterhorn. He said," the doctors told me I wasn't allowed to do any work, but we were shooting a movie at the Matterhorn and I just had to visit the set. I know it's gonna be a great movie because of that magnificent mountain. When people watch that movie they're going to feel like they are on vacation."
Now, I don't know whether I read his mind or whether it was my idea alone but, kidding, I said to him," Well you will have to build a Matterhorn in the park."
Walt looked at me with astonished eyes. He said," You know, I was just thinking that same thing. In fact, I'm thinking of putting it right in the middle of the park.”
I could sense his excitement. Walt Disney was passionate about his work. I could sense the wheels turning in his brain.
I said," Well, your mountain could have bobsled rides and places to climb! I was having fun brain storming with him. I had no idea that he was serious.
Walt told me that his biggest problem wasn't building a mountain, but raising the money to do it. He said his brother controlled all of the finances of his company, and his brother had resisted his building Disneyland at every step of the way. He told me that in fact the way he raised the money to buy the real estate for his park in Orange County was that he had mortgaged his home and cashed in his insurance policies. He said “If I had more money I could've bought the land across the street from the park where all of those beautiful hotels have been built and we could have had income from all of that."
He said," Ron, take my advice. Never own anything. Use that mortgage money to expand your world and follow your highest dream."
Walt truly resented the fact that his own brother and other members of his organization did not share his vision of the possibilities of Disneyland.
For that reason, it is no surprise that Walt built the park again in Florida. This time he made sure that he had enough land to build the hotels as well as the rides.
Walt had his real estate agents go to Florida and secretly purchase the many tracks of land that would be required for his new park. This was done quietly so that real estate prices did not suddenly rise and prevent Disney from being able to obtain all of the land at low prices. Naturally after word of the park became known real estate prices did indeed rise very rapidly.
Walt's brother controlled the purse strings to Walt's company, but Walt Disney had the vision and determination required for greatness.
This was made abundantly clear to me just three days after the closed circuit phone call was over.
The Los Angeles Times announced that Walt Disney was building a replica of the Swiss Matterhorn mountain in Disneyland. It said that the mountain would be in the middle of the park. The article was filled with detail about the size of the structure and the rides that it would contain as well as technical details about the amounts of steel that would be required for the construction!