DESIGN: Those Were The Times No.6 – 1966 Walt Disney: Curious Salesman

Written by Bob Gurr. Posted in Bob Gurr, Design: Those Were The Times, Disney History

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Published on March 20, 2013 at 4:04 am with 24 Comments

Bob Gurr, Disney legend and fan favorite, has set the Wheel of Years spinning once again. Wherever the red arrow points is where today’s story will start. Let’s see what fantastic story Bob has in store for us. . . 

Today’s Wheel of Years has stopped at 1966, so here we go. Walt embarked on one of his cross country efforts to enlist industry participation in his Epcot dream project in January 1966. He gathered up seven of us to fly with him on the company plane, a Gulfstream G1, tail number N234MM (originally registered as N732G). Besides myself, the others included Joe Fowler, Joe Potter, Marv Davis, Roger Broggie, Lee Adams, and Steve Mulle.

Roger was Walt’s mechanical production guru, Lee was head of all Studio electrical engineering, while Marv Davis was in charge of Epcot planning layouts. The two “Joes” were very interesting fellows; Admiral Joe Fowler had been in charge of all Disneyland construction and was now to head up all construction for the new Florida property. US Army General Joe Potter was Walt’s Vice President of Florida planning. Quite interesting to learn that WDW and Epcot was to be sort of an Army-Navy game.

We departed Burbank, heading to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania where we were to meet with Westinghouse Electric executives, while the plane went on the next day to New York City. The mission Walt had in mind was three parts – receive a new Disneyland Monorail electrical system proposal, tour the Westinghouse R&D Laboratories and ride their new Skybus transit demonstration, and show them his plans for Epcot. We had brought a lot of site plans, artistic drawings, and other WED data with us to make a formal presentation. Quite a number of Westinghouse executives were waiting to meet Walt and see Epcot ideas – Don Burnham, Chairman of The Board, plus many division VPs. We were also scheduled to do the same tours and proposals two days later at General Electric in Erie Pennsylvania.

Walt started right off with his show and tell to everyone present before we split into specific groups for further discussions. Next, the Westinghouse execs showed us all their advanced inventions, including a fabulous laser demonstration. Remember, the first patent for laser had been awarded to Bell Labs just six years earlier. This was way before any laser commercial products became available. I remember Walt was very impressed with what laser could do in the future and how it could be a part of Epcot one day. This was another example of watching Walt’s eternal curiosity in action.

Westinghouse had built a demonstration advanced automated transit system called Skybus, which they believed would be perfect for use in Epcot. The Westinghouse and Disney teams rode the Skybus vehicles and observed how the system was controlled totally automatic with no humans at the controls, something that Walt wanted to see applied to Epcot transportation. (The Skybus project never got past the demonstration stage – one car remains on display in Pittsburgh today).

After a wonderful lobster salad luncheon, the Westinghouse guys wanted to learn about Disney films, particularly the True Life Adventure series. Asked if Walt found a use for all the film footage shot in the wild, he told them that the “interesting” parts were left on the cutting room floor. It seems that some wild animals actually have a “wild” sex life that is totally unsuitable for children to ever see, if these nature films are to remain Disney films. Naturally, Walt had thoroughly enchanted these top executives with this off-color revelation.

We were chauffeured in several limos back to our hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. As Walt, Joe Potter and I entered the hotel lobby, Walt eyed the sundries shop and lunch counter. Even though I thought the lobster salad was sufficient, Walt was still hungry and asked us to join him to enjoy a cheeseburger and a malt. (General Joe was horrified!) As we entered the shop, Walt instantly saw that the Disney merchandise on display was on a bottom shelf. “C’mon boys” – Walt had us moving the Disney items, along with the price tags, to a top shelf, placing those items back down to where the Disney products were.

Just then a perturbed looking sales lady appeared – “MAY I HELP YOU?”. “Nope, we’re almost done here” Walt replied. Walt and Joe then ordered the burgers and malts for themselves, sending me up to my room – thank heaven! (I was very plump in those days and certainly didn’t need a second lunch).

I never forgot the sight of Walt Disney re-arranging the Disney merchandise and exploring the laser equipment like a little kid. Curious salesman indeed.

About Bob Gurr

Bob Gurr is a true Disney legend who was hired on to design the Autopia for Disneyland. Over nearly four decades, Bob would become famous for developing the Monorails, Submarines, Flying Saucers, antique cars and double-decker buses of Main Street, Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway (at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair), Omnimover ride system, Matterhorn and lots more. It has been said that if it moves, Bob probably played a part. Upon leaving Imagineering in 1981, Bob worked on a number of "leisure-time spectaculars" and "fantastical beasts" for parks and developments all over the world. Most notably, he created King Kong and Conan's Serpent for Universal Studios Hollywood, A UFO for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, and the memorable T-Rex figure featured in Steven Spielberg's motion picture "Jurassic Park." You can find Bob's column, Design: Those Were The Times, right here on MiceChat. Though don't pin Bob down to a schedule, he's busy being "retired."

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  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Love it! Can’t wait til you share another story with us, Bob!

  • dazyhill

    Where was that last photograph taken?
    Great article by the way, I love how Walt re-arranged the merchandise!

  • Asterix

    “Nope, we’re almost done here.” Hilarious!

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Great Story, Bob! You are great at telling the details. Somehow it is hard to imagine Bob Iger entering a gift shop and rearranging the merchandise. I think he would tell someone else to do that. How fun it would have been to sit down with Walt for a burger and malt!

  • LeonardKinsey

    Wow, this is great, Bob! So cool to read a story about the “real life” Walt that I’ve never heard of before. Because of stories like this one, I’m becoming more and more convinced that Walt was a much more complex and interesting man than anyone has detailed in any of the numerous biographies written about him. It’s the little details like these that tell the most about someone’s true personality….

  • DG2

    I know one thing Walt must have been thinking at that lunch -” Lobster salad ? Really, chick food “. I would have joined Walt for that cheeseburger & malt. Bob, awesome story !

  • hollywood1939

    This is such a funny story. Imagining the likes of Walt and Joe Fowler rearranging the shelf. Great story!

  • Mandrini

    Thanks Bob for sharing. We appreciate your generosity in time and sharing the wonderful memories with us.