The world of Disney history is rich with stories about the life and times of Walt Disney. As an author who believes that Walt is one of the greatest storytellers ever, I collect them, and as I hear them and the share them try to make sure that the trivia never becomes trivial and that the life lessons can be discovered in Walt Disney stories are still just as rich and meaningful today as they were when they occurred.
Recently in reading an article called The Case of the Mistaken Walt by Paul Anderson at the Disney History Institute, he introduced some letters from a Disney archive. The letters are wildly interesting and well…give us a glimpse of vintage Walt Disney.
That will become clearer as you read the following…
Walt Disney received the following letter on March 7, 1964
“Dear Walt Disney,
I watch Woody Woodpecker ever week and see you on it. I like it very much and so do my younger sisters. Would you please send me a picture of you and some of the characters? Thank you very much. Well, I guess I’ll go and watch Bugs Bunny
From one of your t.v.fans,
Now every Disney fan knows immediately that there is so much wrong with this note. Yet, it came from a young fan who took the time to write the creator, the star, and the producer of one of her favorite television shows…even if she didn’t have the cartoon cast of characters quite correct.
Of course, Walt being Walt wrote her back.
Walt replied in a letter dated April 6, 1964
Even though Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and Ludwig VonDrake and the rest of our characters aren’t related to Woody Woodpecker, I’m glad to know you like him because he belongs to my good friend Walter Lantz. And I know Mr. Lantz will appreciate knowing you are a fan of Woody Woodpecker.
I am enclosing the autographed picture of me and couple of my friends which you asked for…and I’m sending your note on to Woody Woodpecker. Perhaps you will get a picture from him, too.
Many thanks for your letter… and all best wishes
But that is not the only letter Walt wrote that day. Also dated on April 6, 1964 is the note that Walt sent to his friend Walter Lantz, the actual creator of Woody Woodpecker. That note reads as follows…
As you can see by the enclosed…I get blamed for everything that happens in Hollywood!
However, this time it’s obvious that this little girl has her Walters crossed – – although I don’t know how the hell Bugs Bunny got in the act.
Walt decided to pass along the note of the young fan to his friend and the creator of Woody Woodpecker. Now I am sure that Walt was having his staff send this out, but you can almost see the smile on Walt’s face as he dictated the note, signed it, and with a grin shipped it off to his friend and fellow cartoon creator Walter Lantz.
Lantz got in on the story as well.
Then two days later, on April 8th, Walter Lantz sent a note to Wendy…
Walt Disney, a personal friend of mine, sent me your letter requesting a photo of Woody.
It’s nice to know that you like Woody Woodpecker and that you are enjoying our television show.
What I love about the correspondence is that it reveals a true heart for a fan.
It is easy sometimes to get lost and caught up in the “bigness” of the Disney story, to focus on the grand moments, the lavish events, the creative struggles, the creation of theme parks and the money that would be made and lost over the course of a lifetime. It is also easy to focus and study on the leadership and business skills of Walt Disney as he became a force of change and influence in Hollywood.
But here in these short notes we catch a glimpse of the heart of Walt Disney.
A dad who loved children, a man who had a heart for his fans, and an animator and creative genius who liked to smile, laugh, and have fun…while making others laugh at the same time. You also see a man who wasn’t afraid to applaud a friend, make him a part of the story, and take the time to connect with a young fan.
Sometimes it is in the little things we do that reveals who we are.
In the world of storytelling as a writer, the editor will often remind me to “show, don’t tell”…I can remember many conversations where that was said over and over and over and over (well, you get the idea) again.
This is one of the big rules of writing. If you have created a character that is mean, hostile, nasty or loving, caring, and kind, you don’t need to say it. Show it, let the reader see it. If you can show it you don’t have to say it, it goes and is understood without saying.
How would our lives be different if we could remember this from time to time?
What if today, just for the day, you could not say anything. What if you could not explain, defend, or define your actions or unpack the reasoning behind why you did what you did?
You can’t say, “excuse me”… “I didn’t mean to”… “I forgot”…”I love you”… or “I missed you”
What if this was a day that you could not tell…you could only show?
What would others know about you?
In this series of letters to a fan and to a friend, Walt showed us that he cared, he loves his fans, he could laugh with his friends, and he hadn’t gotten so big or so busy that he forgot the reason he did what he did and who he did it for.
Four short letters, Walters who got mixed up in the mind of a fan, and the heart of a legend emerges.
Today make sure in all that happens around you that you don’t get so busy that you forget to show and not just tell. Make sure you are not just all talk but that you show first and speak second.
A character is what he does…what kind of character are you showing yourself to be?