I had the opportunity to go to Philadelphia’s Prince Music Theater on Chestnut Street tonight (4/7/2007) to see Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt and son of Roy O. Disney, be presented with the Philadelphia Film Society’s Inspiration Award. I was able to join Jim Hill and Jeff Lange along with their significant others at this event which was hosted by film historian Leonard Maltin. The event was appropriately titled, “A Salute to Roy Disney”.
The film opened with a lengthy montage of clips from Disney animated classics which was very well produced. After being presented with the award, Mr. Maltin interviewed Mr. Disney on stage before opening the event up for audience questions and answers. Mr. Disney spoke candidly and honestly about his upbringing as the son and nephew of Walt and Roy, respectively, and gave insight at what it was like to grow up Disney. He spoke about how Walt and Roy did not coddle to him or treat him any differently than any other employee of the Disney company just because he was their relative. He was frank and honest about his relationship with former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, pulling no punches, and spoke with great reverence about his time in Disney Feature Animation and especially about his pet project, Fantasia 2000.
It was a refreshing look into the persona of Roy Disney himself. It is one thing to see Mr. Disney on DVD in a produced and recorded setting, but to see and hear him on stage not 30 feet away from where I was sitting was a true treat for any Disney fan. He was relaxed, dressed in a sweater, brown corduroy pants, and sneakers, and seemed to truly enjoy telling his anecdotes for what must be the thousandth time. It is obvious that he and Leonard Maltin have a special friendship and appreciation for each other, and they played off that relationship throughout the presentation.
After the event, I got the opportunity to shake hands with Mr. Disney, pose for a photo with him, and get his autograph. I must say that he came across as a true gentleman, very down to earth with no hint of pretense or arrogant bravado. If it sounds like I truly enjoyed this event, it’s because I absolutely did and would go again in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose.
UPDATE – Mr. Disney passed away on December 16, 2009, making him the last blood member of the great Disney family to have been part of the Walt Disney Company.