Of all the characters, Artisans, and friends that Walt Disney had amassed over his long, successful career, none was more important than his own brother, Roy O. Disney. The bond these two men developed over their lifetimes helped shaped the Disney Empire and even their own personal lives.
There are many fans that do not realize that Walt had three brothers. Roy Oliver Disney was the third son born to Elias and Flora Disney on June 6th, 1893. There were two older siblings, Herbert Disney, born December 8, 1888 and Raymond, December 30th, 1890. Even though Roy’s oldest brother was just 5 years his senior, he was never as close, nor developed a bond to his brothers as when Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5th, 1901. Despite being eight years older, he doted on his little brother. He never minded watching over him, nor wheeling him around in the carriage. But it was not until the family moved to Marceline, Missouri in the spring of 1906 that this bond of friendship, love and loyalty was truly forged.
Elias Disney was a hard-working man with strong Christian values. He did not believe in frivolities, very seldom laughed and did not even believe in celebrating birthdays. Roy, along with the rest of the children (A sister, Ruth was born on December 6th, 1903) was afraid of their father, who always seemed to have an expression of disapproval. Elias also disapproved of toys and candy for the children, but it was always Roy who came up with a toy or candy for Walt’s birthday. Walt substituted Roy for his father, and the boys spent many hours together on the farm, observing the animals, walking to the train tracks that ran through Marceline, listening for the train that might bring their uncle Mike Martin, an engineer on the line to stay at the house. Roy was always there for Walt. In fact, it was Elias’ frugal and domineering persona that in 1907, drove both Herbert and Raymond, Walt’s older brothers to run away from home. After the two brothers spent the summer working on their Uncle Robert’s farm, Elias insisted the boys give him the money to help pay off the farm. That was the last straw. They withdrew their money from the bank, slipped out and took a train to Chicago. This wound, even after dozens of years, never healed with Elias.
It was after Elias sold the farm in Marceline and moved to Kansas City that relations with Roy and his father grew worse. Roy tried to tell Walt that their father was a ruthless exploiter and a fraud, especially with his own sons. This was true in a way. Elias was too frail to work and made his sons do all the work, and Roy believed he was cheating them. Not tolerating his father’s harsh rules, in 1912 Roy told Walt his was leaving and the next morning he was gone. Roy never returned and got a job as a bank clerk in Kansas City. He joined the Navy late in 1917 when rumors of the United States entering WWI surfaced. During that time, Walt wanted to follow Roy into the service, but was too young, instead joined the American Ambulance Corps. Roy was discharged from the Navy in 1919. During the interim, Elias invested heavily in a jelly factory, O-Zell, again trying to improve his financial standing.
After returning from France, Walt knew he did not want to work at the jelly factory. He had been busy working trying his hand at becoming an animator, but his attempt with his “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams” studios failed, and Roy, writing him from a Veteran’s hospital in California convalescing from a bout with TB, told him to give up and get a fresh start. So after filing for bankruptcy and with $40.00 in his pocket, he set out for California. By late in 1923, Walt had convinced Margret J. Winkler, a cartoon distributor in New York he could produce a series of comedies with a real girl in a cartoon world, even though he had no studio nor artists. After receiving an acceptance letter from Winkler, he rushed to Roy’s bed, and convinced him to help start a new studio.
Roy agreed and on October 16th, 1923 they signed an agreement with MJ Winkler for 6 Alice comedies and that was the start of the Disney Brothers Studios. After working in their Uncles garage for a time, they rented an office in the rear of the Holly-Vermont Realty in Los Angeles for $10.00 a month. Since the beginning, Roy always stood in the creative genius of Walt’s shadow. But as brilliant and creative as Walt was, it took money for his dreams to come to fruition. Roy was the financial brains behind the team. Walt was the spender and was always looking for more money for his projects, and the fledgling company was always short of cash, or in the need of more loans. Walt even had to sell his prized Moon Roadster for money to make a second sound recording of “Steamboat Willie” when the first came out wrong.
The tug of war for money and loans never seemed to end, and at times, caused a rift between brothers, sometimes they did not speak for weeks, just sending notes. Roy was always in the background, but his abilities to manage and handle the financial end of the business balanced out with Walt’s creativity, taking the small animation studio and morphing it into one of the world’s largest entertainment concerns. Roy always stood by Walt, even though he disagreed on some of his projects, i.e.…The first animated cartoon feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Roy always knew that Walt’s determination and grit, and his genius, seemed to win out most of the time.
However, the greatest tribute of loyalty and brotherly love came after Walt’s death in 1966. After buying up land for a new park in central Florida that Walt was to call “Disneyworld” there was talk of not doing the project because of Walt’s demise. But Roy came out of retirement and oversaw the building of the new park. He knew that this dream of Walt’s had to be completed. In his final tribute to his little brother, friend and business partner, Roy had the park renamed “Walt Disney World” so everyone knew that this was Walt’s project and dream they were entering. Roy dedicated the park to Walt on October 25th, 1971. On December 20th, 1971 Roy passed away with the knowledge that Walt’s legacy will live forever.