We take a look back at the last outstanding moments in the life of Walt Disney, creator of the studio and of the theme parks, and the ever more innovative projects he had to further develop his brand.
In the summer of 1966, Walt * took his family on a vacation cruise. It is also the occasion for him to celebrate the anniversary of his marriage with his wife Lillian. At the same time, the producer begins to think about abandoning the cinema to move forward on two big projects that occupy his mind: EPCOT and CalArts.
EPCOT is a theme park whose acronym stands for “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow”, which will highlight the innovation and technologies of the future. For this pharaonic project, Walt imagines a Disney park five times the size of the one installed in California AND this futuristic city. The resort is slated to do Manhattan Island twice.
It provides for a “airport of the future” (dixit Walt), a reception complex, an industrial zone, the park itself and the new town, all connected by an ultra-fast train. The idea is that EPCOT becomes a place of life whose inhabitants will test American industrial innovations. To live, these inhabitants will have a transport system, shops, parking lots, parks and low density residential areas.
Walt presents EPCOT:
CalArts is a diminutive for the California Institute of the Arts, a university founded by Walt in 1961 that trains audiovisual animators. Later, it will broaden its field of action and will also train actors. Over the years, John Lasseter, James Mangold, Michel Ocelot, Tim Burton, Sofia Coppola or Brad Bird will be students there.
This faculty was born from the merger of the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conversatory of Music, from which many future employees of the Disney studio came out. Friend with the leaders of these training centers, Walt saved them from bankruptcy by uniting the two entities under a new name: CalArts, which he seeks to develop as well as possible.
At the same time, Walt still supervises the Disney Park in California and is also interested in creating a ski resort in California, which he calls the “Mineral King Ski Resort”. He purchased land in the Mineral King Valley for the purpose of turning it into a ski and resort area of approximately 50 km².
He presented the idea at a press conference in September 1966, but the Forest Services of Sequoia National Park did not really hear it that way, and negotiations began with the federal government to find an arrangement.
Also in September 1966, Walt had to undergo neck surgery because of an old polo injury which made him suffer. On passing X-rays, he was found to have a tumor in his lungs the size of a walnut.
Walt always had legendary coughing fits for the employees of the Disney studio, who heard their boss arrive from afar thanks to her, but despite the advice of his friends and doctors, Walt never quit smoking. However, he refused to show himself on television with cigarettes so as not to set a bad example for children.
In November, the surgeon informed Walt and his family that the tumor had metastasized and he only had six months to two years to live. He was then 64 years old. His condition is deteriorating very quickly, and his relatives understand that he will not reach six months. Walt comes to his studio to say hello to his collaborators and take a final look at what he has accomplished from scratch.
On December 15, 1966 at 9:30 a.m., just 10 days after his birthday, Walt passed away at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. The studio was notified, and one of the Lennon sisters (the studio’s star musical group) performed in his honor the credits of the Mickey Mouse Club, the Disney television show at the time:
Walt would never see The Jungle Book, the last animated film he supervised, released in 1967. His big brother Roy, eight years his senior, retires to take over the studio and the projects. in hand. If the Florida park is maintained, EPCOT becomes a simple attraction and no longer a full-fledged city focused on the future of American industry.
As for the Mineral King Ski Resort, involving the construction of a highway through Sequoia National Park, it will be the subject of a ten-year trial, before the project is abandoned.
At Disney, the production of animated and “live” films will continue, but the studio will experience a very difficult period, which will only really end with the worldwide success of The Little Mermaid in 1989. The mourning of Walt will therefore have artistically lasted almost 20 years.
The last episode of Wonderful World of Disney presented by Walt is episode 14 of season 13, which aired on December 18, 1966, three days after his death. Entitled Disneyland Around the Seasons, it allows Walt posthumously to present the latest novelties of the Californian park, including one of its flagship attractions, It’s a Small World.
A programming coincidence that can be interpreted today as a symbolic message from him, sent to the whole world: “the show must continue”.
More information about Walt Disney in our special video:
* for the sake of understanding, “Walt” is referred to when we refer to the person of Walt Disney and “Disney” to the firm as a whole.