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Disney, Walt and Charlie
I have a personal connection with two men named Disney. They were not related. One was through a business connection with my father; the other, through my landlord business.
Walt Disney is known to millions through his cartoons and entertainment empire. The Disney studios created Mickey Mouse. So what connection has this enterprise with my father?
Back in 1954, my father was vice president of Nash-Kelvinator which became American Motors. One of his assignments was to decide which television show the company would sponsor. One of the favorites at the time was “Show of Shows”. Looking down the list of prospects, however, my mother spotted “Disneyland”.
My father went with this suggestion. He flew out to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, to arrange for American Motors to sponsor the Disneyland show and later an exhibit at the Disneyland theme park in California then being planned.
During the negotiation sessions, my father had the good fortune to ask Walt Disney for his autograph. Walt went into a back room and came out with four full-scale cartoons, each inscribed with a message for me and my siblings - Andy, David, and Margaret. I still have three of those cartoons. My sister has the other. They are among my most valuable and prized possessions. Mine, a picture of Mickey Mouse twirling a lariat, reads: “To Bill Jr., Best Wishes, Walt Disney”
Disneyland went on to become a smash hit during the 1954 season. George Romney, the American Motors CEO, personally did the commercials. This may have fueled his subsequent career as a politician. (Romney was later elected governor of Michigan.) Sales of AMC cars soared. However, the company is now owned by Chrysler.
We McGaughey children watched Disneyland religiously. We even had a chance to be photographed with Fess Parker, who played Davy Crockett in one of the shows. It was a fantastic opportunity for children.
The Disney brand has gone on to capture an impressive share of the U.S. entertainment business. For instance, the ABC television network, which once hosted Disneyland, is now owned by Disney, Inc.
The other Disney - Charlie - came along later in my life. The year was 1993. I was a newly minted landlord in Minneapolis whose elected officials were gunning for people like me. When I got into trouble, Charlie Disney came to the rescue.
However, the story needs to back up to April 1971. Teams of table-tennis players from the United States and the People’s Republic of China were competing at a world table-tennis competition in Nagano, Japan. An American player, Glenn Cowan, and a Chinese player, Zhuang Zedong, struck up an acquaintance. As a result, the Chinese government decided suddenly to invite the American table-tennis team to tour China. This was the start of “ping-pong diplomacy.
Charlie Disney was in Nagano on that historic occasion. He did not join the American team because he felt had to return to the United States soon. However, Charlie had a brush with history in that it was through him that the Chinese invitation to the American team was personally delivered. And Charlie later headed the United States Table Tennis Association, the organization that had participated in the Nagano event.
Charlie Disney was still operating a table-tennis business when I met him in 1993. I had just bought a nine-unit apartment building just east of downtown Minneapolis. Immediately, the area’s representative on the Minneapolis city council, Jackie Cherryhomes, decided to make an example of me. Political considerations dictated blaming landlords for the crime wave then sweeping the city. I was caught in the crosshairs of that endeavor.
Cherryhomes organized a neighborhood rally to denounce me for my imprudent decision to become a landlord. I attended this event. But, if the politicians thought I would simply succumb to their wishes, they were mistaken. Given an opportunity to speak at the rally, I fiercely denounced its organizers including representative Cherryhomes. I also published an opinion article in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune newspaper giving my side of the story.
As a result to that article, I received a telephone call from a man (Bob Anderson) who invited me to meet with a group that had recently formed to oppose abusive city policies. Its leader was Charlie Disney. We first met informally in Anderson’s office in south Minneapolis in what might be described as a “gripe session”. These meetings evolved into a full-scale group opposed to city government as it then functioned.
The meetings had an energy of their own. Eventually, we decided to videotape them and show the footage on cable television. Charlie Disney was a gifted leader, both of the organization and the high-energy protest events.
A high point, one might say, was when members of our group attended a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council, then led by Cherryhomes, that proposed to punish a landlord for events occurring at his building. We noisily marched around the chambers, making it impossible for the council to conduct its business. Later that year, 2001, Minneapolis voters turned both the mayor and the City Council president out of office.
Charlie Disney was our leader for almost ten years. He was the man under whose forceful leadership the landlord group grew from hosting gripe sessions to becoming a full-scale source of opposition to Minneapolis city government. I fancied myself his second in command. Even after Charlie left, our group - Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee (MPRAC) - continued to play an an active part in city politics.
Charlie Disney died in April 2014 but his memory survives.
Remember Charlie and Walt - both exemplars of the Disney name.
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