Roy Oliver Disney doesn’t come up much. You can tell, because this may well be about the first time he’s been mentioned in this column. However, without Roy, there is no Disney as we know it. Not just because Walt moved out to Los Angeles after his brother had. The pair co-founded the Disney studios. Roy was the money man, the practical arm to Walt’s vision. Walt bought him out relatively early, but Roy remained at the company after his brother’s death. It was, in the end, Roy who made sure that Walt Disney World came to fruition, and not just by making sure the money was there.
Roy was the older brother. Hard to know, now, how much he took care of Walt in the strained household of Elias Disney, but the brothers worked together in their father’s newspaper delivery business. We’re not talking a paper route, here—we’re talking literally delivering well over a thousand papers at the start, a number that only increased with time. It’s also probably no coincidence that Roy, after graduating from high school, spent some time as a bank clerk.
It seems that Roy was perfectly content to let Walt be the face of the company. Again impossible to say now exactly what led to that. Maybe it’s that Roy found it easier to work with the bankers if he wasn’t on TV every week. Maybe it’s that he was shy. Maybe it’s that he recognized where his brother’s talents lay and stood aside to let Walt do what Walt did best. Maybe it’s that having a single face to the company made it more memorable. Maybe it’s some combination of those things and others besides. What’s true is that, for the most part, when people picture “Roy Disney,” they picture his son.
Oh, Roy Edward Disney is quite the major figure in studio history himself. But there’s something about Roy O. Disney that should be talked about more. The idea we have of the early days of the company is pretty well Walt sitting at a desk, hand-drawing Mickey cartoons all by himself. That is not even close to what it looked like, and frankly the image of Roy hustling the banks and sponsors is much closer to the truth. Yes, a lot of the studio history was about animation, but Walt didn’t do as much of that as studio lore would now have you believe, and he wouldn’t have had the chances he did without Roy.
Years ago, I saw a clip of the Nine Old Men talking about the early days of Disneyland. Both brothers would be at the money meetings, Walt to explain his ideas and Roy to actually get things done. Walt, explaining what he wanted, would spread his hands out a little. Roy would get nervous. Walt would spread his hands out a little further. Roy would start to sweat. Walt would spread his hands out as far as they’d go. Roy would fall off his chair. But Roy got him the money.
Roy got things done. It wasn’t just the money, though goodness knows it was the money. After Walt died, Roy stayed on to finish Walt Disney World. Our article image today comes from the always helpful in these circumstances Anthony Pizzo and is of a statue of Roy that appears in Main Street, USA at Walt Disney World. What I’m particularly fond of in this image is that it’s not just Roy with Minnie, symbolizing his relationship to the company—Minnie is, of course, a hugely prominent character who’s less important than Mickey. But it’s Roy there, in the center of what he created. The castle behind him, the brothers’ boyhood home reproduced around him.
Roy gets forgotten. In a way, that makes him an ideal candidate for Attention Must Be Paid. He’s here in Disney Byways instead because one of the things I’ve long tried to do is pay tribute to the lesser aspects of Disney history. Alas that Roy, without whom there is no Disney company, is one of those.