For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Roy O. Disney

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

The story of Walt Disney World is actually the story of individual people who working together made one of Walt Disney’s final dreams come true. Many people forget that if it were not for Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, that Walt Disney World would never have been built.

From the October 1972 Walt Disney Productions’ publication titled, The National Champion: A Report to Participants in Disneyland and Walt Disney World:

(c) Disney

“Of the thousands of persons responsible for the creation of Walt Disney World, no one played a more important role than the late Roy O. Disney. Long known as the behind-the-scenes financial genius, he was thrust into the leadership role by the untimely passing of his brother Walt Disney in 1966.

“Throughout the busy years that followed, Roy devoted nearly all his time and energy to bringing Walt’s dream to reality. It was a dream that was staggeringly complex…and yet with Roy’s guidance, it did indeed become a reality…”

At the dedication of WDW in October 1971, Roy was asked by reporters why a seventy-eight year old grandfather had felt the obligation to tackle this impossible project of battling unforgiving swamp land at this point in his life. Roy smiled, “I didn’t want to have to explain to Walt when I saw him again why the dream didn’t come true.”

The immediate reaction to Roy O. Disney is that he was the important financial officer for Disney that allowed Walt to build his castles. Roy was much more than just the “money man” but he was extremely modest and actively avoided the spotlight so that it could shine brighter on his younger brother.

These two books provide a fuller picture of this very important, intelligent, caring and humorous man, as well as providing some insights into his challenges of building WDW. In most books, Roy is a supporting character, but here are some intriguing insights into this most remarkable man that were previously unknown except to his closest peers when he was forced into leading the creation of WDW.

One of my favorite books remains Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas who knew and talked frequently with both Walt and Roy as part of his job as a reporter for the Associated Press. I must say, however, that I was a bit disappointed in his book on Roy since it too often defaults to just repeating material from the previous book without additional perspective.

Still, the book is well-written, accurate and provides some new information about Roy and perhaps Roy’s own hesitancy to reveal himself to others is part of the fault. For instance, he never even talked to his own son about his time serving in the Navy during World War I, something common among some veterans.

Madden’s book is also well-researched, even though he never had the opportunity to interview Roy or his son. An advantage of this book is that in the past two decades since Thomas’ book, new information about Roy has surfaced, and much of it is included here.

For those wanting to do their own research, Madden includes forty-two pages of annotations and bibliography. It is a well-written book that will give you a better sense of Roy as a husband and father as well as a protective big brother even though unlike Thomas, Madden did not have access to the Disney Archives or the Disney family.

I personally feel there is much more to Roy’s story than appears in both these fine books but I also feel it may never get told as the years disappear and those who actually knew him disappear with them.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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