Monday, July 9, 2012

Between Books - Building a Company

Cover: Builiding a Company
Almost anyone with a television in the world is aware of some of the entertainment contributions of one founder of the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney, but often it is forgotten that the company began in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Studio.  Often forgotten is the legacy of the older brother in the Disney partnership, Roy O. Disney.  When I originally read Bob Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original I was struck by the loyalty that Roy O. Disney showed his brother and the essential though often invisible role he played in the success of Walt Disney by overseeing the business side of Disney endeavors.  This lead me to seek out more on the life of Roy O. Disney and the first and most prominent source I reached for was a lesser know book by Thomas, Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of An Entertainment Empire.
Thomas outlines Roy O. Disney’s life from birth on June 24, 1893 to his death on December 20, 1971.  As a youth he developed a strong relationship with his much younger brother Walter.  The two boys often worked and played together despite a sizable age difference.  Disney left his job as a bank teller to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War I.  Having acquired tuberculosis during his naval service, Disney relocated to a veteran’s hospital in the Los Angeles area.  His brother Walt followed soon after his Kansas City cartoon studio became bankrupt.  Walt asked for Roy’s assistance and the next morning Roy checked out of the hospital never to return for his wartime affliction.  Forming a partnership called the Disney Brothers Studio, Walt oversaw the creative endeavors while Roy guided their business interests and occasionally operated a camera.  Over the next 50 years Roy oversaw the growth of the Walt Disney Company, his suggestion for a  name change, that transitioned from cartoon shorts to animated features, live-action movies, television programs and two theme parks.  During all of these projects Thomas makes it clear that Roy O. Disney dutifully supported the dreams of Walt Disney, though not always in agreement, and acquired the resources and funding needed to make Walt Disney’s ideas come alive. 
I really found this book a delight and helped fill my need to know more about this great man and co-founder of the Walt Disney Company.  Thomas does an excellent job of introducing us to Roy O. Disney the man.  We get the picture a loyal man who followed his younger brother into a questionable future based on his faith in that brother’s ability.  Roy O. Disney was also the man who finished Walt Disney’s dream of Walt Disney World, admittedly not as ambitious as Walt may have dreamed but one that was still made available for public enjoyment.  It is the picture of the Walt and Roy O. Disney relationship that captures my imagination the most.  The two men were in many ways different yet thoroughly attached to each other.  And we see Roy O. Disney as the quieter brother, coming home after work for time with his wife and son while Walt was the public face of the company and in the eye of the fans.  Especially gripping for me is the retelling of Roy O. Disney’s last visit with his dying brother as Walt dreamed one last time with his older brother.
Along with Roy O. Disney the brother we also get a picture of the business man.  Roy O. Disney was very personal in his interactions with associates.  For example his trips to Europe included his wife Edna, who would entertain the wife’s of Disney staff members and contacts abroad.  He was a man who put a personal touch on a growing company.  And these personal relationships greatly benefited the company’s bottom line as it expanded into new markets.  Additionally in the personal area we see his interactions with his family including his long relationship with Edna and his love for his son Roy E. Disney.  It would be easy to write a book about the business choices of Roy O. Disney from founding a start-up to evolving into a publicly traded company.  But instead Thomas does an excellent job of showing Roy O. Disney the man. 
Thomas yet again provides solid readable writing that Betweenlanders will enjoy.  Additionally as a historian his book is very well researched including interviews with prominent Disney personalities and legends and use of documents found in the Disney Archives, including Roy O. Disney’s personal and business correspondence.  Building a Company is the most extensive profile of Roy O. Disney available to the public.   
As someone who has become a fan of Roy O. Disney’s life and legacy I highly recommend this book for all Between Book libraries.   

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