“I was walking down a street in Beverly Hills and a man passed by with so many gifts he couldn’t seem to hold them all. And then I saw it was Walt Disney!” —Ray Bradbury
In March 2005, our family went to the Performing Arts Center in Duarte, east of Pasadena, to meet one of my lifelong heroes, Ray Bradbury. He talked about the stories, novels, and screenplays he had written, and about what it takes to achieve our dreams.
I had corresponded with Ray a number of times and had spoken with him on the phone, but this was my first time meeting him in person. After his presentation, our family went up and I gave him my copy of The Martian Chronicles to sign. I told him he had inspired me to become a writer, and I mentioned How to Be Like Walt, the book on Walt Disney I had co-written with Pat Williams, co-founder of the Orlando Magic.
Ray’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes! A wonderful book! Your friend sent me a copy. Let me tell you how I met Walt.”
I looked down and saw that he had signed “Ray” in my book, but had stopped in mid-autograph. I already knew the story of his encounter with Walt — we had told the story in the book — but what a gift for Ray to share it with me once more. “I’d love to hear it,” I said.
He leaned back in his chair. “It was December and I was Christmas shopping in Beverly Hills. I saw a man coming toward me, his arms loaded with presents. I said, ‘That’s Walt Disney!’
“I rushed up to him and said, ‘Mr. Disney?’ He said, ‘Yes?’ I said, ‘I’m Ray Bradbury, and I love your movies.’ He said, ‘Oh, Ray Bradbury! I know your books.’ I said, ‘Thank God!’ And he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because I’d love to take you to lunch sometime.’ And Walt said, ‘How about tomorrow?’
“Isn’t that beautiful? ‘How about tomorrow?’ Not next month, not someday soon — tomorrow. Walt Disney was spontaneous. The very next day, I was in his office in Burbank, and we had lunch — soup and sandwiches on an old card table. We talked and talked, and I told him how much I loved Disneyland. He was thrilled to hear it.”
After telling me this story, Ray looked down at my half-signed copy of The Martian Chronicles. Then he wrote “Bradbury,” completing his signature. I thanked him and I was happy.
Like Ray Bradbury, I love Disneyland. In fact, I can’t remember a world without Disneyland.
The Disneyland TV show premiered October 27, 1954, when I was not quite two years old. It aired Wednesday nights on ABC. Like Disneyland itself, the TV show was divided into four lands — Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland. The show featured Disney motion pictures, original TV dramas and miniseries, and nature documentaries, all with some connection to one of the four “lands” of Disneyland.
Our family watched the Disneyland TV show every week. And one day, we piled into the car and actually went there. I still remember the thrill of walking into Disneyland for the very first time. There I was, looking wide-eyed down Main Street toward the Sleeping Beauty Castle — exactly as I had seen it on my TV screen at home. I could hardly believe it was real.
Though I was not even four years old, Disneyland was a feast for my imagination. Where else could I explore caves on Tom Sawyer Island in the morning, blast off for the Moon at noon, then soar over Never Land before dinner? If your imagination is in good working order, you’ll board the Disneyland Trolley and really believe you’re rumbling down Main Street USA circa 1910.
Ray Bradbury understood Disneyland as few other grownups ever could. In 1965, Bradbury penned an appreciation of all things Disney for Holiday magazine. He recalled that at age twelve, he owned the first Mickey Mouse buttons in town. At nineteen, he worried that he might not live to see the premiere of Fantasia. By age forty-five, he had seen Fantasia fifteen times in the theater, Snow White a dozen times, and Pinocchio eight times. “I was,” he said, “and still am, a Disney nut.”
Walt and Ray had a number of informal conversations about the attractions Disney was building for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. After Walt’s death, the Disney Company hired Ray Bradbury to contribute ideas and a narration script for the iconic Spaceship Earth attraction at Epcot in the Walt Disney World Resort. Bradbury said he wanted to include many of the ideas he and Walt had talked about years before.
In gratitude for his contributions to the Disney parks, Disneyland honored Ray with a lighted, decorated oak tree, named after his young people’s novel The Halloween Tree. Disneyland’s Halloween Tree is located in Frontierland and was dedicated on Halloween night, 2007. It is decorated and lit every Halloween season.
Bradbury said his first impression of Walt Disney was of a man “with so many gifts he couldn’t seem to hold them all.” Bradbury was referring to Christmas gifts — yet what a fitting description of Walt Disney. Throughout his life, Walt had more gifts than he could hold — not just gifts of talent and imagination, but gifts of generosity and love for the human race. Disneyland is just one of Walt’s many gifts to you and me.
This site and my forthcoming book Walt’s Disneyland are my way of saying, “Thank you, Walt, for those gifts. Thank you for sharing your nostalgia, your dreams, and your optimism for the future with us all.” Walt’s arms couldn’t hold all of his gifts, so he built Disneyland and he placed his gifts there for us all to enjoy.
“Walt Disney’s Disneyland liberates men to be their better selves.” —Ray Bradbury
Jim Denney is a writer with more than a 150 books to his credit, including the Timebenders science-fantasy series for young readers (Battle Before Time, Doorway to Doom, Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Lost in Cydonia), the highly regarded 2004 biography of Walt Disney, How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life (written with Pat Williams, co-founder of the Orlando Magic), and Lead Like Walt: Discover Walt Disney’s Magical Approach to Building Successful Organizations (written with Pat Williams).
Jim Denney’s REVISED and UPDATED Walt’s Disneyland: It’s Still There If You Know Where to Look, is available on Amazon.com for just: