Credits Rolling on Main Street: Card Walker

Card Walker-6039

Dr. Card Walker

Licensed Practitioner of Psychiatry And Justice of the Peace

We Never Close (Except for Golf)

The end of 1971 was a time of uncertainty for the Walt Disney Company (formerly Walt Disney Productions). Walt had been gone for 5 years and weeks after the opening of Walt Disney World, Roy O. Disney passed away. Card Walker ensured that the traditions and integrity were preserved. The company we know today thrives due to his efforts.
Founder of the Walt Disney Archives, Dave Smith, said that the window is probably referring to how Card Walker was a mediator between conflicting viewpoints and personalities. As well as the fact that he loved Golf. In fact, according to David Koenig’s book “Realityland“, when headline “We Say: ‘Mystery’ Industry Is Disney” (referring to the purchase of the Florida land for Walt Disney World) was spotted by Bob Foster, “Foster immediately called Burbank and had Card Walker pulled off the golf course, to break the news.”
Esmond Cardon Walker (commonly known as Card Walker) was born on January 9th 1916 in Rexburg, ID. At age 8 in 1924, he and his family moved to Los Angeles. After attending UCLA, Card’s first job with Disney was in the Studio mailroom. He was a traffic boy who delivered mail and art to and from departments. Walt Disney believed the mailroom being the best place for employees to start familiarize with the Studio. Card soon moved up to the camera department, and eventually a production department unit manager for short subjects.
1941 brought World War II, and Card enlisted in the Navy as a flight deck officer on the aircraft carrier “Bunker Hill.” After serving, he continued work with Disney in the story department. Using a new polling system A.R.I. (Audience Research Institute) he tested reactions to films such as Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Card was appointed Vice President of Advertising and Sales in the 1956, and in 1960 joined the Board of Directors. He served in many different roles in the next few years. First Vice President of Marketing (1965) and after Walt death in 1966, he added Executive Vice President of Operations (1967), and Executive Vice President & Chief Operation Officer (1968).
He assumed the role of company president after Roy O. Disney’s passing on December 20th 1971. It was a difficult act to follow. Many in the creative areas did not like him because he limited them. Instead of asking “What could we do?” he would ask, “What should we do?” He was firm, gracious, energetic, no-nonsense leader. It was just because he was attempting to keep the image integrity, and legacy Walt and Roy left in the company intact. Every leader has their pros and cons. Yes Card was responsible for holding back the creativity and originality of the company, but his intense concentration on preservation paid off with the identity of the company staying whole.
1976 brought the responsibilities of CEO as an addition to his role, and chairman of the board in 1980. Three years later he retired and continued as a consultant until 1990. Card spent 61 years with the Disney Company and was named an emeritus member of the board of the board. He brokered the first international park deal (Tokyo Disneyland), oversaw the opening of EPCOT Center, and the launch of The Disney Channel. In an interview with Forbes in 1981, he said, “Everyone accused Walt of being an idiot when he built Disney World. I know pumping $800 million into Epcot is a big gamble with the current fuel crisis and poor economy, but we believe it’s going to pay off really big.” When asked also why use the odd acronym EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), he replied, “We used it because it was inspired by Walt. People will learn to master it.”  He was named a Disney Legend in 1993, retired from the board in 1999, and died of congestive heart failure on November 28th 2005 at age 89.
Walt Disney Company CEO 1984-2005, Micheal Eisner said, “In a very real sense, Card is the link between the small, family owned film company of the ’30s and the major global corporation we are today. I’m grateful to have had the benefit of the experience, his judgement, and his convictions about the ‘Disney way’ of doing things.” He was the glue that persevered what Walt would have wanted. Eisner also said, “Thanks to his deep understanding of the company and its founders, talking to Card was the next best thing to talking to Walt himself.” Current CEO Bob Iger stated, “Card was instrumental in keeping Disney strong and growing in the critical years that followed the passing of founders Walt and Roy Disney. There is little question that, were it not for Card Walker’s vision and leadership, Disney would not be what it is today.”
Card hired Sandy Quinn as the first Director of Walt Disney World’s marketing in 1968. Quinn looked up to Card as his mentor. “Everybody who worked with him knew him as a man of goodness, of spirit, of incredible patriotism. He inherited all of the qualities Walt as his mentor instilled in him.” Disney Legend and former Disney press agent recalled in his book, “Spinning Disney’s World“, “Card was himself an inspiration to me and always kind even if I blundered. I always knew I could call Card directly if I had a question.”
Card gave a speech on October 5th 1976 for the 40th anniversary convocation of the Urban Land Institute. Here are a few insightful excerpts that bring light to his mindset:
“More than a decade ago, Walt Disney decided that perhaps we could do a lot, that just maybe we could help chart the course of the future in our own way… through our ability as communicators… our ability to get things done. But Walt also knew that no one man and no one company could ever accomplish this task alone. The world is too complex for even one nation to attain this goal.
Walt was a master communicator who developed an organization that could speak a kind of international language. He felt strongly that the answers to critical challenges facing the world are locked in people’s minds… people in universities, business, industry and government. Walt Disney believed that our organization could be the catalyst, a synthesizer of the best thinking of the world’s creative people and the communicator of these vital ideas….
Many years back, Walt Disney remarked after a long drawn-out meeting on one of our new projects, ‘Card, the way to get started on something is to stop talking and start doing.’ The time is now to stop talking and master plan a blueprint for doing. Speaking for the entire Disney organization, we are just getting started and we hope that our dreams for EPCOT today become tomorrow’s reality for everyone.”
Card frequently put off the construction of more hotels in Walt Disney World. Many asked why? To which he would answer, “We do quite well with the theme parks and the hotels that we already have. So why not let some money flow back into the local community? After all, we wouldn’t want the public to ever get the idea that Walt Disney Productions was getting greedy. Our good name is all we have.”
At the end of the day, I think the most important thing to remember about Card Walker is not his reluctance to make the bold creative choices. Instead he was a man who was passionate about the company, and dedicated to keeping the good name of Disney intact.

One Reply to “Credits Rolling on Main Street: Card Walker”

  1. Heidi Embrey

    Great article. Thanks for the info! I didn’t realize Walt and Roy both passed away before I was even born.
    That last quote from Card is so uncharacteristic for a COO and Disney should always remember that! I also love how he worked his way from the mail room to the top.
    Love your blog. And Merry Christmas!

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