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March 28, 2016

In greenlighting Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland, Card Walker cemented his Disney legacy

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Walt Disney Company president Card Walker, left, and Masatomo Takahashi of the Oriental Land Co. sign an agreement in 1974 to join forces in the creation of Tokyo Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

On Oct. 24, 1982, E. Cardon Walker stepped onto a small podium in front of a giant geodesic dome known as Spaceship Earth and read the following words:

"To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all. May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."

With that short dedication speech, Card Walker opened the gates to Epcot, bringing to a close a decades-long odyssey that began with a sketch on a napkin by Walt Disney. Over that time span, Epcot evolved from Walt's concept of a futuristic city of tomorrow into an eclectic, two-pronged experience: Future World, where technological advances and glimpses into innovative products on the horizon would be displayed, all in an atmosphere conducive to learning; and World Showcase, where several of the world's countries would be able to show off all their nations had to offer ... kind of a permanent world's fair.

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Card Walker reads the dedication during opening day ceremonies for Epcot Center on Oct. 24, 1982. [The Walt Disney Company]

Right from the start, Epcot was different, unlike anything that had ever been created before ... or, frankly, since. While most people were blown away by the shear innovative nature of the place, as well as the richly detailed architecture in World Showcase and the product displays [such as cell phones and personal computers] in Future World, some people were puzzled. Many surmised that if the Magic Kingdom was mainly for kids, then Epcot was a place devoted strictly for adults.

For one thing, Epcot in 1982 was devoid of thrill rides and, for that matter, lacking in any sort of amusements for young children. For another, the Disney characters, so prevalent in the Magic Kingdom, were virtual no-shows at Epcot during the early days.

But Epcot, like every other Disney theme park after their openings, evolved and changed to meet public demand, and after a few years, the park hit its stride and became an overwhelming success.

What many people don't realize or appreciate is that during the design and construction of Epcot, Card Walker and the Walt Disney Company had undertaken the unprecedented task of building another theme park ... this one, thousands of miles, one vast ocean and another continent away. A Japanese firm named Oriental Land Co. Ltd. had approached Disney in 1974, inquiring about the possibility of building a Disney park in the Land of the Rising Sun. Oriental Land Co. did an extensive feasibility study, met with many of Disney's corporate leaders and even took them on a helicopter tour of the proposed site.

Building Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland almost concurrently "split our staff quite a bit," recalls former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar. "At the point where we were in the height of construction at the two sites, we were the largest design company in the world. We had to take some of our best people and send them to Japan."

The projects pushed Disney's creative staff to the limit. "It meant that a lot of people were doing double duty," Marty added. "We had to designate people that had to live in Japan because the Japanese had no idea how to do the things that were needed to build a park. We used a lot of outside help in both projects. In building Epcot, there were so many different pieces, so many different contractors. We needed people from just about very craft that you can imagine.

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With Cinderella Castle as a beautiful backdrop, Disney's fabled Partners statue adorns The Hub area of Tokyo Disneyland. [Gregg Schmidt]

"In Tokyo, we were dealing with landfill for the first time. [Tokyo Disneyland] is built all on reclaimed land. What they have there is something called differential settlement. Even today, the castle there is actually on jacks, and the jacks have to be adjusted from time to time. One part will drop, because different parts of what's underneath are going to change character ... drop an inch or two. So they're dealing with differential settlement on a regular basis."

While building a Disney park in Japan offered many new challenges, then-Disney president Card Walker had to come to grips with something on a deeply personal level: Some 35 years before Disney and Oriental Land joined forces, Walker served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the war against Japan. He was a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945.

"Card had a really tough time dealing with the Japanese," Marty said. "The hardest part for him was coming to grips with the loss of so many of the people he served with on the carrier. Many of them were his friends."

Walker eventually came to terms with the dilemma and Disney and Oriental Land forged a strong partnership. Eleven years after Oriental Land had begun exploring the possibility of creating a theme park in Japan - and roughly nine years after design and construction had commenced on the Disney-Oriental project - Tokyo Disneyland opened its gates on a rainy April 15, 1983.

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A topiary of Mickey Mouse can be seen outside the entrance of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. [Gregg Schmidt]

Before the gates opened, Masatomo Takahashi, president of Oriental Land, and Walker cut a ceremonial tape with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters looking on.

In front of about 3,000 opening-day guests, Mr. Takahashi addressed the attendees from a platform set up in World Bazaar: "On this day, April 15, 1983, I declare the opening of Tokyo Disneyland!"

Card Walker offered the following words of dedication, just six months after doing similar honors at Epcot:

"To all of you who come to this happy place, welcome. Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow. May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of joy, laughter, inspiration, and imagination to the people of the world. And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America."

Soon after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, Walker retired as an executive, but continued to serve as a consultant to the company until 1990. After 61 years of service - which started in the Disney Studios mailroom - Card Walker retired from the board of directors in 1999 and was designated an emeritus member of the board.

He died on Nov. 28, 2005, in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., his legacy firmly established, his contributions to the company legendary ... and his debt to Walt Disney more than paid off.

March 14, 2016

Card Walker gets the ball rolling on Epcot

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Spaceship Earth, Epcot Center's icon, during the early stages of construction. [The Walt Disney Company]


CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

"What are we going to do about Epcot?"

With those words, first spoken in 1974, then-Disney president Card Walker got the ball rolling on what is arguably the most ambitious project ever taken on by the Walt Disney Company after Walt's death in 1966.

According to former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar: "That was the start of eight years of figuring out what to do, and it was a pretty fantastic eight years, I must say. But that was really the start. I give Card a lot of credit, because he didn't let that dream die."

"That dream" was Walt Disney's vision for a city of the future, a Utopian complex that would tackle the problem of urban blight and would introduce new, forward-thinking ideas on how to improve the human condition.

"Some aspects, some version [of Walt's Epcot concept] would have happened and it would have changed a lot, because the evolution of these projects is so dynamic," Marty said. "I have this ad I kept in my office all the time. It was from IBM. It said 'The Future is a Moving Target.' And nobody saw that as clearly as Walt Disney did, believe me."

Once Card Walker decided to give the go-ahead for Epcot, it was up to a team of individuals -- Marty Sklar, John Hench, Carl Borgirno, Don Edgren, Jack Lindquist and Randy Bright among them -- to figure out exactly what Epcot's mission should be ... and, perhaps more importantly, how that vision would be paid for.

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An aerial view of Epcot during construction, with Spaceship Earth taking shape and many of the monorail beams in place. [The Walt Disney Company]

From the outset, the team was emphatic what Epcot shouldn't be ... namely, another theme park. "If you think about it, at that time, and even today, it had to have that contrast," Marty said. "Why should we go into competition with ourselves? So the contrast was good."

So the team embarked on a crusade of sorts, reaching out to a variety of leaders from a diverse field to get their thoughts and ideas on the ambitious, first-of-its-kind project.

"We decided we had to test the water, so we held what we called The Epcot Future Technology Forums, starting in 1976," Marty said. "Ray Bradbury [the noted science fiction writer who contributed to Epcot's communication theme] was the first speaker. And we invited people from academia, from government, from corporations and just smart people that we found through our research and it was really fascinating because we had these long discussions.

"We'd show Walt's film and we had translated that into potential directions. It was very early on. And after every one of these conferences, these people would say to us, 'The public doesn't trust government to do this, the public doesn't trust what industry tells them, but they trust Mickey Mouse. So you guys have a role in this.' Well, that was very nice to hear people say that, but what the heck do you do about that?

"I went back to Card Walker, who was a marketing man from his experiences with the studio, and we decided to go back to the whole idea that Walt had said, that no one company can do this by itself. And that's when we started going out to all the big corporations and said, 'OK, here's what we're planning to do and we want you to be part it.'"

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Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar on-site during Epcot's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

Getting American industry to fall in line "was a huge selling job," Marty remembers. General Motors was the first company to hear the pitch about Epcot. The automotive giant had put together a committee of its own, called The Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, which was formed to help chart GM's course for the future.

So Marty and company "packed up two truckloads of models and artwork and we hired John McClure Sr. John had been the art director for the Hall of Presidents, but more importantly, he was one of the great art directors in Hollywood. He did Hello, Dolly and Cleopatra, among other things, so John set up our presentation.

"They gave us their whole design center in Warren, Michigan. They had an area where they introduced their cars. It was big ... huge. They gave us the whole thing. We set up these models and Card Walker put together all the people that were key to the project — Donn Tatum, Dick Nunis, Jack Lindquist and the new Disney Channel people, who were just getting started. Everybody that was gonna be part of making this thing work" was there.

"We made a big presentation to Roger Smith and his Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, and when we were finished, Roger said 'I want to do this. There's only one problem: I've got to convince my management.' He was the vice president of finance at the time, later chairman. Jack Lindquist and I were left behind and the next day, at 7 o'clock in the morning, we made a presentation to Pete Estes, the president of GM, and they became the first ones to sign a contract at the end of 1978."

Suddenly, corporate America became intrigued with this exciting Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

General Motors' participation "broke the dam, if you will, and Exxon was right behind them," Marty said. "We made so many presentations that we figured out that we couldn't get the top people to go to Florida or California, so we went to RCA and said, 'Do you have a place that we could set up as a presentation center,' and they did.

"They had a recording studio at the Avenue of the Americas and 46th Street where Andre Costellanez used to do his recordings and they said we could have it for a year. And so we rented it and we brought all our models and artwork and we put a staff there and any time of the day or week, if we wanted to set up a meeting, with companies headquartered in the New York area, as most of them were in those days, they could call up and say, 'Yeah, I'd like to have my chairman come in and see your project.'"

At that point in time, Epcot had morphed from a city of the future into two separate sections of one park, one focused on American industry and new technologies, the other one showcasing as many countries as possible in a permanent, world's fair-type setting.

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Card Walker and other dignitaries break ground during ceremonies kicking off Epcot Center's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

"That's how we communicated to the companies," Marty added. "We started out with trying to do two projects. One was international and the other was so-called Future World area, and we found that we couldn't get enough sponsorship for both, so we pushed the two of them together basically and that became Epcot Center."

Journalists who had seen detailed drawings of a domed city with futuristic modes of transportation had a hard time accepting this new Epcot. "Walt left a very sketchy outline," Jack Lindquist said. "It was developed at that time (1966) to influence the Florida legislature. We needed something bigger, bolder, more dramatic than another Disneyland."

Walt asked famed Disney artist Herb Ryman — who had made a name for himself in 1954 by drawing the first rendering of Disneyland which Walt used as part of his pitch to potential investors — to help conceptualize Epcot. "Draw me something to talk about, Herbie," he said. But what Ryman came up with was far more grandiose than almost anyone had imagined. It turned out to be more fantasy than fact-based.

Still, "The media wouldn't let that Epcot go away," Lindquist said. "They had that image [of a domed city] in mind, but nobody really knew what Epcot was."

"I'd say we are doing exactly what we talked about when Walt was alive," John Hench said when asked if the company was departing from Walt Disney's original vision. "Walt introduced ideas as, you might say, the title in Scene One. He knew better than to drop the big scene into people's minds at the beginning. We're engaged in Scene Two now."

Scene Two would take years to be completed and would run up over a billion dollars in construction costs. It was a huge gamble on the part of the Walt Disney Company and its president, Card Walker, especially when you consider that after ground was broken in central Florida for Epcot, plans were put in motion to build another first-of-its-kind Disney park ... thousands of miles and one vast ocean away, in Japan.

The man known as Card was rolling the dice ... and the stakes couldn't have been higher.

Next time: Card Walker comes to terms with a Disney presence in Japan.

February 29, 2016

Under Card Walker's guidance, Epcot begins to take shape

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One of the many concept drawings, done in the mid-1960s, depicting the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow -- Epcot. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In early 1956, several months after E. Cardon Walker hired Marty Sklar to produce The Disneyland News, Card was named vice president of advertising and sales for Walt Disney Productions, getting the word out such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The promotion was the start of a meteoric rise up the company ladder for Card who, like Marty, was a graduate of UCLA. In what seemed like rapid succession, Card was appointed to the company's Board of Directors in 1960. In 1965, he was named vice president of marketing, then executive vice president of operations in 1967, and executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1968. In 1971, he became company president. Five years later, he was named Disney's chief executive officer.

During his tenure as a top executive in the Disney corporate ranks, Card not only oversaw the creation of Epcot, but Tokyo Disneyland and The Disney Channel as well, providing a steady hand at a time when the company was still trying to find its way after the deaths of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

With the success of The Disneyland News on his resume, Marty Sklar returned to UCLA in the fall of 1955 to complete his studies. After graduation in 1956, Marty accepted a position in Disneyland's publicity department, working with the likes of future Disney Legends Eddie Meck, Jack Lindquist and Milt Albright. Marty and his PR cohorts dreamed up a number of noteworthy initiatives, including Vacationland Magazine, all of which made great strides in promoting the park because, as Marty put it years later, "Disneyland wasn't a slam dunk during those first few years."

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Marty's relationship with Card Walker remained strong.

"I had the good fortune to come out of a group that reported to Card at Disneyland," Marty said, "and I stayed very close to him over the years. Even after I had gone to WED [WED Enterprises was the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] in 1961 to work on the New York World's Fair, I still did a lot of writing for publicity and marketing. I also was responsible for the annual report. Card kept me close to him all that time.

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Walt Disney poses for a photo after recording The Epcot Film in 1966. Two months after filming, Walt died. [The Walt Disney Company]

"To have somebody in that position trust you so much to continue to promote me, if you will, talk me up with Walt and other executives in the company, was quite an honor. And he knew I had written all that material for Walt for Epcot, of course."

Marty was responsible for writing the script for what became known as The Epcot Film. In it, Walt presented, in meticulous detail, his vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow ... a city of the future that was the heart and soul of Disney's planned move to central Florida. Included with the film were concept drawings, many by artist Herb Ryman, a Disney Legend. Many of Ryman's renderings depicted a futuristic metropolis featuring monorails, PeopleMovers and a dome encasing the entire complex.

Filming of The Epcot Film took place in October of 1966; Walt Disney died just two months later, leaving the company he had founded and nurtured for decades in a lurch. With plans already in motion for the move to Florida at the time of Walt's death, Epcot was put on hold and the company concentrated on opening the world's first destination resort: A Disneyland-style theme park, on-property hotels and expansive recreational facilities.

Questions persisted about Epcot

After Walt died, "we continued to get questions about Epcot," Marty said, particularly from those people who had seen the early concept drawings. "After Roy [Walt's brother, who took over as company leader after Walt's passing] died in December of 1971, Card and Donn Tatum took up the mantel. I really think Card felt he had a debt to pay to Walt and he had to fulfill that debt as chairman of the company."

In May of 1974, Card Walker took Marty Sklar aside and asked him one of the most important questions of his career: "What are we gonna do about Epcot?"

Walt's original concept for Epcot, to create a city of the future where residents would live and work and where news ideas and systems would be introduced, was problematic, if next to impossible to bring to reality, at least without Walt Disney's guidance. "We knew we couldn't experiment with people's lives," Card said. "You couldn't have spectators peeking in people's kitchen windows."

Still, the Disney company was committed to building something on the property that reflected and fulfilled Walt's dreams of a great, big beautiful tomorrow.

"In a real sense, the concept of Epcot has been unfolding from the very beginning," Card said. "From the outset of planning and through the design, construction and installation stages of Walt Disney World, Epcot has been the ultimate goal."

According to Marty, "Card made a number of different speeches about ideas for Epcot. These speeches evolved into his vision of the project.

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As his wife Rosalynn looks on, left, President Jimmy Carter chats with Disney executive Card Walker in the Contemporary Resort. Seen over Walker's left shoulder in the background is Marty Sklar.

"I have a photo in my office of president Jimmy Carter in 1976 at the International Chamber of Commerce conference at the Contemporary. President Carter spoke to the conference. We brought all the work we had done to that point and put it in a ballroom at the Contemporary. We invited President Carter to come see, as well as leaders from all over the world."

The photo shows Card Walker talking to President Carter, with First Lady Rosalynn Carter to their right and Marty Sklar standing in the background. Donn Tatum is behind Mrs. Carter.

"Card really felt indebted to Walt for his whole career. This [Epcot] was Walt's big dream. He made a number of different speeches around the country," trying to get as many corporate leaders on board. "He was a good salesman. For example, The Living Seas pavilion. It wasn't part of the pavilions on opening day. It came about when Card was playing golf with Harry Gray, the CEO of United Technologies. [The Living Seas, now known as The Seas with Nemo and Friends, opened in 1986, four years after Epcot's opening.]

"Walt always said that no one company can do this [Epcot] by itself," Marty added. "Participation by the country's major companies was the key" to bringing Epcot to life.

One of Marty's chief responsibilities at the outset was to help bring as many of those companies on board as possible. "It was the start of eight incredible years of trying to figure out just what to do."

Next time: The long and winding road leading to Epcot's opening day.

February 15, 2016

Marty Sklar and Card Walker: A winning combination

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In very real sense, Marty Sklar is the keeper of the flame ... the Disney flame, that is.

Since retiring from the Walt Disney Company in 2009, Marty has gladly taken it upon himself to ensure the stories of Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company and the many wonderful people he worked with during his 54 years of service are presented in a fair, accurate and truthful manner.

When you speak to Marty about the most influential people in his career, there's one man near the top of his "most respected" list. It's the man who hired him in 1955 and who, 15 years later, presented him with his most daunting challenge.

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Card Walker

The story of Esmond Cardon Walker -- or Card, for short -- is one of those classic American tales that should both inspire and educate us. It's the story of a man who started at the lowest rung of the Disney corporate ladder and rose to become company president, overseeing the construction of both Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland and, along the way, proving decisively that nice guys do finish first.

As then-CEO Michael Eisner said of Walker in 1990: "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 his experience, his judgment, and his convictions about the 'Disney way' of doing things."

Card Walker was born on Jan. 9, 1916, in Rexburg, Idaho. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1924. After graduating from UCLA, he began his business career in humble fashion in 1938 in the Disney Studio mail room, a place where Walt Disney felt new hires could experience every facet of the studio operation. And Card learned his lessons well. He was transferred to the camera department and would go on to serve as unit manager on short subjects in the production department.

In 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Card enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945. After the war, he returned to Disney and rose to the position of vice president of marketing and sales.

It was during the mid-1950s, with construction of Disneyland nearing the final stages, when Marty Sklar and Card Walker crossed paths.

"I was fortunate the have known Johnny Jackson," Marty said. "He was the executive director of the UCLA Alumni Association. I had received a scholarship to go to UCLA. The tuition at the time [1952] was 50 dollars. My scholarship was full tuition ... 50 bucks!

"At some point in 1954, Johnny went to work for Disney. He, along with several other people, reported to Card Walker. When they decided to do a tabloid newspaper to be sold on Main Street, I was about to become the editor of the Daily Bruin at UCLA.

"In the spring of 1955, I got a call at my fraternity. When I got the message, I thought one of my frat brothers was playing a trick on me because his father worked at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I didn't return his call because he said someone named Card called. I thought it was a joke. It was my good fortune that Card was a graduate of UCLA and was a big booster.

"I eventually went in for an interview and they hired me."

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Card Walker looks over Walt Disney's shoulder during a visit to the Florida property in the mid-1960s. [Walt Disney Company photo]

Marty then told me a story about how a person at the Disney Archives recently sent him a memo he had discovered regarding his hiring.

"It was an inter-office communication for Disneyland, Inc. It was from Ed Ettinger, who was my first boss at Disneyland. The memo read:

Subject: Editor for newspaper-Disneyland.

We have an editor for the Disneyland newspaper. Martin Sklar will be editor of the newspaper. He was thoroughly checked out from every angle. He comes highly recommended.

"The memo," Marty added, "was copied to Card Walker." Marty was particularly amused by the "thoroughly checked out from every angle" line.

One month after being hired, Marty had to present the concept he came up with for The Disneyland News to none other than Walt Disney.

"The meeting with Walt took place at Disneyland in the conference room in the Administration Building, which was [Disney Legend] Ron Dominguez's former house. [The Dominguez house, part of a large orange grove that was owned by his family for decades, was located near where the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction now stands. The property was purchased by Disney and the house subsequently was moved to an area behind the Main Street Opera House, serving as an administration building for about 10 years.]

"The key thing to me was Walt had the time for this little thing I was doing. It really fell into place when I realized why Walt had time for it. Main Street, for him, was a real place. A story point and a detail."

The Disneyland News, like Disneyland itself, was a huge success. And for both Marty Sklar and Card Walker, the newspaper and the theme park would provide a springboard to future success for both men.

Next time: Card Walker pops the big question to Marty Sklar: "What are we going to do about Epcot?"

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