Guest Blog: Walt Disney and Great Moment's with Mr. Lincoln

Disney History: Walt Disney and Great Moment's with Mr. Lincoln and the challenges of preparing for the 1964 World’s Fair.

Disney History: Walt Disney and Great Moment's with Mr. Lincoln and the challenges of preparing for the 1964 World’s Fair.

Walt Disney loved America. He loved the idea that you could dream, work hard, and make those dreams come true. The history of his life reveals a man who believed in his dreams, chased them with a passion, worked hard, risked it all (and lost it all)…and never stopped trying. Eventually, his dedication and commitment paid off and the things he created impacted the world and have left a legacy that continues to this day.

When Walt was working and designing attractions for the 1964 World’s Fair, the state of Illinois sponsored the featured attraction, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. By now, most know the attraction featured a life sized audio animatronic Abraham Lincoln that would speak to the audience, creating a moment to inspire and ignite patriotism. The attraction would eventually move to Disneyland and become inspiration for the even bigger stage show, The Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

If we travel back in time to when this attraction was being prepared for The World’s Fair, what many people forget is that the technology was so new that it was being perfected right up until the last possible moment. The time had come for the show to be unveiled but the work was still being completed and many, many, many glitches were being fixed and improved.

The state of Illinois had spend a great deal of money to develop this attraction. Walt Disney had spent money as well, in addition he brought the expertise, the manpower, the man hours, and his reputation was riding on the success of Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. Two days before the show was opened at the World’s Fair, The Lincoln Theater was full. There were 500 invited guests from Illinois. There were members of the press on hand to report and give their review of this premier attraction. The governor of Illinois introduced what everyone was about to see. There was a buzz of excitement charging through the room.

But…there was a problem.

The show did not work. There was a malfunction, a glitch if you will, and the show would not perform as planned. So now the crisis was compounded by all the eyes watching and waiting in the theater. Should Walt let the show run? Did he allow people to see the show explaining that they would be seeing something that was not quite ready? or…..would he cancel it?

The pressure to let the show go on was tremendous.

So under all of that pressure, Walt did the only thing he could do.

He stepped out on the stage and addressed the crowd. He explained what the problem was, why the show was delayed…and then told them there would be no show for them this evening.

Walt Disney cancelled the show.

He promised it would be fixed. And of course, it was. The fix took a week and then…and only then…the show went on as it had been created. **

Walt Disney had done something that reminds us all of an important lesson about doing things well, leading others, and bringing a quality of excellence to work and life itself. Walt was willing to suffer the embarrassment and criticism for the moment because he knew what he was doing was worth it. The short term pain he went through was necessary for the long term gain that he achieved.

Walt Disney would not sacrifice the quality of the show. His name, his reputation, his creativity, his company, his vision, his dream, and his dedication to excellence were all on the line…and he would not take a shortcut to short-circuit the process.

In life, in our culture, there are many who are willing to take shortcuts, the easy road, or the less than the best pathway to get what they want. Usually it is for immediate gratification or short term gain. Sadly, most people have such a “live for the moment” view of life that they don’t understand there is a difference between “living for the moment” and “living in the moment.”

If Walt chose to “live for the moment” he would have offered his best excuses (and people probably would have understood) and let them see whatever portion of the show worked best. He could have saved some dignity and a little pride. If he would have been “living for the moment” his entire focus would have been on how to not look like a complete disaster that night. He chose something better.

Walt knew that “living in the moment” meant that he would take the heat, the criticism, and the responsibility for doing what was right and delivering what he promised…which was a great show and attraction. “Living in the moment” means that we take and squeeze every bit of life we can out of each moment, never forgetting that it is a moment that we need to use wisely…because this moment leads us to the next…and then next…and the next.

His wisdom, his patience, his leadership all were on display…because” living in the moment” wasn’t that comfortable, but when the show finally opened, living in that moment made it all worthwhile. Sometimes the moments we “live in” can be tough ,uncomfortable, and even embarrassing…but never trade the lessons that can be learned “in the moment” for the short term convenience of “living for the moment.”

The difference is huge…and the decisions you make will determine the kind of impact you will have in the world.

** The historical accounts of this event come from a variety of sources, Walt Disney-An American Original by Bob Thomas & Disney U by Doug Lipp. There are other accounts of this preview recorded in other places but both of these sources are excellent and worth checking out. The commentary and life application are the work of Jeff Dixon, author of The Key to the Kingdom series and The Disney Driven Life and The Disney Code.