Many quotes commonly attributed to Walt Disney have become Internet memes and find their way into articles and blogs as an inspiration for others.
As inspiring as they may be, it turns out that many of these inspirational Disneyesque quotes are fake, in the sense that there is no evidence that Walt Disney ever said them. In some instances, there is positive evidence that significantly undermines confidence in the probability that a quote attributed to Walt Disney is authentic.
We like quotes that we find stimulating and meaningful. For most of us, most of the time, it is the meaning that the words have for us that are important, not who said them. Sometimes we memorize a good quote that captures or holds pearls of wisdom. We write them down and put them in prominent places to be inspired.
Sometimes we want to learn from the people we admire and seek pithy and compact expressions of their knowledge and experience. Some people just have a way with words. Sometimes we know who made the statement but don’t know very much about them. Sometimes we don’t know who authored the quote or the context in which the statement was made, but find it useful in a context that is appropriate to us.
Because humans are curious creatures, in most instances we are interested in knowing to whom a good quote is attributed, but usually it doesn’t matter – unless you are writer, academic, historian or intellectual nitpicker. Then, truth and accuracy should always matter as a foundation for understanding.
I have made a considerable investment of time over the last decade reading hundreds of books, articles, and blogs about Walt Disney and those with whom he worked, to learn aspects of his business life. Amongst them were three books dedicated just to Walt Disney quotes, which helped me to better understand Walt Disney’s intellectual progression and his evolution as a businessman and thinker. My research findings form the basis for my book The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017), which is a unique and comprehensive look at Walt Disney as a businessman.
When trying to understand a person and how they think, it is important to know what they actually said and the context in which they said it.
In the early weeks of 2018, Paul F. Anderson reposted on the Disney History Institute Facebook page an article by Matt Novak with the catchy click-bait title “8 Walt Disney Quotes That Are Actually Fake.”
It’s nice that someone with sufficient curiosity has invested the time and effort to do some detective work.
More Fake Walt Disney Quotes
I want to add two more falsely attributed quotes to Novak’s eight that I identified in my research (without making any claim to walking new ground).
I’m not certain the first is a fake, but the probability is extremely high. It certainly doesn’t sound like something Walt Disney would ever say or write.
This quote comes from the inside flap of the 1999 book The Disney Way by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson. They (or their publisher, McGraw-Hill) fail to provide a source. Here’s the quote:
I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true. – Walt Disney
I’m happy to be proved wrong, so if anyone finds a documented source for these supposed words from Walt, please let me know. I’d love to be able to say that Walt said this.
The second quote is one of which the written record reflects that both the quote and its attribution are wrong. But the story here is a little more complicated. Here is what Walt Disney purportedly said:
Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe a thing, believe it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably. – Walt Disney
My research shows that the actual source of this quote is journalist Don Eddy, who interviewed Walt Disney and his workers at the studio in 1955 for an article published in The American Magazine in anticipation of the grand opening of Disneyland in July 1955.
Eddy, in his own words, provided his take on what made Walt Disney so successful over his career. Here’s what Eddy originally wrote:
This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy, and the greatest of these is confidence. Without confidence, Disney would not be where he is. When he believes a thing, he believes it all over.
From his insatiable curiosity, as persistent and all-embracing as a child’s, he gets his ideas. When he settles on one idea, his confidence takes supreme command; nothing can shake it. His courage keeps it alive against all obstacles, and he has plenty of obstacles. And he is constant to it until it becomes reality. Then he drops it abruptly and rarely mentions it again.
Note that Eddy doesn’t attribute these four Cs to Walt himself. Eddy presents the 4Cs as his own creation, as his own attempt to explain the underlying structure of Walt’s creative process.
After formulating the 4Cs, Eddy returned to Walt Disney to present his summary of Walt’s “special secret” of success and to obtain his reaction. Eddy writes:
One night down in the barn workshop I told him [Disney] my theory of the four C’s, and then asked him point-blank if he knew the secret of his own success, and if he could tell me and others like me how to make our dreams come true, as he had done.
“Why sure,” he growled, glancing up from the lathe where he was shaving threadlike curls from a brass rod. “You do it by working. Working, just like I’ve always done. Why, man” – and his voice changed from a growl to a rising note of enthusiasm – “I’m fooling around here with a couple of ideas – Here, sit down. Let me tell you about them.”
So, if we are to believe the story Eddy published in 1955, the 4Cs and the quote attributed to Walt Disney are Eddy’s own creation. Neither the quote nor the 4Cs ever emanated from Walt himself.
But here’s where the story gets a little bit more complicated.
An Alternative 4Cs Hypothesis Considered
A participant on the DHI Facebook page thread recalled having read that Walt had told 12-year-old Michael Broggie, son of Walt’s machine shop genius Roger Broggie, about the 4 Cs during a pre-opening train ride around Disneyland, and that perhaps this is the source of the quote. This is interesting, because the pre-opening timeframe corresponds to when Eddy would have spent time with Walt both at Disneyland and the studio in doing his research.
So, could 12-year-old Michael Broggie, in the presence of writer Don Eddy, have asked Walt Disney the very child-like question: “What is the secret of your success and could you tell me and others how to make our dreams come true?”
And could Walt have responded with a bunch of C words that Eddy later built into his story? Could Eddy have then gone back to Walt to make sure Walt was okay with the way Eddy presented it – as Eddy’s own invention rather than a reconstruction of something Walt had said? It’s possible. Good magazine writers write good stories that are not necessarily completely accurate and factual. But it’s unlikely. It would be more compelling to attribute the 4Cs directly to Walt if Walt had actually said them, without Eddy impinging his own integrity by trying to sell Walt on some phoney alternative.
Let me introduce one more piece of evidence.
Michael Broggie has written a number of books, including Walt Disney’s Railroad Story, which was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal for best biography from the Publishers Marketing Association in 1998. He also penned a small inspirational book titled Walt’s Words of Wisdom. I haven’t read either book, although Walt Disney’s Railroad Story looks to be exceptional.
The sales pitch for Walt’s Words of Wisdom on amazon indicates that when 12-year-old Broggie once asked Disney about how he accomplished so many things, “Walt referred him to Four Cs.” This is followed by the altered Eddy quote above that is attributed to Walt Disney.
This prompts the question of how much significance we should place on the word “referred.” That Walt “referred” him may indicate that Walt was speaking to the observations of Eddy via the 4Cs, as distinct from presenting his own theory about his success. What it doesn’t say, nor could it rightly say given that 12-year-old Broggie didn’t record Walt’s answer, is “this is what Walt Disney said” followed by the quote.
Of course, if one were to dismiss Eddy’s version as a writer taking liberties, it is possible that Walt presented Broggie with an explanation that identified the 4Cs in Eddy’s presence. If that happened, then Eddy would have used Walt’s answer to develop the idea for his article, which at a later date, Broggie sought out and converted to the kind of answer that he recalled Walt giving and attributing the words from Eddy’s article to Walt Disney. The one thing we know is that there is a verified connection between Broggie and Eddy via Walt himself.
But none of this background directly addresses the accuracy of the quote and whether Walt Disney said it, although the implications are clear: under the hypothesis that Walt originated the four Cs in a discussion with Broggie which was overheard by writer Don Eddy, unless it was captured directly at the time, the expression of the idea must be a reconstruction and not a direct quote.
On the other hand, if Eddy originated the 4 Cs construct as he claims, or if he reconstructed it for his article from something Walt had said, then he is most appropriately the author of the quote as it now appears, with the sentiment attributed to Walt Disney. If in later years Broggie sought out what Eddy wrote and quoted it almost verbatim to reflect his own recollection of what Walt told him when he was 12, which can be proper in the right context, that still is not sufficient to properly attribute the quote to Walt Disney directly, but to recognize that it is reconstructed from Don Eddy’s article.
A Wrinkle In Time
There’s another wrinkle in the 4Cs saga.
DHI founder and Disney Historian Paul F. Anderson has studied Walt Disney quotes for decades, trying to identify sources to validate real from fake. In some cases, quotes have been attributed to Walt by Disney PR staff. The 4Cs attribution to Walt Disney may be one such example. Anderson writes:
This particular quote has always bothered me. Barry you are spot on, and you are the only one I have ever known (there are more, I’m sure) that has dug this deep to figure it out. Congrats, I honor you as Honorary Disney Institute Historian. Anyway, I have chased down at least one reference from Disney on this, but I have been on the lookout for an earlier reference since the original “thought” of the quote goes back to 1955. My reference is from 1975 where the “Walt Disney WORLD-GRAM” Vol. 2 No. 21, Feb. 28. 1975 (a two-page [front and back], mimeographed newsletter at WDW). I attach a copy:
That this attribution to Walt Disney comes from a Walt Disney World publication supports the theory that this was a Disney manufactured quote.
Jim Korkis – ‘The Disney Detective’ – Is On The Case
As I was collecting images and preparing to post this blog, I serendipitously came across another blog post by the prolific Disney historian Jim Korkis who in 2016 wrote on this very topic. I wish I had come across it sooner, for Korkis had already been digging deep on this case, much deeper than me.
Here’s what he found.
The reason we believe the 4Cs quote is attributable to Walt Disney is because the Disney Company itself had attributed it to Walt Disney. “In fact,” Jim Korkis notes, Dave Smith, the founder and recently retired Chief Archivist at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA., “who is meticulous in what he says and writes, said that Walt said it, [having] included it in the Disney employee handbook titled ‘Walt’ that was first released in 1974….”
That explains why “Walt Disney WORLD-GRAM” attributed the quote to Walt Disney in 1975.
Where did archivist Dave Smith get the idea that Walt was the author of the quote?
Sleuth Korkis writes:
That quote appeared on page 79 in the hardcover edition of Wisdom magazine (Volume 32) December 1959 in a three-page section titled “From the Wisdom of Walt Disney.”
That still leaves unanswered the question of how the quote got attributed to Walt. Here’s Korkis’ answer:
I am going to assume that someone in the publicity department at the Disney Studios (perhaps Joe Reddy) in the late 1950s found that quote from The American Magazine and may have been skimming so quickly that they thought Walt had said it, since there are direct quotes from Walt in the article….
Why do I assume that situation? Because they transformed other pseudo-quotes from the same article, as well.
So now the riddle of when this quote was first found in print in its transformed state from Eddy to Walt seems to be solved. The earliest identified source per Korkis is Wisdom magazine, 1959.
But I’m not buying that the attribution to Walt Disney was an innocent mistake.
The Eddy quote had to be intentionally altered from its original form to sound like it came from Walt. This was done willfully, not negligently or accidentally. The proof? Korkis provides two other examples from Eddy’s article which are altered for presentation in Wisdom magazine by whomever provided the quotes. Perhaps the Disney Studio provided them, but perhaps not. Perhaps a writer at Wisdom magazine took it upon themselves to put words into Walt’s mouth. Who would know? Perhaps the Studio approved the quotes, perhaps not.
Some things still remain a mystery for sleuths to solve.
A Bonus Fake Quote
In a response to the “8 Walt Disney Posts That Are Actually Fake” article posted on the Disney History Institute Facebook page, Friends of the Disney Family Museum posted this:
Another unsubstantiated post, according to Paul Sigman Lowery: “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
“We can’t find verification of that ANYWHERE,” she said in an email. “It’s very ‘Wisdom-ish,’ but it doesn’t appear in publication. No one at the Archives or WDI has any official record of it. I’ve checked with Marty Sklar, Jim Korkis (and his vast collection of magazine articles and other publications that quote Walt), Jeff Kurti – everyone has searched their files, and it just isn’t there.”
If you know any more quotes falsely attributed to Walt Disney, or have a comment to share with this self-proclaimed Walt Disney nitpicker, let me know. In the mean time, there’s lots to be learned from Walt by reading what he actually said.
Barry Linetsky is a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group, a Toronto-based consultancy. He is the author of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017) and Free Will: Sam Harris Has It (Wrong). His articles have been published by Ivey Business Journal and Rotman Magazine. Visit his website www.BarryLinetsky.com to find original articles and blog posts on Walt Disney and other management topics of interest to entrepreneurial executives. Follow Barry on Facebook, Twitter @BizPhilosopher and on LinkedIn.
© 2018, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved