Foundersland: “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”

By Marty Sklar – Founder, Past President, Chairman of Leadership Council

With the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, the Walt Disney Company’s 12th park around the world, my thoughts turned immediately to the genesis of the Disney Parks and Resorts. It’s easy to write about in a Ryman Arts blog, because the inspiration for our program, Herbert Dickens Ryman, was at the heart of the very beginning. And Disneyland itself is at home in Anaheim because of our co-founder, Harrison Price.

Herb Ryman told the story years later. It was a Friday in September, 1953 when he received a call from Walt Disney. At the time, Herb was working for another Hollywood studio, but he had worked on Disney films, including “Dumbo.” “Herbie,” Walt said, “my brother Roy has to take the drawings of my new park concept to New York on Monday to show the bankers.” “I’d love to see them,” Herb responded. “You don’t understand,” Walt continued. “You’re going to do them!”

At first, Herb deferred. “I have no idea what to draw,” he told Walt. But when his friend Walt Disney implored him – and said he would spend the weekend working at his side, Herb agreed. Together they spent Saturday and Sunday at Herb’s drawing board, creating the first overall look at what would become Disneyland.

Walt Disney & Herb Ryman at Herb’s desk

The visionary concepts were all in Walt’s Disney’s mind, but it was Herb’s talent and artistic know-how that brought it all together in one major drawing. “It was just a carbon pencil drawing with a little color on top,” Herb wrote later. “But Roy got the money ($17 million) – so I guess it turned out all right!”

I guess so…now that Disneyland has celebrated its 61st birthday on July 17, and has spawned eleven more parks, from Anaheim to Shanghai, that have welcomed billions of visitors around the world since 1955.

There are two other aspects of this story related to Ryman Arts.

Walt wanted to locate his new concept in outdoor entertainment in Southern California, but he had no pre-conceived notions of where it should be built. So he hired Stanford Research of Palo Alto, and a young economist named Harrison “Buzz” Price. It was Buzz who recommended a little town in Orange County as the best location for climate, growth and future freeway access in Southern California. Yes, that’s the same Buzz Price who (with his wife Anne, Sharon Disney Lund, Herb’s sister Lucille Ryman Carroll, and Leah and me) founded Ryman Arts in 1991. And whose son David is now vice-president of the Ryman Arts Board of Directors.

Lastly, my “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” title for this blog. I have told you the story of “yesterday” – how Disneyland and Ryman Arts came to be. “Today” I’m excited to look forward to the 27th year of our Ryman Arts program beginning in the Fall, when we will welcome nearly 300 talented young high school artists to our two locations – Otis College of Art & Design, and Cal State University, Fullerton.

“Tomorrow?” It’s truly a thrill to anticipate what those 300 young student talents – and the thousands who have already graduated from our Ryman Arts program – will create in their own chosen careers … so many of them in some aspect of the arts.

Thank goodness Herb Ryman had no plans for that weekend in September, 1953 when Walt Disney called. Quite literally, it changed the world.

Cover Photo: Herb Ryman, Original concept sketch for Disneyland (1953)