Defending the Devil

By: Evan Rosenberg

At significant risk to his immortal soul, this journalist wades through sulfur and brimstone in an attempt to give one of the most devilish figures in the entertainment industry his due.

December 16, 1966; Walt Disney dies.

The driving force, motivation and namesake of the Disney Company passes away leaving behind a snake without a head. The company enters a time of stagnation. The theme parks stop offering new attractions and the films division starts rehashing tried themes to lukewarm receptions at the box office.

The corporation is treading water and number crunching, corporate-stock raiding sharks are circling. The Disney Company and its subsidiaries are in danger of being purchased, chopped up and sold off in sections to various interests. If this happened, Disney, as we know it, would cease to exist.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, the seventh layer of hell belched forth a fiery savior for the Disney Company.

This Antichrist rode into town and brought hell with him.

It is 1984 and Michael D. Eisner, fresh from his stint at Paramount Studios, takes charge of the beleaguered company and ushers in new and creative ideas to revamp and energize the sleeping giant that Disney had become.  He partners with the Walt Disney of his generation, George Lucas, and debuts Star Wars and Indiana Jones themed rides at the Disney parks.

1989, he takes a huge gamble and launches an edgy and original animated film,  “The Little Mermaid” to blockbuster business. He oversees the launch of Disney stores in malls across the nation, which translates into higher market awareness and larger market share for the Disney brand.

He begins making bold and risky media ventures. The Disney Channel is launched under Eisner’s micro-managing eye, providing a new venue (and a new stream of income) for the company. He marches on to make such daring acquisitions as ESPN, ABC and the History Channel. Critically acclaimed, edgy and decidedly un-Disney films such as Pulp Fiction are released the same year as the Lion King by Disney owned, but distanced from, film studios like Miramax and Touchstone Pictures. Disney even launched a hockey team based on the success of their film  “The Mighty Ducks.”

Disney is no longer a theme park dominated company with a modest movie studio; it has become a media monolith.

The ship is righted, the corporate sharks swim off and Eisner is largely responsible. For a time there is an Eisner love fest, with corporate analysts hailing him as a wunderkind, an industry genius. Then suddenly the honeymoon was over…

Under Eisner, product awareness rapidly escalates to product over saturation as Disney products are suddenly available everywhere, from “Happy Meals” to Wal-Mart.

Emphasis at the theme parks shift from rides and attractions to shops and restaurants. Industry analysts fear Disney has bit off more than it can chew with recent media purchases and begin pointing fingers at the man they had until recently been applauding, Michael Eisner. His reign as beloved emperor of a magic kingdom is over; his iron-fist rule of a multimedia conglomerate bent on global domination has just begun.

Stock prices take a dip and suddenly everyone is on the anti-Eisner bandwagon. Intra-company backbiting becomes common and eventually leads to the departure of Roy Disney and Stanley Gold from the company. The two go on to form the, now shutdown, organization:

Disney and Gold rally a stockholder revolt and vote of no confidence in Eisner, which might have led to his early resignation from his post early in 2005.

His legacy significantly diminished and his golden boy veneer seriously tarnished, the devil quietly slinks away leaving behind a company with higher stock prices, higher revenue earned and higher visibility.

Did Eisner do more harm than good to the Disney Corporation? Would Walt have -approved of the direction his company took at the helm of Eisner? How will history remember this embattled CEO? Angel of company resurrection? Or demon responsible for its downfall? Only time will tell what due this devil will be given.

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” – Walt Disney,

Dedication of Disneyland, July 17, 1955

cover mar 2006

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