Donn B. Tatum, former president and chairman of the Walt Disney Co., died Monday of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades. He was 80.
Tatum held senior executive positions with Disney for 25 years and was its chairman from 1971 until 1980. He served as a director until last year, when he was named director emeritus.
He played a major role in creating Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, Disney chairman Michael Eisner and president Frank Wells said in a statement. The Disney executives called Tatum “a great friend, a scholar and exemplary leader.”
Tatum grew up in Los Angeles, graduated magna cum laude from Stanford U. with a bachelor of arts degree in political science, and earned two law degrees from Oxford U. He passed the California bar in 1938 and became involved in entertainment law at Lillick, Geary and McHose.
He held a number of corporate legal positions and served as counsel for RCA, NBC and ABC. He became general manager of KABC-TV in Los Angeles and Western television director for ABC.
Tatum joined Disney as production business manager in 1956 and 15 years later succeeded Roy O. Disney as chief executive and board chairman — becoming the first non-Disney family member to head the company.
He was CalArts board chairman and president of the Disney Foundation, California Broadcasting Assn., United Cerebral Palsy Assn. and Stanford Club of Los Angeles.
Tatum was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and an honorary member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Hollywood Radio & Television Society.
He served as a board member of the Huntington Library, California State Fair and Exposition, L.A. Philharmonic Assn., L.A. Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles.
“The entire Walt Disney Co. mourns the passing of Donn Tatum,” Eisner and Wells said in a statement. “The world will miss Donn, but we at Disney who looked to him for wisdom, guidance and balance will miss him more.”
Tatum is survived by his wife of 56 years, Vernette; sons Frederic, Donn Jr. and Forbes; daughters Vernette Tatum and Melantha Donohue; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The family requests donations be sent to St. John of God Retirement and Care Center, 2035 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles 90018; or the John Tracy Clinic, 806 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles 90007.
Funeral services are private.