Back more than 50 years ago, I used to take my daughters to a place called Kiddyland, over near La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard near Beverly Hills. It was a very small, flimsy carnival where the Ferris wheel was perhaps 50 feet tall and there was a small haunted house that you zipped through in 10 seconds, with very few scares.
There were various other rides, shepherded by very strange men who seemed, to me, anyway, to be alien to the planet Earth.
On at least one occasion I seem to recall someone resembling Walt Disney wandering through with his children, looking very discontented.
My wish at that time was for something better.
Well, lo and behold, a few years later that something better opened, and it was Disneyland.
Disney was immediately criticized for running this impossible dream country; one of the reasons being that it was too clean! At the time, I said, if I ever visit Disneyland, I will litter it with chewing gum wrappers to make it look more decent for the New York intellectuals!
I put off going to Disneyland for a year because I heard that parts of it were still unfinished. But finally a day came when Charles Laughton, the great Anglo-American actor, invited me to come along with him and his wife, Elsa Lanchester, and take in all the rides at Disneyland.
It was an incredible experience; flying over London, staring down at Big Ben with Charlie and then heading toward the Jungle Ride. As soon as we got aboard, Charles turned into Captain Bligh to keelhaul people right and left! An indelible memory.
In the meantime, the New York critics continued to attack Disneyland. I wrote a letter to the Nation saying, “If Disneyland is good enough for Charles Laughton, it’s good enough for me.”
Then one day, at Christmastime, some 45 years ago, shopping in I. Magnin’s in Beverly Hills, I saw a man approaching with a pile of gifts in his arms and his head stuck over the top.
My God, I thought, that’s Walt Disney!
I ran up to him and said, “Mr. Disney, my name is Ray Bradbury.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, “I know your work.”
I was stunned.
“I’m glad you do,” I said, “because someday in the near future I’d like to take you to lunch.”
“Tomorrow?” he said.
I couldn’t believe that! It was the first time in my life that anybody had ever said “Tomorrow,” not next week, next month or next year.
The next day I wound up in Walt’s office at a card table, having soup and a sandwich. We talked over each other, like kids at a party, and our friendship began.
At various times during the next few years I visited Walt. On one of the occasions the secretary warned me to cut my visit short at 1 o’clock and get the hell out. At 1, I jumped to my feet, shook hands with Walt, and said, “It’s been wonderful, but I must leave.”
“Hold on,” Walt said, “I’ve got something to show you.”
He dragged me out of the office and took me on a tour of the Disney studio to show me some of the new robots that they were building on the back lot.
We got back to the office at 3 — two hours late. His secretary scowled at me and I pointed to Walt and indicated to her that he was responsible because he had found an enthusiast, and saw in my face someone who loved him and everything he was doing.
A year or so later, at lunch, Walt suddenly leaned forward and said, “Ray, you’ve been so kind to us. What can we do for you?”
“Walt,” I said, “open the vaults!”
He picked up the phone, called across the street and said, “Open the vaults. I’m sending Ray over. He can have anything that he wants.”
I crossed the street, they opened the vaults, and I carried home dozens of original cells from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Snow White.” Walking out of the studio with an armload of these incredible gifts, I knew a joy that cannot be described.
My final memory is in some ways more fantastic.
When Walt passed on, the day of his memorial service, CBS Radio called my home and wanted to talk to me about Walt.
My wife said, “Ray’s not here.”
CBS said, “Where is he?”
My wife said, “He’s taken our daughters to Disneyland today.”
When I came home that night and discovered what she had said to them, I wept, because I had planned on going to Disneyland weeks before. It was not because of his memorial, but because I loved taking my children there.
What a tribute, that on the day of those services, my love for what he had done caused me to be out at Disneyland celebrating.
Those are the fine memories of a small man who, as time passed, grew to be as large as his mouse.
Or, finally, on the day when I asked Walt to run for mayor of L.A., his response was: “Ray, why would I want to be mayor when I’m already king?”