We’re sure you know the name Walt Disney very well. Walt is, of course, one of the founders of The Walt Disney Company, the creator of Mickey Mouse, the namesake of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and MUCH more.
But, Walt Disney didn’t do it all alone. Some people whose names you may have NEVER heard of played key roles in making Walt Disney World and/or some of its most popular rides. You’ve probably seen their work tons of times, and might even be a huge fan of it, without even realizing who made it all happen. So, today, we’re sharing the 5 people only REAL Disney fans know about (and you should totally know about too if you don’t already)!
1. Roy O. Disney
You know Walt was a co-founder of the Walt Disney Company, but who made it WITH him? It was his older brother — Roy O. Disney — who co-founded the company and played a key role in its success. Roy was largely seen as the “financial genius” of the brothers, while Walt was more of the “creative genius.” Roy was the one who found the money to finance Walt’s projects — and famously kept Walt in check when his dreams were bigger than his pockets! He also managed the growth of licensing Disney consumer products and much more.
When Walt Disney died in 1966, Roy was ready to retire. But, after Walt passed, Roy stepped out from the background. He took a major public leadership role in the Walt Disney Company to supervise the incredibly challenging project of building of Walt Disney World. In fact, according to the Orange County Register, Roy was actually responsible for changing the name of the Florida project from Disney World to Walt Disney World saying “so people will always know it was Walt’s dream.”
Despite the challenges, Roy supervised the project and Walt Disney World opened in 1971. He successfully made his brother’s dream come true. Just two months after Walt Disney World opened, Roy passed away. His hard work lives on with the beauty and magic of a park millions have visited. The next time you’re in Disney World, stop by the statue of Roy and Minnie on Main Street, U.S.A. and take a photo with the man who really made it all happen.
2. X Atencio
Many of the individuals who worked on the Disney parks started out by working in animation, and that’s certainly the case for Francis Xavier “X” Atencio. X helped animate Disney classics including Pinocchio, Fantasia, and more. But, what you don’t realize is you’ve probably been singing X’s songs from the Disney theme parks for years! X actually co-wrote the song “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for The Haunted Mansion, and wrote the song “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” for Pirates of the Caribbean.
X developed dialogue and music for attractions like Adventure Thru Inner Space, Pirates, and Mansion, and later contributed to Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and the Mexico pavilion in EPCOT. Believe it or not, you’ve actually probably heard X’s voice before — he’s the voice of the ghost stuck in the coffin in the Haunted Mansion (“Lemme outta here! Lemme outta here!”) and he’s the voice of the talking skull on Pirates of the Caribbean before the ride drops (“Pssst! Avast there. It be too late to alter course.”).
So, which does X like best — Pirates or Mansion? In an interview with D23, X said he likes Pirates best, but he loves the ghosts too! X eventually retired in 1984, and passed away in 2017 at the age of 98.
So, the next time you ride one of these classic rides and start humming along to the tunes or reciting the dialogue, take a second and think about X!
3. The Sherman Brothers
You may not know the Sherman Brothers by name but we’re SURE you’ve heard and sung along to their incredible music for years. Richard and Robert Sherman have composed and written some of the most classic songs in all of Disney’s history. The Sherman Brothers are probably best known for their work on Mary Poppins. This dynamic duo wrote ALL of the songs for that film including Chim Chim Cher-ee, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Feed the Birds — a song that truly became a favorite of Walt’s. Watch Richard himself talk a bit about how important the song was to Walt and perform Feed the Birds IN Walt Disney’s office suite in the clip below. (Warning: Grab some tissues.)
And while writing those incredible and timeless songs for Mary Poppins would be enough of an accomplishment for a million lifetimes, the Sherman Brothers are responsible for SO much more. Over the years, they wrote music for loads of Disney park attractions including “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room”‘ for the Enchanted Tiki Room, “it’s a small world (after all)“ for the “it’s a small world” ride, There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow and The Best Time of Your Life for the Carousel of Progress, One Little Spark for Journey Into Imagination, and Magic Journeys for the film by the same name that was at the Journey into Imagination pavilion in EPCOT.
For Disney movies, they also wrote Winnie the Pooh (the main song), The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, and songs for The Jungle Book, The Parent Trap, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and SO much more. When you think classic Disney music, there’s a BIG change you’re thinking of Sherman Brothers music.
This pair created a LONG list of incredible music you and I still sing today, so many years after they were created. Richard Sherman is still alive, but his brother Robert passed away in 2012. If you want to learn more about this amazing duo, check out a film called The Boys on Disney+ which takes you on a journey through the lives of the Sherman Brothers.
4. Mary Blair
If you love the color and art style of “it’s a small world” and films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, you’ve got Mary Blair to thank! Mary originally joined the Walt Disney Company back in 1940, where she developed concept paintings for a number of films including Fantasia, Dumbo, and Lady and the Tramp.
Later, she worked on films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. She also traveled with Disney to South America, developing watercolors of the area, and eventually became the art supervisor on The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos.
Her concept art for these films really informed the way these movies came out, especially in terms of their color schemes and lighting. She was known for pairing unique colors in ways most weren’t daring enough to try.
Later, Walt asked Mary to come back and help design the “it’s a small world” ride for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. This ride is truly an explosion of Mary Blair’s style and concepts. Mary is really the one behind the general design of the kids with the BIG saucer eyes and oversized heads, the overall graphic style of the ride, and those amazing colors.
But, that’s not the only place you can spot Blair’s inspiration in the parks. If you head to the Grand Canyon Concourse at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you’ll see a giant mural that was designed by Blair. It’s a tribute to the Grand Canyon featuring stylized birds and other animals. It’s playful, colorful, and bold. Be sure to look for one of this piece’s most whimsical things — a 5-legged goat!
Blair was also featured in a way at a new booth at the Festival of the Arts in 2021 which shared her artwork and food from some of the places that inspired her. Mary passed away in 1978.
5. Alice Davis
Finally, we end our tour of Disney people you should know with the amazing Alice Davis. No detail goes overlooked in Disney, and that includes the costumes the animatronics wear on the rides! In 1963, Alice was recruited by Walt Disney to work on “it’s a small world” for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Alice collaborated with Mary Blair and ended up researching, designing, and supervising the creation of OVER 150 costumes for the children on “it’s a small world.”
Alice was married to Marc Davis, another key figure in Disney (you can thank him for lots of fun designs in many of the attractions we’vel isted throughout this post!). She later transformed Marc’s drawings for Pirates of the Caribbean into the actual clothing designs and patterns for all of the costumes featured in that ride. She also worked on Carousel of Progress and Flight to the Moon.
Alice really was key in developing some of the amazing costumes we see today in these classic rides.
Those are just 5 individuals who are super important to Disney history, and whose work you’ve probably enjoyed for YEARS, but whose names and faces you may not have heard of or seen. Behind every unique detail in Disney, there’s a person and a cool story. Next time you’re in the park, see if you can find something designed by one of these individuals!
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How many of these people did you know about? Let us know in the comments!