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Monday, March 4, 2024

EPCOT Part Six: Walt vs. Roy

When Walt Disney first presented the idea of Disneyland to his brother Roy, Roy was firmly against it. Walt’s brother was certain that Disneyland would bankrupt the company and initially rejected the idea. Only after he realized that Walt was insistent on seeing his dream come true (and that the company had never gotten legal permission to use his brother’s name) did Roy reluctantly approve his brother’s plans. After Disneyland succeeded beyond Roy’s wildest dreams, he was eager to build a second park- but he didn’t want to build EPCOT. Roy allowed his brother to develop plans for EPCOT in the project’s early stages, but planned to put his foot down at some point to prevent the project from going forward. Veteran Disney employees braced for the upcoming battle.

While Roy thought that he could eventually convince his brother that EPCOT was not feasible, others within the company thought that he would eventually acquiesce to Walt as he typically did and allow some version of EPCOT to get built. Either way, Disney staff had hoped that the battle would not be as intense as it was when Walt Disney wanted to build the Matterhorn, Disneyland Monorail and the Submarine Voyage attractions and Roy wanted to coast on Disneyland’s success for a few more years without building new projects. The wild success of the expansion eventually made Roy see that he was wrong, but the fight between the two was bitter nonetheless.

The first sign of stress between Walt and Roy happened when Roy visited Imagineering. He was looking for some concept maps and artwork for Disneyland East and its associated hotels that he could show to potential investors and financiers. He discovered that none existed. Walt had no interest in working on the theme park at this point and had his imagineers busy designing EPCOT. Roy requested that they start working on the theme park, an idea shut down by Walt. He assumed that if Disneyland East was built first his brother would find a way to shut down EPCOT. Roy enlisted the help of his sister-in-law Lillian Disney to try to talk some sense into his brother. Lillian suspected that if EPCOT became reality her husband would want to move to Florida, and she was not fond of the idea. This entreaty didn’t really accomplish much; Walt wasn’t convinced to drop EPCOT and Lillian wasn’t convinced that a move to Florida would be a good idea. The EPCOT question remained unresolved.

As 1966 went on, Walt’s Imagineers felt that he seemed oddly insistent at getting EPCOT planned out ASAP. While he had been eager to get his dreams out into the world in the past, this time it felt like there was an air of desperation around his efforts. For the first time ever, it felt like Walt thought he was running out of time. Walt decided to introduce the world to his idea of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow on his television show as a way to force his brother’s hand- after all, if he clearly laid out what the “Florida Project” would be like, Roy would have no choice but to follow through with it, regardless of what the future held. 

Unfortunately, fate would intervene in the saddest of ways. On December 15, 1966 Walt Disney passed away. Even the people who worked with him were shocked. To them, Walt Disney was an immortal force to be reckoned with. That he would no longer be around to supervise his Magic Kingdom or see his latest dream of EPCOT become reality was unthinkable. With Roy Disney at the helm, would he see fit to make his brother’s final dream come true? The answer to that question would be complicated.