Get me rewrite!
The first thing I thought when I read Diane Disney Miller‘s obit in the Star a week ago; somebody screwed up. With so many staff shortages and veteran reporters and copy editors laid off, no one caught the fact (or remembered) that Miller spent considerable time and energy here in the early-mid 1990s being courted by Screenland movie dude and attorney Butch Rigby.
Ah but Rigby remembered.
And he was granted an “As I See It” column in the newspaper five days later (he’s pals with columnist Mary Sanchez). A column that provided him the chance to accomplish two goals; a minor rewrite of history and an opportunity to kiss up to Miller’s heirs and maybe land a donation for his 20 year-old plan to erect a monument and/or museum here to the beloved animator who spent part of his early years in the Cowtown.
Mission accomplished, except for one thing; it was a faulty accounting.
Because Diane Disney Miller’s visit in 1994 was little more than a schmooze trip to attempt to get her to contribute to Rigby’s group’s original plan to build a statue of her father Walt.
“I’d love to see a statue of Walt sitting at his drawing board and looking at a little Mickey Mouse on the floor,” co-organizer Jon Hart , a DJ on KCMO-AM at the time told me in July of that year. “His childhood home is still here, but nobody’s even bothered to put up a plaque.”
Their game plan: set a series of meetings to finalize the plans, decide where the statue would go, its cost and then how to pay for it.
“We do not anticipate contacting the Disney organization until we have our plans formalized and finalized,” added co-organizer John Shipp.
And four months later the statue concept blossomed overnight into a $30 million film and animation museum that Miller somehow “endorsed” with little more than a passing comment to McTavish that it was “a wonderful idea.”
Accompanied by a vague pledge by the Uptown Theater to provide a half million buck “interest free loan” if the project were to be located at the nearby Uptown Shoppes.
However, even though Rigby’s group Thank You Walt Disney had been formed months prior to that, Rigby’s editorial cited Miller’s visit as “the point we realized that Walt Disney’s days in Kansas City were important to preserve. We formed Thank You Walt Disney Inc.”
What followed Miller’s visit were years of squabbling and infighting by different local interests, each of whom wanted a piece of Rigby’s $30 million dream scheme. For half a minute the Uptown thought it had the deal in the bag, only to learn that Thank You had subsequently flirted with AMC honcho Stan Durwood and his Power & Light District,interested parties at Union Station, Bartle Hall and Liberty Memorial and who knows where else.
Long story short, McTavish’s front page yarn made Miller’s involvement sound credible – $5 million in local donations, $5 million in national donations and a $20 million bond issue – and just about everybody wanted a slice of that cake.
However that was then followed by questions and uncertainty over whether the Walt Disney Co. would even allow it, let alone contribute to it.
Suddenly Rigby’s Thank You Walt Disney organization was divided into opposing camps.
“The Disney family doesn’t want the (Disney) corporation involved,” said TYWD board member Connie Vitale. “The corporation hasn’t ever indicated that they would want to be involved anyway. The Catch-22 to that is that the family wants to see what kind of corporate support corporate Kansas City is going to provide. And corporate Kansas City wants to know if the Disney corporation gives them a green light.”
Miller’s husband Ron Miller – the former CEO of Disney – had been forced out of the company by Roy Disney and Michael Eisner.
Worse yet, Diane Disney Miller was “kind of fluctuating, because evidently there are other cities looking at doing this, too,” Vitale added.
“I think a Walt Disney facility in Kansas City is very viable. But time is against it coming, because there are people actively working in California now that are working against it coming here,” added Uptown main man Larry Sells.
Sure enough, in October 2009 the Miller-backed Walt Disney Family Museum finally opened in the Presidio of San Francisco.
Worse yet, in the midst of all this 1990s confusion, Kansas City’s power brokers stepped in and relieved Rigby, Shipp and Hart of their duties while the Big Boys attempted to sort things out corporate style..in vain.
Brushed aside by the suits, Rigby – to his credit – purchased the rubble remains of what were reportedly Disney’s first digs here at 31st and Forest and has been slowly plowing money into saving it ever since.
No $30 million film and animation studio populated by Kansas City Art Institute students. No state-of-the-art, inner-city Disney landmark attraction at 31st and Forest. Not even the measly statue initially proposed.
Miller’s Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention Kansas City or Thank You Walt Disney.
There is however a Thank You Walt Disney website.
Complete with a vague mission statement about being “committed to being a leader in art animation study, while encouraging confidence and entrepreneurial individualism” and a few lines about restoring the building on 31st “where the mouse was born.” Nothing though about the original statue or any of the other grand plans. And with original board members Hart and Shipp missing in action.
So yeah, let’s give Rigby credit for having his heart in the right place…
At the same time while taking note of the fact that the newspaper allowed him blow a little smoke up everybody’s you-know-what with an abridged version of Thank You Walt Disney and its relationship with Diane Disney Miller.