Literally hundreds of thousands of cast members and celebrities have helped make a Disney theme park visit what it is today. Thanks to countless Imagineers, movie stars, and Uncle Walt himself, The Walt Disney Company is one of the most powerful and popular corporations in the entire world.
But here’s a good question.
Which people have meant the most to Disney over the years? It’s a fun thought exercise that requires a couple of choices in determining criteria. First of all, Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Elsa can’t count. We’re only talking about real people. Similarly, allowing people with Disney in their name to qualify is too easy. So, Walt, the Roys, and Lilly aren’t eligible. We’re also ruling out Ub Iwerks, who was literally there from the beginning with Walt and anyone else who ever ran the company or was intimately involved with its daily operations. With those parameters in mind, here’s a list of some of the biggest Disney icons of all-time. Whether they’re celebrities, Imagineers, or musicians, they all had a hand in making Disney the company we adore.
People of a certain age automatically associate MacMurray with My Three Sons, while cinema buffs are quick to point out his seminal work in Double Indemnity. Besides the scandalous film and harmless television series, MacMurray worked tirelessly as a Disney player, starring in such unforgettable titles as The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor, the latter of which changed Professor John Frink’s life due to its invention of FLUBBER. MacMurray later starred in Son of Flubber, too. If you’re questioning MacMurray’s placement on this list, I have only one counterpoint. When the company chose their first Disney Legend, they honored Fred MacMurray before anyone else.
Sure, he’s Woody, the world’s rootinest, tootinest cowboy, and that’s reason enough to put Tom Hanks on the shortlist for biggest Disney icons. What truly separates him, however, is something that his other Toy Story castmates, even Tim Allen, can’t claim. When The Walt Disney Company wanted to make a movie about their company founder, they specifically selected Tom Hanks to portray Walt Disney. It doesn’t get more Disney than that.
Buddy Ebsen and Fess Parker
During the 1950s, Davy Crockett was THE moneymaker for Disney, and its continued presence in Disney theme parks is a tribute to that impact. Separating the two stars of Davy Crockett isn’t easy. Choosing which one deserves a spot on this list is that much harder. Fess Parker portrayed Davy Crockett and was a contract star for Disney, appearing in the legendary Old Yeller. He is also a Disney Legend, a recurring theme for many of these selections. Meanwhile, Ebsen played Georgie Russel in the series. More importantly, his soft shoe tap skills became the basis for Disney’s first audio-animatronic (AA), making Jed Clampett (fittingly) the grandfather of AAs.
One of the chronic complaints about the Disney of today as opposed to the one from the mid-20th century is the lack of famous Imagineers. Picking the most famous ones from the company’s early days is a brutal exercise. Conversely, only one Imagineer working today enjoys that sort of name recognition. It’s Rohde, who loves to describe his ascension within the company as being a byproduct of his willingness to speak up in meetings. Whether he’s understating his contributions or not, Rohde’s latest work might prove to be his masterpiece. As Vice President of Creative, he’s the man in charge of Pandora – The World of Avatar, the first entirely new themed land at a North American Disney park in 15 years.
She’s Mary Poppins. Enough said.