A young man not only discovers a shocking connection to Walt Disney, he ends up in charge!
|My name is Luke. I’ve decided to write this, I guess, memoir or auto-biography of sorts due to the recent twist my life has taken. I’ve always considered myself average for the most part, aside from my raging Disney addiction. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I never expected to have anything happen to me that would warrant an account like this.
As a kid, like most other kids, I always loved watching a Disney movie every now and then. I went to Disneyland a few times, always wanting more. But, I don’t think it was until I was in high school that I would say my love for Disney began to develop into the true obsession that it is today. It’s hard to determine what exactly spurred the obsession to kick in, but if I had to choose I would say it was sometime in the spring of my senior year of high school. I went to Disneyland for the time in like five years, and for the first time with a friend instead of my family. But, I was still just a person with a weird obsession.
Anyway, eventually high school graduation came, and it was time to get on with the rest of my life. I got ready to head off to college, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what to major in. I knew whatever I did would be something to prepare me for a career with Disney. I had already ruled out art school, I was a terrible artist and no amount of school would make me good enough to animate anything Disney would want.
“Dude, we’re starting school in like a month and a half and I still can’t figure out what I want to do.” I complained to my friend Eric one night, the summer after graduation.
Eric is one of my best friends. We met in fourth grade and we developed a really strong friendship almost immediately. We hang out all the time and can talk to each other about anything.
“I mean, you have some idea, don’t you?” He asked.
“I want to do something Disney related. Do you know how vague that really is?” I told him.
“So, narrow it down then.” He said. “Do you want to animate?”
“Have you seen me draw?” I asked.
“Ok. So, no animation.”
“And, I could never learn enough about engineering to make it in Imagineering.” I continued.
“You’re always going on and on about the history of everything. Is there anything there?”
“Well, I guess there’s a tiny chance of getting a job with the Disney Archives.” I said, thinking out loud.
“Ok, go for that.” Eric said.
So, with the Archives in mind, I declared myself a history major and eventually the day came to leave home and head off to school. Eric and I loaded up our cars and started our journey down to Southern California. The next four years were a whirlwind of education, but eventually we ended up with bachelor’s degrees.
Some say that college is the time of great discovery in your life, and that ended up being true for me in a certain sense. Early on in my college days, I found myself pondering what I wanted to do with my life again. Much to Eric’s dismay, I had quite a few discussions with him on the topic. He was a big fan of Disney, but he did have his limits. Over the course of these discussions, my goal changed from obtaining a position in the archives to the idea of creating the world’s first class focused solely on Disney history. Equally ambitious, but something about it seemed just like a better fit for me.
So, anyway, graduation day came after the first four years. I knew that to be able to eventually teach a college course, I would need a Master’s on top of my Bachelor’s. So, Eric started looking for his first job post-college while I got ready to go back to school.
I had been working part-time at Disneyland all through school and managed to keep it while I worked on my Master’s degree. It was useful as a little continuous source of motivation as I worked through the grueling process of the Master’s program.
By some stroke of star-aligning luck, I was somehow able to convince the school to let me create my Disney curriculum as my Master’s thesis project. So, the latter half of my Master’s process was actually incredibly satisfying. I spent the vast majority of the time I wasn’t working at Disneyland researching all that I could and figuring out the organization that would best fit a class.
It was during this research process that I made one of the biggest discoveries of my life. One day while I was trying to find out more on Walt’s Nine Old Men, I saw a banner ad on the side of the web page I was on. The ad was for a website that would tell you any famous people you were related to using your genealogy. I figured it was worth a shot since my grandparents spent all their time working on our genealogy. I clicked on the ad and as I was scrolling through the list my mouth dropped wide open. Right there, in plain non-descript lettering, was the name “Walter Elias Disney”. I thought it was too good to be true. But upon further inspection, I learned that the Walt Disney was my fifth cousin six times removed.
This was such a huge discovery; my concentration was immediately shattered. I made a phone call home and talked to my parents to see if they knew anything about this. The news was as much news to them as it was to me. As we talked, my parents let something slip about my uncle Dan. I never heard anything about him. I hardly even knew I had an uncle Dan. He’s my mom’s older brother and nobody talks about him. Well, for the first time in my life, my parents admitted to me that he was the president of the Walt Disney company.
I couldn’t believe it. My entire life my parents never let slip that I was that closely related to the president of the company I found myself obsessed with. Apparently, there was some kind of falling out between him and my grandparents when he turned eighteen and they’ve all been fairly distant ever since. It was crazy that the first thing I learned about the man, besides the fact that he is my uncle, was his unbelievable profession.
My parents told me they weren’t willing to talk to him still, but they let me know that I didn’t need to be afraid to try and find him. Since nobody had had any close contact with him since before cell phones were a real thing, the idea of contacting him would be a tough proposition.
I started with Facebook. I knew that would be difficult, Dan Brown tends to be a fairly common name. Luckily, I did know what he looked like. I’d watched enough press conferences to get a pretty good idea of what he looks like. After sifting through hundreds of the thousands of results on Facebook, it started to feel sort of hopeless trying to find him that way. So, once again, I was stuck. I didn’t have a phone number or even a home address to try. The only other thing I could think of to try was to write him a letter and send it to the Disney Studios with the blind hope that it would make its way to him and he would care enough to read it. This is the letter I wrote:
Dear Dan Brown,
I guess I should say Uncle Dan really. Sorry to drop that on you so quickly. Your sister Lisa is my mom. I guess something really bad went down between you and the rest of your family a long time ago and that’s why we’ve never met. Nobody has told me the specifics and I understand if it’s something you don’t want to talk about.
Growing up, I knew that you existed and were my uncle, but that’s all I knew. Even now, the only other thing I know about you is that you’re the president of the company. It only came up today when I called my parents because I found out that Walt Disney is my fifth cousin six times removed. Crazy, right? I can’t remember whether it was through my mom or my dad, so you might be related too!
I live in the Los Angeles area. I even work at Disneyland, so I guess I technically work for you. I am obsessed with Disney, absolutely obsessed. It’s basically all I ever think about. I’m trying to create the world’s first Disney history class. I’m working on getting my Master’s degree right now to be able to teach college one day and my thesis project for my degree is creating the curriculum for the class.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would love to meet you. If nothing else, I’d love to be able to pick your brain about your experience with the company. I don’t know if you’re ready to have any contact with your family yet. Maybe you’d be willing to start with me, it seems like we might have a lot in common. I’m sorry if this has been awkward for you, I wasn’t really sure how to go about writing this letter. I really hope that you can find the time to reply, or even just read this.
From your nephew,