Thursday, July 05, 2012

Walt Sinks Like a Rock by Jim Korkis

Sometimes during my research I will run across a cute story but it is too short to turn into a long article or even to use as part of an article.  I’ve talked with Didier that in some future volumes of WALT’S PEOPLE, there needs to be a section for these short snapshots of people’s encounters with Walt.

No matter how big and important Walt Disney got, there are countless stories of him taking time to visit with old friends from Marceline or other encounters.

William C. Johnston was just a young boy from Evanston, Illinois when he signed up to be trained as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross during World War I.  It was during training that he met another young boy named Walter Disney.

“I worked for the Chicago Tribune and Walt worked for the Kansas City Star.  We were both paper boys,” recalled Johnson.

Their paths parted ways but they were reunited later on the same ship returning both boys home again.  During that twenty-one day sea voyage, Johnson remembered that Walt usually had a pen or pencil at hand and entertained the others with his cartooning skills.  Johnston says he had wished he had saved some of those cartoons that Walt turned out by the score.

Johnson returned to Evanston where he spent fourteen years as a police officer.  In 1929, while attending a movie, Johnston saw the cartoon “Steamboat Willie” and immediately recognized Walt’s name.  He wrote to his old acquaintance, “Walt, you’ve got something there!”  

Walt replied with a standard fan card from the time of Mickey Mouse walking with his right open hand raised in the air.  Above was a blank speech balloon where Walt had printed “To my old pal, W.C. Johnston”.   Under Mickey’s picture, Walt had signed his name.

The picture hung in the Johnston home and youngsters often asked, “How did you get that picture?  Did you send a quarter somewhere?”

In the Sixties, the Johnstons went to California on a vacation trip.  On a whim, Johnston phoned the Disney Studios and was directed to one of Walt’s personal secretaries.  Johnston told her that Walt had probably forgotten him but he wanted to say “hello”.  Later, the secretary called him back and reassured him that Walt had not forgotten him and wanted the Johnstons to come to studios at their earliest opportunity for a visit.

When they arrived at the Disney Studios, Mrs. Johnston remained in the car with relatives while Johnston went inside to visit with his old acquaintance.  While they talked for quite awhile about their experiences in World War I, Walt decided to come out to the car and greet the waiting ladies and to personally escort them through the studio.  William even got a picture taken of him standing next to a smiling Walt.  Johnston remembers Walt as being a man very easy to talk with when he retold the story.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Walt remembered William Johnston was an incident that happened in World War I.  The two were swimming and Walt, who according to Johnston “swam like a rock”, stepped off a deep spot and was pulled out of the water by Johnston.

[Jim Korkis is still looking for a permanent job or for freelance writting or speaking assignments. If you need a great Disney historian, writter, speaker, etc. Please keep him in mind and more importantly email him at to hire him ASAP.]

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