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Man of the century: Walt Disney
by Ira Hansen
Dec 26, 2009 | 1053 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Time magazine recently named Ben Bernanke Man of the Year, and in 2000 named Albert Einstein Man of the 20th century.

The Einstein selection has bothered me since. It is an injustice. FDR, Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt and dozens of others were much greater in every respect than Einstein.

But a non-political person may have had the greatest impact by far, an influence that has carried over into the 21st century unabated.

Walt Disney is known to every person in America, and always in a positive light. The Magic Kingdom he created today remains magic and a magnet. The cartoon characters he created are known to everyone. His movies are still classics.

I am old enough to remember when Disney himself hosted “The Wonderful World of Disney” T.V. show every Sunday night. I think just about everyone in America watched that show.

Sundays were the sabbath in my home growing up and what we could or could not do was carefully regulated. T.V. was a no-no, with two exceptions: “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and Disney, which ran together. The whole family gathered around the boob tube. Interestingly, Disney by my dad’s standards was wholesome enough to qualify as a near-religious activity.

If you were to randomly ask 100 people what Einstein or Bernanke or FDR or (take your pick) did, and what positive contributions they made, the responses would vary greatly. But ask the common man what Disney had done and a nearly universal response will be given.

But, does drawing cartoon characters qualify someone for “greatness?” What makes someone great? Nor are the orthodox “great” ones free of taint. All of them, including Einstein, had their terrible consequences as well. Moral philosophers still debate the use of the atom bomb.

Yet, for doing something consistently positive, that still creates human happiness, clean wholesome pleasure, childhood anticipations and old age nostalgia, Disney is apparently seen as a lightweight.

As far as promoting the American way of life, creating veneration for our founders and our nation, none tops Disney. By combining entertainment and history Disney influenced and continues to influence generations of young Americans.

Himself a member of the “greatest generation,” he brought American heroes and American history to life. How many reading this can still sing the ballad of Davy Crockett and know the story of the Alamo from Disney’s movie?

When it comes to movies Disney’s still rank at the top. I still get choked up watching “Old Yeller,” feel a spirit of raw adventure watching “Swiss Family Robinson,” see “Pollyanna” as a great lesson in basic human behavior and laugh at Disney cartoons. And that is the mere tip of his momentous accomplishments. Does creating art that makes such happy and moral contributions to the everyday life of ordinary people not qualify its creator for greatness? If the answer is yes and when done on the scale of Disney’s, would that not qualify as one of the truly noble human achievements of the 20th century? Are great people only great when involved in war and politics?

Last month my wife, myself, all eight of our children, their spouses, our three grandchildren and my mom all went to Disneyland. If there is an American mecca that transcends generations, this is it.

If greatness can be viewed from a perspective of doing good for mankind, of serving others, of strengthening families, of binding one generation to another, Walt Disney, a humble American mid-westerner with a vision and the will to make dreams come true, is the greatest positive contributor to the “American century.”

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks and owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing. You can reach him at
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