Walt Disney gets the lion’s share of the credit for the success of the Disney company in its first four decades, and deservedly so. But many people don’t realize the influence that Walt’s older brother Roy had on the company. Roy served as Walt’s business partner and handled the business decisions for the company from its founding until his passing in 1971. Bob Thomas, author of Walt Disney: An American Original, published Building A Company: Roy O. Disney And The Creation Of An Entertainment Empire. Thomas’ biography of Roy tells his story like no one else can.
Roy Disney was born eight years before his brother Walt. Their two older brothers had grown up and moved away, so Roy took Walt under his wing, and the two were inseparable for many years. Roy served in Europe in World War I, and his brother’s service prompted Walt to serve with the Red Cross at the tail end of the war. Later, Roy contracted tuberculosis and moved to California to recuperate. When Walt decided to strike out on his own in Los Angeles, Roy was in a VA hospital in nearby Sawtelle. Walt visited Roy to tell him of his plans to start a studio. Roy walked out of the hospital with his brother and never looked back.
In the early days of the studio, Roy worked a camera, but that was the extent of his work in “show business.” The two brothers married – Walt married Lillian Bounds, while Roy tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, Edna Francis. As the studio grew, Roy traveled back and forth to New York to meet with distributors or to secure financing. Many times, Roy found himself faced with the choice of acquiring more funds or refusing to implement one of Walt’s ideas. Roy rarely told Walt “no.”