By the time Becky Cline joined The Walt Disney Company in 1989, Walt’s beloved enterprise was already more than 65 years old. But her job responsibilities mean that she knows more about Walt and his company than most people do. That’s because she’s the corporate director of The Walt Disney Archives.
As the Archives director, Cline is tasked with collecting, preserving, and making available for use the materials dealing with the history of The Walt Disney Company. She’s also responsible for doing everything she can to keep the history of the company–as well as its traditions–alive for generations to come.
The Walt Disney Archives
The Walt Disney Archives is currently located in the Frank G. Wells Building on The Walt Disney Studios lot. Established in 1970, the Archives has also been a place to preserve a massive collection of artifacts and files related to Walt Disney and his company.
In September 1997, scores of files and artifacts were moved from storage into a ready-built space on the studio lot, making it the first time The Walt Disney Company artifacts, memorabilia, mementos, and files would have a home in a space that was designed specifically for the operations and purposes of the Archives, which include preserving the collection, working with researchers, and showcasing numerous historical objects for guests to enjoy as well. The move thrilled Becky Cline.
An Exciting Find
But for all she has learned about the company over the years, Cline occasionally still comes across things she’s never seen before, and when that happens, she’s just as delighted as any other Disney fan would be.
That’s exactly what happened in 2020–the year the Archives was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“When doing research in the collections of the Walt Disney Archives, it’s always fun when you stumble across interesting tidbits from Disney History,” Cline explains. “One day, while looking in Walt Disney’s 1955 correspondence files–for something else entirely–I came across this.”
In July 1955, just days before Disneyland was scheduled to open its gates for the first time, a 14-year-old girl named Sharon Robinson was at Los Angeles International Airport, referred to by locals as simply “International Airport,” with her cousin. It’s not clear whether she was there to pick up a loved one, see a loved one off on their flight, or board a plane herself.
But while she was there, she met a man who reminded her very much of Walt Disney, so she asked him, “Are you Walt Disney,” to which the man replied he was. But Sharon just couldn’t believe it and assumed the man at the airport was joking with her.
But after talking it over with her cousin, Sharon couldn’t get the thought out of her mind: Could the man really have been Mr. Walt Disney? By her own admission, she needed to ease her mind, so she wrote a letter to Walt Disney in Burbank.
It was addressed to Walt Disney and read:
I was at the International Airport in Westchester Friday night July 1st.
I met a man there that looked exactly like you or was you. He said he was you, but I think he was just joking.
To ease my cousin’s and my mind, could you please tell me if you were there with your wife?
It’s signed simply “Sharon Robinson.”
Surely the young girl felt optimistic about a response, as evidenced by the fact that she wrote the letter to Walt in the first place. Not only did Sharon receive a response back from Walt Disney himself, but his response was humorous, and the timing of his letter proves Walt cared about his fans, as he responded just hours before the opening of Disneyland.
In his response to Sharon, Walt Disney recounts the visit he had with the young girl while they were at the airport in Los Angeles. He remembers every detail of the conversation, and then Walt, ever the businessman, tells the young girl about a brand-new television show starting in October 1955 called “The Mickey Mouse Club program.”
His letter to Sharon is dated July 14, 1955, just three days before the opening of Disneyland, and reads:
Yes, I met a young lady, oh, about fourteen I should say, out at International Airport while I was waiting for my daughter’s plane to arrive.
Mrs. Disney and I were sitting up in the Observation Room and had just had our pictures taken. I noticed a couple of young girls, and one of them said to me:
“You look like Walt Disney,” and I answered, “Yes, I do.” And the young girl continued, “Are you Walt Disney?” and I answered, “Yes.”
As I was leaving, I heard your friend call you “Sharon.” Then I said, “Why, Sharon is my daughter’s name too.”
Now, isn’t this sufficient proof to you and your cousin that I am Walt Disney?
Anyway, don’t forget to watch our Disneyland TV Show every Wednesday night, and, beginning next October, we’re going to have a new television show which will be known as The Mickey Mouse Club program. This will be a daily show, Monday through Friday.
It was fun meeting you, and best regards.
Sincerely, Walt Disney
What a day that must have been for young Sharon Robinson and her cousin–and then to find out that Sharon hadn’t been mistaken, that she really had been talking with the real Walt Disney . . . that must have been the thrill of a lifetime!