So, today, a friend of mine over at the Disney Studios invited me to come by for Michael Eisner’s last (and rambling) farewell to his employees.
It was a small affair, with maybe 300-400 people, out of 128,000 worldwide employees (and probably close to 8,000 local), out in front of the studio Commissary. He made some baseball analogies that didn’t seem to connect, and told a couple of anecdotal stories, then went on his way with a humble round of applause that then grew to a cheer from a smaller remnant, enough to bring him back to wave goodbye again.
And that was the end of Michael’s era.
Today, he cleaned out his desk on the 6th floor, and then came by the wardrobe department on the lot where he and Jane picked out the clothes that he will keep and have sent over to his home.
Today, he was a man, and not a giant, nor a threat to anyone.
His most honest comment, was after saying some nice things about people, and about people who had said nice things about him over the years, said something along the lines of “And tomorrow, everyone can say whatever they’d really like to say.”
That was followed by a bittersweet smile, and some nervous laughter from the crowd.
I remember my few weeks working on the 6th floor – and I’m sure he doesn’t remember me. I was working for Lucille Martin (Who was Special Assistant to Michael and the Disney Board of Directors, and was Walt’s original secretary for many years) as a temp, helping her rebuild his personal Rolodex in FileMaker Pro. Flirting with his other assistants, and trying hard to make a good impression. I still have a letter of recommendation on his letterhead, from Lucille, for the work I did there as an upbeat 24 year old who was (lightly) chastised for not wearing a tie in the office.
Some months later, after I no longer worked in his office, and was working on the backlot, I was working for Tom Bronson, who was dealing with Michael’s wardrobe for the “Voice of Disney” shoots at that time. We shot one Saturday, on Stage 2 if I remember correctly, though it might have been Stage 1, and that was my first, and only real conversation with the man.
We were on set, in between setups, and Tom introduced me – I noted that I had worked for Lucille for a bit, and he sized me up in about 2 seconds flat. From there, we had about a 10 minute conversations about things. At the time, I was working full time at Disney, producing on one short film, and coordinating on another, so I was really working my ass off. We chatted about it for a minute, and he stopped to ask if where I had gone to film school. I told him I had not attended film school. He stopped at that, looked at me and said “Where did you learn to do all this work?” and I said something along the lines of “flying by the seat of my pants.” He said something like “Good for you,” and he went back to shooting the segment.
It was a good day, and while I do not agree with a lot of the management style and priorities over the years, I will give him some respect for the successes that Disney has had through his tenure.
Good luck to whatever the future holds for you Mr. Eisner. My brief time on the 6th floor, and the understanding of some of the inner workings of the studio, opened a lot of doors for me over the years; and for that, I am grateful.