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The CIA and Disney: Zapruder film payback?

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Disney Assembled Cast Of Buyers To Amass Land Stage For Kingdom


By Mark Andrews, of The Sentinel Staff

May 30, 1993

Working under a strict cloak of secrecy, real estate agents who didn't know the identity of their client began making offers to landowners in southwest Orange and northwest Osceola counties in April 1964 - shortly after Walt Disney chose the site for his new theme park.

Careful not to let property owners know the extent of their land-buying appetites, the agents quietly negotiated one deal after another - sometimes lining up contracts to buy huge tracts for little more than $100 an acre.

Walt Disney Productions attorney Paul Helliwell had set up dummy corporations - with such names as Latin American Development and Management Corp. and Reedy Creek Ranch Corp. - in Miami to act as purchasers of the land. To make the deals, Helliwell worked through Roy Hawkins, a Miami real estate consultant.

Hawkins contacted Nelson Boice, president of Florida Ranch Lands Inc., an Orlando realty firm, and ''expressed a casual interest in a 'super-sized' parcel of land,'' according to a November 1965 news account.

Swearing their office staff to secrecy, the Realtors began assembling information from Orange and Osceola county tax rolls on the ownership of land in the area in which the ''mystery industry'' was interested.

Next came the job of securing options to buy the property. The deal-makers made telephone calls to the owners - many of them out of state. Most were delighted to sell. Some, who had received their land through inheritances, had never even seen it.

Because they knew that recording the first deeds would trigger an intense wave of public questioning about what was going on, Disney's representatives waited until they had a large number of parcels locked up through options before filing their paper work.

Most of the land transactions were handled in cash to eliminate a paper trail.

The first purchases, recorded on May 3, 1965, included one for 8,380 acres of swamp and brush from state Sen. Ira Bronson at a price of $107 an acre. The deal had been made seven months earlier.

The first newspaper account of the large-scale interest in Orange and Osceola county property ran the next day. The May 4 Orlando Sentinel story said the transactions ''will undoubtedly increase rumors already afloat for the past year to the effect that a new and large industrial complex is about to locate in this area.''

Indeed it did.

Because of the proximity to Cape Kennedy, much speculation centered on space or aircraft technology, Stephen M. Fjellman wrote in his 1992 book, Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America. Carmakers' names, especially Ford, also were mentioned.

Former Orlando banker Billy Dial, who also was involved in the negotiations, said a Florida Power Corp. executive called him at about that time to ask what Ford would do with all that land. He wondered if the utility should plan to provide power.

On May 20, an Orlando Sentinel article acknowledged the persistent rumor that ''the land is being purchased for a second East Coast Disneyland attraction.'' But the paper discounted the gossip because Walt Disney had specifically denied it during a recent visit to Cape Kennedy.

Disney told the newspaper he was spending $50 million to expand Disneyland and was not interested in another such venture at that time.

Within three weeks of recording the Bronson transaction, Florida Ranch Lands had wrapped up deals with 47 owners. Eventually, Boice and his associates negotiated agreements with 51 owners to buy some 27,400 acres for more than $5 million - an average price of $182 per acre.

Disney intended to announce his ownership of the land and his plans for Walt Disney World on Nov. 15, 1965. But the secret wouldn't keep that long.

In October 1965 Emily Bavar, editor of the Sentinel's Florida magazine, was in Anaheim with five other journalists to tour Disneyland as Disney's guests.

During repeated interviews with Walt Disney, Bavar tried to pin the entertainment magnate down on whether his company was the buyer of all that Florida real estate. Disney would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.

But Bavar learned enough in California to convince her.

On Oct. 21, 1965, a story by Bavar predicted Disney would build a new theme park on the huge tract.

After piecing together more information, the paper led its Sunday edition three days later with a story headlined, ''We Say: 'Mystery' Industry Is Disney.''

With the mouse out of the bag, Disney scrapped his plans for a formal announcement and allowed Gov. Haydon Burns to confirm the next day, Oct. 25, that he intended to build ''the greatest attraction in the history of Florida'' in Orange County.

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Disney Pulled Strings So Mouse Moved In With Barely A Squeak


By Mark Andrews of The Sentinel Staff

August 6, 2000


Critics of legendary newspaper publisher Martin Andersen fall into two camps when it comes to his role in helping to keep a lid on speculation about a mysterious gigantic land development project that would become Walt Disney World:

Either he knew who was the buyer of all those thousands of acres straddling the Orange-Osceola county line in 1964-65 and helped deprive local people of a chance to cash in on the bonanza by sitting on the story, or he wasn't a good enough journalist to figure out the buyer's identity.

Actually, almost no one believed he was a poor journalist.

For his part, Andersen, who died in 1986, always insisted he did not know it was the Walt Disney Co. that was buying the land to build an East Coast version of its Disneyland theme park. And he said he did not let his newspaper staff go out of its way to try to identify the buyer because he did not want to compromise the success of a project that he hoped would be an economic windfall for the metro Orlando area.

From 1931 to 1965, Andersen was the crusading publisher of Orlando's morning and evening newspapers, which later merged to become what is now The Orlando Sentinel. Andersen took a more out-front role as a community advocate than do most modern-day newspaper publishers -- lavishing praise on favored candidates for public office, while excoriating those he didn't like; working behind closed doors with politicians and bankers to lure new businesses to town; and arm-twisting legislators and governors to get highways built here.

Concerning the Disney project, what did Andersen know, and when did he know it?

In his 1996 biography of Andersen, former Sentinel editor Ormund Powers wrote that the strong-armed publisher may have known as early as 1958 that Disney was interested in Central Florida. Powers said a former secretary of Andersen's, Kay Unterfer, told him that Andersen met quietly with several Disney representatives, influential banker/lawyer Billy Dial and the mayors of Orlando and Winter Park that year. According to Unterfer's account, the Disney people wanted Andersen's promise of silence until they were ready to go public.

Other accounts, though, say the company did not seriously begin scouting East Coast sites for a new park until 1960 or '61 and that Walt Disney himself settled on Central Florida as the site for his new park in 1964.

What is clear is that the intersection of two new highways -- Florida's Turnpike and Interstate 4 -- was the determining factor that made Disney settle on the site.

In a paper for the Florida Historical Society in 1991, Rollins College professor Richard Foglesong wrote that Disney and several of his top executives were flying in the corporate Gulfstream jet over Central Florida, scouting out potential park locations early in 1964. They had just eliminated Ocala from consideration because it lacked good highway links. Fifteen miles southwest of Orlando, Disney looked down and saw I-4, still under construction, crossing the turnpike.

" `This is it!' the cartoonist-turned-showman exclaimed,'' Foglesong wrote. West of that junction lay a vast stretch of virgin land. The site for Walt Disney World had been discovered.

Once the decision had been made, Miami attorney Paul Helliwell, who represented Disney, paid a visit to Dial, who was then president of First National Bank at Orlando, which later became SunBank and is now part of SunTrust Bank.

Helliwell explained that he represented someone who planned to make a major investment in the area, which would result in thousands of new jobs. While keeping him in the dark, Helliwell wanted Dial to help deal with landowners. Dial recalled later that he asked to know more, but the lawyer explained that the success of the mission depended on keeping the buyer's identity and details of his plans a secret until all the land had been acquired.

Disney's strategy was to take out options on the largest tracts, then later buy up the smaller parcels -- many of which were owned by people who lived out of state. Attorneys negotiated with various landowners for six months before closing on the first purchase.

They knew that once the first deeds were recorded, people would begin asking lots of questions. Working under a strict cloak of secrecy, real estate agents who didn't know the identity of their client began making offers to landowners in southwest Orange and northwest Osceola counties in April 1964. Careful not to let property owners know the extent of their land-buying appetite, the agents quietly negotiated one deal after another -- lining up contracts to buy huge tracts for as little as $107 an acre.

Helliwell had set up dummy corporations -- with such names as Latin American Development and Management Corp. and Reedy Creek Ranch Corp. -- to act as buyers of the land. The companies worked through a Miami real estate consultant named Roy Hawkins, who in turn used an Orlando real estate company, Florida Ranch Lands Inc., to make the purchases.

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Newspaper Publisher's Big Story Would Wait For Good Of Community


By Mark Andrews of The Sentinel Staff

November 17, 1996


Martin Andersen was a transplanted resident of Orange County - as are many people here. But he quickly fell in love with the area and committed himself and his newspapers, the Orlando Morning Sentinel and Evening Star, to improving the community.

Sometimes that meant writing editorials to support candidates for governor he didn't really like because he knew they would help get highways built in Central Florida. Other times it meant working behind the scenes with politicians and business leaders to bring industry - like the Martin missile plant - to town. Or calling in a favor from his old friend Lyndon Johnson to get a Navy base planted 50 miles from the ocean.

But one time, doing what was best for his community meant sitting on one of the biggest stories of his career for more than a year.

The year was 1964, and someone wanted to buy huge tracts of land on the Orange-Osceola County line. A Miami attorney representing the mystery buyer went to see bank president Billy Dial.

The attorney, Paul Helliwell, told Dial there had been a leak in California about the project. If that information were publicized, it would ruin Orlando's chances of gaining a huge new employer, former Orlando Sentinel managing editor Ormund Powers writes in his new biography, Martin Andersen: Editor, Publisher, Galley Boy.

''Let's go see Martin Andersen,'' Dial replied.

''That's the last man we want to see,'' Helliwell said.

''That's the first man we want to see,'' Dial told him.

After their visit with Andersen, the publisher called in his top staffers and told them, ''There is a big deal going on. And while we don't know what it is, we have assurances it will be good for the community, and we don't want a line printed in this paper about it,'' Powers writes.

The buyer, of course, was Walt Disney. Disney's attorneys wanted to negotiate the purchase of huge tracts for Walt's theme park and hotels before enough people got wind of it to drive the price up.

The secret was kept, and Disney was able to buy 27,400 acres at an average price of $182 per acre.

Ironically, what lured Disney here was the junction of two highways - Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike. Andersen had influenced the routing of both through Orlando.

Only after the first deed was recorded in May 1965 did Andersen's newspapers report long-running rumors that the land was to become an East Coast version of Disneyland. That was confirmed less than six months later when one of Andersen's reporters visited Disney's headquarters in California.

Andersen insisted publicly that he never knew who the mystery buyer was until reporter Emily Bavar broke the story. But some Sentinel insiders told Powers they don't think as good a newsman as Andersen could have been unaware.

''If he got behind a project, he got behind it all the way,'' Dial once said. ''Martin would go along with anything that was for the good of the community.''

The growth of Orlando meant Andersen's newspapers needed to expand. Perhaps he was skittish about the debt that would require. Could be it was worry about getting unions in his plant. Or maybe the publisher who didn't like to delegate important tasks was just tired. In any case, he began casting around for someone to run his newspapers.

He hired Charlie Brumback, an accountant from Toledo, Ohio, whose parents wintered here, to run the business side in 1957. A year later, he asked if the Tribune Co. of Chicago wanted to buy the two papers. (Brumback later became publisher of the Sentinel, then moved to Chicago and retired last year as chairman of the board of Tribune.)

Andersen and Tribune - along with other potential suitors - danced around each other for several years. Andersen, Powers writes, ''was torn between feeling he would lose a part of himself if he sold, and the feeling that he had to sell because there was no one in his family to leave the properties to.'' The deal with Tribune finally was consummated in 1965.

''My greatest accomplishment was coming here a total stranger, dead broke, and being accepted by the leaders of a community,'' Andersen told the Sentinel Star after he retired. ''We'd go on those trips, fish and talk and work things out, go see people, get things done.''

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It's a tale of great mystery: How Disney came to Orlando

By Joy Wallace Dickinson, Florida Flashback

September 26, 2010


Intrigue. Master spies. Secret meetings. They seem like unlikely ingredients for the beginnings of "the happiest place on Earth," but the story of how Walt Disney World came to Florida has all of them.

Author Chad Emerson will talk this week at the University of Central Florida about the saga that brought Disney World to Florida — including the amazing acquisition, piece by piece, of a 43-square-mile parcel twice the size of Manhattan.

Emerson is a law professor at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., where his areas of expertise include law concerning land planning, intellectual property and amusement parks. He's also the author of Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World, published this year.

'All anyone in town was talking about'

It's been 45 years since the Sentinel reported on its front page that a mystery buyer represented by Miami attorney Paul Helliwell had acquired about 9,700 acres from Bronson Inc. in Osceola County.

All in all, the unknown land buyer had at that point acquired about 30,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties, the article concluded.

Who was buying the land? It "was all anyone in town was talking about" that summer of 1965, the late Sentinel columnist Charlie Wadsworth said in a 1988 interview.

The Sentinel's Emily Bavar would break the story in October 1965, but Wadsworth and his "Hush Puppies" column had been on the track of the "mystery industry" for almost a year, he said.

"It seems almost every day there was a new lead of some kind to follow . . . at cake sales, symphony openings, cocktail parties, everywhere," Wadsworth recalled.

The speculation produced rampant rumors that the secret buyer would be revealed as Howard Hughes or Boeing aircraft or the Rockefeller family. Even the first legal secretary hired for the mystery company, Julia Switlick, didn't know who her employer was.

"I was worried I might be working for the communists," Switlick said in a 1988 interview. "In those days, just saying someone was a communist was the worst thing you could do."

Masters of secrecy

Switlick need not have worried about communists, although the Disney team's covert maneuvers may have been even more secretive than those used by clandestine cells. Key players in the story had backgrounds in espionage.

Disney adviser William Donovan, who has been called the father of U.S. intelligence, was head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II, as Emerson writes in Project Future. (Rollins professor Rick Foglesong describes the Disney team's secrecy, too, in his book Married to the Mouse, published by Yale University Press in 2001.)

One of the team's rules was that nobody at Disney could talk to anyone in Orlando, period.

Emerson became absorbed in the story while he was researching an academic article and realized it had potential for readers outside legal journals.

"There are so many secretive and spy-like maneuvers, all legal, but very interesting and intertwined," he told an interviewer earlier this year.

One of the most interesting for Emerson involved a large parcel of land that's now the site of much of Epcot. Brothers Jack and Bill Demetree owned the surface rights to the land, but Tufts University in Boston retained the underground rights, in the hopes the land might contain oil or phosphorous.

In the end, the negotiators for Disney secured a deal with Tufts, but without that deal, "Disney World probably wouldn't exist in Central Florida," Emerson says.

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Talking With Chad Emerson: A ‘spy-like’ start for Disney

By Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel

March 14, 2010


Chad Emerson is the author of a new book, Project Future, that documents the origins of Walt Disney World and the lengths to which Walt Disney Co. went to keep its development plans and land purchases secret. Emerson, 37, spoke with Sentinel staff writer Jason Garcia.

CFB: How did you get interested in Disney World?

Well, I started researching for an academic article I was doing on improvement districts, and I stumbled across how the Reedy Creek Improvement District was pretty unique among all other improvement districts. So I started writing this academic article, and my wife and some other people were kind of reading it for me, and they started saying, ‘If you take out all this legal language and these footnotes, this would be a pretty interesting story in and of itself, about how Disney selected Central Florida and then purchased all of the land. … There are so many secretive and spy-like maneuvers that went on, all legal, but very interesting and intertwined.

CFB: What surprised you the most during your research?

The most interesting story I found involved Tufts College in Boston. One of the largest parcels that Disney was going to buy, they had secured a deal with the Demetree brothers to buy this land — a lot of which Epcot sits on these days. They bought the surface rights, but the Demetrees did not own the underground rights, because back then the underground rights were thought to be more valuable, with oil speculation. As it turned out, there wasn't any oil or phosphorous underground that was extremely valuable, but Tufts College wasn't sure, so they were very reticent to sell those underground rights. Disney's in-house attorney, Bob Foster, the Demetrees and their outside counsel, Paul Helliwell — a Miami attorney with literally a spy background in the predecessor to the CIA — they flew up to Boston, met in this conference room [with Tufts board members] to try to secure the underground rights. If they couldn't secure the underground rights, someone could have come in in the middle of the day and started drilling in the middle of Epcot for oil. So they went to the meeting, it went all day, and the Demetree brothers thought, ‘This is going to fall through.' And then Paul Helliwell pulled aside a couple of board members from Tufts, they went into another room, and they came out with a deal. Today, no one is really sure what exactly Mr. Helliwell said in that office to secure that deal. But without that deal, Disney World probably wouldn't exist in Central Florida.

CFB: Did Disney cooperate with your writing this book?

A lot of former Disney cast members and executives were obviously very helpful. Lee Cockerell wrote the foreward. And there were other folks: Joni Newkirk, Greg Emmer, Brad Rex. They [Disney] didn't officially provide any help. Now, I will say this: The Reedy Creek Improvement District, [District Administrator] Ray Maxwell and his team, were extremely helpful.

CFB: There's been debate over the years about whether Disney should have its own government. How do you feel?

I understand the concern people have about how this setup could be abused, because it really could. But when you thought about the industry that Disney's in, this customer-service industry where brand is so very important to them, they have such a strong incentive to govern well. If this would have been any industry or a plant of some type, they wouldn't want bad publicity but, really, who knows what would matter to them. But for Disney, they have to be so careful about the way the brand is. I think it just speaks for itself. There's been some times where there's been bond issues and things like that they've argued about, but, overall, I don't think many people in Orlando would say that having Disney there has been a bad thing. And without this improvement district, Disney was not coming. I'm convinced of that.

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How the CIA Helped Disney Conquer Florida


Apr 14, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

With advice from former CIA operatives and lawyers, Disney bought up the land for Florida’s Disney World and orchestrated a unique legal situation—and set up an unconstitutional form of government. An excerpt from TD Allman’s Finding Florida.

Finding Florida By TD Allman 528 pages. Atlantic Monthly Press. $27.50.

Starting in the mid-1960s when Disney set out to establish the Disney World Theme Park, they were determined to get land at below market prices and Disney operatives engaged in a far-ranging conspiracy to make sure sellers had no idea who was buying their Central Florida property. By resorting to such tactics Disney acquired more than 40 square miles of land for less than $200 an acre, but how to maintain control once Disney's empire had been acquired? The solution turned out to be cartoon-simple, thanks to the CIA.

Disney's key contact was the consummate cloak-and-dagger operator, William "Wild Bill" Donovan. Sometimes called the "Father of the C.I.A," he was also the founding partner of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, a New York law firm whose attorneys included future C.I.A. director William Casey. Donovan’s attorneys provided fake identities for Disney agents; they also set up a secret communications center, and orchestrated a disinformation campaign. In order to maintain "control over the overall development," Disney and his advisers realized, “the company would have to find a way to limit the voting power of the private residents" even though, they acknowledged, their efforts "violated the Equal Protection Clause" of the U.S. Constitution. Here again the CIA was there to help. Disney's principal legal strategist for Florida was a senior clandestine operative named Paul Helliwell. Having helped launch the C.I.A. secret war in Indochina, Helliwell relocated to Miami in 1960 in order to coordinate dirty tricks against Castro. At a secret "seminar" Disney convened in May 1965 Helliwell came up with the approach that to this day allows the Disney organization to avoid taxation and environmental regulation as well as maintain immunity from the U.S. Constitution. It was the same strategy the C.I.A. pursued in the foreign countries. Set up a puppet government; then use that regime to do your bidding.

Though no one lived there, Helliwell advised Disney to establish at least two phantom "cities,” then use these fake governments to control land use and make sure the public monies the theme park generated stayed in Disney's private hands. On paper Disney World's "cities" would be regular American home towns—except their only official residents would be the handful of hand-picked Disney loyalists who periodically "elected" the officials who, in turn, ceded complete control to Disney executives.

In early 1967, the Florida legislature created Hallowell’s two "cities,” both named for the artificial reservoirs Disney engineers created by obstructing the area's natural water flow. When you visit Disney's Magic Kingdom, you are visiting the City of Bay Lake, Florida. The other was the City of Lake Buena Vista. In both “cities,” in violation of both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions the Disney-engineered legislation established a property qualification for holding elective office, requiring that each candidate for office there "must be the owner, either directly or as a trustee, of real property situated in the City" in order "to be eligible to hold the office of councilman."

Though enacted by the legislature, this and other crucial pieces of Disney-enabling legislation, which would reshape central Florida and affect the lives of tens of millions of people, was written by teams of Disney lawyers working in New York at the Donovan firm, and in Miami at Helliwell's offices. Disney lawyers in California signed off on the text before it was flown to Tallahassee where, without changing a word, Florida’s compliant legislators enacted it into law. “No one thought of reading it,” one ex-lawmaker later remarked. Later, after the houses there were sold, compliant legislatures excluded all the residents of Celebration from Disney’s domain, to prevent them from voting.

Those who were there never forgot the day Disney inaugurated what truly would be a magic kingdom in Florida – magically above the law. The Governor and his Cabinet came down from Tallahassee. TV crews were in attendance, along with Florida's most eminent civic leaders. Right on schedule, the curtains parted. On the screen, Walt Disney gave his much beloved, self-deprecating smile, then announced that in Florida he was going to create a new kind of America, not just a theme park.

There would "be no landowners, and therefore no voter control," Disney responded, when asked how he planned to maintain control.

If Florida, among all the many melodramas of the last 500 years, could be said to have had only one defining moment, this was it because in this place, at this particular time, the distinction between reality and fantasy—nature and names—vanished entirely. Walt Disney was dead when he made this presentation. A chronic smoker, he had died of lung cancer seven weeks earlier. As the lips of the dead Disney moved, people in the audience murmured their agreement. As his hands gestured, they nodded their approval. The posthumous Walt Disney, like the mechanical Andrew Jackson in the Hall of the Presidents, had joined Mickey, Donald, and the Sorcerer's Apprentice in that special world where it doesn't matter whether you're real or not.

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A Look Back … Robert Carey Broughton: From Walt Disney to War Movies


What do Walt Disney Studios and the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of today’s CIA—have in common? Accomplished camera effects artist Robert Carey Broughton created award-winning films for both organizations.

From Math to Magic

Broughton was born on September 17, 1917, in Berkeley, California. He spent most of his childhood in Glendale, California, where he attended Glendale High School and Glendale Junior College. Broughton also attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied chemistry, physics, math and optics.

In 1937, Broughton got a job at Walt Disney Studios delivering mail. It wasn’t long before he was pulled to work in the camera department. He started out as an assistant in the test camera department, where he worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Broughton’s job was to shoot the test camera to check for continuous action of the animation before finalizing the film.

Next, Broughton worked with the animation camera, which led to operating Disney’s famous multi-plane camera. It was used to create depth in animated featured films, including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, and many more.

Broughton was very involved with the production of Fantasia. His work on this film and his eye for detail earned him a promotion to camera department supervisor.

Filming the War

With the start of World War II, Broughton answered the call to service by joining the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the Field Photographic Branch of the OSS.

Film had not been used extensively during a war before, but with the beginning of World War II, it became apparent that it could serve a number of purposes:

  • Boost propaganda and morale,
  • Train the troops,
  • Provide intelligence, and
  • Record historical events.

During his time with the OSS, Broughton worked with Hollywood director John Ford to create documentary films about the war. Together, the two men produced The Battle of Midway, which won an Academy Award for best documentary in 1942. Broughton photographed most of the footage and Ford directed the film.

The OSS institutionalized using film in intelligence with the OSS Intelligence Photographic Documentation Project. Its purpose was to establish a worldwide photographic intelligence file of areas of strategic importance.

Creating Magic

After the War, Broughton returned to Disney as an assistant to legend Ub Iwerks—co-creator of Mickey Mouse. Under Iwerks, Broughton began to work on live-action motion pictures, such as Mary Poppins. He helped create the illusion that Dick Van Dyke was dancing with penguins by using Color Traveling Matte Composite Cinematography. This award-winning technology combined live action and animation on film.

In 1982—with 45 years of work at Disney under his belt—Broughton retired. He was known for his passion. Even after retiring, his enthusiasm lived on in his coordination of the retiree club, The Golden Ears.

Broughton was honored as a Disney Legend in 2001. This annual award honors an individual whose creativity and talent have contributed to producing magical films for children of all ages. Each Disney Legend receives an award cast in bronze and a plaque bearing their name, hand prints and signature at the Studios in California.

Broughton passed away on Monday, January 19, 2009. He was 91. Broughton is survived by two sons, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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Review of Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World


There is a connection between the CIA and WDW--see page 24: William Donovan (World War Two OSS chief--the forerunner of today's CIA) was a partner in the New York law firm used by Walt Disney for his Florida project. Tradecraft (as spy techniques are called) was used to hide Walt Disney Production's identity as the company acquired 44 square miles of swampland. One measure was co-opting the owner and publisher of the Orlando Sentinel, Martin Anderson. The history lesson is only part of Realityland--an enjoyable part. The role played by the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair and Walt's death and the `ghost town' opening day are all in here.




On November 22,1963, Walt Disney and an entourage of his top executives flew from Tampa to Orlando searching for an East Coast Disneyland site. The night before they had checked into a Tampa hotel under assumed names to avoid tipping off the press and stirring up land speculation. Reports Walt had read on "Project Winter," as it was code-named, could take him only so far. Ever the artist, he needed to visualize the possibilities for himself.

Disney was close to selecting an expansion site after considering 13 locations in the eastern United States. An early favorite, Niagara Falls, was rejected because its winter cold would prevent the park's year-round operation. Walt wanted to avoid having a seasonal work force, fearing that carnival-type workers like those in existing amusement parks would corrupt the family atmosphere he sought to achieve. So the search turned to Florida with its natural advantages of sunshine and water.

As the plane circled south of Orlando, Walt looked down, saw the confluence of Interstate 4, then under construction, and Florida's Turnpike and exclaimed: "That's it!" What sold Disney were the roads crisscrossing beneath him which were needed to import tourists from afar to make their business plan work. Florida had fewer residents than the Los Angeles region surrounding Disneyland, yet Walt and his executives envisioned a giant pleasure palace ten times the size of Disneyland. It would not be a Florida theme park so much as an East Coast tourist spa, located in Florida.

From Orlando, the entourage flew west along the Gulf coast to New Orleans, where the members disembarked for the night. During the cab ride to their hotel they learned from the radio that President Kennedy had been shot. It was a fateful day for the nation and, for entirely different reasons, for central Florida. Walt's "that's it" reaction started a chain of events that would transform sleepy Orlando into the world's most popular tourist destination.

If Walt practiced gut decision- making, his brother Roy and others on the Project Winter team were more methodical. Returning from the fig Florida flyover, they commissioned a "Central Florida Study" to compare Orlando and Ocala as potential theme park sites, dispatching William Lund to Florida from Economic Research Associates, the Disney site consultant.

Wanting complete secrecy to avoid triggering a real estate price run-up, they contacted the company's New York counsel, William Donovan, of the firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton, and Irvine. He was the same "Wild Bill" Donovan who directed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, during World War II. Donovan procured a business card, letterhead stationery, and a phone number identifying Lund as a member of the Burke & Burke law firm, located one floor beneath Donovan and Leisure at One Wall Street in New York.

Arriving in Orlando, the 33-year- old Lund called on two banks and was steered to Florida Ranch Lands, Inc. (FRL), a real estate agency, where he met on December 9,1963, with salesman David Nusbickel. He introduced himself as William Lund from Burke & Burke in New York and told Nusbickel that he represented a major investment trust wanting information on large tracts of land near the crossing of 1-4 and the Turnpike.

The following day, Nusbickel took Lund to see three contiguous land parcels southwest of Orlando: the 12,440-acre Demetree tract, owned by Bill and Jack Demetree; the Bay Lake tract, owned by ten investors; and land east of the Demetree tract owned by Wilson and Carroll Hamrick. Lund spent a third day in Ocala before flying - through New York - back to California.

Thus, when Nusbickel called for Lund at Burke & Burke in New York on December 23, the message was forwarded to Lund in L.A. Similarly, Nusbickel wrote Lund at Burke & Burke on January 13,1964, and Lund wrote back a week later on Burke & Burke stationery, expressing continuing interest in the Demetree property. That was the last anyone at FRL heard from Lund. Meanwhile, Project Winter was moving forward, and a decisive meeting occurred at Disney's Burbank headquarters on January 16. Hanging on the walls were 30 x 40-inch visuals created from charts that Nusbickel had given to Lund. They showed the direction of future growth in Orlando, as well as drive times between major Florida cities and Orlando's many road linkages.

Supported by these materials, site consultant Lund made the case for Orlando. It had the state's best tourist by-pass traffic. It would have a good airport once McCoy Air Force Base was converted to full civilian use. It was larger and faster growing than Ocala with a stronger employment base. And it had several large proper ties available with interesting water features and convenient access. The only negative was Orlando's heavy summer rainfall. But the rain fell in short bursts, said Lund, and "did not disrupt business to any significant extent."

Accepting Lund's recommendation, Disney dispatched general counsel Robert Foster to assemble land for the project.

Secrecy now became imperative, so Foster returned to ex-spymaster Donovan, who directed him to Paul Helliwell, Miami lawyer, former OSS associate and money-launderer for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Helliwell in turn recruited the services of Roy Hawkins, a trusted veteran Miami real estate man who had developed much of Biscayne Boulevard for the Phipps family.

In short order. Project Winter operatives acquired an option on the Demetree property, bypassing FRL and using Hawkins as the broker. They also purchased an option on a 9,000-acre tract in Osceola owned by State Senator Irlo Bronson. They wanted land in both Orange and Osceola to preserve their future options, according to Foster, who was following Walt's dictum: "Whenever you deal with government, always deal with two."

The Demetree property posed a problem, because of its many "outs" - individually owned parcels within the larger tract. The land, much of it water-sogged, had been subdivided in 1912 and sold by catalogue to per sons across the country, complicating the task of land assembly. For help they turned once again to Florida Ranch Lands.

FRI's Nelson Boice remembers Roy Hawkins asking for assistance on getting the Demetree outs. Boice recalls that one thing struck him as strange: Hawkins arrived carrying FRL brochures, which had a distinctive yellow band at the bottom, under his arm. Looking back, the brochures should have tipped him off that FRL's sales work had led - through Lund – to the Demetree purchase. But he had no reason then to connect Hawkins with Lund.

The Project Winter team used dummy corporations with odd names like AyeFour Corporation to make the purchases, which led to media speculation though spring and summer of 1965 about the mystery land buyer's identity. McDonald Aircraft, Hercules Powder, Ford Motor, Hughes Tool, and even the Walt Disney Co. were among the rumored purchasers. To confound sleuths, Disney counsel Foster, who was overseeing the project, avoided flying directly between California and Florida. Since his name had appeared in a Disney annual report, he also adopted a pseudonym when he came to Florida, combining his first and middle names to become "Bob Price."

In mid-October 1965, the Orlando Sentinel identified Disney as the mystery land buyer. Improbably, the Project Winter team had maintained secrecy for eighteen months, while they assembled a 43-square mile parcel for which they paid less than $200 an acre. As for FRL, it had uncovered Disney's identity a year earlier when an FRL salesman recognized Adm. Joe Fowler, chief engineer for Walt Disney Productions, from a photo in National Geographic. Recalls Boice: "We knew, and they knew we knew, but we didn't talk about it." Still, FRL hadn't connected Disney with the mysterious William Lund, nor realized that the FRL sales work actually had led to the Demetree purchase. That connection would become clear through a series of coincidences.

After Disney announced it was coming to Orlando, a group of local officials flew Isto California at Walt's invitation to view Disneyland's impact on Anaheim. Accompanying them to California was Chuck Bosserman, an FRL salesman, who recognized the pilot of the plane, Sim Speer, an avid real estate investor. During the flight Speer gave the delegation a research report on Anaheim-area real estate. The report's author was William Lund, identified as vice president of Economic Research Associates in Los Angeles.

Curious, Bosserman arranged an appointment with the ERA vice president, discovering that he was the same William Lund who had visited FRL in Orlando. Lund told him he assumed they had figured out his connection with Disney. When Bosserman reported this to Boice, the Orlando executive realized that Disney had circumvented FRL on the Demetree property acquisition, approaching the seller through Hawkins. This bit of legerdemain by Disney resulted in a loss of an estimated $242,000 in commission to FRL and raised serious legal and ethical questions.

Boice called Hawkins and asked to meet with Helliwell and him in Miami. Taking his local attorney with him, the FRL president recalls: "We went in and everyone was smiles. We said good morning and what a lovely day it was, and then Paul (Helliwell) says 'Gentlemen, I have been directed not to talk with you," Says Boice: "It was just a complete stonewall."

Boice sued both Walt Disney Productions and Economic Research Associates, alleging that FRL was denied its 10 percent commission on the Demetree property and should have received a full 10 percent commission on the Bay Lake and Hamrick properties. On the day before the trial, the Disney Co. settled for what Boice termed a "significant amount." A stipulation prevents either side from revealing the exact figure.

Secrecy to facilitate a land deal was one thing, but Disney took advantage of the situation, in Boice's view. "They knew, no question about it, that they had an obligation to pay (gig a commission, but since there was all this secrecy, they just did not bother to come up and say 'hey fellows, we appreciate the work you did and here's your commission'."

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Disney World a new campus for CIA Caribbean operations? Based in Orlando, plausibly removed from the Cold War associations of the JM/Wave campus?

Worth remembering, David, that Disney’s original conception was very different & far grander than the present reality:

The Original EPCOT project: Walt Disney’s original vision for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow


Today Walt Disney World in Florida is the most popular vacation destination in the world. Walt Disney World includes more than 20 resort hotels, 2 water parks, 1 night-time entertainment district and of course 4 theme parks: Magic Kingdom, opened in 1971, Epcot, opened in 1982, Hollywood Studios, opened in 1989 and Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998.

Even if the original project of Walt Disney did include a Disneyland-like theme park (the Magic Kingdom as it was eventually called), the reason to build Walt Disney World was Epcot. But not Epcot as we know it today (a theme park), but Walt's Epcot, a one of kind project composed of several elements: a prototype community, an industrial park, an airport of the future and much much more...

All these elements were imagined by Walt Disney and his staff with new and advanced designs and technologies. This project was conceived between 1962 and 1966 (Walt Disney's death) and even if it did survived a couple of years it was stopped in the mid 70's and never developped. Some elements did survive in the Walt Disney World resort as we know it today but so much more was planned. Unfortunately, the project has lost its main energy: Walt.


In conception, then, what we have is something much more akin to an American version of Novosibirsk’s Akademgorodok, the Soviet center for scientific research built in 1957:


It is – just – conceivable that it was for this that the Agency launched a sizable domestic covert op to secure the necessary Florida swamp for Disney’s (original) project.

If that's where the evidence leads, so be it.

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The Birds Trailer

Ubbe Ert Iwerks (1901-1971) (pronounced "Aub", not "Oobe")



LOL I didn't see anything in the trailer that remotely resembled what was alleged with Z-film. I didn't even see birds and humans in the same frame. The alteraationist not claim that the foreground was superimposed on a background but that movements of the people in the limo (i.e. foreground) were altered.

And I seriously doubt the occupants of the limo were illuminated with sodium vapor lamps ROTF

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In the famous shot that begins at 1:22 in this clip from The Birds, an aerial still photo of a small California town has had some buildings snipped out of the center to create a framing matte for elements inserted through rotoscopy: the fire ignited in a trench on Universal Studios' backlot; the moving cars and figures in the parking lot and sea road; some central buildings shown in previous ground shots, like the diner and gas station. This base composition was subjected to further rotoscoping to integrate the birds flying in the foreground "sky."

It looks patchy in a world of pixels, but in the brightly-colored, 16mm collector print I saw screened some years ago, it looked nearly perfect except for the stillness of the outlying parts of town.

Colby: The alteraationist not claim that the foreground was superimposed on a background but that movements of the people in the limo (i.e. foreground) were altered.

I myself feel that the limo has been superimposed on the grassplot background in the frames where Zapruder tracks in on the passenger compartment. Enough has been written about the relative size of the background figures compared to the limo and passengers, so I won't rehash it. But I think we also see too great a duration of empty greenspace behind the limo, and I suspect it's been used to help conceal the precise limo motion.

It's too bad that for all the recreations filmed in Dealey, no one has taken the time to produce a Zapruder recreation showing the limo slowing and nearly stopping, then, using period film technology, made a version eliding the limo stop to compare with the Z-film. I suppose that intention would look bad on a Plaza rental permit application, though. Edited by David Andrews
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The Birds Trailer

Ubbe Ert Iwerks (1901-1971) (pronounced "Aub", not "Oobe")



LOL I didn't see anything in the trailer that remotely resembled what was alleged with Z-film. I didn't even see birds and humans in the same frame.

Er, you weren't meant to.

The alteraationist not claim that the foreground was superimposed on a background but that movements of the people in the limo (i.e. foreground) were altered.

And I seriously doubt the occupants of the limo were illuminated with sodium vapor lamps ROTF

I'm struggling with these sentences. Is this some kind of literary full Brazilian treatment? If it wasn't, it was a damn close shave.

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