For those not in the know, William “Sully” Sullivan began his tenure with Disney on July 27, 1955. At the time he was employed by Northrop Aircraft Corporation, but after viewing the historic opening day ceremonies of Disneyland’s official opening on Sunday, July 17, he was hooked. After applying for a job the following Saturday, he quit Northrop and started his career as a ticket-taker on the Jungle Cruise, the first Tuesday after the park opened. He was just nineteen. Bill’s career at Disney lasted 38 years, and said… “If I had to do it all over,” he says, “I’d do it all again tomorrow.”
Sully worked as a “Jungle Bunny” the name given to Cast Members working on the Cruise for about three years. It was after this time his amazing career evolved from ticket-taker to operations supervisor at Disneyland. It was during this time that he learned every facet of Disneyland’s operation and management. With this knowledge, he advanced to management, where his forte became Parks and Resorts. He was part of the operational management team in 1960 at Squaw Valley where Disney hosted the first time opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics. When the 1964-65 World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows in New York, Bill served as assistant Manager for Disney’s attractions at the fair.
In addition, Bill was part of the operations management for many Disney film premieres… “The Happiest Millionaire” at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, and “Mary Poppins” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Sully’s biggest move was to Florida for the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971. Here he was in charge of the EPCOT Center operations as a director of “PICO” (Project Installation and Coordination Office), for the installation of owner-furnished equipment. He was named Vice-President of the Magic Kingdom in 1987 and was in charge of park operations for attractions, merchandising, transportation, foods, custodial, costuming, Guest relations, ticket sales entertainment, horticulture and planned work.
But despite all these accomplishments, Sully’s greatest rewards at Disney were actually working with Walt Disney Himself! Walt was a regular guy. He quips… “Walt was a really warm individual,” Sully remembers fondly. “He had a great sense of humor, and he loved people. He was an executive, but not what you perceive as an ‘executive.’ He was a real team guy.” Sully is cognizant of one thing…He was privy to many of the unwritten and undocumented characteristics regarding Walt Disney, his humor, team spirit and how Walt was as a person, something only personal experience can muster. It is these stories and memories that must be passed on, for they are indeed the “History” of Walt Disney. Here are a few memories that Sully has of Walt, from an interview he did with Disney Historian and NFFC member Jim Korkis…
“Walt would come down and shoot the breeze with all of us guys and ask our opinions. He talked to everyone. He didn’t want to be treated special nor have special things done for him. He’d walk the park and he’d strike up conversations with the guests, asking them what they thought, their opinions on things at the park, what they liked and didn’t like. “Walt was a really warm individual. He had a great sense of humor and he loved people. He was an executive, but not what you perceive as an “executive.” He was a real team guy. “When I was supervisor, I had to sign terminations and one time they brought up this one kid who they wanted fired. He had done the old trash can trick that we had done at the Jungle Cruise. He took out the liner in the trash can and crawled inside and when guests would throw trash in, he would say thinks like “thank you for keeping the park clean.” I didn’t sign the termination. For all his dedication and work with the Disney Company, Bill “Sully” Sullivan was made a Disney Legend in 2005.
The Disneyana Fan club held a brunch in Sully’s honor at the Bohemian Hotel (Formally the Celebration Hotel) right in Disney’s Celebration community. It was here that members got a chance to hear these wonderful stories about Walt and the beginnings of Disneyland from a man who was there from the beginning. It was a fantastic brunch and enjoyed by all. World renowned Disney Historian and storyteller Jim Korkis, a NFFC member was on hand to jog Sully’s memory during his over hour reminiscences, bringing up even more stories for the members enjoyment.
One of the greatest things about being a Disney fan is the like-minded friends you meet along the way. For the Disney lover, one of the best opportunities for this experience is being a member of the Disneyana Fan club.
So what is the Disneyana Fan Club? Like its vaulted companion, the Disney Companies “D-23” club, it is a club for Disney enthusiasts to share their love of all that Walt has given us. It is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1984 by a group of Disney fans that were part of another “for profit club”. Its main focus goal is to provide Disneyana enthusiasts of all ages from around the world with news, information, and events that enhance their experience with, and love of, all things Disney. This is realized by the club newsletter, the “Disneyana Dispatch” and with local Disneyana Fan club chapters world-wide, members can trade information, learn more about their favorite collectables, hold group outings and activities, and enjoy everything Disney. The club meets monthly, and always has a wonderful guest speaker at the meetings, light refreshments and a good time for all fans. The club hosts many events, such as the Sully affair and is planning many more.
To become a member of this amazing organization, you first join the National organization, headquartered in Irvine California. Visit their site…www.disneyanafanclub.org or call 714-731-4705. Once a member of the national club, you can now join any of the 26 worldwide chapters, each with its own activities and events. For example, in Florida it is called the “World Chapter”, in Ohio it’s the “Plane Crazy Chapter” and so on. I am happy to be a member of this club. It is informative, exciting and brings together like-minded Disney fans sharing their love of what Walt’s legacy has left us. Just call or visit the site for information. If you love Disney and Walt, the Disneyana Fan club is the place to be!