• Walt Disney’s daily routine involved long work days.
• Sometimes, he didn’t even leave his studio. Other days, he wound down with Scotch Mist and headed home for dinner.
• Disney incorporated a number of usual habits that defined his managerial style.
Walt Disney‘s daily routine was far from static.
Still, Disney had a few habits and strategies that did stick with him over the years. Some of these practices even helped shape his work.
Here’s a look at Walt Disney’s daily schedule:
Breakfast was a simple affair for Disney. He’d typically have toast, eggs, juice, and maybe a sausage.
Biographer Bob Thomas wrote that Disney would often come into work around 8 a.m. He’d start the day off by reviewing storyboards or holding conferences in his office.
Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images
Disney kept some of his most prized awards on the table behind his desk, including his first Oscar. He won a total of 32 Academy awards between 1931 and 1968.
Later on the in the morning, Disney would take a look around the studio or go check on WED Enterprises, the theme park research and development team that’s now known as Walt Disney Imagineering. He’d typically be back in his office by noon.
He drank coffee around lunchtime and reportedly insisted that coffee at Disneyland only cost a dime.
Otherwise, lunch typically consisted of light fare and a glass of V8 tomato juice. According to his biographer Neil Gabler, Disney thought that “too much food made you think confusedly” and disapproved of employees taking long lunch breaks.
As a boss, Disney was never effusive with praise, but Thomas wrote that his employees considered it “a triumph” if Disney shed a tear over the script or scene they were working on.
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Whether he was on set or into the studio, Disney “didn’t like to be accosted,” according to Thomas. He did attempt to memorize employees’ names, even as the studio grew, studying files that matched employee photographs to their names.
The rest of Disney’s afternoon was packed with meetings until 5 p.m. Then, Gabler writes, Disney would make phone calls and sign letters.
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Secretary Tommie Wilck would prepare Disney a Scotch Mist drink at the end of the workday. The beverage was “mostly ice,” Wilck said, in an interview with The Walt Disney Family Museum. “He may have consumed a lot of liquid but I don’t think he really got much liquor,” he said.
Source: The Walt Disney Family Museum
Due to an injury received while playing polo in 1938, Disney would also receive a massage treatment from his personal nurse and confidante, Hazel George. Then, he’d head home for dinner with his wife Lillian and their two daughters.
Disney’s favorite dish was chili and beans. Thomas wrote that he was “a connoisseur” of the food, “preferring to combine a can of Gebhardt’s, which had more meat and few beans, with a can of Dennison’s, which had less meat and more beans.”
When it came to dinner, his tastes were reportedly simple, and he preferred chicken liver and mac and cheese over “expensive cuts of meat.”
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Sometimes, he didn’t go to bed until midnight.
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When he wasn’t working, Disney had a number of hobbies. He had an avid love of polo, and also tried his hand at calisthenics, ice skating, and dancing. Many of these activities came about due to his 1931 nervous breakdown, brought on by overwork and anxiety.
Source: “The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney“
Gabler wrote that Disney’s studio headquarters also featured a number of outlets for employees, including a penthouse with a soda fountain, gym, showers, a snack shop, and lawns on which people could play badminton, volleyball, and baseball.
Outside of work, Disney also had a lifelong fascination with trains, and he even built a model steam engine and tracks that circled his house in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles.
In one 1957 Time magazine profile, Disney claimed to have foregone vacations and worked 14 hours a day at certain points in his career.
Jean Jacques Levy / AP Images
Source: “Walt Disney: Conversations, Part 52“
But, as the Walt Disney Company stabilized over time, Disney and Lillian took time away to go on cruises, take road trips, and visit resorts.
Still, even as his company expanded and developed over the decades, he remained unable to stay away from it for long. “People often ask me if I know the secret of success and if I could tell others how to make their dreams come true,” he wrote in a 1959 edition of Wisdom magazine. “My answer is, you do it by working.”
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