AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
BYLINE: Michael Wolff
On one side of Market Street in Philadelphia, at the Loews hotel, there's the Roy and Stanley show. Directly across the street, at the Marriott, you've got the frustrated, confounded Disney brass. The senior executives at Comcast-the cable company trying to take over Disney-headquartered nearby, are on retreat in Phoenix, waiting for the news. Is Michael Eisner just roughed up or flattened out?
There's something, at first blush, endearing-they're eccentric pests-even haimish about Roy and Stanley's campaign to topple Michael Eisner; it's a family thing.
"We had a meeting with all the kids," Roy explains. "Of course, I call them kids, but they're not really kids anymore. We grabbed hands, and one of us said we needed to do this because it's the right thing to do."
Roy is Roy Disney, Walt's nephew. The kids (in their 40s) are Roy Patrick, Susan, Abby, and Tim. And there's Roy's wife, Patty. Then there's Roy's business partner, Stanley Gold, and his wife, Ilene, and their daughter, Jennifer, a determined thirtysomething woman marching around Loews giving orders into a headset microphone.
It may be a family thing, but it's pretty obsessive, too. Roy and Stanley's movement-their "mission," as they call it-is driven by an over-the-top loathing of Disney C.E.O. and chairman Michael Eisner. Their goal is to demonize and destroy him. It's quasi-religious-indeed, there's a group of fundamentalist Christians on the sidewalk to lend their support to Roy and Stanley, as well as to protest "gay day" at Disneyland and Disney World.
"If I had enough rifles, we would have this thing over with," Roy says, sounding, for a moment, like a white-supremacist militiaman, before he hears himself and pleads to take back his words.
It's a professionally executed campaign, too. Their proxy firm is the one Walter Hewlett hired when he tried to topple Carly Fiorina, the C.E.O. at Hewlett-Packard, the company his family had co-founded.
And it's all media all the time. Roy and Stanley have a heavy broadcast schedule and there's a steady stream of favored print reporters whom they're giving interviews to. Stanley, a pear-shaped spark plug at 61, with vividly dark hair, a shamrock-green tie, and a tendency to tendentiousness and irritability ("This is unpleasant for us," he keeps repeating, although, clearly, he's having the time of his life), recites the same lines in every interview. Roy, at 74, gnome-like, with a strangely peaceful presence-even with his gun talk-is the royal figure, or a kind of Disney maharishi, and doesn't say much. He passes through the halls of Loews followed by a scrum of cameras and a wave of flashes. (Roy and Stanley are a bit like the curmudgeonly Statler and Waldorf Muppet characters, always heckling from the audience-characters Disney has recently agreed to buy.)
Roy and Stanley's message was directed to the financial community before they arrived in Philadelphia. But here it's tailored to the Disney fans and small shareholders-the thousand or so who have come with them. These are not just fans, but die-hard fans, fetishists of a sort. American suburban Gothics. (This may be what a nation of shareholders looks like.) Virtually all white (save for an occasional Japanese). And, frequently, mouse-costumed too. They are so possessive of this company, or so possessed by it, that they have, in some emotional version or inversion of capitalism, bought stock in it. "I believe in the magic" is the mantra. "Magic" is said-often on the verge of tears-as if it were "Holy Ghost."
"I think it's about 9/11 and people who want a feeling of security," says Roy's daughter Susan. "Disney represents the best of this country. It's what we feel we've lost and what we want to return to."
That's the message Roy and Stanley have brought to Philadelphia. They are here to defend the pure virtue of Disney and its deep meaning, to protect this personal and national asset. Not so much from Comcast and its hostile assault on the company, which threat they don't seem all that concerned about, but from Michael Eisner, a corporate Antichrist, a betrayer, a defiler, whose name they utter with something of the venom and revulsion that the far right reserves for Bill Clinton.
Yes. They're here for an impeachment.
Perhaps it's inevitable that I would come to feel sympathy for Michael Eisner, about whom I have written, and enjoyed writing, so many mean, contemptuous, and mocking things. (When I call for an interview, Zenia Mucha, Disney's ranking P.R. executive, says, "But you compared Michael to Michael Jackson." I say, "That's nothing-I've compared Michael Eisner to Generalissimo Franco.") Both the fevered Stanley Gold and the steely Brian Roberts-the technocratic Comcast C.E.O.-make Michael look pretty understated and reasonable.
Still, Michael is ... Michael-one of the most unloved executives of the age (which, in this age, is a mouthful). Let me argue, however, that Michael Eisner became, more or less, just the kind of son of a bitch he was hired to become. Disney was a backwater when he was appointed C.E.O. in 1984-the all but forgotten studio. Eisner took Disney Hollywood-with all the attendant intrigue and bad manners and coarseness and shamelessness that entails. (He made it possible, as Roy Disney admits with some grudging admiration and embarrassment, to show "bare breasts" at Disney.) And he took Disney further than just Hollywood, he turned the company into a behemoth-grade, multi-platform media conglom-the equal of News Corp. and Viacom and Time Warner. But there he got stuck. Or if the company transformed, he did not.
Michael was still ... Michael. A transitional figure between studio executive-a fundamentally parochial character-and media oligarch, that remote, all-powerful, semi-mythical figure.
He never got enough distance from Hollywood-he was still the subject of street-corner he-said-she-said gossip (embroidered, intricate, baroque, devastating). In hindsight, he probably should have moved to New York. New York is where moguls are headquartered-you're more elevated, more corporate, more mysterious in New …