In 1958, when Walt Disney was scouting new ideas for Disneyland at the World’s Fair in Brussels, he called on the company’s Benelux representative, Andre Vanneste, to help get him into the exposition without being noticed by the press. Didier Vanneste, son of Andre, recalled, “Walt wanted to visit the exposition like a regular tourist. My father got him into the exposition, but the journalists recognized Walt even though he was incognito wearing a hat and sunglasses. Walt was well known in Belgium. There, he was considered the number one friend of all children.”
While Andre was Disney’s number one friend in Belgium, Didier said:
“Whatever my father did for the Company, it was as though he was doing it for himself or for his own family. He cared very much for Disney and treated the business very personally, whether he was signing a contract or spending a penny.”
Andre was born in Brussels, Belgium, on May 12, 1927. At age 16, during World War II, he volunteered with the Belgian Red Cross on a rescue team which saved victims from buildings bombed by the Nazis. Two years later, in 1945, he was presented a Red Cross Award for his acts of bravery.
After the war, in 1946, he graduated from the St. Louis Commercial School in Brussels, where he had studied business and finance. He first served as a sales representative for a Belgium brewery, and, in 1948, Andre entered the film industry as a representative for Universal Pictures in Brussels. During this time he met Armand Bigle, who he later joined at Screpta Brussels; this was the Swiss/Benelux agency for Walt Disney Productions, founded by Bigle in 1947. There, Andre served as manager of the commercial department, helping promote Disney publications throughout the country.
He was soon promoted to director of the agency and, during this time, signed a contract with one of the largest publishing houses in Europe, VNU, in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Subsequently, Andre helped create an extensive portfolio of Disney magazines, published by VNU, while breathing life into existing publications, such as the Donald Duck Magazine.
Under his leadership, the magazine achieved great popularity in The Netherlands, selling as many as 380,000 issues a week.
In 1973, Walt Disney Productions purchased Screpta Brussels and Andre became an official member of the Company. Around this same time, he expanded his focus from publishing to merchandising and sales promotion, developing corporate promotional tie-ins with Disney animated releases such as Cinderella and Peter Pan. After serving more than 40 years, he retired as vice president and managing director of The Walt Disney Company (Benelux) S.A. in 1993.
Andre Vanneste passed away on May 2, 1995, in Brussels.