Bill Walsh was one of Walt Disney’s top film producers and writers. By 1973, Variety named seven of his feature productions on their list of all-time box office champions, including the Academy Award®-winning musical Mary Poppins, which he co-wrote with fellow Disney Legend Don DaGradi. As a producer, Bill specialized in comedy and fantasy films; as a screenwriter, he infused his genius into character dialogue.
Songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman described Bill in their book Walt’s Time: From Before to Beyond, recalling, “Bill was one of the most gifted men ever to have worked for Disney—deft with language and humor!”
Born in New York City on September 30, 1914, Bill attended the University of Cincinnati on an athletic scholarship. There, he began to write for the stage; he later joined Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay’s theater company, Tattle Tales, as a rewrite man, earning $12 a week.
In 1934 Bill headed for Hollywood, where he joined the Margaret Ettinger publicity office; there, he wrote press releases and sketched advertisements for everything from the famous Brown Derby Restaurant to Elizabeth Arden Face Cream. One of his clients, Edgar Bergen, invited Bill to write jokes and gags for his famed ventriloquist act. Bergen also happened to be a friend of Walt Disney’s.
In 1943, Bill switched from writing gags for Bergen’s dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, to writing gags for Disney’s Mickey Mouse comic strip. Then, in 1950, Walt asked Bill to write and produce the Studio’s first television presentation, One Hour in Wonderland, which served as a promo for the upcoming animated film Alice in Wonderland.
“Walt called me in and said he’d decided to go into television and I was the guy who was going to do it. I looked stunned and said, ‘But I don’t know anything about television.’ Walt smiled back at me and said, ‘That’s okay. Nobody does!’”
Disney’s television debut was such a success that Bill went on to produce the popular Mickey Mouse Club and Davy Crockett television programs, among others.
In 1956, Bill switched to live-action features, going on to collaborate on 18 films either as writer, co-producer, or producer. Among them were Westward Ho the Wagons!, Toby Tyler, The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., Blackbeard’s Ghost, The Love Bug, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
After 32 years with Disney, and shortly after his return from filming One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing in London, Bill Walsh passed away on January 27, 1975, in Los Angeles.