Unofficially, The Walt Disney Studios used to be divided into two groups of employees. “Walt’s Boys” were the creative staff, and “Roy’s Boys” comprised the legal and financial minds behind the magic. Former financial administrator and company treasurer Don Escen was a key member of “Roy’s Boys,” and ably assisted Roy O. Disney in successfully navigating the Company through some difficult times after Walt Disney’s untimely death in 1966.
Charged with overseeing the Company’s financial affairs in Burbank, and its film distribution and merchandising offices overseas, Don was respected by all who worked with him. Barbara Wilcox, his assistant from 1965-1984, recalled:
“Executives liked dealing with Don because he was always a fair-minded and logical person. He had a good, sensible head and I think Roy respected him for that, and asked his advice on a lot of occasions.”
Born in Litchfield, Minnesota, on July 13, 1919, Don graduated from the Minnesota School of Business in Oakdale. He served in the United States Army during World War II, participating in the landmark D-Day invasion of Normandy. After the war, he headed for California where, in 1949, he joined The Walt Disney Studios’ accounting department.
Don began to ascend the corporate ranks in 1953, when he was appointed accounting office manager. Then, in 1960, he became assistant treasurer and controller. When Roy O. Disney purchased one of the Company’s first computers, a RAM 500, he stationed it in Don’s office. Roy made regular visits to watch it compute the day’s trial balances.
After Walt Disney’s death, the Company faced a tumultuous period and numerous outside companies courted Roy with offers of a merger, all of which he rejected. Instead, he devised a plan that Don was instrumental in implementing, which involved convertible debentures—bonds that could be converted to stock after the stock rose to certain price.
In 1968, the Company issued $40 million in convertible bonds, which were converted to stock within a year. The Company then issued another $50 million, followed by $72 million worth of convertible bonds. Three stock conversions were issued in all, allowing Walt Disney World, the most expensive theme park built by the Company at that time, to open debt-free in 1971.
In 1975, four years after Roy’s death, Don accepted the titles of financial administrator and treasurer of Buena Vista International, the Studio’s international film distribution wing. In this role, he supervised 13 foreign offices and numerous foreign representatives. Simultaneously, he also served as assistant treasurer of the Company.
After 35 years of service, Don retired from The Walt Disney Company in 1984. He passed away on February 6, 2006.