For more than 25 years, Donn Tatum served in senior executive roles with The Walt Disney Company. A low-key fellow, who ran the show with an iron hand, Donn worked with Roy O. Disney to complete the Herculean task of building Walt Disney World. He subsequently teamed with then Company president Card Walker to develop Epcot Center.
As Disney’s former chief executive officer (CEO), Donn was particularly impressive in the way he conducted the annual stockholder’s meetings. Former Company vice chairman, Roy E. Disney, once recalled:
“I loved to watch Donn in action. He was an excellent communicator and deft in his ability to handle the myriad of questions posed by stockholders.”
Born on January 9, 1913, Donn grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Stanford University, where he earned a degree in political science and economics, and later received a Bachelors and Masters degree in jurisprudence from Oxford University in England. After passing the bar in 1938, he became a partner in the law firm Lillick, Geary and McHose, where he began working with radio and television interests.
Donn went on to serve as counsel for RCA, NBC, and ABC, and as a pioneer in television, helping shape legislation for the up-and-coming medium. He later became general manager of KABC-TV, Los Angeles, and western television director for ABC.
Walt Disney recruited Donn in 1956, as production business manager. He later served on the Company’s Board of Directors and as vice president and administrative assistant to Roy O. Disney. After Roy’s death in 1971, Donn succeeded him as chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
In this role, Donn’s priorities remained steeped in Disney tradition. Duffy Myers, a former Walt Disney World publicist, once recalled how Donn noticed a Life magazine crew setting up its camera in a petunia patch at the new Florida theme park and said, “I don’t care who… they are. If they step on those flowers, they are out of here.” As Myers saw it, Donn was more interested in maintaining the theme park for visitors than a high-profile photo spread in Life.
As the first president of Walt Disney World Co., Donn also played a key role in the creation of the Walt Disney World resort and Tokyo Disneyland. In addition, he served as chairman of Disney’s executive committee from 1980 to 1983; chairman of the board of the California Institute of the Arts, which was founded by Walt Disney; and as president of the Disney Foundation.
Donn Tatum passed away on May 31, 1993, in Los Angeles.