The last time Tom Nabbe paid to get into a Disney Park, it was July 18, 1955—the first day Walt Disney opened his new Park to the public. Tom was a rusty-haired 12-year-old, enjoying his day at Disneyland. The very next day he landed a job as a “newsie,” hawking The Disneyland News to Main Street guests.
In 1956, Walt Disney recognized the Tom Sawyer in a young Nabbe, and he became the “Luckiest Boy in the World.” That’s what the cover of the April 7, 1957 issue of Parade magazine said, beneath a full-color photo of Tom dressed as Mark Twain’s paragon of American boyhood.
“I used to approach Walt every time I saw him around the Park,” Tom said of his yearlong pursuit of the “man behind the mouse” and the starring role on Tom Sawyer Island.
Walt’s first response to Tom was “Why should I put you on the island when I can put a mannequin there? Especially considering the dummy won’t be running off for hot dogs every half-hour.”
Walt, quoted in the Parade article, had a somewhat more gracious recollection: “ He was friendly and bright—and he sure looked the part.”
One job requirement was that Tom had to keep a C average in school. So, every quarter, the boy brought his report card directly to Walt for inspection. It was perhaps the hardest part of playing the character.
After outgrowing the role of Tom Sawyer, Tom went on to manage other attractions. In 1965, he met his wife, Janice, who was working at a concession stand in the Park. In 1971, Tom was transferred to the newly opened Walt Disney World in Orlando, where he started as manager of the Monorail. He also helped in the opening of Disneyland Paris.
Forty-eight years later, in June 2003, 60-year-old Tom retired from his job as manager of distribution services at Walt Disney World. He was the last working member of Club 55, a group of original Disneyland cast members named for Disneyland’s inaugural year and for their chief qualification of membership—a paycheck from Walt Disney dated 1955.