As Disney’s continental cinema representative in Paris, Wally Feignoux went above and beyond the call of duty. During the 1930s and ‘40s, he not only ably represented the Company’s interests to its motion picture distributor at the time, RKO, but he made heroic contributions by keeping Disney’s Paris office open during the Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945.
As his sister, Jacqueline Vieuille, recalled, “Wally had been brought up by our parents that you have to do your duty no matter the circumstances. He was proud to represent Disney and felt passion for his work. During the Occupation, when it was a danger to stay in the 52 Champs-Elysee building, where, coincidentally, the German ‘Propaganda Stafel’ was also located, Wally struggled to keep Disney’s office open.”
Born Raoul Wallace Feignoux on March 26, 1906, in Paris, Wally was the son of a pharmacist and a homemaker. After studying at Nassillon and Lycee Charlemagne in Paris, he entered the import/export business supplying textiles to the women’s fashion industry.
In the early 1930s, he entered the film industry as a sales representative for Fox Movietone. During this time, he met Walt and Roy O. Disney through a mutual friend and, subsequently, joined the Company in 1936. With a staff of ten, he was responsible for supervising RKO’s distribution of Disney films throughout Continental Europe.
Hitler seized Paris three years later and, at great risk to himself, Wally surreptitiously buried all the Disney film prints in his possession to keep them out of Nazi hands.
Fellow Legend and former head of European merchandising Armand Bigle later said, “It was a very dangerous thing for him to do. But Wally made sure the films were safe, and that they were returned to the Studio after the war.”
Upon Allied victory, one of Wally’s first tasks was to book Fantasia at a Paris theater. According to Bigle, this proved to be a challenge; French theater owners thought the movie might be too sophisticated for audiences. Wally proved persuasive, however, and on November 6, 1946, Fantasia premiered at the Empire Theater. Apparently French audiences enjoyed the film; on February 5, 1947, an RKO press release touted that Fantasia was enjoying its 10th successful week in Paris.
Wally later supervised the translation of all Disney motion pictures into the French language and, in 1963, helped the Company establish its own independent distribution arm in France. After devoting 35 years to Disney, he retired in 1971.
Wally Feignoux passed away on May 30, 1981, in Bordeaux, France.