Bear Saves Mouse: A Legendary Coach’s Role in the Happiest Place on Earth

As a writer and filmmaker, I get to be a specialist in many different topics for a short period of time. Several years ago, my wife and I were developing a feature film about the University of Alabama’s first Rose Bowl team in 1925-26. Shortly thereafter, we created a series of short films about the entire history of Alabama football. I have forgotten more arcane Crimson Tide trivia than most Alabama fans ever know.

Two years ago, I wrote a novel (possibly coming soon to a bookstore near you …) about an under-achieving genius who, led by a mysterious prophecy and a series of bizarre encounters, runs away to Walt Disney World to seek his destiny.The book was partially inspired by reading of various Disney fan sites and blogs. Once I started writing, I had to delve even deeper into Disney lore.

Then I came across this story that melded those two areas of fascination for me.

When he was in the early stages of planning for Walt Disney World, Disney tried to operated within as much secrecy as possible. He knew that, should the public get wind of what he was doing, property owners would artificially jack up the prices on their land. Code-named “Project Winter,” the effort to acquire the land necessary for the project moved forward in fits and starts. Five dummy corporations would make the actual purchases: Bay Lake Properties, AyeFour Corporation, Reed Creek Ranch, Tomahawk Properties and Latin American Development and Management Corporation.

With so many large land purchases happening – all with a small group of attorneys and intermediates listed as the buyers’ trustees, speculation about the real purchaser ran rampant. Most focused on manufacturing, but even the real buyer, the Walt Disney Co., was in the mix.

By mid-1965, Disney owned 27,258 acres of land in Orange and Osceola counties, centered on Bay Lake. Buying up the few “outs” of land tracts was being held up by a holdout: Willie Goldstein, the owner of a 37-acre tract on Bay Lake. Disney’s agents met with a series of local power brokers, including the publisher of the local paper, Martin Andersen. Andersen recommended they talk to lawyer Martin Segal, who might know Goldstein. He didn’t.

However, Segal recommended they contact a shoe store owner named Sam Behr. Finally, they found someone who knew Goldstein! The pitch was this: the agents’ clients represented a major economic development opportunity for Orlando, but if they couldn’t get Goldstein’s land, the whole thing would fall apart. There was one problem: Goldstein wasn’t likely to sell his “little piece of heaven.”

Between the good hunting, good fishing and the one-hundred-year-old cabin on the property, the Goldsteins were content.

But, as told in Richard E. Foglesong’s great chronicle of events, Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney and Orlando, things got interesting from there. Segal, the attorney, suggested that everyone has something they are passionate about above all else. For Goldstein, it wasn’t his slice of heaven on Bay Lake, it was Alabama Crimson Tide football.

Depending upon which account you believe, either Andersen (the newspaperman) leaned on his sports department to have Coach Bryant call Goldstein or Segal met with Goldstein, claiming to be Bryant’s close personal friend. Whether it was the influence of “The Bear,” or the Mouse’s money — Disney agreed to pay 4.3 times what the Goldsteins had paid for the property eleven years earlier — the Goldsteins finally agreed to sell.

And that’s how Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant saved Walt Disney World.

Now if I can just work Elvis into this story …

2 Responses to “Bear Saves Mouse: A Legendary Coach’s Role in the Happiest Place on Earth”

  1. You worked on a film about the 1925 Alabama team? Did that ever make it to production? I would love to see that. I hope you titled it “Remember the Rose Bowl.” 😉

    • Unfortunately, the film never got made. We were well on our way at one point, but period films about American football just don’t have enough international appeal to get funded.

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