This Christmas card, featuring original It’s a Small World-inspired artwork, was sent to employees and affiliates of the studio just days before Walt Disney’s death in December 1966.
The tradition of sending studio Christmas cards dates back to the early 1930s. The inspiration behind the ’66 version could be attributed to the success of the It’s a Small World attraction’s run at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, as well as its recent relocation to Disneyland with a dedication ceremony overseen by Walt only a handful of months before (May 30, 1966).
The inside of the card features a whimsical, animated view of the ride’s layout, along with a printed Walt Disney signature. The back of the card sports an advertisement for the studio’s latest live-action offering, Follow Me, Boys!, which opened the first of December and starred Fred MacMurray, Vera Miles, and Kurt Russell—all of whom are pictured in the ad. Finally, the card includes a single-panel printed calendar for the year 1967. Sadly, Walt Disney wouldn’t live to see it, passing away from complications due to lung cancer on December 15 in St. Joseph’s Hospital (just across the road from the studio), only ten days after his sixty-fifth birthday.
Much of Walt’s time and attention in his final year was dedicated to his beloved “Florida Project.” Only two months earlier, he’d held a press conference, describing his plans for building what he’d dubbed the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Roy Disney later recounted that his brother continued to plan and relay instructions for the project from his hospital bed, using the ceiling tiles overhead to help plot his desired layout. Roy would see Walt’s vision through, albeit in a compromised form, with the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort in 1971, but neither the studio, nor anyone who’d ever worked for or with Walt would be the same after the loss of their fearless leader.
This un-mailed version of the 1966 Walt Disney Studios Christmas card is preserved along with its signature-stamped envelope, and marks not only Walt’s final holiday season, but also the end of an unparalleled era in global entertainment—the theme and artwork fittingly symbolic, considering the billions of people around the world that Disney managed to bring together through his genius and imagination.