D23 Honors and Celebrates Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

Disney Legend and Founder of the Walt Disney Archives Dave Smith was honored and celebrated with a Window Ceremony on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. Receiving a Window on Main Street is the highest honor a Cast Member can receive.

The ceremony was open to invited guests, friends, and family only. However, D23 held two presentations for D23 members in the Main Street Opera House. D23 Team Member and former Archivist Justin Arthur hosted the presentation. He was joined by Director of the Walt Disney Archives Becky Cline and Producer Don Hahn. They shared stories about Dave’s life and his work with The Walt Disney Company and Archives.

David Rollin Smith was born on October 13, 1940 in Pasadena, California. He was the son of educators and librarians, and grew up playing the accordion. Don Hahn wished that Dave would have played it at a D23 event. Dave was also valedictorian of his high school class, as well as his class at Pasadena City College. He then graduated from UC Berkeley, and was one of a select few to intern at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Dave also worked as a research librarian at UCLA for five years.

In 1967, Smith was working on a bibliography on Walt Disney when he heard about a possible archive being established by The Walt Disney Company. At the time, there was no official company record, and other studios would normally sell or auction off movie props and other items. Smith offered his services while still working at UCLA, and was accepted. He submitted the proposal about a Company archive on January 1, 1970, and was accepted on June 22, 1970. This is now the founding date of the Walt Disney Archives. His first task was to document all of the items stored in Walt Disney’s formal office. He photographed and took notes of every artifact and other items in the office. Thanks to Dave’s notes and photographs, the office was able to be recreated during exhibits at Disneyland in the Main Street Opera House.

It was also through Dave’s research that he declared the official dates of the founding of The Walt Disney Company (October 16, 1923) and Mickey Mouse’s birthday (November 18, 1928). These were found in paper work signed to officially start the Company, and through the premiere of “Steamboat Willie” in New York.

Dave was a collector of historical signatures, including those of signers of the Declaration of Independence, Civil War generals, U.S. Presidents, and more. Between 1980 and 2001, Smith was the executive director of the Manuscript Society, and a member of the Society of California Archivists.

Dave was also an author and wrote the fan favorite “Disney A to Z” Encyclopedias. There are five editions at the moment. During the presentation, former Archivist Steven Vagnini appeared via video and announced that a sixth edition of “Disney A to Z” will be released in the Fall of 2023. Becky Cline also made an announcement that a second edition of “Quotable Walt Disney” will also be released in the Fall of 2023. One quote that Becky reassured us will not be in there is “If you can dream it, you can do it.” There were some fans in the audience who understood why that quote is not a Walt quote because frankly, he never said it.

Dave also answered fan questions through his popular “Ask Dave” feature on Disney Channel Magazine, later Disney Magazine. He answered thousands of questions received from all over the world. When questions would come in to the Archives by phone, mail, and even email, Dave made it a point to answer that particular question by the end of the day. That practice continues to this day.

The Walt Disney Archives began as a staff of two in 1970, and was a staff of seven in 1993 when Becky Cline joined the Archives Department. There are now over 35 Cast Members working in the Walt Disney Archives. All of them are proud to continue the legacy of Dave Smith and the Walt Disney Archives.

In 2007, Dave was honored as a Disney Legend, and was only one of several who received the honor before their retirement. Dave retired on his 70th birthday, October 13, 2010, and remained on staff as a consultant as Chief Archivist Emeritus. Dave passed away at the age of 78 on February 15, 2019.

On display before and after the presentation were a portrait of Dave Smith, a “Magic Pencil” which he bought in the 1960s hoping to get Walt Disney’s autograph while visiting Disneyland, several of Dave’s nametags, his Disney Legend Award, a Dave Smith bobblehead, a caricature of Dave holding a Donald Duck plush featuring Donald and his nephews, and a replica of his Main Street Window.

Dave’s Window can be found above the Fortuosity Shop on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. The inscription on the Window says, “New Century Historical Society, Dave Smith, Town Archivist, Preserving, Protecting & Presenting Our Fond Memories of the Past.” For more on the Window Ceremony, check out this article.

D23 Members in attendance received a button featuring a Dave Smith caricature holding a Donald Duck plush and a print of the replica of his Main Street Window.

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