Disney Foes Liken Eisner to Witch

PHILADELPHIA -- With Disney's (DIS) sure-to-be-contentious shareholder meeting ready to get under way,disgruntled former director Roy Disney is at least the sentimental favorite.

The nephew of Disney namesake Walt Disney charmed the audience lateTuesday at an unofficial meeting of shareholders intended to rallysupport for Roy's three-month-old public campaign to oust chairmanand CEO Michael Eisner.

But though Roy received a standing ovation and other clear signsof support from the crowd of individual investors and Disneysentimentalists who packed the hotel ballroom to hear hispresentation, the unanswered question Tuesday evening was howrepresentative the applause at Roy's "SaveDisney" event would be ofthe vote that really counts: The balloting at Disney's annualshareholder meeting, scheduled for Wednesday at the PennsylvaniaConvention Center.

Like the presidential campaign of Howard Dean, who enjoyedundeniable success in gathering support (and money) in smallincrements over the Internet, Disney and fellow ex-board memberStanley Gold sought Tuesday to characterize their anti-Eisner effortas populist, revolutionary and Internet-based. "I think this is sortof an unprecedented campaign in American business," Gold told thecrowd of about 600 shareholders at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.

Now, of course, the question is to what extent the enthusiasticsupport of smaller shareholders -- along with announcements ofanti-Eisner voting from various state and municipal pension funds --will permeate the Big Money votes of which Roy Disney, the owner of17 million Disney shares, must count himself a part.

In their presentation Tuesday, Gold and Disney hammered away atmany of the same points they've made on their SaveDisney.com Web siteand made at their meeting with reporters earlier in the day Tuesday.

Under Eisner, Disney's financial performance has been subpar andits stock appreciation "paltry," explained Roy Disney associateMichael McConnell in a presentation to the assembled shareholders.Disney's record of corporate governance has been "poor andunacceptable," he said. "Michael Eisner must be replaced," heconcluded, earning a round of applause.

Roy Disney, who basked in a standing ovation for more than half aminute after he stepped to the podium, expressed his hope that undernew management, the company would pull ABC television out of theratings basement, produce better movies and improve the cleanlinessof its theme parks.

Answering written questions submitted from the audience, Royallowed that the price of popcorn at the theme parks had risen "waybeyond" where it ought to be. In the past few years, he said, thecompany has cut corners unacceptably in training its employees andmaintaining its theme parks. Disney's management hasn't circulatedamong its employees enough, he said, repeating a comment heremembered from when he used to own a ranch in southern Oregon: "Youknow, there's no fertilizer like the owner's footprints," Disney saidthe manager once told him.


Fierce Advocate
Minnie Mouse co-opted by dissidents
TSC Photo: George Mannes

The company made a mess of the acquisition and operation of theABC Family Channel, Gold said, yet the board inexplicably rewardedEisner and Disney president Robert Iger with bonuses in the wake ofthat failure. "Ooh ... Michael needs money. Bob needs money," Goldrecalled. "That's a quote!"

Creative artists that Gold and Disney accuse Eisner of drivingaway -- such as the animation producer Pixar ( PIXR), which had a nasty publicsplit with Disney earlier this year -- would return "in the blink ofan eye" upon Eisner's departure, Roy said. Roy Disney even comparedEisner to the Wicked Witch of the West from the movie The Wizard ofOz, describing his recollection of a scene in which, after the witchis killed, the savage flying monkeys suddenly stand up like humanbeings.

As for the wisdom of a deal with Comcast ( CMCSA), Disney and Gold werecircumspect. "The best defense against Comcast is a high stockprice," said Gold.

Disney and Gold's message resonated well with the people inattendance Tuesday. "I'm amazed at how well they put it together,"said Marilyn Unruh of Feasterville, Pa. "I'm glad they broughtfacts and figures and not just opinion." Unruh, who holds about 100shares of Disney stock, and who for seven years was a "cast member" --the corporation's favored term for "employee" -- at Disney's chain ofnow-troubled retail stores, said she has already voted her sharesalong the SaveDisney guidelines. (In addition to withholding votes forEisner, the ex-directors are targeting presiding director GeorgeMitchell and directors Judith Estrin and John Bryson.)

Another 100-share owner of Disney stock, Elizabeth Byrd ofPhiladelphia, said she, too, had already voted the SaveDisney line.Tuesday's presentation, she said, "reassured me that I did the rightthing." Byrd, who said she had fond memories of watching theWonderful World of Disney TV show on Sunday nights when she wasgrowing up, said, "You hate to see things that are so dear to yourheart destroyed by other people's greed or indifference."

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