Walt Disney Exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: For the Love of Commercialism.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is hosting a ten-month exhibition of the largest cache of Walt Disney treasures in history—over half of which have reportedly never been seen by the public.

So what’s the Reagan/Disney connection? Did Reagan appear in Disney films? No. Was Disney part of Reagan’s Kitchen Cabinet? No.

It seems the connection between the two is linked by commercial enterprise. The exhibit is designed to draw crowds to the Library, and to generate revenue. It will probably also help the reputations of both historic figures.

To be factually correct, Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney did apparently meet each other a few times during their days in Hollywood. Both appeared as friendly witnesses, on the same day in 1947, in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee as the hunt into communist infiltration of the film industry begun. And Reagan was hired as talent alongside Art Linkletter and Robert Cummings, emcee-ing at the opening of Disneyland in 1955. But other than that, there is little to link the two.

For the museum, this new association with Disney will mean an influx of new visitors. “We are always looking for creative ways to bring new and younger audiences to the library,” John D. Heubusch, the executive director of the Reagan Foundation, said to The New York Times. “There were huge lines out the doors.” (on the first day of the exhibit).

In fact, On July 7, the first Saturday the new exhibition was open, gift shop revenues were reportedly five times as high as usual; attendance was close to 5,300, compared with 3,200 on a typical summer weekend. Between admission tickets ($21) and sales from the gift shop both Disney and Reagan memorabilia, museum officials hope to turn a profit. The potential upside was so enticing that the cost of the exhibition was picked up by the Reagan Foundation.

The Library reportedly approached Disney archivists with the idea of an exhibition. Disney controlled every part of the exhibit, where 500 items are on display.

Exhibitions of memorabilia are nothing new to Disney. A few years ago, the company teamed with the Pompidou Center for a display of animation art as part of a campaign to draw attention (and crowds) to Disneyland Paris. And of course, there is the Walt Disney Family Museum on the Presidio grounds in San Francisco.

Reagan too, using public displays as tools to further his image. The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project was started in 1997 by Grover G. Norquist to encourage the naming of landmarks, buildings, roads, etc. 

Sources: The New York Times, The Nation

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