Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002 / 10 Adar, 5762

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

A nice guy who finished first -- WHEN Leo Durochre first coined that now famous quote, "nice guys finish last," he had no idea just how wrong he could be when it came to a man named Richard Cook. Cook, a long time Disney employee and a genuinely nice guy, has definitely not finished last. In a recent announcement The Walt Disney Company has named him chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Dick Cook's new position makes him literally one of the most powerful movie executives in the world. His responsibilities now include worldwide production, marketing and distribution of all live-action movies for Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, along with marketing and distribution responsibility for the studio's animated films. I've known Dick Cook for years. In fact, our Disney career paths were similar in many ways, although they veered off in different directions. Dick started with the company in 1970, the same year I did, but he began at Disneyland as a ride operator. I began at the studio in the mailroom (or traffic, as we called it then). When he was running the steam train and monorail in Anaheim, I was over in Burbank learning animation -- inbetweening on a little movie called "Bedknobs and Broomsticks."

Eventually Dick gravitated into marketing and then film distribution. He was credited for actually developing the studio's finely-tuned distribution and marketing machine. After selling the studio an original property I became a storyman, then later, head of comic strips, then a character merchandising executive, and finally a consumer products and publications creative VP.

What makes Dick so perfect for his new role, in addition to the fact that he knows just about everything there is to know about the motion picture distribution and marketing businesses, is that he understands and appreciates the Disney legacy. He knows his company inside and out. He's one of the guys who grew up, developed, and was taught the Disney movie business within the Disney company.

He learned "the Disney way" of doing business and making pictures not from a corporate press kit, but first hand. Thirty-two years ago, new hires like Dick and myself were apprenticing under the original guys who actually worked with Walt Disney. When Dick and I started with the company, Walt was already gone, but most of his hand-picked team was still there, still operating in the Disney style. Learning from them was an educational opportunity that was pure gold for kids like us who were lucky enough to be there at that time.

Later on, Dick also learned from the new leadership -- the Eisner/Wells/Katzenberg group that took over in the mid-eighties. These "new people" brought their own ways of doing things to the old Disney lot and Dick, being a quick study, adapted to the new business techniques and methods, along with new missions, strategies, and corporate goals. It was a time of tremendous culture shock for long-time Disney employees. And Dick Cook survived -- no, that's the wrong word. He blossomed. He blossomed and proved himself to the "new people." More than that, he never stopped being a nice guy.

I never had much of a direct working relationship with Dick, but through the years I'd see him at company gatherings, or I'd pass him coming down the hall or I'd run into him in the elevator or parking garage. And he'd always look to make eye contact. That's right! Direct eye-contact -- none of that cowardly, sneaky glance-diversion so common with today's self-important "busy" executives. Then he'd flash a smile and we'd talk for a minute or two. A busy man who always had the time to be friendly.

The entertainment business is rough. It's an industry lousy with sharks, egomaniacs, back-stabbers, crooks, liars, cheats, frauds, and just plain bastards. And once in a while ... once in a very great while, you get a nice guy. A Dick Cook. Congratulations, Dick.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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