The last 15 years have been transformative for the Walt Disney Company. While it was once known as the home of Disney feature animation, it’s become even more synonymous with the properties it’s purchased under current CEO Bob Iger. In his tenure, Disney has acquired Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm–which includes the Star Wars franchise. It’s most recent purchase is the company’s biggest yet, with the acquisition of 21st Century Fox–including the Marvel characters the rival studio owned, the studio itself, the FX TV networks, and so much more.
In his new book, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Iger dives deep into untold stories of these acquisitions and other events from his time with the company. If you count yourself as a super fan of Star Wars, the MCU, or anything else Disney has its mouse paws on these days, there are a number of details you might find rather surprising. After all, did you know George Lucas originally planned on skipping the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere?
We dug through The Ride of a Lifetime to pick out the most interesting and bizarre details we could find from Iger’s point of view. Take a look below for details about Disney’s first unsuccessful attempt to acquire Marvel, what Steve Jobs’ thought of the company purchasing the comic book brand, and so much more.
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company is available now and on sale on Amazon for $17 (originally $28).
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1. Steve Jobs never read a single comic book and hated them
When considering making an offer to acquire Marvel, Iger consulted Steve Jobs, who was Disney’s biggest shareholder at the time. While Jobs gave his blessing, he also informed Iger that he’d never read a comic book. “I hate them more than I hate video games,” Iger remembers the Apple co-founder telling him.
2. Disney considered acquiring Marvel during Michael Eisner’s tenure
While Disney successfully acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, it wasn’t the first time the company considered buying the comics giant. According to Iger, he attended a staff lunch early in his Disney career, in which then-CEO Michael Eisner presented the idea of a possible acquisition. “A handful of executives around the table objected,” Iger recalled. “‘Marvel was too edgy,’ they said. ‘It would tarnish the Disney brand.'”
3. Disney was not worried about other studios controlling certain characters
When Disney bought Marvel, it was with the knowledge that there were many characters whose movie rights they had no control over–including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the X-Men. According to Iger, that didn’t really matter. “Even if we couldn’t obtain Spider-Man or the rights controlled by other studios, we’d still have more than enough to mine,” he explained. Iger also noted that he and his team had a dossier with 7,000 characters they would be able to control, should they purchase the company.
4. Marvel didn’t think black or female superhero movies would work
Before Marvel Entertainment and Marvel Studios separated, Iger admitted there was some pushback about presenting a more diverse roster of superheroes. “Marvel movies so far had been built largely around characters who were white and who were men,” Iger remembered. “When I said that I thought we should be changing that, Kevin [Feige} agreed, but was worried that members of the Marvel team in New York would be skeptical. I called the team to discuss my concerns. One of them told me, ‘Female superheroes never drive big box office.’ Their other assumption was that international audiences wouldn’t want to watch black superheroes.”
5. Black Panther was written into Civil War before they decided to make a solo film
Based on the way Iger lays out the timeline, Black Panther was set to appear in Captain America: Civil War–with Chadwick Boseman in the role–before a standalone movie was a possibility. “Kevin [Feige] mentioned Black Panther, who was about to be written into the Captain America: Civil War script, and Alan [Horn] and I were both intrigued,” Iger wrote of his want to diversify the MCU. Chadwick Boseman, who’d received considerable acclaim for playing Jackie Robinson in 42, was going to be cast as Black Panther. He was such a magnetic, compelling actor, and I could easily see him in a leading Marvel role.”
6. How the Marvel Cinematic Universe is plotted out
According to Iger, he joins Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, and a few others for quarterly meetings to plot the future of the MCU. “We discuss projects that are well into production, and others that are specks of an idea,” he wrote. “We mull potential characters to introduce, consider sequels and franchises that might add to the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe. We consider actors and directors and think about how the various stories can be cross-pollinated.”
7. The Lucasfilm deal was called off twice before made official
The hardest part of negotiating the deal to acquire Lucasfilm, according to Iger, was what creative input George Lucas would have in the future of Star Wars. “We agreed to a price quickly, but then negotiated back and forth for several months over what his role would be,” Iger wrote. “It was difficult for him to cede control of the ongoing Star Wars saga, and it made no sense for us to not have it.” Ultimately, the CEO revealed that the deal was called off twice–the first time by Disney, the second by Lucas–before it was finally made official. Part of that deal included Disney purchasing three movie outlines Lucas wrote, which were ultimately not used.
8. George Lucas didn’t want to attend the Force Awakens premiere
It was previously revealed that Lucas was not a fan of The Force Awakens, believing that there was “nothing new” about it. However, Iger also noted that the creator of Star Wars didn’t even want to attend the movie’s premiere at first. “I thought it was important for George to be at the Force Awakens premiere,” he said. “He didn’t want to come at first, but Kathy [Kennedy], with the help of George’s now-wife, Mellody Hobson, convinced him it was the right thing to do.”
9. George Lucas apologized to Iger for calling Disney “white slavers”
In an appearance on Charlie Rose that aired shortly after the release of The Force Awakens, Lucas likened selling the Star Wars franchise to selling his children to “white slavers,” a comment that received considerable media attention. In his book, Iger revealed that Lucas called him to apologize. “‘I was out of line,’ he said. ‘I shouldn’t have said it like that. I was trying to explain how hard it is to let things go,'” Iger wrote.
10. President Bob Iger could have been a thing
Before Donald Trump became President of the United States, Iger looked into the idea of running as a candidate. “I’d spoken with a couple dozen influential people in the Democratic Party–a few former members of the Obama administration, some members of congress, pollsters, and fundraiser and staffers from previous presidential campaigns,” he explained. Iger also started doing his homework, reading up on a variety of issues that he believed would be central to his run, including healthcare, immigration law, and environmental issues.
In the end, he opted not to run. That was due, in part, to the pending 21st Century Fox acquisition. Rupert Murdoch informed Iger that the only way he’d be willing to sell his company was if Iger agreed to remain as Disney’s CEO’s past his planned 2019 retirement date.
11. The Disney-Fox merger was Rupert Murdoch’s idea
According to Iger, it was Ruper Murdoch who summoned him to open up the line of communication about a potential acquisition. Over drinks at Murdoch’s home, they discussed whether Iger wanted to run for president and the future of their two businesses. While the media mogul didn’t outright tell Iger he was considering selling his company, that was the impression the Disney CEO got.
“As I said goodbye to him that evening, I couldn’t help but think he was signaling an interest in doing the unthinkable,” Iger wrote. When he called Murdoch the next day, he posed the question, ‘If I am reading you right, if I said we are interested in acquiring your company, or most of it, would you be open to it?'” Murdoch’s response was a simple, “Yes. Are you interested in buying?”
12. Iger warned Roseanne to stay off Twitter weeks before her outburst
It was in 2018 when ABC canceled Roseanne in the wake of an offensive tweet from series star Roseanne Barr. According to Iger, though, mere weeks before the incident he spoke with the comedian about her use of Twitter–a company Disney nearly purchased at one point–and suggested she stay off the platform.
The discussion happened when the two met for lunch. “It couldn’t have been nicer,” he wrote of the meal. “Roseanne showed up with cookies that she’d baked for me, and she spent part of our conversation recalling that I was one of the few people in her corner way back when and said that she’d always trust me.” After warning her to stay off of Twitter for her own good, as well as the show’s, she agreed. “I left the lunch feeling reassured that she understood that the success she was enjoying then was rare and could easily go away,” Iger said.
In the end, Roseanne was revived without Barr as The Conners. It’s currently in its second season.
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