Episode 106- Disney Legend Tom Nabbe
American literature and lore is filled with lovable scamps. We have Laura Ingalls, who ran about the north woods and the prairie neglecting her chores. Oh, Half Pint, why couldn’t you behave like Mary did? We also have the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, who were always sticking their respective noses in where they didn’t belong. Instead of snooping around, why don’t you focus on minding your own business, kids? And, of course, we have Captain the Dog, who thinks it’s perfectly fine to tear things up in his eternal quest to be as close to Heidi as possible. He doesn’t have a book about him yet, but when he does, we know which ship he’ll be sailing in it: the S.S. Stalker. He’s the most adorable pup in the world, but every time he looks at Heidi, “Every Breath You Take” starts to play in the background.
But we digress! The winner of the most lovable scamp in America has to be Tom Sawyer. (With Will, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, coming in a close second.) For this week’s episode, we had the pleasure of chatting with Tom Nabbe, who played the original Tom Sawyer at Disneyland — one of many jobs he held there from 1955 until his retirement decades later. And after hearing his stories, we completely understand how Tom convinced Walt Disney to hire him.
Disneyland opened on July 18, 1955 and twelve-year-old Tom was there. (And by “Tom,” we mean Tom Nabbe, not Sawyer. Tom Sawyer is a fictional character, which, hopefully, you know. And by “you know,” we mean that you know he’s fictional. But we could also mean, “you know” as in, “you feel like you know him because Mark Twain’s words made him come alive.” Either way.) By July 19 of that same year, Tom was selling the Disneyland newspaper on site and making himself known to those working at, and designing new exhibits for, the theme park.
When young Tom heard they were creating a Tom Sawyer Island, there was no doubt about who was perfect for the job of the attraction’s namesake. Not only did he already have the name, but he also had the kind of go-getter attitude that meant Walt Disney didn’t stand a chance. We won’t give it away, but it’s a pretty special story about how Tom pursued him for about a year in order to get the job of Tom Sawyer.
Tom has many one-of-a-kind stories about his interactions with Disney, what the early days at Disneyland were like, and how things have changed through the years. He has the particular distinction of being called a “Disney Legend,” which is a high honor for an employee there. They are selected by a committee to recognize people who made a significant impact on the Disney legacy. As Tom explained, he wasn’t an actor or an animator. But we know that to so many he’s an integral part of Disney’s history. Tune in to hear about that history via some of the other jobs he held with Disney through the years, including what he needed to do to be authorized to work there as a kid and how tricky heading the Jungle Cruise really is.
We thoroughly enjoyed hearing Tom’s stories, and we know you will, too. If you’d like to dive even deeper into his life-long career with Disney, check out his book about his life with Walt. (That’s right, he got to call him “Walt.”) You can also find Tom on Facebook or his website to learn more about this Disney Legend. And when your tween becomes a successful influencer and complains about having to still do school work despite being famous for disco eye shadow tutorials, remind them that Tom Nabbe was required to keep a C average despite being Tom Sawyer. How can you argue with that?