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In 1955, twelve-year-old Tom Nabbe was selling newspapers at Disneyland. He heard that Walt Disney needed someone to play Tom Sawyer in the park. What happened next was a real-life American dream, the kind that Mark Twain himself could have written: Walt chose Tom to be the Tom, and for the next forty-eight years, Tom Nabbe grew up with Disney. He rubbed shoulders with celebrities, his face appeared on the cover of national magazines, and until he outgrew the role he was indeed the 'luckiest boy in the world'. These are his adventures...

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FROM: The Adventures of Tom Nabbe Published Every Other Tuesday

The Adventure of the Suspicious Secretary

You'd think, if Walt Disney said you were hired, that was the end of it. Not so for young Tom Nabbe, whose good fortune at being hired in person by Walt to play Tom Sawyer soon became a minor bureaucratic dust-up.

Around May of 1956, I was slowly but steadily spending my salary from selling newspapers in one of the pinball machines that were in Disneyland back then.

Dick Nunis, the supervisor of Frontierland, walked briskly up to me and said:

"Tom, come with me".

Dick Nunis was the sort of guy who got his way. You didn't refuse when he asked for something. I didn't even take the time to finish my pinball game. I was following Dick even as my last pinball was still in play.

Walt Says the Words Tom Wants to Hear

We walked over to the Rivers of America, and there we found Walt Disney talking with Morgan Evans, one of his landscape architects. Dick said "Here's Tom," and then Walt looked me over and said:

"Are you still interested in working here as Tom Sawyer".

I couldn't believe it! After months of pestering, Walt was finally making me the offer.

"You bet", I told him.

And that was it.

But, of course, it wasn't so easy. I still needed paperwork. Even though I was selling newspapers at the park, I didn't have a work permit or a Social Security number.

Walt's next comment had nothing to do with Tom Sawyer, or what I'd be doing, or when I'd be starting: it was about the paperwork. I wasn't the first kid to work for Walt Disney - the Mouseketeers were ahead of me - and Walt knew exactly what I'd need to be legal.

Others in the park, however, weren't so sure.

Tom Runs into a Snafu

Once I got my work permit and Social Security number, I hurried down to the Disney employment office and asked the woman working behind the desk for the forms I'd need to complete before I could legally work for Walt. When she looked at me as if I were nuts, I explained that Walt had hired me to play Tom Sawyer.

She didn't know what to make of that. So she asked her manager, who said with certainty that Disney didn't hire kids, not to play Tom Sawyer, not to do anything.

I didn't give up, and when they wouldn't listen to me, I told them to call Dick Nunis.

Maybe because the manager was afraid that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't lying, he called Dick Nunis, and sure enough, Dick told him that Walt had indeed hired me and that both he and the secretary were to help me complete the necessary forms as quickly as possible.

With great speed and efficiency, my forms were filled out and properly filed, and I was formally a Disneyland employee, earning 75 cents an hour to play Tom Sawyer.

Tom's adventures with Disney spanned the early days of Disneyland, his special relationship with Walt, and his five decades of work for the company. We're just getting started!


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