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Those Who Knew Him: Knowing Walt Disney By Way of His Friends

DocBarnardcropWhen I was 13, Harold Draeghert Barnard, M.D., and his wife, Mrs. Kathleen Barnard, moved to our neighborhood. They had retired to Homestead Road, Palm Desert, from their mansion on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Doc had been the ear, nose, and throat specialist to many celebrities, including Walt Disney.

Their house on Homestead cost twice as much as my folks’. Yet Doc and Mrs. Barnard were the meaning of unpretentious. He never once condescended to my father, a grape farmer who ran ranches for, by that point, big corporations like Superior Oil of Texas. These were full-on Beverly Hills socialites who enjoyed the company of my first-generation American parents, George and Claire Krikorian, more than the company of the highfalutin.

The Barnards’ idea of a good time was for all of us to drive to Palm Springs and eat Shakey’s pizza and drink cold beer on tap. They never once wanted to eat at a restaurant my parents could not afford.

When my grandmother was visiting from Fresno once, Doc walked his poodle Beau up the street, introduced himself to “Mama Krikorian,” was very polite to this foreigner, and later told me, then just 14-years-old, in confidence, “There aren’t many of these old people left.” He was as old as she, yet he seemed to understand her involuntary immigration to the States, her old world upbringing. He was, after all, a veteran of World War I.

I used to go to the Barnards’ while they drank their evening cocktail, and have a soda. Then, Doc would tell me stories. He had been the ear, nose, and throat specialist to Wendell Wilkie, whose 1940s presidential campaign was a whistle-stop run of speeches.

Doc is mentioned in the 1980s book on Wilkie entitled “Dark Horse,” but his full name is given incorrectly. How do I know? Doctor Barnard’s name is on Main Street U. S. A. at Disneyland. It is painted on one of the office windows on the second story, under a green and white striped awning. Walt Disney loved Doc. He gave Doc such treasures; no term like “Disneyana” on ebay can describe these gifts.

Walt had given Doc:

  1. A sterling silver, hand-engraved pass, the size of a modern credit card, to everything, every attraction, every restaurant, at Disneyland, forever
  2. A “Mickey,” a statue made just like an Oscar, with a bronze figure and a Bakelite podium, but shaped like Mickey Mouse, with Doc’s name engraved on the plaque
  3. 8 x 10 glossy photographs of the morning Disneyland opened in 1955, when Doc and Mrs. Barnard were seated at Walt and Mrs. Disney’s breakfast table on the top deck of the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Doctor Barnard had one of the most complete book, document, and photograph collections of Abraham Lincoln in the world. In today’s money, I imagine it would be worth many millions of dollars. And when Dr. Harold Draeghert Barnard, a graduate of the University of Michigan, sat through “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” he openly wept. He told me, the fourteen-year-old, once again in confidence, “If there was ever a man something like Christ, it was Mr. Lincoln.” Sometimes I think Walt’s having known Doc and having seen his collection was a reason why “Great Moments” was created.

I went to see it when it reopened a couple years back, and I wept.

DocBarnardDoc had been in a western riders group, the Vista Dorees. He had ridden on one of those silver and turquoise saddles in the Rose Parade. A young Ronald Reagan was in the Vista Dorees with him. They used to take two- to three-week pack trips up into the High Sierra, hunting, fishing, and living off the game they took. Doc had tremendous fly fishing gear, some of which he left to me. The older gentlemen who taught our Scout Troop fly fishing last summer at Camp Whitsett calmly told me after inspecting my fly rod that I could sell it for at least $1,500. I wouldn’t think of doing so; it was Doc’s.

Doc helped pay his University of Michigan tuition by prize fighting. Yes, boxing. His nose was broken eight or ten times. But he won often enough to put a real dent in his college tuition bill.

I have taken both our children down the sidewalk of Mainstreet U. S. A. and gestured up at Doc’s name. He was my surrogate grandfather, the only English-speaking one I ever had.

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