How Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Came Home
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is back in the news after Walt’s original cartoon character starred in his first new short in over 80 years.
While Disney fans rejoiced at seeing new content from mischievous bunny, all I could think about was how crazy the road back to Disney has been for Oswald.
In fact, I would argue that Oswald has been a part of two of the most shocking moments in Disney history. First, Charles Mintz taking the rights to Oswald from right under Walt Disney was a seminal moment in Walt’s history.
It radically changed how Walt viewed the industry, and would eventually lead to the creation of Mickey Mouse. The rest, as they say, is history.
More shocking however was Oswald’s 2006 return to the Walt Disney Company. In order to re-acquire the rights to the largely forgotten character, Disney actually “traded” sportscaster Al Michaels. Here is the full story.
Al Michaels Wants Out
Oswald’s long journey home strangely began with Disney/ESPN acquiring the rights to Monday Night football. Because of this agreement, Disney owned ABC lost the Sunday Night Football. This left the conglomerate with a problem, they now had two sets of production teams and only one NFL showcase.
Shortly after the new agreement was announced, veteran sportscaster John Madden told Disney that he was leaving ABC to follow Sunday Night Football to NBC.
Madden, who’s contract had expired, was unhappy with the situation at Disney and quickly left. The NFL legend’s broadcasting partner, Al Michaels, however, had a problem. Michaels too wanted to remain with Sunday Night Football and join NBC, but he had recently signed a new contract.
Hoping to come up with a solution to this problem, ESPN president George Bodenheimer called Disney CEO Bob Iger and explained the situation.
A Trade Proposal
Iger responded that he would be willing to let Michaels go to Sunday Night Football, if NBC would send the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back to Disney.
Bodenheimer, who had no idea what an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was, then called his NBC counterpart Dick Ebersol.
Bodenheimer bluntly told Ebersol that he would be willing to discuss letting Michaels go to NBC, but he had to have Oswald back.
Ebersol was understandably confused. He also had no concept of what an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was, but he wanted to get the deal done.
After a quick call to NBC’s sister company, Universal, the trade was worked out.
Rejoicing at Disney
After re-acquiring the rights to Oswald, Bob Iger triumphantly stated:
“I wanted to complete Walt’s mission. I knew there was an empty spot in his heart since Oswald left…There was something about bringing Oswald back that seemed right.
Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller also commented, noting that Iger had always planned on trying to get Oswald back. She told reporters:
“When Bob was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word. Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun”
Over at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Oswald’s return was celebrated with an “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Day” that included a parade!
So there you have, the complete story of how Disney traded a iconic sports caster for an 80 year old cartoon character. So next time you see Oswald in the Parks, or wear your Oswald ears, be sure to thank Al Michaels and Bob Iger!