Come behind the scenes at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., where, at various locales, machines are mixing batter for those yummy Mickey-shaped waffles, a Minnie head is getting a last-minute application of eye liner and "mouse-cara" – and Michael Eisner, the chairman and CEO of the whole company, is checking out a part of the park that will be hidden from public view until May 1.
"You know what would look great over there?" says the surprisingly tall (for those who've seen him introduce the Disney Sunday-night TV show), still boyishly affable 47-year-old executive. As he speaks, he is pointing to a space on the back lot of the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, a dazzling 135-acre high-tech playground that will combine rides, shows and exhibits -all "themed," as the Disney folks say, to the world of movies and TV-with a tour of an actual film-production facility.
"...an aircraft carrier!" Eisner says.
"You mean," says a clipboard-carrying aide, conscious that his superior earned $40 million last year, largely because Eisner seems, like no entertainment executive since Walt Disney himself, to have located the pulse of the American public-"you mean, next to the [replica of a] subway car?"
"Sure, why not?" Eisner says. "Call some naval bases and see if you can get an aircraft carrier and put it right there.
"Sixty miles from the nearest ocean?"
"Yeah, it'll be fun to look at, don't you think?"
Others may deal in weightier matters than this always energetic, family-oriented fellow who worked his way up through the programming department at ABC Television, and then moved over to Paramount Pictures, where he was the driving force behind such smashes as "Terms of Endearment" and "Saturday Night Fever." But no one in America has a neater job than Michael Eisner. Besides making the movies he wantsfor Walt Disney Studios and its somewhat more mature subdivision, Touchstone Pictures, he gets to pass judgment on the latest designs for Mickey Mouse watches and lord it over the company's theme parks. These include Disneyland, the southern California original, and Disney World-which may have started out to be the East Coast version of the above, but has become, over its 17-year history, something much more: a kind of warp zone of warmth and family values, similar to the Thanksgiving-dinner table, where people congregate to assure themselves that the world's a fine place after all.