From Santa Anita Publicity
ARCADIA, Calif. (July 1, 2015)—Jack Disney, a longtime sports writer with the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, who went on to serve as Director of Publicity at Hollywood Park and who was an integral part of Santa Anita’s publicity efforts for many years, passed away at his home in Irvine on Monday at the age of 80 following a long bout with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (C.O.P.D.).
An avid racing enthusiast from his days at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Disney hired on at the Herald Examiner at the age of 19 in 1954 and, for the better part of 35 years, covered USC football and basketball, the Lakers, Raiders, Angels, Dodgers, boxing at both the Olympic Auditorium and the Forum, and even had a fling as an on-air pro wrestling analyst alongside the legendary Dick (Whoa Nellie!!) Lane, on KTLA channel 5.
Known simply as “Diz” to close friends and press box colleagues, Disney was the product of a bygone era, when sports writers often drew close to the athletes they covered, and enjoyed, for the most part, non-adversarial relationships. Accordingly, Disney often recounted nights out on the town and eventful charter flights with the likes of Bo Belinsky, “Hot Rod” Hundley, Elgin Baylor, and many others, including one of his all-time favorite athletes, the Raiders’ Lester Hayes.
“Jack’s love and enthusiasm for sports was evident in all of his reporting,” said former Santa Anita General Manager George Haines. “Jack built thousands of relationships over the years here in L.A. and these were of great benefit to him and all of us here at Santa Anita. He was just a class act and he was very well liked by our jockeys and horsemen. He will be sorely missed and my best wishes go to his wife and family.”
Married for the past 19 years to his high school sweetheart, Emily, Disney enjoyed some of his greatest success late in life—as a Thoroughbred owner. Calling upon his close ties to the sports community, Disney and his twin brother, Doug, formed “Indizguys” Stable about 10 years ago. Members ranged from former Angel catcher, Buck Rogers, to former USC and San Francisco 49ers receiver Paul Salata and retired L.A. Times sports writer and Baseball Hall of Famer, Ross Newhan.
This disparate entourage struck gold on Nov. 25, 2006, when, at the behest of the late trainer Mike Mitchell, they claimed a long-fused 5-year-old English-bred gelding named On the Acorn. Finishing fifth on the day they purchased him, On the Acorn was subsequently last in a field of nine for a $50,000 claiming tag on Dec. 16, 2006, but he then rattled off consecutive allowance wins on turf at Santa Anita and was poised for stakes company.
In what Disney described as “A once in a lifetime” run, On the Acorn would go on to win the Grade II, $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap on April 22, 2007, en route to a pair of $250,000 wins in the Grade II, Jim Murray Memorial Handicap on May 12, 2007 and on May 10, 2008.
“Jack, along with (the late columnist and editor) Alan Malamud, were the people most responsible for me getting an opportunity at the Herald Examiner back in the late 70s and for that I was forever grateful,” said current Los Angeles Newspaper Group handicapper Bob Mieszerski, who worked alongside Disney at the Herald and is also currently serving as Thoroughbred Publicity Director at Los Alamitos. “Jack and I have been close ever since and I could always count on him for guidance and support.
“He was a brilliant writer and a first class gentleman. In all the years I had the pleasure of knowing Jack, I never heard anyone utter a bad word about him. The world won’t be the same without him and I already miss him terribly. I only hope he knew how much I loved and appreciated him.”
In addition to his wife, Emily and brother, Doug, Jack Disney is survived by his sons, Rick and Mitchell, and two grandchildren. Services are pending.