JAMES GUNN loves a good Hollywood story, so he weighs for a moment whether to embellish a bit of ol’ entertainment lore.
The urban legend has persisted for decades: Were Walt Disney’s final words, whether written or spoken, actually “Kurt Russell”?
Now that Russell himself has returned to Disney studios to star in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” (opening Friday), it seems an opportune time to ask the film’s director what he has heard about his star’s story.
“I don’t know whether to join the [misinformation] or tell the truth … ,” Gunn briefly teases. “As a storyteller, I feel equally beholden to this wonderful story, but at the end of the day, the truth wins out.”
Russell, of course, was a child actor making a series of Disney movies — including 1966’s “Follow Me, Boys!” with Fred MacMurray — when Walt Disney died that same year.
As Russell recounted in the 1999 biography “Remembering Walt” by Amy Boothe Green and Howard E. Green: “Sometimes [Disney would] come down to the set and ask, ‘Do you want to see part of a movie that’s being put together?’ ”
Russell has said over the years that the legendary animator-filmmaker liked to ask him questions to get a sense of how a young mind works. The actor has said that Walt Disney reminded him of his own grandfather — inventive and creative and thoughtful — and so the teen actor was unintimidated by the mogul.
Walt Disney, impressed by the young actor’s gifts, wanted him under contract for future Disney films — which might well explain why the words “Kirt Russell” were found scribbled on a note on the filmmaker’s desk when he died at age 65.
“I’ve seen that sheet on this desk, that spells ‘Kirt Russell,’ ” Gunn confirms.
“I was able to take a tour of Walt Disney’s office — they’ve totally re-created how it was on the Disney lot when he died. They love their Disney lore — all the Disney guys — and they kind of told me the whole story.”
Russell himself was shown the sheet soon after the filmmaker died, when a Disney employee asked him about its possible meaning. Perhaps Walt had written the actor’s name weeks earlier, while planning a next picture for him? No one knows for sure.
“It isn’t exactly a true story, that this was the last thing [Disney] wrote in his office,” Gunn says.
Yet the lore persists — fittingly for a filmmaker and studio head who liked to fire our youthful imaginations.
“I talked to Kurt about it; he loves the story,” Gunn says playfully. “I believed it. I think Kurt believes in it and [Marvel Studios head] Kevin Feige believes it.”
Hollywood storytellers embracing such a tale? Now that’s easy to believe.