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A Good Show for Shareholders

Freelance journalists Irene and P.M. Clepper of St. Paul, Minn., own a tidy little chunk of Disney stock but couldn’t make the company’s annual stockholders meeting at the Pond of Anaheim on Tuesday. So they asked their daughter, Vicky, who lives in Southern California, to go in their place--just to be sure that Michael Eisner didn’t announce the upcoming " Fantasia 2000" would be in black-and-white and include a couple of car chases.

As Vicky’s husband, I went along for the ride. I wanted to see Sidney Poitier. (He’s on the Disney board of directors.)

It was a state-of-the-art dog and pony show. When Disney division leaders read their carefully rehearsed, glowing speeches about how good things were, each line was choreographed with spectacular graphics and splashy videos on wide screen.

I stopped taking notes on the numbers about the eighth time I heard one of them say something about making another billion dollars. The most telling notion of the day came from Chairman Eisner, when he closed a discussion of this being the “Disney Decade” with a smile, saying: “No one ever accused us of understatement.”

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I’m told this was rather contentious for a stockholders meeting. There were demonstrators outside, and not everyone was happy about Eisner’s income pay package of at least $250 million. Some stockholders were upset enough about the “Michael Ovitz issue” to take to the microphone about it. (Ovitz was Eisner’s best friend, who came to Disney in 1996 as a heavily recruited No. 2. When he was bounced out after less than a year, he walked away with about $96 million in compensation.)

But from where I sat, it seemed Lion King Eisner swatted away such criticism with the mere back of his paw. Did any stockholders really think they’d be making a serious vote on any of this? With about 665 million shares in existence, about 580 million had already carried the day--giving Eisner all he wanted--before the meeting even started.

I think most knew this, and were just there for a day of watching billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Sid Bass (who own chunks of stock considerably larger than my in-laws).

Disney officials “were trying to impress us,” said David Westall of Camarillo, who has owned Disney stock for more than 40 years. And did they? I asked him. “Pretty much,” he said. “I just wish I still had all the Disney stock I’ve sold over the years.”

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Some 12,000 showed, for a variety of reasons.

“About 80% of the people are here for the tickets,” said Marilyn Barger of Upland, adding, “That’s why I came.” Each stockholder and guest got a free pass to Disneyland good for the next three months.

Lynn and Dick Brzezinski of Lancaster brought their granddaughter Katelyn, who is 5. Or rather, Katelyn brought them. She’s the stockholder.

“The Disney stock is her college education fund,” Lynn Brzezinski explained. “We thought she might as well see what a stockholders meeting is like.”

Richard and Carol Hostert of Baldwin, Pa., a borough near Pittsburgh, planned their Southern California vacation around this meeting. They’d gone to the one at Disney World in Florida two years ago. That one impressed them, they said, because Disney animators put on a demonstration of how they put together the “Pocahontas” movie. They were hoping for similar hoopla at Tuesday’s session.

“Our daughter went to work for Disney, and she just got the whole family excited about the place,” Carol Hostert said. “So far it’s been great fun.”

In the end, I didn’t see anybody so upset about Michael Ovitz that they turned down those free passes to Disneyland (handed out at the door as you left). But a lot of people probably shared the view of William Sweney of Santa Barbara, who brought his two children down on the train.

“It’s an exemplary company, and I’m glad we came,” Sweney said. “I would have felt a little better if Michael Eisner had paid some of that Ovitz compensation out of his own pocket.”

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For the record: Sidney Poitier is even more handsome, and more distinguished, than I thought he was.

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The Lion Girl: Part of the dog and pony show was a presentation of Disney movies to be released this year. To me, the best of the lot appeared to be “Malum,” an animated feature about a Chinese girl pretending she’s a boy to get into the military. The film clip shown was simply delightful. Though a few might object that the voice for one leading role is Eddie Murphy’s.

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Now and Then: Today in Vienna, Austria, there’s a meeting scheduled for those who run the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It might be just about what kind of food to serve on the plane as the orchestra heads to the U.S. The meeting precedes the orchestra’s American tour at the Orange County Performing Arts Center next Tuesday and Wednesday.

But I suspect someone will bring up the controversy surrounding members’ decision (so far) not to give in to demands that women be admitted to the orchestra, which has long followed a ridiculous European tradition of “men only.”

If things don’t change before they arrive here, you can expect orchestra members to be greeted by a good number of angry women and men in front of that grand hall.

The South Orange County chapter of the National Organization for Women has included the e-mail addresses for the primary orchestra leaders and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County (the sponsoring group) in its latest newsletter. It’s also calling for protesters to gather Tuesday at Birraporetti’s near the Performing Arts Center before the 7 p.m. protest.

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Here’s Your New Car: The Chrysler contest was quite a challenge: Design your own vehicle. A group of conceptual physics students at Brea Olinda High School wanted to try something different from your standard souped-up Ferrari. So they chose a mail truck.

They went to the post office to ask mail carriers what features they’d like to see if they could design their own vehicles. Then they headed back to the drawing board. “They combined ergonomic and environmental features,” said their teacher, Herman Glantz. “They came up with a truck that not only was safer for mail carriers, but more comfortable.”

The result: Their concept car, which they called “Team Mail,” is one of three Southern California finalists in the “Build Your Dream Vehicle” competition sponsored by Chrysler Corp. They make their presentation today at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

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Wrap-Up: February brings a change of seasons in my life. I turned 50 and my daughter turned 5. (“But I don’t talk any different,” she said upon waking up on her birthday morning Wednesday.) She and my teen son are my connections to the future. My mother, my blessed connection to my past, turns 77 today.

As I write this, I’m off to help my wife goal tend at our daughter’s birthday party. For two hours, we’ll forget the world and all its troubles, and we’ll revel in the delights of preschoolers whose universe revolves around cake and ice cream. I’d be surprised if any of them even mentions Michael Ovitz.

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Jerry Hicks’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com


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