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Donn Tatum; Former Head of Disney Productions


Donn B. Tatum, the first non-family member to head Walt Disney Productions, has died at the age of 80.

Tatum, who left the Disney board last year, died of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades.

"The entire Walt Disney Co. mourns the passing of Donn Tatum, a great friend, a scholar and exemplary leader," Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner and President Frank G. Wells said in a joint statement announcing the death. "The world will miss Donn, but we at Disney who looked to him for wisdom, guidance and balance will miss him more."

Tatum was elected chairman and chief executive officer in 1971 after the death of Roy O. Disney, older brother and successor to Walt Disney. The younger Disney, who died in 1966, created the animation company with his successful cartoon character Mickey Mouse. The choice of Tatum as chairman was part of a succession plan set in place by Roy Disney in 1967.

Tatum remained chairman of the board until 1980 and was the first president of Walt Disney World Co., playing a major role in the creation of Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.

A lawyer and former radio and television executive, Tatum joined Disney in 1956 as production business manager. He was appointed to the company's three-member executive committee in 1964, the same year he was elected to the board of directors and became vice president and administrative assistant to Roy Disney. He was elected president and chief operating officer in 1968.

Tatum grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Stanford University magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in political science and economics. He earned two law degrees at Oxford University and began his career practicing entertainment law with the Los Angeles firm of Lillick, Geary & McHose.

Tatum served as counsel for RCA, NBC and ABC and helped create legislation dealing with television when the medium was in its infancy. He later served as general manager of KABC-TV in Los Angeles and as western division television director for ABC.

He served as director or trustee of the John Tracy Clinic, the Salk Institute, St. John's Medical Foundation, the Huntington Library Board of Overseers, the California State Fair and Exposition, Irvine-based Disease Detection International, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles.

Tatum is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Vernette Ripley; three sons, Frederic, Donn Jr. and Forbes; two daughters, Vernette Tatum and Melantha Donohue, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to St. John of God Retirement and Care Center, 2035 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles 90018, or to the John Tracy Clinic, 806 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles 90007.

Funeral services will be private.

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