As a kid, you were a Disney expert. You watched and re-watched Disney classics on VHS until the magnetic tape came unspooled. You made your parents buy you more videos before the "Disney Vault" slammed shut. You knew all the lines to your favorite movies and you knew when the scary parts were coming. You knew everything there was to know about Disney, with one notable exception: You had no idea what the 'D' in that logo was supposed to be. Is that a backwards 'G'? How do you pronounce that? "Walt Gisney"?
The above logo didn't appear until 1984, after Michael Eisner took over as CEO of The Walt Disney Company and helped revitalize the studio that was struggling in the years after the death of its founder. This timing coincided with the spread of home video entertainment and the release of Disney films on VHS, thus sparking the ubiquity of the "Walt Disney" script with the funky "D."
While this logo is ostensibly Walt Disney's signature, compare it with this one he provided during his 1954 appearance on "What's My Line?" Although they both feature flourished loops on the "D", they are totally different:
Also compare it with a Disney logo from before Walt's 1966 death—it looks like the handwriting of someone else. This is from the intro to 1964's "Walt Disney's the Wonderful World of Color":
What accounts for these major variances?
Walt Disney's signature changed so much because the man himself liked to change it. UB Iwerks, the most famous Disney animator of all time, recalls meeting Walt Disney in 1919, when a “seventeen-year-old Disney was seated at a drawing board, practicing variations on his signature.”
"Disney's signature from the 1920s does not resemble his signature from the 1950s or '60s," writes Walt Disney collectibles expert Phil Sears. "Walt consciously re-designed his signature over the years, in much the same way he changed the appearance of Mickey Mouse over time." Disney signatures are tough to authenticate because of this and due to the fact that multiple studio employees were authorized to sign his name to memorabilia, comics, and more. The end result is a wealth of slightly different handwriting samples.
Phil Sears provided examples of authentic Disney signatures to show that, at one time, Walt had a John Hancock that looks like the company's modern logo:
Because the current Walt Disney logo didn't appear until 18 years after his death, it was most likely designed posthumously and is an exaggerated or stylized version of one of his actual signatures. According to Sears, it was probably inspired by "a printed, or Roman signature which he used occasionally throughout his life."
Eisner and co. had plenty of signatures to choose from when it came time to design a new logo, and they picked one an entire generation would instantly recognize—the one with the weird "D."