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January 15, 2018

Touring Walt Disney’s Hollywood

Gary Cruise banner

Last month, just before Christmas, Carol and I were in California enjoying ourselves at Disneyland. When the weekend rolled around we knew the parks would be very busy . . . much busier than we like! What else could we do Saturday and Sunday?

We had tickets for a D23 event at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank on Sunday so we decided to spend Saturday driving around the Los Angeles area looking at some of the places that would have been familiar to Walt Disney. Places where he worked, places where he lived, places where he played! We made a list of places we knew Walt would have seen, plotted them in our GPS and away we went!

Our first stop was only about two miles southwest of Disneyland; the Stanley Ranch Museum and Historical Village at 12174 Euclid Street. This historical village is operated by the Garden Grove Historical Society and is the home of Walt Disney's first animation studio. When Walt and Roy arrived in Los Angeles in 1923 cash was very tight! They roomed with their uncle, Robert Disney, at 4406 Kingswell Avenue and set up their tiny animation studio in his garage. In 1984 that historic old garage was donated to the Garden Grove Historical Society and moved from Kingswell Avenue to the village on Euclid Street.

The society does not have a web site, but when I did an Internet search the night before, told me that they opened at 9:00 a.m. We arrived at about 9:15 a.m., eager to kick off our 'Disney day'.

Stanley Ranch Museum

As we walked from the small parking area toward the entrance of the historical village we were stopped by a lady who was stretching a flag-draped rope across the entrance to block access to the village

"Are you here for a tour?" she asked.

"No," I replied, "we're looking for Robert Disney's garage."

"I don't know a Robert Drimbley." she said rather gruffly.

"No, Robert Disney, he was Walt Disney's uncle and Walt had his first animation studio in his uncle's garage."

"We're closed right now." she snapped, "This is private property you know! You'll have to book a tour and come back on the first or third Sunday of the month."

I quickly surmised that this lady must be either a volunteer or a highly skilled rope stretcher; she had certainly not been hired because of her people skills!

After her less-than-cheery greeting we slunk back to our car . . . hoping for a warmer reception at our next stop!

We drove north about 30 miles, through Los Angeles, to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. We were trying to track down Walt's grave site near the Court of Freedom.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Forest Lawn is a huge cemetery, about 300 acres, and the receptionist who greeted us at the entrance gate was very helpful. She highlighted our route on a map of the grounds and gave us some very useful driving hints.

Within a few minutes we arrived at the Court of Freedom and began our brief search for Walt’s final resting place.

Court of Freedom

For a man who had such a profound impact on so many people, who left such a rich legacy behind, we were surprised at the humble family plot tucked off in a quiet corner.

The Disney family plot

Walt's headstone

We spent a few minutes paying our respects to this incredible man, then carried on to our next stop.

A quick 7 mile drive took us to Burbank, the current home of the Walt Disney Studios complex. It was a just a reconnaissance mission, we wanted to get the lay of the land before coming back the following day for a D23 event.

Walt Disney Studios

The complex houses the Disney Animation Building, the Team Disney Building, many of the movie studio stages, ABC Television Studios and Carol's favourite - the Walt Disney Studio Store.

Walt Disney Studios

After a quick peek at the Disney Studios property we took a 2 mile jaunt on the Ventura Freeway to Griffith Park. If you're a Disney fan you've probably seen that film clip of Walt, where he reminisces about sitting on a park bench dreaming of a park where parents could have fun along with their children.

That park bench, in Griffith Park, was where Walt was originally inspired to build Disneyland.

Today Griffith Park is the home of Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn. The barn was originally in Walt's backyard at 355 Carolwood Drive. Walt had a lavish model railroad in his yard; he named it the Carolwood Pacific Railroad and in 1998 when the Disney family sold the Holmby Hills estate the barn was dismantled and reconstructed as part of the Railroad Museum maintained in Griffith Park by the Los Angeles Live Steamers club.

Los Angeles Live Steamers

Like our stop at Walt Disney Studios, this was an investigative foray only. We knew that the museum is only open to the public on Sundays and that Walt's barn is only open on the third Sunday of each month. We planned to visit again tomorrow and, since it wasn't the third Sunday, we knew we would likely only be able to see Walt's barn from a distance.

Los Angeles Live Steamers

A quick 5-mile drive took us to our next stop at 2695 Lyric Avenue where we found the house Walt Disney built in 1926.

Walt's house

In fact, Walt and his brother Roy built identical homes side-by-side on Lyric Avenue.

Roy's house

Roy's home at 2697 Lyric was a mirror image of Walt's!

On our way to our next stop, about three miles from Walt's first house, we had a terrific view of the famous Hollywood sign.

Hollywood Sign

That's no co-incidence since our next destination was the stone gates built in 1923 to mark the entrance to the new real estate development known as Hollywoodland.

The sign originally read Hollywoodland, but it deteriorated over the years, and when it was refurbished in 1949 the last four letters were dropped, creating the iconic Hollywood sign we know today.

Do you see the bus in the picture above? It's the same bus as the one in the picture below. It's parked at a bus stop right beside the 1923 stone gates we were looking for.

Stone gates at Hollywoodland

Look carefully at the picture above. Do the gates look familiar?

Close your eyes and imaging that you're at Walt Disney World and you're approaching the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios. On your left you should be imagining a stone building that used to house the FastPass dispensing machines. On the right you should be picturing a stone tower that houses restrooms.

Stone gates at Hollywoodland

That's right, those buildings in Florida are replicas of these old 1923 structures in Hollywood.

Next time you're at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida look around and you might just find a replica of this brass plaque that has marked the Hollywoodland entrance in California for almost a century!

Hollywoodland plaque

Our next stop was only two miles away at 1660 North Highland Avenue, just around the corner from Hollywood Boulevard. It is only steps from Disney's El Capitan Theatre, Disney's Soda Fountain, Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards.

Max Factor building

The building pictured above, at 1660 North Highland Ave., was purchased in 1928 by Max Factor who was the most sought-after cosmetologist in tinsel town! The building was totally transformed in Art Deco style and re-opened in 1935 as the Max Factor Makeup Studio. Today the taller portion, on the left, houses the Hollywood Museum and the shorter portion, on the right, is home to Mel's Drive-In Restaurant.

Does the building seem familiar to you? Next time you're at Disney's Hollywood Studios look very carefully at the buildings along Hollywood Boulevard as you walk toward Grauman's Theatre. In the midst of all those Art Deco facades on the left you will find a replica of the Max Factor building.

Around the corner from Max Factor was the stop Carol had been looking forward to!

El Capitan theatre

Disney's Soda Fountain, beside the El Capitan Theatre, has recently been renovated and is now operated under license by Ghirardelli's. We had stopped at the soda fountain several times before and always enjoyed their unique ice cream sundaes, and the special Disney pin that came with each sundae. They always had special Limited Edition pins that weren't available anywhere else. Carol was a big fan of the Soda Fountain pins and she really enjoys Ghirardelli chocolates . . . it sounded like a marriage made in heaven.

Unfortunately, the 'new and improved' soda fountain was a big disappointment. It had lost all of the 'Disney feel' and now it's just another chocolate shop. They didn't have any pins with their sundaes and Carol couldn't find a single pin she wanted to buy. She was done shopping very quickly . . . surprisingly quickly.

It's too bad that new is not always synonymous with improved!

We spent a few minutes walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard looking at the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These Disney-related stars are all within a block of the El Capitan Theatre and the Soda Fountain.

Disneyland's star

Tinker Bell's star

Donald Duck's star

Annette Funicello's star

Roy Disney's star

John Lasseter's star

Snow White's star

Sherman Brothers' star

Mickey Mouse's star

Directly across the street from the El Capitan Theatre is the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards, and beside the Dolby Theatre is the familiar building pictured below.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman's Chinese Theatre has been a Hollywood landmark since it opened May 18, 1927. The handprints, footprints and autographs of nearly 200 Hollywood celebrities are pressed into the concrete of the theatre's forecourt.

The replica of Grauman's Theatre in Disney's Hollywood Studios has housed the Great Movie Ride since the park opened in 1989 but it closed in 2017 and is scheduled to re-open as Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.

By early afternoon the colds Carol and I had been fighting for the last few days were really getting us down, so we decided to cut our tour short and pick up the bit we missed when we were back in the same area on Sunday.

On our way back to our hotel we did a quick drive-by at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard and Carol snapped the picture below as we slowly cruised past 'The Darkroom'.

The Darkroom

The building's facade features a 9-foot tall replica of a Minolta Camera and it has been a Hollywood landmark since it opened as a camera store in 1938. Today the building houses a restaurant, but if you want to see how it looked back in 1938 look for the replica at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's a remarkably good reproduction!

We felt a bit better when we got underway again at about noon on Sunday. Our first stop was the one we skipped the day before, at 6671 West Sunset Boulevard, the Crossroads of the World.

The Crossroads of the World

This one should look familiar to every Disney fan. This is the first thing you see after you enter Disney's Hollywood Studios. The only difference is that the Florida version is a bit taller and Mickey Mouse stands on top of the globe.

The Crossroads opened in 1936 as a shopping mall and office complex. Today it is mostly offices, many of them associated with the entertainment industry.

From the Crossroads we drove around the western side of Griffith Park to visit the Los Angeles Live Steamers Club and see Walt's Carolwood Barn.

Live Steamers

As I mentioned earlier, we knew that we wouldn't be able to get close to the barn or see inside, but we were hoping to see it from a distance. As we walked through the entrance gate there were other guests buying $3.00 tickets for a ride through the property on one of the model trains.

Live Steamers model train

The picture shown above, from the Steamers web site, shows a model train similar to the one we rode.

We asked the two people in the ticket office if we would be able to get a glimpse of Walt's barn from the train ride, and they said that we would see it twice, once from the front and then again from the rear.

As we bought our tickets we explained that we were visiting from Canada and wouldn't be around to see the barn when it was open on the third Sunday but we'd be happy if we could get even a glimpse of the barn from a distance.

A few minutes later, as we waited in line to board the next train, the lady who sold us the tickets called to us through the ticket window. I went back, and as I leaned down to listen, she said, "If you go to the back of the office my partner Jack will walk with you back to Walt's barn."

Holy Cow! Yes, even though it wasn't open to the public we were going to get close to Walt's barn! We were flabbergasted! I don't know how many times we said thank you . . . but it was a lot!

I couldn't help but contrast our greeting today with the reception we got the day before at the Garden Grove Historical Society. The 'train folks' are sure a lot friendlier than those 'historical village folks’!

As we walked toward the barn our guide Jack, who is a fairly new member of the Steamers, explained about the trains and artifacts we passed by. He told us about Walt's barn. It's registered as an official museum and designated as an historic site so it will be preserved for eternity. The barn is administered by a special sub-group within the Steamers organization, sort of a 'club within a club'.

Carol and Jack at Walt's barn

We spent about 15 minutes with Jack, walking around Walt's barn, and taking in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area.

Plaque at Walt's barn

(Don't tell anyone, but Carol and I actually touched the barn!)

We even had the chance to talk to a few of the other railroad buffs who were busy tinkering with their trains. As we gazed around we got a sense of what a dedicated bunch they are.

The props and detailed scenery around their track network is wonderfully done. There are a lot of man-hours, no doubt all volunteer, wrapped up in the scenes alongside those tracks!

After thanking Jack for the fortieth or fiftieth time we lined up once again for our train ride. I think the circuit took us for three complete loops around the property which contains about 4 ½ miles of track in two different gauges.

A happy railroader!

The lady in that fuzzy picture above (shot from our moving train) had just finished decorating her train for Christmas and was taking it out for a joyride. Doesn't she look happy?

Our train had an 'engineer' up front operating the locomotive and a 'conductor' at the rear who explained the sights and exhibits as we passed them.

Walt's barn
Walt's barn, as seen from the train.

A ghost town

A tunnel

There were bridges, tunnels, trestles, turntables, water towers, ghost towns and so much more . . . all built by dedicated train fanatics.

Burma Shave

Approaching a trestle

If you have a few hours to spare in Los Angeles some Sunday afternoon, take a trip to Griffith Park and enjoy a train ride. We had a blast!

Oh yeah - Jack, thanks again!

From Griffith Park we took a short drive to Walt Disney Studios at 500 South Buena Vista Street in Burbank.

Team Disney Building

Walt Disney Studios

It was time to 'Light Up The Season' with some other members of D23 so our tour of ‘Walt’s Hollywood’ was over.

Our mission to "walk in Walt's footsteps" was certainly time well spent. We had a great time and I’m sure we only scratched the surface. There's so much more to see!

I think the next time we visit Disneyland we’ll try to find a few new spots to visit. Perhaps we can time it so that we’re there for the third weekend of the month. That way we can see Walt’s barn in Griffith Park while it’s open and maybe that rope-stretching lady in Garden Grove will allow us to see Uncle Robert’s garage!

January 8, 2018

Soarin' Around the World ... and behind the scenes


The entrance to Soarin' Around the World at Disney's California Adventure.

Prior to a recent trip to California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort, my wife Janet signed us up to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Soarin' Around the World attraction. The one-hour tour is offered to members of the Disney Vacation Club.

Soarin' Around the World is located in the Grizzly Peak section of the park, just a short walk from the Grand Californian Resort. We arrived for the tour early, grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Starbucks-sponsored Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe, then met up with the other members of the tour just outside the entrance to Soarin'.

Our tour guide led us to the entrance of the attraction, then we veered right to a "cast members only" door and were escorted to an open lot to the side of the main building. Here, our guide talked about how he was proud of the fact that he was a member of the attraction's opening day team [California Adventure's Soarin' Over California opened on Feb. 1, 2001].

He explained the reasoning behind keeping the Soarin' building just one story tall. "The designers felt that having a multi-story tall building in California Adventure would be too distracting. They had to work around the fact that the attraction's screens are 85 feet tall, so they buried the building 25 feet into the ground.

"Then, three years after we opened," he added, "they built the Tower of Terror" ... the ultimate tall, distracting building.

Guests take their seats as they board their "flight" on Soarin' Around the World.

We then re-entered the building and walked down a flight of stairs to the main boarding area of the attraction. As we exited the staircase, I noticed several animal cages in a corner off to my left. Ever curious, I asked a cast member standing nearby what the cages were for. "When guests with service animals ride the attraction," she said, "we put the animals in these cages until the guests return."

Prior to the pre-show, our guide talked about Soarin's host, Patrick Warburton. Warburton has a history with Disney, having played Kronk in The Emperor's New Grove and Steve Barkin in Kim Possible. It turns out that Warburton wasn't the first choice for the Soarin' assignment: Action film star Steven Segal was.

After the pre-show, our guide asked if anyone wanted to skip the ride for whatever reason. That was my cue to join him off to the side, where another cast member sat in front of a battery of computer monitors.

My wife and I were among the first guests to ride Soarin' in Epcot when it opened in 2005. Initially, I embraced Soarin' and even encouraged friends to ride it. I have been less than enthusiastic about it over the last few years.

For as long as I can remember, heights have been an issue with me. I get queasy sitting in the upper decks in baseball or football stadiums. The one and only time I made it to the observation deck of the World Trade Center, I had all I could do to keep from high-tailing it down the stairs. If we stay in a hotel room that's above the third floor, I tend to avoid the balcony.

After about five trips on Soarin', I started to experience waves of panic every time I approached The Land pavilion where Soarin' is housed.

When I did muster enough nerve to ride Soarin', I found myself gripping way-too-tight onto the handle bars. I even started to wear sunglasses to keep people from noticing that I had my eyes closed for most of the ride. When I did open my eyes, I'd spend more time glancing up than at the screen.

It just wasn't fun anymore. To me, it was downright terrifying sitting 40, 50 or 60 feet in the air near the rafters, your feet dangling, with just a seat belt restraining you. Worse, I worried that if the ride somehow malfunctioned and we get stuck up there for longer than 4 and a half minutes, I'd probably lose it.

It's silly, I know. The ride is totally safe. Hundreds of thousands of people have gone on it and raved about it. But I do know that there are countless people like me who have issues with heights. These days, I'm quite comfortable sitting on the sidelines, feet planted firmly on the ground.

Imagineering's Mark Sumner stands with his Erector set model of the Soarin' ride system he developed.

Sitting off to the side of the Soarin' screen gave me a totally new perspective on the attraction. For one thing, the IMAX screen is massive. It's concave and made out of metal and mesh ... metal, so that it won't be damaged by anything falling onto it, and mesh so that sound is able to pass through it.

For another, the three rows of seats go way, WAY, WAY! up into the air. "The top row is between 60 and 65 feet up," our guide said. It looks higher than that from ground level. And it's amazing how every rider dangles his or her feet during the show.

At the end of the show, our guide gathered the group and took us truly behind the scenes ... and behind the screen. From here, we could hear the beautiful score, view the projections on the screen and see the rows of seats as they were raised at the start of the show and dropped down at the conclusion.

Again, our guide was a wealth of information. There are 56 speakers positioned throughout the theater. In addition, there are scent canisters placed above the seats, which release a variety of smells to enhance the attraction. "The canisters dissolve very slowly," our guide said. "They have to be refilled about once a month."

The final leg of the tour took us into a corridor, where photos of the attraction, as well as scenes from the film, were on the walls. There also was a model of the erector set that Imagineer Mark Sumner used to come up with the cantilever ride system.

Another interesting aspect of the tour came when our guide talked about the thinking behind the updated version of the attraction. Indeed, there was a rhyme and reason behind the filming of each new scene.

For instance, the inclusion of the Great Wall of China sequence is a reference to Disney's Mulan. The Great Pyramids are an homage to Indiana Jones; the Taj Mahal [Alladdin]; Fiji [Moana]; Argentina [Paradise Falls in Up]; the Eiffel Tower [Disneyland Paris and Ratatouille]. He went to explain that there's even a Hidden Mickey located during the beach scene while soarin' over Fiji.

During filming a sequence in Africa, the guide added, the helicopter used for shooting the footage was called into service when an elephant became separated from its group. "The helicopter was used in the search-and-rescue mission," the guide said. "They found the elephant and it was nursed back to health. We were happy to help ... it was worth the delay in production."

According to Ryan March, editor of DVC's Disney Files Magazine, "There's a Soarin' tour for DVC members at Epcot. It takes place most Wednesdays at 8 a.m."

Here's a link to details on our website:

January 7, 2018

Follow the Dots: Getting around the World in a Minnie Van


by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars Guest Blogger

Over the last several months, Disney has been offering a new transportation method that guests can use to travel around Walt Disney World. Using the Lyft app (a ride-share service that is similar to Uber), guests can order a private ride in a brand-new Minnie Mouse-style polka-dotted vehicle. According to the Disney Parks Blog, “with [the] Minnie Van service, Disney cast members will then whisk you away to wherever you want to be at Walt Disney World Resort”.


This "Minnie Van" service, which started on July 31, 2017, currently has 25 leased vehicles and 70 cast members. Under this program, you can only be dropped off at any Disney location, but not at some of the independently operated properties. Pricing for this service is a flat fee of $20, regardless of origin or destination. This can be a little more expensive than a regular Lyft economy car, but is a good deal for the convenience of a larger vehicle and other amenities.

To start using the service, you will first need to stop by the concierge desk at a Disney resort, where they will send you a text message with a special link to enable the Minnie Van service on your Lyft account. (I recommend signing up for a Lyft account and installing the app ahead of your visit to save time.)


Once you receive the text, open the link which will then open the Lyft app to enable the Minnie Van car type.



From there, you can then request a ride by selecting your vehicle type...


.. and then the pickup and drop-off location…


..and then requesting the pickup and paying for the ride.


After payment, a driver is contacted and once assigned an ETA is displayed along with the vehicle number and license plate.


Once the vehicle arrives, you will also receive a text to confirm the vehicle information, so there is no need to keep the app open.


Once inside the vehicle, there are charging cables in case you need to charge up your phone, and they also have Disney music playing on the radio.


Tipping is not required, but if you do I was informed that they have a process in place to cross-reference the vehicle to the driver and shift in order to get the tip to the correct driver.

One of the nice things with this service, according to my driver, is that you are able to go directly to the Magic Kingdom front gate, bypassing the Ticket and Transportation center. If choosing this as a pickup location, the app will instruct you to get on the monorail to go to the TTC. My driver said to ignore this because that would be for regular Lyft vehicles. Minnie Vans pick up at bus stop 11 at the Magic Kingdom bus depot.

Another plus is that the vans keep two car seats on hand to accommodate younger passengers. I was told by a new mom in my group that they are a top-of-the-line car seat, which is usually not offered in a Lyft economy car.

According to my driver, the Minnie Van program has been so successful that Disney plans to expand it, purchasing 60 additional 2018 model-year vehicles.

I hope he's right! I thought this service was great and highly recommend that you take a ride in a Minnie Van on your next visit to Walt Disney World!

About the Author:

J. Scott Lopes is a long time Disney fan who first went to Walt Disney World as a child in 1989 and has enjoyed traveling to Orlando ever since. He is interested in all things Disney Parks related and especially interested in the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.

December 18, 2017

Omnimover and PeopleMover: A look at two Disney-designed ride conveyances


Bob Gurr sits behind the wheel of a car as he tests the ride system that would be used on the Ford Magic Skyway attraction during the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Note the individual drive wheels embedded in the track. [The Walt Disney Company]

From the time when Disneyland was in the planning stages right up until today, the creative team at the Walt Disney Company has been at the forefront of developing innovative, wildly imaginative park attractions.

They've also been leaders in designing new and imaginative ways for guests to enjoy those attractions.

Ride systems are as crucial to the success of an attraction as are the story lines of the shows themselves.

The 1964-1964 New York World's Fair introduced many innovative ride conveyances, among them the water jet system that propelled the boats used on the "it's a small world" attraction, as well as the rotating theaters guests sat in during the Carousel of Progress. The system used by "it's a small world" was so successful, that the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, in development in California at the time, was switched from a walk-through to the now legendary boat ride.

And then there were two ride systems that were in the planning stages during the Fair that transformed attraction conveyances and are still being used to this day.

The Omnimover and the PeopleMover.

The Ford Magic Skyway was one of the most popular shows at the Fair, in large part because Disney's creative staff was able to devise a system that propelled actual Ford vehicles throughout the attraction. Of course, the realistic-looking dinosaurs featured during the attraction also added to the ride's appeal.

The brains behind the Magic Skyway ride system was Imagineering legend Bob Gurr, who came to Disney as a "car guy," but who branched out and quickly became the designer of just about anything that rode on wheels in Disneyland.

Walt Disney, left, takes a ride on the Ford Magic Skyway attraction at the New York World's Fair. With him are Henry Ford II and Robert Moses.

One of Gurr's breakthrough concepts came during the design of the Matterhorn Mountain attraction, which debuted in 1959. "We used track-mounted wheels to control the speeds of the bobsleds," he said. Working in conjunction with Arrow Development, they dubbed the track-mounted wheels "booster brakes," meaning the bobsleds could be sped up or slowed down during their trek through the fabled mountain, allowing more than one bobsled to be on the Matterhorn track at the same time, an industry first.

When Walt Disney signed a contract with the Ford Motor Company to create the Ford Magic Skyway attraction in the early 1960s, he nonchalantly told Ford chairman Henry Ford II that they would use the booster brake system on the planned attraction. Walt returned to California and sought out Gurr, telling him: "OK, Bobby, you're gonna work on the Ford ride. I told them you're gonna use the booster brakes, so get started."

"The booster brakes were a logical system," Gurr said. "It was individual vehicles propelled on a track." It also was the forerunner of the PeopleMover system. The Ford system had a series of propulsion wheels embedded in the track throughout the attraction. Each was driven by, as Gurr said, "ordinary squirrel cage type motors."

The cars above, stripped down to their body shell, had flat panels attached to their chassis. The motorized wheels on the track would spin, propelling each car when the wheels came in contact with the flat panel, called a platen. The cars used for the attraction were stripped-down Lincolns, Mercurys, Falcons, Comets and a new sports car that was soon to capture car lovers' imaginations: The Mustang.

"I worked continuously from July 1961 to April 1964 to get this monster to work," Gurr said. "It eventually took almost twice as long to develop as it took to build all of Disneyland!"

Gurr would take his experience with the Ford Magic Skyway system and translate it into the creation of the PeopleMover attraction, which debuted in 1967 as part of the Tomorrowland redesign at Disneyland. Disney mechanical engineer Bill Watkins "developed a track-mounted, drive-wheel propulsion system based on my successful Magic Skyway drive system, itself stolen from Arrow Development's booster-brake track wheel invention" for Matterhorn Mountain, Gurr said.

The Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space in Disneyland was the first attraction to employ the Omnimover ride system. [Disneyland]

The PeopleMover, first introduced as the WEDway PeopleMover, is still in use today in Walt Disney World, giving guests a relaxing tour of Tomorrowland.

There are key differences between the PeopleMover and the Omnimover systems.

"The Omnimover is a connected endless chain of vehicles," Gurr said. "The Haunted Mansion is an Omnimover."

On the Omnimover system, the ride vehicles have the ability to twist and turn and go up and down inclines; on a PeopleMover system, the vehicles travel straight ahead, with the ability to negotiate turns.

Gurr worked with Disney Legend John Hench on the Omnimover design and is even credited with coming up with the name for the ride conveyance. The design came about when Gurr picked up a candied apple on a stick from Hench's desk and began twirling it. From that very basic concept came the final design, featuring a welded two-pipe rail track, drive fin, squeezer drive nuts, gears and linkages.

The first Omnimover system was used on the Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction, which debuted in 1967. "We had very little developmental problems with it," Gurr remembers. "We did, however, improve the drive unit over the years on future attractions."

There are several Disney park attractions that are similar in concept to the Omnimover ... but are not, technically, Omnimovers.

The fabled "doom buggies" in the Haunted Mansion are propelled by the Omnimover system.

Many people believe Spaceship Earth in Epcot employs an Omnimover system. They're wrong.

"Spaceship Earth is not an Omnimover, but a one-of-a-kind vehicle conveyor totally unlike and sharing no parts with an Omnimover," Gurr said.

"I disagreed so strongly with the Spaceship Earth design that I was moved to other projects — thankfully. It has had a number of redesign attempts over the years to try to reduce the high maintenance required."

Some of the newer adaptations of the Omnimover system include Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, the Seas with Nemo and Friends and Journey into Imagination. World of Motion and Horizons used Omnimover systems, as did the If You Had Wings/Delta Dreamflight attraction, which now features the Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

Related Videos

Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar discuss Disney's contributions to the NY Worlds Fair:

Jack Spence discusses the origin of the People Mover

November 27, 2017

'Ink & Paint' is a celebration of the women who toiled behind the scenes at Walt Disney Animation


A painter carefully places color onto a celluloid sheet as she works on a scene from "Pinocchio." [The Walt Disney Company]

The next time you have the opportunity to watch a classic Disney movie, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Bambi or Pinocchio, make sure to read the opening credits.

Some of the most famous animators to have ever put pencil to paper for the Walt Disney Animation Studios will be listed. You'll see names like Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Woolie Reitherman, Ollie Johnston and Marc Davis.

Giants of animation, to be sure. But the fact of the matter is, their success wouldn't have been complete without the contributions of the scores of women who turned their sketches into camera-ready cels.

The names Ruthie Tompson, Marge Champion or Arlene Ludwig probably don't ring a bell. The same likely holds true for Hazel Sewell, Mary Weiser or Lillian Bounds.

But for every well-known artist in the Disney fold during the Golden Age of Disney animated films, there were 10 women working behind the scenes, most toiling as inkers and painters. Their job was to transform the artists' rough pencil sketches into sharp, colorful works of art on celluloid sheets that ultimately would become a full-length animated motion picture.

These women, whose anonymity belied their vitally important contributions and their talent, are the subject of a new Disney Editions book, Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation, by Mindy Johnson. More than a deep dive into the history of Disney animation, Ink & Paint is a celebration of the women who not only received little credit for their artwork, but often had to endure difficult working conditions to make each film the success it became.

"I had always been fascinated with the [Ink & Paint] department," Ms. Johnson said in a recent interview. "I would find myself walking through the hallways and peering in on all those extraordinary colors. When I pitched the idea to my editor, we both thought it would be a charming little volume on tea cakes and tea time, paint smocks and the tunnel of love.

"Everybody underestimated what was going on there."

It took five years to put together Ink & Paint, which Ms. Johnson called "a journey, but a labor of love."

"When I started, not much had been written about the subject. There was this myth of pretty girls tracing color and that was kind of all that anybody knew about it."

The cover of "Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation," by Mindy Johnson and published by Disney Editions. [Disney Editions]

Ms. Johnson interviewed scores of women for the book, some surviving inkers or painters, as well as many of the offspring of the women whose story has been waiting to be told for decades.

"It was a very eye-opening experience," Ms. Johnson said. "In terms of what existed on women's roles in ink and paint, there was hardly anything at all. So we had to sort of think peripherally, and re-approach how we could use [the Disney Archives]. It took a different approach, a different way, a different thought process.

"We found some real gems during the research. Meeting members of family, retracing experiences, really opened things up quite a bit. We went through closets and under beds. We saw a lot of private collections."

Ink & Paint measures a hefty 10" x 13" and is 384 pages in total. It is brimming with Ms. Johnson's easy-to-read, yet thorough reporting, beautiful photos [many borrowed from willing interviewees] and wonderful archival illustrations. "As you can see by the out-of-control bibliography, I conducted an extensive amount of interviews and, quite frankly, with the number of ladies who were working at the Studio at the time, I just scratched the surface" on the women who were completely unsung and whose story was totally overdue.

Author Mindy Johnson, who devoted five years in researching and writing the story of the women of Walt Disney's animation in "Ink & Paint."

I asked Ms. Johnson if there were any women still living who had worked on Disney's earliest animated shorts and she was quick to respond. "Yes, we have one [although there may well be other ladies out there]: The amazing Ruthie Tompson."

Ms. Tompson turned 107 back in July. As a young girl growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1930s, she'd often walk past the Disney Brothers Studios and peak through a window to watch the small team of artists at work. One day, Walt Disney himself invited her inside for a quick tour of the office. A few weeks later, Walt asked Ruthie and a few of her neighborhood pals to appear as extras in the latest Alice comedy they were working on.

"Going into the animation lab was a wonderful experience," Ruthie told Ms. Johnson, "watching the drawings being made ... What kid wouldn't be fascinated? I'd sit there all day. Roy [Disney, Walt's brother] would finally say, 'Don't you think it's time for you to go home for dinner?'" Ruthie would go on to become one of the most respected members of the Ink and Paint Department.

Earlier this year, Ms. Johnson presented an event at the Motion Picture Academy, writing, creating and shaping it, which celebrated the trailblazing women of animation, both at Disney and at other animation studios. Ruthie Tompson was in attendance, as was Marge Champion [the fabled dancer who served as a model for the artists working on Snow White] and famed publicist Arlene Ludwig.

"With Ruthie in the room and with a handful of women in animation over the years up until today, we had at least one women who had worked on every Disney animated film ever created," Ms. Johnson said. "A few weeks ago, it was my deep honor to present Ruthie with a copy of my book. We sat for a couple of hours and poured over it and talked about everything. It was sort of a yearbook to her."

Walt Disney holds some swatches of color as he visits the Ink & Paint Department in the 1960s. [The Walt Disney Company]

Ink & Paint is filled with many fascinating stories and a host of intricate details. For instance, everyone knows about Walt's love of trains; but did you know that he had a soda fountain installed in his home so that his daughters, Sharon and Diane, could entertain their friends?

The book begins with an essay about women, titled "What I Know About Girls," which was written by Walt himself. It appeared in Parents magazine in January of 1949. "That was something I came across quite a while ago and felt that if it wasn't the introduction, at least it needed to be part of the book," Ms. Johnson said.

There also are a number of sidebars sprinkled throughout the book, called Feminine First, which offer an in-depth look into some of the lesser-known figures in Disney animation and animation in general. "It became apparent that a number of women needed to be highlighted and featured," Ms. Johnson said. "Women were really breaking ground in some pretty amazing areas. It was important to me that you heard as much of these ladies' stories and their voices as possible."

Ms. Johnson also delves into the working conditions the inkers and painters endured during those early days, even though "in the 1930s, the country was in the height of the Great Depression, so having a job at all, particularly at Disney, was like, as one of the ladies put it, 'You won the lottery!'

"So there was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of pure gusto and moxie going on among everyone." Ms. Johnson also pointed out that at the time, members of the Ink & Paint Department made more money -- 15 dollars a week -- than a school teacher.

It also was a time when the concept of air-conditioning didn't exist.

"In trying to keep things cool, they experimented with a few things," Ms. Johnson said, "but always it was about retaining the clarity and pristine state of the cels. So dust and other things were an issue. when they had to institute smocks and hairnets and visors, it did get a little stuffy." Heat and humidity not only made working conditions uncomfortable, they also played havoc with the integrity of the paint, often causing it to run or flake.

"If it was too hot, they would shut down and they'd come in during the evenings and early mornings. They [Disney] weren't slave drivers in that regard, but they had to meet deadlines for the films. George The Ice Cream Man did a bang-up job during those hit summer months!"

Still, the hours were long and the work was tedious for the members of Ink & Paint.

It was the inkers' job to trace over the artists' sketches onto celluloid, using black ink. The desired qualities for an inker were accuracy to the pencil drawing; consistency of the pen line, and the ability to improve on the drawing. Inkers used pen points that ranged from fine to super heavy. According to Ms. Johnson, "Drawings were far more than 'traced' or 'transferred;' they were translated. Each pen stroke required interpreting the animator's intent while keeping specific touches of individuality and style intact." To achieve a sure line, Ms. Johnson added, "many inkers controlled their breathing between lines." To maintain a steady hand, inkers would refrain from smoking or drinking coffee.

Once the cels dried, they were checked for uniformity and completion. If a cel didn't measure up, it was sent back to be re-inked. Once each cel passed muster, it was sent to the painting department, where painters would begin the equally arduous task of adding color to the reverse side of the cel. A painter would use one color at a time on cel, put it aside to let the ink dry [about three hours] and then move on to another cel. Depending on the scene, a cel might require dozens of color applications.

"For the most part, they were young, they were excited and they loved what they were doing," Ms. Johnson said. "There was a camaraderie, because they could see the end result. Their work ethic, too, was important. And their work was valued and appreciated."

Some of the women as shown at work in Disney Animation's Ink & Paint Department. [The Walt Disney Company]

The inkers and painters were talented artists in their own right who were subjected to regular performance evaluations. Prospective new hires were given portfolio reviews every Tuesday. It was a grueling process. "Sometimes, even a woman's signature or how they filled out their application forms" would be scrutinized. "Even though they came in with a high level of talent, they still had to go through an extensive training program." If 40 women initially took part in a training session, perhaps three would make the cut and become either inkers or painters.

In reality, the level of talent and artistry in Ink & Paint was extraordinary. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Hazel Sewell, the older sister of Lillian Bounds, one of the company's original inkers and painters who would go on the marry the boss, was in charge of the Ink & Paint Department and was the person who championed an escalation of caliber and talent within the ranks.

"Hazel was the first to institute an all-female department," Ms. Johnson said. "She was the first to say that women were better ... that they would get the work done faster and they're harder workers."

There was another woman, Mary Weiser, who single-handedly transformed inking and painting. In the 1930s, after Walt built a then-state-of-the-art facility designed specifically for the inkers and painters, Ms. Weiser developed the first and only paint lab for animation.

"At one point, when they began working on the color for Flowers and Trees in 1934, there were about 80 colors on the shelves," Ms. Johnson said. "Transitioning from then to the early work on Snow White, they went from 80 shades of color to 1,500 shades, many of which were developed and cultivated ... translucent solutions and adhesives and sprays and inks. They even found a formula for hand lotion. They needed something that wasn't going to leave a greasy residue on the cels, and yet the hands of the artists needed to be supple."

In her research, Ms. Johnson found a memo from the company's production managers to the men in the in-between department [in-betweens are the drawings which create the illusion of motion]. "Walt was always mindful of the women's working conditions," Ms. Johnson said. "The memo to the in-betweeners said, 'Watch your language. Walt wants this to be a comfortable place for the women to be working.'"

Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation is the story of the ladies who not only pioneered animation in the early days, it carries on to the women who helped develop the CAP computer-generated technology. "I felt like it was a more natural ending to bring you up to the CAP era. Who the women were and who was at the forefront of that technology, to sort of book-end it."

Ms. Johnson, the author of Tinker Bell: An Evolution, is currently doing book signings and presentations at books stores and colleges in support of Ink & Paint. She's hoping to turn her book into a college course. "It's important not to let the title sway you," she adds. "The book goes far beyond the women of Ink & Paint, but also tracks where women progressed and advanced into animation, editing, backgrounds, writing ... virtually, every discipline of the animation process."

"I've pitched this as a class," she said, "and there are a couple of places already considering it." She's also in the early stages of developing a documentary.

Overall, "It’s been great fun. It was a real delight to meet some of these ladies and the children and the grandchildren. It was powerful. I can’t tell you how many came to me with boxes or portfolios or love letters. A whole bag of wonderful art and materials … often with tears in their eyes in jubilation.

"Many of their responses were: ‘Finally, they’re going to get their stories told.’"

November 15, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler



As you know if you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, each month our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James has also Shared the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. Sadly, last month's puzzle was the last puzzle for the Guest Blog, but we did want to tie up the loose ends and give you that solution. And fear not! We will continue to post a monthly crossword in the AllEars® newsletter -- keep reading for more info.

We received 29 responses from readers, with everyone knowing that the only other country flag that can be found in the Magic Kingdom is a part of the Swiss Family Treehouse attraction, where you can also hear some Swisskapolka music playing in the background. As a side note, the first country flag that can found in the Magic Kingdom is of course the U.S. flag. But did you know that there is only one true flag in the park, and that is the one that is lowered during the flag retreat ceremony every afternoon in Town Square? All of the other flags that you see around the park are just banners, so they don’t have to be lowered or lit after dark, which is customary.

The winner of a Disney collectible pin was Theresa W. of Staten Island, NY. Congrats!

As we said above, this is our last crossword puzzle entry in the Guest Blog. If you still want the challenge and fun of these puzzles, not to mention the chance to win a Disney collectible pin, be sure to sign up for the AllEars® weekly newsletter, delivered FREE every Tuesday to your inbox.

I am in the process of going through the inventory of animated feature films. Our most recent newsletter puzzle spotlights the film "Lilo & Stitch." You can find it HERE.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at

Thanks for playing, everyone!

November 13, 2017

After leaving WED, Tania Norris took on several eclectic challenges


Edna and Roy Disney pose with Mickey Mouse in Town Square. [The Walt Disney Company]

Tania Norris made some remarkable contributions during her nine years with WED Enterprises, supplying the interior designs for New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion and the Plaza Inn Restaurant in Disneyland, as well as doing interior design work for some of the restaurants at Walt Disney World prior to its opening in 1971.

But what she cherishes most about her time with the creative wing of the Walt Disney Company [now known as Walt Disney Imagineering] are the personal relationships she forged with some of the most respected names in the company.

There was the admiration she felt for Walt Disney himself, who "was always very, very nice to me," she said. But during her years at WED, she also became close with Walt's wife Lillian, their children Diane and Sharon, his brother Roy, Roy's wife Edna, as well as one of the most respected artists of his generation, Herb Ryman.

Here's an example of just how respected Tania Norris was within the company ranks: When Walt Disney died on Dec. 5, 1966, Roy Disney gathered some of the company's top executives a few days later to discuss the company's future.

"After Walt died, Roy called together the heads of all the departments to come to the Studio, to tell them that Epcot would continue and things would go on ... and I was the only woman there," Tania said. "I found that very odd, because I really didn't have that high a position, but I did know Roy. Whether that was a factor, I really didn't know, but I felt that was quite an honor to be included in that group."

Indeed, during her tenure at WED, she became quite friendly with Roy and Edna Disney.

"Roy was very sweet, he was very low-key. He and Edna ... I used to see them having coffee in Wilshire every Saturday morning. They were just very lovely, genuine people."

Tania's love of antiques helped cement her relationships with the rest of Disney's "leading ladies."

"I used to take Edna antique shopping, as I did Lilly and Diane and Sharon. Lilly was always so sweet, too."

Edna Disney was one of the members of the Disney family who neither sought nor received much attention. But like her husband, she was an important cog in the company, particularly during those often difficult early years. She married Roy in 1925 and they had one son, Roy E. Disney, who was born in 1930. When the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio was struggling to make a name for itself, Edna Disney was there to lend a hand. She even loaned the studio money when times were particularly tough. And she's listed as one of the inkers on the film Plane Crazy [along with Lillian Disney and Lillian's sister, Hazel Sewell], which was released in 1928.

Edna also was known for her sense of humor ... which came as a shock to many Disney executives.

Tania Norris enjoyed shopping for antiques with Edna Disney, above. [The Walt Disney Company]

"I remember one occasion when Dick Irvine, who was the head of WED at that time, and Gen. Joe Fowler called me to the office and they said, 'Would you mind taking Edna shopping?' And I said 'Not at all. She has a wonderful sense of humor.'

"I remember them looking at each other and saying, 'She does?' I obviously knew her as a person more than they did. She kept very low-key, as did Roy. Roy was never really that highly regarded because Walt was such a genius in so many areas, he was sort of the benevolent dictator, so to speak."

Roy was always known as the company's behind-the-scenes the money man. "Although I have no proof of that, it was always the story that was given out, because Walt wanted to give Roy a position of importance, it was really Walt who did the talking. He had the charisma. It was Roy who got on the plane with Herbie's sketches to take them to New York to sell the project of Disneyland to the bankers in New York. He must have had some form of salesmanship to himself, too."

Ah, yes, Herbie.

In the same way you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, you really don't have to be an artist to appreciate great works of art. Tania Norris has long been a fan of Herb Ryman, the Disney Legend whose body of work still casts an imposing shadow over the Walt Disney Company. After all, Tania had the pleasure of working with the man she called Herbie, becoming his friend, and ultimately amassing a collection of about 40 of his works, many she received as gifts.

"When Herbie was an art director at Disney, he might be given a project that I might not know about for maybe another year," Tania said. "He would be one of the designers for it. When that work was done, it went to one of the architects and then I would get involved, talking about the interiors and what was needed there. There were story boards that would be put together for every project. They would have Herbie's drawings, they would have Dorothea's [Redmond] renderings, which we would discuss. I'd make story board suggestions for fabrics or even light fixtures, whatever it was that was needed for the project. A lot of that is done on computers nowadays."

While Herb Ryman's reputation as an artist was impeccable, his caring and generous nature endeared him to his fellow cast members. To many, he was the ultimate mentor.

Herb Ryman was known as a brilliant artist who loved sharing his time and talents with others. [The Walt Disney Company]

"Herbie was very generous with his knowledge to others," Tania said. "He really helped a couple of young men at WED who had talent. He guided them quite a bit. He was really a renaissance man. He was deeply read and widely read. He had an insight that was pretty uncanny. He would do, for instance, caricatures of people and you didn't really want to have a caricature done by Herbie because he saw right into your soul. Those caricatures could be really rather rough. They showed you as you really were. But he could draw and paint on any subject in any medium."

Over the years, Tania has amassed a stunning collection of original works by Herbie, several of which were given to her by the artist himself.

"I have about 40 of his paintings and drawings. I started collecting them when I was at WED. Herbie even gave me several as gifts. Then I bought several more at the Ryman expositions. I try to buy one a year to help support them."

Tania went on to describe Herbie's often-misunderstood work habits.

"When he was given a project, he would go and visit everybody. He'd talk to people. He'd goof off, in other words. And John Hench would say, 'Walt's coming in a couple of days' and Herbie would say 'Oh, he is ...' And he'd keep going and going and people would be getting really uptight because his sketches were usually critical for a project.

"Lo and behold, the next morning, when it was needed, he was there with the finished product. He knew very well that because of the way he worked, if he finished something early, he's be given two more projects to complete. So he just played the game. Even though he was goofing off, you knew he was thinking about it."

Tania left WED in 1970. "It just wasn't the same without Walt," she said wistfully.

Since leaving WED, Tania has traversed on an impressive, eclectic path.

The Queen Mary ocean liner docked in its permanent home in Long Beach, Calif.

In the early 1970s, she volunteered her talents during the restoration of the legendary Queen Mary ocean liner. "I was the project designer for the Queen Mary when it came into Long Beach," she said. "That was 1971 or 1972. The Queen Mary had phenomenal detail. Every inch of it was properly detailed and the craftsmanship was marvelous. Then they had the major artists of the day provide artwork for the ship. Marvelous bronze and paintings. A lot of it has disappeared. It should have been a sensation, but it's never taken off."

Tania worked on the Queen Mary for three years. After she left, the ship's ownership changed hands and the emphasis on detail and craftsmanship seemed to wither. "Unfortunately, that was when the Mary started to decline. They opened in a very short time with indoor/outdoor carpeting and deck chairs. People got sick ... it was really a disaster."

In the late 1980s, after the Walt Disney Company purchased the Wrather Company so it could acquire the Disneyland Hotel, it also obtained Wrather's leasing rights to operate the Queen Mary, along with the dome which housed Howard Hughes' fabled Spruce Goose wooden airplane. At the time, Disney's acquisition of the Queen Mary lease was part of a wide-ranging project called DisneySea in Long Beach. On the drawing board was a nautical-themed park, hotels and docks for cruise ships, all centered around the Queen Mary exhibition. But the tepid response to the Queen Mary, as well as a number of unwieldy coastal regulatory agency standards, Disney decided to drop the project. The ship's lease wasn't renewed by Disney and the City of Long Branch took over. Hughes' Spruce Goose was moved to an aviation museum in Oregon.

Following her Queen Mary experience, Tania shifted gears and returned to a life-long passion of hers: Roses.

"My mother was an avid gardener and I was fortunate enough that part of my life during the war [World War II] was spent in Scotland, where they had one of the greatest gardens. It was also near the castle where Robert Adams had designed one of his famous round rooms. That particular suite was given to General Eisenhower as a gift for his efforts during the war.

These days, "I have a beautiful garden in my back yard and its 90 percent roses"

Tania has become so well-known among the Los Angeles-area rose community that she's had a rose named after her: The Tania Norris. She's also the founder of the Beverly Hills Rose Society.

In recent years, Tania combined her love of roses with her appreciation of fine art into a stunning collection of books dealing with botanical art. Her collection resulted in one of the most generous gifts ever received by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Crispin van de Passe's "Hortus floridus" is featured in a collection of botanical books donated to the Getty Research Institute by Tania Norris. [The Getty Research Institute, Tania Norris Collection]

When she started her collection, "I didn't know anything about botanical art. It's very meticulous. Everything has to be botanically correct, and it's very tedious." At that point, she said, "I realized that I liked the history rather than the actual painting, so I started to collect books from the 1600s to the middle of the 1800s of what I called 'botanicals,' because I fell in love with the wood cut and the etchings and the designs in the books. I couldn't read them, because they are in Latin and High German and French, very few in English. I was buying them like they were comic books ... very expensive comic books!

"I also bought some very good paintings and I happened to mention my collection to someone at the Getty Research Institute one day and she said she'd love to see them. So she brought the curator of prints from the institute with her and he was looking at the paintings and I said I have a few books under my dining room table that you might want to look at. So he started to look at them and I could see his eyes getting larger and larger. He was trying to play it cool. The next thing I knew, a curator of rare books came by and, the long and short of it, he asked if I would donate my collection to the Getty."

She did ... and the Tania Norris Collection of Botanical Books and Renaissance Woodblocks has since become one of the most sought-after research materials available to art lovers and historians alike.

"What is wonderful about the Getty is that anyone in the world can Google a book and see it on-line. They can also reproduce parts of a book for free, as long as you give them credit for it. To me, it's one of the greatest things. I sort of kept track of it one day and over a third of my books were being viewed around the world. Quite a number of them have been used in various demonstrations. It's something that I am so deeply thrilled about because I had no idea that just because I loved them that this would be something of value to them.

"I've also have given them about 1,200 other books which are to do with antiques and interior design, which was my library when I was working at WED," she said. "Then I just started, about three months ago, an endowment at the Huntington Art Collection and Botanical Garden Library so that can be continued to be taught and researched over the years. It's something that's very dear to my heart and will continue."

Much like Herbie Ryman, Tania Norris not only understands to importance of art, but also how vital it is to pass on one's talents and influence on future generations. And in that sense, Tania's life has come full circle.

October 30, 2017

Former WED designer Tania Norris saw Disney from the inside


Inside the Disney Company plane. Walt and Lillian are seated, left. Also in view are Bill Martin, seated center, and Herb Ryman. The woman in the back, right, is unidentified. [The Walt Disney Company]

In 1964, Walt Disney's world was expanding.

There was the California-based company's participation in the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, which featured four Disney-created attractions. And unbeknownst to people outside of his inner circle, Disney's lieutenants were scooping up thousands of acres of property in central Florida in hopes of building an experimental community of tomorrow.

In Disneyland itself, a new themed land was in the works, to be called New Orleans Square, which would celebrate the fabulous Crescent City. Walt always had a special affection for New Orleans; it was the place, after all, where he purchased a mechanical bird in an antiques shop which ultimately gave him the spark that helped ignite Audio-Animatronics technology.

With so much going on around the country, Walt thought it best to purchase his own airplane. So in the spring of 1964, the company bought a Grumman Gulfstream 1, which seated 15 and could get Walt and his entourage across country more comfortably and efficiently.

Imagine having the opportunity to fly on that Disney plane, along with Walt and his wife Lillian, Walt's brother Roy and his wife Edna, and any number of Disney Legends-in-waiting. Oh, to be a fly on the cabin wall!

That's just what happened to Tania Norris, who was hired by WED Enterprises [the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] in 1963 to handle the interior designs for New Orleans Square and the Haunted Mansion.

Former WED Enterprises interior designer Tania Norris.

"I was invited to travel to New Orleans with a large group of people," Tania said of the 1964 cross-country trip on the fabled Disney aircraft. "There was Walt and Lilly, Edna and Roy Disney, Bob and Sharon Brown [Walt's daughter], John Hench, Herbie [Ryman] and I think Claude Coats was there, as well as Bill Evans, the landscaper.

"I was asked to be in New Orleans to find antiques that would be displayed in New Orleans Square, as well as items like little bits of iron and railing that we could replicate. We were in New Orleans maybe four days. At one point, Walt asked me to find a bowling trophy, so I hunted through the antique shops and came up with several things that related to bowling, which I very proudly showed him. But I was told it was the wrong type of bowling. There was a bowling green that was across from the Studio that Walt sponsored. So I had to go back and find a bowling trophy for lawn bowling, not one for a bowling alley."

From New Orleans, the plane flew to central Florida, where Walt Disney World was still very much in the planning stage. In fact, at that point in time, the so-called Florida Project was known to only a handful of people in Walt's inner circle.

"At that point, it was just a hole in the ground," Tania said. "We dropped off Bill Evans there. He had started a tree farm. He had spotted trees from various countries that he felt would do well in Florida. So there was the tree farm and a lot of holes and that was about it."

From Florida, the plane flew to New York City, where the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair had just opened.

"We visited the four Disney projects there and we had VIP treatment everywhere we went," Tania said. "Walt treated me so courteously. I had not been out of California since moving there, so he made it a point, when we'd have breakfast, lunch or dinner, it would always be at a different place, so I would get a flavor of what else was there.

"He insisted that the limo drivers take a different route each time we were going somewhere, so I would see all of New York. Through it all, though, I was never allowed to have a drink [even though she was 27 at the time]."

New Orleans Square at Disneyland opened in 1966, with authentic iron railings and a festive atmosphere reminiscent of The Crescent City. [Courtesy of Disneyland]

During her days at WED, she grew to admire Walt Disney, the man.

"He would come up to the office and he'd say, 'What are you spending my money on today?' and I'd tell him and he'd smile and walk away. He was always very, very nice to me."

Tania Norris was hired by WED Enterprises in 1963, at a time when women holding prominent positions in corporate America were few and far between.

Tania was born in Scotland and "decided at the age of 8 that I wanted to become an interior designer, so I did my training in London and went to architectural school at night to learn how to read architectural plans and such."

Her family moved to England and then to southern Rhodesia when she was 18. Shortly after marrying a fellow Scot, he was offered a job in southern California to be vice president of a company, so the two took up residence in the Golden State.

Tania landed a job at a decorating shop on Melrose Avenue, where she flourished. "I met a number of antique dealers and one of them had a friend who was one of the icons at Disney, Dorothea Redmond. Dorothea had told my friend about this particular job, it was for an interior designer to work on New Orleans Square at Disneyland, so I applied for the job."

The day before her interview, Tania and her husband decided it might be a good idea to visit Disneyland for the first time. "We went down Main Street and we went into Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and wandered around. We had lunch and went home. The next day, during the interview, I could say 'Yes, I've been to Disneyland.'

The exterior of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland, which opened in 1969. [Courtesy of Disneyland]

"I had two interviews, the first was with Bob Brown, who was Walt's son-in-law, and John Hench. Then, Emile Kuri from the Studio joined the group. I only had three pieces of paper that were recommendations from the places I'd worked. Other young men that were coming in for interviews drove up in fancy sports cars with fancy portfolios and I thought, 'There go my chances.' The following day, I got a call from them asking me when I could start. That was in 1963."

When Tania was hired, there were about 30 WED cast members, but only four were women. "In the model room, there were four women who were there for many years and they were very important workers." Among them were Harriet Burns, Katrina Van Tassel and Leota [Lee] Toombs. "Even though I was hired to work on New Orleans Square, if anything else came up, I'd work on that, too. For instance, I worked on the Plaza Inn on Main Street."

The issue of being a woman in a male-dominated industry did prove to be problematic at times for Tania.

"When we were doing a project, we would sometimes do a full mock-up. There were times when I would have an idea about something and Bob Brown or John Hench or whoever else was in charge would either disagree or just ignore me. It was important enough to me that I would say to them, 'Will you ask Walt about so-and-so?' But they never did. And there were occasions when I really felt strongly about something and wanted to present it to Walt, but they would suddenly disappear."

One of those occasions involved Club 33 in 1964. At the New York World's Fair, Walt had noticed how many of the corporate sponsors had built special rooms within their pavilions to entertain VIPs. Club 33 came about out of Walt's desire to have such a VIP srea at Disneyland where he could entertain special guests.

When Tania saw the original sketches for Club 33, she took note of a big problem: The ladies' room was miniscule.

"I told Walt that the ladies' room was too small. If you have two fat [ladies] in there at the same time, they'd never be able to move. So he looked at the plans and said, 'You're right. We'll just chop the manager's office in half.' And that's why the bathroom is the size it is today at Club 33.

"There was another time during work on the Mr. Lincoln project and I was needed to make a suggestion, and again, everybody just disappeared. It was like magic. I was left talking to Walt by myself."

Disney Legend Dorothea Redmond. [The Walt Disney Company]

On New Orleans Square, Tania "worked closely with both Herbie Ryman and Dorothea Redmond. Between them, they did most of the sketches for the area, both exterior and interior ... Herbie more exterior and Dorothea more interior. You would be talking and describing something and all of a sudden, your idea would be on paper, like magic. They were so expert and so wonderful." New Orleans Square opened in 1966, a few months before Walt's death.

"My title was interior designer, so that involved all the Disney projects apart from the films. I worked on the Expo 67 in Montreal. I worked on some of the original concepts in Florida ... whatever came along, I was the interior person. So it was fabrics, wallpapers, colors, some of it I designed myself. I did the wallpaper in the Haunted Mansion [I'm not sure if it's still there because I haven't visited it in a long time]. I found the furnishings ... getting everything pulled together and coordinating it. Bob Brown was my immediate boss and John Hench was the chief designer.

"The furnishings were all purchased, either in shops or from companies. What was made at the Disney Studio consisted of draperies or fitted upholsteries. I would say most of it was draperies. That's where Emile Kuri came in, although he laid claim to a lot of projects he never really did."

It was during this time that Tania forged a friendship with Herb Ryman that would last until his death in 1989.

"Herbie was an art director. He might be given a project that I might not know about for maybe another year. He would be one of the designers for it. When that was done, it went to one of the architects and then I would get involved, talking about the interiors and what was needed there. There were story boards that would be put together for every project. They would have Herbie's drawings, they would have Dorothea's renderings, which we would discuss. I'd even make story board suggestions for fabrics or even light fixtures, whatever it was that was needed for the project. A lot of that is done on computers nowadays."

Once her work on New Orleans Square was completed, she shifted to the nearby Haunted Mansion, which opened in 1969. The Haunted Mansion "was a lot of fun," Tania said, "because it has all that garbage in it. We'd go to garage sales and we'd pick up junk like you'd have in your attic that was of no real value, but when it was placed in the Haunted Mansion, it looked just great, with a few cobwebs added."

It was among the last Disney projects she worked on. "I left WED in 1970," she said, but not before compiling some wonderful memories and making several lifelong friendships.

More on that, as well as Tania's work on the restoration of the Queen Mary ocean liner, her love of roses and her relationship with Herbie Ryman, in the next installment of Still Goofy about Disney.

October 16, 2017

Savor, Sip and Sparkle at California Grill


We attended the Celebration at the Top - Savor, Sip and Sparkle event at California Grill on Sunday, October 1. This was a MNSSHP night at Magic Kingdom, so we started at 9:15PM with fireworks at 10:15. Times vary with the MK fireworks schedule.

We arrived and checked in at the California Grill podium on the second floor, then we were escorted up to the restaurant and shown to the event rooms. They had a table with "glow" flutes of sparkling wine as we exited the elevator. There was a large room with tables and a bar on one side, and a smaller room with maybe 8 small tables and the food stations on the other side.

Each table had a light-up necklace for each guest to take home as a party favor. We decided to sit in the smaller room since the seating in the larger room was already almost full. The waitstaff were wonderful and made sure our glasses were always full. In addition to the sparkling wine they had a full bar available, but we did not order anything from the bar.

Food selections were sushi rolls - California, Veggie, and Spicy Tuna.


There were mini lobster rolls topped with micro greens on the sushi table as well.


For hot selections we had pork belly Bao buns, chicken satay skewers, and 2 choices of flatbread - BLT or Cheesesteak. The appetizers are all served buffet style so guests can serve themselves and come back for additional bites at leisure.




We struck up a conversation with a lady at the next table who was traveling solo from the UK, and before we knew it we were headed out to the observation deck for Hallowishes. The music was piped in and we had a lovely view of the show. At the conclusion of the fireworks we went back inside for dessert.

The dessert offerings were an assortment of "mini" portions including fruit tarts, chocolate ganache cupcakes, and vanilla cheesecake. We chose to have coffee along with dessert.





They had one of the photo frames for guests to pose with to commemorate the evening as things were winding to a close.


We really enjoyed this event! It is offered on select Sundays for $99 per person.

October 15, 2017

EPCOT Food & Wine Festival – A Timeline

Gary Cruise banner

Last year at the annual EPCOT Food & Wine Festival Carol and I discovered a little hidden treat, a pictorial timeline of the Festival.

Food and Wine Timeline

It was tucked away in a corner of Innoventions East, beside the merchandise area where they were distributing commemorative wine glasses for Annual Passholders.

Neither Carol nor I are wine drinkers, so we avoided the Food & Wine Festival for many years. We thought it was all about the wines, and pairings, and that there would be little there for us.

Our friends kept saying, “No, it’s about the food too, you would really enjoy the food.” After hearing that same message from several friends we decided to give it a try. Our first brief foray into the world of food and wine at EPCOT was on November 9th 2009. After stopping at no more than two kiosks we knew that our friends were right! We only made it to about half the food kiosks that first day but we enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

Although we’ve never hoisted a glass of wine there, we really enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. In fact, we haven’t missed a year since 2009.

Australia Kiosk

We typically arrive at the park in late morning and sometimes circle the World ShowCase Lagoon in a clockwise direction, other years we’ll head counter-clockwise. We read the menu at each food station along the way and order whatever sounds appealing.

Australia Menu

Australia Shrimp

When we have quenched our appetites and start to feel full we end our culinary tour, then return to EPCOT a few days later and pick up our roving lunch where we left off. For many years it took us three days to circle the lagoon but the festival is growing; last year it took four days.

There are special Guide Maps and Times Guides available during the festival.

Guide Map and Times Guide
Click on the image to see a larger version

Carol always picks up a Festival Passport. Inside the passport is a description of all the dishes served at each kiosk.

Festival Passport
Click on the image to see a larger version

She carefully checks off each selection we sample, then when we get home the Guide Map, Time Guide and Passport find a permanent home in Carol's Tickle Trunk!

I was surprised and delighted last year when we found that pictorial history of the festival. I’m always fascinated by the little gems, like that timeline, that the Imagineers dream up and install in out-of-the-way corners. I’m not sure how long it has been around, since we just “discovered” it last year.

Let’s take a closer look; click on each of the images below to see a larger version.

Food and Wine 1996-1998

It was 1996 when the Walt Disney World Village Wine Festival moved to EPCOT and transformed into the festival we enjoy today. In 1997 famed chef Julia Child was an honoured guest.

Food and Wine 1999-2001

The plaques beneath the pictures describe the many exhibits and seminars that interested wine-lovers can enjoy.

Food and Wine 2002-2004

The Party for the Senses and the Eat to the Beat Concert series made their debut in 2002.

Food and Wine 2005-2007

In 2005 the Odyssey Cooking School offered interactive cooking experiences.

Food and Wine 2008-2010

Is that Little Richard playing the piano in 2008? Cirque du Soleil hosted the Party for the Senses in 2010 and the 10K race was replaced with a half-marathon.

Food and Wine 2011-2013

Do you remember the cranberry bog that first appeared in 2011?

Food and Wine 2014-2015

In 2014 the festival was extended from 46 days to 53 days and in 2015 the popular ABC show The Chew established two new kiosks near the rose garden.

As you can see from following that pictorial history, the festival is continuing to evolve and grow. There’s always something new!

This year there are no wineglasses for Annual Passholders; they have been replaced by a special series of collectible buttons. If you have an Annual Pass you can pick up your button at the Festival Center, behind the former Universe of Energy building.

Festival Center

Carol and I won’t make it to the festival until November this year, so I don’t know if the timeline has been moved to the Festival Center or if it’s still over in Innoventions East . . . but if you happen to see it stop and take a look. There is some interesting history there!

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