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January 23, 2017

Documentary shows how Bob Gurr created so many classic Disney attractions

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Bob Gurr holds a copy of his book, "Design: Just For Fun," after its release. [Ape Pen Publishing]

If there's such a thing as a blueprint for an exciting, fun-filled, never-a-dull-moment retirement, Bob Gurr seems to have created it.

Which, in a way, makes perfect sense, since Gurr is the man responsible for creating so many of the exciting, fun-filled, never-a-dull-moment ride vehicles and attractions we've come to know and love in Disney parks around the globe for decades.

Gurr, who is 85, has packed so much into his retirement years that it's almost impossible to pinpoint a time when he's actually stopped working and commenced sitting back in a rocking chair and relaxing. For the record, Gurr officially retired from the Walt Disney Company in 1981 ... but that didn't stop him from working on a number of "side" jobs, among them: The grand finale production at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles ... the monstrous King Kong Audio-Animatonics figure at Universal Studios ... and the complicated stage apparatus used during Michael Jackson's Victory Tour in 1984.

Also during his "retirement," the affable Gurr has "gone on something like 45 cruises," to places like Hawaii, Tahiti and the Caribbean, done dozens of panel discussions and presentations, written and promoted his own book [Design: Just For Fun, APP-Gurr Design], and, most recently, spent more than a year putting together a documentary, Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality, available through Ape Pen Publishing.

The documentary, which debuted last year at the popular Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, is not so much a story of Gurr's life as it is an outline of just how Gurr created some of the industry's most innovative and ground-breaking theme park attractions. In short, it's not about what he did, but how he did it.

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Bob Gurr takes a spin on a scale model of a monorail during a Disney fan event several years ago. [Ape Pen Publishing]


Carlene Thie, who owns Ape Pen Publishing and who had a big hand in helping Gurr get his book published and was the driving force behind The Bob Gurr Roast in 2015, "Had this long-term idea," Gurr said in a recent telephone interview. "She said, 'I want to do a documentary on your life.' And I said, 'No, no, Carlene. There are so many videos available on my life on YouTube and so forth.' But she was very insistent."

Finally, Gurr told Carlene that "if anyone was going to do a documentary, we should look at HOW I was about to do stuff. We finally agreed to sit down and start talking about it. It was the spring of 2014. By that time, she had assembled a few people, a screenwriter and a videographer. Then she had three friends who were in the videographer business and she was trusting them. She said she wanted to get me on camera and record me so I could tell my story. I said that I didn't want anything to do with that kind of project, but I told her to go get some witnesses who actually watched how I worked.

"So I gave her a list of eight people, and in about two months, she got everybody on the list ... Marty Sklar, Garner Holt and a bunch of other people. Even the head of Walt Disney Imagineering. She got them to agree to come out on a Saturday and a Sunday, four people each day."

The only problem was, she didn't have any place to record them. In lieu of a studio, Bob suggested using his own house in Tujunga, Calif. "So we put tarps over the windows. I told her to bring her photographers in the house and I'd sit in the backyard and run the hospitality food tent. People came and went and I'd greet them.

"Six months later, I called her up and asked her, 'Where's your documentary?' "and she said," 'Uh, Bob ...'"

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Gurr poses for a photo with fellow Disney Legend Marty Sklar at a D23 event. [Deb Wills]

Turns out what was filmed wasn't very good. "A train wreck," is how Gurr described it. To make matters worse, it was estimated that it would cost upwards of $50,000 to repair the damage.

Carlene gave Gurr a copy of what was filmed and he poured through the 10 hours of video. When he was finished, he came to a conclusion: "Despite all the wreckage, there was precious content about the theme park industry in general. I said it would sure be a shame to lose all that stuff just because she had a bad crew."

That crew "made more mistakes than you can imagine," Gurr said. "They screwed up the lighting, the sound quality was quite poor, they even walked in front of the cameras. If you wrote down all the major mistakes a film crew could make, they made them.

"Finally, I said to Carlene, 'Buy me a new Macintosh with a quad core processor and all the software and I will teach myself to be an editor of PBS quality. That's the cheapest way you'll ever get out of this thing."

So Carlene bought him the equipment he needed and he began a months-long editing process. "After a while, I began to figure out the story. It was fascinating listening to people from different companies and different eras describing how Bob Gurr works. It slowly dawned on me how I work and I work totally differently than other people work. You know in any line of work, you always think that everybody works the same and then it dawns on you later that when you've got witnesses, no, maybe you don't work like that."

During his Disney days, Bob Gurr had a reputation of being somewhat of a genius. After all, he played significant roles in such classic Disney attractions as the Autopia cars, Matterhorn Mountain, the submarine voyage, the Disney monorail system, the Abraham Lincoln figure at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, and the development of Audio-Animatronics.

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Bob Gurr offers his advice during a remodeling of the Autopia track at Disneyland. [Walt Disney Imagineering]

"People would say, 'Didn't you know Gurr's a genius?' and I'd say, 'No, no, I just work here. Whatever Walt wanted, I did. Whatever Michael Jackson wants ... you just did it.. On top of that, I never went to engineering school and I had no qualifications to do any of this stuff and Walt never gave it a thought, he didn't care.

"And looking at my life backwards, these guys [the eight 'witnesses' who came to his house on that fateful weekend] are explaining it, and I thought, now I could write a story that would make sense."

Then he invited some friends to drop by and help with the project.

Following Gurr's lead, those friends dove right in. "They'd show up here and the minute they looked at the computer, they'd start taking notes and writing things furiously on paper" and a script began to take shape.

Gurr then began the arduous task of editing. "Sound editing is really fascinating," he said. "Luckily, my nephew, Eric Johnston, has five Emmys. He's a recording engineer for X Factor and Dancing with the Stars. He said, 'When you get the sound tracks to where you want them, I'll go through them and clean up all the technical problems in the audio.'"

Meanwhile, Carlene Thie was beginning her own long journey. "It took about a year for her to get Disney's approval to use the images of the things I designed," Gurr said. "They wanted thousands of dollars for the licensing fees. I told her to keep writing them every few weeks and wear them down. Every time she did, the price went down a little bit. I think they got down to where they got just enough money that it would be a contract."

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Bob Gurr, third from the right, poses for a photo after he was roasted in 2015.

Gurr then threw himself head-long into video editing. "From a technical standpoint, I became totally fascinated with video editing," which was a painstakingly long and tedious process. "I had to swap out all the poor quality and I had to construct the soundtracks by hand."

During the final stages of putting the documentary together, Gurr had to compile credits for the film. "I left off all the names of the people who did such a bad job. The people who actually did all the work were my nephew, Carlene Thie and myself. But I knew it's completely wrong for a person to edit their own life documentary. It's just not right.

"So, when you look at the credits in the back of the film you'll see Eric Johnston, Carlene Thie and 'editing done by a new company called West New Editing Services.'

"That's the final joke," he laughed.

Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams into Reality can be purchased through Ape Pen Publishing at www.apepenpublishing.com. To view Bob Gurr's website, go to www.bobgurr.com.

January 19, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® newsletter, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James also Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

James writes:

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

http://allears.net/ae/mb120116-key.pdf

We received 41 correct responses; all of you knew that the working title of the film that would eventually be released as "Fantasia in November 1940 was the Concert Feature. Another little-known fact about the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment is the fact that originally Dopey was considered to play the part of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, a role that would eventually go to Mickey Mouse instead.

The winner of a Tinker Bell pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Marianne M. of Barnegat, NJ. Congratulations!

If you missed it last month, that’s OK, because here’s another chance.

http://allears.net/ae/mb011917.pdf

That last puzzle wrapped up the “This Month in Disney History" series, which we started in December 2015 in recognition of the 20th Anniversary of AllEars.Net.

Now we are going to completely change gears by starting a series (a very long series!) of puzzles honoring Disney's extensive list of live-action films. So, it would make sense that we start with the first live-action film, 1950's “Treasure Island.”

Other partial live-action films had been produced prior to 1950, such as “Song of the South” and “So Dear to My Heart,” but these films also contained animated sequences. Due to its violence, this film would probably have been Disney’s first PG-rating, but the rating system did not exist at the time. This film was reissued in 1975 without some of the violent scenes in order to obtain a more favorable G-rating.

The object of this puzzle is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, send me the answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on January 31, 2017. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog sometime in February.

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

Thanks for playing, everyone!

Disney Pin Quest at Magic Kingdom Park

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by J. Scott Lopes
Guest Blogger, AllEars.Net

I recently embarked on a quest at Magic Kingdom, a quest that took me to every corner of the park. It was the Disney Pin Quest, a scavenger hunt that leads you to acquiring a complete set of pins. (There's a Disneyland version of this Pin Quest, which is almost identical. You can read about it HERE.)

In order to start the journey, you need to purchase an adventure kit and clues. The starter kit, which costs $14.99, includes a lanyard, a decoder medal (more on this later), a pouch, and a map.

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This kit can be purchased at the following locations:

– Fantasy Faire, Fantasyland
– Big Top Souvenirs, Storybook Circus in Fantasyland
– Briar Patch, Frontierland
– Frontier Trading Post, Frontierland
– Curtain Call Collectibles, Main Street, U.S.A.
– Tomorrowland Light & Power Co, Tomorrowland

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I started at the Trading Post where I purchased my adventure kit and first clue. (Each clue costs $9.99, by the way.)

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You purchase the clue, and once you find the answer, your reward is a pin.

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When you first start out, or if you get stuck, friendly cast members are there to help you.

Once you are rewarded with the pin, you use the decoder medal to read the coordinates (a letter and number), which you then use to find the next location on the map. The map does show 10 locations, but only 6 are part of the quest. As you collect each pin, the NavigatEAR will stamp your map, and you can also write the letter from the back of the pin in the spot on the map that corresponds to the clue number (this will spell out a hidden message).

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Once you get the letter and number coordinate you will be able to find their intersection on the map to locate the next location. After collecting all six pins you return back to the Trading Post or Curtain Call CollectIbles to use the hidden message, so that you are able to purchase the final completer pin.

I had a lot of fun and recommend that everyone try this. It's also a great activity to do in a group -- I had family along for my journey, which was helpful at times.

One warning: there can be a lot of walking involved. In my journey, I used the Walt Disney World Railroad to travel between some locations, and most of the time the next location was on opposite ends of the park. I took my time completing the quest and took in a few attractions -- as well as a Dole Whip! -- in between collecting clues and pins, but the quest took me about four hours. If you focused on just completing the quest without interruption it probably would take closer to two hours.

The adventure kit is $14.99, each clue is $9.99, and the completer pin is $4.99. Altogether, this quest costs about $80 plus tax, not counting any applicable discounts.

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, especially in the Walt Disney Imagineering division and all of the work and detail that they put into everything that they engineer.


January 15, 2017

Classic Boats at the Dockside Bar

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Last fall Carol and I enjoyed our first dinner at the Boathouse Restaurant in Disney Springs. On our way to the check-in desk we paused to watch the Amphicars come and go at the launch ramp directly beside the restaurant entrance.

Amphicar Landing

Our meal was a wonderful experience; we savoured delightful food as we sat overlooking the waters of the lagoon. I was mesmerized by the Amphicars which sailed past throughout our dinner. The old classic cars . . . or boats . . . or whatever they are, were shining brightly in the long rays of the setting sun.

Amphicar

Amphicar

I was so wrapped up watching the Amphicars that I didn’t even notice the other classic boats until it was almost dark. A wooden dock runs from south end of the Boathouse Restaurant out to the Dockside Bar, built on posts in the middle of the lagoon. The dock carries on past the bar and at the opposite end reconnects with the Boathouse Restaurant at its northern end. The outer portion of the dock is lined, on both sides, with some amazing old boats.

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The Dockside Bar is directly under the balloon. The classic boats are to the right.

After dinner we wandered out along the dock and took our time admiring an astounding array of teak, mahogany, fiberglass, brass, steel and chrome.

It took me back to my youth. I grew up in a small village on the north shore of Lake Erie and as far back as I can remember we had a power boat docked along the river right behind our home.

I tried to capture a few pictures, but there just wasn’t enough light for our little point and shoot camera. Here are the best shots I got that night.

Cadillac Sea Lark

Cadillac Sea Lark

Look at those tail fins on the 1956 Cadillac Sea Lark! Wow!

I just had to see some more of those boats, so just a few days later we drove back over to Disney Springs. We walked past the Boathouse check-in podium, through the restaurant and out onto the dock leading toward the Dockside Bar.

The flashbacks began almost immediately! The mahogany boats reminded me of the first boat I remember, our 1954 18’ SeaBird Runabout. It was built in Ontario by the Port Carling Boat Works and was powered by a 4 cylinder Buchanan engine which put out a whopping 60 horsepower! I don’t have a picture of our old boat, but here is a SeaBird from the same era!

SeaBird

This beautiful old Chris Craft sure reminded me of our SeaBird!

Chris Craft

The wooden and fiberglass gems line the dock, and each one has a plaque describing its history and background. Take time to read the messages, each of the boats has a story to tell!

Classic Boats

Gods Time

God's Time was one of my favourites, I love those gull-wing doors in the top!

Gods Time

Gods Time

Walts Dream
Walt's Dream is a 1947 Chris Craft Runabout, beautifully restored.

If speedboats are more to your liking, here are a couple of beauties!

U22 Alter Ego
Alter Ego is a 32' Hydroplane powered by a 1500 horsepower Allison V12

G-99 Miss Belle Isle
G-99 Miss Belle Isle

Do you like fiberglass and fins?

Here's a daylight picture of that 1956 Cadillac Sea Lark.

Sea Lark

1950s Fins

There are lots of other 1950's fins to see!

Marilyns Meteor Mate

Even the big Mercury outboard engine is pink on Marilyn's Meteor Mate.

Marilyns Meteor Mate

Marilyns Meteor Mate

Gadget

Keep an eye out for Gadget, a teeny weeny tug boat and the beautifuly restored steam powered boat pictured below.

Steam Power

The Boathouse

Next time you visit Disney Springs take a stroll along the dock beside The Boathouse and enjoy some nautical history!

January 9, 2017

Charlie Ridgway and Rick Sylvain: Two Disney PR guys with the "write" stuff

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Rick Sylvain, left, and his former boss, Charlie Ridgway, crossed paths in England several years ago. As Rick puts it: "This was taken in 2007 after a travel writers' convention in Manchester, England. Two friends and I were getting our rental van serviced deep in the English countryside. Who do we run across on that day, at that hour, at that minute, in that town, but Charlie, off on his own adventure? He had stopped for a candy bar. Long odds. Lottery odds. Must have been some sort of kismet. I love Charlie's smile in this photo." [Courtesy of Rick Sylvain]


Press events at Walt Disney World, as well as my interactions with numerous Disney cast members, have been an integral part of my reporting on all things Disney over the last 35 years.

These experiences and the bonds that I've forged were so important to me that I wrote a book about them, On The Disney Beat: Over 30 Years of Chronicling the People and Places in Walt's World [Theme Park Press]. Through many of the press events I've attended and during the many interviews I've conducted, I've met some outstanding people, many of whom I consider friends.

So it was with sadness when I learned on Dec. 24 of the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who was a key figure in my journalistic journey through Disney's world. Charlie was an important part of my book, from my first invitation to a Disney press event he supervised in 1986 to an extensive interview I had with him in 2014.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Charlie in 1992. After learning that my extended family and I would be in WDW during August of that year, he invited us to join him for an unforgettable afternoon. We [I believe there were eight of us] met him at 12:30 at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom and he walked us back stage to his waiting company van. The afternoon parade was in the process of queuing up and he made sure the younger ones in our party looked away, lest they see a character out of costume, thus spoiling the magic. He drove us all to the then-new Yacht Club Galley, where we chatted about a wide range of Disney-related topics, including the opening of several on-property resorts. I still have his business card, with his work phone number and his [get this!] Telex number.

Charlie was best known for dreaming up new and better ways to get the word out on Disneyland [he was hired in 1963] and later Walt Disney World, where he settled in as Press and Publicity director about a year before the resort opened in 1971. In those days, Disney did very little advertising, so it was up to the Press and Publicity folks to publicize the parks. And Charlie did it in a way that was creative, imaginative, fun and, most importantly, effective. Charlie retired a few years after our lunch, although he was often called on by his colleagues to lend his expertise on a number of projects.

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Charlie Ridgway holds a Donald Duck figure as Rick Sylvain looks on during a 90th birthday celebration for Charlie in 2014. [Walt Disney World]

During the most recent WDW press gathering in November 2016, I was able to renew acquaintances with Rick Sylvain, a man I've known since the 1990s, when he was hired by Charlie to work on WDW's PR team. Following in Charlie's rather large footsteps, Rick was as sound a PR man as you could find, always ready to help out and always going above and beyond to make sure you had all the information you needed to make your story complete. Rick retired from Walt Disney World's Press and Publicity Department in 2015, but still has his hand in PR work.

It was Rick who helped me secure an interview with Charlie, a man he considered a beloved mentor, in January 2014. "It was Charlie who rescued me from a nasty strike at The Detroit Free Press [where Rick was a travel editor of considerable import] and got me to come down here to work for him," Rick told me a few years ago. "It was Charlie who launched me on 20 years [at Disney] that I will never forget."

The bond between Rick and Charlie was strong. During Charlie's retirement years, the two got together as often as they could. In fact, a few weeks before Charlie died, Rick and several other members of "the old guard" were supposed to take Charlie out for a holiday celebration, but it had to be canceled. Rick considered it an honor and a privilege when Charlie asked him to write the foreword to his book, Spinning Disney's World, upon its re-release in paperback.

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Tom Bergeron, left, chats with actor Michael J. Fox during a press event in New York City to announce the beginning of the Let the Memories Begin Disney Parks campaign in 2010. [The Walt Disney Company]

When I think of how many times I've had the pleasure of Rick's company, as well as his witty repartee, it dredges up some pretty fond memories. Many of the press gatherings he had a hand in putting together were held in New York City, so he knew I was pretty close by and would always make an effort to be in attendance.

There was the event to promote the Let The Memories Begin initiative on the West Side of Manhattan in 2010, which was hosted by Dancing With the Stars' Tom Bergeron and featured an appearance by actor Michael J. Fox.

There was the Limited Time Magic event in midtown Manhattan in 2014, where artisans carved several Disney-themed ice sculptures right on Broadway to emphasize how quickly things come and go.

In 2015, he invited me to a special press preview of the re-imagined Disney Magic; the ship, which had been overhauled a few months before, sailed up from Port Canaveral and docked in Manhattan for just one day before heading to Europe for its summer season.

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The Disney Dream was christened on Jan. 19, 2011 at Disney Cruise Line's Port Canaveral port. [Disney Cruise Line]

And then there were the christenings of the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise liners, both lavishly produced press events that would have made Charlie proud.

The day before the Dream event at Port Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2011, Rick invited me to join an exclusive press tour of the then-new Wild Africa Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

He wanted to make sure that we journalists [a group of about 10 of us met in the lobby of the Grand Floridian] would get the full experience, so he was with us every step of the way. Included in the trek were two treacherous trips across swaying and rickety rope bridges, with an assortment of hungry hippos and smiling crocodiles watching our every move with more than casual interest some 30 feet below.

"It's nice to feel the ground under my feet," Rick said after traversing the second bridge and climbing down from the lofty perch.

The Disney Fantasy christening took place in New York City in February 2012. Rick made sure I got to meet Jay Rasulo, then Disney's CFO. I had conducted a lengthy interview with Jay a few years before and was anxious to meet him in person.

At a press event during the spring of 2016, I ran into Rick at Morimoto Asia, a wonderful upscale Asian restaurant in Disney Springs. I mentioned to Rick how I was now writing a blog for AllEars.Net and he was positively effusive in his praise for the site. "Truly, the best Disney website out there," he said.

Like Charlie, Rick had a strong understanding of how to supply folks in the media with exactly what they need to get the most out of their stories about Walt Disney World. It made sense, since both men grew up in the newspaper business and always had a kinship with journalists.

"I always tried to hire people with newspaper backgrounds," Charlie told me during that 2014 interview, "because I felt that they knew what the news guys wanted and how to get it to them."

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Charlie Ridgway is interviewed during Walt Disney World's 15th anniversary in 1986. [Walt Disney World]

Charlie was among a handful of people still around who worked and interacted with Walt Disney. After toiling for years as a newspaperman in Southern California [he wrote a lengthy pre-opening feature on Disneyland, covered Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955, and often wrote human interest stories on the park] Charlie was hired by Disney in 1963.

On Walt, Charlie said, "he had supreme confidence that he would know what the public wanted. And he was right 98 percent of the time. He had a tremendous ability to pay attention to every little detail, and yet know the overall picture as well, and he paid attention to the tiniest little detail in everything he did. Sometimes that put off some people, but overall, those who stayed with him for any length of time appreciated his talent so much that they didn't mind going all out for him."

Like Walt Disney himself, Charlie Ridgway long understood that while there's very little adult in each child, there's plenty of child in every adult.

As Rick Sylvain put it on the occasion of Charlie's 90th birthday: "Charlie, for me, embodies the true Disney spirit -- consummate professional, but a kid at heart. I know I and my colleagues can truly say that thanks to Charlie's inspiration, we can fly. Ideas define this man. Then and now."

Although Charlie hired Rick Sylvain in the mid-1990s, they had known each other for years, having gone on a number of travel junkets together, including several harrowing adventures in Egypt and Jerusalem in 1983, which are detailed beautifully in Charlie's Spinning Disney's World
book.

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The Disney characters gather for a publicity photo in front of Cinderella Castle during WDW's 15th anniversary, one of the hundreds of Disney events Charlie Ridgway had a hand in. [Walt Disney World]

When I saw Rick at the press event this past November, I quickly sought him out. And I made sure to give him a copy of On The Disney Beat, in large part because he had such a big hand in making it happen.

A few weeks after the event, Rick sent me an email that touched me on so many levels.

Hey Chuck:

So good crossing paths with you this month. Just finished your book - thanks for the copy. I laughed, I cried, I reminisced. Too many favorite parts to recount here - so I won't begin to try. True to your craft, you report All Things Disney so well. A book with lots of heart.

Rick went on to explain how my book actually inspired him.

Your wonderful narrative stirred for me so many personal stories from those 20 years. I remember walking around Epcot one afternoon in 2005 when a wheelchair-bound woman spotted my name badge and asked me to take her picture. We were at the red phone booth in the U.K. pavilion. Of course, I obliged her.

"Where you from?" I asked her.

"New Orleans," she said.

"What brings you here?"

"I lost everything in Katrina and just wanted to smile again."

That was powerful.

Another time, I was criss-crossing New York City a la Charlie [but not nearly as well] and had scored an audience with then-editor Walter Anderson of Parade Magazine. Nervous beyond words in the presence of this media giant, I pitched Animal Kingdom. Quiet enveloped the room. Walter sat back on his sofa, summoned his design editor and announced they were scrapping a coming cover story in favor of Animal Kingdom in words and pictures.

I left the Parade offices on Cloud Nine. The following week, I was working with famed Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams, setting up his cover shoot.

That's the pull of Disney you write so beautifully about. Again, thanks for my copy of On The Disney Beat. I will treasure it.

As I will my association with both you, Rick, and Charlie ... two class acts ... and two men who definitely had the write stuff.

December 26, 2016

Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who passed away Dec. 24: There will never be another like him

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Charlie Ridgway conducts an interview on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World prior to the beginning of WDW's 15th anniversary celebration in 1986. [The Walt Disney Company]


"There will never be another like him."

In the hubbub of the holiday season, the passing of Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway on Dec. 24 may have gone unnoticed to most casual Disney fans ... but not to the people who knew him, worked for him, admired him and flat-out loved him.

"I wanted to let you know that our dear Charlie, 93, passed away today," former Walt Disney World publicity director Rick Sylvain messaged me on Christmas Eve.

Our dear Charlie.

That pretty much sums up the feelings of so many people whose lives were touched by the kind-hearted gentleman from Missouri, whose humble beginnings as a radio disc jockey and Midwestern newspaperman belied his legendary status in Disney's star-studded firmament.

Charlie, the master of spinning Disney's world as the company's chief press agent at both Disneyland and WDW, followed in his father's footsteps and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Despite his journalism pedigree, he began his career in radio because his father, who covered the agricultural beat for the Chicago Tribune, told him that "newspapers are bound to be a dying breed and encouraged me to get into radio. He was pretty wise."

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Charlie sets up a publicity photo of Donald Duck in the shadows of Cinderella Castle. [The Walt Disney Company]

Charlie landed a job at a 5,000-watt radio station in Erie, Pa., in the late 1940s after serving honorably during World War II. After about three years, though, he got a job offer from the Erie Dispatch, "my first job as a newspaperman. That job lasted about a year before I decided I needed to get into a bigger market. I had fallen in love with Los Angeles during the war, so I decided to go out there in 1952."

Charlie, his wife Gretta and their young family moved west, to a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles called Anaheim. He got a job as a general reporter with the Los Angeles Mirror-News and became aware of a construction site near their house when he and his family passed it on their way to the beach on weekends.

That construction site, rising up from large fields of orange groves, was to become Disneyland. It was Charlie Ridgway who was among the first journalists to do a story on Disneyland in early 1955 prior to opening ... and it was Charlie who was among the hundreds of frazzled journalists on hand to cover opening day on July 17, 1955.

Indeed, Charlie covered Disneyland for several years, for both the Los Angeles Mirror-News, then the Long Beach Press-Telegram, before he accepted a job offer from Disneyland in 1963 in the park's publicity department, doing the bulk of the office's writing.

A legendary career with Disney was launched.

From his tiny office above the police station near City Hall, Charlie dreamed up new and creative ways to get the word out on Disneyland, among them the press event he helped set up for the grand opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in 1967.

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Charlie signs a copy of his book, "Spinning Disney's World," several years ago.

"We sailed all the press people around in the sailing ship Columbia and then came in and fired the cannons and had a big sword fight on the deck." In addition, buccaneers boarded the ship from smaller craft and pirates fell from the ship into the river during their duels. Once the press folks were in a swashbuckling mood, they disembarked the ship and "stormed" the entrance of the Pirates of the Caribbean to gain access.

"I was in on that," Charlie said proudly during an interview with me in early 2014.

In the years that followed, Charlie was the go-to guy when it came to dreaming up fun and creative ways to publicize the park. Then, in 1969, Charlie was asked to move to central Florida to drum up publicity for Walt Disney's "latest and greatest dream" ... Walt Disney World.

"The first trip I made when I took the job at the end of 1969 was to go to New York. I went to Time, Life and Look magazines and all the major newspapers and I also went to Washington to National Geographic."

Look Magazine wanted to be the first publication to have a cover story on WDW, but the Magic Kingdom was still six months from completion. "It was way too early," Charlie said. "There wasn't that much really finished. But we were able to gerrymander things and produce pictures that looked like it was really done."

Charlie also played a key role in the classic photo that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine a few weeks before WDW opened.

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The Life Magazine cover prior to the opening of Walt Disney World in 1972 which Charlie Ridgway helped set up. [Life Magazine]

"I suggested we do a mob-scene photo and we carried forward from that point," Charlie said. "We went to Life with the idea and they liked it. They sent down one of their very best photographers [Yale Joel]. He got up on a stand with an 8 x 10 view camera to shoot the picture. Of course, that was the one we shot in front of the castle. We assembled as many cast members [3,000 of the 5,000 on staff at the time] as we could get there."

Charlie also was the architect of many elaborate press events during his years at WDW, events that saw literally thousands of members of the media invited to experience first-hand the magic and wonder of The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Perhaps the most significant press event in Charlie's eyes was the grand opening of Epcot in October of 1982. It was the first time in broadcast history that television stations from around the country were able to carry an event live, thanks to a still-untested satellite uplink technology. "It was a rather feeble attempt, by today's standards," Charlie said, but it worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

It was Charlie at his finest. "We used to sit around marketing meetings dreaming up crazy ideas," he said.

Charlie's "crazy ideas" left a lasting impression on those folks who were privileged to work with him.

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The author with Charlie Ridgway during lunch in 1992. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

"I don't think he realizes how important he is to all of us and how much influence he's had on our careers," Michelle Baumann, who was hired by Charlie more than 25 years ago, told me a few years ago. "To give you an idea of what kind of person Charlie was, I was hired back during the time when photo captions had to be pasted onto the backs of the publicity photos, which was pretty tedious and time-consuming, but Charlie would be right there with us, doing the grunt work, not giving it a second thought.

"Every once in a while, we'll be stumped with something and someone in the office will say, 'What would Charlie do?' He made that much of an impression on us."

Rick Sylvain and a bunch of Charlie's "old guard" were scheduled to take him out to lunch on Dec. 14, but the luncheon had to be scrapped because of Charlie's failing health.

"So many of us owe so much to that man," Rick said. "I know he rescued me from a nasty newspaper strike in Detroit in 1995 and launched me on 20 years that I will never forget.

"There will never be another like him."

December 22, 2016

Backstage Magic Tour

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by J. Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Have you ever wanted to go behind the scenes to see what goes on backstage at Disney World, to see how they make and maintain some of your favorite attractions? If you have then the Backstage Magic Tour is for you!

Disney refers to the Backstage Magic tour as “an insider’s look at the heritage, daily operation and cast member roles that create the 'magic' at Walt Disney World Resort." I had been thinking about this 7-1/2-hour tour for several years, wondering if it would be the best use of my time at the parks. Despite my apprehension, I finally made the commitment a few weeks ago, and I am so glad that I did.

I know that tours can book up quickly, so once I decided to do it I booked it right away. (You can cancel within 48 hours if needed.) A few days before the tour, I received a call and a confirmation email, which also served to let me know that open-toe and open-heel shoes are not permitted on the tour.

The tour starts early, at 9 a.m., with the meeting time at 8:45 a.m at Epcot's Guest Relations located just outside the park entrance, in a specially marked area.

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Based on my experience with early morning tours, I recommend that you use a taxi cab or Uber if you do not have your own transportation. Unlike some of the other tours where they will help you find and join the tour group if you are late (my experience with a few of the tours unfortunately), they specifically state that this is not possible for this tour. Instead, they will rebook you for a different day based on availability if you are late. Note that the taxi drop-off location for Epcot is very close to Guest Relations, however you do need to go through bag check. I decided not to bring a camera on the tour, and instead relied on my phone, mostly because there are very few times when you are allowed to take pictures during the tour, only one of them in a backstage area.

Just before 9 a.m., our tour guides Tom and Paul joined us. They talked with us about the tour, checked us in, gave us our name tags, and note if any participants had any food allergies.

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We also had the option to take a picture, which they referred to as an "establishing shot," because there would not be too many opportunities for pictures. (You can see mine at the top of this blog.)

Ready to start on our journey, we made a restroom stop (one of many during the day), then proceeded to board our transportation for the day, a Disney Cruise Line bus, where we had access to complimentary bottled water.

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Once on board, we talked a bit more about our day ahead. Our guides shared some stories, discussing a special event Disney has for its cast members during which they can bring their pets to work and take pictures with them in front of the castle. They also talked about the onsite healthcare staffed with nurses and doctors, onsite pet care, and how easy it is to pick up prescriptions at the onsite pharmacy.

The tour bus was almost full, and there were approximately 40 guests on this tour. Due to the size of the group, many times throughout the day we split into two smaller groups.

Our first stop was a good example of this, as we stopped at the American Adventure in the World Showcase. At this stop, we were given our listening devices, and safety glasses, as we would need both when we were backstage watching the morning test for the American Adventure. During the test, we were able to watch part of the show from behind the rear projection screen, and also viewed the show props and animatronic figures moving on a hydraulic mechanism. Paul discussed how Disney goes to great lengths to make sure that everything is detailed, such as using medical grade glass eyeballs in the audio animatronics as well as real hair and dentures.

After viewing that area, we moved outside into the America Gardens Theatre area. World Showcase was not open yet, so it was considered a backstage area and pictures were not allowed. While we were waiting other cast members were all abuzz as they were filming a wedding with a bride and groom rushing out to a horse-drawn carriage. There were also carriages in Canada and China pavilions, and although at first the guide speculated it was staged, we found out later that it was a real wedding, supposedly being filmed for a reality show that will air sometime in 2017.

After discussing some of the external details of the American Adventure pavilion, we boarded the bus for Costuming, which used to be housed in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (you might remember that the Backlot Tour tram would drive though it), but has been relocated to a new building. Just like when an attraction is removed, and some props are reused in other areas, the old costuming sign from Hollywood studios has been reused in the new building. During this stop, we were shown a wall that contained button and fabric samples of the costumes that are used. We also got an up-close look at two of the costumes from the soon-to-open Rivers of Light show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There were many cast members working on various costumes, however one thing that was impressive is that during the holiday season, a theme is selected and scraps of fabric are used to create teddy bears that are then donated. A similar event where they make pet beds also happens, both of which show how Disney and its cast members like to give back to the community.

Our next stop was Textile Services. This particular location handles laundry from the moderate and deluxe resorts. At the laundry facility, we were given the opportunity to take a special picture, the only one that was allowed in a backstage area. In this photo op, you get to have your picture taken in one of the laundry bags that they use to transport the laundry between sections of the plant.

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At Textile Services, you get to view how they process the sheets and towels, and use machinery to fold them. One of the fun facts that our guides shared with us is that Textile Services has the lowest job turnover (a human resources term for how long employees stay in a particular job). They also told us that Disney requires cast members in guest-facing roles to be able to speak English, but those who don’t can work in an area like Textile Services that doesn't have guest interaction. We were also shown the inspiration for the hallway of doors scene in Monsters, Inc. On the way out, our tour guides coordinated the group in yelling out thank you and waving, as these cast members usually don’t get thanked by guests for their important roles.

We then proceeded to the Wilderness Lodge, where we had lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe.

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This family style, All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Skillet included Slow-smoked Pork Ribs, Barbecued Pulled Pork, Roasted Glazed Chicken, and Western-style Sausage served with Mashed Yukon Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, and Cowboy-style Baked Beans. For dessert we enjoyed the Granny Smith Apple-Caramel Tart.

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This was delicious -- everyone in the group was impressed! The cast members were very good about making sure that the tour members who had dietary restrictions were well taken care of.

After lunch, we discussed some of the Lodge's Christmas decorations before boarding the bus again.

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Our next stop was Central Shops. We toured the facility, where we had an audio-animatronic demonstration using a Tiki bird and also a polar bear from the old Norway pavilion attraction, Maelstrom. While in the shops, we could view many different props and ride vehicles being worked on. One engineer was using a laptop and digitizer to 3D scan an elephant. Another group of technicians was working on making a fiberglass item. We also walked through the paint room where a craftsman was prepping a wooden horse for painting. After viewing the shops we walked across the street to view a storage warehouse.

We then boarded the bus and were off to our last stop, Magic Kingdom, where we were taken though the utilidoors. You may have seen this backstage area if you have ever taken the Keys to the Kingdom tour, although I feel like this visit might have been a little more extensive. We were then brought back on-stage and given a special treat to watch the Festival of Fantasy Parade near the town hall.

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After the parade was finished, we regrouped and made our way backstage to re-board the bus. We then headed back to Epcot where we were given a special commemorative pin only available to guests who take this tour.

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Overall, I was pleasantly surprised on what a great tour this was and recommend that every Walt Disney World fan take it a least once.

The Backstage Magic Tour is currently $275 per person plus tax and can be booked by calling 407-WDW-TOUR. Note that this tour does not require separate park admission so if you are in a situation where you have a day without a park ticket, this tour might be a good choice for you. When booking the tour, be sure to ask about discounts for Chase Disney Visa, Disney Vacation Club, Annual Passholder. (Visit AllEars.Net's Walt Disney World Special Tours and Experiences page for more information about the tours currently offered.)

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 15, 2016

Remembering Walt

Gary Cruise banner

Fifty years ago today, December 15, 1966, the world lost a great man!

His life story has been well documented and I’m sure that those of you reading this are as familiar with his background and his achievements as I am. But on this special day, let’s pause briefly and reflect on the life of Walt Disney and the rich legacy he left for all of us to enjoy.

Walt Disney said “If you can dream it you can do it” and during his life he proved that he was both a dreamer and a doer. He conceived new ideas, daring and wonderful ideas, and then he made them reality.

Yes, he had some significant setbacks over the years but he always rose to the occasion and he overcame them all.

Time Magazine Dec 27 1954

I consider myself very fortunate; I am part of the “Baby Boom Generation” which means that I had the opportunity to see Walt on television every Sunday evening. My entire family watched; Walt was like an uncle, he was warm, caring and always had an interesting or exciting tale to tell us. We seldom missed an episode.

From his humble beginnings he rose to fame and fortune. Walt Disney created an entertainment empire the likes of which the world has never seen. Yet through it all he retained his humility and his focus. To paraphrase one of Walt’s famous quotations, he never forgot that it was all started by a mouse!

Early last summer I had the opportunity to chat with Disney Legend Tom Nabbe who was hired by Walt himself to play Tom Sawyer at Disneyland. As I sat with Tom, enjoying a cocktail in Dayton Ohio, he described his conversations with Walt in the fall of 1955. He was a newsboy at the time; every day after school he sold copies of The Disneyland News in the new theme park. When Tom heard that Walt was planning to build Tom Sawyer’s Island he thought he would be perfect for the role of Tom Sawyer, so he stopped Walt and told him so. That’s the sort of man Walt was, he stopped and listened to a young newsboy. Walt didn’t hire him after that first suggestion, but young Tom was persistent. Over the next six months he would stop Walt almost every time he saw him in the park and ask, “Are you ready to hire me yet Mr. Disney?” Walt would always smile and say, “Not yet, but I’m still thinking about it.”

Then came the pivotal day in May 1956 when Dick Nunis, at that time a manager at Disneyland, led twelve-year-old Tom to the newly built raft landing near Tom Sawyer’s Island. Walt Disney was waiting there and asked, “Do you still want to be Tom Sawyer?” “Yes Mr. Disney, I absolutely do.” Tom replied. His 48 year Disney career began that day.

The reverence Tom Nabbe feels for Walt Disney shone in his eyes throughout our conversation.

Let’s look at the words of a few others who knew Walt personally and worked with him. About 27 years ago the Disney News magazine ran a series of articles, titled “Remembering Walt”, in which some of those people looked back and shared their memories. Click on each image to see a larger, easily readable version.

In the Fall 1989 issue Margaret Kerry, who was the live-action model for Tinker Bell, was featured.

Disney News Fall 1989 page 39

In the Summer 1990 edition Wally Boag, the traveling salesman in the original Golden Horseshoe Revue shared his memories.

Disney News Summer 1990 page 31

In the Fall of 1992 Marc Davis, one of Walt’s “nine old men reflected on the many years he spent working closely with Walt.

Disney News Fall 1992 page 26

The last “Remembering Walt” article, at least the last one in our magazine collection, featured Paul Carlson who had the dubious honour of directing “the Boss” in his first television introductions way back in the mid 1950’s.

Disney News Fall 1993 page 15

Let’s look back at one comment from each of those articles:

Margaret Kerry told us about Walt arriving at a meeting and as someone rose to give him a chair he said, “No, no, no, I’m the one who was late. Sit down.”

Paul Carlson commented, “He told us once that when he gave a guy the responsibility of a director, he also gave him the authority. Whenever I saw him work he would always show respect to the guy he worked with.”

Mark Davis, who worked very closely with Walt for over 30 years told us, “He was a fascinating guy with a lot of ideas, there’s never been anyone like him.”

Wally Boag said, “His mind was brilliant and all of a sudden he was gone. There’s so much more I’d like to have talked to him about.”

Yes Wally, I think we’d all like to talk just a bit more with Walt Disney!

December 12, 2016

A November to remember for Disney Legend Marty Sklar

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Mickey Mouse joins Neil Patrick Harris in presenting Marty Sklar with the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

If there's such a thing as a rock star in the world of amusement parks, it's Marty Sklar.

Who else in the vast Disney cast, current or retired, can draw hundreds of adoring fans to book signings or presentations around the country? Who else would spend five hours signing autographs for nearly 500 people after an event in Chicago this past summer? Who else would be sought out by today's generation of Imagineers to offer his unique insight into projects they're currently working on?

That's right. It's Marty Sklar, rock star.

Marty is someone who understands his place in the history of the Walt Disney Company ... and someone who understands how he's viewed by his former colleagues and his legions of fans. Through it all, he's remained humble about his life's work, yet more than willing to give the people what they want when it comes to his knowledge and perspective on all things Disney.

I've always known how important the former leader of Walt Disney Imagineering is to the history of the Walt Disney Company, how influential he's been. Apparently, Walt Disney's family knew it, too.

It was Walt's surviving family members, starting with son-in-law and former Disney CEO Ron Miller, right down to Walt's many grandchildren, who saw fit to honor Marty Sklar as the second recipient of the prestigious Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award at the Walt Disney Family Museum's annual fund-raising gala on Nov. 1.

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Marty joins the Dapper Dans and belts out a tune with the help of Neil Patrick Harris. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

Marty, surrounded by many members of his own family, as well as numerous members of his extended family, accepted the award in the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland.

"When Ron Miller called me about the award, of course I said yes," Marty told me during a recent interview. "I felt that in accepting the award, I could be useful in helping to raise money for the museum."

For those who don't know him, that's typical Marty. If you're going to give me an award, he's saying, I might as well turn it into a positive thing for you, too.

"I've tried to help out the museum as much as I can over the years," Marty said. "I've visited the museum at least six times in the 10 years since it opened. It means a lot to me to preserve Walt's legacy. Diane Disney Miller [Walt's daughter and the founder of the museum] was always intent on doing just that. I've always appreciated what she tried to do ... to focus on Walt the man, and what he accomplished. That was always her goal."

In Marty's eyes, the museum is a must-see. "It's hard to get past the first section of the museum, it's so enticing. There's a lot of early Disney memorabilia, things that Walt had recorded. All of us who knew and worked with Walt can really appreciate those things. They didn't whitewash anything. It's the whole story of Walt in a direct and interesting way."

And, Marty noted, the Walt Disney Family Museum is branching out, getting involved in educational programs for children in the San Francisco area.

Marty was pleased that many of his family members were able to attend [son Howard, who lives with his family in Finland, couldn't make it]. But during the evening, "There was one thing I screwed up," he said. "I had written a thank you script that I was going to read, but under the circumstances, it was impossible to do that. I wanted to introduce all my family members in the attendance and I wanted to mention that my wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary next May. I didn't get a chance to mention it; fortunately, Leah wasn't mad at me."

Was this the most important award he's ever received?

"The Disney Legend Award will probably always be No. 1. It's the top award given out by the company. But this award is very special, in part because it's only the second time it's ever been given out [the first recipient was composer Richard Sherman, who was on hand during Marty's big night to sing a special song dedicated to his long-time friend]. They started giving out the award after Diane passed away, and it was the members of her family who said that I should be this year's recipient, so that's quite an honor."

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Marty Sklar accepts the Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The night itself was "a lot of fun, in addition to raising a lot of money for the museum," Marty said. Master of ceremonies Neil Patrick Harris surprised Marty by inviting him on stage for an impromptu session with The Dapper Dans, a Disneyland mainstay for decades. "I fumbled a little during the song, but Neil guided me through it."

The Diane Disney Miller Lifetime Achievement Award was the beginning of a typically busy month for Marty, who turns 83 in February.

Later in the month, Marty flew to central Florida for a whirlwind week that would have exhausted most folks half his age. First, he attended the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions [IAAPA] convention in Orlando, where he took part in a panel discussion, adding what he called "context about the industry."

"There were something like 30,000 people from all over the world in attendance" during the convention, Marty said. "They even set up new rides in the parking lot outside the convention center. And they had these little kewpie dolls on sale, which I found very reassuring that this amusement business we've been involved with for decades is going to go on."

On Friday, Nov. 18, Marty gave a talk to a group of about 100 Disney Vacation Club cast members at the DVC headquarters in Celebration. Ryan March, the editor of the Disney Files Magazine, served as the moderator. "I like to do things like that," Marty said of the hour-long session in front of a clearly rapt audience. March added that it was Marty who approached him about doing the presentation.

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Marty is surrounded by his family prior to the Walt Disney Family Museum gala on Nov. 1. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

"It gives me the opportunity to find out what people are thinking. They, of course, look to me to tell them stories of Disney's past in hopes that they can then relate them to what they're doing now. They asked some really good questions, which I really enjoyed."

During the hour-long session, March asked Marty a series of questions about his long career and the many people he's worked with. He started by introducing the Disney Legend to the audience, saying "Marty is one of those rare people who's not interested in who gets the credit," as long as the job is well-done. He then related how Marty started his Disney career in 1955 by creating The Disneyland News, which was sold to guests for 10 cents. To which March added: "I can't believe our company ever sold anything for 10 cents."

Among the questions March asked:

"What's the best advice you ever heard?" Marty: "Don't avoid cliches. They're cliches because they work." That advice came from Star Wars creator George Lucas.

"What did [Disney artist and Legend] Herb Ryman mean when he said 'Poor taste costs no more'?" Marty: "Herb always believed in striving to do your best. He was very clear about that. He believed that if you didn't do your best, lesser ideas would be accepted and become reality."

To reiterate that point, Marty talked about legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who was an inspiration to Marty when he covered the team for the Daily Bruin campus newspaper in the early 1950s. Among Coach Wooden's many famous sayings was this gem: "Make every day your masterpiece."

"People really notice when you don't give it your best shot," Marty added.

In between these events, Marty was invited by several of his Imagineering protégés ["They're all like my kids," he said of the hundreds of people he's inspired over the years] to visit several projects they're currently working on, most notably the much-anticipated Pandora: The World of Avatar land under construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Marty came away from that visit amazed. "Guests will be blown away" when the new land opens during the summer of 2017, he said.

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Marty chats with Neil Patrick Harris in Disney's California Adventure after the awards gala. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

The World of Avatar will feature two cutting-edge attractions, one a boat ride through the Navi River, the other a Soarin'-type flight simulator on the wings of a banshee. "And with Animal Kingdom's new emphasis on night-time shows, Pandora will be over-the-top in the dark," Marty said.

He also was shown the new Frozen attraction at Norway in Epcot and he came away impressed. "The Audio-Animatronics figures are really well-done ... excellent. There was one problem; the boat ride was a little rough in spots."

Marty missed the new holiday show over Lake Buena Vista between the new Disney Springs and Saratoga Resort. "I was sorry I didn't get to see the drones," he said. "From what I've heard, it's really a unique way to present a show outdoors."

To top off his whirlwind week, Marty gave an engrossing presentation at the D23's Destination D: Amazing Adventures, a two-day gathering at The Contemporary Resort. Marty's talk focused on the development of the Adventurelands that are featured in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. He took guests on an audio and visual tour through the early concept days through completion, sprinkling his talk with fascinating stories about many of the people who helped bring those original ideas to life.

During his presentation, Marty showed a photo of Walt Disney talking to guests Disneyland near the entrance of Adventureland. Walt was leaning up against a trash can. "Walt loved to walk through the park and talk to the guests. He wanted to find out what they thought and wanted to see what was working and what wasn't. Here, as you see, Walt's 'office' was a garbage can."

Prior to Marty's presentation at the D23 event, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek updated guests on future attractions coming to Disney, other than Pandora.

Specifically, he mentioned how changes would be coming to Epcot in conjunction with that park's 35th anniversary. Chapek talked about making Epcot "more Disney, more relevant, timeless and more family friendly."

Marty, one of the key architects of Epcot in the 1970s and early 1980s, was happy to hear about the changes. "Over time, a lot of Epcot has become dated. I'm happy to hear they're looking into bringing some new ideas into play. It's time."

After the Destination D event, Marty headed back to southern California, where he ended his month the way he started it: Surrounded by family members for a big celebration, this time Thanksgiving.

Although a bit hectic at times, it was truly, a November to remember for the revered Disney Legend.

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Members of Walt Disney's family were on hand for the gala. From the left are Jennifer Goff, Tammy Miller, Joanne Miller, Walter Miller and Chris Miller. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]
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Neil Patrick Harris joins Disney Legend Richard Sherman for a musical tribute to Marty Sklar. [Photo courtesy of Joe Scarnic/Getty Images]

December 11, 2016

Science At Your Feet

Gary Cruise banner

When you rush through EPCOT’s Future World early in the morning, part of that mad dash toward the standby line at Soarin’, do you ever notice the big circle on the ground?

Most of us don’t see it; we’re all so focused on getting to our next attraction, the next thrill ride, that we totally miss some pretty interesting stuff Disney’s Imagineers have built into the theme parks.

That’s it in the picture below, right in the middle of that big, open concourse.

Ring of Discoveries

That big circle is one of the things that most people walk right over without seeing, but for the few who stop and look, it’s pretty interesting. That odd piece of architecture is a history of scientific discoveries . . . arranged in a series of concentric circles. It’s a round timeline.

At the center are a few quotations from some well known scientists.

Quotation

Quotation

Quotation

Stones marking the most significant discoveries are arranged all around the circle; the oldest discoveries are closest to the center and the most recent are at the outer edge.

Here are a few examples from the Prehistoric Era:

Prehistoric Era Stone Tools

Prehistoric Era Fire

Prehistoric Era Wheel

That first ring, the Prehistoric Era covers a span of about 2 million years, discoveries were slow to develop back at the dawn of civilization. But things accelerated as the centuries passed. By the time of the Renaissance humanity was making great strides. Here are some samples from the Renaissance Period:

Renaissance Period Astronomical Telescope

Renaissance Period Scientific Method

There was another dramatic increase in the rate of change during the period historians refer to as The Industrial Revolution. There were lots of discoveries during the Industrial Revolution:

Industrial Revolution Steam Engine

Industrial Revolution Electric Generator

Industrial Revolution Genetics

Industrial Revolution Electric Light

Industrial Revolution Radio Waves

And the rate at which important discoveries were made increased even more in the 20th Century:

20th Century Quantum Theory

20th Century Airplane

20th Century Television

20th Century Computer

20th Century Nuclear Reactor

20th Century DNA

20th Century World Wide Web

So, the next time you’re rushing off to Soarin’ be sure to take a quick look down to see where that big ring of concentric circles is.

Then once you’ve enjoyed your ride stroll back to that concourse and have a closer look at the visual treat the Imagineers put there for you to enjoy!

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