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November 4, 2013

Jim's Attic: The Dragon Calliope

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

The Dragon Calliope
By Jim Korkis

It continues to amaze me that there are so many hidden treasures at Walt Disney World waiting to be discovered and enjoyed and how often they are bypassed because they are not in the theme parks.

For the 1955 Mickey Mouse Club Circus parade at Disneyland, Walt Disney purchased some authentic turn-of-the-century circus wagons and very carefully restored them. In fact, anything removed from a wagon during the restoration, Walt had preserved.

Walt purchased nine authentic circus wagons from Bradley & Kaye who were using them as decorations outside the entrance to their small amusement park at the corner of Beverly and La Cienga in Los Angeles where Walt would take his young daughters on Sunday outings.


In this purchase was a 1907 twenty whistle steam calliope that was in disrepair.

Its first appearance was in the Mugivan and Bowers shows in England, circa 1907, after which it was sold to Ken Maynard's Diamond K Circus in 1936. At a cost of $50,000, Disney redesigned the calliope to resemble the others in the collection, and adorned its wagon with decorative pieces from some of Disney's other circus wagons transforming it into the Dragon Calliope.


Take a close look at the car behind the engine of Disneyland's Casey Jr. train. The dragon is an exact re-creation of the one on the calliope since it is a circus train.


Many of the circus wagons, as well as the calliope, appear in the Disney live-action film, "Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With a Circus" (1960).

Starring young Kevin Corcoran and based on the well known novel of the same name by James Otis Kaler, the film recounts a young boy running away to work in a circus and becoming a circus star after befriending a mischievous chimp.

The film's world premiere was held January 21, 1960, at the Florida Theater in Sarasota, Florida, the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (now owned and operated by Feld Entertainment, who produce the Disney on Ice shows).

Just as the parade and the credits are ending the movie, the Dragon Calliope comes in to view, followed by the eager Toby Tyler, as music and steam billow from the colorful wagon.

In 1962, Walt would donate the wagons (including the pieces that had been removed) to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where they are taken care of and displayed to this day. However, he kept the Dragon Calliope.


Besides being part of the short-lived Mickey Mouse Club Circus parade, the calliope went on to appear at Disneyland parades until the park's 25th anniversary.

It was repainted silver and blue and pulled by six black Percheron horses when it was relocated to Florida for the Walt Disney World Tencennial celebration in 1981. Since then, it was seen in numerous parades at Walt Disney World, including several Christmas broadcasts until it was retired from parade duty.

To the best of my memory and research, the last time the Dragon Calliope was used was January 2, 2007 in Tallahassee, Florida where Mickey and Minnie Mouse were participants in the inaugural parade for newly-sworn in governor, Charlie Crist. Mickey and Minnie in the calliope were pulled by a team of eight black Percheron horses.

The Tri-Circle-D Ranch at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground at Walt Disney World is now the home for the famous Dragon Calliope.


It is located near another free hidden treasure, a small exhibit, named Walt Disney Horses dedicated to Walt's love of horses and to the different roles horses do at Walt Disney World.

I hope some of you will now go track down these wonderful hidden treasures, take pictures, and share their location with your friends and family.

Special thanks to TCD for the photographs.

Please note, since writing this blog we have learned that the Dragon Calliope is no longer on display at Fort Wilderness.

Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis

Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

November 5, 2013

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream

disneyland-story.jpgEDITOR'S NOTE: Over the next few weeks, AllEars.Net will be highlighting exclusive excerpts from Sam Gennawey's new book, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream. The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream is the story of how Walt Disney's greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Despite his successors' battles with the whims of history and their own doubts and egos, Walt's vision maintained momentum, thrived, and taught future generations how to do it Walt Disney's way. The Disneyland Story is available for preorder (click on the image at left to link to Amazon) and will hit the bookshelves mid-November.

Fantasyland: Not Needed But Necessary
by Sam Gennawey

The guest's fancy now fully engaged, he or she might next want to visit Fantasyland, the land that Walt intended to be "the world of imagination, hopes, and dreams." In a bold move, Walt put at the center of his park a tribute to a film that would not be released for another four years. Sleeping Beauty Castle was the gateway to Fantasyland, and it would become the most recognizable and photographed element in all of Disneyland. Walt knew that a "castle is fantasy in any language." To support the fanciful illusion, Bill Evans surrounded the castle with plantings that were fun, unrestrained, and had a bit of whimsy. He used lacy elm trees that sparkled when lit by twinkle lights tied to the branches.

Walt had put artist Herb Ryman on the project in 1953. The design was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria in southern Germany. Harriet Burns made several small models (6 to 8 inches tall) of the castle and had Herb Ryman and Eyvind Earle paint them. Earle's version was trimmed in black, red and gold. The turrets were different colors, orange, black, pink, red, purple, and yellow. In Ryman's version, the turrets were all blue like slate. It was felt that Ryman's castle would look better against the blue sky.

At some point during the design process, Walt had told Ryman that his interpretation was a little too realistic. Still Ryman continued on his own course. When the team gathered for the final design sign-off meeting with Walt, the model was as realistic as it had been when Walt had expressed his concern. At the very last minute, just before Walt joined the meeting, Ryman removed the top of the model and turned it around. Everybody complained that Walt would be mad, but Ryman knew better. Walt took one look and gave his approval.

During construction, Herb Ryman added the Disney family crest above the entrance and placed the castle in a park-like setting. Ryman added also another special touch: 22-karat gold-leafed spires. Walt had authorized the expense while Roy Disney was away on vacation. On a visit to Disneyland many years later, Author Ray Bradbury saw a spire on the side of the castle that he described as "a duplicate of the convoluted and beauteous spire Viollet-le-Duc raised atop Notre-Dame 100 years ago." Bradbury called John Hench and asked, "John, how long has Viollet-le-Duc's spire been on the side of Sleeping Beauty's Castle?" Hench replied, "Thirty years." Bradbury remarked that he had never noticed it before and asked who put it there? Hench said, "Walt." When asked why, Hench said, "Because he loved it." Bradbury said it was "something not needed but needed, not necessary but necessary."

Just beyond the drawbridge was the Fantasyland courtyard. Bill Martin placed the carousel in the center with the Teacups and Pirate Ship to the back. The rides were placed in two 60- by 100-foot prefabricated show buildings to each side. Since they were working with limited money, Martin had the Masonite facades painted like tournament tents, creating a festive carnival flavor. Below the pastel-colored awnings were signs made of shields, ticket booths inside of striped tents, and flags and banners hung from lance-point flagpoles. The overall tone was heavily influenced by Eyvind Earle's drawings for the film Sleeping Beauty.

The castle seemed to have a power of its own. John Hench suggested, "If you walked up and asked a guest WHY he likes the castle, WHY it is worth photographing? He could never tell you. He'd probably stammer out something like, 'Because it's just beautiful.' And yet, when he gets back home and shows his pictures, the feeling will never be the same that he experiences simply standing there." Hench explained, "The fact is, as we stand here right now, there are literally hundreds of stimuli etching an impression and an experience in our minds through every one of our senses."
He noted that the most obvious was the sense of sight, but the experience runs even deeper. "There is a static nature about the castle structure itself that makes you think it's been standing there for centuries," said Hench. "And yet there is motion. The motion of those flags, and the trees around us made by the wind. The movement of people, vehicles and boats, water, balloons, horses, and the white clouds passing by overhead." He also suggested standing in front of the castle was "the best stereo or quad system in the world" with "an ever-changing background." The rock work, the horses, appeal to the guest's sense of touch, and the flowers are real and one can smell them. Finally, "That popcorn, you can go over and taste it." The result was that "every one of our senses are coming into play," said Hench. "This is total involvement. You can never capture this moment and take it home with you in a camera or tape recorder. You can only take this experience home in your mind."
Ray Bradbury said, "In Disneyland, Walt has proven again that the first function of architecture is to make men over, make them wish to go on living, feed them fresh oxygen, grow them tall, delight their eyes, make them kind." He proclaimed, "Disneyland liberates men to their better selves. Here the wild brute is gently corralled, not used and squashed, not put upon and harassed, not tramped on by real-estate operators, nor exhausted by smog and traffic."

November 10, 2013

Disneyland’s Christmas Overlays

Gary Cruise banner

I was pleased when I recently read on the Disney Parks Blog that there will be a special "Christmas Overlay" at The Jungle Cruise.

They explained it as follows: Beginning in early November, Jungle Cruise at both Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom Park will temporarily transform into "Jingle Cruise" for the holiday season! In this new seasonal storyline of the attraction, the Skippers have grown homesick for the holidays, so they've added holiday cheer to the Jungle Cruise queue and boathouse with decorations that have been mailed to them from home (plus a few they've created themselves). The Skippers have also added a slew of new jokes to their tours that are the perfect way to get guests in the holiday spirit. Additionally, Jungle Cruise boats have been renamed with the holidays in mind, and if guests listen carefully, they may hear a holiday-themed radio broadcast playing in the background.

Great news! Carol and I will be visiting the Magic Kingdom for a few weeks in November/December and we will be sure to visit this classic old attraction to see the new holiday spin they put on it.

Do you suppose that overlays like those they do in California might follow at Florida attractions in years to come? I sure hope so! We used to really enjoy the Christmas Overlay at Country Bear Jamboree and we were very disappoinited when it was discontinued in 2005.

Carol and I have visited the Disney Parks in California several times during the holiday season and the overlays at It's A Small World and The Haunted Mansion have absolutely blown us away!

These are not just little cosmetic makeovers; each of the attractions is closed for a few weeks while the special holiday treats are added. The results are simply wonderful!

Let me show you what I mean . . . pictures tell the story much better than I can. First, a word about the pictures - some are not the best of quality since they were taken in a dark ride and we didn't use a flash. I never use a flash in a dark ride and I'm always annoyed when others do. 'Nuff said!

Both Carol and I prefer the Disneyland version of the It's A Small World attraction. You board your boat outside, in front of a three-dimensional façade with stylized cutout turrets, towers and minarets; look closely and you'll see some world landmarks. The 30 foot clock with that big smiling face rocks back and forth and every fifteen minutes colourful wooden dolls parade as the clock announces the time. It is quite captivating every time you approach.


But at Christmas that façade is festooned with thousands of lights and it becomes a holiday wonderland of color. WOW!


The lights put a magical glow on the topiaries you sail past before you enter the interior, but the holiday magic doesn't end there. In each of the rooms there are special holiday displays. Watch very carefully and you will see that some of the dolls are now dressed in holiday costumes. Cutaway snowmen with carrot noses welcome you to the Ho-Ho-Holidays"


There is a mailbox for letters to Santa!


Banners wish you Joyeuses Fetes, Feliz Navidad, Happy Holidays, Mele Kelikimaka, Happy Hanukah, Peace on Earth and many other holiday greetings.





And wait . . . what is that I hear? Are those dolls singing Jingle Bells and Hark the Herald Angels Sing?

Yes they are . . . NICE!


This year It's A Small World was scheduled to close from October 21st through November 7th while the overlay was installed. It will run until early January. If you're there, be sure to visit during the evening, but allow plenty of time. That area of the park is very busy over the holidays!

The Haunted Mansion is one of our absolute favourite attractions and once again, we prefer the California version. We especially enjoy it during October, November and December during the seasonal transformation! The seasonal magic begins as you approach; Jack Skellington is perched on the gate as you enter and hundreds of pumpkins adorn the mansion.




Once you are in the "Stretching Room" you begin to see some differences . . . in fact nothing is the same. Jack Skellington and his Halloweentown cronies have taken over! Oogie Boogie and a huge cast of creepy spooks wait as you board your Doom Buggy.



The entire sound track has been modified and everything you have always enjoyed in the mansion is different. It has always been spooky, but during the holidays it's creepy-spooky!

As you leave the library and your Doom Buggy turns to travel backwards your eyes drift upward to find a giant man-eating wreath singing a chilling song!

The attic where Constance Hatchaway, the bride with the hatchet, and her five husbands normally appear has been piled full of frightful gifts. Some are ticking, some are growling, wait . . . did that one just move?


Jack Skellington and Zero have replaced the gravedigger and his dog to welcome you to the graveyard!

(Confession - I used a flash for this picture - the ride was shut down, the lights were on and we were being walked out)

Those singing busts in the cemetery have a new, even more sinister look!


Are those angels blowing their trumpets? I think not!


There are no hitchhiking ghosts as you exit, instead Oogie Boogie spins a wheel which assigns you a trick or a treat . . . but don't be expecting any treats as you round that last corner.


What a joy! Carol and I are both fans of Nightmare Before Christmas and it is a real pleasure to see two of our favourites combined this way! We ride it again and again!

It's A Small World and The Haunted Mansion in California have been overlaid for the holidays for the last 16 years and 12 years respectively. I sure hope that the recent announcement about The Jungle Cruise means we might be getting more seasonal overlays in Florida sometime in the near future!

November 12, 2013

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream, Part 2

disneyland-story.jpgEDITOR'S NOTE: Over the next few weeks, AllEars.Net will be highlighting exclusive excerpts from Sam Gennawey's new book, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream. The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream is the story of how Walt Disney's greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Despite his successors' battles with the whims of history and their own doubts and egos, Walt's vision maintained momentum, thrived, and taught future generations how to do it Walt Disney's way. The Disneyland Story is available for preorder (click on the image at left to link to Amazon) and hits the bookshelves mid-November.

All Jumpers
by Sam Gennawey

At the center of the courtyard and the heart of Fantasyland was the King Arthur Carrousel. As far back as 1939, a merry-go-round was included in the plans for the park. Walt greatly admired the one in Griffith Park and asked the then owner, Ross Davis, if he could find one just like his for Disneyland. Davis told Walt that his was a one-of-a-kind machine built in 1926 from Spillman Engineering and it was the last one in existence with four-abreast "Jumpers." The carousel was brought to Griffith Park in 1937.

Most carousels featured different types of horses, classified by their body positions. A "Listener" is posed with one ear forward and one ear back. A "Star Gazer" holds his head back, eyes upward. The "Top Knot Pony" has a heavy forelock, which seems blown straight up by the wind. Most prized of all were "Jumpers," with all four feet off the ground. Walt Disney wanted only "Jumpers" for his carousel.

Ross Davis found a carousel at Sunnyside Park in Toronto, Canada, that had been built in 1922 by William Dentzel of Philadelphia. The original was a menagerie-style carousel with horses, cats, deer, and giraffes. The ride was so finely balanced that one person could make it spin. Walt wanted to heavily modify the carousel for Disneyland. He wanted it to be four abreast, all horses, and all 'jumpers' like the one at Griffith Park so he hired Davis to repaint and repair the horses. In exchange, Walt gave Davis the unused figures.

Arrow Development did the engineering, including new crankshafts to operate the four rows of horses. Things were moving along until they hit a road bump. They ran out of 'jumpers.' Luckily, Davis found some in storage beneath the Coney Island pier designed by Charles I. D. Loofa and some others from George Whitney's Playland in San Mateo, California.

King Arthur's Carrousel featured 72 horses, all considered "outside" horses. That meant they had a highly detailed right side, considered the "romance side" since it faces out to the public. They were the very best and they were interchangeable. The horses were painted a variety of colors. Guests had a choice of black, tan, brownish red, and gray.

When they first started the carousel, they discovered that the electric brake would stop the ride too quickly and one day they broke the gear teeth out. They could not find any replacement gears, so they asked Bud Hurlbut if he could help. He had a similar Dentzel machine at Knott's Berry Farm that was delivered without the bull gears, so he fabricated a set himself. He found an old machinery handbook and figured out the tooth pattern. As it turned out, these were exactly the same gears that were needed for the Disneyland carousel.

Imagineer Bruce Bushman designed the high-peaked canopy, which hid the outer rim and showed off the horses at a distance. Although the 70-foot canopy appeared to be made of fabric, it was actually made of aluminum. The band organ came from a collection of 50 such machines that Walt purchased through Hurlbut in 1954. The collection of horses grew to 85 so that a "four on, four off" maintenance schedule could be maintained.

November 13, 2013

Experience the Exotic Flavors of Africa at Jiko

Andrew Rossi

A visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge is a truly immersive experience. This resort, quite possibly better than any other at Disney World, completely transports Guests to an entirely different world. While its open savannah with its array of animals gets much of the attention, Animal Kingdom Lodge has so much more to offer. The resort is truly a celebration of African culture and this is reflected as soon as Guests enter into the awe-inspiring lobby. The architectural design of the Jambo House lobby reflects the detail of African craftsmanship, with its thatched ceilings and intricate wood carvings. Meanwhile, the large windows help to highlight the African-inspired landscape of the savannah just outside. Throughout the lobby are numerous examples of African art, including masks, headdresses, paintings, pottery, and carvings, all of which lend an even greater sense of immersion.


Of course, no cultural experience would be complete without showcasing the cuisine and Animal Kingdom Lodge delivers with three tremendous full service restaurants. With Sanaa at Kidani Village and Boma and Jiko at Jambo House, visitors to Animal Kingdom Lodge have no shortage of dining options to choose from. Each of these restaurants provides their own unique twist on African cuisine and has something different to offer, but it is Jiko that stands out as the resort's Signature dining option.


Jiko is the Swahili word for "cooking place," making it an apt name for this restaurant. Being one of Disney's Signature restaurants, Jiko offers a truly unique and memorable dining experience. Just as Animal Kingdom as a whole seeks to immerse Guests into African culture, Jiko highlights various aspects of African cuisine while also providing its own unique spin by blending in elements of Indian and Mediterranean flavors. In addition to its cuisine, Jiko has received notoriety for its vast array of African wines. Combined, this helps to make Jiko one of Disney's most exotic dining experiences, showcasing African flavors made with the freshest ingredients.

Being a Signature dining location, you know that you can expect the highest quality in all facets of the dining experience. This Signature status also means that Jiko features a dress code. Men are encouraged to wear khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts, and collared shirts. Sport coats are optional. For women it is suggested that they wear capris, skirts, dresses, jeans, dress shorts. There are also certain articles of clothing that are not allowed in the dining room, such as tank tops, swimwear, hats, cut-off or torn clothing. Jiko's Signature status also helps to make it a very popular dining destination. As such, reservations are highly recommended and should be made well in advance.

Jiko is a completely immersive experience and it really all begins with the restaurant's color palette. As soon as you enter the dining room, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the bold, blue ceiling overhead.


Standing out in stark contrast to the deep blue are dozens of bird-like structures suspended from the ceiling, which are also a sign of good luck.


The restaurant's effective use of color continues down to the walls, which can feature warm red, orange, yellow, and gold tones. Throughout the course of your meal the lighting and coloring on the walls will actually change to mimic an African sunset. The effect is subtle, but beautifully done.

The restaurant features some other striking characteristics. Upon entering, Guests are first greeted by a wall of wine, with the bottles held in very unique display racks. At Jiko, its wines play as important a role as its cuisine in introducing Guests to the flavors of Africa. In fact, Jiko features the largest selection of African wines at any restaurant outside of the continent.


As you progress from the Jiko's bar area to the main dining room, the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows really become evident.


These massive windows overlook a beautiful water feature strewn with boulders and also offer tremendous sunsets views. The windows likewise help to bring a little of the outdoors into the restaurant, as the natural environment is such an important aspect of African life.


Another unique feature of Jiko is its open kitchen. Here you can watch as chefs prepare appetizers utilizing two large and colors wood-burning ovens.


One of the great features of this open kitchen is that it is surrounded by a counter where Guests can sit to enjoy their meal. This is where I had the opportunity to dine while I was here and it makes for a very memorable experience. There is no added cost for sitting at this counter and it allows for Guests to observe and converse with the chefs as they prepare various dishes.


The décor of the restaurant is very subtle with a few themed elements, such as the columns which are adorned with gold rings. The rings represent the neck rings worn by women of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa, which are a symbol of beauty and wealth.

Overall, Jiko's décor is one that relies more on color, lighting, and texture rather than decoration, but it still distinctly African in look and feel. It is a restaurant that has a simple elegance about it that help make it the perfect destination for a romantic night out. It's quiet and intimate setting combined with its beautifully exotic feel help make Jiko one of the most unique dining experiences in Disney World.

The Menu:
Just as Jiko's atmosphere goes a long way in immersing Guests into the culture of Africa, the restaurant's menu plays an equally important role. It is a menu that is constantly changing depending upon what ingredients are fresh and in season yet always highlights the unique flavors, tastes, and ingredients of African cuisine.

The menu features an array of appetizers including the Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin ($17.00) with pap, chakalaka, white truffle oil, and cilantro, South African Vetkoek ($12.00), which are three house-made Naan pastries filled with herb-braised rabbit, coconut-egg curry, and vegetable curry, Inguday Tibs in Brik ($10.00) featuring mushrooms, spinach, and cheese in crispy filo with a curry vinaigrette, Fire Roasted Oysters on Half Shell ($17.00) with lemon butter, house-made hot sauce, horseradish, and smoked tatsoi, the Taste of Africa ($9.00) including an assortment of African inspired dips with pappadam, poppy seed lavosh, and house-made naan, and an Artisanal Cheese Selection ($15.00).

Also available as appetizers are a selection of flatbreads baked in the restaurant's wood-burning ovens. These include Roxanne's Kitfo Leb Leb ($13.00) topped with beef carpacio, feta cheese, pistachio-basil pesto, berbere, and tomatoes, KG's Peri-Peri Roasted Chicken ($10.00) topped with lime chakalaka, lamb chopper cheese, and pickled sweet bell peppers, and the Roasted Cauliflower ($10.00) topped with masala, roasted cipollini onions, lamb chopper cheese, and mitmita gremolata. There are also a few soups and salads to choose from such as the "Mozambique-Style" Tomato Salad ($15.00) with heirloom tomatoes, peaches, avocado, mache, arugula, and feta cheese, the Jiko Salad ($15.00) with heirloom spiced melon, rockett, mizuna, peppered chevre, and a blackberry vinaigrette, and the Taktouka Tomato Soup ($10.00) featuring vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, and purple haze grilled cheese.

The entrée choices feature everything from seafood to chicken to beef and even vegetarian options. While some of the ingredients may seem a little exotic, the servers are very helpful in explaining each of the dishes if you have questions. One may think that African cuisine is very spicy, while this is true of some of the dishes, there are others that are not.
Among the entrée offerings are the Spicy Botswana-Style Beef Short Rib ($42.00) served with cassava-potato puree, sambal, mushrooms and fava beans, "Nigeria-Style" Pan-Roasted Whole Local Sea Bass ($46.00) accompanied by sweet potatoes, red sauce, and chili pepper pickle, West African "Jerked Scallops" ($35.00) with basmati rice, red quinoa, baby rainbow carrots, and coconut curry sauce, Curry-Rubbed Lamb Loin ($37.00) with cauliflower puree, eggplant-artichoke zaalouk, and olive-walnut tapenade, Seared Barbarie Duck Breast ($40.00) accompanied by potato and spinach masala, royal trumpet mushrooms, and port emulsion, Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon ($45.00) served with an ancient grain pilaf, heirloom pole beans, and South African red wine sauce, Tagine Chicken ($34.00) with preserved lemon, artichokes, olives, cinnamon couscous, harissa, and saffron jus, and a "Braai Pie" ($29.00), a pastry filled with squash, sunchokes, carrots, garbonzo beans, and wilted greens.

If you still have room for dessert, the choices include a Milk Tart ($11.00) with gooseberry jam and goat's milk balsamic ice cream, Kenyan Coffee Creme Brulee ($9.00), Cheesecake ($9.00) with white chocolate, toasted coconut, mango sauce, and pineapple chile sorbet, the Chocolate and Tea Safari ($10.00) featuring a Tanzanian chocolate cake, free form "kit kat," and green tea ice cream , and the Cinnamon-Chocolate Flourless Cake ($10.00) with sesame crisp, chocolate sauce and herb-citrus salad.

I decided to start my meal with the Taste of Africa ($9.00). This appetizer came with an assortment of three different types of breads and four sauces for dipping. The first type of bread was pappadam, a thin, crisp Indian bread made from lentil flour. Next was poppy seed lavash, a thin, crispy flatbread. Finally there was naan, a slightly thicker oven-baked flatbread of Eastern Indian origin. The sauces were bhuna masala, a curry consisting of tomato, coconut, tamarind, and chili peppers, sagh dahl, made with lentils, spinach, garlic, and chilis, Moroccan chermoula, with a mixture of herbs, oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and salt, and kalamata hummus, made from mashed chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and olives.


With each of the breads having different consistencies and textures and each of the sauces varying in degrees of spiciness, this appetizer made for a lot of different combinations. It was a great way for being able to sample a wide variety of different African flavors.

For my entrée I had heard many people rave about Jiko's Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon ($45.00). However, whereas the dish is now served with an ancient grain pilaf, it had for a long time been accompanied by macaroni and cheese. When I inquired about this to my server he commented that it is still a common request and they would be more than happy to prepare the dish that way.


The filet was extremely tender and juicy, just slightly seasoned so that the spices did not overpower the steak but rather helped to enhance its flavor. Topping the filet was a red wine sauce, made from an African wine reduction, which provided a slight sweetness that paired perfectly with the steak and provided a contrast to the spices it was seasoned with. Finally, the macaroni and cheese was incredible. It might seem like an odd accompaniment for a filet, but the two paired together extremely well. Rich and creamy, the macaroni and cheese also absorbed some of the juice from the steak and blended well with the red wine sauce. Overall, this was an extremely flavorful dish. While Jiko's menu may have many items that appeal to more adventurous diners, this filet is something that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Just as a Signature restaurant offers the utmost in terms of high-quality food, drink, and atmosphere, the service is likewise some of the best to be found in any Disney dining locations. The service at Jiko was certainly on par with that I have received at other Signature dining locations across property. From the moment I was seated my server was extremely attentive to my needs. Being my first time dining at Jiko, I was very appreciative that my server took time to explain many of the items on the menu, giving recommendations on those dishes that were a little more on the spicy side and those that were less so. With a menu featuring so many ingredients that many people may be unfamiliar with, it was very helpful to have someone explaining how each dish was prepared. Aided by the fact that severs at Signature restaurants usually have fewer tables that they are waiting upon, my server was always checking in to see if I needed anything and to make sure all the food was to my liking. There were also little touches throughout the meal that helped make the dining experience special. This started with a hot towel being brought out prior to the start of the meal to wash my hands, a small sample of a salmon cake appetizer the chefs had just prepared, and a complimentary pistachio cookie following the meal. It is all these things that help separate the service at Signature dining locations.

Dining on a Budget:
Being a Signature restaurant, dining on a budget is something that is a little difficult to do at Jiko. However, although the menu is a little pricey, you are absolutely getting what you pay for in terms of quality. If you are going to splurge for on a meal while visiting Disney World, this would be one of the dining locations to do it at. That being said, if you are looking for a more economical experience at Jiko the best bet would be to try one of the restaurant's flatbreads. Ranging in price from $10 to $13, these flatbreads are a good-sized portion and could easily be paired with another appetizer or a dessert to make for a relatively inexpensive meal. Another thing to keep in mind if you are really in the mood for African cuisine (but at a cheaper price) is one of the Animal Kingdom Lodge's other dining options, Sanaa. Located at Kidani Village, this restaurant still offers similar exotic African flavors to those found at Jiko but in a slightly more casual setting and with more affordable prices.

Jiko is on the Disney Dining Plan, but as a Signature restaurant is worth two table service credits. The restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland, giving members a 20% discount. However, there are no additional discounts for Annual Passholders or Disney Vacation Club Members.

The Overall Experience:
Animal Kingdom Lodge has always been among my favorite Disney resorts thanks to its tremendous theming and attention to detail. As soon as you set foot into the lobby, you become completely immersed in African culture and it is easy to forget that you are in the middle of Disney World. Animal Kingdom Lodge is also home to some of the most unique and exotic dining experiences on property. I have always been a big fan of Boma and Sanaa, but now after finally trying Jiko I can safely add this to my list of must-do Disney dining locations. Combining the exotic elegance of the restaurant's atmosphere with the exotic flavors and tastes of Africa, Jiko is a culinary adventure the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else at Disney World. While it might be a little more on the expensive side, this is one Signature restaurant that is definitely worth the price.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Jiko and post your own too!

November 15, 2013

The Billies – I’m Sure Going To Miss Them

Gary Cruise banner

I was shocked and very disappointed when I read recently on the Disney Parks Blog that Disneyland was "retiring" Billy Hill & the Hillbillies after a very successful 21 year run. The show - and the players in the show - are all being retired after their last performance on Monday, January 6, 2014.

Carol and I stumbled onto "The Billies" quite by accident during our first visit to Disneyland in 2005. We wandered into the Golden Horseshoe Tavern for a snack and had no idea what was in store for us when the four Billies appeared on stage as we ate. Within seconds we were laughing so hard it was impossible to eat. Our chicken tenders and fries were soggy from all those tears of laughter.


They perform a short, but high-energy show featuring rousing country, rock and bluegrass music combined with corny jokes and hilarious sight gags. It appeals to Disney fans of all ages. WOW - what a treat.

I immediately wondered why there wasn't a similar show at the Diamond Horseshoe Tavern in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

In the years since 2005 we have taken the 2,500 mile flight west to Disneyland another eight times and in our nine Disneyland trips we have never missed The Billies! We try to get there early to get the best seats in the house!


The cast seems to be comprised of a couple of teams of players who rotate through their schedule of shows, but no matter who is performing, their show always leaves us rolling on the floor - convulsing with laughter.




I suspect that I enjoy The Billies a tiny bit more than Carol . . . but she humors me and sits through the show several times during each of our trips to the west coast. We have seen the boys perform as many as four times in a week-long trip. Yes, I do enjoy them that much!



From the moment in the show where the lead Billy, Kirk Wall, puts in the false set of buck teeth he calls his "pros-TEETH-is" I begin to giggle and I don't stop until long after the show is over. Those teeth transform Billy (Kirk) from a classical violin virtuoso into a redneck lunatic.





Billy (Kirk) interacts with the audience in a way which captivates adults and children alike. Everyone in the building is singing, tapping, clapping and laughing.


Over the years we've howled through a Beatles tribute . . .



An Elvis tribute . . .



Billy (Dennis Fetchet) doing his "train thang" and an almost impossibly fast version of Orange Blossom Special . . .

And a Riverdance spoof they call "Puddle Prance" . . .


Who can forget the awesome performance Kirk Wall and Dennis Fetchet always deliver with their version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia". Awesome!



In December 2012 we saw their show at Big Thunder Ranch but the last time we saw them, May 17, 2013, the troupe was back in the Golden Horseshoe. It was good that we saw them "back home" that final time!



I understand that the parks need to change things up from time to time - things have to stay current and fresh - but I sure wasn't ready to say goodbye to The Billies. I'm going to miss them a lot! They were one of my major sources of joy at Disneyland and when they are gone they will leave a very large hole in my Disneyland experience.


I cannot make a trip west before the boys "retire", but if you can make it to Disneyland before January 6th do not miss Billy Hill & the Hillbillies. The guys put on a fantastic show and you will be glad you took the time to see it. If you make it in time, please pass on my personal thanks for all those years of quality entertainment and wish them all the best, wherever they land in the future!

Ladies and gentlemen, The Billies have left the building!

November 16, 2013

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - November 2013



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® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design. The puzzles have some sort of Disney theme, of course, but will not be restricted to the Disney theme parks. The type of puzzle is up to James. Also up to him? The bestowing of a prize -- a collectible Disney pin from his extensive collection.

Around the middle of each month, James also Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting a puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. Again, the subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

Here's the link to this month's puzzle:


So... Think you know Disney inside and out? Put on your thinking cap!

This month we are starting a completely new series on the early cartoons of the traditional Disney characters. Where else would we start but with the Big Cheese himself, Mickey Mouse?

The object is of course to have fun, BUT if you want a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, arrange the letters that are circled in the puzzle to come up with the answer to the bonus question, which relates to the puzzle theme.

There is a word bank for this puzzle, but beware, ALL of the words in the word bank are NOT used in the puzzle.

Send your resulting answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com

Send the bonus term or phrase no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on December 7, 2013. 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, along with a new puzzle, in mid-December.




Here is the answer key to last month's Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:


As many of you knew (171 in fact), the bonus clue answer was Safari Village, the original name of the central area, or 'hub' of the Animal Kingdom. The name was changed sometime in 2000-2001 to Discovery Island, which was also the name of the small zoological island in the middle of DIsney's Bay Lake that closed in 1999. Discovery Island, which is surrounded by the Discovery River, is home to Animal Kingdom's icon, The Tree of Life.

Greg and Mary K., whose entry was picked at random from all of the correct responses, won this month's Disney collectible pin.

Thanks for playing, everyone!

We hope you enjoy this Mousy Mindboggler, and we welcome any comments or suggestions. And if you have an idea for a puzzle theme that you'd like to see, drop James a line at dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com. Thanks!

November 18, 2013

Jim's Attic: Where in the World is the Rocketeer?

Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

"The Rocketeer" (1991) is one of my all-time favorite movies and I am grateful that elements from the actual film can still be enjoyed at Disney Hollywood Studios.

As part of the Summer 1991 promotion for the film, a live Rocketeer lifted off by jet pack and flew out and above the Chinese Theater courtyard during each evening's presentation of the "Sorcery in the Sky" fireworks show.

Even today, on the left side of the forecourt with the cement handprints and autographs of other actual celebrities, visitors can find the imprints of the boots and "blast marks" of The Rocketeer in cement, reminiscent of a scene planned for the final film.

A location for original props from The Rocketeer that might be missed by guests visiting Disney Hollywood Studios is the Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant. If these items are still present and if you ask politely, the servers might let you wander briefly down the aisles that look like the back of theatrical flats that lead into the main dining area.

On the left side, down to the right and near the bottom is the black and gold front cover of the South Seas Club menu-secured under plexiglass. The South Seas Club was the scene of a showdown between the Rocketeer and villain Neville Sinclair and his thugs.

Wandering a little farther down, just before the entrance to the main dining area, high on the left wall is a rocket pack that was used in the actual film. Directly to the right and about waist level and protected by plexiglass is a prop copy of the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper with the headline "Who is the Rocketeer?"

It is amazing to examine these artifacts up close-to see the care and effort that was put into something that might have been glimpsed just briefly in the actual film.

When Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, in the Echo Lake park area had the Lakeside News, a newsstand selling comic books and publications like old issues of "Life" magazine and other souvenirs. By 1991, to theme in with The Rocketeer, it became Peevy's Polar Pipeline, featuring "Frozen Coca-Cola Concoctions" as well as regular soft drinks, water, and snacks.

The interior of the location is filled with welding tanks, gauges and other mechanical items that might have been found in Ambrose "Peevy" Peabody's workshop in 1938. Peevy was the best friend of Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer. Very prominently displayed on the left side wall is a Rocketeer helmet and below it is a rocket jet pack.

Many versions of the Rocketeer helmet were made for the film because, in those days, before CGI became common, the stunts were performed by live stunt men or through the use of miniature models. The helmet showcased at Peevy's is obviously a stunt helmet because it is wider and has larger eye lenses.

This helmet was meant to form around a sky-diving helmet and designed to be easy to "break away" in case an emergency arose during the stunt. The helmet is wider than the "hero helmet" (the prop used by the main actor and in close-ups) for that reason and there is a slight splitting along the side seams common among the stunt helmets for the film. The eye lens area is larger to give the stunt person greater visibility.

Moving closer to the posted menus on either side of the location will also reveal the blueprints for the rocket jet pack behind the items listed for sale.

A Rocketeer jetpack was on display area in the "One Man's Dream" attraction, but has now been removed.

I am sure that several readers may also recall when items like Cliff Secord's GeeBee flying racer and the Bulldog Diner were once prominent items on the Backlot Tour. I think I'll go watch the film again and then visit DHS.


Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim Korkis


Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com:
The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
Who's Afraid of the Song of the South AND

"The REVISED Vault of Walt":

BOOK REVIEW: The Vault of Walt: Volume 2: MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told


Vault of Walt Volume 2
Jim Korkis has followed his books "The Vault of Walt: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told" (2010, Ayefour Publishing, out of print) and "The Revised Vault of Walt" (2012, Theme Park Press) with "The Vault of Walt: Volume 2: MORE Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told" (2013, Theme Park Press. Readers may be familiar with Korkis' work through his frequent contributions to the AllEars Newsletter and blogs, and if you like his unique combination of history and storytelling, you will love Volume 2.

Korkis grew up in Glendale, California, and Mrs. Margaret Disney, the wife of Walt Disney's older brother, Herbert, was his first grade teacher. When he learned of her connection to Walt Disney, Korkis drew a picture of Jiminy Cricket to give to her. "I proudly gave the drawing to Mrs. Disney in the hope she would rush to the Disney Studios where, without a doubt, I would be instantly offered a job so that I wouldn't have to learn any multiplication tables (which I still do not know to this day)."

Well, he didn't get a job with the Disney Company until 1995, but that did not stop young Korkis from setting out immediately on a path to his future. He recounts that at the age of twelve he wrote down the names rolling through the credits of the weekly Disney television program then went through the phone book and made some calls. Many of the people he reached were kind enough to speak with him about his Disney passion, and luckily for us, he either took notes or recorded the conversations. Those conversations, others he has had with Disney personalities throughout the years, and facts dug up through extensive research, make up much of the content of the book, and provide the basis for the engaging stories that are told there.

Korkis sets out to preserve unwritten and potentially forgotten Disney stories before they disappear forever. He does so in a bright and engaging manner, capturing the reader with vividly drawn tableaux. The book is organized as a series of stand-alone tales, so they can be read independently from each other. They are grouped by theme: Walt Disney stories; Disney film stories; Disney Park stories; and other Disney stories. While there are some facts that are repeated in several stories, it is not necessary to read them in the order in which they are presented. A reader could easily sit down and plow through the entire book in one sitting (it is that entertaining!), or could choose to "dip" in for only one or two chapters. The tone is easy and conversational, while still conveying a LOT of facts. You almost feel that you are sitting in a cozy chair and having the conversations yourself.

Korkis has included a handy index, so fans of particular personages, films or parks can find their interests quickly and easily. The selected bibliography provides additional resources for those who want to dig into a particular subject more deeply.

Here are a few tidbits from the book that I found quite interesting:

Walt Disney Stories

Korkis makes many connections between experiences Walt had early in his life had significant impact on the work that many of us are now very familiar with. In the chapter about Walt's early childhood and teenage years in Chicago, Korkis recounts that the stories about working in the construction of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair that Walt's father Elias told him, obviously had an impact: "It was a place where an entire family could go to have fun together, and it was educational and entertaining. Obviously, those concepts greatly influenced Walt's thinking about a future entertainment venue, in particular, EPCOT." It is clear that Elias' experiences with the 1893 World's Fair led Walt to his own involvement in the 1964 New York World's fair, with several of the attractions developed for that fair still in use in Disney Parks today.

Disney Film Stories

I took great pleasure in the fact that the subjects of section of the book on Disney films stories were not necessarily the most famous of Disney productions. The chapters brought back many memories of watching such films as Blackbeard's Ghost and Toby Tyler in serialized form on the version of the weekly Disney television program that I watched as a kid (The Wonderful World of Disney).

"Blackbeard's Ghost" is not a bad film, but it is not a memorable one, either." Korkis tells the story of the making of this less well-known film, which happens to be the last live action film that Walt had direct input into before he died. I happen to like this film very much (see my comment above about The Wonderful World of Disney). I laughed out loud (with apologies to the nice lady sitting next to me on the airplane!) as I read the intriguing vignettes about the many difficulties with the special effects used in the film (fly wires that drew blood!), and stories about the talented (but slightly difficult) cast (including Peter Ustinov, Suzanne Pleshette and Dean Jones).

In the chapter on the making of the 1958 film, The Shaggy Dog, Korkis writes about the long and strange arc of getting to the point of actually making the film, from Walt's purchase of the rights to the book The Hound of Florence, on which the film is loosely based to multiple rewrites of the screenplay, to Walt's curious decision to make the film in black and white rather than in color (possibly to save on production costs). Writer Bill Walsh said of the project: "We get stories in a strange way here. We don't literally get stories as stories. We get springboards or ideas and we develop the story around that. Like for The Shaggy Dog, which was based on a book by a guy named Felix Salten [also the author of Bambi, a Life in the Woods, on which the Disney film was based]. Kind of a nutty little thin book called The Hound of Florence. That was always on the shelf here, and nobody knew what to do with it, because it was kind of nutty. It was kind of a strange little book. It was completely impossible to read."

Just in time for the upcoming release of the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, readers will enjoy the chapter devoted to the negotiations between Walt and P.L. Travers to bring her Mary Poppins stories to the big screen. They began in 1938, when Disney first enquired about getting the rights to Travers' books, and continued until the film was finally made in 1964. The chapter recounts the many years of back and forth, as Walt and Travers parried back and forth about control over the content of the film. What comes through is that both were stubborn. In 1944, Walt asked his brother, Roy to fly out to New York to begin discussions with Travers on the availability of her book, and to "learn more about her personality." "Upon his return, Roy reported that Travers was cagey, a strong-willed 'Amelia Earhart type -- someone who seemed pleasant and soft on the surface, but was really tough as nails." While the negotiations dragged on, with Travers arguing that Walt's proposed story for the film was not true to the character in her books, Walt was so sure that the final project would move ahead that he had the Sherman brothers begin writing songs for the film. In the meantime, Travers prepared her own proposed version, which included material that Walt was not at all interested in including, and specifically did NOT include material that he wanted in. They also clashed over the choice of the actors to play Bert and Mary. It seems that the prospect of becoming enriched by the film finally got Travers to back down, and it was made according to Walt's vision. She maintained until her death in 1996, however that she was not happy with the outcome of the film: "How much better a film it would have been had it carefully stayed with the true version of Mary Poppins." When she complained to her lawyer, Arnold Goodman, that she had been "tricked" by Disney, and that her stories had been mutilated, he reminded her: "You should repeat three times nightly -- before and after prayer . . .'But for Mr. Goodman, I would never have sold Mary Poppins to Walt Disney and would now not be rich."

Disney Park Stories

In his stories about the Disney Parks, and some of their most famous attractions, Korkis points out the effort and attention to detail that Walt and the Imagineers went to in creating them. In the chapter, "The Story of Storybook Land" -- the attraction that is now Disneyland's Storybook Land Canal Boats -- Korkis recounts: "Walt demanded great attention to detail, from the tiny stained glass windows to the small toys behind the frosted glass of Geppetto's toy shop to the cobblestone streets paved with individually placed pebbles. One contractor, frustrated at being unable to cut some corners, and concerned about all of the labor and expense . . . asked him [Walt], 'Who'll know the difference?' Walt sternly replied, 'I'll know the difference.'"

Did you know that Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle was not always referred to as Sleeping Beauty Castle? According to Korkis, in early written materials the castle was variously referred to as "The Medieval Castle," "Fantasyland Castle," and even "Robin Hood's Castle." Walt even referred to it as "Snow White's Castle" on an early episode of his ABC television show (this answers my daughter's heartfelt question to Snow White during a visit to Disney World when she was much younger: "Poor Snow White. Why don't YOU have a castle?"). Disneyland's castle was basically an empty shell for its first years, with the walk-through attraction not being added until several years before the release of the film, Sleeping Beauty, in 1959. Korkis narrates an amusing story about when Walt took Imagineer Ken Anderson for a tour of the empty structure, telling him that he wanted to install an attraction inside that would promote the film. It seems that while there wasn't much in there, it WAS occupied -- by about a hundred feral cats. Needless to say, the cats needed to be removed before the installation of the exhibits began: "Walt arranged for the bathing, grooming and eventual relocation of the 'castle cats' and found them new families despite the recommendations of some of his staff to find a more speedy and permanent solution."

After reading the book, I wondered about the fine line between Disney stories and Disney legend. Korkis devotes an entire chapter to "a cute Disney story that never was," and notes that Walt Disney himself, was sometimes the source of "less than factual" information. This is a book of stories, and stories come from people; people who are not always reliable narrators. The nature of stories is that they are passed from person to person, and change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways as they metamorphosize into legends. In the chapter "Flying High with Walt," Korkis recounts the following: "According to Mark Malone, son of the pilot Chuck Malone, his father told him that during that fabled flight over Florida [to finalize the location for Walt Disney World], Walt spotted El Morro fortress while flying over San Juan, Puerto Rico, and remarked that it would be the perfect look for his new Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland." I may be a long way from 7th grade geography, but I don't remember Puerto Rico being very close to Florida. I wonder if this is a story that has now become a legend; a legend that Jim Korkis has worked to preserve for posterity. Cheers!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Jim Korkis' latest book on Amazon, via AllEars.Net's special link:



Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have now visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

November 19, 2013

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream, Part 3

disneyland-story.jpgEDITOR'S NOTE: Over the next few weeks, AllEars.Net will be highlighting exclusive excerpts from Sam Gennawey's new book, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream. The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream is the story of how Walt Disney's greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Despite his successors' battles with the whims of history and their own doubts and egos, Walt's vision maintained momentum, thrived, and taught future generations how to do it Walt Disney's way. The Disneyland Story is now available for purchase (click on the image at left to link to Amazon).

Wild Turkeys
by Sam Gennawey

The Fred Gurley joined the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad fleet on March 28, 1958. Locomotive #3 was named after the 1958 chairman of the board of the Santa Fe Railroad. While the Ripley and Holliday locomotives were scaled-up versions of Walt's backyard railroad, "They started that way because they didn't know better at the time," said animator and train buff Ward Kimball. "I remember that it cost $50,000 each just to make the frames for the engines and now it would be an enormous amount of money. Later it was decided, for this reason, to look into the locomotives that were being sold down in the South, at lumber companies and so forth. The decision was made to buy those that were 3-foot gauge and just throw away everything but the frames, save all that money, and get a locomotive for a fraction of the cost of starting from drawings." The Gurley was the first narrow-gauge industrial engine to be rebuilt for the park.

Jerry Best, a railroad historian and associate of the Studio, found an 1894 Baldwin 4-4-0 Forney that ran in New Orleans on the 24-mile-long LaFourche, Raceland & Lockport sugar plantation railroad. In 1910, the locomotive was moved to the Godchaux Sugar Co. in Reserve, Louisiana, where it ran until it was retired in 1956. Best found the engine at a storage shed owned by C. W. Witbeck. Roger Broggie paid $1,200 for the locomotive, loaded it up in a boxcar, and had it shipped back to Los Angeles for refurbishment.

The locomotive was disassembled and rebuilt at the Studio shops. A boiler was fitted with both a new water tank and an oil tank. A "pony truck" was installed in front-thereby converting the engine into a 2-4-0-and an old-fashioned curved-window cab was added. Much of the work was done by Arnold Lindberg.

Along with the new locomotive were new rolling stock and a new destination. The brand-new five-car train was inspired by the open-sided Narragansett cars used during the summer months for rides in the country and at mountain and seaside resorts. The seats faced toward the inside of the park, giving guests a much better show and making loading and unloading quicker.

Starting on March 31, 1958, guests were invited to take a trip through the Grand Canyon Diorama, the world's largest three-dimensional scenic display. The attraction was based on the 1958 Disney CinemaScope film Grand Canyon. At a cost of $435,000, artists took "more than 80,000 man-hours of design, painting, and construction to complete the first 'reproduction' of Arizona's famed Grand Canyon," according to an early press release. The 306-foot background was painted on a seamless, handwoven canvas prepared especially for the park. The palette included 14 colors, and more than 300 gallons of paint was used.

The Disneyland Gazetteer said the attraction "portrays the famous Grand Canyon of the Colorado River at early morning, as the sun sets and during a thunder and lightning storm. Even the seasons vary from Spring in an adobe village of Pueblo Indians to Winter snows covering the trees and wild animals." The soundtrack was Ferde Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite."

Walt got the idea for the diorama while visiting museums in Los Angeles and New York. He found Bob Sewell, who worked at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History for 10 years, to help out. Claude Coats also got involved. "Walt sent me down to the Grand Canyon to get the right look of it, and what it should be like," he said. "We did storyboards once again, and Walt liked pretty much all of it." Coats added some wild turkeys roosting in a tree and Walt said, "They don't have wild turkeys in the Grand Canyon." Coats disagreed with his boss and told him that he saw some in a museum.
Later, when Walt was showing the storyboards to a guest, he asked, "Do you know they have wild turkeys in the Grand Canyon?" The guest replied, "Gee, no I didn't know that." Feeling confident, Walt turned to Coats and asked again, "Are you sure they've got wild turkeys in the Grand Canyon?" Coats was ready. Prior to the meeting he called the park superintendent responsible for the Grand Canyon. "Yes, and the flocks are on the increase!"

Emile Kuri directed the taxidermy staff. The diorama included mountain lions, deer, desert-mountain sheep, other birds and animals native to Arizona, and wild turkeys. All of the natural materials had to be treated with flame retardants. The project would prompt a new policy at Disneyland. One day Walt was giving a tour at WED when they walked into Bud Washo's shop. Walt opened up the freezer and saw a frozen carcass of a skinned coyote, left there by the taxidermist. The diorama would be the last time that real animal skins would be used in an attraction. Walt did not want to get the reputation that Disneyland killed animals for the rides.

November 20, 2013

Who was Diane Disney Miller?

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Who was Diane Disney Miller?

Most Disney fans would immediately reply that she was the daughter of Walt Disney.

Some might know that she married former President and CEO of the Disney Company, Ron Miller, back in 1953 when he was considering becoming a professional football player and were both 20-year-old students attending USC. Others might associate her with being the driving force behind the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco that opened in 2009.

Of course, she and her sister were the official inspiration for the creation of Disneyland, a place where a daddy and his two daughters could have fun together. It was Diane who, as a child, was so delighted at the adventures of Mary Poppins that her father became convinced to fight to make it a motion picture.

Then, people might struggle coming up with some information. She was the owner with her husband of the well-known Silverado Winery in Napa Valley that opened in 1980. She stepped forward after her mother's death to complete the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 1997. She had a younger adopted sister, Sharon, who passed away from cancer. In recent years, she appeared at Disney events.

Diane Marie Disney Miller, the only biological daughter of Walt Disney, passed away at the age of 79 on Tuesday, November 19, after severe complications of a fall she had several weeks ago. She had seven children, 13 grand-children and recently welcomed her first great-grandchild to the world.

I knew Diane. She wrote the foreword for my first book about Disney history and one of her personal stories appears in my newly released Vault of Walt: Volume 2. We corresponded through e-mail and I was a guest speaker at the Walt Disney Family Museum where at lunch I shared chili with Diane and her husband.

She was a remarkable, strong-willed, self-effacing, supportive woman who sacrificed her comfortable private life to step out into the spotlight during the last decade or so to protect her father and his reputation.

Her unexpected passing from a stupid accident is still unbelievable to me and so many others as I write these words. She was a physically fit woman with a razor-sharp mind filled with dreams for the future. We all thought she would be around forever.

She was Walt's miracle baby. After two miscarriages, Lillian finally had a healthy pregnancy with little Diane Marie Disney being born December 18, 1933, 13 days after Walt's 32nd birthday. Later when Lillian tried to have another child, she suffered another miscarriage and her doctor warned her it would be unwise to try again and Diane would be the only one. In January 1937, the Disneys adopted 2-week-old Sharon Mae Disney.

Diane used to joke when being shown pictures of a young Walt, "When I first met him, he was older."

She loved talking about her dad. She did not pretend he was a saint but she was greatly disturbed that he seemed to be merchandised like any other Disney character and that people who never knew her father would write such terribly wrong things about him or make false assumptions as to why he did things.

Diane and Sharon had been raised out of the limelight to allow them to try to have a normal life, not like other children of celebrities. They didn't always get things that they wanted and often had to wait for things they did get.

"People would want to peer at my dad as if he was a curiosity and in college people began to peer at me as if I was a curiosity too," recalled Diane.

For Diane, Walt was not the internationally lauded cartoon genius. As she often said, "he was just Dad".

When she was younger, Walt was her primary playmate teaching her how to dog paddle in their pool, how to ride a horse and taking her along on visits to the Disney Studio on Sunday afternoons where she and her younger sister would run around and sometimes go into an empty soundstage to have a shouting contest because of the echo.

"Both Sharon and I said we were going to marry him when we grew up. Then we discovered horses and were going to marry a horse and then we discovered boys," Diane joked.

At her small wedding away from everything in Santa Barbara, Walt, who gave her away, sobbed through the entire ceremony with tears unashamedly running down his cheeks.

Walt did everything he could to help the newlyweds including designing their first house and getting Ron a job at the studio.

In recent years, Diane was a strong advocate for the research and sharing of Disney history and was an enthusiastic cheerleader of many of us, myself included, with a sincere joy at every new discovery. She genuinely appreciated everyone who shared a memory of what her dad meant to them. While she never considered herself a writer (Walt had tried to encourage her to pursue that career several times), she was a tremendous storyteller.

I will miss her, as will so many others, and remember her with respect and affection. I don't think the realization of what a great loss this is will become apparent for many months. With her passing, it really is the end of an era of a direct connection to Walt. I hope she is enjoying being reunited with her family, especially her dad, and knows how much she was truly loved.

November 26, 2013

The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream, Part 4

disneyland-story.jpgEDITOR'S NOTE: For the past few weeks, AllEars.Net has been highlighting exclusive excerpts from Sam Gennawey's new book, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream. The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney's Dream is the story of how Walt Disney's greatest creation was conceived, nurtured, and how it grew into a source of joy and inspiration for generations of visitors. Despite his successors' battles with the whims of history and their own doubts and egos, Walt's vision maintained momentum, thrived, and taught future generations how to do it Walt Disney's way. The Disneyland Story is now available for purchase (click on the image at left to link to Amazon).

A Favorite Subject of Mine
by Sam Gennawey

Another splendid little touch would appear on April 9, 1960, on the east side of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Walt had a special affection for wishing wells. He said, "Wishing long has been a favorite subject of mine. Wishes have come true for many of the characters in my motions pictures -- and for me, too." The Variety Club of America wanted to sponsor a wishing well in Disneyland and use the money to benefit children's charities around the world. Walt was happy to oblige and came up with the Snow White Wishing Well and the Grotto.

Walt was given a set of exquisite Carrara marble statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs carved by Italian artist Leonida Parma. The statues were modeled after a set of soaps that were being sold at the time in Europe. When the statues arrived, John Hench noticed that all of the figures were the same size. This meant Snow White was as small as the dwarfs. Hench came up with a clever solution. He used forced perspective by placing the Snow White figure at the very top, standing next to a deer that was the right scale. The dwarfs were placed lower and closer to the guests. By applying this solution, the illusion is everything is correct.

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney!

by Keith Gluck
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Ever wonder what Walt Disney World was like way back when? Each month, we rummage around in the archives for this featurette, which indulges in a bit of nostalgia, taking you back in history for a glimpse of Walt Disney World and The Walt Disney Company through the ages. This month, we take a look back at... Walt Disney himself!

Thursday, December 5, 2013, marks the 112th anniversary of the date of Walt Disney's birth. Even though his story has been told time and again, we wanted to take this occasion to share some of his amazing life with you.

When Walt Disney was young, a fortune-teller told him he would pass away in December, but specified he wouldn't make it to the age of 35. Walt was not a superstitious man, however the prediction still affected him deeply, and he lived his entire life racing against the clock in order to accomplish everything he wanted to do. The reality is, Walt could have lived to be 100 and still wouldn't have had enough time to see all of his visions realized. When the clock did eventually catch up with him, 10 days after his 65th birthday, he was working on one heck of a vision.

After the success of Disneyland, Walt was initially opposed to the idea of building a second one. His position on the matter began to change, however, once he realized he had a chance to do more than just build another theme park. In the late '30s, he loved the ability to plan every little detail during the creation of the Burbank studio. Disneyland was also meticulously planned, however Walt was always bothered by the fact that less quality-focused businessmen had surrounded his Magic Kingdom with a "second-rate Las Vegas." Additionally, he was concerned by what he considered to be a decline in the quality of American life. Friend and author Ray Bradbury once remarked, "Walt was troubled by the diminution of the neighborhood." Walt saw cars, shopping malls, and crime on their way in, and the cordial confines of the community on its way out.

The evolution of Walt's ever-curious mind, combined with his propensity for "plussing" and his decades of experience in planning and creating functioning environments, led to what many folks consider to be his greatest dream: the creation of a model city.

Research for Walt's new project began as early as 1958, when he commissioned the firm Economics Research Associates to determine the best location for "Disneyland East". The answer, Florida, was serendipitous, as Walt was already leaning towards the Sunshine State. Among the many advantages was Florida's warm weather, allowing the park to enjoy year-round operation. The lone disadvantage in the report cited the state's modest population of 6.5 million, which was only 1.5 million more than Disneyland's annual Californian visitors. An unfazed Walt stated, "We just gotta get the folks up north to want to come down."

The following year two more surveys were performed: one to locate the ideal location within the state of Florida, and the other to evaluate the possibility of a "City of Tomorrow" accompanying the theme park. The results indicated Palm Beach would be the most favorable location, however Walt was against the notion of not only competing with the beach venue, but also the exposure to the humidity and hurricanes. "I want to be inland, Walt said. "We'll create our own water."

A 1961 survey revealed the best location to be Ocala, and the runner-up, Orlando. Even as Florida was declared the prime location for Walt's latest endeavor, several more sites were considered before anything was made official. By 1963, St. Louis, Niagara Falls, and a site between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. were all considered. It was on the flight home from surveying these cities that Walt made up his mind. Shortly before landing in Burbank, he stated, "Well, that's the place-central Florida."

Walt's futuristic city needed a name, so he took it upon himself to come up with one. While eating lunch with some staff from WED, he commented, "What we're talking about is an experimental prototype community of tomorrow. What does that spell? E-p-c-o-t. EPCOT. That's what we'll call it: EPCOT."

So consumed with EPCOT was Walt that he prepared to entrust a large amount of the studio's endeavors with others. Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller remembered, "He was so excited about EPCOT. Walt always looked for new challenges, and EPCOT was his fresh and new challenge." Walt later told Miller that he planned to hand over complete control of the films to him, along with Bill Anderson, Jim Algar, Bill Walsh, and Winston Hibler. Walt wanted to concentrate solely on EPCOT, and predicted he would need roughly 15 years to see this latest dream through to completion. Even during the planning meetings of Disneyland's East Coast counterpart, he grew tired of discussing the theme park aspect. "You guys know that by now," he said. "I don't want to discuss what we learned in the past; I want to talk about the future."

Looking to the future was a trait Walt possessed his entire life, perhaps never more so than during his final days. While the planning of EPCOT and Disneyland East (which became known as "the Florida project") was in full swing, Walt was rarely without a book about city planning. Two such titles were The Heart of Our Cities by Victor Gruen, and Garden Cities of To-Morrow, by British urban planner Ebenezer Howard. He was obsessed with every detail, both big and small. "I vividly remember sitting next to Walt on a plane, when he pointed to the center of EPCOT, an oval-shaped area," mused Disney Legend Bob Gurr. "Walt said, 'When this EPCOT gets up and running, and we have all the participants there, this spot with a little bench is where Lilly and I are going to sit and watch.' "

Sadly, Walt wouldn't live long enough to see his greatest dream physically take shape, passing away before ground was broken. It consumed him until the end, however. Disney Legend John Hench recalled, "Roy Disney told me about his last visit to Walt in the hospital, when Walt was talking very excitedly about the Florida project, which Walt was envisioning on the ceiling of the hospital room." Had Walt lived just a little bit longer, he would have changed the world (even more than he already had).

Walt Disney was born in the upper bedroom of 1249 Tripp Avenue, Chicago, on December 5, 1901. He was a visionary like few others, and his legacy will continue to bring joy to people's lives for centuries to come. On behalf of everyone here at AllEars.Net, I'd like to say, "Happy birthday, Walt. Thanks for everything."


Inside the Dream: The Personal Story of Walt Disney
by Katherine & Richard Greene

Walt Disney: An American Original
by Bob Thomas

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About November 2013

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in November 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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