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October 1, 2017

The Disneyland Pancake Race

Gary Cruise banner

Six decades ago Disneyland was brand new!

The Disney Corporation had invested heavily in its construction and they were rumored to be overextended. The senior management team was constantly trying new ways to attract guests to the park and increase revenues. That big pile of debt had to be repaid!

Fortunately, Disney Studios had several very popular television series in production during those early years and the stars of those shows made regular appearances at the park.

The Mickey Mouse Club was a huge hit with children in the 1950’s and the Mouseketeers were frequent performers at Disneyland!

Mouseketeers at Disneyland

Mouseketeers at Disneyland

Mouseketeers at Disneyland

Mouseketeer Annette Funicello even appeared and signed autographs with David Stollery and Tim Considine who starred in the popular Spin & Marty series.

David Stollery Annette Funicello Tim Considine

Zorro was another hit television show produced by the Disney Studios. Guy Williams portrayed the hero Don Diego de la Vega. Williams would don the Zorro costume and thrill guests as he rode and duelled his way through Frontierland.

Zorro at Disneyland 1958

Zorro at Frontierland 1958

Zorro at Frontierland 1958

Another popular series of the era was Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen. They also made a number of guest appearances at Disneyland. Fess Parker is pictured below, riding with Walt Disney.

Fess Parker and Walt Disney

But the wackiest ploy to attract guests had to be the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races held on Main Street, USA from 1957 to 1964.

Pancake Race

One of Disney’s partner companies in the early days was the Quaker Oats Company which opened Aunt Jemima’s Old South Kitchen in Frontierland on August 17, 1955.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen

Somehow Disney and Quaker Oats concocted the wacky idea of pancake races in the park! Housewives from across the Golden State competed in local and regional pancake races and the regional winners met on Shrove Tuesday for the state championship at Disneyland.

Pancake Race

Disney Archivist Rebecca Cline wrote about the races in an article for Disney Magazine in the Spring of 2004. She described the event like this:

“Rose Pitman is running as fast as she can down Disneyland’s Main Street, USA. Her hair tucked underneath a scarf, she is wearing saddle shoes and an apron wrapped around her plaid skirt. She is also carrying a nine-inch skillet in her right hand. Looking out for the thick ribbons stretching eight feet overhead across the race path, she deftly avoids the streetcar tracks beneath her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches out for the other five women who are trying to beat her to the finish line. As Pitman nears the first ribbon, she springs a couple of feet off the ground, and with a practiced snap of the wrist, flips the pancake lying in her skillet up over the ribbon, then catches it on the way down.”

Pancake Race

“On she runs toward another ribbon. Again she flips the pancake up, turning it end over end until it comes down in her pan. After snapping her pancake over a third ribbon, she races toward the finish line. The crowd roars its encouragement; Pitman is a mere few feet ahead of her nearest challenger. She leans into the ribbon and it breaks free, floating across her body. It is Tuesday, March 5, 1957; Rose Pitman of Visalia, California, has just placed first in the finals of the California State Pancake Races sponsored by the Quaker Oats Company and Disneyland.”

“Along with the $100 presented by Aunt Jemima (a woman named Palmere Jackson played the character), Pitman wins a number of prizes, including a plaque signed by Walt Disney, an enormous Disneyland food basket with items like Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour and Swift canned meats, an Aunt Jemima cigarette lighter, an umbrella, and a fish knife in a sheath.”

Race Winner 1962

Those crazy races were run each year, on Shrove Tuesday, from 1957 until 1964. The 2004 Disney Magazine article has plenty of additional information on the origins of pancake races and the Disney races in particular. Click on the two images below if you would like to read the article in detail.

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 pg 60
That's Rose Pitman wearing #9 in the picture above.

Disney Magazine Spring 2004 pg 61

With the crowded conditions in Disney Parks these days I doubt that they would ever consider reinstating the Pancake Races . . . but if they do, I'm pretty sure I would make the trip west to witness the spectacle!






September 25, 2017

With a tinge of sadness, Ryman Arts carries on with a 'Celebrating Marty Sklar' fund-raiser

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Juliana Hansen, accompanied by Nelson Kole, sings "A Kiss Goodnight" for the guests at the Celebrating Marty Sklar fund-raiser for Ryman Arts. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]


During dinner at the Ryman Arts fund-raiser in the Hollywood Hills home of Marty and Leah Sklar on Sept. 16, guests were asked to write down words of inspiration for the main benefactors of the evening's event: Namely, the hundreds of talented young people in the Southern California area who participate in the free arts program that the Sklars helped establish 27 years ago.

With pens in hand, the scores in attendance all appeared to be collectively deep in thought for several moments as they transferred their musings to the index cards that will eventually be shown to the students, the idea being for the unseen mentors to provide sage advice and pearls of wisdom to the students as they embark on their life journeys.

If those mentors needed to be inspired themselves, all they had to do was look to the center of each table, where famed quotes from Marty Sklar himself were on display in 5 x 7-inch frames.

Things like: "Celebrate diversity and different points of view" ... and perhaps his most oft-quoted gem: "Life is like a blank sheet of paper; you never know what it can be 'til you put something on it!"

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Leslie Sklar, left, and her mom Leah were the gracious hosts of the Ryman Arts fund-raiser on Sept, 16. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]

In many ways, the Celebrating Marty and Supporting Ryman Arts event was the ultimate blank sheet of paper. For years, Marty and Leah Sklar hosted what was known as An Affair of the Art in their home, sharing art, fellowship and an unwavering commitment to the mission of Ryman Arts. The nights were always filled with laughter, camaraderie and a sense that something good was being done ... that so many under-served young artists would be able to realize their dreams and reach their full potential.

When Marty passed away on July 27, there was some doubt that this year's fund-raiser, which had been scheduled months in advance, would be held. This was uncharted territory: A Ryman Arts event without Marty Sklar's guiding hand. But thanks to the grace and courage of Marty's widow and their daughter Leslie, the night went on as planned. And what a special night it was.

There was, to be sure, a tinge of sadness in the air as guests arrived during the comfortably warm evening. As they walked up the long, cobblestoned driveway, they were surrounded by lush landscaping, accentuated by stunning metallic works of art.

Upon entering the Spanish-inspired home through the front door, guests walked into the entrance foyer, where they were greeted by a large photo of Marty, smiling, seated on a bench at his beloved Disneyland.

To the left and down a few steps is a comfortable living space where, guests would learn later in the evening, Marty and Leah had recorded a short documentary, Ryman Arts: The Early Years, just a few weeks before Marty passed away.

Off to the left was another room, Marty's office, which was roped off but brightly lighted, so guests could peak in on the place where he ran Marty Sklar Creative, sent out hand-written notes in his famous red felt marker, conducted telephone interviews and did most of the work on his books Dream It! Do It! and One Little Spark! and his untitled final book. On the walls are some of the awards Marty received over the years, as well as photos of Walt Disney. There also were stacks of books, photos of his family members, pictures with many of his colleagues, as well as a sprinkling of Disney memorabilia.

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Wayne Hunt, president of the Ryman Arts Board of Directors, addresses the attendees. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]

During the course of the evening, several of Marty's colleagues, either from Ryman Arts or Walt Disney Imagineering, where he was the creative leader for so many productive years before retiring in 2009, offered their heart-felt remembrances of a man they both admired and loved.

One particularly touching tribute came from Imagineering's Tom Fitzgerald, who referred to Marty as "my second father." As Fitzgerald spoke, several people could be seen dabbing away tears.

"Marty was one in a million!" Fitzgerald added. "We were fortunate he was so generous with his wit and wisdom."

Indeed, generosity has always been a hallmark of the Sklar family. One speaker talked about how a former Ryman Arts student had been accepted into the fine arts program at a prestigious California university. The problem was, he and his family couldn't afford the tuition. When Marty and Leah found out about the student's plight, they set up a scholarship for him.

Several Ryman Arts alumni, including Josie Trinidad, who is now head of story at Walt Disney Animation, Adrianna Arambula and Shane Prigmore, offered their thoughts on Southern California's preeminent free arts program and how important it was to both their personal and professional lives.

Also in attendance were several former and current Imagineers, many of whom Marty often referred to as "my kids." In addition to Fitzgerald, Kevin Rafferty, Frank Stanek, Paul Comstock, Joe Lanzisero and Rick Rothschild were there to help celebrate Marty's long and productive life and honor his legacy. Also among the attendees was Walt Disney's granddaughter, Michelle Lund, the daughter of Sharon Disney Lund.

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Guests enjoy dinner outdoors on the verandah at the Sklar house in the Hollywood Hills. [Courtesy of Ryman Arts]

According to Rafferty, "A great part of the evening was catching up with old friends I rarely see anymore."

The event was topped off by a stirring rendition of the Richard Sherman-penned song "A Kiss Goodnight" by Juliana Hansen. [Sherman wrote the song in conjunction with the release of the Disney Editions book of the same title, which tells the story of Walt Disney's life through words and beautiful illustrations by Disney Legend Floyd Norman and his wife, Adrienne Brown Norman. Brittany Rubiano is credited as co-author of the book.]

Ms. Hansen is well-known in Disney circles for her work on Disney productions, such as Mary Poppins, voice acting, and Broadway productions, including Les Miserables. Ms. Hansen and Sherman introduced "A Kiss Goodnight" at the D23 Expo in mid-July, a performance that touched Marty deeply.

It was a fitting way to end the evening: Warm, poignant and powerful.

As Rafferty put it: "Leah and Leslie are incredible people. The evening went exactly as Marty would have wanted it to."

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Disney Legend Herb Ryman. [The Walt Disney Company]

More on the fund-raiser and Ryman Arts

The program was hosted by NPR radio personalty Kai Ryssdal. Dinner was prepared by Alexandra Poer of alexandra's table and Gale Kohl of Gale's Restaurant. Wines were provided by Frank and Irene Stanek of Chareva Vineyards and Ron Miller of Silverado Vineyards.

Ryman Arts is a not-for-profit fine arts education program based in Los Angeles. It is named in honor of Disney Legend Herb Ryman, the man who drew the first concept drawing of Disneyland in 1953, as well as concept drawings of Walt Disney World in the 1970s and Epcot in the 1980s. Before and after his career with Disney, Ryman was a prolific artist who worked on a number of films for MGM Studios during Hollywood's "golden era." His pre-Disney screen credits include the Emerald City scene in The Wizard of Oz. He also was the art director for Fantasia and Dumbo.

Ryman Arts was founded in 1990 by Marty and Leah Sklar, Ann and Buzz Price, Lucille Ryman Carroll and Sharon Disney Lund.

The organization provides free art classes in drawing and painting with master teachers to Los Angeles-area high school students. It began with 12 students and has grown to several hundred. The students, from more than 80 Southern California high schools, take classes at either the Otis College of Art and Design or Cal-State Fullerton. For more on Ryman Arts, go to www.rymanarts.org.

July 10, 2017

Disney's participation at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair was a pivotal moment for the company

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The endearing dolls in the it's a small world attraction at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

Before there was Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland or Shanghai Disneyland, there was just little, ol' Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

Although Walt Disney detested doing sequels to his movies, he wasn't averse to creating a second Disneyland. In the years following the opening The Happiest Place on Earth in 1955, there was some talk, both from within the company and from outside sources, that building a sequel might not be a bad idea.

It's still hard to imagine, given the success of Disney's theme parks worldwide today, but Walt and many of his top lieutenants had some doubts about building a second Disneyland east of the Mississippi River. Specifically, it was thought by many that Disneyland was a West Coast phenomenon and Disney's brand just wouldn't be very successful on the East Coast.

In 1960, a group of businessmen from St. Louis approached Disney about building a second Disneyland in the city known, ironically, as The Gateway to the West. Disney looked at the possibility long and hard, but after months of haggling, "Some key person backed out," according to Disney Legend John Hench, and the idea of a St. Louis Disneyland faded.

Still, Walt couldn't get the idea of heading East out of his mind. He needed something to convince himself that making a bold move East would be viable. So when the opportunity arose to participate in the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, Walt jumped at the idea.

Walt Disney's ties to international expositions go all the way back to the 1893, when his father, Elias Disney, worked as a carpenter at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

And at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, Disney characters Mickey, Minnie and Pluto starred in a five-minute Technicolor cartoon named Mickey's Surprise Party.

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A poster promoting the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, which featured the Disney attraction "America the Beautiful."

In 1958, Disney decided to test the waters on an international scale, setting up a show at the World's Fair in Brussels, Belgium. According to Disney Legend Bob Gurr, "Walt was always thinking ahead of things. He sent a lot of guys over there [to Brussels] to sort of case the joint, to see what was involved."

At the Brussels World's Fair, Disney's then-innovative 360-degree Circarama film America the Beautiful played to packed houses. It was the first Disneyland-style attraction to be shown outside the United States.

Then, in 1962, "Walt sent a bunch of us to the Seattle World's Fair for the same reason," Gurr said. By "casing the joint," Walt was able to get a good idea of what would work and what wouldn't work at a World's Fair ... setting the stage for one of the biggest gambles of his life: The Walt Disney Company's participation at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.

When Robert Moses and the folks at the New York World's Fair came calling, the wheels began turning in Walt's head. By participating in the Fair, Walt figured, he could resolve, once and for all, the question of whether his style of entertainment would be popular with East Coast audiences. And if Mickey and Friends were a hit in New York City, maybe ... just maybe ... Disney could make the move East on a permanent basis.

"The New York World's Fair was critical, because Walt used it as a proving ground for Walt Disney Imagineering to develop bigger and better shows and to advance animatronics beyond the [Enchanted] Tiki Room," said Tony Baxter, Imagineering's former senior vice president of Creative Development.

"I consider the Fair to be the first golden era of Imagineering attractions. New ride systems and sophisticated Audio-Animatronics were developed for the Fair. It was a giant leap forward in what could be done [in Disney's theme parks]."

But over and above that, Walt wanted to see first-hand the reactions of Easterners to those attractions. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if Disney could make it in New York, it could make it anywhere. As it turned out, that anywhere became a huge tract of land south of the then-sleepy town of Orlando, Fla. When the Fair opened on April 22, 1964, Walt was already secretly scooping up property in central Florida.

In a stroke of pure business genius, Walt enlisted corporate sponsors pay for each of Disney's four Fair attractions. Moreover, according to former Imagineering leader Marty Sklar, when the Fair closed, those same companies paid for the attractions to be shipped back to Disneyland, where they took up residence in whole or in part [it's a small world and some of the dinosaurs from Ford's Magic Skyway can still be seen in the Happiest Place on Earth].

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The exterior of the Illinois state pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.

Sklar traces Disney's participation in the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair back to 1957. "It started, I guess, with Abraham Lincoln," he said. "That show had been written - not the single Lincoln, but the entire Hall of Presidents show - in 1957." The problem was, technology hadn't yet caught up with Walt's wildly creative imagination.

But when Moses, the president of the Fair, saw mock ups of the Hall of Presidents show during a tour of the Disney Studios, he was insistent that Disney bring it to the Fair. "But Walt said, 'We haven't done one figure yet," Sklar said. "Ultimately, Moses put Disney and the state of Illinois together," which resulted in the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln presentation at the Illinois state pavilion.

The Lincoln show was ground-breaking on so many different levels. To begin with, Disney's creative team had to make their recreation of Honest Abe look like an honest to goodness Abraham Lincoln. Anyone with a penny or a five-dollar bill in their pocket could easily compare the facial features on the currency with the Audio-Animatronics figure on stage. Abe had to be spot-on ... and he was, thanks to the work of sculptor Blaine Gibson.

And then there were the movements of the robotic figure positioned in the center of the stage. No one had ever tried, much less succeeded, in having a life-size animated figure move with the fluidity of a human being. The system used hydraulic and pneumatic valves to achieve that realism.

"It was a marvel the machine worked as well as it did from the get-go," said Disney Legend Bob Gurr, who was the main man behind the development of Audio-Animatronics. "It combined the sculpting, the skin, the detailed facial animation, animated hands, plus the body, plus getting him up out of the chair and all the electronics to do with that ... it was a big effort by so many people working on that machine."

The show began with the Lincoln figure seated at center stage. Then, to the amazement of those in the audience, Lincoln would rise up from the chair, stand and begin to recite lines from some of his most famous speeches. Gurr called Lincoln's rise from the chair "that trick thing."

The success of the development of the Lincoln figure in the years prior to the Fair's opening allowed Gurr to devise a system where Audio-Animatronics figures could be mass-produced.

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A closeup of the Abraham Lincoln figure at the New York World's Fair, created by famed Disney artist Blaine Gibson. [The Walt Disney Company]

"Within a year, we found with the basic concept of Lincoln we could actually engineer what we would call production parts," Gurr said. "In other words, instead of making a part one at a time, we could make a whole group of parts. By investing in the tooling to make parts, we could manufacture humans and animals out of all these standardized parts. All of this started with the basic configuration of Abraham Lincoln."

Gurr and the rest of the creative team used this philosophy to build Audio-Animatronics figures for Disney's three other World's Fair shows: Ford's Magic Skyway, General Electric's Carousel of Progress and Pepsi-Cola's it's a small world.

The Magic Skyway show took guests, seated in authentic Ford Motor Company cars [sans engines and transmissions and all convertibles, so guests wouldn't hit their heads] on a journey through time, from the dawn of the ages to prehistoric times and then into the future [a subtle hint at Walt's desire to build a city of the future]. In addition to contributing to the development of the massive dinosaur figures seen during the ride, Gurr was the chief designer for the actual ride system which carried the cars on their voyage through time.

Borrowing from the booster brake system he and Arrow Development employed on Disneyland's Matterhorn Mountain attraction, Gurr positioned small one-horsepower gear motors with rotating 16-inch wheels several feet apart along the ride's two tracks. The wheels [there were a total of 714 of these motors embedded in the two tracks] would come in contact with metal plates attached to the underbellies of the cars, allowing them to move at a slow, but steady pace. [A similar technology is used in the WEDway PeopleMover attraction in Walt Disney World. It is often mistaken for the Omnimover system, where ride vehicles can pivot and traverse up and down inclines.]

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Guests come face to face with a family of dinosaurs during the Ford's Magic Skyway attraction. [Associated Press]

Between the 1964 and 1965 seasons, Ford CEO Henry Ford II asked Walt Disney to record the narration for the attraction. Although "Walt had a terrible cough and kept blowing the lines," said Marty Sklar, "and it took a long time, we finally got a great take." It seems Walt also had problems pronouncing the names of many of the dinosaurs on display during the ride.

GE's Carousel of Progress showcased the advancement in electricity from the early 1900s through "modern times" ... or at the least, the mid-1960s. There even was a demonstration of nuclear fusion inside the pavilion.

In addition to the 32 Audio-Animatronics figures used in the four-part presentation, Disney employed a carousel-type system to present the show. There were four fixed stages representing different eras in the advancement of electricity and the audience revolved around each different set, with the song "There's a Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow" playing every time the audience rotated to a different scene.

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The exterior of General Electric's Progressland, which featured the Disney-created Carousel of Progress, between the Fair's 1964 and 1965 seasons. [Associated Press]

The Carousel of Progress remains a popular attraction; it's located in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

The it's a small world attraction is a mainstay at every Disney park worldwide, primarily because of its message of international peace and harmony, particularly among young people.

Although not as complex, Audio-Animatronics technology was used on the dozens and dozens of dolls on display during The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed. Gurr, although tied up with the Audio-Animatronics and ride systems on the other three Disney Fair attractions, made contributions to it's a small world, specifically working with Arrow Development to come up with the system that gently pushed the boats through the narrow canals.

Of course, the most memorable aspect of it's a small world is its theme song, written by Dick and Bob Sherman. According to Marty Sklar, it's a small world is his all-time favorite Disney attraction. "The line in that song ... There's just one moon and one golden sun and a smile means friendship to everyone ... what a wonderful world this would be if we could follow those feelings."

In the end, Disney's participation in the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair proved to be a huge success, proving once and for all that the Disney brand of entertainment would be a big hit just about anywhere in the world.

June 26, 2017

When a 'hard freeze' hit Walt Disney World in 1989, cast members turned to faux plants along Jungle Cruise

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During the hard freeze of 1989 in Florida, most of the vegetation along the Jungle Cruise died, forcing Disney to bring in plastic stand-ins. [AllEars.Net]


The term "hard freeze" sends shivers up and down the spines of anyone in Florida associated with plant life. When the temperature dips below 32 degrees and stays that way for several hours, the affects can be devastating to vegetation.

In 1989, central Florida experienced a particularly tough hard freeze which lasted for several days. And Walt Disney World wasn't immune.

At Epcot, "the vegetation was virtually wiped out in that freeze," said Dennis Higbie, who went on to become Animal Kingdom's general curator of botanical programs. "We learned a lot in how to replace [plants] in record time."

At the Magic Kingdom, the Jungle Cruise was hit particular hard, especially when you consider the fact that there is so much natural vegetation growing all along the shorelines of the attraction.

According to Ted Kellogg, who was the supervisor of watercraft when Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and who was working in a more behind-the-scenes capacity during the time of the freeze, the water was drained from the Jungle Cruise to protect the submerged Audio-Animatronics figures.

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Ted Kellogg enjoyed a long career with Disney, starting at Disneyland. He was the supervisor of watercraft when Walt Disney World opened, then transferred to behind-the-scenes work, helping to rehab a number of attractions and hotels. [Theme Park Press]

"But without water in the waterways," Ted added, "every tropical plant in the attraction literally froze to death."

Since it wasn't growing season, "there were no tropical plants available to replace them," Ted said. "So we bought every artificial plant we could find within 3,000 miles and brought them in by the truckload.

"We had an army of people getting rid of the dead plants and replacing them with all the artificial plants." It took about a week, but when the Jungle Cruise finally reopened, faux plants were the order of the day until the real things eventually returned with warmer weather. The thing is, nobody could tell the difference between the real and the fake plants.

But the Jungle Cruise's problems were the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

On the first morning following the hard freeze, "I got to work at 7 in the morning before the park was open and was walking through Cinderella Castle," Ted said. "When I got to the other side of the castle, I noticed that the water in the fountain in Fantasyland was frozen solid. At about 10 o'clock, sprinkler heads that were frozen began to thaw and crack."

It set off a chain reaction as water started leaking throughout the park.

"We had to bring in the Reedy Creek Fire Department to shut down every sprinkler system in the park. Eventually, we had to order tons of valves, repaint them and have them installed."

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Ted Kellogg supervised a rehab to the lobby of the Polynesian Village Resort in the mid-1990s. His innovative ideas saved the lobby from being closed during the work. [disneypix.com]

Ted Kellogg is a man of many stories, from Walt Disney World, to Disneyland, to his days as a fishing boat captain, to his once-in-a-lifetime trip with two buddies from southern California to South America by car, bus and dugout canoe.

He started by working part-time at Disneyland, often piloting either the Mark Twain riverboat or the top-heavy keel boats.

He came down to Florida with his new bride as part of the first wave of Disney cast members tasked with setting up opening the Magic Kingdom. After several years supervising the boats, Ted transferred to construction, supervising the rehabilitation of a variety of park attractions and on-property hotels.

He was the guy in charge when the California Grill was refurbished in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s at the Polynesian Village, his creative plan helped rehab the main lobby without having to close it, which would have been a major inconvenience for Poly guests.

Ted has written a book about all of his experiences, which I had the honor of contributing to. It will be available soon.





March 26, 2017

The History of EPCOT - A Timeline

Gary Cruise banner

I’m a big fan of Disney’s Imagineers! They do a terrific job.

One of the things that continually impresses me is the little details that they build into the theme parks, sometimes in the most unusual places. Some of them are right in the middle of high traffic areas yet people walk right past and never notice. As an example, remember the blog titled “Science at your Feet” I wrote few months ago? There it is, right under your feet as you walk toward Soarin’, yet very few people ever notice it!

Today we’ll look at an interesting feature that the Imagineers built in an out-of-the-way place. It’s a history of EPCOT; a pictorial timeline of the theme park.

This timeline isn’t the least bit obvious, in fact it’s just the opposite . . . you have to go looking for it. But it’s worth the time you spend tracking it down!

As you walk south from the park entrance, heading toward World Showcase, keep your eyes pointed to the right. Between the Fountain View Restaurant and Club Cool you will see the doors pictured below. They're way in the back, behind that umbrella.

EPCOT Timeline Entrance

Walk through those doors and look around. You will find this interesting timeline on one of the walls. Carol is standing at the beginning, on the extreme right.

EPCOT Timeline

The first date, beside her shoulder, is 1965, when Walt first announced “The Florida Project” As you move toward the left you move forward in time, with 2016 on the extreme left.

Here’s a closer look at the earliest years. Click on each of the next four images to see a larger version.

EPCOT Timeline 1965 to 1982

There was a lot happening in 1982. The park opened October 1st and a number of pavilions were dedicated during that first month!

EPCOT Timeline 1982

From 1988 to 2003 the park continued to change, as new attractions were added and older ones were updated. Do you remember Food Rocks, The Wonders of Life and Communicore?

EPCOT Timeline 1988 to 2003

The pictorial time line currently ends with the 2016 addition of “Soarin’ Around the World” and “Frozen Ever After”, but of course there’s plenty of wall space available in those back corridors to add more and more as the park continues to change and grow.

EPCOT Timeline 2012 to 2016

Stop by some time and check it out! It’s a great place to hide out during a Central Florida thunderstorm, and a great place to cool down on a sweltering summer day!

March 20, 2017

This blogger's been busy: Two new books recently released

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The entrance to Disneyland Park in France goes under the Disneyland Hotel. [Ginny Osborne]


When my first book was published, I had what can be best described as a George McFly moment.

You remember the scene from Back to the Future: Surrounded by his family, George proudly opens a box containing copies of his newly released book. He's obviously excited about adding the title of "author" to his resume as he glances, chest puffed out, at the hot-off-the-press finished product.

Even in this age of portable devices, telecommunications and digital wizardry, it's still quite a thrill to see your name on the cover of an honest-to-goodness, printed-on-paper book. As the author, you know how hard you've worked and how proud you are to see the finished product; the only thing that's left now is waiting on the public's response, which, of course, you hope is positive.

I had another George McFly moment the other day when not one, but two of my books arrived at our doorstep in a plain cardboard box -- the re-release of my first book, Disney's Dream Weavers, and the brand new An American in Disneyland Paris .

I must admit, there's always a bit of trepidation when something you've written "goes public." The hope is that everyone loves what you've written ... the fact is, some people may not. As in life itself, you take the good with the bad.

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The cover of "An American in Disneyland Paris."

It's truly gratifying, then, when an unsolicited comment comes your way from someone you've known and respected for years.

"What great journalism you are doing," wrote Rick Sylvain, the former print and on-line manager for Walt Disney World media relations. "Your deep dive into the personalities that shaped Disney is important reading, not only now, but for future generations. As Charlie Ridgway and others pass on, their stories live on."

Humbling, to be sure, but much appreciated.

And so, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure, that I steer you toward my latest releases:

** Disney's Dream Weavers

** An American in Disneyland Paris


Disney's Dream Weavers was first released in 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing. It was a three-year labor of love that began innocently enough when I filled in for a columnist colleague at the Staten Island Advance, who missed work for several months after surgery.

His column dealt with the people and places on Staten Island in bygone eras from the 1940s into the 1980s. For reasons I can't really explain, I decided to write several substitute columns on Staten Islanders' participation at both the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 New York World's Fairs, both of which were held on the same site in Flushing, Queens.

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The cover of "Disney's Dream Weavers."

The highlights of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair were, of course, the four Disney-created attractions: Ford's Magic Skyway, Carousel of Progress, it's a small world and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the Illinois state pavilion.

I researched the 1964-1965 Fair, corresponded with folks who had attended and also drew on my own experiences as a Fair visitor. As I dug into the Fair, I came upon references to another amusement park popular during that era - Freedomland, which also was open in the early 1960s and was located relatively close to the Fair in The Bronx.

I had attended Freedomland as well, and have fond memories and some grainy photos to prove it. In researching Freedomland's story, it quickly became apparent to me that there was a link [a common thread, if you will] that ran through Disneyland, which opened in 1955, Freedomland [1960-1964] and the World's Fair.

Many of the people who had helped bring Walt Disney's dream of a park where parents and children could have fun together [the people who had, as I wrote, brought Disneyland from "fruit field to fruition"] also made significant contributions to both Freedomland and the World's Fair.

Unbeknownst to most of us, at about the same time Freedomland was shutting down and the World's Fair was in full swing, Walt Disney and some of his trusted lieutenants were scooping up land in central Florida to build what would turn out to be The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

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A German band plays a song in front of the Eastman Kodak building at Freedomland in 1962. The building to the left is a replica of the R.H. Macy's store in Manhattan. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

As the idea of putting together a book on that link among the four venues began to take shape, I was able to score interviews with a number of key people ... like Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Charlie Ridgway, Jack Lindquist, Tom Nabbe and Tony Baxter on the Disney side, and Ben Rossi, Bob Mangels and Mike Virgintino, speaking on behalf of Freedomland. Their combined insight helped, in my mind, to legitimize the book.

When Bob McLain of Theme Park Press agreed to re-release Disney's Dream Weavers, I could think of no better person to write a foreword to it than Mike Virgintino, who grew up near the park as a youth and has written about it extensively over the years. Along with a group of other "Friendly Freedomlanders," as they call themselves, he helped spearhead an initiative that resulted in the placement of a commemorative plaque near where the park's entrance once stood in the Baychester section of The Bronx.

Mike also has been a huge help to me in promoting my books over the years. I'm happy to report that he's currently working on his own book dealing exclusively with Freedomland.

An American in Disneyland Paris came about thanks to my ability to take notes no matter where I am. My wife and Janet and I joined our friends Gail and Julian Robinson on the trip of a lifetime in September of 2015, seven months after I had retired from the newspaper business. We visited Paris, France, Disneyland Paris and then sailed on the Disney Magic for its trans-Atlantic re-positioning cruise. [As luck would have it, also on that cruise were Deb and Linda!]

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Paris, and the Eiffel Tower, as seen from the Montparnese Tower. [Julian Robinson]

The fact that Julian grew up in England and had visited Paris on many occasions over the years allowed us to see the City of Lights not as first-time tourists, but as seasoned visitors [For example: Our trip to the Montparnese Tower, where we were able to view magnificent Paris from 56 stories above, right before sunset]. We saw things that very few tourists see and, if nothing else, his experienced hand allowed us to navigate the complicated underground rail system quite smoothly.

And when it came to Disneyland Paris, both Gail and Julian were park veterans. During our five-night stay, we got to enjoy things we probably might have overlooked, like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Walt's, a Club 33-type restaurant on Main Street that's open to the public.

To top off our trip, we flew from Paris to Barcelona, Spain, where we boarded the Disney Magic for an unforgettable 11-night adventure.

Among the highlights: Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar, where one can see two continents, Africa and Europe, by simply turning your head; a day-long visit to the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira; a number of presentations by several Disney Imagineers, giving incredible insight into what goes on behind the magic; behind-the-scenes tours of the ship, and a glorious finale on Castaway Cay.

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The Portuguese island of Maderia is located off the coast of northwest Africa. [Julian Robinson]

Photos taken by Gail and Julian during the trip enhance the book immeasurably.

Some time in May, another book I had a hand in will be published. It centers around some amazing, real-life adventures experienced by former Walt Disney World boating supervisor Ted Kellogg.

March 18, 2017

Yo Ho Yo Ho – 50 Years of Piracy

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Today is a special day in Disney history!

It was 50 years ago today that one of Disney’s most popular attractions opened! On March 18, 1967 guests at Disneyland were able to take their first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates entry sign
♫ ♪ Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! ♫ ♪

At the time of its opening 50 years ago Time Magazine heralded it as “the costliest and most technologically sophisticated adventure ever conceived as a permanent entertainment attraction, within or beyond the Disney gates!”

It opened to rave reviews and for a half century Pirates of the Caribbean has retained that popularity. It’s a ride Carol and I never miss, between Florida and California I’m sure we’ve ridden it more than a hundred times! That’s probably nowhere near a record though; I wouldn’t be surprised if there are avid Disney fans out there who have ridden thousands of times!

How popular is it? The Pirates attraction has been replicated in Disney parks in Florida, Tokyo, Paris and Shanghai and it has spawned a series of five live action movies.

One other notable thing . . . Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction Walt Disney worked on before his death. He passed away just a few months before it opened to the public.

Walt at work

Walt and a pirate

While I was looking for information on the Pirates ride I took a look in Carol’s Tickle Trunk and found a terrific article published in the Fall 1992 issue of Disney News. The article takes a look back after 25 years and gives a fascinating perspective, from the eyes of those talented Imagineers who brought the pirates to life.

Imagineer Marc Davis, one of Walt's "nine old men", was the principal designer and it’s interesting to hear him disclose his initial doubts about the Pirates project. “I thought, none of this is Disney. When I started reading everything I could find on pirates, I found that few of them were ever killed in sea battles like we’d always heard. Most of them lost their lives by venereal disease picked up in brothels.”

The article is pictured below. Click on each image to read the full text.

Disney News Fall 1992 page 23

Walt Disney assigned the Pirates project to Marc Davis in the early 1960’s and Davis began conceptualizing a walk-through show. He produced some wonderful concept art and storyboards, but when he reviewed them with Walt there was no enthusiasm. The project couldn't seem to get any traction!

Marc Davis

It wasn’t until after the 1964 World’s Fair that Pirates of the Caribbean found the spark that it needed. Davis added the boat system from Pepsi Cola’s It’s A Small World attraction and some Audio-Animatronics like those used in the State of Illinois Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln exhibit. Suddenly Walt was enthused and things began to happen very quickly!

Disney News Fall 1992 pg 24

Can you try to visualize the scene Imagineer Xavier Atencio described in that 1992 article? “We mocked up the auction scene in a warehouse at WED with all the figures working and the dialogue. We rigged up a dolly and pushed Walt through at the estimated time the boats would be going through.”

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall watching as Walt sat on a dolly being pushed by his most trusted Imagineers!

Marc Davis Walt Disney and Blaine Gibson
Marc Davis, Walt Disney and Blaine Gibson

I suspect that almost everyone who rides Pirates of the Caribbean comes out singing or humming, Yo Ho, Yo Ho . . .

Who do you think wrote that song? The Sherman Brothers? That was my guess too, but I was wrong. It was written by Imagineer Xavier Atencio and it was his first attempt at song lyrics. George Bruns wrote the music to accompany Atencio’s lyrics and between them they swatted a musical home run.

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Let’s look at some of the amazing concept art Marc Davis produced as he developed and fine-tuned his designs!

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“Strike your colors, ya brazen wench. No need to expose your superstructure!”

Many of his original pieces were displayed in Disneyland’s “Disney Gallery” in 2003. At he time the Gallery was located in New Orleans Square, directly above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, in the space that is now occupied by the Dream Suite.

Disney Club News Spring 2003
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Disney Club_News Spring 2003

Carol and I didn’t get the chance to see Davis’ art while it was featured in the gallery, but we did see it a decade later. In May 2013 some very thoughtful friends arranged a special treat for the two of us. We had dinner at Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33. Wow! After dinner Cast Member Garrett took us on a private tour of the club and pointed out many of the historically significant artifacts that graced the walls. Several of Marc Davis’ original pieces of Pirates concept art were reverently displayed.

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A Marc Davis Pirate sketch hangs behind Lillian Disney's harpsichord at Club 33

Our timing couldn't have been better; Club 33 closed for a major renovation and expansion just after our visit, and the Marc Davis concept art was returned to the Disney Vault.

In that 1992 article Marc Davis is quoted, “You always hope that anything you build will be a big hit. And I think we had a feeling that this one would be a success. But to be as popular now as when it opened? That was too much to hope for back then.”

Another 25 years have gone by since 1992 and the Pirates ride has lost none of its appeal. It is every bit as popular now as it was in 1992; it is every bit as popular now as it was in 1967.

That’s just astounding when you consider the changes we have seen in the past 50 years. The technology used in the attraction is now very old, but it is still as effective as it was half a century ago.

Yes, there have been a few minor changes, Jack Sparrow and Barbossa have been added to incorporate the new movies into the story, but these new characters have been done in a way that is totally consistent with the original designs mapped out by those talented Imagineers over 50 years ago. They fit very well and add to the original story rather than diminish it.

Happy 50th Birthday Pirates of the Caribbean! You don’t look a day over 25!

Now, let’s all celebrate together by singing that wonderful song . . .

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me.
We pillage plunder, we rifle and loot.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me.
We extort and pilfer, we filch and sack.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle and even hijack.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me.
We kindle and char and inflame and ignite.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we're really a fright.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

We're rascals and scoundrels, we're villains and knaves.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
We're devils and black sheep, we're really bad eggs.
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.

We're beggars and blighters and ne'er do-well cads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up me 'earties, yo ho.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

RELATED LINKS:

** Pirates of the Caribbean Magic Kingdom

** Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland

** Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland Paris

** Pirates of the Caribbean Tokyo Disneyland

** Pirates of the Caribbean Disney Pic of the Week

February 26, 2017

The Big Red Boat

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Way back in the mists of time, in the long lost days of yore, before there was a Disney Cruise Line, avid Disney fans sailed with a cast of Disney characters on The Big Red Boat!

The Big Red Boat

Premier Cruise Lines, which operated the Big Red Boat, was formed in 1983 by two veterans in the cruise industry. These two men were mavericks who had a vision; they wanted to create a new niche market – Family Cruising. Until that time cruise ships had been opulent floating palaces catering to well-heeled older patrons who wanted a luxurious vacation experience. The two entrepreneurs behind Premier Cruise Lines thought that some of these patrons might like to bring children or grandchildren along with them and that was the niche market they were hoping to capture.

They raised more than a few eyebrows in the rather stodgy cruise industry when they bought the Oceanic and refurbished it in a “not-so-luxurious” fashion to accommodate the needs of cruising families.

At the same time the Walt Disney Corporation was looking for ways to add some variety to their theme park vacations. It wasn’t long before Premier and Disney signed an agreement and began jointly marketing Disney vacations with a “land and sea” option. When it was re-launched after refurbishment the Oceanic was christened by none other than Minnie Mouse!

Big Red Boat Ad 1990
Click on the image above to see a larger version

In 1985 Disney characters began appearing on the Big Red Boat; special Disney themed ship-board activities were offered for children and on-board entertainment was family oriented. The ship had a staff of more than 30 youth counselors on-board and programs for the children were divided by age group. They even had a special menu for children and provided free onboard babysitting. This approach to family cruising was an instant success!

Big Red Boat Ad 1992
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Disney fans just loved the idea of three or four days at sea followed by three or four days at the theme parks! By 1988 family cruising was so popular that two more ships, the Majestic and the Atlantic, joined the Premier Cruise Lines fleet. The hulls were painted bright red and all three were marketed as “The Big Red Boat”

Magic Kingdom Club Membership Guide 1993
Click to see a larger image

The three and four day cruises sailed from Port Canaveral and offered several different itineraries. Ports of call included Freeport, Nassau and Salt Cay, a small island just a few miles from Nassau.

Carol and I didn’t sail with Disney until 2007, but a few people have shared their experiences on the Big Red Boat with us.

Karen O. from Illinois told me, “We took a cruise in March 1992. My husband Rudy, son Greg and I boarded the Majestic in Port Canaveral. We really enjoyed the package that included a three day cruise followed by four days at Walt Disney World. One of the highlights was anchoring off of Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It's almost hard to say what was our favourite thing because everything was great. Of course we loved the food, the service, and the activities; but we especially loved the snorkeling. Our son Greg even got to swim with the dolphins. He was a year-round swim competitor, and at the time was eight years old. It was a very special trip and vacation for us.”

Greg and the Server

Greg at Abacos

Rob R. from Virginia described his experience for me; “My wife Kathy and I honeymooned on the Big Red Boat in September 1993. We boarded about 2:00 p.m. and sailed away from Port Canaveral at about 5:30. There was a Bon Voyage party on the main pool deck; we were all given streamers and confetti to throw, there was a live band playing and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto were interacting with guests as we left port. That was the last time I remember seeing the characters on board but I'm sure they were around for later functions. The movie theater was showing Disney movies.”

“Our ports of call were Nassau and Freeport. At Nassau we could go to the straw market, take an excursion to Atlantis to go to the casino, take an excursion to Salt Cay, a nearby private island to snorkel or rest on net hammocks. Salt Cay was used in the opening credit shots for Gilligan's Island . . . that was neat. Kathy and I enjoyed the snorkeling and then walked around the straw market”

“In Freeport Kathy and I went parasailing. It was fantastic! Flying high above the crystal clear water was wonderful. From up that high, you could see the coral reef, some of the colourful fish and the ocean bottom. I wish I had taken a camera up with me to take pictures of how clear things were.”

Rob and Kathy must have sailed on one of the last of the Disney themed cruises since the deal between Premier and Disney ended in late 1993 and was not renewed. Disney reportedly had discussions with both Carnival and Royal Caribbean lines, hoping they could replace Premier, but neither seemed to be interested. On May 3, 1994 Disney announced that they would be starting their own cruise line.

Premier soon negotiated a deal with Warner Brothers and before long Bugs Bunny and many of the other Looney Tunes characters were interacting with vacationers on the Big Red Boats.

Looney Tunes Party Animals

It was during the Looney Tunes era that AllEars.net Photo Blogger Scott Thomas and his family sailed. “We sailed just after Disney had announced they were building their own ships and pulled out of the Big Red Boat. All the Looney Tunes characters were on the ship. The weather during our cruise was terrible, so bad that we didn’t go on a single excursion. The kid’s programs were very strange; they allowed our daughters, aged 6 and 9 at the time, to leave unescorted and roam the ship looking for us. We didn't like that at all; the girls found us each time but it certainly did not give us a good feeling!”

“The boat was old and small, everything seemed very cramped. The food and the service were okay. They only had one dining hall which I believe was the norm on ships back then, but nothing about the cruise was as well done as we have since experienced on Disney Cruise Line.”

Most of you know the rest of the story. In 1996 Disney purchased Gorda Cay and spent 25 million dollars transforming it into Castaway Cay. The Disney Magic began sailing July 30, 1998 and was joined by the Disney Wonder about a year later. The Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy followed in 2011 and 2012. Two new ships are now under construction and both should join the Disney fleet within 6 years.

As for Premier, they struggled after Disney pulled out. Their fleet was old and the smaller ships had a hard time meeting the needs of more demanding consumers. The company was bankrupt by September 2000 and almost all of their ships have since been sold for scrap.

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It’s a sad ending for Premier Cruise Lines, a company that helped incubate the Disney Cruise Line. There is no doubt in my mind that those 8 years when Disney fans sailed on the Big Red Boat gave the Imagineers a wonderful model to use when they began to design the ships, the children’s programs, the ship-board entertainment and the shore excursions that we all enjoy today.

How about you? Do you have any fond memories of the Big Red Boat?

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 on 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 RescueEdit 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 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 15, 2016

Remembering Walt

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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!

November 13, 2016

Chess Men at the Haunted Mansion

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Here’s another little tidbit of Disney lore that Carol and I were told by a cast member during a behind the scenes tour . . . it explains those odd objects on the roof of the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The story the guide told us began in California back in the late 1960’s. Disney had just purchased the land needed for “The Florida Project” and all hands in the Imagineering Department were busy designing attractions for the new park.

Imagineer Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, was not only a gifted artist; he was also a skilled draftsman. He had designed the Haunted Mansion which opened to rave reviews at Disneyland in August 1969. It was only logical that he design another version, adapted to the geography and climate of central Florida.

So in the late 1960’s Davis was hard at work generating sketch after sketch of the Florida mansion. Before long he was drafting specific plans and had a number of small scale models built to test his plans and experiment with materials, textures and color schemes.

Marc Davis was also an avid chess player and always had a chess board set up in his office. He would often use the chess board to clear his mind during stressful times, playing a game against himself or replaying a classic game played by a chess master.

Often, while Davis and some of his fellow Imagineers were out having lunch an unknown prankster would sneak into his office, pick up a few of the chess men and put them on the model of the Haunted Mansion. A pawn on the corner of a gable, a rook on a chimney, etc. Of course, Marc had a keen memory and was able to put every piece back into the proper place on the board. A few days later the pieces would migrate back to the model during lunch . . . it happened again and again! And Marc Davis always put them back in place on the chess board.

After many months of work the design was nearing completion, the process was almost complete. But Davis couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing . . . something was wrong.

Rather than go back to the drawing board, he went back to the chess board. He put some chess men back in the places where the prankster had left them, switched them around a few times and soon found the perfect look. His work was done!

Haunted Mansion Chess Men
Click on the image to see a larger version

I snapped the picture above in November 2013. Can you spot the chess men? You should see Pawns, Bishops, Rooks and Queens.

November 2, 2016

From Black Lake to Disney Springs

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A long, long time ago there was a quiet, tranquil pond outside the sleepy little Florida village of Vineland. The pond was called Black Lake; it was surrounded by struggling vineyards which gave the nearby village its name, some mature orange groves, a few old cherry orchards and swamps. Lots and lots of swamps!

Farming was always a struggle in central Florida so it must have seemed like a miracle when a mysterious buyer started optioning and buying large tracts of swamp, grove and orchard in 1964. I’m sure that most of those hard working farmers were thrilled to have the opportunity to retire in comfort!

On November 15, 1965 Florida Governor Haydon Burns made the big announcement; the Disney Corporation had bought up over 30,000 acres of land, about 48 square miles, and planned to build “the greatest attraction in the history of Florida."

Walt Disney press conference 1965

Construction began in 1967 and the sleepy area around Black Lake has never been the same! Bulldozers, back-hoes and cranes were busy everywhere. New canals were dug and soon did their jobs draining the swamps. New roads and highways were built, new hotels sprung up, new stores and shopping centers took shape, all in anticipation of the tourism boom that Disney’s new Magic Kingdom would create.

And it certainly was a boom. The Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971 and only 8 years later, on October 22, 1979 they welcomed their 100 millionth guest. It was still only one theme park, but it was already the most popular tourist destination in the world!

But let’s skip back to Black Lake, and let’s take a look at the area within a mile of the lake. One of the first things Disney management did was rename the lake, they called it Lake Buena Vista, in honour of Buena Vista Street where Disney’s Burbank studios and headquarters are located. And Lake Buena Vista is still there, not far from Hotel Plaza Boulevard, just behind the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Hotel. It is connected by canal to its man-made sister lake, Village Lake, which is now the focal point for Disney’s shopping and entertainment district.

It didn’t take long after the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 for the world’s richest mouse to realize that many of his guests were leaving the Disney resort area to shop, dine or be entertained somewhere else. Mickey took quick action to plug that financial leak!

The new Disney shopping area, Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, opened March 22, 1975. Guests at Walt Disney World could stay in the 133 town homes or the 60 tree house villas at the nearby Buena Vista Club.

Two years later, in 1977 Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village was renamed Walt Disney World Village.

The earliest printed information I have is an article from the February 1981 issue of Walt Disney World News pictured below. It gives some examples of the shopping and dining that was available in those early days.

Walt Disney World News February 1981
Click on the image to see a larger, easier to read version.

My earliest recollection of the area dates back to a trip in about 1979 when we enjoyed dinner and Monday Night Football in the upper deck bar in the Empress Lily, which we now know as Fulton’s Crab House. My memories of the shopping are a bit vague, but that evening was my first experience with Florida’s “love-bugs” and I remember them quite vividly!

Here are a few brochures that will give you a sampling of what guests could enjoy back in those early days. (Don't forget to click on the images)

1982 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1982

1982 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1982

1984 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1984

1987 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1984

1987 Walt Disney World Village Brochure
1987

1987_WDWV_Inside.jpg
1987

In 1989 there were some big changes. The area was renamed once again; it became Disney Village Marketplace and a newly developed area called Pleasure Island opened May 1, 1989. Pleasure Island featured night clubs, restaurants, a dance hall and a variety of other entertainment geared toward adults.

Walt Disney World News 1990 Pleasure Island
1990

Did you ever dance the night away at Mannequins or stomp your feet at Neon Armadillo?

Every night was New Year’s Eve at Pleasure Island! Frankie and the West End Boys played most nights on the outdoor Waterfront Stage and revelers danced the night away!

1990 Pleasure Island brochure
1990

Two of the most popular venues in the new area were The Adventurer’s Club and The Comedy Warehouse, both of which developed groups of extremely loyal followers.

1991 Walt Disney World Village and Pleasure Island
1991

1991 Walt Disney World Village and Pleasure Island
1991

1992 Disney Village Marketplace
1992

1992 Disney Village Marketplace
1992

1992 Disney Village Marketplace
1992

1993 Disney Village Marketplace and_Pleasure Island
1993

1993 Disney Village Marketplace and_Pleasure Island
1993

I wish I could pick up a few of the cels that they used to sell in the early '90's at Suspended Animation!

In June 1995 a further round of enhancements was announced. Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island would be joined by a third entertainment zone to be known as West Side. The three areas would be known collectively as Downtown Disney. West Side officially opened September 15, 1997 and included a new theatre built specifically for the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba, a Virgin Megastore, Rainforest Café, Planet Hollywood and Disney Quest. The House of Blues followed just a few months later.

2000 Christmas Brochure
Christmas 2000

Downtown Disney was a vibrant area during the first few years of the 21st century, on the east side the Marketplace shops were busy each and every day then Pleasure Island and the West End would come to life at night!

Sunday mornings were, and still are, a busy time at The House of Blues; their Gospel Brunch is a hand-clappin' toe-tappin' good time!

2001 Downtown Disney
2001

2001 Downtown Disney
2001

2001 Downtown Disney
2001

Then after a few years things began to falter a bit in Pleasure Island. It seemed that the adult-themed area was having difficulty sustaining itself in the middle of a family-themed vacation area. One by one the restaurants and bars grew quiet and shut down.

2005 Downtown Disney
2005

2005 Downtown Disney
2005

2005 Downtown Disney
2005

The Adventurers Club and The Comedy Warehouse carried on the longest, but eventually they too closed permanently, on September 27, 2008. Disney announced the complete shut-down of Pleasure Island “to make room for additional family-oriented entertainment”.

And then Pleasure Island sat dormant for a long time. A very long time! It took almost 5 years for new plans to materialize. During that 5 year period the only signs of life on Pleasure Island were at Fulton’s Crab House and Raglan Road.

2012 Downtown Disney
2012

2012 Downtown Disney
2012

The guide maps of the era designated a large portion of Pleasure Island "For future enjoyment"

Finally, on March 14, 2013 “Disney Springs” was announced, to include 2 multi-level parking garages and 150 new tenants in four distinct districts:
• The Marketplace
• The Landing (formerly Pleasure Island)
• Town Center
• West Side

Work on the areas being redeveloped for Disney Springs has been ongoing since 2013 and most of the venues in those newly developed areas are now open . . . but I have yet to see them! My wife Carol was there about a month ago and she has assured me that I will like what I see.

So that’s a brief history of how that quiet, tranquil little pond known 52 years ago as Black Lake has become surrounded by hotels, restaurants, theaters, night clubs and all the other infrastructure needed to sustain the largest and busiest tourist destination in the world. Buses, cars and trucks speed past, moving people and merchandise on new highways; boats transport tourists through the rivers and canals that lace the resort area; planes and helicopters pass constantly overhead; there’s even a balloon for sightseeing. Black Lake has seen a lot of change in those five decades!

Carol and I will be pointing our motor home south and heading back to our happy place in just a few weeks. I plan to spend some quality time exploring Disney Springs while we’re there. Once we get back home I’ll be sure to share my impressions and some pictures with you.

October 16, 2016

The Utilidors at Magic Kingdom

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Did you know that as you walk along Main Street USA at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom you are walking on the second floor of the park?

Yes, it’s true! As you walk through the Magic Kingdom there is a whole unseen world just below your feet. It’s a series of service tunnels which cast members call Utilidors. The name is a mash-up of Utilities and Corridors.

Florida is very flat and it’s mostly made of sand. If you dig a hole almost anywhere in Florida you will find water just a few feet down! That’s why very few homes in Florida have basements; most are built on concrete pads which lay directly on the sand.

Back in the mid 60’s when Disney began construction in Florida the Utilidors were the first thing they built! They didn’t excavate the tunnel system; they built it on top of the ground. Then as soon as the network of tunnels and service areas was completed they began dredging sand to create the Seven Seas Lagoon. All the sand they dredged was piled around the Utilidors and raised the ground level throughout the Magic Kingdom by 10 to 12 feet. Just like that the Utilidors were underground!

Here’s an experiment for you! The next time you are entering the Magic Kingdom, after you’ve gone through the bag-check area, stop for a minute and look ahead toward the Main Street Train Station. Do you see that gentle but steady upward slope? Now turn 180° and face the Seven Seas Lagoon. Do you see the downward slope?

That’s where all the sand went when they created the lake. As you walk up that slope you are walking from ground level to the second floor!

Magic Kingdom Utilidor construction

The picture above shows the construction of the Utilidors. Click on the image to see a larger version. Those cars and trucks in the foreground, at the very bottom of the picture are parked in the Utilidor, in the area that we now know as The New Fantasyland. In the background you can see Cinderella Castle taking shape, and at the very top of the picture are the buildings at the top end of Main Street USA. The Plaza Ice Cream Parlor on the left and Casey’s Corner on the right. The Utilidors run under all of it!

Over the years Carol and I have enjoyed a number of tours at Walt Disney World. I really enjoy getting behind the scenes to get a glimpse of the “backstage” areas and listen to some of the insider information that the guides share with guests.

One of our first tours was the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour at the Magic Kingdom and it remains one of my favourite!

Why was it special? Because we got to go down into the Utilidors!

We weren’t there very long, but it was a real eye-opening experience.

There really is a tiny city down there that is totally invisible to guests just a few feet above!

Overhead are color-coded pipes, ducts, flues and conduits carrying all the necessary utilities to keep the theme park functioning. On the walls are signs and arrows providing directions to the many corners of the park which can be accessed underground.

Underfoot are tiled or polished concrete floors, some with directional stripes like in a hospital to help folks navigate. “Follow the purple stripe to the wardrobe department.”

It’s a hive of activity. People, equipment and merchandise are in constant motion.

There are forklifts moving inventory to the stores and restaurants above, there are cast members walking to work or heading to a break room or a meeting room. There are lockers and lunch rooms for the cast members, wardrobe, makeup and personnel departments. Cast members can even do their banking or get a hair cut in the Utilidors.

As our tour group walked through the main corridor beneath The Emporium we heard a very loud rumble overhead. It was so loud that our tour guide paused in her presentation and continued once the racket had died down. “That was the trash going to the recycling department.” she said.

There is a system of big pipes overhead that form a huge air-powered garbage chute, sort of like a giant central vacuum system. Cast members open hatches located in backstage areas around the park and toss in the trash. It all gets sucked to the central recycling area where it’s sorted for processing.
Not my idea of the world’s best job;
• “paper in dumpster A”
• “plastic in dumpster B”
• “food waste in dumpster C”
• “carefully wipe the sunglasses and cell phones then sent them to Lost and Found”

Magic Kingdom Utilidors

The diagram pictured above shows the extent of the system of tunnels. It extends south to Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, north to the Pinocchio Village Haus Restaurant, east to Tomorrowland and west to Frontierland and Adventureland.

Disney asks guests to refrain from taking pictures while backstage, so I have no pictures of the Utilidors to share with you. The two images I have included in this blog are used in many web sites with no source mentioned. Whoever originally provided the images, thanks for sharing!

There’s plenty more than the Utilidors included in the Keys to the Kingdom tour, but in my opinion the opportunity to walk down those stairs and navigate a bit of the tunnel system was worth the entire cost of the tour!

If you haven’t already done the tour, give it some thought for a future trip!

Details can be found HERE.

September 4, 2016

Growing Up With Disney

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♪♫ Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me? ♫♪
♫♪ M   I   C   K   E   Y        M   O   U   S   E ♪♫

As I look back on my childhood, it seems to me that I may have been born at a perfect time and in a perfect place!

I’m not suggesting that I was a perfect kid, but it sure was an ideal time to be a child, and I grew up in a terrific location. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure both the time and the place helped to foster my love of all things Disney!

I grew up in a small Canadian village on the north shore of Lake Erie, about 50 miles due north of Erie Pennsylvania and 80 miles west of Buffalo New York. Television was a very new phenomenon in most households in the mid 1950’s and families would crowd around small TV sets to watch faint, usually snowy, black and white pictures. Their faces were often filled with expressions of awe and wonder as they enjoyed this incredible new technology. I’m sure I was one of the most awe-struck!

Mickey Mouse Club Poster

When the Mickey Mouse Club show first aired on the ABC Network, October 3, 1955, the timing was perfect; I was 7 years old.

Mickey Mouse Club Pin

Because my home in Canada was so close to the American border we could almost always pick up all three of the US television networks. Our strongest signals normally came from the ABC affiliate just across the lake in Erie, but sometimes weather conditions would hamper that signal. When the picture was bad I would quickly run outside, half way around the house, and turn that big tall steel antenna until it pointed east toward Buffalo. Normally we could tune in one station or the other, unless there was a really bad storm!

Every day I rushed home from school to be entertained for a full hour by my new friends, Jimmy Dodd, Roy Williams and all those Mouseketeers!

Mickey_Mouse_Club_cast.jpg

They sang, they danced, they played games and shared adventures with us. Sometimes they took us to a far-away, new and magical place called Disneyland!

Mouseketeers Sing

Mousketeers Dancing

Fun With Music

Yes, I admit it, like every other boy of my generation I had a huge crush on Annette!

Annette

The Mickey Mouse Club often included a newsreel showing current events from a kid’s perspective, but for me the real highlight was the daily episode of the latest serial adventure. Every day there was an exciting 15 minute episode featuring the ongoing exploits of young action heroes like Spin and Marty or the Hardy Boys. It was heady stuff for a 7 year-old boy! I didn’t want to miss a single installment!

Spin and Marty

Spin and Marty magazine cover

Spin and Marty starred Tim Considine as Spin and David Stollery as Marty. They galloped through a seemingly never-ending series of adventures on the Triple R Ranch.

Spin and Marty scene

Spin and Marty scene

Tim Considine also appeared as Frank Hardy in the Mickey Mouse Club’s Hardy Boys serial, his brother Joe was portrayed by Tommy Kirk.

Hardy Boys

Hardy Boys

Hardy Boys comic

I was so engrossed with the Hardy Boys that I made regular trips to the local library and read the entire series of books. Over 60 years later I am still an avid reader of mystery and suspense novels.

Of course there was more Disney on television in the evenings. The whole family joined me in front of the TV set for the Davy Crockett series which aired as a serial on the weekly “Disneyland” show. Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) and George Russell (Buddy Ebsen) negotiated peace with Indians, went to Congress, fought at The Alamo and raced keel boats. Yes, the whole family watched . . . but I was the only one wearing a coonskin cap!

Davy Crockett

Thursday nights were extra special; I was allowed to stay up a half-hour past my usual bedtime to watch Zorro.

Zorro introduction

He was a dashing and gallant hero played by Guy Williams. Somehow Zorro was able to carve his initial into Sergeant Garcia’s uniform week after week, but he never drew a drop of blood!

Zorro

My little home town (population 3,200) had one small movie theatre with a single screen. My sister and I never missed a Disney movie. My weekly allowance of 25¢ would cover both my admission to the Saturday afternoon matinee and a 10 ounce bottle of pop. That’s what we call soda here in Canada!

Saturday night we always watched “Hockey Night In Canada”; men and boys all across the nation huddled in front to the television to watch our NHL hockey heroes, but Sunday nights were always family nights in front of the TV . . . “Disneyland” at 7:00 p.m.

Disneyland TV introduction

From its first airing in 1954 the Disneyland show acted as a preview for the new theme park taking shape in Anaheim. The opening sequence referred to the original themed lands of the park, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Frontierland.

The Lands

Each week Walt Disney acted as host. He came into our home and introduced the featured show; Walt seemed like a kindly uncle as he explained how that evening’s episode related to one of the themed lands in his new park.

Host Walt Disney

The Davy Crockett adventures I mentioned earlier were set in Frontierland, the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was serialized and Walt explained how those episodes related to Adventureland. There were True Life Adventures, serialized animated features, and cartoons featuring all the favourite Disney Characters.

The Sunday night show changed titles over the years, becoming “Walt Disney Presents” in 1958. Then in 1961 with the advent of colour broadcasts it became “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”.

Wonderful World of Color

There were several more changes in name during the program’s 40 year run, but one thing never changed, the high quality of family entertainment. Walt continued to act as host each week until his death in December 1966.

By the time Walt Disney died I was almost ready to leave the nest, I started my first full-time job in February 1967 and that career lasted almost 40 years!

But throughout my formative years, from 1954 to 1967, Walt Disney was there with me, week after week!

Yes, Canada’s south coast was a great place to be a kid, and a Disney fan, in the 1950’s and 60’s!

°o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°   °o°

OK folks, this blog was supposed to end right there . . . but here's a very special postscript.
It's "ADDED BONUS" time!

As often happens, I asked my wife Carol to proof-read this blog for me. She had read about half way through the text when she stopped and asked me, "So, where's your coonskin cap?"

In typical male fashion I said, "I dunno, I probably threw it out years ago."

"Men," she muttered, "What's wrong with them!"

She dropped the papers, walked over to her Tickle Trunk and started rummaging through it.

After a few minutes she cried, "Aha, here it is!" and handed me a big envelope.

It's pictured below, front and back. Click on each image to see a larger version of the picture.

Record Envelope Front

Record Envelope Back
How cool is that? Her very own Mickey Mouse Club phonograph records from 60 years ago!

Carol grew up about 225 miles east of my home but she was also close to the American border and picked up US television signals just like my family did. She was hundreds of miles away watching the same shows I was. Probably about the same time my mother bought me a coonskin cap, Carol's mother picked up these records for her!

I carefully opened up that old envelope and here's what I pulled out!

Map Folder
(Click on the image to see a larger version)

Wow! It was a folding map - six panels with Disney images.

Carol told me the rest of the story. The folder had originally been twice as tall as what appears in the picture above. Beneath each of the five panels to Roy Williams' right was a phonograph record. The recordings were on panels of clear vinyl, containing the recording tracks, glued to the printed card stock paper on the bottom of the folder. Carol very carefully cut each of those records off the folder and then had hours and hours of fun playing them on the families gigantic old HiFi record player.

Here's what the records look like!

Records
(Click on the image to see a larger version)

Why is it that Carol kept a full trunk full of cool old stuff and I threw out my coonskin cap? It was probably the best Disney keepsake I've ever owned!

I'd like to give Carol's records a spin and see how they sound, but we packed up our turntable years ago. I'm not even sure it will play 78 RPM platters . . . but I may have to pull it out of storage and give it a try!

And that, as it's said, is the rest of the story!

It seems to me that both Carol and I grew up in a very special time and a very special place!

April 25, 2016

Another school of thought regarding the Walt Disney-C.V. Wood feud

waltskul.jpg
The entrance to PS 160 in the Bronx, aka The Walt Disney School, just across the highway from the site of Freedomland.


CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy About Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Our last blog, dealing with the contentious relationship between Walt Disney, C.V. Wood and the creation of the Freedomland park in New York City in the early 1960s, generated considerable interest among readers.

In many ways, both men profited from their acrimonious relationship: Disney, because Wood played such an important role in Disneyland's development; and Wood, because he was able to take what he had learned as Walt's aide-de-camp and develop theme parks and other projects of his own in the years after he was booted from Disney's employ.

In addition to Freedomland, Wood and his Marco Engineering firm were responsible for the creation of Magic Mountain theme park in Golden, Colo., and Pleasure Island outside Boston in Wakefield, Mass. In addition, Wood and Robert McCullough [of McCullough chainsaw fame] joined forces in one of the most unique projects you could ever imagine in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

That project involved dismantling, brick by brick, the outdated London Bridge and transporting it from England to the United States, where it was reassembled and became a major tourist attraction. Each brick was meticulously numbered and transported to a container ship, where they then made the journey through the Panama Canal to California. They were then trucked to Arizona, where the bridge was put back together, brick by brick. It was jokingly referred to as the world's largest jigsaw puzzle. The bridge was reassembled and opened in 1971, surrounded by countless English-themed shops and attractions.

Wood also had a hand in the creation of the first Six Flags amusement park in Arlington, Texas. Six Flags Over Texas, as it was originally named, remains a major tourist attraction and helped spawn the Six Flags nationwide brand.

In retrospect, Walt Disney had the last laugh. The success of Disneyland helped solidify the Walt Disney Company as an entertainment juggernaut and the company he founded continues to grow and flourish to this day.

On another level, Walt may be still be laughing at C.V. Wood.

waltskul2.jpg
From PS 160's letterhead: The Future Starts Here -- Believe, Achieve, Succeed!.


Over the years, many towns across America have honored the world's greatest dreamer by naming schools after him. To give you an idea, here's a list:

Walt Disney Elementary School - Anaheim, Calif.
Walt Disney Elementary School - Burbank, Calif.
Walt Disney Elementary School - San Ramon, Calif.
Walt Disney Elementary School - Mishawaka, Indiana
Walt Disney Elementary School - Clinton Township, Michigan
Walt Disney Elementary School - Marceline, Missouri
Walt Disney Elementary School - Springfield, Missouri
Walt Disney Elementary School - Omaha, Nebraska
Walt Disney Elementary School - Rochester, New York
Walt Disney Elementary School - Tulsa, Oklahoma
Walt Disney Elementary School - Levittown, Pennsylvania
Walt Disney Elementary School - Alvin, Texas
Walt Disney Magnet School, Grades K-8 - Chicago, Illinois

You'll notice there's one school in Walt's hometown of Marceline, Missouri, as well as one in Anaheim, near Disneyland, and another near the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

One former student at the Walt Disney Elementary in Anaheim remembers her experience at the school: "I was in the first graduating class of those in kindergarten through sixth grade ... representing class years 1959 to 1966. I love those memories and seeing Walt Disney at a school event. What an honor."

In our research, we discovered another school named after Walt, the placement of which is dripping with irony and leaves me wondering if Walt is, in fact, having the last laugh over C.V.?

You see, the school, Public School 160, is located at 4140 Hutchinson River Parkway East in the Bronx, opposite Co-Op City and the Bay Plaza Shopping Center ... the same parcel of land where Freedomland once stood!

According to the school's website: "The Walt Disney School is a dynamic, exciting, and educationally stimulating place where students are encouraged to reach their fullest potential. The motto of our school is: 'The future starts here. Believe, Achieve, Succeed!' The culture of the school emphasizes high expectations, creativity, respect and the cooperation of family, community and school" ... very much in keeping with the ideals Walt Disney himself believed in.

In a recent message to the school community, the school's principal reminded students that "PS 160 in a uniform school. Students should wear navy bottoms [no jeans] and white collared shirts with a red tie. Shoes should be navy or black."

A dress code sounds so much like Disney, doesn't it? No word on whether these uniforms are known, as in Disney parlance, as costumes.

March 14, 2016

Card Walker gets the ball rolling on Epcot

epcot1.jpg
Spaceship Earth, Epcot Center's icon, during the early stages of construction. [The Walt Disney Company]


CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

"What are we going to do about Epcot?"

With those words, first spoken in 1974, then-Disney president Card Walker got the ball rolling on what is arguably the most ambitious project ever taken on by the Walt Disney Company after Walt's death in 1966.

According to former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar: "That was the start of eight years of figuring out what to do, and it was a pretty fantastic eight years, I must say. But that was really the start. I give Card a lot of credit, because he didn't let that dream die."

"That dream" was Walt Disney's vision for a city of the future, a Utopian complex that would tackle the problem of urban blight and would introduce new, forward-thinking ideas on how to improve the human condition.

"Some aspects, some version [of Walt's Epcot concept] would have happened and it would have changed a lot, because the evolution of these projects is so dynamic," Marty said. "I have this ad I kept in my office all the time. It was from IBM. It said 'The Future is a Moving Target.' And nobody saw that as clearly as Walt Disney did, believe me."

Once Card Walker decided to give the go-ahead for Epcot, it was up to a team of individuals -- Marty Sklar, John Hench, Carl Borgirno, Don Edgren, Jack Lindquist and Randy Bright among them -- to figure out exactly what Epcot's mission should be ... and, perhaps more importantly, how that vision would be paid for.

epcot2.jpg
An aerial view of Epcot during construction, with Spaceship Earth taking shape and many of the monorail beams in place. [The Walt Disney Company]

From the outset, the team was emphatic what Epcot shouldn't be ... namely, another theme park. "If you think about it, at that time, and even today, it had to have that contrast," Marty said. "Why should we go into competition with ourselves? So the contrast was good."

So the team embarked on a crusade of sorts, reaching out to a variety of leaders from a diverse field to get their thoughts and ideas on the ambitious, first-of-its-kind project.

"We decided we had to test the water, so we held what we called The Epcot Future Technology Forums, starting in 1976," Marty said. "Ray Bradbury [the noted science fiction writer who contributed to Epcot's communication theme] was the first speaker. And we invited people from academia, from government, from corporations and just smart people that we found through our research and it was really fascinating because we had these long discussions.

"We'd show Walt's film and we had translated that into potential directions. It was very early on. And after every one of these conferences, these people would say to us, 'The public doesn't trust government to do this, the public doesn't trust what industry tells them, but they trust Mickey Mouse. So you guys have a role in this.' Well, that was very nice to hear people say that, but what the heck do you do about that?

"I went back to Card Walker, who was a marketing man from his experiences with the studio, and we decided to go back to the whole idea that Walt had said, that no one company can do this by itself. And that's when we started going out to all the big corporations and said, 'OK, here's what we're planning to do and we want you to be part it.'"

epcot4.jpg
Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar on-site during Epcot's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

Getting American industry to fall in line "was a huge selling job," Marty remembers. General Motors was the first company to hear the pitch about Epcot. The automotive giant had put together a committee of its own, called The Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, which was formed to help chart GM's course for the future.

So Marty and company "packed up two truckloads of models and artwork and we hired John McClure Sr. John had been the art director for the Hall of Presidents, but more importantly, he was one of the great art directors in Hollywood. He did Hello, Dolly and Cleopatra, among other things, so John set up our presentation.

"They gave us their whole design center in Warren, Michigan. They had an area where they introduced their cars. It was big ... huge. They gave us the whole thing. We set up these models and Card Walker put together all the people that were key to the project — Donn Tatum, Dick Nunis, Jack Lindquist and the new Disney Channel people, who were just getting started. Everybody that was gonna be part of making this thing work" was there.

"We made a big presentation to Roger Smith and his Scenario 2000 Advisory Committee, and when we were finished, Roger said 'I want to do this. There's only one problem: I've got to convince my management.' He was the vice president of finance at the time, later chairman. Jack Lindquist and I were left behind and the next day, at 7 o'clock in the morning, we made a presentation to Pete Estes, the president of GM, and they became the first ones to sign a contract at the end of 1978."

Suddenly, corporate America became intrigued with this exciting Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

General Motors' participation "broke the dam, if you will, and Exxon was right behind them," Marty said. "We made so many presentations that we figured out that we couldn't get the top people to go to Florida or California, so we went to RCA and said, 'Do you have a place that we could set up as a presentation center,' and they did.

"They had a recording studio at the Avenue of the Americas and 46th Street where Andre Costellanez used to do his recordings and they said we could have it for a year. And so we rented it and we brought all our models and artwork and we put a staff there and any time of the day or week, if we wanted to set up a meeting, with companies headquartered in the New York area, as most of them were in those days, they could call up and say, 'Yeah, I'd like to have my chairman come in and see your project.'"

At that point in time, Epcot had morphed from a city of the future into two separate sections of one park, one focused on American industry and new technologies, the other one showcasing as many countries as possible in a permanent, world's fair-type setting.

epcot7.jpg
Card Walker and other dignitaries break ground during ceremonies kicking off Epcot Center's construction. [The Walt Disney Company]

"That's how we communicated to the companies," Marty added. "We started out with trying to do two projects. One was international and the other was so-called Future World area, and we found that we couldn't get enough sponsorship for both, so we pushed the two of them together basically and that became Epcot Center."

Journalists who had seen detailed drawings of a domed city with futuristic modes of transportation had a hard time accepting this new Epcot. "Walt left a very sketchy outline," Jack Lindquist said. "It was developed at that time (1966) to influence the Florida legislature. We needed something bigger, bolder, more dramatic than another Disneyland."

Walt asked famed Disney artist Herb Ryman — who had made a name for himself in 1954 by drawing the first rendering of Disneyland which Walt used as part of his pitch to potential investors — to help conceptualize Epcot. "Draw me something to talk about, Herbie," he said. But what Ryman came up with was far more grandiose than almost anyone had imagined. It turned out to be more fantasy than fact-based.

Still, "The media wouldn't let that Epcot go away," Lindquist said. "They had that image [of a domed city] in mind, but nobody really knew what Epcot was."

"I'd say we are doing exactly what we talked about when Walt was alive," John Hench said when asked if the company was departing from Walt Disney's original vision. "Walt introduced ideas as, you might say, the title in Scene One. He knew better than to drop the big scene into people's minds at the beginning. We're engaged in Scene Two now."

Scene Two would take years to be completed and would run up over a billion dollars in construction costs. It was a huge gamble on the part of the Walt Disney Company and its president, Card Walker, especially when you consider that after ground was broken in central Florida for Epcot, plans were put in motion to build another first-of-its-kind Disney park ... thousands of miles and one vast ocean away, in Japan.

The man known as Card was rolling the dice ... and the stakes couldn't have been higher.

Next time: Card Walker comes to terms with a Disney presence in Japan.

February 29, 2016

Under Card Walker's guidance, Epcot begins to take shape

epcot6.jpg
One of the many concept drawings, done in the mid-1960s, depicting the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow -- Epcot. [The Walt Disney Company]

CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.net Guest Blogger

In early 1956, several months after E. Cardon Walker hired Marty Sklar to produce The Disneyland News, Card was named vice president of advertising and sales for Walt Disney Productions, getting the word out such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The promotion was the start of a meteoric rise up the company ladder for Card who, like Marty, was a graduate of UCLA. In what seemed like rapid succession, Card was appointed to the company's Board of Directors in 1960. In 1965, he was named vice president of marketing, then executive vice president of operations in 1967, and executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1968. In 1971, he became company president. Five years later, he was named Disney's chief executive officer.

During his tenure as a top executive in the Disney corporate ranks, Card not only oversaw the creation of Epcot, but Tokyo Disneyland and The Disney Channel as well, providing a steady hand at a time when the company was still trying to find its way after the deaths of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

With the success of The Disneyland News on his resume, Marty Sklar returned to UCLA in the fall of 1955 to complete his studies. After graduation in 1956, Marty accepted a position in Disneyland's publicity department, working with the likes of future Disney Legends Eddie Meck, Jack Lindquist and Milt Albright. Marty and his PR cohorts dreamed up a number of noteworthy initiatives, including Vacationland Magazine, all of which made great strides in promoting the park because, as Marty put it years later, "Disneyland wasn't a slam dunk during those first few years."

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Marty's relationship with Card Walker remained strong.

"I had the good fortune to come out of a group that reported to Card at Disneyland," Marty said, "and I stayed very close to him over the years. Even after I had gone to WED [WED Enterprises was the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] in 1961 to work on the New York World's Fair, I still did a lot of writing for publicity and marketing. I also was responsible for the annual report. Card kept me close to him all that time.

waltd.jpg.jpg
Walt Disney poses for a photo after recording The Epcot Film in 1966. Two months after filming, Walt died. [The Walt Disney Company]

"To have somebody in that position trust you so much to continue to promote me, if you will, talk me up with Walt and other executives in the company, was quite an honor. And he knew I had written all that material for Walt for Epcot, of course."

Marty was responsible for writing the script for what became known as The Epcot Film. In it, Walt presented, in meticulous detail, his vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow ... a city of the future that was the heart and soul of Disney's planned move to central Florida. Included with the film were concept drawings, many by artist Herb Ryman, a Disney Legend. Many of Ryman's renderings depicted a futuristic metropolis featuring monorails, PeopleMovers and a dome encasing the entire complex.

Filming of The Epcot Film took place in October of 1966; Walt Disney died just two months later, leaving the company he had founded and nurtured for decades in a lurch. With plans already in motion for the move to Florida at the time of Walt's death, Epcot was put on hold and the company concentrated on opening the world's first destination resort: A Disneyland-style theme park, on-property hotels and expansive recreational facilities.

Questions persisted about Epcot

After Walt died, "we continued to get questions about Epcot," Marty said, particularly from those people who had seen the early concept drawings. "After Roy [Walt's brother, who took over as company leader after Walt's passing] died in December of 1971, Card and Donn Tatum took up the mantel. I really think Card felt he had a debt to pay to Walt and he had to fulfill that debt as chairman of the company."

In May of 1974, Card Walker took Marty Sklar aside and asked him one of the most important questions of his career: "What are we gonna do about Epcot?"

Walt's original concept for Epcot, to create a city of the future where residents would live and work and where news ideas and systems would be introduced, was problematic, if next to impossible to bring to reality, at least without Walt Disney's guidance. "We knew we couldn't experiment with people's lives," Card said. "You couldn't have spectators peeking in people's kitchen windows."

Still, the Disney company was committed to building something on the property that reflected and fulfilled Walt's dreams of a great, big beautiful tomorrow.

"In a real sense, the concept of Epcot has been unfolding from the very beginning," Card said. "From the outset of planning and through the design, construction and installation stages of Walt Disney World, Epcot has been the ultimate goal."

According to Marty, "Card made a number of different speeches about ideas for Epcot. These speeches evolved into his vision of the project.

jimmy.jpg
As his wife Rosalynn looks on, left, President Jimmy Carter chats with Disney executive Card Walker in the Contemporary Resort. Seen over Walker's left shoulder in the background is Marty Sklar.

"I have a photo in my office of president Jimmy Carter in 1976 at the International Chamber of Commerce conference at the Contemporary. President Carter spoke to the conference. We brought all the work we had done to that point and put it in a ballroom at the Contemporary. We invited President Carter to come see, as well as leaders from all over the world."

The photo shows Card Walker talking to President Carter, with First Lady Rosalynn Carter to their right and Marty Sklar standing in the background. Donn Tatum is behind Mrs. Carter.

"Card really felt indebted to Walt for his whole career. This [Epcot] was Walt's big dream. He made a number of different speeches around the country," trying to get as many corporate leaders on board. "He was a good salesman. For example, The Living Seas pavilion. It wasn't part of the pavilions on opening day. It came about when Card was playing golf with Harry Gray, the CEO of United Technologies. [The Living Seas, now known as The Seas with Nemo and Friends, opened in 1986, four years after Epcot's opening.]

"Walt always said that no one company can do this [Epcot] by itself," Marty added. "Participation by the country's major companies was the key" to bringing Epcot to life.

One of Marty's chief responsibilities at the outset was to help bring as many of those companies on board as possible. "It was the start of eight incredible years of trying to figure out just what to do."

Next time: The long and winding road leading to Epcot's opening day.

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About Disney History

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Disney History category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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