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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.

May 22, 2017

The Evolution of Pal Mickey

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Pal Mickey, sold at Walt Disney World from 2003-2008, could still be used in the parks until 2014. On the box, it says that Pal Mickey "is the talk of the Parks!'

I have to admit, technology leaves me in awe. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the idea of walking around with a phone in your pocket was simply unthinkable. So, too, were things like home computers, microwave ovens and other futuristic gadgets that we simply can't do without in this day and age.

The Walt Disney Company has always been at the forefront when it comes to new technology. Who would have dreamed that Disney guests would be able to carry their theme park tickets, credit cards, room keys, FastPasses, Magical Memories photos and dining reservations all on their wrists?

Oftentimes, new technology created by Disney is cutting edge and extremely popular. Other times ... well, let's just say there have been a few swings and misses.

Take Pal Mickey, for example.

Pal Mickey was an interactive device that guests carried around Walt Disney World. The little hand-held plush with "magical powers" was introduced in 2003 to somewhat mixed reviews. He would "talk" to guests whenever they were near a specific attraction and relay fun facts about it. During its five-year run and before it was phased out altogether in 2014, Pal Mickey was considered quite innovative, if a bit cumbersome to carry around.

He cost $50, but during the first year, you could rent him for $8 a day.

Although he was only around a short time, it took years to bring Pal Mickey to fruition. During the research and development phase, former Imagineer Eddie Sotto was instrumental in its creation.

"The research and development department had come up with this animatronic toy based on Genie from Aladdin," Sotto said recently. "It was a backpack. You'd wear it on your back and the Genie had eye movement and could talk. And the Genie would react and tell stories based on where you were in the park. It would ask questions, so you would get special information on the park based on where you were.

"So they had a demonstration of this product and I had just started this concept development studio where we could help other divisions of the company and not just be restricted to the theme parks, and I said, 'Hey, we have this idea, but do you really think it's practical? Where does a person put this backpack when they go on a ride like Space Mountain?'

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Former Imagineer Eddie Sotto had a hand in creating the Pal Mickey interactive plush doll sold at Walt Disney World from 2003-2008. [Courtesy of Sotto Studios]

"You really can't see these eye movements when it's on your back; your family can see it, but you can't see it. It seemed like there should be more to it."

There followed a variety of different prototypes, with nothing really standing out.

"We took this little Beanie Baby-type toy that would vibrate on your wrist and it would be bound to your wrist and when it vibrated, that meant it wanted to tell you something." Sotto explained.

"You would put it up to your ear, but if you're putting it up to your ear, can you see its eyes move? No. Can you see its mouth move? No. That means you have to make it talk. The other problem was, what with the noise level in the parks, it was really hard to hear the Genie talk.

"So I said, 'Let's do this so it doesn't disturb people and it can whisper, so to speak, and not bother people around you. All this basic logic made sense and the company got into this idea.

"It migrated from this wearable item [which I think would have been a much better idea] to this Mickey doll. That's kind of where it went. We also wanted to change it to Simba from The Lion King, which was a fuzzier pet than a big Mickey Mouse."

Pal Mickey debuted in 2003 and was programmed to work in all four theme parks. It communicated with its owner thanks to 400 infrared transmitters that were scattered throughout each park. When Pal Mickey wanted to tell you something, it would giggle and vibrate. You could also prompt Pal Mickey to say something by squeezing one of his hands or by touching his belly.

In addition to giving you information on the area you were in, Pal Mickey also reminded you of upcoming parades and show times ... even which attractions had shorter wait times. Later incarnations saw Pal Mickey ask trivia questions and tell jokes. He also came in a variety of costumes, with the appropriate accessories; there even was a Spanish-language version.

Of course, with the proliferation of SmartPhones, which are not nearly as cute but are far more efficient, Pal Mickey's days were numbered. Sales of Pal Mickey were discontinued in 2008, although he could still be used until 2014, when the transmitters were taken down and Pal Mickey faded into Disney lore.

Still, according to Sotto, Pal Mickey "was a very innovative product and was a lot of fun to work on."






May 8, 2017

Imagineering's Kevin Rafferty turned love of cars, fear of bugs into hit attractions

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Long-time Imagineer Kevin Rafferty poses for a photo while in attendance at a Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [AllEars.Net]

As the saying goes, you have to start somewhere.

In the case of Card Walker, who was the Walt Disney Company's CEO from 1971-1983, that "somewhere" was the mail room at the Walt Disney Studios in 1938.

Former Walt Disney Imagineering creative leader Marty Sklar's "somewhere" was as the creator and editor of The Disneyland News, which was sold to guests as they walked into the new park during the summer of 1955.

Imagineering Legend Tony Baxter kick-started his much-heralded career at Disney by selling ice cream on Main Street in Disneyland in the mid-1960s.

And then there's Kevin Rafferty, who is currently executive creative director leading the design and development of new projects for Imagineering.

How did Kevin get his start at Disney? By washing dishes at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland in 1974.

"To get my foot in the door with Walt Disney Productions, I applied for a job at Disneyland," Rafferty said recently. Through all the soap suds and sponges, Rafferty dreamed of becoming an animator. Then fate – actually, it was a poster, with Mickey Mouse featured on it, proclaiming: Mickey Wants You! – intervened.

"They were recruiting Imagineers to work on the Epcot project and Tokyo Disneyland in the late '70s,” Rafferty said. “I had just gotten out of school and had my art degree when I was hired by Imagineering. The weird thing is, I’ve spent the next 38 years being a show writer. I came up here [Imagineering's headquarters in Glendale, Calif.] and got to know all the original Imagineers, Marty [Sklar] and the gang, and did show writing.”

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Rafferty stands in front of a model one of his most noteworthy Disney creations, the Radiator Springs Racers at Disney's California Adventure. [Courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering]

Rafferty’s attractions resume is impressive, to say the least. In no particular order, he helped create and develop Toy Story Midway Mania!, It’s Tough to be a Bug! and Cars Land in Disney’s California Adventure. He also made contributions to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Winnie the Pooh attraction in the Magic Kingdom at WDW.

The stories behind each of these wildly popular attractions is intriguing. Cars Land, for instance, came about because of Rafferty’s love of cars … and was conceived well before the Disney/Pixar movie Cars was released.

"I'm kind of a car nut and that's actually how that whole thing started,” Rafferty explained. “Cars Land was first called Carland, one word, before I even knew Pixar was working on a movie about cars. The story of the Radiator Springs Racers is I flew up to Pixar with a colleague of mine in 2004, two years before the Cars movie came out and they were still in production on the film. We had come up with Toy Story Midway Mania! together and within a couple of months after the return trip from Pixar, we had the Radiator Springs Racers on the boards. I'm really kind of proud and happy to say it's 99.9 percent of what the original board was."

The Radiator Springs Racers, as well as the stunning rock work featured in Cars Land, were developed two years before the first Cars movie was released. “The 288,000 square feet of hand-carved rock work is really epic, really amazing," he said. "I still can't believe we did all that. Unless you've actually seen it, it's hard to tell someone what it's like. Unless you stand there and look around, you don't get a sense of how spectacular it is."

The ride system for the Radiator Springs Racers is similar to Test Track in Epcot. "I worked on that one, too," Rafferty said.

While Rafferty is a self-proclaimed "car nut," he has a genuine fear of insects … which, in a weird way, made him the perfect choice to develop the It’s Tough to be a Bug! attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

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Hopper, one of the most advanced Audio-Animatronics figures ever created by Walt Disney Imaginnering, is the bad guy in the It's Tough to be a Bug! show at Animal Kingdom. [Walt Disney World]

"Yes, my entire life I’ve been totally fearful of insects," he said. "It’s kind of weird, things I’ve worked on, like Tower of Terror, the original one … I have a fear of falling; Rock ‘n Roller Coaster … I don't like to go upside down; It’s Tough to be a Bug! … I have this phobia of bugs! It's just one of the weirdest things. I guess I'm the right person to be doing all this stuff."

Rafferty’s original concept for It’s Tough to be a Bug!, which is located in the base of the Tree of Life, was rejected by then-chairman and CEO Michael Eisner.

"When Animal Kingdom was being developed, the outside structure of the Tree of Life was going to be like the castle and the base of the tree was going to be a walk-through, like the castles are. I was at a meeting one day and Michael Eisner asked the question, 'Is the base of the tree big enough to put a show in?' And we said, 'Yeah, we could probably put a couple hundred seats in that thing' and it kind of changed the whole design. He tasked me to come up with a show to put inside that. At that time, The Lion King was popular and Rafiki was the wise old sage and all that, so I came up with a show that had Rafiki as an Audio-Animatronics character, talking about the animal kingdom.”

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A variety of creepy, crawly bugs take center stage during It's Tough to be a Bug! [Walt Disney World]

Rafferty pitched the idea to Eisner, who was underwhelmed.

"Michael said, 'You know, that's really a good show. If it were at any other place than Animal Kingdom, it would be a 10, but it's really only an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 and it's really got to be spectacular.” He then suggested Rafferty get in touch with the folks at Pixar, who were working on a film about insects, A Bug’s Life.

"I thought he was crazy!” Rafferty said. Why would Michael suggest a show about bugs when this is a park about animals? he thought.

"So, I started to do research and the first book I found said on the first page, 'The 10 quintillion insects of the world comprise 80 percent of the animal kingdom. I thought, ‘Man, that is fantastic.' I had to put my fear of bugs aside because without them, we'd be in a world of hurt.”

Rafferty then sought out several experts to get their feedback on a bug-themed attraction.

"As far as the research went, I started to meet with some entomologists, even some entomologists from the Smithsonian Institute. Of course, we wanted to make it an entertaining show, in 3-D. I was asking them about what kind of interesting things that real bugs do in nature that we could put in the show to support the theme that it's tough to be a bug. What do those guys need to do to survive? There was one session with some entomologists and they said, 'Your know, there are soldier termites that spray acid on their prey,' and I thought, 'Man, there's a 3-D act!' ‘And there's Chilean tarantulas that throw poison quills at their prey,’ and I was like, 'Wow! This thing is writing itself!’”

Although It’s Tough to be a Bug! was linked to A Bug’s Life, the movie was still years away from completion. "They didn't really have a whole lot of time to work on our show with us," Rafferty said, "so, essentially, I was given permission to make up our own characters, the rule being that they had to be believable, that if they were in the movie, they'd look the same. All Pixar had at the time were Flik the ant and Hopper. The other ones were still evolving, so we got to use Flik and Hopper, which was fantastic, and all the other bug characters we got to make up.”

All the new characters are "all exclusive to It's Tough to be a Bug!, but this is one of the few attractions, I think, that Imagineering's ever done where the characters in an attraction predated the release of the movie. I think the show opened six weeks before the premiere of A Bug's Life, so we got to introduce them before the movie came out. That doesn't happen frequently because it takes so much time to develop an attraction."

The Hopper character has long been recognized as an Imagineering tour-de-force.

"With all the little spindly grasshopper tentacles, it was really hard to do. We as an audience get to shrink down to the size of a bug, so that being the case, Hopper had to be relatively the same scale as he was in the film. Plus, he was designed to come up on a lift that brings him up to the show, in a couple of seconds. All of that carriage and all that complexity of the entire figure as it came up on the lift was a real challenge," he said. "What's really great about the team here is they really rise to the occasion. All the complexities of that Hopper figure ... there was a lot of head-scratching going on, but somehow, they figured out how it all came together … going up and down as it does during the show cycles."

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Kevin Rafferty with Mr. Potato Head, featured in the queue of the Toy Story Midway Mania! attractions in both Disney's California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios. [Walt Disney Imagineering]

The Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction featured in both California Adventure and Hollywood Studios presented its own unique challenges.

"For Toy Story Midway Mania! we asked them to do Mr. Potato Head, where he actually took his ear out by himself. That was a real challenge."

The concept for Toy Story Midway Mania! "wasn't that hard to come up with, but it was extremely difficult to actually do," Rafferty said. "At the time, Matt Ouimet was the president of Disneyland Resort and I was in the hallway with a colleague. Matt came down the hall and he said, 'Hey you guys, we really like Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. We really like that family game attraction. Can you guys think of something else along those same lines that we might be able to do?'"

"So we walked around California Adventure and we ended up on the boardwalk and we said, 'I wonder what it would be like if you actually got to ride through carnival games, all those midway games. The thing is they charge you like five bucks to throw three balls. What if you have the great Disney immersive experience and you have unlimited tossing objects and everyone was a winner?

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Kevin Rafferty, center, poses for a photo during his dishwashing days at the Plaza Inn Restaurant in Disneyland. [Walt Disney Imagineering]

"At first, we landed on something called Mickey's Midway Mania, but we thought, 'You know, the Toy Story characters would be really fun to host this.' We came up with a story that Andy got this midway play set as a gift and when he went downstairs for lunch, all the toys set up all these midway games and they were all inspired by the characters themselves. We could shrink to the size of a toy and Mr. Potato Head, as the barker, would invite us in to enjoy the fun.

"We went over to the Disney Studios to pitch the idea and they liked it so much that they wanted to do two – one for Florida and one for Anaheim, almost simultaneously, which was a lot of work."

Toy Story Midway Mania! was designed in such a way that games could be switched out and new games added with relative ease. "All the hardware and the systems are there, it's a matter of creating another game and getting with our partners at Pixar and redoing that. It was kind of fun because the games themselves were inspired by the characters, like Ham on the farm and the Little Green Man and the ring toss. We actually designed it to be modular in the sense that it could be refreshed when we wanted to add a new game. It was kind of fun."

"Part of the challenge when you're thinking about an attraction these days that you want to keep relevant and fresh and add some new life to it once it's been around for a few years."

And just what is Rafferty working on these days? "I'd love to tell you ... but I can't. It hasn't been announced yet," he laughed. "But I'll tell you this: It's gonna be really fun"

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 6, 2017

Disney Legend Marty Sklar learns that inspiration can be a two-way street

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Marty Sklar, center, poses for a photo after his presentation at the Festival of the Arts in Epcot in February. From the left are Julian Robinson, Chuck Schmidt, Marty, Janet Schmidt and Gail Robinson. [Courtesy of Gail and Julian Robinson]


"One little spark, of inspiration, is at the heart, of all creation." - Richard and Robert Sherman

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes, all you need to be inspired is just one little spark.

Take, for example, the young woman who told an inspirational story during a question-and-answer session at a recent Festival of the Arts workshop conducted by Disney Legend Marty Sklar in the Odyssey Festival Center in Epcot.

"This is more of a comment than a question," she began. "I was trying to decide what type of career path I wanted to take when my college professor suggested that I read your book, One Little Spark! I did, and it inspired me to pursue a career as an Imagineer. I'm currently working as an intern with Walt Disney Imagineering."

Add that woman to the very long list of people Marty Sklar has inspired over the years. And, in a roundabout way, add Marty Sklar to the list of people the woman has inspired during her still-young career. More on that later.

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The artwork of both Herb Ryman, above, and Mary Blair were on display at the Odyssey Festival Center at Epcot during the inaugural Festival of the Arts. [AllEars.Net]

Marty's workshop at the Festival of the Arts was part of a troika of appearances by the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering at his beloved Epcot: There was the sold-out presentation at the Odyssey on Feb. 11, then a book signing on Feb. 12 in the Art of Disney at Epcot, and finally a return to the Odyssey on Feb. 13 for a talk about the artwork of Disney Legends Herb Ryman and Mary Blair.

During his Feb. 11 workshop, Marty talked about his two books, Dream It! Do It! and the aforementioned One Little Spark!

"My first book was sort of takeoff on one of my favorite songs, '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,' by Paul Simon, although that in no way reflects my real life. My wife Leah and I will be celebrating our 60th anniversary on May 12th.

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Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar have done a number of Disney events over the years, the most recent being a presentation at the Texas Transportation Forum. [AllEars.Net]

"It was more about 50 ways to get started. Nothing I had done prepared me to write Dream It! Do It! I first had to come to grips with the question: 'Do I really have something worthwhile to say?' In the end, I found out that writing a book takes a lot of patience, research and flexibility.

"And every writer needs a good editor and I was fortunate to have been able to work with Wendy Lefkon from Disney Editions. Her support and help, particularly with accessing material from the Disney Archives, was very important."

His follow-up book, One Little Spark!, took a deep dive into the world of Imagineering. It also provided a guide map for people aspiring to join the Walt Disney Company's much-heralded and respected creative wing.

Both of Marty's books have been unqualified successes and have resulted in book-signing tours over the last few years that have literally spanned the globe ... from Shanghai, China, to Toms River, N.J. "I just signed a contract with a Brazilian publisher for Portuguese editions of both books," Marty said. "Dream It! Do It! already has Japanese and Mandarin Chinese versions."

I asked Marty if there is another book in the works. That's when I learned that inspiration can be a two-way street.

"Yes, I've started working on another book, but it's hard to get motivated," he admitted. "But the Festival of the Arts audiences – including my separate book signing on Sunday – have inspired me to get moving."

During his workshop on Saturday, Marty said he was "really excited about the first-ever Festival of the Arts. It's wonderful to see the works of the Disney artists on display her at Epcot. Forgive me if I get a bit emotional. I worked on Epcot from 1973 until it opened in October of 1982 ... almost 35 years ago. Today, Epcot is the sixth-most visited park in the world. It's great to see the arts have joined in the fun here."

Inside the Odyssey, some of the works of Legendary Disney artists Herb Ryman and Mary Blair were on display, serving as a fitting backdrop to Marty's presentation, as well as the Festival in general.

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A poster advertising the Texas Transportation Forum had a very Disney feel to it.

Marty's appearance at Epcot capped off another whirlwind stretch for the now 83-year-old. Prior to his Epcot stint, he and fellow Disney Legend Bob Gurr, who is 85, gave presentations at the Texas Transportation Forum, which ran from Feb 5-7 in Austin.

The title of their keynote talk was "Imagineering a Legacy: How Disney's Designs Influence Today's Transportation." Who better to talk about transportation issues than two of Imagineering's guiding lights, two Disney giants who were always pushing the envelope and developing creative and forward-thinking solutions to a myriad of problems?

Both Marty and Bob gave perspective and context on how Imagineering's "great sense of innovation can be applied to the transportation problems of today," according to the event program. "The Imagineers had to think outside the box to overcome many issues, including developing new and innovative transportation systems."

"I guess we were a big hit." Marty said. After their presentation in front of 1,500 people, "another 500-600 were at our Breakout Session. They said some of the government people [doing other Breakout sessions] were not thrilled – we had by far the biggest audience!"

"Yes, we both had a blast," Gurr added. "1,500 Texas government folks, all friendly Republicans. Well organized and ready for tall tales from Disney's past more than issues of transportation. The panel presenters did all of that, while we made up stories."

Stories that no doubt inspired those in attendance to dream up new and creative ways to tackle many of today's pressing transportation issues.

February 6, 2017

Monorail guru Bob Gurr talks about Monty ... and his concept drawing of the famed transit vehicle

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Bob Gurr's original drawing of the monorail, sketched in late 1958. The color was added by Disney Legend John Hench.

Hey, Bob Gurr ... now that you've completed a documentary showing the world just how you designed some of the world's most innovative theme park attractions, what are you going to do next?

"My next project is gonna be a movie about Monty the Monorail."

Makes sense. Gurr, the father of Disney theme park monorails, has intimate knowledge of the sleek, futuristic modes of transportation that glide along on a single beam of concrete. When Walt Disney wanted to place a monorail system within the confines of Disneyland in the late 1950s, he turned to Gurr, his go-to transportation guru, to make that dream happen.

All these years later, the affable 85-year-old wants to turn a monorail into a living, breathing entity. Enter Monty the Monorail.

Here's the backstory: Turns out there's a guy who bought the front carriage of a Walt Disney World Mark IV monorail and turned it into something of a tourist attraction. "The guy treats it as if it's a character," Gurr said recently. "He fills it up with rock music and flashing lights and smoke and rides it around on an old flatbed trailer."

"I've met the guy and I want to do a movie about the monorail where I do a long voice-over. I look at the situation of a monorail who is a living character. And he has relatives and the relatives go way back to his great-grandfather in 1959. The movie will be really funny, full of graphics and this voice talking like it's his mommy.

"It'll be very tongue in cheek, taking an inert machine and making it into a human. When Monty was traveling across the country, every city was waiting for him and they'd throw a big party. Hundreds of people met Monty all across the United States.

"That's the next project."

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Bob Gurr takes a walk around viewing area atop Disney's Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World.

Bob Gurr is uniquely qualified to talk about the monorail, be it the nuts, bolts and Fiberglass version or the living character reincarnation.

It was Gurr who was tasked with getting the monorails designed and up and running for Disneyland in 1959. Mind you, he also was challenged with designing the track system for the Matterhorn Mountain bobsleds, as well as designs for a new Autopia car and the submarine voyage ... all at the same time!

Like most of the things he designed over his illustrious career, the monorail started with a simple sketch.

"I did the first sketch of the monorail in October of 1958," Gurr said. "I did about a 10-minute sketch in my house one morning and I brought it back to the office the next day and it took about two hours to complete it because I knew exactly what I wanted.

"Then [Disney Legend] John Hench put the coloring on it. Disney publications are always full of errors; they said John Hench designed it. Then one day years ago, the Disney Archive Department suddenly showed up with my original drawing. And they said, 'See, John didn't draw it, you did.'

An almost life-size mural depicting Gurr's iconic drawing currently adorns the Top of the World Lounge atop Disney Vacation Club's Bay Lake Tower in Walt Disney World. In the lower left-hand corner is the signature R.H. Gurr.

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Bob Gurr, center, offers some suggestions to Imagineers working on a refurbishment of the Autopia attraction in Disneyland several years ago. [The Walt Disney Company]

"If you go up there slightly after the sun rises, in the morning when the bar is closed, go over to the windows on the west side. The mural is back-lit so gorgeously in that room. It's just a stunning sight to see," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not when the bar is open."

His signature on the mural proved to be a bit problematic.

"The first time I signed it, the cleaning people came in and wiped it off. The next time after I signed it, they broke the corner off one of the panes. The third time I signed it, they sprayed plastic on it" to preserve it.

"That picture is actually what I've been saying all along: The inspiration comes from the top, not the bottom. Somebody asks you to figure something out and somehow, your brain has life experiences and suddenly, you can't sketch fast enough. It's so vivid in your mind. You've got to get it down on paper really quickly.

"The fact that that thing [the monorail] has turned out to be an icon at Disneyland and all over Florida ... The fact that that picture of the Mark I is in a bar at Walt Disney World, well, that's kinda cool."

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 12, 2016

A November to remember for Disney Legend Marty Sklar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the questions March asked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2016

Art Smith's Homecoming beefs up Disney Springs' restaurant offerings

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Guests at Art Smith's Homecoming in The Landing neighborhood at Disney Springs prepare to dig in to some of the restaurant's signature items. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

As celebrity chefs go, Art Smith is the antithesis of the flashy food mavens you often see on TV cooking channels. He's thoughtful, articulate and genuinely down-to-earth.

But that doesn't mean Smith isn't passionate about what he does.

When Smith partnered with the Walt Disney Company to create Art Smith's Homecoming, one of the crown jewels of the newly transformed Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment district, he did so with the intention of bringing back the traditional family dining concept that's been lost in the hustle and bustle of our 21st Century lifestyles.

"It's great to see people enjoying food," Smith said during a recent interview at his restaurant, located in The Landing neighborhood of Disney Springs, the district's own version of "restaurant row."

Smith is a proponent of what he calls "celebrational family food," as well as sharing at the dinner table. "I like to serve food that's 'shareable'," meaning the meal is placed at the middle of the table and everybody just digs in.

"The sharing of food makes it more precious. And where I came from, we always had a salad with every meal."

Smith is no stranger to preparing delicious food, owning restaurants or being in the spotlight.

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Chef Art Smith is a proponent of family style, shareable dining. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

He has cooked for several political leaders and celebrities, and was even Oprah Winfrey's personal chef for several years. "Oprah taught me some great lessons," he says with a laugh, "including, 'Wine with food, thank you very much!'"

He's appeared on a number of television shows and specials, has written four books, has traveled the world as part of the State Department's Chefs' Program, owns restaurants in Chicago [TABLE fifty-two] and Washington, D.C. [Art and Soul] and has won several awards, including the James Beard Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year in 2007.

Indeed, if there's one takeaway from talking to Smith is that he's a caring individual.

He cares about his home state of Florida [he's a sixth-generation Floridian whose great-grandfather was a moonshiner], making a commitment to use only Florida-grown products in Homecoming [as it says on the sign outside his establishment, "Florida Kitchen, Southern Shine"]. He also cares passionately about teaching children sound nutritional values. To that end, he founded the non-profit Common Threads. He's also on the board of a nutrition program in Minneapolis called Kids' Cafe.

Smith and his husband, Jesus Salgueiro, have four adopted children, so for him, the stakes are pretty high when it comes to children's nutrition.

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Church Lady Deviled Eggs are one of many must-have selections at Art Smith's Homecoming. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

Years ago, "I played the whole funny fat chef thing," he said. At one point, he admits, his weight ballooned over 350 pounds. He credits healthier food choices and running marathons for helping him drop more than 100 pounds. "We have four kids. I wanna live a long, healthy life for them. You have to be responsible when it comes to your food choices, including cutting down on sugar and salt consumption. My No. 1 rule is don't drink your calories. When you take better care of yourself, you take better care of others."

Smith is involved in a number of projects which reaffirm his commitment to responsibility when it comes to the field of agriculture.

He recently purchased a former jai alai arena with plans to build a bakery and market. "I wanted to create a real farmer's market, one that showcased fresh items from Florida farms. You have to remember there are a lot of hard-working families on our farms," Smith said, adding that "Florida is the winter pantry of America."

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Art's Fabulous Fried Chicken is buttermilk-brined, moist and tender. [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

He also purchased an Antebellum house with the idea of turning it into a school of sustainability.

"Most chefs don't know where their food comes from," Smith says, adding that many have a "Cisco-to-table mentality," meaning they take food from a delivery truck, cook it, then serve it. "Chefs should be more conscious of health and wellness."

He's also involved in helping to bring back the sagging oyster industry in Florida. "In Apalachicola, the water has changed so much and the oyster industry has suffered because of it." An oyster farming program he helped initiate at a local community college is so popular that it has a six-year waiting list.

Smith is the first Disney College Program graduate to open a business on Disney property, a fact that he's very proud of. "That's me when I was a young pup," he says, pointing to a picture of himself while in the program in 1980.

"I'm a big believer in internships," he said. He's also a big Disney fan. "I admire the sense of team spirit at Disney, the sense of family. It's no wonder so many people stay and work here for as long as they do." Smith first visited Walt Disney World when he was just 12; he and his family stayed at the Polynesian Resort.

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According to Chef Art Smith, Homecoming's desserts "taste like momma made 'em." [Courtesy of Art Smith's Homecoming]

Sense of family is so important to Art Smith and it shows through in the signature items Homecoming offers.

His Church Lady Deviled Eggs are truly mouth-watering. Momma's Mac and Cheese ... delicious. His buttermilk-brined Fabulous Fried Chicken is moist, tender and absolutely scrumptious. Addie Mae's Chicken and Dumplings ... superb. There's also fried catfish, shrimp and grits and an assortment of sandwiches and burgers. Homecoming also has a full bar with a variety of signature drinks.

And then there are the rich, decadent desserts ... desserts, Smith says proudly, "that taste like momma made 'em."

Smith says that Homecoming was five years in the making, but during the process, he never once thought about how much it would cost. "I'm a big believer in dreaming it and making that dream come true.

"I hope you find inspiration here. For all of us, the sharing of a meal is a common, anticipated ritual that reunites us with loved ones and brings a sense of balance to our lives. It's my heart's desire ... to serve a simple, unfussy meal of freshly made foods ... and see how it enriches your lives."



July 25, 2016

Guide Maps: A Roadmap Through Disney Parks History

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In a recent AllEars.Net blog, I alluded to my odd quirk of getting my hands on guide maps each and every time I enter a Disney theme park. I will usually grab three -- one for actual use during the visit, another to save for posterity and a third one just in case something happens to the other two. I've been doing this since we first visited Walt Disney World in the early 1970s. If nothing else, they make for some nice keepsakes.

Needless to say, I've built up quite a collection over the years. When I return home, I usually put the new additions to my collection in an envelope and mark it with the date of the trip.

I have some pretty diverse maps in my collection. I have maps from our visit last year to Disneyland Paris [unlike WDW and Disneyland, which offer maps for each individual park, Disneyland Paris maps are all-inclusive, with maps and details for Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios]. I even have one from Tokyo Disneyland [thanks to our son, who visited there during a business trip a few years ago] ... in both English and Japanese, no less!

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The cover of a Walt Disney World guide map from 1974. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

I have a map from opening day at Animal Kingdom (April 22, 1998) as well as a Disneyland guide map with [gasp!] a typographical error: On the back of the guide map, from 1998, is a headline asking you to Make a name for yourself in Disneyand Park! That typo sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

I also have maps for Disney's two water parks, the Disney Springs [formerly Downtown Disney] shopping and entertainment district and the special events Disney throws during the year at the Magic Kingdom, including the Not So Scary Halloween and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas parties.

Often, I refer to these maps when I'm writing a blog, particularly when I want to get the exact name or the correct spelling of a show or attraction.

Admittedly, it's a pretty strange quirk of mine, collecting Disney guide maps, but considering they hand out these maps for free, why not save them? Besides, looking back at these guides is like leafing through the pages of a Disney history book; it allows me to get a historical perspective -- and, indeed, an accurate record -- of the way things were in Disney's ever-changing world.

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The WDW guide map in 1996 featured a photo of the pink "castle cake," celebrating the resort's 25th anniversary. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

Who could forget Cinderella Castle decorated as a birthday cake during WDW's 25th anniversary? The bright pink "castle cake" was featured on guide maps in 1996. Or how about the bizarre [to me, anyway] Nahtazu promotion plastered on Animal Kingdom's maps a year or two after it opened? [After about a year of being clueless on the subject, it dawned on me exactly what they were talking about -- that Nahtazu meant Animal Kingdom was NOT A ZOO].

I mention all of this because during a recent visit to WDW, I noticed that the maps were a lot smaller than they used to be. For instance, the Magic Kingdom guide map back in 1998 was 16 x 18 inches in size, or 288 square inches. By comparison, a Magic Kingdom guide obtained in April measures 9¼ x 20, or 185 square inches. That's a size differential of 103 square inches per map. A savings for the environment, to be sure ... and a lot more room to expand my collection!

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In 1986, during Walt Disney World's 15th anniversary, Epcot handed out a guide map that was 18 pages. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

By far the biggest map in my collection was distributed at Epcot in 1986. It was actually called a Guide BOOK. It came with 18 pages, stapled in the middle, and featured detailed descriptions of every attraction and food option in World Showcase and Future World. It's so big, they probably should have considered giving guests a free tote bag to lug the thing around the park.

Also in my collection is a guide map from 1974, with a cover featuring the Main Street parade, with two very different-looking Goofy and Mickey characters, a marching band and a lot of balloons. There are no elaborate floats visible. Pretty basic stuff for a Disney parade, especially when you consider what comes marching down Main Street these days.

The guide is titled: Tips On Your Visit. In the bottom right corner is the admonition: Please Read Now: This folder contains time-saving hints and a map for enjoying all of Walt Disney World. Inside, under the heading Making the Most of The Magic Kingdom, suggestions are made on how to plan your day. They even tell you when the shortest wait times are for certain attractions. Of course, if everyone entering the park had followed that tip and headed to the suggested rides, those short wait times would have quickly become ... very long.

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The guide map from 1972, a year after Walt Disney World opened. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

But my prize possession is a guide map from the Magic Kingdom in 1972. That's the earliest one in my collection. I obtained the map during our first visit to WDW in November of 1972, a little over a year after the Magic Kingdom opened. The '72 map is strange, to be sure, and has an almost alternate universe quality to it. By that, I mean the photo on the cover only vaguely looks like today's Magic Kingdom. And the information inside never would cut it today as a viable tool to lead you around the park.

For one thing, the spots where Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain currently occupy space were just gray areas back then; Space Mountain, the WEDway PeopleMover [now the Tomorrowland Transit Authority] and Carousel of Progress were still on the drawing boards. Some of the now-departed attractions include the Mickey Mouse Revue, Flight to the Moon, If You Had Wings, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the Mike Fink Keel Boats and Davy Crockett's Canoes.

In Fantasyland, in the space where the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid now attract long lines, the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage was the featured attraction.

The cover of the 1972 guide map features a beautiful color photo of Cinderella Castle, with the original Walt Disney World logo above it, with trees, green grass and a canal also visible. A number of flags can be seen flying in the castle forecourt. The map, compliments of GAF, is subtitled "Information Guide." It totals 34 pages and includes colorful maps of each themed land and numerous black-and-white photos of attractions in the park and on the property.

The book gives you detailed information on each land within the Magic Kingdom. For instance, in Adventureland, the attractions included the Swiss Family Island Treehouse, the Tropical Serenade and the Jungle Cruise. Dining options included the Adventureland Veranda, the Veranda Juice Bar and the Sunshine Tree Terrace. The book lists shops and stores, as well as entertainment specific to that land ... in this case, the Adventureland Steel Drum Band and the Safari Band.

They even made note of where the nearest ticket and information kiosk is located within each land.

Speaking of which, the guide map offered three pages of detailed information on the WDW coupon book policy of the time. Back then, you paid a general admission price to get into the park, then used a coupon to gain access to each attraction. Those attractions were broken down into thrill level, with an A coupon attraction being the mildest, B a little more thrilling, all the way up to E, which was considered the most exciting.

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On April 22, 1998, Animal Kingdom opened and this was the guide map they handed out. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

The attractions requiring E coupons, which cost 90 cents each, included the Jungle Cruise, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, The Haunted Mansion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and It's a Small World [imagine that: Small World ... a thrill ride]. For frugal guests, there were three free attractions in the Magic Kingdom: The Diamond Horseshoe Revue, If You Had Wings and America the Beautiful.

There are also hints on where and when to dine (before noon and after 2 p.m.) as well as a reference to Blackbeard's Island -- "a tropical paradise of colorful island flowers and birds." Blackbeard's Island, located in Bay Lake near the Contemporary Hotel, went on to become Treasure Island, then Discovery Island in 1976. It received many zoological awards over the years before returning to its original calling before WDW opened -- a lush, unoccupied island in the middle of Bay Lake.

There are four full pages devoted to photo tips. Things like checking your equipment, composing your pictures, holding your camera steady and watching your focus. GAF also offers pointers for folks with movie cameras: Pan slowly, zoom sparingly and vary your scene length. There also is An Important Word About Flashbulbs ... which were prohibited in most indoor attractions.

And ticket prices? General admission, which included use of the Walt Disney World transportation system and seven coupons for rides, was $4.95 for adults, $4.50 for juniors [12-17 years old] and $3.95 for a child [3-11]. There was complimentary same-day readmission with hand stamp [remember doing that?] and -- for your safety -- shoes had to be worn at all times aboard WDW transportation [I guess it was OK to walk around barefoot on the blazing hot pavement during a mid-July day].

Ticket books [remember, back then, you needed a ticket to get on each ride] were recommended for "maximum thrift and enjoyment."

Some of the other little tidbits, many long outdated, featured in the 1972 guidebook included:

PET CARE: The Kal Kan Kennel Club was located in the Main Entrance Complex if you wanted to board your pet. The cost was 50 cents a day or $1 for an overnight stay.

FIRST AID: Registered nurses were on duty at all times in the first aid station next to the Crystal Palace. There also was a first aid station in Fantasyland near It's A Small World.

SECURITY: In most areas of the park, Walt Disney World security could be recognized by their "themed" attire.

PUBLIC TELEPHONES: Located throughout the Magic Kingdom.

CAMERA AND FILM SERVICE: Rental, service and film processing was available in the GAF Camera Center on Main Street.

And my personal favorite ...

REST ROOMS: Located throughout the Magic Kingdom. Ask any host or hostess for directions.



June 27, 2016

Disney Legend Marty Sklar on Shanghai Disneyland: 'It's the best Disney park'

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Disney Legend Marty Sklar greets a fan on Mickey Avenue during opening day at Shanghai Disneyland Resort. [The Walt Disney Company]


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

The first time Marty Sklar walked down the main thoroughfare of a Disney theme park -- Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A., on July 17, 1955 -- he was a 21-year-old intern working in the park's public relations department and was, for all intents and purposes, just another face in the overheated crowd on that momentous opening day.

The most recent time Marty walked down the main thoroughfare of a Disney theme park -- Shanghai Disneyland's Mickey Avenue, on opening day, June 17, 2016 -- he was an 82-year-old retiree who was far from just another face in the crowd.

This time around, he was recognized.

A man named Christian Ahuis of Cologne, Germany, was scurrying along Mickey Avenue [Shanghai Disneyland's equivalent of Main Street U.S.A.] on opening day when he spotted the former head of Walt Disney Imagineering on the crowded street. Marty was sporting a blue ball cap, a lanyard with his Disney name tag affixed to it and a white wind breaker on the damp and drizzly day.

"Marty!" Ahuis screamed. He walked up to the Disney Legend and proceeded to ask him if he'd pose for a photo.

"That's the best part of the day," Ahuis said afterward. "I got my picture taken with Marty Sklar! I'm such a Disney geek."

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Excited guests get emotional as they enter the park during opening day at Shanghai Disneyland Resort. [Orange County Register]

For years, Marty Sklar has held the distinction of being the only Disney cast member to have played a role in the opening of all 11 Disney theme parks worldwide. Although Marty, who retired from the Walt Disney Company in 2009 after 55 years of helping to create magic, wasn't directly involved in the creation of Shanghai Disneyland, Disney's 12th park, his influence, guidance and inspiration on the scores and men and women who worked on Shanghai was invaluable. So, in a very real sense, Marty Sklar played a important role in Shanghai's development: That of a mentor.

Still, a year ago Marty, had his doubts as to whether he'd make the long trip to China, thus breaking his streak of at least being at every Disney park on opening day.

"On the other 11 parks, I was actively involved," he told me last summer. "On 10 of them [except for Disneyland Day One], I had an active part in creating them. Shanghai is different; I've had nothing to do with it.

"I love what they are doing and the creative leader, Bob Weis, has done a marvelous job. When the park opens, he will have spent six or seven years developing and building it. Bob and his fellow Imagineers [many of them I trained] deserve the credit. I don't want to be seen as horning in on their party."

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Marty Sklar answers a question during an interview inside the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel. [Cheers Publishing Company]

As Shanghai's opening day approached, however, Marty had a change of heart and made the long flight from Los Angeles to mainland China for all the pomp and ceremonies. "Our former fearless leader," wrote Wayne Hunt after posting a photo of Marty on Mickey Avenue. "He's the only person to have been present at the opening of all 12 Disney parks." [Hunt, the principal of Hunt Design, has worked with Marty on a number of Disney-related projects since 1974. His firm also made contributions to Shanghai Disneyland's signage, particularly in Tomorrowland.]

"I left my plush home," Marty joked, "but it was a great trip" ... adding, quite emphatically, that Shanghai Disneyland is "the best Disney park!"

Shanghai Disneyland has been open less than two weeks, but its reputation has been spreading quickly. In designing the park, Disney's planners interviewed residents of China and took the unprecedented step of asking them what they wanted and didn't want in the new park.

"They started by spending a good year learning what the mainland Chinese thought of the Disney parks and each attraction," Marty said. "Among the results: No train circles the park, as well as huge changes to the Pirates of the Caribbean." There's also a boat ride -- Voyage of the Crystal Grotto -- that sails under the castle, a first for a Disney park. Indeed, Enchanted Storybook Castle holds another distinction: It's the largest and tallest castle in all of the Disney parks worldwide.

Shanghai Disneyland is divided into six themed lands: Mickey Avenue, Gardens of Imagination, Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, Adventure Isle and Tomorrowland. The Gardens of Imagination serves as the hub of the park; within the area are seven Chinese-themed gardens.

Among the familiar attractions and shows in Shanghai Disneyland are The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique; a Star Wars Launch Bay; Peter Pan's Flight, and For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Singalong.

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Marty shows the redesigned cover of his recently re-released book "Dream It! Do It!". [Cheers Publishing Company]

There also are a number of familiar attractions that have been re-imagined by Disney's creative team. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure has been reworked into a bigger, more elaborate adventure. Guests ride in magnetically propelled boats past Audio-Animatronics figures and projected scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, with sword fights and a sea battle among the many thrilling highlights.

"Pirates of the Caribbean [at Shanghai Disneyland] is the best park attraction ever," Marty says bluntly. "Great big sets, plenty of action, seamless blend of sets and film, a boat that can spin 360 degrees." Clearly, he was impressed.

Marty also enjoyed Soarin' Over the Horizon, which is an updated version of the original Soarin' in Disney's California Adventure and Soarin' Over California in Epcot. The Shanghai Disneyland attraction features panoramic views of The Great Wall of China and many of the world's most iconic natural and man-made structures.

Marty also was impressed with the TRON Lightcycle Power Run, which takes the place of Space Mountain, a staple in all of the other Disney parks. In the TRON attraction, guests ride in realistic-looking lightcycles inside a darkened structure for a thrilling adventure through the futuristic world of TRON, the 1982 science fiction thriller.

That film saw the lead character transported inside the software world of a mainframe computer, where he interacts with programs in his attempt to escape. Curiously, the original concept for Space Mountain, proposed by Disney Legend John Hench in the 1970s, was a journey through the inner workings of a computer. The technology [or lack of it] of the time prevented that version of the attraction from being built.

"The TRON racers, Tomorrowland, the castle, Soarin', Pirates ... are all fabulous attractions. For me, it was a great trip ... but it's good to be home."

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Marty autographs a few items while promoting the re-release of his first book, "Dream It! Do It!". [Cheers Publishing Company]

Marty also took time out from his park explorations to do some promotional work for his latest book, One Little Spark!, as well as his first book, Dream It! Do It!

In conjunction with the opening of Shanghai Disneyland, both books were re-released in China in Mandarin, the country's official language. "I'm told they printed 10,000 copies of Dream It! Do It!," Marty said. The book has been re-released by Cheers Publishing Company, with a new cover design.

During his visit to China, Marty squeezed in interviews for the Chinese media at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel before heading off to the park to become just another excited guest ... the only excited guest who had been through the experience 11 times before.

June 20, 2016

Disney fan clubs have captured people's imaginations, and fueled their passion, for years

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The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet planning committee. That's founder Don Morin, second from the right. [Courtesy of the Northwest Pacific Mouse Meet]

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

During the weekend of May 14-15, 2011, I attended my first Disney fan convention. I walked through the doors of the Contemporary Resort's Convention Center at Walt Disney World at 8 on that Saturday morning and stepped into a different version of Disney's world ... a world populated by people wearing Mickey Mouse ears and Figment T-shirts, Disney-themed leather jackets and multi-colored vests adorned with the faces of Disney characters ... a world where nostalgia and memories were about to be rekindled and celebrated, with the help of many of the people who played such an integral role in generating all those warm memories in the first place.

I was walking into D23's Destination D: Walt Disney World's 40th. Even though I was a first-time fan event attendee, I felt a kinship with all those in attendance and anxiously looked forward to drinking in everything the two-day experience had to offer.

It turned out I was late on this very important date. Even though the first of the speakers and presenters wouldn't take the stage for another hour and a half, the queue stretched farther than the eye could see, from one side of the massive entrance lobby to the other, then around a corner and beyond. I walked to the end of the line, official event lanyard dangling from my neck, and joined the others, who didn't seem to mind the long line at all.

After the doors opened and everyone filed into the massive auditorium, I began to understand what all the excitement was about: What followed was a weekend worthy of an E Ticket park attraction: Exciting, thrilling, fun and entertaining, with memories that will truly last a lifetime.

D23, of course, is the official fan club of The Walt Disney Company. It was formed in 2009 as a way to keep Disney fans "in the middle of the magic." The group has its own website, throws a huge biennial Expo in California and even publishes its own magazine four times a year.

At each D23 Expo, the past, the present and the future all share the spotlight during the always jammed-to-the-rafters event in Anaheim, Calif. Disney Legends reminisce about their glory days, product displays give attendees an idea of what's hot on the market now, while Disney's top executives take the opportunity to introduce new theme park attractions or upcoming blockbuster movies to appreciative audiences.

In addition to its Expo, D23 offers a variety of events around the country for its members, including behind-the-scenes tours and exclusive movie screenings. On Nov. 19-20, they'll be hosting a major event at Walt Disney World. It's called Destination D: Amazing Adventures, to be held in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. Presenters and panelists will include Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter; Walt Disney Imagineers Joe Rohde, Chris Merritt, Jason Grandt and Wyatt Winter; producer Don Hahn (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast); and Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline. A selection of exclusive Imagineering merchandise as well as limited-edition pins, T-shirts and collectibles themed to the event will be available for purchase by eager fans.

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Disney Legend Marty Sklar signs a copy of his first book, "Dream It! Do It!", during an appearance at a Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [Courtesy of the Northwest Pacific Mouse Meet]

But D23 is far from the only Disney fan club out there. Regular gatherings, whether they are once a year, every other year or every few months, are the hallmarks of these groups ... as is their affection for all things Disney. They get together to share that mutual love, reveling in the past while keeping a watchful eye on what's planned for the future.

One of the most popular fan gatherings, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, is held in Lynnwood, Wash., outside of Seattle, each year [it'll run from July 9-10]. Guest speakers this year include Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar, as well as Disney artist and historian Stacia Martin. In addition to its main event, the group also hosts smaller 'mini-Meet Ups' throughout the year both locally, in the parks and at other select locations, including at the D23 Expo.

Founded in 2009 by Don Morin, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet strives to capture the essence of what it means to be a Disney devotee. Morin is proud to say his Mouse Meet is "by Disney fans, for Disney fans."

Morin's love of Disney began in 1974 when his grammar school class was asked to write a report on a famous person from the 1900s. He chose Walt Disney. The experience "had a profound affect on me, for sure," he said. From that point on, with his Disney switch flipped, "I had a desire to learn who was creating all this magic."

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Stacia Martin, an artist and Disney historian, will be featured during this year's Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [Courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet]

The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet grew out of that quest to take a deep dive into Disney history and culture. Morin says he devotes hundreds of hours into giving guests as rewarding an experience as possible; he has many hard-working volunteers helping him to achieve that goal. The work includes "prep on so many levels. Contacting vendors and guest celebrity speakers; working with the convention center and the volunteer team; updating the website; planning, building displays and securing photo ops; writing, producing and recording videos, scripts, travel, set-up and so much more. It's definitely a love and a passion for what I do for Disney fans."

This year's event is already sold out, with a crowd of about 500 fellow Disney fanatics expected to be on hand for presentations, product displays, memorabilia sales and, as an added treat, Dole Whips.

Marty Sklar, the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering, has high praise for the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet and Don Morin.

"It's the second time for me, and I know it is for Bob [Gurr]. Don Morin runs such a great show and is a grand host. He's had Tony Baxter, Don Hahn, Kevin Rafferty and many other Disney and Pixar people participate in the past."

Getting Disney's blessing is a major coup for Morin. In 2015, D23 participated in the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet by supplying guest speakers. This year, D23 will be a sponsor. [The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet has a number of sponsors, including AllEars.Net].

"Earning the respect and partnership of so many people over the years has been key to longevity, growth and building of the PNW Mouse Meet brand," Morin said. "From early on, guest celebrities have been so impressed with the event, how it is run, what it represents and what it offers the guests, that these guest celebrities go back home and talk to others about the event and even recommend them being a part of the event in the future.

"One Disney Legend has been noted as stating several times, 'The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet is by far the best fan run Disney fan event in the country.'"

During the 2013 event, Morin presented a donation to Marty Sklar earmarked for Ryman Arts, a cause near and dear to Marty's heart [he and his wife Leah, as well as Lucille Ryman Carroll, Sharon Disney Lund and Harrison and Anne Shaw Price founded the arts education group in 1990 in honor of Disney Legend Herb Ryman].

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A poster advertises the upcoming Disneyana Fan Club event where proceeds will benefit Ryman Arts. [Courtesy of Disneyana Fan Club]

Another well-known Disney fan group, the Disneyana Fan Club, will be holding a dinner and fundraising event of its own on July 13 in Garden Grove, Calif., with proceeds also going to Ryman Arts. "This event is our 'big' fundraiser for Ryman Arts," said Dennis Ritchey, Ryman Arts Fund Raising Event Coordinator for the Disneyana Fan Club. "This will be our 10th year doing this and currently we are about $4,000 away from having donated $100,000 to Ryman Arts over the past 10 years." The club also holds fundraisers throughout the year for other worthy causes.

The Disneyana Fan Club is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich legacy of Walt Disney. Its common goal is to provide Disneyana enthusiasts of all ages from around the world with news, information and events that enhance their experience with, and love of, all things Disney. The group also publishes a member newsletter, called the Disneyana Dispatch.

The Disneyana Fan Club holds an annual gathering, called DisneyanaMania Convention, July 13-16, while staging other events at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

"In addition to our annual convention in July, we usually have several special events," Ritchey noted. "Last year, we had an event at the Smoke Tree Ranch, and a great afternoon at the Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood, where Lisa Henson accepted our Legends Award posthumously for her father."

Cathy Perrone, a Disneyana Fan Club board member in charge of special events, adds that the group "hosts events that showcase some of the finest talent the Disney brand has to offer. ... A recent outing was a weekend at Walt's 'happy place,' Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. Our group was able to see Walt and Lillian's two homes, learning why they were so special to them."

Ms. Perrone added that Disneyana Fan Club prides itself "in bringing 'intimate' experiences so our members and their guests are able to speak to, shake hands with and, yes, get autographs and pose for pictures" with some of Disney's most prominent Legends.

"One of our personal favorites was a magnificent luncheon in the Magic Kingdom Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel. There, we were treated to a rare opportunity with eight of the original Mouseketeers. They surprised us with interviews, live music and dance. To top off that special day, Tommy Cole sang 'Annette,' which was written by Disney Legend Jimmy Dodd."

At its DisneyanaMania Convention, "we have an annual Luncheon with a Disney Legend. This is an opportunity for our organization to honor and salute those individuals who have helped make so many of our dreams come true through their talents, skills and artistry.

"We began this tradition in 1993 and to date have bestowed this honor to 137 individuals," Ms.Perrone added. "While a few have been presented posthumously, I'd say 98 percent of all those honored were able to attend in person and were very moved by this honor. It is a highlight of our club and one that makes it very special."

According to Ritchey, "there are Disneyana Fan Club chapters throughout the country and we have members worldwide."

There are other clubs out there, as well ... smaller, less well-known, perhaps, but drawing devoted Disney fans to the fold. Many are popular online sites, some are tied to the Disney Vacation Club, like Mouseowners. But all have one thing in common: A desire by its participants to spread the word about Disney and share their thoughts, ideas and opinions about their passion.

June 6, 2016

Waxing nostalgic about Disney memorabilia

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The cover of a long-playing Mickey Mouse Club record. The album features 21 hit Mouseketunes. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

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

What do you think of when you think of Disney?

World-class theme parks, with so many iconic rides and attractions, to be sure. And all those classic animated feature films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Frozen, and live-action epics like Star Wars and the Marvel franchises ... beloved characters ... a respected cruise line ... a popular time share enterprise ... numerous retail outlets in the theme parks, in malls and online ... a leading television network ...

And let's not forget nostalgia.

"Makin' memories," as they used to say at the Imagination pavilion at Epcot, is a key component to Disney's unparalleled long-term success. A few years back, Disney Parks initiated a year-long campaign called "Let the Memories Begin," because they have long recognized how important memorable experiences are to the fabric of most families.

As a natural extension, memorabilia and collectibles are an integral part of the world of Disney. Just ask anyone who has ever attended a Disneyana or D23 event and you'll get an idea of how great the appeal is for Disney's storied past [more on that in a future blog].

Like most hard-core Disney fans, I love Disney of old. Which goes a long way in explaining why, every time I visit a Disney theme park, I grab several guide maps ... one for use that day in the park, the others to be filed away for future reference. Thankfully, I've done this ever since our first visit to Walt Disney World in 1972. To me, these seemingly innocent maps serve as a window back in time, a glimpse at the way things used to be, a barometer of how things have changed.

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Marty Sklar wrote this in the author's copy of "Walt Disney's Disneyland." [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

Over the years, I've managed to put together a collection of Disney memorabilia that I'm quite proud of. Some of these items I've secured on my own [usually with the help of my wife Janet], others were given to me by family and friends who know of my love of all things Disney.

One of my first "finds" was securing a copy of Walt Disney's Disneyland, a wonderfully detailed book written by none other than my friend Marty Sklar. The books were sold at Disneyland in the late 1960s into the early 1970s as a souvenir of your visit. In truth, the book is a remarkably well-done work, rich in detail about the Happiest Place on Earth.

I found my first copy [Janet and I now have three] of the book at a yard sale in Colts Neck, N.J., in the 1990s.

Years later, in 2011, I had Marty sign the book for me during "a dinner and a conversation" fund-raising event that he headlined in Orlando the night before the D23 event celebrating Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary. It's a cherished keepsake, on many levels.

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The cover of Life Magazine in October, 1971, featuring a "mob-scene" photo of the cast in front of Cinderella Castle. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

A colleague at the Staten Island Advance, Steve Zaffarano, was cleaning house one day in 2010 when he came across a copy of the iconic Life Magazine edition, dated October 15, 1971, featuring the Walt Disney World cast posed in front of Cinderella Castle.

He brought it to work the next day and asked me if I'd like to have it. A no-brainer, on many levels. A few years after Steve's generous gift, I was fortunate to speak to the man who was chiefly responsible for setting up that classic photo, as well as several other pre-opening magazine features ... Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway.

After making significant contributions to the success of Disneyland, Charlie and his family moved to Florida in 1969 following him being named Walt Disney World's first director of press and publicity.

"The first trip I made when I took the job at the end of 1969 was to go to New York," he told me in 2014. "I went to Time, Life and Look magazines and all the major papers and I also went to Washington to National Geographic.

"The managing editor of Look Magazine (Pat Carbine) said: 'We want to be the first ones with a cover story' [on Walt Disney World]. They wanted to have their reporter come down in April [of 1971; the Magic Kingdom wouldn't open until October], which was way too early. There wasn't that much really finished. But we were able to gerrymander things and produce pictures that looked like it was really done.

"We laid some artificial grass on Town Square so we could shoot City Hall. I think there was a ladder still up on the balcony when we shot it. Look had a very good layout."

As for the Life Magazine cover photo and story: "The idea of going to Life was Sandy Quinn's, who came down in 1967 and was the first Disney guy on the ground ... he became very friendly with a lot of the local news media," Charlie said.

"At the time we were getting ready to plan for the opening, I suggested we do a mob-scene picture and we carried forward from that point. We went to Life with the idea and they liked it and they sent down one of their very best photographers, a guy named Yale Joel. He got up on a stand with an 8x10 view camera to shoot the picture. Of course, that one we shot in front of the castle.

"We assembled as many cast members as we could get there. We actually had 5,000 employees, of which we were able to gather 3,000 at one time for the photo." The magazine is a wonderful keepsake, made even more special after getting input from the man involved in bringing it to Life [pun intended].

Disney memorabilia comes in all shapes and sizes, from Mickey Mouse watches to character figurines to Davy Crockett coonskin caps to vintage stuffed animals ... a.k.a., plush. Vinyl records — you remember them, don't you? — also fall into this nostalgic category.

Our son's mother-in-law, Cindy, came across several Disney recording gems at a flea market a few years ago and gave them to me. All three records — one is a 12-inch long-playing record, the other two are smaller 6- and 7-inch discs — feature the Mickey Mouse Club and The Merry Mouseketeers, as they were sometimes referred to during the show's prime in the 1950s.

One of the smaller records is a Disneyland Record and Book titled "Mickey Mouse, Brave Little Tailor," while the other is titled "Songs from the Mickey Mouse Club" and was part of a series of official Mickey Mouse Club Records.

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"The Mickey Mouse Club March" was featured on this vintage record. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

The liner notes on the cover of that record are priceless: "Exclusively on these low-priced official Mickey Mouse Club Records are the voices, songs and games from Walt Disney's wonderful daily one-hour TV show. Here are Mickey, Donald and Jiminy Cricket — Jimmie Dodd and The Merry Mouseketeers for your child's enjoyment, participation and education."

The LP — "Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club, Mousekedances and Other Mouseketeer Favorites," on Disneyland Records — features a colorful cover, with drawings of Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy sharing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse stage with likenesses of club leader Jimmie and Mouseketeers Karen, Cubby, Bobby and, of course, Annette Funicello. The songs on the album run the gamut of what was played during a typical "Mickey Mouse Club" television show, which was broadcast on ABC in glorious black-and-white Monday through Friday in the mid- to late-1950s.

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This letter, from Walt Disney to then-Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, was up for auction several years ago. [Chuck Schmidt Collection]

Several years ago, an auction house sent me photos of several Disney-related items that they were about to put up for bidding. One of the items was a letter from Walt Disney to California Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, sent in December of 1958. It's fascinating, on many levels.

The point of the letter, on official Disneyland stationary no less, was to alert Gov. Knight that he was receiving his Disneyland Gold Pass for the 1959 season. In reading the letter, it's obvious that Walt is quite proud of the fact that many new attractions would be opening at Disneyland during the year, including the Matterhorn bobsleds, a monorail system and a submarine voyage.

If need be, according to the letter, Gov. Knight could contact Walt's secretary, Tommy Walker, by calling her at VIctoria 9-3411. If you manage to get your hands on a time-traveling device, make sure to give Walt a call when you go back to the 1950s. Gov. Knight was among the many honored guests on hand during Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955.

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A newspaper article, circa 1939-1940, and in French, dealing with Walt Disney's new film, "Fantasia." [Chuck Schmidt Collection]


Mike Virgintino, my Friendly Freedomland pal, occasionally stumbles on Disney-related gems and he generously sends them to me to add to my collection. "I know they'll get a good home with you," he says.

One such item is quite interesting. It's a newspaper clipping, circa 1939-1940, of a story on Disney's upcoming new film, Fantasia. The article features a photo of one of the film's segments, Beethoven's "The Pastoral Symphony."

The only problem is: The article is in French [any French students out there?].

The clipping adds to my Fantasia collection: I have [on loan from my mother] an original program movie-goers received when they saw the movie during its long-running engagement at the Broadway Theatre in Manhattan. The booklet features a wealth of information about the ground-breaking cinematic achievement, including portraits of Walt Disney, Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor and the making of the classic.

There's also one critic's succinct take on the movie: "Fantasia will Amasia." ... as will most items from the Disney vault.

May 9, 2016

Jack Lindquist: A rich legacy and a fun-filled career with the Walt Disney Company

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Jack Lindquist and Mickey Mouse appear at a function held at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., where Jack was a trustee. [Courtesy of Chapman University]

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

In May of 2011, at Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary celebration, Jack Lindquist had this to say about fellow Disney Legend Marty Sklar:

"Marty was always a big troublemaker. He'd bring water guns to work and, right there in our offices above City Hall in Disneyland, we'd have shootouts! Either that, or he was always throwing footballs around the place."

Turns out, The Master of Fun was just getting started.

There followed another story, this one about Jack's used Cadillac, a series of blown head gaskets, an engine fire and Marty laughing so hard that he had to relieve himself in a nearby orange grove adjacent to Disneyland.

Long-time friends can do that -- poke fun at one another in a good-natured way and tell hilarious stories about each other without hesitation -- because they've experienced so much together and their bond is that strong, that enduring.

The friendship between Jack Lindquist and Marty Sklar began in 1955 when the two were members of Disneyland's first publicity department, and it lasted more than 60 years. Although the two followed different paths during their decades-long careers with the Walt Disney Company -- after first making his mark dreaming up unique ways to market Disneyland, Jack would go on to become the first president of the park, while Marty would head up Walt Disney Imagineering -- they remained close through it all.

"It's always fun to spend time with Marty," Jack told me last summer during a phone interview that Marty helped set up. "We've been good friends for 60 years. We had offices right next to each other above City Hall at Disneyland." It was in those offices where some of their most creative marketing strategies took root ... and where the two often engaged in those spirited water-gun battles.

"He was a Bruin [Marty graduated from UCLA] and I was a Trojan [that would be bitter rival USC], but despite that, we've remained the best of friends."

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Disneyland's public relations team posed for this photo in 1957. Pictured are, front row, seated, left to right: Phil Bauer, graphic artist; Dorothy Manes, in charge of group sales and children's groups; Marty Sklar, in his early 20s; Eleanor Heldt, group sales manager, and Milt Albright, promotions. Second row, standing, left to right: Charlie Nichols, head photographer; Jack Lindquist; Eddie Meck, publicity; Ed Ettinger, Division Director; Carl Frith, photographer; Lee Cake, publicity writer, Frank Forsyth, Vacationland Magazine distributor. [The Walt Disney Company]

Indeed, having fun while still keeping his eye on the prize made Jack Lindquist such a special person among his colleagues. "Jack really was one-of-a-kind," Marty said recently.

When Marty Sklar retired in 2009, he was given a window in his honor in Disneyland. It was placed on City Hall, appropriately, on the opposite side of the building where Jack Lindquist's window was placed. Marty's window lauds him as "Dean, Main Street College of Arts and Sciences," while Jack's proclaims him "Honorary Mayor of Disneyland" and calls him "The Master of Fun."

"Jack and I worked together when he was advertising manager at Disneyland," Marty said. "He's got the only other window on City Hall, so the two of us are kind of bracketed" ... which is appropriate on so many levels. At Marty's window dedication on July 17, 2009, Jack kept the audience in stitches with several wonderful stories about experiences they both shared.

The placement of their windows insured that they will remain together, forever, at a place that was near and dear to both men.

Jack Lindquist passed away on Feb. 28 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of accomplishments that few, if any, will match ... as well as a loving family, many dear friends and former colleagues, and countless people who were influenced by his innovative marketing strategies.

In those early days at Disneyland, the success of the park "wasn't a slam dunk," Marty recalled. That's why the work of the marketing department -- and Jack Lindquist in particular -- was so crucial.

Jack was an outsider looking in when Disneyland was under construction in 1954. He was working in marketing for Kelvinator, one of Disneyland's many corporate sponsors, and was given access to the park during construction. He was in attendance when the park opened on July 17, 1955, and was witness to the chaos of that first day. Still, he was quickly enamored with The Happiest Place on Earth.

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Jack Lindquist, who topped off his long and distinguished career by being named Disneyland's first president, was honored as a Disney Legend in 1994. [The Walt Disney Company]


A few weeks after the park opened, Jack was approached by a Disneyland representative and was asked if he could recommend someone for the position of marketing manager at Disneyland. "The job looked pretty good, so I recommended myself," he said. "Since there was no one else in marketing at the time, I was the manager of nothing. So I guess I did an excellent job!"

All kidding aside, he did do an excellent job. Out of that fledgling department came ideas like The Magic Kingdom Club, Disney Dollars, Grad Nites and the Disneyland Ambassador Program. The department would quickly grow and add many key people, all of whom played important roles in the long-term success of Disneyland.

Jack was a proponent of celebrating anniversaries and turning them into huge park promotions. His first -- Disneyland's Tencennial -- helped spur highly successful marketing promos at the other Disney properties over the years. He also dreamed up the now-iconic "I'm going to Disney World!" post-Super Bowl promotion.

In early 1957, members of the department gathered for a group photo. I was given a copy of that photo by the folks at Walt Disney Imagineering and both Marty and Jack helped supply the IDs for "the cast of characters," as Marty called them, in the picture, which was taken in Frontierland.

They were Phil Bauer, a graphic artist; Dorothy Manes, who was in charge of group sales and children's groups; Marty Sklar; Eleanor Heldt, group sales manager; Milt Albright, promotions; Charlie Nichols, head photographer; Jack Lindquist; Eddie Meck, publicity; Ed Ettinger, public relations Division Director; Carl Frith, photographer; Lee Cake, publicity writer, and Frank Forsyth, magazine distributor.

In addition to Marty and Jack, Eddie Meck and Milt Albright would go on to achieve Disney's highest accolade -- Disney Legend status. Meck was a well-known figure in the movie industry before he came to work for Disneyland, while Albright worked in finance before being transferred to the PR department, where he made many significant contributions.

According to Marty, the people in the photo "were my close colleagues until 1961, when Walt moved me to WED [the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering] to work on the New York World's Fair. This was the group I worked with in the summer of 1955 and when I returned to Disneyland in September of 1956 after graduation from UCLA."

Although Marty was able to identify most of the people in the photo, it was Jack who provided me with the IDs of the two women seated to Marty's left and right. "Glad to help," Jack wrote in an email. "The women in the picture are Eleanor Heldt, group sales manager, and Dorothy Manes, group sales staff for youth programs. As for the other things you want to talk about, there's too much to write. Call me and we can talk."

I called Jack bright and early a week later and we chatted for about 45 minutes. He was an absolute pleasure to speak to, sharing warm memories and intricate details from his storied career.

During my interview with Jack, he expanded on women's roles in Disneyland. "Group sales probably had more women working in non-secretarial positions than any other jobs in the park," he said. "In the 1950s, that was rather unusual."

He went on the say that Dorothy Manes "worked at a kids' amusement park up in the Bay Area and Walt somehow happened to go to this park and met her and ended up hiring her to do youth programs at Disneyland."

Jack's accomplishments are legendary, not only within Disney's ranks, but in corporate America, as well.

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Jack Lindquist rides with Walt Disney during a Christmas parade in Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

It was Jack Lindquist who came up with the idea of selling tickets for special events in advance. In 1957, Disneyland decided to hold its first New Year's Eve celebration. Jack thought it would be a great idea to make the night a special ticketed event, but 5,000 tickets needed to be sold just to break even. Since there were no guarantees 5,000 people would show up that night, Jack directed that tickets be sold weeks ahead of time at a variety of businesses in Hollywood, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The night was a big success and the idea of advance-sale tickets caught on throughout the entertainment industry. "In those days, nobody sold advanced tickets," Jack said. "If you wanted a ticket, you went to the venue the day of the event."

Vacationland Magazine was another of Jack's promotional gems that helped generate tremendous interest in Disneyland and, in turn, solidify the park's long-term success.

"When Marty and I created Vacationland Magazine, we wanted to use the theory of reaching people with something different," Jack said. "Most of the hotels and motels throughout California [in the mid- to late 1950s] used to have racks in their lobbies. On these racks, all of the attractions throughout the state were featured in pamphlets. We didn't want to do the same old thing. So Marty and I developed the magazine concept; Marty was the editor and I did the marketing."

Originally, the magazine was called Disneyland Holiday. "But the people at Holiday Magazine were not happy with us using that name," Jack said. Still, "the magazine was a tremendous tool for Disney, very unique. It had all the information on the park, but it also had all the things happening in the area, not just Disneyland ... Knott's Berry Farm, Catalina Island and so on. At its height, in California, Nevada and Arizona, I think we distributed 300,000 magazines, four times a year."

As far as getting the product to the public, "we hired two guys [Bill Schwenn and Frank Forsyth] who delivered all the magazines," Jack said. "They were on the road most of the time and they built a tremendous rapport throughout the area. Everyone got to know them and like them.

"It was one of those ideas that worked beyond our wildest dreams."

Ideas that worked. That was the hallmark of Jack Lindquist's distinguished career. "We were willing to try anything, because there were no precedents," he said.

It didn't matter how or why he came up with those ideas ... just as long as they got the desired result: Promoting Disney in a fun and imaginative way.

Case in point: The giant Mickey Mouse head crop circle carved out of cornfields in Iowa to celebrate Mickey's 60th birthday in 1988, visible to any and all aircraft flying overhead. His colleagues believed that Jack probably got the idea while flying cross-country in Walt's company plane.

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Jack Lindquist proudly wears a pair of Mickey Mouse ears during Disneyland's 50th birthday celebration in 2005. [The Walt Disney Company]

Jack also played a key role in setting up the marketing strategies for Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. He had a hand in signing up several countries' companies to join the World Showcase lineup at Epcot. During those endeavors, Jack was reunited with his old buddy from their Disneyland PR days, Marty Sklar.

"When Jack autographed a copy of his memoir, In Service to the Mouse, for me he wrote: 'It's been quite a ride!' We were great friends and colleagues for almost 60 years – we both 'grew up' in marketing and publicity in the early days of Disneyland, when [as Jack liked to say], 'we didn't know what wouldn't work, so we tried anything!'

"Jack pioneered marketing in the theme park industry around the world. One of my proudest accomplishments, together with a few others in the industry, was finally getting Jack inducted last November into the Hall of Fame of IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions). He deserved it for many years!

"Jack was a mentor to countless marketing people in the theme park industry. Beyond that: other than Walt Disney himself, I think Jack Lindquist was 'Mr. Disneyland' in Orange County. He represented the values and highest standards that Walt Disney wanted Disneyland to stand for, and he did it with such dedication that it never felt as though he was selling – he believed 100 percent in the product."

After his retirement from Disney in 1993, Jack formed The Lindquist Group, a distinguished marketing consulting firm. He also became a trustee at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Chapman's president, Jim Doti, spoke in glowing terms at a memorial service for Jack.

"Jack and I frequently had breakfast together, usually at Rockwells in Villa Park," Doti said. "He was my marketing guru, and I learned so much from him. Jack was also my friend, my mentor and my hero.

"In addition to becoming a Chapman trustee, Jack provided dedicated and exemplary leadership through his involvement with Orange County's professional sports teams and convention and visitor bureaus as well as organizations like the Boy Scouts and Bowers Museum."

Fittingly, Marty Sklar was a speaker at another memorial celebration held in Jack's honor. "A great event that Disney staged," Marty said. "I'm using what I said as the core of my column for the Disney Vacation Club's Fall Disney Files magazine."

To be sure, it's going to be a fun-filled tribute, chock-full of many great stories ... and plenty of love, from one dear friend to another.

March 28, 2016

In greenlighting Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland, Card Walker cemented his Disney legacy

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Walt Disney Company president Card Walker, left, and Masatomo Takahashi of the Oriental Land Co. sign an agreement in 1974 to join forces in the creation of Tokyo Disneyland. [The Walt Disney Company]

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

On Oct. 24, 1982, E. Cardon Walker stepped onto a small podium in front of a giant geodesic dome known as Spaceship Earth and read the following words:

"To all who come to this place of joy, hope and friendship, welcome. Epcot Center is inspired by Walt Disney's creative genius. Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, the wonders of enterprise, and concepts of a future that promises new and exciting benefits for all. May Epcot Center entertain, inform and inspire. And, above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere."

With that short dedication speech, Card Walker opened the gates to Epcot, bringing to a close a decades-long odyssey that began with a sketch on a napkin by Walt Disney. Over that time span, Epcot evolved from Walt's concept of a futuristic city of tomorrow into an eclectic, two-pronged experience: Future World, where technological advances and glimpses into innovative products on the horizon would be displayed, all in an atmosphere conducive to learning; and World Showcase, where several of the world's countries would be able to show off all their nations had to offer ... kind of a permanent world's fair.

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Card Walker reads the dedication during opening day ceremonies for Epcot Center on Oct. 24, 1982. [The Walt Disney Company]

Right from the start, Epcot was different, unlike anything that had ever been created before ... or, frankly, since. While most people were blown away by the shear innovative nature of the place, as well as the richly detailed architecture in World Showcase and the product displays [such as cell phones and personal computers] in Future World, some people were puzzled. Many surmised that if the Magic Kingdom was mainly for kids, then Epcot was a place devoted strictly for adults.

For one thing, Epcot in 1982 was devoid of thrill rides and, for that matter, lacking in any sort of amusements for young children. For another, the Disney characters, so prevalent in the Magic Kingdom, were virtual no-shows at Epcot during the early days.

But Epcot, like every other Disney theme park after their openings, evolved and changed to meet public demand, and after a few years, the park hit its stride and became an overwhelming success.

What many people don't realize or appreciate is that during the design and construction of Epcot, Card Walker and the Walt Disney Company had undertaken the unprecedented task of building another theme park ... this one, thousands of miles, one vast ocean and another continent away. A Japanese firm named Oriental Land Co. Ltd. had approached Disney in 1974, inquiring about the possibility of building a Disney park in the Land of the Rising Sun. Oriental Land Co. did an extensive feasibility study, met with many of Disney's corporate leaders and even took them on a helicopter tour of the proposed site.

Building Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland almost concurrently "split our staff quite a bit," recalls former Walt Disney Imagineering leader Marty Sklar. "At the point where we were in the height of construction at the two sites, we were the largest design company in the world. We had to take some of our best people and send them to Japan."

The projects pushed Disney's creative staff to the limit. "It meant that a lot of people were doing double duty," Marty added. "We had to designate people that had to live in Japan because the Japanese had no idea how to do the things that were needed to build a park. We used a lot of outside help in both projects. In building Epcot, there were so many different pieces, so many different contractors. We needed people from just about very craft that you can imagine.

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With Cinderella Castle as a beautiful backdrop, Disney's fabled Partners statue adorns The Hub area of Tokyo Disneyland. [Gregg Schmidt]

"In Tokyo, we were dealing with landfill for the first time. [Tokyo Disneyland] is built all on reclaimed land. What they have there is something called differential settlement. Even today, the castle there is actually on jacks, and the jacks have to be adjusted from time to time. One part will drop, because different parts of what's underneath are going to change character ... drop an inch or two. So they're dealing with differential settlement on a regular basis."

While building a Disney park in Japan offered many new challenges, then-Disney president Card Walker had to come to grips with something on a deeply personal level: Some 35 years before Disney and Oriental Land joined forces, Walker served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the war against Japan. He was a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945.

"Card had a really tough time dealing with the Japanese," Marty said. "The hardest part for him was coming to grips with the loss of so many of the people he served with on the carrier. Many of them were his friends."

Walker eventually came to terms with the dilemma and Disney and Oriental Land forged a strong partnership. Eleven years after Oriental Land had begun exploring the possibility of creating a theme park in Japan - and roughly nine years after design and construction had commenced on the Disney-Oriental project - Tokyo Disneyland opened its gates on a rainy April 15, 1983.

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A topiary of Mickey Mouse can be seen outside the entrance of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. [Gregg Schmidt]

Before the gates opened, Masatomo Takahashi, president of Oriental Land, and Walker cut a ceremonial tape with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters looking on.

In front of about 3,000 opening-day guests, Mr. Takahashi addressed the attendees from a platform set up in World Bazaar: "On this day, April 15, 1983, I declare the opening of Tokyo Disneyland!"

Card Walker offered the following words of dedication, just six months after doing similar honors at Epcot:

"To all of you who come to this happy place, welcome. Here you will discover enchanted lands of Fantasy and Adventure, Yesterday and Tomorrow. May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of joy, laughter, inspiration, and imagination to the people of the world. And may this magical kingdom be an enduring symbol of the spirit of cooperation and friendship between the great nations of Japan and the United States of America."

Soon after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, Walker retired as an executive, but continued to serve as a consultant to the company until 1990. After 61 years of service - which started in the Disney Studios mailroom - Card Walker retired from the board of directors in 1999 and was designated an emeritus member of the board.

He died on Nov. 28, 2005, in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., his legacy firmly established, his contributions to the company legendary ... and his debt to Walt Disney more than paid off.

March 14, 2016

Card Walker gets the ball rolling on Epcot

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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.

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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.'"

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

February 15, 2016

Marty Sklar and Card Walker: A winning combination

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

In very real sense, Marty Sklar is the keeper of the flame ... the Disney flame, that is.

Since retiring from the Walt Disney Company in 2009, Marty has gladly taken it upon himself to ensure the stories of Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company and the many wonderful people he worked with during his 54 years of service are presented in a fair, accurate and truthful manner.

When you speak to Marty about the most influential people in his career, there's one man near the top of his "most respected" list. It's the man who hired him in 1955 and who, 15 years later, presented him with his most daunting challenge.

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Card Walker

The story of Esmond Cardon Walker -- or Card, for short -- is one of those classic American tales that should both inspire and educate us. It's the story of a man who started at the lowest rung of the Disney corporate ladder and rose to become company president, overseeing the construction of both Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland and, along the way, proving decisively that nice guys do finish first.

As then-CEO Michael Eisner said of Walker in 1990: "In a very real sense, Card is the link between the small, family-owned film company of the '30s and the major global corporation we are today. I'm grateful to have had the benefit of his experience, his judgment, and his convictions about the 'Disney way' of doing things."

Card Walker was born on Jan. 9, 1916, in Rexburg, Idaho. He moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1924. After graduating from UCLA, he began his business career in humble fashion in 1938 in the Disney Studio mail room, a place where Walt Disney felt new hires could experience every facet of the studio operation. And Card learned his lessons well. He was transferred to the camera department and would go on to serve as unit manager on short subjects in the production department.

In 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Card enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a flight deck officer aboard the USS Bunker Hill, which fought in eight battles between 1943 and 1945. After the war, he returned to Disney and rose to the position of vice president of marketing and sales.

It was during the mid-1950s, with construction of Disneyland nearing the final stages, when Marty Sklar and Card Walker crossed paths.

"I was fortunate the have known Johnny Jackson," Marty said. "He was the executive director of the UCLA Alumni Association. I had received a scholarship to go to UCLA. The tuition at the time [1952] was 50 dollars. My scholarship was full tuition ... 50 bucks!

"At some point in 1954, Johnny went to work for Disney. He, along with several other people, reported to Card Walker. When they decided to do a tabloid newspaper to be sold on Main Street, I was about to become the editor of the Daily Bruin at UCLA.

"In the spring of 1955, I got a call at my fraternity. When I got the message, I thought one of my frat brothers was playing a trick on me because his father worked at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas. I didn't return his call because he said someone named Card called. I thought it was a joke. It was my good fortune that Card was a graduate of UCLA and was a big booster.

"I eventually went in for an interview and they hired me."

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Card Walker looks over Walt Disney's shoulder during a visit to the Florida property in the mid-1960s. [Walt Disney Company photo]

Marty then told me a story about how a person at the Disney Archives recently sent him a memo he had discovered regarding his hiring.

"It was an inter-office communication for Disneyland, Inc. It was from Ed Ettinger, who was my first boss at Disneyland. The memo read:

Subject: Editor for newspaper-Disneyland.

We have an editor for the Disneyland newspaper. Martin Sklar will be editor of the newspaper. He was thoroughly checked out from every angle. He comes highly recommended.

"The memo," Marty added, "was copied to Card Walker." Marty was particularly amused by the "thoroughly checked out from every angle" line.

One month after being hired, Marty had to present the concept he came up with for The Disneyland News to none other than Walt Disney.

"The meeting with Walt took place at Disneyland in the conference room in the Administration Building, which was [Disney Legend] Ron Dominguez's former house. [The Dominguez house, part of a large orange grove that was owned by his family for decades, was located near where the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction now stands. The property was purchased by Disney and the house subsequently was moved to an area behind the Main Street Opera House, serving as an administration building for about 10 years.]

"The key thing to me was Walt had the time for this little thing I was doing. It really fell into place when I realized why Walt had time for it. Main Street, for him, was a real place. A story point and a detail."

The Disneyland News, like Disneyland itself, was a huge success. And for both Marty Sklar and Card Walker, the newspaper and the theme park would provide a springboard to future success for both men.

Next time: Card Walker pops the big question to Marty Sklar: "What are we going to do about Epcot?"

February 1, 2016

Still Goofy About Disney: A blog, re-imagined

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Mickey Mouse leads the parade along Main Street U.S.A. during the author's first visit to Walt Disney World in 1972. Photo by Chuck Schmidt


by Chuck Schmidt
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

When the Walt Disney Company updates an attraction, adding new pizzazz to a ride that's well past its prime, they often tell us the ride has been "re-imagined."

Star Tours in Hollywood Studios was re-imagined a few years back to become Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, with new scenes from Episodes 1, 2 and 3. So, too, was Test Track in Epcot, where you can now design your own car before taking it for a hair-raising spin around the banked speedway.

After seven years writing a blog on all things Disney on SILive.com, we've decided to re-imagine it. Much like the Festival of the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom, which was moved to another location, we'll now be blogging on AllEars.net, the preeminent website for all-things-Disney. In keeping with the re-imagining theme, my contributions to AllEars will be titled Still Goofy about Disney.

The focus of Still Goofy about Disney will be a subject near and dear to my heart: Disney of old. I have always been fascinated with the history of the most successful entertainment company in the world. During my 30-plus years of covering Disney either as the Sunday Editor of the Staten Island Advance or as a Disney blogger, I have been fortunate to have gotten to know many of the most prominent cast members in Disney history, folks like Marty Sklar, Jack Lindquist, Tony Baxter, Bob Gurr, Tom Nabbe, Bill Sullivan, Ron Dominguez, Charlie Ridgway and, of course, Deevy See [just kidding].

Through personal contact or phone interviews, they have shared many, many intriguing stories about their lives and their careers .. stories that I have, in turn, enjoyed sharing with my readers.

My wife Janet and I first visited Walt Disney World in 1972, a few months after we were married. I have still-strong memories of a place that we've returned to dozens and dozens of times over the last four-plus decades. Like those conversations I've had with the Disney Legends, all those previous visits will form the fabric of Still Goofy about Disney going forward.

In addition to my blog, which I started in 2009, I have authored two books on Disney, with a third due out this spring.

The first was Disney's Dream Weavers [Dog Ear Publishing], which goes into detail about the common thread I found running through Disneyland, Freedomland, the 1964-195 New York World's Fair, and Walt Disney World. The second is On the Disney Beat [Theme Park Press], which tells the story of my more than 30 years of covering Disney, either at elaborate Walt Disney World/Disney Cruise Line press events or through extensive interviews with some of the most respected Disney Legends.

Marty Sklar, one of those Legends, graciously wrote a foreword to On the Disney Beat, leaving me both honored and humbled. In part it reads: "It's not just Chuck's reporting and writing that we at Disney appreciate so much. It's the trust that we place in Chuck -- that through his knowledge and appreciation of what we have created and built, we will be treated fairly, respected for our passion and skill, and loved for 'making the magic real.'"

Hopefully, my passion for Disney will continue to shine through in future Still Goofy about Disney blogs.

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About Chuck Schmidt

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

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