Disney Magic Maker: Orlando Ferrante

By Keith Mahne

Today we begin a new segment here on Disney Avenue called Disney Magic Maker. This segment will pay tribute to the men and women who helped dream up the best theme parks in the world. We will start off with none other than Orlando Ferrante. During his 40 years at Walt Disney Imagineering, former vice president of engineering, design, and production Orlando Ferrante helped create magical Disney lands around the world. From Walt Disney World to Disneyland Paris, Orlando’s keen administrative and planning skills, his “can do” attitude, and his humble and fun-loving heart served him well when orchestrating the combined efforts of inspirational artists, engineers, production, and installation teams creating Disney theme parks. Continue after the page break as we pay tribute to one of the best Disney Magic Makers, Mr. Orlando Ferrante…

Born on September 24, 1932, in Los Angeles, California, Orlando won a full football scholarship to attend the University of Southern California, where he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration. After serving two years in the United States Navy, he played professional football as an offensive guard for the Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers in 1960-61. It was “who you know” that helped Orlando get his foot in the door at Disney. Having played football at USC with Dick Nunis, former chair of Walt Disney Attractions, and Ron Miller, former Disney company president, Orlando chose to join Walt Disney Imagineering in 1962.

Upon arriving at Disney, Orlando’s first job was overseeing the installation of the first Audio-Animatronics attraction at Disneyland, the Enchanted Tiki Room. In 1966, Orlando helped coordinate the relocation and installation of the attractions developed by Disney for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, including it’s a small worldCarousel of Progress, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Also in 1965, he established a new department inside WDI called Project Installation Coordinating Office or PICO, which coordinated the creation and installation of Disneyland attractions, including the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as shows and attractions for Walt Disney World. He later recalled, “Creating Walt Disney World was a big effort. We needed a well-organized group coordinating the efforts for both Parks and for future Disney Parks, as well.”

Orlando Ferrante with PICO hardhat

In 1972, Orlando was named general manager of administration, followed by vice president of administration and production, overseeing all of Imagineering. He moved on to serve as vice president of manufacturing and production in 1979, followed by an appointment to vice president of engineering and production. “My main love,” he said, “has been the production and installation of the shows and rides. I love seeing the ideas and being able to help make them a reality.”

Orlando looks up at Cinderella Castle with pride

In 1990, he moved to France where he served as vice president of show and ride engineering, production, and installation at Disneyland Paris. Before retiring in 2002, Orlando moved to Venice, Italy, to help launch the second Disney Cruise Line ship; he also headed show and ride engineering, design, and production of Tokyo DisneySea, which opened in 2001.

Down on Main Street, U.S.A. in Walt Disney World, Orlando and his football buddies got their own windows. Next to Dick Nunis and Ron Miller is a window with “O. Ferrante” painted on it. At the time, Marty Sklar was the one who did all the windows and so he placed Nunis, Miller and Ferrante all together. He made Orlando “the masseur” and in fact, “masseur” is a perfect fit. Whether it was Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, or it’s a small world, you can bet Orlando had a hand in making sure everything was in place and ready for opening day. Marty Sklar, a dear friend of Orlando’s said of him, “I think his years playing football gave Orlando a strong sense of teamwork. He didn’t mind getting dirty to get the job done. And as result, he was well loved and remains well loved by those who worked with him.”

WDW Window

Orlando was finally honored with a window on Main Street in Disneyland, on March 18, 2003. His window is located above the Market House on Center Street and reads: The PICO Organization, Installation & Coordination of World Class Projects, “We Never Sleep – In Any Time Zone,” Orlando Ferrante, Founder. At the window dedication ceremony, Jim Thomas, former Senior Vice President of Project Management at WDI, stated, “I think most people know that Imagineers pride themselves on being dreamers and doers and if ever there was anyone who epitomized the doer in Walt Disney Imagineering it’s Orlando Ferrante. He got things done because of his incredible and undying belief in the people around him.” Orlando was also named a Disney Legend in 2003.

Disneyland Window

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