A Bevy of Baxter – Disneyland Expansion during the Bicentennial

By EPCOT Explorer

At WED Enterprises, the 1970s were marked with an unmistakable drive of creativity that produced some of the most well known and iconic Disney experiences that still are held dear, today. This was the decade of Walt Disney World’s opening and all of the efforts to bring the fledgling resort up to operational and thematic speed. This is also the heady decade in which Walt Disney Productions would finally act upon Walt Disney’s idea for an urban community of tomorrow and produce a theme park, EPCOT Center, out of those ideas and plans. Additionally, this is also the decade when Disney looked beyond America and saw potential in building magic kingdoms around the world. Tokyo Disneyland’s creative nexus came about during EPCOT’s formal creation as a unified theme park and would go on to be a thematic entity based in the best parts of her Floridian and Californian sisters. But what of Disneyland, the original Magic Kingdom? Disneyland, too, was also the product of the driving spirit of WED’s enterprise during the mid 1970s and although what was built was slightly less than all of the plans and ideas fostered for the park, the process is astounding and a hallmark of the breadth of WED’s vision and skill. Under closer observation, Tony Baxter was instrumental in the creation of Disneyland’s efforts to expand. Join us today as we look back at Tony Baxter’s development and influence on Imagineering’s way forward in perfecting the art of the theme park experience…

Tony Baxter can be considered a product of WED’s first generation of Imagineers. Beginning his career at Disneyland as a front line cast member and working his way into Imagineering, Tony Baxter was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of Claude Coats, Marc Davis, and John Hench and absorbed their pioneering spirit into his own outlook and work for WED Enterprises. This philosophy of early WED’s character is easily seen in Baxter’s ideas for how to expand Disneyland and served as a standard of quality for how he exacted and executed his craft in all his projects. But, for the purpose of today’s article, I would like to delve into three projects. Two that never left the drawing board and one that has been build, cherished, and absorbed into the pantheon of Disney’s brand of experiences and attractions: Discovery Bay, Dumbo’s Circusland, and finally, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Discovery Bay was conceptualized to be an extension of Frontierland and to be evocative of San Francisco during the age of the gold rush. Rooted in the spirit and idea of manifest destiny and spurned on by the scientific progress made in the mid 19th century, Baxter’s version of San Francisco would have had a heavy dose of fantasy injected into it so as to feel connected to Disneyland’s other realms. As it always is with settings in a magic kingdom setting, realism gives way to idealism and fantasy lurking behind façades and just out of sight. As discussed here before, I am of the thought that Marc Davis, a senior colleague of Baxter’s, was a great proponent of this Imagineering method. Though intended to be the modus operandi of Discovery Bay, especially with its both physical and philosophical links to Frontierland, Baxter’s plans for the bay were interspersed with fantastical, yet scientifically believable, structures and environments. Realism was to be blended with fantasy to create the illusion of a working scientific vision of the 1800’s. In retrospect, the style of Discovery Bay might have been or might even be considered by our standards to be “steampunk”. Discovery Bay was, after all, to include references to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Harper Goff’s brilliantly designed Nautilus. Guests would even be given the opportunity to dine in Captain Nemo’s Grand Salon on the submarine, beneath the waves and surrounded by the plush aesthetic of wrought iron, velvet, and rivets and iron works. In addition to this, the dirigible from “Island At The Top Of The World” would be given a home in Discovery Bay and serve as one of the other visual standpoints in the area.

Further attractions in Discovery Bay would have been original and drawn from genres instead of films previously released by Disney. One with the deepest and richest conceptual past is Professor Marvel and his Gallery. Modeled after Rolly Crump’s Museum of the Weird, the eccentric and dragon breeding Professor Marvel would have hosted a revolving theater show (not unlike the Carousel of Progress) that showed off curios and antiquities and oddities from around the world over in a typical Victorian “fair and exhibition” setting. Concept art shows that the façade would have boasted an idealized seaside amusement park aesthetic…. But later concepts for the same show illustrate that the attraction was given a towering and crystalline shape. In a grand working of irony, these plans for Discovery Bay, while the most detailed out of any in the previous line of succeeding concepts and ideas for the expansion, were mothballed when Kodak signed on to sponsor EPCOT Center’s Journey into Imagination pavilion in 1977. So, not wanting to lose any of their characters or ideas, Baxter and Steve Kirk, another member of the WED team tasked with Discovery Bay, reused their rudimentary ideas for the Imagination pavilion. Professor Marvel became Dreamfinder, his roving show became a romp through the realms of abstract thought, and the score of dragons he bred coalesced around Figment, the impish and reptilian spirit of imagination. The architectural ideas for the land weren’t lost either. At this point in EPCOT Center’s development, a ecology pavilion was planned to be built of glass and steel, much in the same vein as Disocovery Bay’s crystalline tower. These ideas evolved into the design for both The Land and Journey into Imagination, along with the other idealist remnants of Discovery Bay. Though separated by space age aesthetics and EPCOT Center’s driving intent to illustrate and exhibit, the experience of Dreamfinder and Figment can be tied to the conceptual history of Disneyland’s attempt to expand Frontierland with the whimsy of fantastical place making.

Discovery Bay’s ancillary attractions would have contributed to the breadth of this land mixed with both fantasy and steampunk “realism”.  A shooting gallery themed to a pyrotechnic market would have aptly been named “The Fireworks Factory”.  A traditional Chinatown, as found in San Francisco, would have been situated along the Rivers of America. And a roller coaster, “The Spark Gap Electric Loop”, would have rounded out the land’s thematic attractions. A lighthouse would have been located at the entrance to Discovery Bay, heralding the spirit of discovery to grace the land and to mark serve as a visual “weenie” to draw guests into the northeastern half of Disneyland.

Although extravagant enough to warrant a lone position in Disneyland’s plans to expand in the 1970s, Discovery Island was paired with Dumbo’s Circusland to help flesh out the original Magic Kingdom on the eve of her 25th anniversary. Another thematic venture lead by the creative efforts of Tony Baxter, this land would serve as a bridge from Fantasyland and to the northwest portion of the Rivers of America…. Right where Discovery Bay was to turn up. An extension, but almost “subland” of Fantasyland, Circusland would have a recreation of a turn of the century circus, based on Dumbo’s adventures in the film of the same name.  Moving the Dumbo spinner out of its home in Fantasyland to be the focal point of this new land, Circusland would have recreated the excitement and attractions of the circus come to town. The Dumbo spinner itself would have been set on an elevated platform and given prominence, while a Pinocchio dark ride and Stromboli puppet show graced the plot behind the iconic spinning sky ride. Out of all these plans, the Pinocchio ride would be the only thematic entity come to pass, and would be built in Disneyland’s New Fantasyland in 1983. This part of the Circusland complex would have also been serviced by the “clown restaurant”, serving up carnival faire and offering a energetic and banner strewn experience.

Adjacent to this portion of Circusland, Mickey’s Madhouse, another dark ride, would have dominated the attraction roster. Themed to the heady days of the Disney Bros. Studio in the 1930s, this ride would have been madcap in nature and featured the 1930’s black-and-white aesthetic of Mickey Mouse shorts and been underscored by raucous ragtime melodies.

The entirety of Circusland would have been anchored by “Circus Disney” a massive E Ticket ride through of a myriad of Disney characters, music, and stories, all brought to exacting and detail driven life through advanced Audio Animatronics. Not dissimilar to the Mickey Mouse Revue in Florida’s Magic Kingdom, this musical journey would have only been enhanced by augmenting the show to progress along a track and have thrilling encounters with the characters. Press material released in the 1970s seems to indicate that the ride would have featured a new system of motion for guests. While details of this are murky, specifics about the ride are not. Guests would have been whisked through the wild animal menagerie, with the cast of the Jungle Book and then flown down the circus midway with Dumbo himself. Here, in the big top, we would have found ourselves part of the three-ring show and subject to the madcap acts and daredevil antics of The Flying Goofys.

As mentioned before, the Circusland concept was never built in Disneyland, save for the lone Pinocchio ride in 1983. However, Walt Disney World opened Storybook Circus in 2013, using much of the same thematic drive to guide the aesthetic choices made in the land. While not featuring any of the zany thematic dark rides planned for Circusland, Storybook Circus does give prominence to Dumbo, and doubles the spinning, iconic ride, while providing for the environment of the carnival in a thematic waiting area. Located where the Magic Kingdom’s Toontown used to reside, Storybook Circus repurposed “The Barnstormer”, a small kiddie coaster themed to Goofy’s farm, to a rollicking stunt show with “The Great Goofini”. While not totally echoing the spirit of Circus Disney, at least the thematic and genre sensibilities are echoed.

And finally, that brings us to the wild west and the only Baxter lead expansion initiative that was conceptualized and built during the bicentennial decade: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Born of Walt Disney World’s need to flesh out her thematic attractions during her heady first decade, and spurned on by the totally separate efforts of Marc Davis, Big Thunder’s creative history is a convoluted myriad of situations and executive decisions. Originally planned to be built in Florida, first, Tony Baxter’s wild mountain thrill ride was thematically tied to an attraction that  Marc Davis dreamed up: Thunder Mesa and the Western River Expedition. Davis’ plan was to construct a massive rock plateau and weave attractions through the scenery. Primarily, two rides were developed for this concept: a slow Audio Animatronic heavy show attraction and a thrilling mine train idea.  Davis, one of the key Imagineers behind Pirates of the Caribbean and the “characters as scenery” driven second act of the Haunted Mansion, planned to bring his brand of memorable characters and sight gags west, to Frontierland. The Western River Expedition was planned to be a meandering river voyage through the American southwest and would have played upon the western genre with a cast of Audio Animatronic cowboys, Native Americans, animals, and even cacti. But this wasn’t to come to pass. Disney World, intent on diversifying her thematic experiences quickly green lit a Space Mountain to attract thrill seekers, and also approved of a plan to bring over a version of Davis’ Pirates of the Caribbean to waylay guest complaints surrounding the fact that The Magic Kingdom lacked the highly popular and publicized Pirates ride upon opening.

With funds diverted to the Space Mountain project in Florida (and soon to be so, too, in California) and an altered facsimile of Pirates of the Caribbean,  Davis’ plan for his western river attraction faltered. However, the plans for Thunder Mesa and a runway mine train stayed in the mind of his fellow Imagineer, Tony Baxter.  While given the go ahead to develop the mine train ride for Florida, California was desperate to expand and bolster their own attraction roster. Compounding this, Frontierland’s Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland was aging and forcing a extremely high cost of maintenance. To help bring this cost down and in an attempt to keep Disneyland fresh and new, management had no trouble in persuading Tony Baxter to design Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for both coasts. Disneyland opened her version in 1979 with rockwork based off of Brice Canyon in Colorado, while Walt Disney World debuted a taller and wider rock formation in 1980. Both mountains share the same track, though aesthetic differences populate each version. For example, Tony Baxter ensured that Disneyland’s Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland would have a lasting tribute in Big Thunder with the preservation of Rainbow Ridge,  the original mining town from the 1956 attraction. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has since gone on to have been added to Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris where the Thunder Mesa concept was reevaluated to fit the whole of Frontierland and give the area a unifying backstory and aesthetic.

By dint of the creative organization that they are, Imagineering will always produce more concepts than physical products and more physical products that combine and interact and are influenced by all of the concepts that have come before them. Although an article like this can read as a winsome and wishful litany of “things we wished happened”, the importance and relevance of conceptual history lies in the details and trajectory of the ideas discussed here. Though not fully built to potential, each of Disneyland’s attempts to expand in the 1970s were all harbingers of other iconic and beloved attractions. Tony Baxter’s influence on these thematic entities is also vital as his tenure as an Imagineer was just beginning and would prove crucial to his own development and Imagineering’s way forward in perfecting the art of the theme park and thematic experience. Therefore, it can be seen that this decade was a watershed moment for all of Disney as their best ideas, both built and unbuilt, would continue to influence Disney’s products and artful creations for years to come.

EPCOT Explorer has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort since he was 2 years old and has recently just made his first visit to Disneyland. EPCOT Explorer’s first ‘Disney’ interest is the history of EPCOT Center of his youth and the brand of optimism, futurism, and culture that was originally found in the park. Other interests include the thematic interplay of design elements in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdoms that make these theme parks repositories of culture and Americana. EPCOT Explorer is also interested in the World’s Fairs for their connections to EPCOT and tiki culture, since the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Walt Disney World in 2011. EE’s writings often focus on the minutia of Disney’s enterprises and attempt to uncover how and why the parks function in the manner that they do. EPCOT Explorer is currently a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in History at Florida International University. EPCOTEXPLORER.TUMBLR.COM

You can find all of EPCOT Explorer’s articles here.

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Disney in 1980: A Trip Through Time

By Keith Mahne
You hear me say it all the time, “wouldn’t it be great if we could travel back in time and experience the Parks in a whole new way?” As you ponder the question, let’s travel back to the Disney Parks of 1980. It was a great year for both Parks as Disneyland was celebrating it’s 25th anniversary and Walt Disney World’s 10th celebration was starting to take place as well. Let’s take a look around each Park in today’s new article…

(Please be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of this page if you are on a desktop computer prior to playing the videos below.)

Let’s begin with this wonderful home video of Disneyland from 1980:

Up next is some 8mm footage of Disneyland’s Fantasyland in 1980 prior to the New Fantasyland expansion of 1983:

Check out this great 1980 super-8 footage of the Disneyland 25th Anniversary Parade:

Lastly, we end our trip of the Disney Parks in 1980 with this home movie also shot on super-8 and with full live audio of Walt Disney World. Notice how similar the parade was to Disneyland’s at the time:

Although we can’t actually travel back in time, these wonderful home videos offer a wonderful sense of nostalgia and ability to transport us mentally to the old days filled with that Disney Magic we all love. I hope you enjoyed these videos as much as I have and, if so, tell us all about it in the comments below! What was your favorite part? 


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


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The Story of Walt Disney’s Morgue

By Keith Mahne

It’s a place on The Walt Disney Studios lot that even on the warmest of days will give you goose bumps. Beneath the Studio’s courtyards, streets, and brick-and-mortar buildings is a maze of concrete corridors originally constructed to house and maintain plumbing and electrical systems. There’s even a passageway that leads from the Animation Building to the Ink & Paint Building, which in the early days of the Studio and during inclement weather, was used to transport animation cels from one building to another. Continue after the page break for an underground look at Disney’s Morgue…

With low ceilings, pipes of every shape and size, and hidden rooms adjoining the long hallways, the morgue’s underground location is a fitting backdrop for a creepy movie.

A handwritten sign guides you through the tunnels below the Walt Disney Studios to “The Morgue,” a place that used to house the research and art from Disney films.

The Walt Disney Studios was originally built to be Walt Disney’s ultimate creative complex for animation, and some of the most iconic Disney animated films of all time have been produced there—Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and many, many others. But when the films wrapped, all the creative inspiration, research, concept art, and animation had to be shelved somewhere to make room for the next project. A set of rooms beneath the Ink & Paint Building, which had just enough room to store everything, became that work’s final resting place.

“In our morgue, these shelves, tables, and file cabinets hold all our history as a motion picture studio,” Walt said in an episode of Disneyland.

Walt visited the morgue in the September 25, 1957 Disneyland television series episode “Adventure in Wildwood Heart.” “In our morgue, these shelves, tables, and file cabinets hold all our history as a motion picture studio,” he says in the episode, which you can see for yourself in the Walt Disney’s Legacy Collection, True-Life Adventures series, Volume 4: Nature’s Mysteries. “Here are the drawings, models, sketches, and backgrounds for every film we’ve ever made,” Walt points out in the introduction. “In these file cabinets are research materials of every kind and description. This room represents the repository, the well of our experience. And experience is the key to progress.” He then goes on to introduce A True-Life Fantasy: Perri, about the life of a squirrel in the forest and the only True-Life Fantasy ever produced.



While most morgues house dead bodies, the Walt Disney Studios morgue was home to retired research and artwork in the hope it would inspire future artists. ”They called it a morgue because that was a newspaper term for used, but still useable material such as photographs, back issues, and clippings,” says Fox Carney, manager, Research, Animation Research Library. “They probably took that from being familiar from the newspaper industry and terminology. The morgue wasn’t where things went to die. It was based upon what was used in the production for what was reusable or used for inspiration.” The Disney morgue housed ghosts of animation. Each file in the rows of shelves and cabinets had imprints of the past. And if you were to study the brush strokes and the textures of each piece of artwork long enough, the Studio felt, you could get a feel for how the original animator created the piece.

The underground walkway as it appeared in 2009

The morgue lost its name and cozy underground location in 1989, when it was moved to a larger Glendale facility, but you can still visit its original location (it’s now home to a copy center and some janitorial offices) on the Studio Lot today by walking down a long flight of stairs on the north side of the Ink & Paint Building and navigating a few corners of underground hallways. Though the maquettes, backgrounds, paintings and animation sketches are now long gone, safely stored in the state-of-the-art Disney Animation Research Library in Glendale, the spirit of the Walt Disney Studios morgue lives on today in the way Disney continues to build on the creative energy of the past. Fox sums it up nicely: “For Disney to invest the resources it takes into preserving and maintaining the art shows the commitment the Company has to its legacy.” And there is nothing scary about preserving such a rich, inspiring, and amazing history.


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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Space Mountain: Trust for the Journey

By Randy Crane

Space Mountain, a thrilling, imaginary journey though outer space, is not for the skittish. After the second lift you are in almost complete darkness for the rest of the ride until coming back into the station. Especially for those who don’t ride often, this is an almost completely unpredictable ride. How can we apply Space Mountain to our own lives? Continue after the page break and I’ll tell you all about it…

As Christians—even just as humans—we can’t always see where the future will take us. In fact, it’s usually at the most significant times that we can least see what is coming next and how it will affect us. But as Christians, we have an advantage. We know the One who designed the journey.

David says in Psalm 139:16, “Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you. The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”

As Christian author Max Lucado says, when we look to the future and see where our lives are now, we can say to God, “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know how I’ll get home. But you do and that’s enough.” That’s not to say that we don’t make free choices throughout our lives, but time poses no challenges for God. He exists outside of time and already knows what we think of as “the future.” Because of that, He has prepared the journey (though it’s up to us to choose to take it)––one we could not have predicted or designed for ourselves, yet nonetheless amazing.

Once on Space Mountain, you are in the hands of the Imagineers who designed the ride to take you on a journey you could not take on your own. Sometimes that’s not easy to do. I used to fear roller coasters. I’m still not a big fan of the steel behemoths that stand 200 feet tall, suspend you from the track, and have six loops, a flat spin, and an inline rollover. But I can at least ride California Screamin’. That coaster is only 120 feet tall, you sit in a seat, and it does only one loop. And the zero-to-55-mph-in-no-time-at-all launch is fun!

But it wasn’t all that long ago that I would not have gone anywhere near this breathtaking ride, let alone to Space Mountain itself.

Back in the mid-1990s, my friend Andy and I would go to Disneyland together all the time. At that time, the most I could handle was Thunder Mountain––and I even got nervous standing in line waiting for that one! Andy wanted to go on all the rides but he waited patiently.

Apparently, we opted for “exposure therapy,” because he and I rode Thunder Mountain almost every time we went to the park. Over time—about a year, actually—I was willing to try the Matterhorn. It took getting in line and chickening out two or three times before I finally rode that one the first time, but eventually I did. And it took another year or so before I was finally willing to try Space Mountain. Now I love them all, though, I have to admit I still get a bit nervous in line at times.

I was able to overcome my fear and enjoy the rides because I knew Andy would not take me on something that was going to hurt me. And I knew the Imagineers were experts who knew exactly what they were doing. They would not build a ride that they knew would endanger riders.

Sometimes the ride is scary. Sometimes it’s exciting. But, when faced with uncertainty, we put ourselves into the hands of people who know exactly what they’re doing. Of course, there’s more than one “track” to the roller coaster of our lives, but God knows exactly what He’s doing. He has seen, knows, and will guide the whole journey, and He’s working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Sometimes the Christian life is scary. Sometimes it’s exciting. Sometimes it’s unpredictable. Sometimes the journey’s difficulty and our weakness and fear in the face of it is almost overwhelming. Our troubles can seem all-consuming, and our minds imagine the worst things possible.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

And so we can trust God, and “enjoy the ride.”

Me in the back right taking a quick nap on Space Mountain

Takeaway: What overwhelming, frightening, or uncertain circumstance in your life today do you need to trust God with?

Randy Crane is a highly-regarded speaker and author, presenting engaging and thought-provoking messages on a variety of topics. He has a natural rapport and connection with audiences that makes them relate well to him, engage in his presentations, and come away with a fresh understanding of the subject at hand. Randy is also the host of the “Stories of the Magic” unofficial Disney podcast, where he interviews people from throughout the Disney company, from front-line Cast Members to Legends. Randy grew up in the church, but—like many others—wandered away from the faith for a time in high school. Now, he is an ordained minister, with both a Bachelor’s degree in Church Ministry (emphasis in Preaching) and a Master’s degree in Congregational Leadership from Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He has been preaching and teaching since 1998, and has been a drummer/percussionist on church worship teams since 1992. He married his wonderful wife Faye in November of 2000 and they are expecting their first child in April of 2015. Randy is the author of two books, Once Upon YOUR Time and Faith and the Magic Kingdom.

You can find all of Randy’s articles here.


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Vintage Disneyland Gate Brochures

By Keith Mahne

Wouldn’t it be fun if we were able to travel back in time and spend a day at Disneyland? Although that capability isn’t yet available to us optimists, we do have the ability to see what the day to day activities were like at Disneyland by taking a look at the Park’s old main gate brochures. Given to guests as they entered the park, these handy flyers were packed with all the current festivities and attractions. They also provided which type of ticket (A,B,C,D or E) each attraction required. Today, let’s have a look at some of these wonderful brochures from 1968, 1976, and 1979 to really get a sense of what Disneyland had to offer its guests all those years ago. Continue after the page break for a nostalgic look into Disneyland’s past…

(Click on each brochure to enlarge the photo.)

Let’s begin by having a look inside this fantastic Disneyland brochure from Spring of 1968…


Did you see what was in Tomorrowland? Bell System’s futuristic Picture-phone exhibit! It was the Skype of 1968! That’s pretty cool technology for back then and more on that to come in a future article…

Next, we travel to Disneyland during the Summer of 1976! Notice that the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland is still chugging along, but will soon close for good a few months later on January 2, 1977…

Lastly, take a look at this brown beauty from Winter of 1979. In it you’ll see a great little Space Mountain advertisement. Big Thunder Mountain isn’t ready just yet as its got about 7 months before it becomes the “wildest ride in the wilderness!”…

Did you see anything in these great brochures of old Disneyland that stood out to you? If so, be sure to let us know in the comments! I swear I could look at these for hours! 

Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


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A Walk in the Park: Disneyland Edition – Enchanted Windows

By Daisy Sparks

Hello, Disney Avenue readers! It’s time to visit Disneyland again. It’s pretty exciting when places or things that have been around at Disneyland for a long time can be re-imagined. An example of this is the beginning of the new “Enchanted Windows” series along Main St. USA.

Let’s take a look at these magical Disneyland windows along Main Street in this week’s Walk in the Park article…

The windows along the Emporium used to showcase classic Disney movies from Snow White, to Little Mermaid to Ratatouille. They started as elaborate dioramas to having more recent window displays with animated figures. You can visit Daveland to see some photos of how the Emporium display windows have evolved.

Back in May, the Disney Parks Blog announced that new “Enchanted Window” displays would be in place for the Diamond Celebration. You can refer to this post for more photos about these new Main Street USA window enhancements.

Since then, there have been two Enchanted Windows that have been revealed: Peter Pan and Cinderella. Take a look at this video I shot just for you:

Here are some photos from the new Peter Pan Enchanted Window. It debuted late May to coincide with the official start of Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration.

Several weeks ago, the Cinderella Enchanted Window was quietly revealed with the following scene.

I am glad that they were not revealed all at once. It’s fun to continue to get some Disney magic every now and then. I can’t wait to see the others and to share it with Disney Avenue.

See you in the parks…

Daisy Sparks grew up in Southern California and Disneyland was a regular part of her life. While in college, she started working at Disneyland as a Main Street Merchandise Host. Her “college job” led to 12 adventurous years working with Mickey Mouse. She was a trained Magic Demonstrator, Hat Writer and was even signed off as a Disneyland Monorail Ride Operator. Daisy loved every minute of it while she held various management positions in Merchandise, Business Operations and Attractions. 
Daisy is married to her college sweetheart, David (a former Jungle Cruise Skipper). David solicited Daisy’s Duck’s help in memorable engagement proposal that took place at Disneyland’s Club 33. Daisy left Disneyland in May 2001 to raise her two daughters. She continues to visit the Disneyland Resort multiple times a week as a Guest. Daisy particularly loves the Disneyland heritage because of all of the little details and stories that make it “the happiest place on earth.”
You can read more about Daisy’s Disneyland adventures over on her personal blog at DisneyDaze .

You can find all of Daisy’s articles here.


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Disney Avenue Podcast – Show #14 – Marty Sklar on the Opening of Disneyland

Welcome back friends to another special episode of the Disney Avenue Podcast. With all the excitement going on right now for the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, I though…what could we do on this show to really make it special for you in commemorating the 60th? And then it hit me…let’s invite the one and only Marty Sklar to come back on the show and tell us all about the opening of Disneyland because, well, simply put, Marty was there with Walt on that special day! Continue after the page break and hear from the legend himself as Marty Sklar takes us back to July 17, 1955 and the opening of Disneyland…

A young Marty Sklar, seated center, poses for a “team photo” with other members of the Disneyland opening team in 1955.

As former vice chairman and principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, Marty Sklar stood as a dedicated torchbearer of Walt Disney’s philosophy since first joining the Company a month before Disneyland opened in 1955. He helped express and preserve Walt’s spirit of optimism, happiness, and hope for the future through attractions and special exhibitions in Disney theme parks around the world.

 Born Martin A. Sklar on February 6, 1934, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Marty attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he served as editor of the Daily Bruin campus newspaper. In July 1955, the student editor was recruited by Walt Disney to create an 1890-themed tabloid newspaper, The Disneyland News, which sold on Main Street during the Park’s debut year. After completing his education, Marty returned to Disneyland publicity and marketing.

He joined WDI in 1961 as part of a team assigned by Walt to develop industry-sponsored shows and pavilions for General Electric, Ford, Pepsi-Cola and UNICEF, and the State of Illinois at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Ever since, Marty served as a key representative working with American industry in developing and sponsoring attractions for Disney parks and resorts around the globe.

During his early years at Disney, Marty not only learned Walt’s philosophy firsthand, but metabolized and translated it into materials he wrote for the master showman which were used in publications, television appearances, and special films. Among them was a 20-minute movie devoted to communicating Walt’s vision of EPCOT, his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, originally intended to help resolve the urban challenges found in American cities.

Marty first became an Imagineering officer in 1974 when appointed vice president, concepts and planning, a role in which he guided creative development of Epcot Center at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. In 1979, he was named vice president of creative development, followed by executive vice president in 1982. He served as president and vice chairman from 1987 to 1996.

In 2001, the Company honored Marty with a special award for 45 years of service and leadership. After the 50th anniversary of Disneyland in 2005, he transitioned into a new role as Imagineering’s international ambassador. He is the only person to have attended the grand openings of all Disney parks. He retired from Disney on July 17, 2009, after 53 years with the Company.

Friends, it is with great joy and excitement that the Disney Avenue Podcast welcome back the legend himself to discuss the opening of Disneyland 60 years ago, the one and only Marty Sklar…..Enjoy!

(Be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of this page prior to starting the show below if you are on a desktop computer.)



The Disney Avenue Podcast would like to thank Geren Piltz for his contributions to this show!

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The World of Walt Disney

By Keith Mahne

Have you ever wondered what Walt Disney’s world was like? This 1962 Newsweek article does a pretty good job of answering that question. As the article begins, “In the world of children, he is the rich uncle – the casual ordinary-looking man with the graying mustache and the baggy eyes who shows up from time to time, does funny tricks and gives wonderful presents, and then goes away until the next time. He makes everybody laugh, and everybody wonders about him – because like any proper rich uncle, he presents a fascinating mystery.” Continue after the page break as we take a look back at the “World of Walt Disney” in 1962…

Click on each photo to enlarge the article:


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


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Making of: Splash Mountain

By Keith Mahne

Believe it or not the Los Angeles freeway, George Lucas, and a children’s book about a squirrel all had a lot to do with the creation of America’s favorite flume ride. It was the summer of 1983, when a variety of projects were circulating through Imagineer Tony Baxter’s mind. “I can’t say I actually thought of Splash Mountain on the freeway,” says Baxter, “but I did ponder it on more than a couple of rides to and from work. I would say that I definitely had time to think about it while sitting in traffic.” Dick Nunis, President of Walt Disney Attractions at this time, was very instrumental in getting a flume type ride in the parks. Nunis wanted something similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, but more exciting. This all lead to one of my favorite Disney attractions, Splash Mountain. Let’s take a look at the Making of this park favorite in today’s featured article…

Mickey and Dick Nunis

Tony Baxter and his fellow Imagineers were in the Blue Sky stage of development when the idea came to Baxter. “I thought about it a long time, but the idea really came to fruition when we were discussing ideas for Tomorrowland with George Lucas. One of our concepts called for tearing down America Sings, but I kept thinking, ‘What a terrible waste of all those Audio-Animatronics characters. Isn’t there something we can do with them?’” Finally, one morning after going over ideas for days and many traffic jams later, Tony Baxter had the perfect formula. Splash Mountain show producer Bruce Gordon explains, “Tony came in and told us what he wanted to do. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea!’ So I got together with John Stone, the project designer, and a bunch of other guys and we took all the scenes from “Song of the South” and began visualizing how we could turn them into a ride.”

Concept Art

Concept Art

When Baxter was four he owned a book about a squirrel and he vaguely remembered being very impressed by the illustrations. As he got older his parents gave the book to Goodwill and Baxter had no idea if the book existed anymore. This didn’t stop Bruce Gordon, who began searching high and low for this children’s book. Gordon finally found it at the Library of Congress. Fortunately, the pictures in the book did look as good as Tony Baxter remembered and, in fact, the pictures looked so good that Stone used them as inspiration for the interior show scenes for the ride.

Bruce Gordon

While work began to progress on the project, everyone knew it would be a hit. Shortly after Baxter and the others built a 1/20th scale model, several people in the WDI building would stop by and say how great it looked. The project came together flawlessly and within four weeks the Imagineers had the storyboard and model done. It’s a great sign while designing an attraction when everything falls into place. The result of that design was a flume ride based on “Song of the South” that featured not just Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear, but also over 100 characters that once performed in America Sings.

The creation of Splash Mountain caused for several changes to occur inside Disneyland. One such change was to what was known as Bear Country, now called Critter Country; the Imagineers wanting something to draw guests back into Bear Country. It was becoming a much underutilized area and there was a perceived need for a new Disney attraction. During this time the Imagineers created and completed Captain EO and Star Tours, which are great attractions, but it had been awhile since they did a ride based on classic Disney characters from the films and Splash Mountain gave them that chance.


Even though everything fell into place in the development stages of the ride, it still took five years for the attraction to be built. This was due to the fact that Disney had a flood, or traffic jam, of other projects in the works and Splash Mountain had to wait its turn in line. In 1986 the ride was finally given the go-ahead and everyone involved was extremely excited by the idea of building a really thrilling and unique attraction based on classic Disney characters.

Splash Mountain is a 10 minute ride that is half a mile long that features five drops, including a astonishing final drop that plunges over 52 feet at a 45-degree angle. Ride vehicles made to look like logs reach top speeds of 40 mph while going down the final drop, making the ride one of the fastest at Disneyland, WDW and Tokyo Disneyland.


One of the best parts of Pirates of the Caribbean, besides the drops, is the Blue Bayou section in the beginning of the ride because it gives the rider a chance to get in the mood before the ride actually starts. The Imagineers used the same tactics here by allowing riders that round Chick-a-Pin Hill to see other logs hurtling down the final drop. This gets the juices flowing as the rider keeps in mind throughout the ride that they will eventually be going down that huge drop. In theory, the first part of the ride is suppose to be relaxing, then, slowly but surely, starts to build up some anxiety of what’s to come. After the first drop, guest suddenly fined themselves in the fascinating world of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear. One unique thing about the ride is that absolutely no walls are used to divide show scenes. Instead, the ride is separated by set pieces so guests may look all the way to the other end of the bayou without giving away the story. Also, unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, where most of the action is far away from the rider, Splash Mountain is right on top of you. Imagineers wanted the riders to feel as if they are part of the attraction and very much a part of what’s happening.

Close to the end of the ride, when the rider goes down the final drop, all you can see at the bottom is a spiky, thorny Briar Patch coming at you. Once you reach the bottom a series of 12 water cannons spray water. As the log ride vehicle goes by, it seems like it goes under water but there is actually bubblers out in the middle of the lagoon that continues that effect. While building the ride and using characters from America Sings throughout, Baxter and Gordon had a bunch of Audio-Animatronics characters left over. They eventually came up with the idea to place all the left over characters on an old Mississippi Paddle-Wheeler that rocks back and forth for the grand finale. So as guests bank out they head to this extravagant scene with all the characters singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”   

Tony Baxter, John Stone and Bruce Gordon

And now for the Grand Opening of Splash Mountain:

Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney – National Geographic Aug ’63

By Keith Mahne

The 1963 issue of National Geographic magazine provided an amazing snapshot of what the Disney company was like in ’63. This lavish article your about to see is all about Walt Disney and Disneyland. The article is truly spectacular at 50 pages in length! Including some of the best photos of Disneyland at that time, it also boasts a three page fold out map of the park and, on the reverse side, a nice three page panorama shot of the Rivers of America. Let’s take a look at it all in today’s new article…

The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney


Illustrations by National Geographic photographer THOMAS NEBBIA

ONE AUTUMN EVENING in 1928, a new actor appeared at the Colony Theatre in New York in a movie called Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon ever produced with sound. He had ears bigger than Clark Gable’s, legs like rubber hose, a grin wider than Joe E. Brown’s, and a heart of gold. His name was Mickey Mouse.

Beginning that night, Mickey and his creator, Walt Disney, grabbed the world’s funny bone and have never lost their grip.

The New York Times praised the new film as “ingenious.”

“A wow!” cried the Weekly Film Review.

Thus was born history’s most influential mouse. Mickey led the way in the development of animation as a new art, to the exploration of the world of animals and faraway people and of their adventures and geography.

Mickey Mouse has skipped from triumph to triumph – always preceded by three words in big letters: “Walt Disney presents.”

Mickey is featured in comic strips and books in 15 languages, became the star of television’s Mickey Mouse Club, and, finally, founded a magic kingdom called Disneyland.

He is Topolino in Italy, Mik-kii Ma-u-su in Japan, Raton Mickey in Mexico, Micky Maus in Germany, Mikki Hiiri in Finland, and just plain Mickey in scores of other lands. He is known around the world – always with approbation and love.

Mickey, a versatile fellow, has been everything from farmer and magician to great lover and fire chief. He has directed planets and comets in their courses. He has defied time, space, and gravity. But, though bound to win, he has always fought the clean fight.

True to character, “Mickey Mouse” was the designation in World War II for diagrams of convoy movements toward Normandy’s D-day beaches, and Mickey rode into battles as the insigne on hundreds of ships and planes.

When King Bhumiphol of Thailand presented Walt Disney with a medal, he said quietly for Walt’s ear alone: “This is an honor from my government, but more than that, it comes from me. I grew up on your cartoons.”

Franklin Roosevelt demanded Mickey in the White House. Dowager Queen Mary of Britain liked to find Mickey on the bill when-ever she went to the movies.

It can be said that Walter Elias Disney, the man, and Mickey, the mouse, have made a lasting impact on mankind.

700 Awards From Around the World

Last fall, in Walt Disney’s outer office at the studio in Burbank, California, I got a glimpse into the dimensions of this durable pair, 35 years after the mouse clicked in the fertile Disney mind.
In cases ranged along the walls, on shelves and tables are some of the more than 700 awards the Disney organization has received (page 167). There are dozens of medals, citations, and plaques from appreciative governments attesting the international amity created by Disney’s make-believe characters Mickey, Donald, Goofy the dog, and all the others.

Walt once sent a proud director home with a newly won Oscar. “How did the family like it?” he asked next day.

“The kids weighed it first thing,” the director said. “You might like to know an Oscar weighs 6 pounds, 12 ounces on our bathroom scale.”

The awards from the film industry mean most to Walt. But he is proud that conservation groups have also recognized his interest in protecting wildlife. He is proudest, perhaps, of the Audubon Society Medal awarded in 1955.

Walt’s office has become so crowded that recently four cabinets of awards were placed in the studio commissary. Some of the employees promptly nicknamed the commissary “the awards room.”

Disney Films Used in Teaching

Although Walt constantly denies he is an educator, his nature films, which he calls True-Life Adventures, have received accolades from educators. Films like Seal Island, In Beaver Valley, and The Living Desert were pioneering achievements. Walt’s early edict for them and all the True-Life Adventure pictures was to get the complete natural history of the animals with no sign of humans: no fences, car tracks, buildings, or telephone poles. This concept, plus the intimacy, the extreme close-up view of the animal, completely won the public.

The True-Life Adventures; films of the nomadic Blue Men of Morocco, Japanese fishermen, Siam, the Alaskan Eskimo, and Switzerland; Donald Duck’s adventures in Math-magic Land; the man-in-space series, with technical advice by Wernher von Braun; Disney safety films, and many others are a solid part of the curriculum for thousands of school children, not only in the U. S. but abroad – including countries under Communist control.

I first saw Walt Disney sitting at a low coffee table, wearing his usual working garb: a short-sleeved sport shirt with a woolen tie, slacks, and a sleeveless alpaca sweater.

An aerial photograph of Disneyland dominated one wall. There were photographs of his family, including his five grandchildren; the Disney coat of arms; his first Academy Award.

“That first Oscar was a special award for the creation of Mickey Mouse,” he said. “The other Academy Awards belong to our group, a tribute to our combined effort. The whole thing here is the organization. And the big problem was putting the organization together.

“Look at Disneyland,” he went on, waving toward the aerial photograph. “That was started because we had the talent to start it, the talents of the organization.”

“What’s your role?” I asked.

“You know, I was stumped one day when a little boy asked, ‘Do you draw Mickey Mouse?’ I had to admit I do not draw any more. ‘Then you think up all the jokes and ideas?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t do that.’ Finally, he looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Disney, just what do you do?’”

‘Well,’ I said, ‘sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another and gather pollen and sort of stimulate everybody.’ I guess that’s the job I do. I certainly don’t consider myself a businessman, and I never did believe I was worth anything as an artist.”

Until a few years ago, Walt was president of the company, Walt Disney Productions. He resigned and was made board chairman. His older brother Roy became president. Then Walt, tired of signing things, resigned as chairman too.

Walt laughed at the memory. “Now my only title is executive producer. I’m the boss of everything that’s produced here. I work on story ideas and gags; I work on every script, writing dialogue and planning scenes. When the story is set, I turn it over to the boys, and they make it.

“We film 25 new stories for television and six feature-length pictures a year – and, of course, we think up ideas for the park, Disneyland. The corporation gets its vitality from what we create.”

The corporation exhibits considerable vitality: In 1962 this magic world showed a gross income of $74,059,000—more than $20,000,000 from Disneyland alone – and a net of $5,263,000.

The Secret Life of Mickey Mouse

All this vitality stems from a mouse that was conceived in desperation, gestated in secrecy, and almost died at birth.

In the fall of 1927, Walt Disney returned to Hollywood from New York without a staff and without a star. He had gone east to negotiate a new contract for his series Oswald the Rabbit. His distributor refused to meet his price and threatened to lure his whole organization away.

“I’ve already signed all your animators,” the distributor told Walt.

Walt and Lillian Disney, his bride of two years, had a doleful trip across the continent. Walt needed a whole staff of animators. He also needed a new character fast.

The idea for Mickey Mouse was born on the train. “I’ve got it,” Walt told Lilly. “I’ll do a series about a mouse. I’m going to call him Mortimer Mouse.”

Lilly Disney frowned. “I like the idea, but Mortimer sounds too dignified for a mouse.”
Walt thought a few minutes. “All right, we’ll call him Mickey Mouse. Mickey has a good, friendly sound.”

In Hollywood, Walt and Roy Disney and chief animator Ub Iwerks, now director of technical research, began work on Mickey. The defecting animators were still at the studio finishing the Oswald contract, and Walt did not want them to know he was starting a new series. So Ub Iwerks was sequestered in a locked office, and there in four hectic weeks, he animated an entire Mickey Mouse cartoon.

That first Mickey was entitled Plane Crazy, a bit of nonsense inspired by the Lindbergh flight. To get the drawings inked and painted on celluloid for the camera, Walt set up tables in his garage at home. There, Lillian Disney, her sister, and Roy’s wife Edna did the job. A cameraman returned to the studio at night to put the pictures on film.

When Walt took the movie to New York, distributors were not interested. They were also not interested in a second Mickey, produced while Walt was traveling.

Mickey Saved by Plinks and Toots

Mickey was close to death. But he was literally saved by the bell – bells, whistles, plinks, and toots. Sound had made its first real impact on motion pictures with the release of The Jazz Singer in the fall of 1927. Walt decided to try it.

He and Iwerks rigged a homemade radio with a microphone. They put up a white sheet as a screen and, with two helpers, stood at the mike behind it with noisemakers, a mouth organ, and a xylophone. For six hours, Roy projected a short bit of animation from Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey film. The sound makers watched the image and whanged away. It was ragged, but it convinced them that sound was for cartoons.

Walt hurried to New York with the film, and there Steamboat Willie was completed with sound. And it was ingenious and funny sound which transcended the mere novelty of actors singing or mouthing lines.

Sound was added to the first two Mickeys. Suddenly and dramatically, evervbody wanted the talking mouse.

Walt and the mouse have come a long way since. Nothing about Walt Disney’s background easily explains his success, though he began to draw at an early age.

His father, Elias Disney, was a carpenter in Chicago when Walter Elias Disney was born there in December of 1901. When Walt was four, the family there were three older brothers and a younger sister moved to Marceline, Missouri. Walt still recalls the horsecar ride to the railroad station.
At Marceline, one of Walt’s first chores was to herd the pigs on the family farm. The Disneys were forced to sell the farm, and in 1910 moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There Walt’s father bought a paper route with 800 customers. Roy and Walt were delivery boys. They started work at 4:30 in the morning and made their rounds on foot.

The family moved back to Chicago in 1917. Walt went to high school, attended the Academy of Fine Arts, and took correspondence courses in cartooning. He also worked at the post office sorting mail and delivering letters.

“As long as I can remember, Walt has been working,” Roy Disney told me. “He worked in the daytime and he worked at night. Walt didn’t play much as a boy. He still can’t catch a ball with any certainty.”

When Walt was 16, he joined an American Red Cross unit as an ambulance driver, but he did not set overseas until after the Armistice. He had 11 months in France, then went to Kansas City and set up as a commercial artist. He finally landed with the Kansas City Film Ad Company in 1920, preparing animated commercials for silent-movie houses.

Walt recalls those days. “The pull toward Hollywood became strong. Animation was big there, and if I couldn’t be successful at that, I wanted to be a director or a writer.”
In 1923 he went off to Hollywood with $40 in hand, and for two months tried to hitch on at the studios. His $40 disappeared.

“Before I knew it, I had my animation board out,” Walt recalls. He finally got an offer for twelve cartoons – Alice in Cartoon-land at $1,500 each.

“I talked my big brother Roy into going in with me,” Walt told me. “I couldn’t get a job, so I went into business for myself.”

Business was good. Alice was followed by the successful Oswald the Rabbit series. Then came Mickey.

“The mouse gave us an opportunity to improve the cartoon medium,” Walt says. Experiment and expansion began in 1929 with the first Silly Symphony, in which music played a key role.

Walt worked at the studio all day and every night. Only in recent years has he mastered the compulsion to work all the time. “I still take scripts home,” he told me, “but I don’t read them at night. It’s a temptation to peek, but I wait until morning. I used to read at night and then worry until morning. I used to be tied up all night, but no more.”

Donald Duck Becomes a Star

Walt’s next enthusiasm was Technicolor’s new three-color process for film. A Silly Symphony, Flowers and Trees, was already fully photographed in black and white. Walt decided to remake it in Technicolor. It was a gamble, since Technicolor was extraordinarily expensive.

The picture was made in color and caused a revolution in the animated-cartoon industry. In 1932 it became the first cartoon to win an Oscar. Some of Walt’s funniest pictures were Silly Symphonies – notably The Three Little Pigs and The Tortoise and the Hare.

In 1934 Donald Duck made his first sputtering appearance in The Wise Little Hen. That egregious fellow became an immediate hit—and now has surpassed Mickey as the star of the stable.

“We’re restricted with the mouse,” Walt told me. “He’s become a little idol. The duck can blow his top and commit mayhem, but if I do anything like that with the mouse, I get letters from all over the world. ‘Mickey wouldn’t act like that,’ they say.”

Scenes Gain Depth and Motion

As the pictures were ground out, the art of animation progressed. Characters were being drawn in the round and in perspective, as contrasted with the first flat figures. But Walt was never satisfied. “I knew that locomotion was the key,” he told me. “We had to learn to draw motion. Look, pull your hand across your face and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t see a single hand; it’s sort of stretched and blurred. We had to learn the way a graceful girl walks, how her dress moves, what happens when a mouse stops or starts running.”

Disney set up an elaborate school for his artists. “It was costly, but I had to have the men ready for things we would eventually do.”

What “we would eventually do” was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length cartoon. When word of this project got around Hollywood, many movie people said Disney was making his biggest mistake.

“They were thinking of the short – thought we were just going to string some together,” Walt said.
“But we had a story to tell. They couldn’t get that through their heads.”

While his artists were training, Walt had technicians working on a new kind of camera he planned to use for Snow White. He was no longer satisfied with just round figures; now he wanted the illusion of depth. To achieve this, he developed the radically different “multiplane” camera and won an Academy Award for it.

In photographing animated films, three separate drawings are usually involved, each done on a sheet of transparent celluloid. One shows the foreground, one the animated figures, and the last the background. Before the multiplane camera, the three celluloids were simply stacked together and the camera shot through them all, giving a flat image. With the multiplane, more than three celluloids could be used, and they could be placed in different planes, sometimes as much as three feet apart. The camera could focus in and out among these planes to give an astonishing effect of depth and motion.

Snow White brought up a new problem. “We had to learn how to put personality into the characters,” Walt told me. “Up to Snow White, we’d just had stock characters.”

A Disney artist enlarged on the theme. “Remember in Snow White when the dwarfs had the pillow fight and Dopey ended up with a single feather?” he asked. “Remember how he fluffed it out and lay down with it under his head? It was funny, but more, it was Walt’s way of expressing what kind of character Dopey is and creating audience sympathy for him.”

Snow White cost one and a half million dollars, and the bankers became restive before it was completed. Walt reluctantly had to show a man from the bank the unfinished product to try to retain their confidence.

“We needed a quarter of a million dollars to finish the picture, so you can guess how I felt.

“He sat there and didn’t say a word,” Walt told me. “Finally the picture was over and he walked to his car, with me following him like a puppy dog. Then he said, ‘Well, so long. You’ll make a pot of money on that picture.’ So we got the money.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went on to make theatrical history and brought many honors to Disney. In 1938 Yale gave him an honorary master of arts. In presenting him as a candidate for the degree, Professor William Lyon Phelps said:

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, and Walter Disney has charmed millions of people in every part of the earth… He has endeared America to the hearts of foreigners.”

That same year brought honorary degrees from Harvard and the University of Southern California. (In 1960 Walt received an honorary diploma from the Marceline, Missouri, high school, which was pleasant, since he had never finished high school.)

After Snow White came other feature-length cartoons: Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi. Fantasia, released in 1940, started out to be a kind of super Silly Symphony for Mickey Mouse, with Leopold Stokowski directing a full orchestra in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Walt built it into something more, a brilliant combination of animation and fine music from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Fantasia introduced stereophonic sound 15 years before it was generally used in motion pictures.

Bambi Points Way to Nature Films

Bambi was the fictionalized story of a deer, and the animal studies it involved made it the forerunner of one of Disney’s” most important contributions: the True-Life Adventure films, about live animals in nature. “One thing always leads to another around here,” Walt told me. “In Snow White, we had cute little animals, more on the fantasy side. In Bambi we had to get closer to nature. So we had to train our artists in animal locomotion and anatomy.”

Walt introduced live animals into the studio, deer and rabbits and skunks. “But they were no good,” he says. “They were just pets. So we sent the artists out to zoos, and all we got were animals in captivity. Finally, I sent out some naturalist-cameramen to photograph the animals in their natural environment.

“We captured a lot of interesting things and I said, ‘Gee, if we really give these boys a chance, I might get something unique!’”

But the war intervened: Walt Disney Productions became virtually a war plant for the duration. Disney training films for the Army and Navy, pictures for bond drives, and similar projects made an important contribution to our war effort.

As one of his first postwar projects, Walt sent Alfred Milotte and his wife Elma to Alaska. They sent back miles of film. In the footage or mileage Walt stumbled on one of the great stories of nature: the saga of the fur seals coming up from the sea to crowded island beaches in the Pribilofs, there to calve and mate.

The Milottes caught the cruel and mysterious reality of the fur seal – the courting and mating, the fury of the bulls defending their harems against bachelor seals, with babies being trampled and crushed in the turmoil. And, in the end, the eerie disappearance of the herds into the sea.
The picture was Seal Island. It won an Oscar as 1948’s best two-reel subject.

This success was followed by another, In Beaver Valley. Walt will go to the nth degree to get perfection, and for this film he kept cameraman-naturalist Milotte in the wilds for more than a year, studying the beaver’s life habits as he photographed. Out of Milotte’s footage came the story of a talented, fascinating animal.

The True-Life Adventure pictures used techniques learned in cartoons.

“Any time we saw an animal doing something with style or personality say a bear scratching its back we were quick to capitalize on it,” says a Disney writer. “Or otters sliding down a riverbank humorous details to build personality.

“This anthropomorphism is resented by some people they say we are putting people into animal suits. But we’ve always tried to stay within the framework of the real scene. Bears do scratch their backs and otters are playful.”

Old Indian Trick Still Works

The cameramen spent months in primitive areas, in African heat, in Alaskan blizzards, in South American jungles. A film by Murl Deusing for a National Geographic Society lecture formed the basis of many important sequences in Nature’s Half Acre, and many of the Society’s lecturers over the years have contributed footage to Disney nature films.

Disney’s cameramen-naturalists worked with telescopic lenses, zoom lenses, time-lapse cameras, and underwater cameras; from behind elaborate blinds, high in the treetops, and from fixed platforms.
Tom McHugh, photographing a buffalo herd for The Vanishing Prairie, found he could not get close enough, even with a telescopic lens. Then he remembered an Indian trick. He covered himself with a buffalo skin and sneaked in for close-ups.

James Algar, the writer and director of The Vanishing Prairie, recalls being surrounded by the torrential rush of buffalo.

“I’d always heard of the thundering herd, and the herd thundered all right. But what I had never heard of was the sibilant, silken swish which accompanies the stampeding buffalo. It was even more terrifying than the thunder.”

Alfred and Elma Milotte spent almost three years in Africa photographing The African Lion. One of their notable sequences shows a rhinoceros bogged in a water hole, helpless and raging. The, exertions and grunts of the doomed rhino attracted an audience of jungle creatures. Birds added their raucous cries. Antelope watched. An elephant surveyed the scene, panicked, and ran away. A baboon sat on the bank thoughtfully, as though trying to contrive some plan that would be of help.

Enraged Rhino Charges Benefactors

In the film the rhino was left to die. Actually, the Milottes decided to rescue him. Dodging the desperate animal, they got a stout rope under his head and rump, tied the line to a truck, and pulled him free.

The rhino was ungrateful. Once on dry land, he charged the truck, and they barely managed to get away.

The Milottes brought back much distinguished footage. They recorded a leopard lurking in a thorn tree above a herd of wildebeests, showed him drop on a calf and drag it back into the tree for his meal. They also filmed the kill of an antelope by a lion.

Other outstanding film records were produced by Disney’s naturalist-photographers: a bobcat in hot pursuit of a marten; the private lives, births, mating, and the search for food of the pine squirrel, golden eagle, raccoon, and crow; a goshawk striking a flying squirrel in mid-air.

They also recorded a goshawk slamming into photographer Paul Kenworthy’s shoulder as he worked high in a tree to film close-ups of its young.

As the technique improved, the photographers worked in compounds sometimes as big as 50 acres. “It was a short cut” a writer told me. “We’re not faking nature. We gave the animals the opportunity to appear before the camera.

“Take the spectacular shot of the screaming bobcat scrambling to the top of a saguaro in The Living Desert. It may have been taken in a compound but it wasn’t faked. The cat streaked up that cactus because he was frightened by wild pigs.

“When we follow the animals underground, we of course expose their tunnels. In Perri, the squirrel goes underground. We spent days conditioning her to the bright lights needed for color photography. Then, when we came to shoot, she didn’t pay any attention to us. We wondered if she had needed conditioning at all.”

“Our naturalist-photographers probably wound up knowing as much about animals they photographed as anyone around including the scientists,” Walt said. “I don’t think there’s an animal on the North American Continent we don’t have coverage on.”

Merely documenting the lives of wild creatures was not enough. The cameramen’s footage contained drama, but it took the dramatist’s hand to make it coherent.

A fascinating fragment of one of Walt Disney’s critiques taken down during a screening of The Living Desert survives and shows him at work:

“In sequence where tortoises are courting, Walt said: They look like knights in armor, old knights in battle. Give the audience a music cue, a tongue-in-cheek fanfare. The winner will claim his lady fair….

“Pepsis wasp and tarantula sequence: Our heavy is the tarantula. Odd that the wasp is decreed by nature to conquer the tarantula. When her time comes to lay eggs, she must go out and find a tarantula. Not strength, but skill helps her beat Mr. Tarantula….

“Then the hawk and the snake. Our other heavy is the snake…. With wasp and tarantula it’s a ballet or more like a couple of wrestlers. The hawk should follow. Tarantula gets his and then Mr. Snake gets his… Pepsis wasp doesn’t use brute strength, but science and skill. Should be ballet music. Hawk uses force and violence. One could follow the other and have a different musical theme as contrast.”

Nature Documentaries With a Plot

Walt has an amazing capacity to dramatize his work. When he is in a story conference, he takes the parts himself. Before Snow White he gave a four-hour performance of the entire picture, taking all the parts from Snow White to the smallest rabbit.

“That one performance lasted us three years,” an animator told me. “Whenever we’d get stuck, we’d remember how Walt did it that night.”

Next Walt Disney laid plans for a new kind of animal picture. “We decided to combine nature’s truth with fiction,” Walt told me.

“We would use the documentary material straight from nature, but give it a plot.”

Perri, the story of a squirrel, by Felix Salten, who also wrote Bambi, was the first of these. Naturalist-photographers spent three and a half years in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, filming the life cycle of every animal in the cast. They sent back more than 200 miles of film!

“Just viewing their films took weeks,” Winston Hibler, the co-producer, told me. “Then it took painstaking editing to fit the film to the story. And by adding music and animation, we produced a paradox a true-life fantasy.”

Petri was followed by a continuing series of similar pictures that tell stories about animals in relation to man.

“The animals have names and we kind of pull for them,” a writer told me. “Stories are believable as long as-the audience knows the things actually happened. We have to contrive to get the animals to do what the plot calls for without their appearing to be trained animals. But we aren’t asking them to talk.

“In The Legend of Lobo, for example, the script called for the main character, the wolf, to walk a narrow log spanning a deep chasm. This was achieved by training the wolf, first to walk across a log near the ground, then to continue to cross the log as it was raised higher and higher.

“When the picture was shot, the wolf actually crossed a log about 75 feet long spanning a chasm several hundred feet deep.”

From animal pictures Walt Disney has gone on to live-action pictures about people on an astounding variety of subjects.

Disney stuck to timeless pictures at first: Treasure Island, Robin Hood, and Davy Crockett films which can be released many times. “Then I got to thinking, ‘When it comes to making comedy, we’re the ones’; so we did The Shaggy Dog. So far it’s been seen by 55 million people.” The live-action comedies closely follow the Disney cartoon techniques. “We’ve always made things fly and defy gravity,” Walt told me. “Now we’ve just gone on to flying flivvers, floating football players, and bouncing basketball players.”

The geographic scope and variety of the Disney activities are awesome. Besides a company in the Burbank studio filming a new movie called Summer Magic, Walt had camera crews in Florida, Yellowstone Park, and New England, a complete production unit in Canada for The Incredible Journey, a production unit in Majorca and another in Vienna, a feature cartoon in the works, plus four television cartoons, and a Western being shot at the studio ranch.

I had been told that Walt makes all major decisions on all his pictures, and I wondered how he kept track of things.

I found out when I sat in with him as the “dailies” excerpts from various pictures were projected. About fifteen of the staff musicians, directors, song writers, producers, and writers came in.
We listened to Burl Ives sing “The Ugly Bug Ball” a dozen times as the camera covered him from different angles. Sad Sam, the original shaggy dog, appeared on the screen with a caterpillar on his nose. We saw a scene from a Western played over and over from different points of view. The dogs in The Incredible Journey went through their paces.

Disney himself, in full color, flashed on the screen in a lead-in for his television program, The Wonderful World of Color. He began suavely and then blew his lines.

“I’m not only getting wrinkles,” he said from the back of the room, “I’m losing my eyesight, too.” He told a cameraman, “Don’t use that diffusion on me. I look out of focus. Let the wrinkles show.”

We were in the projection room two hours. This, I learned, was how Disney keeps on top of his many projects. His men send their product to be appraised. A shipment of film from Europe arrives every Tuesday. Walt also makes frequent trips to Europe and flies key personnel to the studio for conferences. He is not a memo-writing man.

“After we tie down the shooting script, it’s up to the boys to make the pictures,” Disney told me. “If they run into trouble, I always tell them, ‘If you bring me a problem, have a solution.’ Lots of times, their solution is the answer and it’s just a matter of saying O.K.”

Magazine a Friend to Researchers

On one of my first trips around the studio, I saw the National Geographic almost everywhere I went: in the animators’ offices, in the machine shop, on writers’ desks. I saw it in the wardrobe department, where it’s used in designing the correct clothing for various countries, and in the staff shop at Disneyland, where the realistic animals are cast for Adventureland.

“Looks like I planted them,” Walt said, “but we really use the Geographic. We couldn’t be in business without it”.

When I dropped into the library to inquire about the meticulous research that backs up every Disney picture, Koneta Roxby, the chief of research, told me: “The Geographic is one of our basic research sources. We use it almost every day.

“We certainly used it when Disneyland was being built,” she went on. “This library was a madhouse. There would be ten or fifteen people waiting in line for research materials and, of course, the phone rang every minute.”

Disneyland really started more than 20 years ago, when Walt got the idea for an amusement park that grownups as well as children would enjoy.

“I had all my drawing things laid out at home, and I’d work on plans for the park, as a hobby, at night.”

At the time, amusement parks were dying all over the country. “I talked Disneyland, but no one could see it,” Walt recalled. “So I went ahead and spent my own money.”

In 1954, for the site of his kingdom, Walt bought 244 acres of land mostly orange groves miles from Los Angeles, near Anaheim, California. “I wanted flat land that I could shape” he said.

He surrounded the entire park with a high earth embankment. “I don’t want the public to see the real world they live in while they’re in the park. I want them to feel they are in another world.”

When the preliminary plans for the park were completed, the cost estimate was $4,700,000, but Joe Fowler, who is in charge of Disneyland, says, “That was only a guess.” The over-all cost to date is approximately forty-four million dollars!

Disneyland: the Geography of Imagination

At the Disneyland opening, in July, 1955, a year after the first orange tree was uprooted, Walt said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” It seemed, at the time, a pleasant sentiment, but few took it literally. Walt did, and that is why Disneyland remains unique; he is forever enlarging it. Now he is building an old New Orleans Square, complete with a bayou boat ride.

Disneyland, on a fall day, is full of warmth and zest. I paid my respects to the giant portrait of Mickey Mouse, in living flowers, that adorns the slanting earth embankment at the park’s main entrance.

I stepped into the Town Square and right into Walt Disney’s childhood: The Square with its red-brick Victorian elegances is a distillation of Walt’s early memories of Chicago and Marceline and Kansas City shortly after the turn of the century.

A gaily cockaded band was tootling. A horsecar rolled along, the horse’s rubber shoes making muffled thumps; a double-decked bus stood at the curb; and a balloon seller, hidden behind a great cluster of his wares, looked like a gigantic chrysanthemum. Over a loud-speaker from the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad station came the measured voice of the train announcer:

“… now leaving for Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland all aboarrrd!”

Main Street, U. S. A., sets the tone and pace of Disneyland: It is a place for strolling. People stop to peer into the windows of the apothecary shop and the old-time general store, and to look over the shoulder of a sidewalk artist as he sketches a portrait. Most of the visitors are grownups. As the park statistics prove, adult guests outnumber children three and a half to one.

Visitors Fooled by Live Swans

At the end of Main Street, faraway jungle noises made me turn to the left and enter Adventureland.
I took the jungle river cruise aboard the sturdy river boat Ganges Gal, which chugged past menacing crocodiles, a ruined temple, and a group of bathing elephants. Gorillas and a tremendous African elephant roared from the tropical vegetation which choked the banks of the stream.

There was some discussion among the passengers about the animals. Were they real? (They were, of course, animated.) But in Disneyland, it is sometimes hard to know where fantasy ends and reality begins. A little later, I watched a pair of ladies peer intently at the live swans sailing on the moat of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

“They are not real,” one lady finally said with authority.

I met Bill Evans and Ray Miller, landscape architects for the park, and complimented them on the effects they have created along the jungle stream. They have made Disneyland a must for visiting horticulturists. The park has close to 700 species of plants. It takes at least 30 gardeners to keep them in trim.

We wandered to the base of the Swiss Family Tree House, which opened last fall. I asked what kind of tree it was.

“It was modeled after the ban-van tree, Ficus benghalensis” said Ray Miller, “but we call it Disneyodendron eximius, which means an out-of-the-ordinary Disney tree.”

The 70-foot tree is a copy of the Swiss Family Robinson’s tropic domicile, complete with furniture salvaged from their ship.

I took a short cut through Frontierland (pages 183-5) just in time to be caught in the middle of a running gun fight between a rootin’-tootin’ sheriff and a Western bad man. Happily, they were using blank cartridges, or the slaughter would have been awesome.

The Mark Twain, the stately white river packet, was just leaving her dock for a cruise on the Rivers of America. Across the water, I saw some energetic boys romping on Tom Sawyer Island, while others helped Indians paddle war canoes or rode the high-sided keel boats, the ones used in Disney’s Davy Crockett movie and television series.

In Fantasyland I found myself face to face with larger-than-life-size impersonations of famous Disney characters: the Big Bad Wolf, one of the Three Little Pigs, Minnie Mouse. The Mad Hatter, his rubber jowls quivering, was trapped in a corner. He was having a hard time defending himself against a mob of children.

The Most Marvelous Submarine

In Tomorrowland, I boarded the submarine Skipjack, one of eight submersibles in the Disney fleet. It took me on one of the incredible journeys of the world, though it was made in a mere six million gallons of water rather than an ocean.

The sub “went under” in a swirl of bubbles and sailed serenely (guided by sonar, the skipper said) through treacherous coral reefs ablaze with animated tropical fish. Giant turtles dined on sea grass. Barracudas, sharks, and a dangerous moray eel loomed from the shadows. In a plunge to the abyss, we saw phosphorescent creatures of the deep.

We passed through the hull of a sunken ship and glimpsed chests filled with gleaming treasure. And, as the skipper explained that we could not expect to see mermaids since they were only figments of imagination, we nosed impolitely into a mermaids’ boudoir.

The sub visited the lost continent of Atlantis, went under the polar ice cap, and finally passed what may be the largest sea serpent in the world. Certainly the largest cross-eyed sea serpent.

When I talked with Joe Fowler, the retired admiral who is vice president for Disneyland operations, he said his former Navy colleagues are delighted with the submarines. One, a sub skipper, said,

“That’s the only time I’ve ever been on a sub and could see where I was going.”

“We were apprehensive that some guests might suffer from claustrophobia in the subs,” Fowler told me. “But in my Navy experience, I had learned that few people suffer from claustrophobia if you have moving air and something to see. That’s why there’s an air jet in front of every porthole.”

How to Build a Mountain

Fowler has one besetting problem: “Almost everything we undertake in the park has never been done before,” he told me.

He cited the Matterhorn as an example. The 146-foot-high mountain, which is one hundredth the height of the real Matterhorn, contains 500 tons of structural steel, and almost no two pieces are the same length, size, or weight.

The Disney Matterhorn is a close copy of the real mountain. Disney designers studied hundreds of pictures of the rugged peak, pictures taken during the filming of Third Man on the Mountain. Like the original, it also has its mountain climbers, athletes in alpine attire who scale and rappel it eight times daily.

Whereas the real Matterhorn is extremely solid, the Disneyland version is hollow and houses an exciting bobsled ride.

I rode one of the bobsleds and was lifted high inside the mountain. Then my bobsled dipped over a sharp edge and I was on my own moving around curves, through icy grottos, past waterfalls, and under the Skyway’s ski-lift buckets, which take visitors through the mountain for a view of the ice caves. Finally my bobsled dashed into a tumbling mountain stream, which braked it, and the ride was over.

One of the greatest attractions is the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System which loops in and out of the park. Disney and Alweg engineers collaborated in the design, and the trains were built at the Disney studio. The monorail is the first of its type “piggy-back” design in which the cars are locked to the track.

I rode the monorail from the Disneyland Hotel to the park several times. A uniformed girl handed me aboard the long silver train. It started gently, smoothly. We glided over the magic kingdom at 20 miles an hour, silently surveying the wonders below like some satellite from space. Most passengers, myself included, leave the monorail convinced it is the answer for rapid transit of the future.

I wandered backstage at Disneyland to visit Bud Washo, the head of the staff shop. There I got a glimpse of the Disney future, though its subject matter in this case was the dim past.

At WED Enterprises in Glendale, where all the design work for Disneyland is done, I had watched Blaine Gibson modeling a series of small-scale dinosaurs, cave men, and other prehistoric creatures. Now Bud Washo took me into a barnlike room where Gibson’s dinosaurs were being re-created life-size. An enraged Tyrannosaurus rex with a two-foot mouthful of six-inch teeth is something to stand beside even if it is just clay.

Once the clay figures are completed, plaster molds are made, and then the carefully detailed skin is cast from 3/s-inch Duraflex, which Washo described as a “hot-melt vinyl reformulated for strength.”

“Hardly anything affects it,” Washo said.

“It can take weather, most oils, or gases. It’s enormously flexible and durable.”

When the casts are finished, the figures are trucked carefully to the studio machine shop, where their animation machinery is installed.

Dinosaur Will Go to World’s Fair

I pointed to a sail-backed dinosaur which was being fitted into its skin and asked: “What will that one do?”

“It will be able to swish its tail from side to side, open its mouth, flex up and down like a lizard, and the sail will sway,” Washo said matter-of-factly.

“Where will the dinosaurs and cave men be used?” I asked.

“They’re for the Ford Motor exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York,” Bud said.

Plastic Birds Come to Life

One day after lunch, Walt grabbed my arm. “Come on,” he said. “I want to show you something.”
We walked in the bright sunshine between the stages on the movie studio lot and turned into the machine shop. Four elephants without skins sat in a row, gravely nodding their heads. On a bench lay what looked very much like a human hand, closing and opening silently. Farther down, a prehistoric man waved his arm; someone had incongruously placed a handkerchief in his hand.

On the machinists’ benches stood a variety of plastic birds, opening and closing their beaks, turning their heads, and flipping their tails.

Walt stopped to talk to a machinist. I looked at one of the birds. Without its feathers, the creature was a mass of wiring and air tubes. As I watched, this unearthly bird puffed out its chest and began to sing.

A machinist told me that every bird contains five air lines and four sets of wires, plus a tiny loud-speaker.

“This is the latest thing we’ve done with Audio-Animatronics,” Walt said. “We are using the new types of valves and controls developed for rockets. That way we can get extremely subtle motions.”

“About that word,” I said, “Audio-Animatronics.”

“It’s just animation with sound, run by electronics,” he smiled. “Audio-Animatronics. It’s an extension of animated drawings.

“We take an inanimate object and make it move. Everything is programmed on tape: the birds’ movements, lighting effects, and sounds. We turn on the tape and the birds do their stuff. At the end, the tape automatically rewinds itself and starts all over again. With tape we could present a program of an hour and six minutes without repeating anything.”

“Is anyone else doing this kind of thing?”

“I don’t know anyone crazy enough,” Walt laughed.

Disney Birds Sing Popular Songs

Several weeks later, Walt invited me to the studio for a showing of the completed mock-up for the Enchanted Tiki Room, scheduled to open in the park this summer.

Now all the birds had been bedecked in colorful feathers, and were individually lighted. Four macaws opened the show with a line of chatter and then swung into a lively calypso number, followed by Offenbach’s “Barcarole.” A fountain jetted in time to the music under colored lights.

The fountain sent up a particularly high jet and, as it fell back into the bowl, a Bird-Mobile slowly descended from the ceiling, bearing yellow and white cockatoos. They broke loose with

“Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing,” and brought down the house.

There was much more: songs sung by orchids and bird-of-paradise flowers; a rain storm; chants by tikis carvings representing various native gods accompanied by animated drummers. It is a tremendous show the climax of more than two years’ work at a cost of approximately a million dollars.

Abraham Lincoln Returns to Life

I went out into the street again with Walt and Wathel Rogers, who supervised the Enchanted Tiki Room. We entered another building and I got a shock; I almost bumped smack into Abraham Lincoln!

The illusion was alarming. The tall, lonely man sits in a chair much as in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. But this is no cold stone figure; this Lincoln is man-size and so realistic it seems made of flesh and blood.

Wathel Rogers made adjustments at an electronic console, and Lincoln’s eyes ranged the room. His tongue moved as if to moisten his lips and he cleared his throat. Then with a slight frown, he clasped the arms of his chair, stood up, and began to talk in measured tones.

“What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?” he asked.

And then he answered: “Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us….”
To get an idea of the tremendous animation job this is, try it yourself. Sit in an armchair and pull yourself to your feet, observing how many muscles are called into play and the subtle balance required.

The Lincoln skin is the same Du-raflex that has worked so well on the other Audio-Animatronic figures.

“Duraflex has a consistency much like human skin,” Rogers said. “It flexes as well as compresses. Rubber, for example, will flex, but won’t compress correctly for our needs.”

Rogers described the mechanics: 16 air lines to the Lincoln head, 10 air lines to the hands and wrists, 14 hydraulic lines to control the body, and two pairs of wires for every line. Rogers ran the Lincoln face through some of its 15 expressions. Lincoln smiled at me (first on one side of his face, then the other). He raised each eyebrow quizzically, one at a time, then, fixing me with a glance, frowned and chilled my marrow. And just to show he wasn’t really angry, he ended by giving me a genial wink.

“Lincoln is part of a Disneyland project called ‘One Nation Under God;” Wathel Rogers explained. “It will start with a Circa-rama presentation of great moments in constitutional crises.

“Circarama is a special motion-picture technique Walt developed for Disneyland and the Brussels World’s Fair. The Bell Telephone Circarama now at Disneyland tells the story of the great sights of America. It has a 360-degree screen. The audience is surrounded by the continuous action, as if they were moving with the camera and able to see in all directions.

“The Circarama for the ‘One Nation Under God’ showing will have a 200-degree screen. After the Circarama showing, a curtain will close, then open again to reveal the Hall of Presidents. The visitor will see all the Chief Executives modeled life-size. He’ll think it’s a waxworks until Lincoln stands up and begins to talk.”

Audio-Animatronic figures are now being planned for Disneyland’s French Quarter square in old New Orleans. They will also add chilling realism to the Haunted Mansion now under construction in Frontierland. (Visitors who ask about the mansion are told, “Walt’s out capturing ghosts for it now.”)

Never Do the Same Thing Twice

What next? Walt enjoys the past but he lives for the future.

“The fun is in always building something,” he told me. “After it’s built, you play with it a little and then you’re through. You see, we never do the same thing twice around here. We’re always opening up new doors.”

I asked him a doleful question, “What happens when there is no more Walt Disney?”

“I think about that,” he said. “Every day I’m throwing more responsibility to other men. Every day

I’m trying to organize them more strongly.

“But I’ll probably outlive them all,” he grinned. “I’m 61. I’ve got everything I started out with except my tonsils, and that’s above average. I plan to be around for a while.”


Here are some close up shots at some of the pictures throughout this wonderful article:



Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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