December 5, 2009

Purpose

Many of us reflect on the purpose of life when Decembers come around. Walt was born today, and one of his quotes about his most famous creation seems like both a good tribute to the man and a fine thought to inspire those resolving things for the next year and beyond:

All we ever intended for him or expected of him was that he should continue to make people everywhere chuckle with him and at him. We didn't burden him with any social symbolism, we made him no mouth piece for frustrations or harsh satire. Mickey was simply a little personality assigned to the purposes of laughter.

The simple purpose of bringing joy to others. Happy birthday, Walt. And thank you from all of us for the gift.

November 28, 2009

Holidayland


Now that we're past the official "busiest shopping day of the year," it's time to make your list and check it twice. Here are ten of my Disneyland holiday wishes. Feel free to add your own!

A new Tomorrowland inspired by science and filled with silver and blue optimism;

A PeopleMover or similar advanced transportation system for a leisurely tour of said new Tomorrowland;

A Skyway over Fantasyland to the new Tomorrowland wished for previously;

A magic shop in Fantasyland;

A One-Of-A-Kind antiques shop in New Orleans Square;

A Keel Boat trip around the Rivers of America;

A Plaza Gardens stage with big bands;

A new Circle-Vision 360 theater with a film on something that could make particularly good use of the format, like global climate change;

A return to the Disneyland look; and

A special "classic" month at the Magic Kingdom, with the old characters, costumes, merchandise, music, parades, etc. If the National Hockey League can play outdoor games in historic uniforms every season, Disneyland could pull this off for sure.

November 22, 2009

Build me up Buttercup

The Best Possible Job has been off the clock for a while due to family matters. We all have to face certain issues, but that doesn't make them any easier. Sometimes you need something to build yourself back up before things look all right again.

At times like that, nothing's cheerier than flowers. Even artificial ones like the blooms and blossoms that one spilled out onto West Center Street off Disneyland's Main Street. The flower market made it through the first half of the eighties when I was a Cast Member, and I remember vividly the pleasant feeling of stepping onstage through the door tucked in the back. Evicted by the unstoppable force that squeezes commerce into every once-quiet spot in the "Resort," the "small plants and unusual artificial flowers" are gone now. Most modern guests probably don't even notice.

Those who grow up with today's Disneyland are steeped in a Park where period graphics on stores selling everyday plush have taken over the themed experience that Main Street was once. Then, it wasn't just printed signs with nostalgic type and curlicues. Walt's Main Street had a flower market, a bank, a general store, a Carefree Corner because they helped create the state of mind that we imagine existed in bygone days. How many kids with their own iPhones pick up the receivers in the Market House and listen in to 1890 party line conversations?

Probably not many. Fortunately, the Market House still stands. I haven't been to Anaheim since nearly as long ago as 1890, and I hope the old phones are still there, too. Things like the phones and places like the flower market provided a foundation for suspending belief that created the theme experience once so easy to find in the Magic Kingdom. Foundations like that help build you up when you'd rather be in another time.

Thanks to the Best Possible Job's (four) loyal readers and new friends whose kind words helped get this show back on the road. A smile and a song to you all.

September 12, 2009

Know the answers


Lesson three. Walt's innovation in guest relations wasn't the result of some hotel management program. It was basically an extended version of the Golden Rule. Simple, but never done better . . . as long as the effort was put in at every level, every day, every interaction with guests:

A question from a guest is never an interruption in our Disneyland VIP Plan. You're a walking, talking information booth . . . with a smile. It's no easy task to answer the same question 68 times . . . in the same patient and friendly way. You must remind yourself that most of our guests are strangers to our stage and as a rule they don't read directional signs. In fact, many of our foreign guests can't read English.

When people travel, they enjoy many things, but the most important factor is the human one . . . it's the PEOPLE THEY MEET that make the difference. It's you . . . our walking, talking information booth with a smile . . . who makes the difference.


Next: Accept people as they are

September 4, 2009

Disciplines of the Show

Lesson two in this series of principles taught to me as a Disneyland Cast Member back in the 1980s. It's a particularly good one for Labor Day weekend. Disneylanders work while others play, and that takes discipline.

Show business is a fun way to make a living . . . most of the time. But, with fun as a way of life, and the creation of happiness as a goal, it is still the most highly disciplined thing. Here are some of the rules of the game . . .

*We work while others play.
*Presenteeism a must.
*Never any eating or smoking on duty, or within view of a guest.
*You were highly selected, so we assume we don't have to dwell on such things as drinking . . . or going to pot.
*No horseplay . . . which is dangerous and bad show.
*Never . . . never . . . argue with a guest.

Someone once said, "the highest form of discipline is self discipline." We prefer to discipline ourselves.


Next: "Know the answers"

August 30, 2009

Class of 1983

We're heading into the end of summer. Casual/Seasonal Cast Members are wrapping up their shifts, maybe hoping for a spot among Disneyland's permanent part-timers. Grad nites are long past, canoe racers have lapped the Rivers of America, and the last softballs have been thrown. The All-American College Marching Band has packed up and headed back to school.

Seems like an ideal time to reflect on the lessons learned in the Best Possible Job. That was what working at Disneyland was for me back in the 80s. Like all Disneyland alumni, I still carry the valuable things that I picked up while training to follow Walt's unique approach to creating the finest in family entertainment.

I hope that the University of Disneyland is still teaching Cast Members what it really meant to be part of the magic of the Magic Kingdom. Not just an outdoor vendor, attractions, custodial, culinary, merchandise, or security host or hostess, or even one of the many talented folks working entirely backstage. But someone given a rare privilege — finding personal happiness by creating happiness for others.

Just in case some in the Resort weren't taught as thoroughly as we were back then, I am dedicating the next few posts to presenting a lesson plan for living through the viewpoint of a Disneyland Cast Member as it once looked. Here's our first lecture, from Showmanship . . . Disneyland Style:

Working together

One of the "key" words in the successful production of any film is TEAMWORK. THis means the actors . . . sound men . . . camera men . . . light men . . . producer . . . and director all work together to product the ultimate goal, a "smash" hit.

Here at Disneyland, TEAMWORK is also a "key" word because we are, in effect, producing a living experience for our guests. This means our "onstage" crew myst not only work together, they have to work in unison with our "backstage" crew for a successful production.

Disneyland is no place for hermits . . . and your role is not a "do-it-yourself" operation. Your every effort lies in your ability to work with others in our cast in order to properly produce a happy show for our guests. Always try to practice what we preach about guest relations . . . on your fellow hosts and hostesses.


Next: "Disciplines of the show"

August 9, 2009

Paper's ghost

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is forty today. It's an attraction that both preceded and survived the years in which I grew up in the Magic Kingdom. I'm thrilled that it remains today in almost the same condition as it did when I first stepped into the portrait gallery.

When the "paintings of some of our guests as they appeared in their corruptible mortal state" begin "actually stretching," I'm still willing to believe it. I think such simple illusions—transformed by Imagineering into thematically perfect spectacles—are still the greatest magic shows ever presented. For me, Disneyland is always at its best in the uncomplicated form that stretching portraits, singing busts, and endless hallways illustrate. It doesn't matter if you realize that the gallery is really an elevator. It makes no difference that the banquet scene is not a hologram.

In some ways, it's kind of more fun when the illusions aren't complex. Long before Pixar and CGI, special effects like those in the Mansion were just as special. I think that somehow they're more fun than a perfectly rendered scene, even if it's an amazing work in its own right. They create the sense that maybe you, too, can do magic.

When I was a kid, Disneyland sold this little instruction book on how you might get started. During the era when Disneyland merchandise included "your personal tombstone," you could transform a dollar into this delight at Merlin's or Main Street Magic. Written by one "Phinneas J. Pock," the venerable tome presented simple tabletop tricks and gave instructions on how to throw your voice. It was all done in a sort of "poor man's Marc Davis" style with illustrations inspired by the Mansion's various effects. I remember well practicing all of the little sleights of hand. The book sat on my shelf right beside my Secret Panel Chest for years.

But there's a little matter I forgot to mention. You can still enjoy Magic from the Haunted Mansion today! Blogger The Haunted Closet has made images of it reappear. The secrets have properly been concealed. Head over and have a look, and a ghost from Disneyland's past will follow you home.

August 2, 2009

Facts of life

If you'd joined the Disneyland Cast when the summer of 1984 started, you'd know your way around guest questions well by now. By August, when the temperatures and guest counts had reached their highest points, answers to "Where's the nearest restroom?" and "Do you sell film?" came easy.

Still, it was nice to know that there was a summer wallet fact card tucked into your costume. The little folding card had all you needed to know about Disneyland and all that Disneyland ever needed to be.

Want to pick up a unique gift? Try the One-of-a-Kind Shop in Mlle. Antionette's Parfumerie, or the Wilderness Outpost in Bear Country. Short of cash? Visit the Bank of America branch in Town Square.

Need a break from waiting in lines in the August heat? Grab a bite to eat at the Space Place, then catch Show Biz Is! at the Space Stage. Or the polynesian show at the Tahitian Terrace. Or the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Or Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the Opera House.

Tired of walking? Hop aboard the PeopleMover for a grand circle tour of Tomorrowland or take the Skyway.

You've got plenty of time. Disneyland is open until midnight (1:00 a.m. on Saturdays). But if you somehow run out of things to see and do, you can find information on other California adventures at Carefree Corner.

I'd been to Disneyland so many times before joining the Cast that I never really needed the Fact Card. But now that so much of the old Magic Kingdom is just a memory, I'm sure glad I've still got it.

July 17, 2009

Forever twenty-nine

Disneyland's twenty-fifth anniversary came twenty-nine years ago today. In my mind, it was the Park's greatest year. A time when Disneyland truly understood why it had been created and what it offered the world.

The Magic Kingdom then had what Walt called "that thing—the imagination, and the feeling of happy excitement—I knew when I was a kid." Whatever that thing was, Walt found it in Marceline, Missouri. He said that more things of importance had happened to him in Marceline than he imagined ever could. What kinds of things could have happened in that small town to make such an impression on him? Even today, the population is only around 2,500.

Walt put that feeling into words at Disneyland's dedication. Age and youth. Fond memories. Challenge and promise. Those simple, timeless things became the hub around which Disneyland grew.

Now that it's grown into what it is today, of course, simple, timeless things are a lot harder to find anywhere, not just in Anaheim. That's why birthdays are so important. They're times to reflect and refocus on those timeless things, and Disneyland's birthdays are no exception. I think that's why Disneyland gave buttons or ribbons like this one to the Cast working those days: to celebrate what it was, and to rededicate itself to being the Happiest Place on Earth, the place where whatever that feeling of happy excitement is could always be found.

Finding simplicity and timelessness is easier when you know what you're looking for. Disneyland: The First Quarter Century provided some examples back in 1980:
A child examines the hitching posts that line an 1890 street and asks, "Mommy, what kind of parking meters are these?"

An elderly gentleman on the same street smiles happily and tells a bystander what he likes best about Disneyland—"I can jaywalk here!"

A young man aboard a "Mississippi" sternwheeler on a moonlit night seeks an introduction to a girl by asking, "Is this your first trip aboard?"
Some people today might scoff at those kinds of things as naive longings for a past that never was. But Walt found them in Marceline, and they were at Disneyland when I wore this ribbon. I saw them. If you were that child, that elderly gentleman, or that young couple watching the pin lights twinkling from stem to stern as the Mark Twain pulled away from her landing, I'll bet that you saw them too.

On July 17, we're all entitled to celebrate that feeling of happy excitement we knew as kids who grew up in the Disneyland that used to be. So happy birthday.

And many happy returns.

July 11, 2009

Show Biz (was)

Back when the Space Stage sat under the speedramp to Space Mountain, a fantastic song-and-dance revue called Show Biz Is! played during Disneyland's summer season.

Signing back into the Park after a summer day shift, I would often catch the show. The Space Stage was a terrific venue, and Show Biz Is! was one of the Magic Kingdom's last great live entertainment offerings. As I remember, it was at least a half-hour long. A cast of about twenty performers showcased Hollywood, Broadway, and music in a flurry of costume and set changes.

Jack Wagner announced each cast member as the show ended, and each took a bow with some inventive move. Almost thirty years after, I'm sorry to say that I've lost everyone's name except for Kimber Elston. If you've got a kid who thinks he or she can dance, follow this link and look her up for some lessons.

The other performers were fabulous, too. I can remember the numbers (songs from The Fantasticks, The Pajama Game, Singin' in the Rain, and many more), but their names have disappeared from my mind like the Space Stage from Tomorrowland. Somehow, though, I think that sitting on one of those blue benches as the curtain went up on a show like this would bring them all back. I sure wish that Disneyland would.

June 25, 2009

Neverland


The King of Pop was just a prince, in a simpler Park that was somehow a more magical Magic Kingdom. That's how I'll always remember them.

June 14, 2009

Popcorn and circumstance

After seeing all the great Grad Nite posts by Vintage Disneyland Tickets and Disney on Parole, I had to add this 1984 button. I never attended Grad Nite, but I worked this one. Here's what I recall:

Even at Disneyland, it was cold in the wee hours of the morning. As a vendor, I was glad to be on a popcorn wagon with heat lamps that night.

The coffee in the Inn Between wasn't good, but it might have been that I'd never really had coffee until then. On the last fifteen-minute break with about two hours until Park closing, soda just wasn't strong enough.

I felt much older than the guests, even though I'd graduated high school just two years before. I was a permanent part-time Cast Member, and I thought that I'd never leave. It was an unusual time to be in the Magic Kingdom. There wasn't much to do for long periods between guests. Even though pulling the all-nighter was pretty exhausting, there was a kind of peacefulness about being there in the early morning that was indeed magical. Once you made it past being tired.

As Mickey's image on the button shows, '84 was the summer of the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad in Los Angeles. The Olympics would be a disaster for Disneyland attendance, as immense numbers of guests stayed away from what they feared would be even more immense numbers of guests. As a result, hardly anyone came to the Park. Revenues went down, hours were cut, and management changed. After the closing ceremonies and the season finally ended, prices went up and portions went down. The seeds of the Disney Decade were planted that summer, but we didn't know it at the time.

On that Grad Nite, there were only embraces of the opportunities ahead for those on the brink of tomorrows that were the rest of their lives as they looked back fondly and reflected on the achievements of those twelve long years. Were these youth savoring the challenge and promise of the future? I hoped so.

I was just enjoying the moments.

June 1, 2009

Would you miss them?

The following adventures and attractions are not operating today:
Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
Tarzan's Treehouse™
Indiana Jones™ Adventure
Splash Mountain
Star Tours
Innoventions
Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
Astro Orbitor
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
Gadget's Go Coaster
"Honey, I Shrunk the Audience"
Chip 'n Dale Treehouse
Donald's Boat
Goofy's Playhouse
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Golden Zephyr
Orange Stinger
Mickey's Fun Wheel
California Screamin'
Grizzly River Run
Maliboomer
Mulholland Madness
Soarin' Over California
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™
It's Tough to Be a Bug!
MuppetVision 3D
Toy Story Mania!
Flik's Flyers
Francis' Ladybug Boogie
Heimlich's Chew Chew Train
Jumpin' Jellyfish
King Triton's Carousel
Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
Princess Dot Puddle Park
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail Featuring "The Magic of Brother Bear" show
S.S. Rustworthy
Tuck and Roll's Drive'Em Buggies

May 25, 2009

Key to the kingdom

Even without Merlin's, the night of May 26, 1983, was magical.

It was my first Cast event. My date and I didn't end up in a Cinderella story, but we had a fabulous time in the warm glow of the New Fantasyland. Supervisors manned the attractions as we rode with Toad and flew with Peter and Wendy like we hadn't done in years.

We had seen both incarnations of the world of imagination, hopes, and dreams. The version we experienced that night as adults was fundamentally the same as the one that we had grown up with—same simple attractions, same themes. But because it stayed true to itself even as it evolved, it didn't damage the memory of the earlier version. Instead, the new version let the old keep its dignity, free of the disappointment that comes from seeing something you once saw as incredible become diminished beside what you've seen since. The event was as much a reunion as a premiere.

Fantasyland grew up without growing apart.

Walt once asked why we have to grow up. I'm sure that he didn't mean the question literally. I think that he meant to express the idea that we should grow without losing the things that make life so wonderful before we're grown. That's what happened behind the drawbridge in 1983.

In my view, the "Disneyland Resort" represents expansion, but it's not really about growth. The New Fantasyland shows what happens when an idea grows into being what limitations prevented it from becoming when it was created. You can't see the original Fantasyland anymore, but it's still there.

When we walked over the bridge into the new land for the first time on May 26, 1983, we entered a more sophisticated Fantasyland. We found richer architecture, theming, and artistry. But we didn't have to search for its identity.

Individual decisions could have been better. Merlin's should have remained. Skull Rock should have survived the bulldozers. As a whole, however, the re-creation was superb.

It's not an easy thing to unlock the magic. Disney has tried a lot of keys since 1983. It's almost as if Walt is watching and waiting for the right incantation, one respecting the past while reinvigorating it. Walt gave the keys, but, like Tolkien's doors to Moria, the drawbridge will open only for those who understand the kingdom.

Without understanding, new parks may be built and new marketing may be pushed into old attractions. The doors to Disneyland's brand value will become tarnished with wear from the attempts to force them open, but they'll hardly budge. As in the Lord of the Rings, the key is to "speak, friend, and enter."

It doesn't take never-ending promotions and discounting. Mr. Iger and company should simply restore and re-create the Disneyland that they knew as kids. The Disneyland that showed how on May 26, 1983.

Those were happier times.

May 10, 2009

Dreams do come true, but sometimes it takes a while

1983 was a fantastic year to be a new Disneyland Cast Member.

The drawbridge in front of Sleeping Beauty castle was raised for the first time since 1955 while the new Fantasyland was being built. It made working at the Park feel like being part of the original cast.

I remember stepping across the bridge for the first time into the new "world of imagination, hopes, and dreams" at the Cast Premiere. Twenty-six years and a couple of weeks ago, I was looking forward to that wonderful evening.

I look back on the old Fantasyland now as a little bit of a letdown, the most "carnival" part of Disneyland. As a kid, of course, I enjoyed it tremendously. Now that I appreciate why I feel the way I do about the old Magic Kingdom, though, I realize that the area was always far less than what it should have been.

Still, it had a marvelous innocence. While it looked a lot like a fair or amusement part with typical funhouse dark rides, kind of like Pleasure Island, it never felt dark. Plus, it had Welches grape juice, which I can still taste.

If I had a cup of that juice right now, I would raise it to the Imagineers who brought Walt Disney's Fantasyland to the life it was always supposed to have. Their work represents perfectly how Disneyland should evolve without losing any part of its unique identity.

If we wait another twenty-six years, perhaps we'll yet see Tomorrowland recreated in that spirit. Imagine Wendy as a Disney decisionmaker looking at the last two-and-a-half decades. "Let's all try, just once more," she'd say. And we'd fly on a magic Skyway back to a Park that would have come forward to become the Disneyland it could have been, just like it did in the new Fantasyland.

April 19, 2009

Sharing Walt Disney’s dream

As a last good wish to the cast of Tokyo Disneyland on their twenty-fifth anniversary, here is the special commemorative coin given out by Disneyland’s Cast Activities Center back in 1983.

The best part of my short look back at the TDL opening was discovering Disney on Parole’s post of the official congratulations photo taken at the floral Mickey at Disneyland’s main gate. It happened just a few days after I began working in Outdoor Vending. Not only did I realize the dream of being part of the magic of Disneyland, I also had the unusual experience of being in one of the most famous picture spots in the Magic Kingdom!

Those of us on the wet grass in front of Main Street Station that morning shared a special moment in Disneyland history. Things were a little less global then. There were no bloggers or websites. Even email was a novelty. But we were sending a greeting to our new Disneyland family in Japan that carried the hope and promise of our own recent silver celebration. For the first time, there really was a Walt Disney World.

I remember heading back into Town Square after the photo was snapped. Passing through the backstage entrance near the old American Egg House, I walked past Wardrobe toward Outdoor Vending’s Tomorrowland offices with an especially happy bounce.

Twenty-five years later, congratulations again, TDL. And thanks.

April 12, 2009

Tokyo Tomorrowland Then


More pages from the 1983 Tokyo Disneyland booklet given out to Disneyland Cast Members in celebration of the opening. Tomorrowland was quite similar to “world on the move” ideal. The “Skyway Station Shop” looks like a clone of the wonderful old Character Shop, Tomorrowland’s modernized Emporium.

It seems Tokyo’s Tomorrowland wasn’t far enough from Burbank to escape the effects of bad design decisions entirely, but I hope most of what was presented in 1983 remains.
Leaving Tomorrowland for a look back at Main Street’s vintage Emporium as it appears in Tokyo, here is a look at World Bazaar circa 1983:


This is how Main Street is supposed to look. Try to find a burnt-out lightbulb. By all accounts, TDL is still as sparkling as it was twenty-five years ago. That alone is worth congratulations.

April 5, 2009

Tokyo Disneyland 25



My knowledge of Tokyo Disneyland is limited to this pre-opening booklet given to me as a Disneyland Cast Member in 1983. April 15 marks twenty-five years. In celebration, I will post the whole book for fans of the Japanese park. Here is the cover and the first couple pages.

According to its website, Tokyo Disneyland seems to have the right idea:

Walt Disney, the founder of Disneyland and Walt Disney Company, had a unique sense of creativity and imagination, one that went beyond traditional ideas about genres and mediums.

But from comics and cartoons to movies and theme parks, there are some fundamental elements that can be found consistently throughout all his many projects; namely, his desire to foster a love of learning in young people and give them the ability to boldly and openly engage the exotic and unknown.

Today, Tokyo Disney Resort tries to base all our endeavors on those same principles, and we hope that by doing so,
we will be able to create a warm, imaginative and truly magical place for all our Guests.

I didn’t see much evidence of “learning” on the website, unless learning to operate an astro-blaster counts. The “exotic and unknown,” though, seemed well represented by George Lucas’s characters and Cirque du Soleil. Tokyo Disneyland indeed seems to be carrying on the updated Disney traditions. I wonder if there are any former TDL CM bloggers who were there in 1983 and recall the happiest place in Japan as it once was. I would love to compare our experiences watching the Parks change.

I remember many of the guests from Japan I met while working in Anaheim. They were invariably happy, charming, and polite. Many were carrying around big stuffed Mickeys, and they seemed to look upon even something as simple as buying a .75 Disney frozen juice bar as an experience to treasure. I wish them all the best, and Tokyo Disneyland a happy twenty-fifth anniversary.

March 22, 2009

Part of the magic of Disneyland

As a Cast Member in the early 80s, I found one of the most magical parts of the magic of Disneyland was the sense of being part of something rare and important in the world.

Sure, that sense was sometimes elusive. On a midsummer day with attendance around 88,000 or so and temperatures above 90, for example, it wasn’t necessarily fun to push a dolly fully loaded with frozen bananas from Outdoor Vending's Tomorrowland freezers over to Bear County. Sometimes it wasn’t easy to leave personal problems outside the berm. And the paycheck deposited in the old Disneyland Employees Federal Credit Union every couple of weeks never seemed like quite enough.

At other times, though, the feeling that came from working to create happiness for others was palpable. That’s what made working at Disneyland the best possible job.

I felt it most often on shifts that ended after closing. When you started in the morning and then changed over your work location to another vendor, the Park kept going without you. Although I admit there were times when I was happy to see the next shift, there were also times when it felt like walking out of a fabulous party.

When you were there for the end of Disneyland’s normal operating day, though, it felt as if you’d hosted the entire affair. The sense that this really was your Disneyland was there when one last couple asked you to take a picture for them and then ran off toward Main Street. An hour or so later, after you'd cleaned the location, counted the drawer, and dropped off the money bags at Cash Control, it stayed with you, all the way up to Harbor House.

Even surrounded by the business realities of Disneyland—rolls of coins, bundles of bills, working hours, paychecks, and all the rest—life as a Disneylander was something special.

Whatever made it special didn’t leave when you walked off the property. You’d clock out and slip your timecard into a slot whose location you hoped you’d remember when you came in for your next shift, but you could carry with you as you headed out into the parking lot the sense of playing a part in the lives of those who’d passed through the main gate turnstiles earlier that day. If Arthur was there, he never failed to help by seeing you off with the amazing pride at being a Cast Member that he instilled.

I miss being part of that magic, but I’m glad to know that it was—and is still—part of me.

March 15, 2009

Go back to the drawing board

The New Fantasyland was well off the drawing board when I received this 1983 Cast Member booklet during orientation. It was just about twenty-six years ago this month that the drawbridge would lower for the second time, revealing "the world of imagination, hopes and dreams" that money prevented Walt from making the first time around.

In 1983, the message was that Disneyland had “both the land and the creative spirit” for expansion. As a new Cast Member, you would “fast become a part of an exciting new era as we open the doors to the future."

In my view, it’s a significant understatement to say that something important somehow got left behind. The Magic Kingdom that appeared when the doors to Disneyland's future opened looked and felt more like today's Tomorrowland than yesterday’s New Fantasyland. Should an “exciting new era” really include gutted old attractions left to collect a decade’s dust, painfully clear reminders of all that went wrong?

I think that the booklet above had the right idea:

Now that we have been recognized as a world institution, we must find new ways of developing our guest relations. It is both a challenge and an increased responsibility for us.

We will continue to make a job at Disneyland a professional and respected career.

If the world becomes more troubled, or merely remains as troubled as it now is, we must be dedicated to keeping our national treasure - our Disneyland - the friendly and happy place it is.

Disneyland will never be completed, as we all know. But neither should it ever be compromised.

March 4, 2009

Once upon a dream

I pasted this autograph card into my childhood scrapbook back in 1971, so it’s quite worn. Being packed away in an attic trunk for all these years must have preserved Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather’s magic somehow, because I felt lifted back to the simple pleasures of old Disneyland as soon as I saw it again.

“Sleeping Beauty Days” happened over the first weekend in March, 1971. During those days, Disneyland was open five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Guests got an extra two hours on Saturday and Sunday when the Park was open from 9 to 7. Seven-day operations didn’t start until the early 80s. Still, there were plenty of attractions back then to fill those few hours. Even without Space, Splash, or Big Thunder Mountain, a ticket book didn’t go nearly far enough. When you added all the shops and show, parades and characters, it was always time to go much, much too soon.

I remember spending many nights after those early days falling asleep in the back seat of the family car as we waited to pull out of the parking lot onto West Street. Through half-closed eyes, taillights turned into beams stretching into the darkness.

Those beams faded away more than three decades ago. Looking back on Sleeping Beauty Days again, though, the gleam in my eyes is so familiar a gleam.

February 22, 2009

Disney Dollars

The severe economic slowdown obviously hurts a destination like Disneyland. But money troubles were a constant in Walt’s business experience. As most everyone knows, he borrowed against his own life insurance policies to build the Park, and he named money as the single biggest challenge he faced.

Still, he insisted that the cost of delivering a freshly-scrubbed, brightly-polished Disneyland every day was worth it.

Burbank’s sharp pencils have had sharper points for around a quarter of a century now. I think the philosophical shift started in about 1984, when Disneyland endured the painfully slow summer of the Los Angeles Olympic Games. I remember spending long days behind an ice cream or popcorn wagon waiting for guests. After that summer, the popcorn that had been .65 became $1.00. The container’s size was cut in half. And high-profit stuff like churros and glowing necklaces became the stock-in-trade of Outdoor Vending.

Larger changes were made. Tomorrowland stopped trying to represent tomorrow and became a retro-futurist merchandising mall that wouldn’t become outdated because it no longer tried to be ahead of its time. Maintenance was cut back with results that you can still see today. The company pressed ahead to establish multinational outlets for Disney magic, while leaving the secrets of that magic home alone. It didn’t work.

Disney’s strategic decisions couldn’t prevent a global economic meltdown, of course. Still, the prices of everything associated with Disney are greater exponentially than they used to be, and the company can’t seem to make money without turning to discounting. Only a “buy four nights, get three free” promo is bringing folks to Walt Disney World these days. The product isn’t worth it without the promotion.

Disney faces a most “chilling challenge: to find a way out” of degraded financial conditions that don’t favor discretionary consumer spending. According to Argus Research, “at the economically sensitive Parks division, management will need to cut costs without diminishing the visitor experience in order to avoid long-term damage to the brand.” Will consolidation of the functions associated with operating the “Disney Parks” solve the problem? Or will it hasten the evaporation of whatever unique magic remains in the Magic Kingdom?

Those of us who miss the old days often say that Walt didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money. Maybe part of why he didn’t was because he foresaw the times when Disneyland wouldn’t make any money. He nevertheless believed that the Park was worth doing, and worth doing well. Cutting back on the essentials and raising the prices is wishful thinking, as is supposing that you can run Disneyland like any other corporate enterprise. If you could, Walt wouldn’t have prevented his associates from bringing in a bunch of businessmen when the place was just getting off the ground. You can’t fool the public into believing that you’re delivering the same value. Instead, when guests have fewer dollars to spend, you’ve got to give them greater value for those dollars.

Through innovation and dedication, Walt did just that, building an almost unimaginable amount of long-term brand value. But even something that seems infinite can be squandered, as every human-caused extinction and even the country’s own global standing after its response to the September 11 attacks demonstrates. If Disney is smart, it will protect its own global image—the one represented by Disneyland—at all costs.

February 11, 2009

The child’s approach to life

Shari Bescos was Disneyland Ambassador when I toddled onto Main Street for the first time.

As I got a little older, an “E” coupon became just about the most valuable currency in the world.

Disneyland was the uncomplicated, practically primitive by today’s standards, Happiest Place on Earth.

The Magic Kingdom was a comforting presence over the years. Things changed, of course. Big Thunder Mountain rose in Frontierland, and the old Fantasyland transformed. Other alterations happened here and there. But the more things changed, the more Disneyland stayed the same.

When I was about sixteen, I realized why.

Night was just falling, and I think my family was trying to figure out where to meet up again before the Park closed. I remember the temperature being a little bit cold, and I was standing off by myself near Town Square, looking towards the Hub.

I wasn’t paying much attention to family plans because I was absorbed in the lights. They were all on. Thousands of bulbs, each one lit up. I don’t remember seeing a single burned-out socket.

It was an electric embodiment of quality.

“That’s how things should be done,” I thought. Main Street that night became for me a visual expression of the unprecedented degree of excellence that Disneyland knew was required to truly accomplish its purpose of creating happiness. I was only a little older than a child then, but I knew that the approach represented by those lights was one I wanted to emulate. And I knew that I had to become part of the company that was Walt Disney Productions, the “wonderful organization” that Walt built, and of which he was most proud.

I think that Walt was right about the right way to approach life, work, relationships, all of it:

Why do we have to grow up?

I know more adults who have the child's approach to life.

They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there.

They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much, either.

February 5, 2009

Rite of Spring

Spring is almost here. Just thinking about it makes the end of Winter come faster. Especially when your thoughts include those special things that Springtime in Disneyland brings.

It brought such things back in 1983, anyway. I remember one of my first shifts as a new Outdoor Vending Cast Member back then.

It was a 9:45-6:15 assignment behind a red-and-white-striped ice cream wagon just off the Central Plaza between the entrances to Adventureland and Frontierland. Behind me was a planter full of flowers, smiling behind a freshly painted railing and filling the air with fragrance like I'd just stepped into Mlle. Antoinette's Parfumerie in New Orleans Square. As I looked out from my big red umbrella over the top of the wagon, a shining Tomorrowland gleamed.

The day hadn’t heated up yet, and sales of frozen juice bars and ice cream sandwiches were only occasional. I spent much of the morning enjoying the opportunity to act as an unofficial Carefree Corner, dispensing information rather than reaching into the dry-ice-filled wagon for some cold confection. When my Relief to cover the wagon for a break, I almost waved him away.
There was nothing like a new Spring day in the Magic Kingdom to make you feel that everything was right in the world. It was tough to step offstage even for fifteen minutes.

There have been quite a few seasons since then, but you might be able to find a similar feeling when Spring arrives this year.

You won’t see Tomorrowland at its best, of course, and you’ll have to ignore the Ferris Wheel on the skyline as you look down Main Street. There’s no longer perfume in New Orleans Square, and you’ll have to carry your cares around with you without a Carefree Corner to drop them off.

But if you think of Thumper and hunt around the Magic Kingdom this Spring, I hope you find what Walt called “that thing - the imagination, and the feeling of happy excitement- I knew when I was a kid."

I can’t tell you exactly where to find it anymore. If you’d walked up to my wagon in 1983, though, I would have given you directions happily. It would have been easy.

Back then, the thing that Walt was talking about was everywhere you looked.

January 31, 2009

Gifts that keep on taking

My fellow Disneyland blogger Vintage Disneyland Tickets had an interesting group of 1985 artifacts up recently, so I thought that I’d throw in this Cast Member information card from the Magic Kingdom’s big 3-0.

It’s interesting, too, to think about how Disneyland has changed in the way it’s promoted since the earlier days. I wasn’t around for the twentieth anniversary, but I wouldn’t guess it was much like the thirtieth’s gift-giving frenzy. In between was Disneyland’s beautiful silver celebration, which, in my mind, still represents the tip of the Matterhorn of excellence. By the time 1985 arrived, a new management team ruled, and what I would call a “Park as promotional item” strategy began its reign.

Under that approach, Disneyland itself seemed no longer reason enough to visit. The slow year following the inaccurate predictions for mammoth attendance spurred by the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was the entry point for a kind spell of bells and whistles that infiltrated the berm. It couldn’t be broken by something as simple as true love’s first kiss, and it’s effect was to remove confidence in the Park’s ability to be its own magical self.

Instead, guests were cajoled into coming to a Park that hiked its prices and reduced the sizes of its portions to make up the previous year’s disappointing attendance. Prizes, pins, and plush, plus the promise of flashy new GM cars, were supposed to dazzle guests into a kind of shock-and-awe-induced happiness. If 1980 was a family reunion, 1985 was a trinket-laden trade show.

It seems as though nothing Disneyland does anymore is free of artifice and gimmickry. Has the Park just changed with the trends? If it has, why? It’s not the latest trend; it’s yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.

The thirtieth year got the ball rolling away from timelessness toward the transience of short-term gains. This year, it’s essentially “buy one, get one free.” What will you celebrate? How about a Magic Kingdom that acted like it believed in magic more than marketing?

The glitter in Disneyland comes from the things you win even if you’re not a lucky ticket holder or there to celebrate anything more than everyday. Like strolling through a shining Park before the crowds press in. Watching the sparkle come back to the eyes of someone whose car vapor-locked on the Santa Ana freeway on the way to Anaheim. Enjoying the magic hour when the twinkling lights begin to appear around the Central Plaza. You can’t put a price on the feelings that come with those things. Maybe that’s why Walt said he didn’t go into Disneyland with the idea of making money first in his mind. If that’s rose-colored pining for the past, well, the only thing new is the history you don’t know.

I wonder how the Cadillac Sedan De Ville that the “1 in 3,000,000th“-guest drove home is doing today. Did he or she load up the family and come back to the Park over the years?

If the car was won on the guest’s first visit, then the only Disneyland he or she knew was the one that passed out prizes. If the Caddy came to someone who’d loved the Magic Kingdom since way back when it gave guests value rather than gimmicks, however, I wonder whether the feelings that came with the new car were worth its cost. It’s hard to quantify the marketing power of grace and the diminishing return of glamour.

For my money, though, when Disneyland began favoring the latter, it gave away something truly extraordinary.

January 20, 2009

Return to tomorrow

It might have been the most popular land in the Magic Kingdom.

Space Mountain was its big draw, of course, but that was hardly the limit of Tomorrowland’s new frontier. Whether you were cruising beneath the polar ice cap, exploring the vast reaches of inner space, or time traveling through America’s musical heritage, you could count on finding something unique when you turned right as you reached the end of Main Street.

There was a special kind of feeling in yesterday’s Tomorrowland. Distinct from the “world’s fair” atmosphere exuded by the “golden ears” version and nothing at all like the misguided offering of today, the 60s-80s Tomorrowland radiated a wonderful sort of accessible modernism. Futuristic but not enough to be intimidating, it offered an optimistic silver and blue welcome that floated out of PeopleMover vehicles as upbeat jazz and moved across the Anaheim sky carried by Rocket Jets, Skyway buckets, and sleek Monorails.

Tomorrowland never failed to represent the best of Disneyland. As the only land not tied to a specific temporal identity, it was somehow more connected with guests than all the others. I think maybe that was the reason for it’s popularity. Its futurism actually presented guests with the opportunity to transform the present into something better.

As guests passed by Mary Blair’s charming murals, they entered a ”Small World” for grown-ups, one filled not only with promises of a better tomorrow, but with possibilities of a better today. If you rode the PeopleMover when it existed, thinking about that fifteen-minute trip might give you a good sense of what I mean. It forced you to slow down, to appreciate the present moment. In that way, it gave you the means to make the future better than it might otherwise have been.

Other parts of Disneyland still do that. The Mark Twain and the Disneyland Railroad, for example, offer similar grand circle tours. But so much of the old Tomorrowland did it, from CircleVision to America Sings to the Space Stage. It really felt like a land of hope and promise.

That was then and this is now, of course.

But isn’t this most historic Inauguration Day an ideal time for a return to tomorrow?

January 9, 2009

Dopey New Year!

Like just about everything else in Disneyland, the Disneyana shop on Main Street used to be something different. In my opinion, it’s gotten more reminiscent of the Shops at Caesar's Palace than the shops of turn-of-the-century America. Back in the good old days of 1982, it was a gracious little cubbyhole with a few display cases, an animation cell or two, and some very old Mickey Mouse toys. The shop was more a museum than a merchandise outlet, and it sure was nice to spend time in there.

I was doing just that one afternoon, watching the long-time Disneyana Hostess and fabulously talented Stacia Martin epitomize the legendary Disney courtesy. She spent as much time with the guest who wandered in from the Emporium and hoped to pay for a ceramic figurine without having to go find another cash register as she did with the high roller adding some big-ticket item to a collection. She made each guest feel like Walt himself. As one example, she used to ask guests if whatever they were purchasing was a gift. If it was, Stacia would press a piece of cellophane tape over the price sticker and, with a quick pull, magically lift the top layer, so the recipient wouldn’t know how much the gift had cost. That's why it takes people to make the dream a reality.

Stacia was, and still is, legendary, but the real Legend in the shop that day was animator, director, and imagineer Bill Justice. Stacia introduced us, and we had a wonderful time talking about his experiences in the Hyperion days. (Remember Disneyland’s silly reindeer? Those were Bill’s. Kevin Kidney has a great salute to them over at his fun blog.)

Bill pulled this Bambi letterhead out from somewhere and made this quick sketch of Dopey. Outside, guests strolled up and down Main Street, having a great time, but oblivious to the amazing treat they were passing. There were no crowds in the small shop. Just Stacia and Bill, Dopey and me. I'll take that magic over any marketing. It’s a “collectable” worth keeping forever.

Thanks again, Bill. And special, limited-edition best wishes for an authentic Dopey new year to all.