July 31, 2011

Backstage pass

Fellow blogger Vintage Disneyland Tickets posted this great aerial view of the Happiest Place on Earth as it appeared when I was an Outdoor Vending Cast Member in 1983. I applied some labels to identify various backstage features, which you can see by enlarging the image.

When you punched in and passed through Harbor House every day, it didn't take long for these areas to become very familiar—maybe even more so than the mundane world outside the berm. If you never stepped offstage from the '80s Magic Kingdom show, the world behind the inconspicuous doorways and passages leading behind the scenes was probably a mystery to you.

This photo doesn't capture some backstage things that were regular parts of my days back then—the locker room, Cash Control, and Outdoor Vending's freezers and balloon room, for example, are just out of the frame at the lower right, as are the Zoo Crew's quarters and Cast Cutters, the backstage barber shop. Hopefully, though, you'll enjoy this little "guided tour" and discovering what some of the hidden places were.

It's amazing how much of those places I remember so well, even thirty years later. If I could, I would save this post now, shut down the computer, park in "X" lot, flash my yellow ID to security, punch my timecard, and head down the hill under the railroad tracks into the back of the Park. They say you can't go home again, but can't you go back to work at Disneyland?

July 24, 2011

Help me if you can, I've got to get

An afternoon shift as a Disneyland Outdoor Vending Cast Member in 1983. An ice-cream wagon in Fantasyland right outside Casey Jr., near what was very briefly the Village Inn and is now the Village Haus.

The calliope music wafted on the July heat, and the brass rail of my red-and-white-striped wagon gleamed in the sun. Inside, protected by dry ice, were orange juice bars, frozen bananas (at 85 cents, the most expensive thing on the menu), and ice cream bars and sandwiches. Outside, protected by a big red umbrella, were me—and a large friend with floppy arms wearing a red shirt and carrying a honey pot on his head.

Winnie the Pooh paused at my wagon for a brief respite. He leaned in as close as his big head allowed, and I asked how he was doing. "Hot!," my Zoo Crew friend Donny replied from inside.

I opened the lid of the wagon. Donny peered in through Pooh's eyes. I pulled out a juice bar, and he quickly reached a hand out of the costume and took the frozen confection back with him. I said that the orange pop would probably melt by the time he got backstage, but he just chuckled. A whisper from inside Pooh's head said, "I'm eating it!"

Unlike the modern Pooh character, which I find quite unappealing, the '70s and '80s version that Donny wore had "arms" that weren't operational. They were on movable sticks, but they couldn't hold anything. The arms usually just flopped around as the character walked and turned, but the way that they worked meant that guests could "shake hands" with Winnie the Pooh while Donny kept both of his own hands free inside. He enjoyed the juice bar right in the middle of the crowd that soon swarmed around him like honeybees at the hive. None of them had any idea that he was cooling off as they hugged him and snapped photos.

Characters work hard, wearing heavy padding and fiberglass heads to create happiness, especially in the heat of Disneyland summer afternoons. On that July afternoon twenty-eight years ago, a frozen juice bar was just the thing to help a "silly old bear" get back to the hundred-acre-wood.

Or at least backstage to the break area.

July 17, 2011

Ten and now

The last birthday that Walt and his greatest dream shared. Disneyland's tencennial celebration was quite a feat back then.

The Magic Kingdom had not only survived, it had succeeded beyond almost anyone's dreams. It had defied the pundits who dubbed Walt's creation "Disney's folly" and stumped the nation's amusement-park owners and operators, who were convinced that without Ferris wheels, baseball throws, and "shoot-the-chutes," the Happiest Place on Earth would never make it.

The "resort," of course, now has all three of those carny mainstays, and more. Even so, "occupancy rates look to be getting incrementally worse, which may prompt DIS to increase promotional activity to sustain attendance momentum," according to Forbes.com. Is the economy to blame for all of that? Or is "franchise" pixie dust somehow less magical than the real thing?

Certainly the ten-year birthday celebration would have a tough time competing for attention with today's lavish entertainment offerings. Here's a look back at it through the lens of an apparently out-of-print DVD. It's a time capsule of what probably seems like terribly primitive stuff by modern standards. But it's got a simple charm that I think comes from working hard at entertainment without trying so hard to create spectacle that you end up with nothing but noise.

Look at how proud Walt was to celebrate the accomplishment and how confident he was that he could make things even better without losing what made those things great. He knew that the first ten years would be a tough act to follow, but he was inspired by the challenge. I think that he would have found the right way to do it. I'd rather be at this Disneyland today. Happy birthday to the genuine magic that's still there.