WDFM Blog Club: Legends in Imagineering

Posted on Fri, 04/17/2020 - 11:27

Need something to do while you are stuck inside? We have compiled ten articles exploring legendary Disney Imagineers for you to read, and are starting a Blog Club on our Facebook page to foster discussion on these topics.

Read any of the articles that interest you, and join the Blog Club conversation on our Facebook page each day as we explore the articles.

Legends in Imagineering

Bob Gurr: Stealing Nixon

If you were to ask Disney Imagineering Legend Bob Gurr for his recollections of June 14, 1959, he wouldn’t start by telling you it was a warm, summer Sunday. He would refrain from leading off with the fact that he was wearing a uniform that had been created for him mere hours earlier. And he probably wouldn’t begin by saying how much he was just hoping the Monorail wouldn’t burst into flames that day. No, I believe he would turn to you with all the charm and sincerity that he is known for, smile, and say, “Oh, that would be the day I kidnapped the Vice President of the United States.”

X. Atencio: One of Walt’s Most Versatile Artists

"Walt called me one day and said, 'I want you to do the script for the Pirates of the Caribbean.' I had never done any scripting before… But I said, “All right. Let’s give it a try.” Walt Disney had a way of finding in his people talents that we didn’t even know we had ourselves."

Harper Goff: The "Second" Imagineer

“In 1951, my wife and I were in London. I was always a miniature train fan, so I went to Bassett-Lowke, Ltd... I was trying to find something I could bring back as an antique. I found one, and the man said, ‘There’s a gentleman coming in this evening who’s shown some interest in that. I can’t sell it to you, because I think he may think it’s being saved for him.’”

The man recalling that story was Harper Goff. The gentleman who “showed some interest in the train,” was Walt Disney.

Marc & Alice Davis: It's a Small Love Story

They may never have been referred to as the President and “First Lady” of Imagineering during Walt’s time—that would be Bill Cottrell and Harriet Burns, respectively—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic duo than Marc and Alice Davis. Marc conceptualized characters, while Alice dressed them. To date, they are the only married couple to be dedicated Main Street, U.S.A. windows for their contributions to Disneyland.

Imagineering the Haunted Mansion with Rolly Crump

In the Mansion how it is currently, it is all cycle animation. The people are just sitting there, and sitting there, and sitting there… or maybe dancing in circles. But there's not that continuity of the storyline that a walk-through had. But then Yale came up with something incredible; he got a loop projector of a haunted face, and projected it onto a little Beethoven statue, so when you look at the little statue with the face on it, it looked like the little statue would come to life. When we showed it to Walt, he loved it, so that eventually came to be Madame Leota’s illusion in the crystal ball.

Harriet Burns

Harriet Burns, my grandmother and the first female Imagineer for Disney, is known by many Disney history enthusiasts for her contributions to some of the most beloved classic Disney attractions. In the early days of Disneyland she could be found meticulously feathering the Tiki Birds, adding hair to the legs of the Pirates, figure finishing the Small World dolls and, of course, using “Disney magic” to create the friendly ghosts of the Haunted Mansion. 

Q&A with Tony Baxter about Walt Disney's Tomorrowland

"One thing about Walt, he never sat still. No matter what he accomplished, he was always thinking about the next big thing. At his Studio he pushed for sound cartoons, color, stereo soundtracks, widescreen, etc. So yes, progress was a very big part of his philosophy.

But he was smart about it. Progress wasn’t for progress’s sake. It was a means to advance his central goal of telling a fantastic story. We still practice this today."

Marty Sklar, X. Atencio, and Bob Gurr talk Pirates

Retired Imagineer Marty Sklar was gracious enough to field some questions from us about one of our favorite attractions at Disneyland, those scourge of the seven seas, The Pirates of the Caribbean. Marty, as many of you know, worked at WED and Walt Disney Imagineering for over forty years. He enlisted a couple of good friends and fellow Imagineers, X. Atencio and Bob Gurr as well to help with the interview. X. was an Imagineer for over thirty years and wrote the song we all know by heart, Yo-Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me). Imagineer Bob Gurr began with WED in the 1950s and as he often says, "If it moves on wheels at Disneyland, I probably designed it."

Remembering Blaine Gibson

After Walt saw an exhibition of Gibson’s sculpture work in 1954, the animator was reassigned to work on the Disneyland project. In 1961, Gibson joined WED Enterprises—now, Walt Disney Imagineering—as the head of the sculpture department. He would go on to sculpt hundreds of Audio-Animatronics® in major Disneyland attractions, including Great Moments with Mr. LincolnPirates of the Caribbean, and every president up to President George W. Bush in the Hall of Presidents.

Remembering Marty Sklar

Marty began working for The Walt Disney Company one month before the opening of Disneyland in July 1955. He initially worked as a writer and communications specialist for the Company. He wrote scripts for various shows and presentations for Walt Disney. Marty was at times referred to as “the voice of Walt.”

BONUS: The Walt Disney-Ray Bradbury Friendship

On Saturday, December 17, the day Walt was interred at Forest Lawn, Ray took his four daughters to Disneyland. He had promised them this outing weeks earlier. When Ray and the girls returned that night, his wife Marguerite told him that CBS Radio had called, wanting an on-air interview. “I told them you were at Disneyland,” she said.

With tears in his eyes, Ray said he could imagine no finer epitaph than that.