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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Eastern Winds

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE EASTERN WINDS

By Jim Korkis

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, it was planned that the principal means of travel from the parking center and main entrance to and from the theme park and hotels would be aboard the Walt Disney World-Alweg Monorail trains. However, during that opening month, only four monorails were operating and could not handle the capacity crowds.

Emergency trams that frequently broke down were immediately put into service to transport guests from the parking lot to the entrance as well as any water craft available, including the keel boats from Frontierland, to ferry guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the main entrance.

That included calling into service two specially built temperamental side-wheeler steamboats, “The Southern Seas” and the “Ports-O-Call” that had been built for leisurely Moonlight Cruises through the waterways or special evening charter parties.

When the Magic Kingdom closed for the night, there wasn’t much for adults to do other than the Top of the World musical show on the top floor of the Contemporary. The plan was to have some watercraft for adult evening cruises to offer guests who still wanted to do something on property. Probably the most significant such water vehicle was The Eastern Winds.

The Eastern Winds, a cocktail lounge aboard an authentic 65-foot Chinese Junk, was docked at the Polynesian Resort from 1971 to 1978. It was available for charters, and took a crew of two to operate: a pilot and a deckhand.

The ship included a galley on board for dining as well as a full wet bar. Often during charters, the crew would also include a chef, a server, a bartender as well as a cocktail waitress. The large wheel was located in the stern of the 50,000-pound boat and took 22 turns from lock to lock.

It was built in Hong Kong in 1964, and was later purchased by a Texas oil baron. Football legend Joe Namath owned it at one time as well.

As Sully Sullivan, who helped open WDW in 1971, told me, “There was a real Chinese junk out there in the lagoon and people could rent that boat and take it out for parties. I remember one of the problems was the Disney art directors wanted to paint it, but the wood was teak. You can’t paint teak because then it can’t breathe and the whole thing just rotted. It just stunk to high heavens.

“Pete Crimmings bought that boat down in Miami somewhere, I think. It was somebody’s personal playhouse and there was just a big mattress on the top deck. We had to change all that but it looked great.”

And the end? Ron Cooper and his partner Court Glanadorp were flying in a private plane over Florida and spotted the junk sitting anchored in the Seven Seas Lagoon. Disney had discontinued the cruises and left it in the lagoon as a decoration because it was too much trouble to remove. Cooper made an offer to buy it and within a month, Disney accepted.

However, time and weather had taken its toll on the craft and it was in terrible shape. All the incidentals had been stripped and the varnish was off.

The ship could not be floated anywhere so a trailer had to be positioned under the craft and it was transported along the interstate with much fanfare. When it arrived at its new home, it was launched off the back of the trailer because a crane operator refused to lift it for fear of further damage.

After two years spent refurbishing the boat, it was used for pleasure cruises in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Thanks, Jim! Note that the the image is from Tikiman’s material on the early history of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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April 10, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Spike the Bee

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

SPIKE THE BEE

By Jim Korkis

Spike the Bee is an appealing little character who appeared in a supporting role in several Disney animated shorts released during the 1950s. Since 2018, he has become a sort of unofficial mascot of the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.

Spike’s Pollen Nation Exploration scavenger hunt was part of this year’s Festival, where guests could purchase a map and search for Spike around the park and then return their completed map for a prize.

Annual Passholders could pick up two complimentary magnets during the 2020 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. One of them was the Orange Bird. The other was “Donald Duck with Spike the Bee”. In addition, a cute Spike the Bee Sipper was available at The Honey Bee-stro and contained Honey-Peach Freeze.

The National Honey Board sponsors The Honey Bee-stro where it promotes the story of honey bees, honey and the importance of bees in the ecological system and the importance of protecting those bees.

In the cartoons, Spike has stung multiple times, meaning he’s a bumblebee, as honey bees can only sting once before dying. However, strangely, several of his cartoon adventures show him gathering honey suggesting he is a honey bee.

In recent years, the Spike character has reappeared in episodes of the animated series Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (Goofy’s Bird, Minnie’s Bee Story, Mickey’s Little Parade) and in the Disney Channel Mickey Mouse short cartoons (Bee Inspired, New Shoes). In Bee Inspired, Spike continually disrupts Mickey from posing for Minnie’s painting. However, by the end, he saves Mickey from an angry swarm of bees.

Over the decades, I had the opportunity to interview some of the people involved with creating Spike, who was originally called “Buzz Buzz”.

Jack Hannah was an animator, storyman (with Carl Barks) and director of classic Donald Duck cartoon shorts.

Jack told me that when he became a director on the Donald Duck shorts “one of the first things I did was begin to find some foils for the Duck. There are only so many stories you can come up with for him, but if you have a strong supporting cast, that provides so many more interesting springboards for stories.

“To bring some variety to the Duck shorts, I tried to develop some interesting supporting characters. We used a bee character we called ‘Buzz Buzz’ a lot to antagonize the Duck. Probably the idea was that the bee is a menace with that stinger as a weapon and is much smaller than the Duck so it would be funny having the little guy battling a big bully. You can get a funny sound effect out of a bee. They can cuss you out with that little bee noise.”

That bee-talk was the work of Disney sound effects expert Jimmy MacDonald who always found unusual solutions to difficult problems like blowing through a rubber tube and rubbing on a taut rubber membrane stretched across an old wooden spool to create the bee sound.

Spike was not an aggressive menace. He was actually quite innocent and just did what a bee would instinctively do. However, if he found himself the victim of malicious actions, he had no hesitation to defend himself with his sharp stinger.

If not for the fact that Disney was getting out of the business of making theatrical cartoons in the 1950s, Spike might have ended up with his own series like Pluto, Humphrey the Bear and others.

He appeared in Inferior Decorator (1948), Bubble Bee (1949), Honey Harvester (1949), Slide, Donald, Slide (1949), Bee At the Beach (1950), Bee on Guard (1951) and Let’s Stick Together (1962). He has also made brief cameo appearances in other cartoons over the decades.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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April 3, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Power and Paradise in Walt Disney’s World

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (27)

By Jim Korkis

In my personal Disney library, I have an entire shelf devoted to books that I call “academic studies” of Disney. In general, they are filled with footnotes and, more often than not, reference other academic books in their bibliographies, rather than any Disney specific books other than a handful of the most familiar common books like Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas.

This book clearly falls into the “academic studies” category which is why I just recently discovered it even though it was published in 2014. It simply wasn’t mentioned or reviewed in the usual Disney communities, even those devoted to documenting all Disney related books.

The book includes twenty-six pages of small type footnotes and a twenty-six page bibliography (but little evidence in the actual text that all of these resources were consulted).

It is amazing how much additional material has been discovered and published about Disney in the years since this book was first released although I doubt whether any of it would change much of anything the author has written.

For instance, I just recently learned that the term “Imagineering” was actually coined by the Alcoa Corporation in 1942 where an advertisement in Time magazine proclaimed, “Imagineering is letting your imagination soar and then engineering it down to earth.” Later in the 1950s, it was used by Union Carbide.

Author Knight is a professor of art history at Emerson College, and has also written the book Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism. and is also co-editor of A Companion to Public Art and Museums and Public Art? None of the positive reviews for this book are from any Disney related source but all come from scholarly sources.

Knight considers Walt Disney World “a pilgrimage center, a utopia, a fantasy city and a technological and global microcosm” and proceeds to explore those comparisons in different chapters. There is a chapter where the author discusses the comparisons between WDW and Las Vegas where both “seem to transcend space and time, most especially in their retail outposts”.

Knight also spends time covering the “falsifications”, simulations and replicas (to make things more “palpable and potent”) that are used at WDW to create an unreal reality or “hyperreality” and its own moral universe. Basically, not duplicating the real, but fabricating the ideal for its own purposes.

Knight asserts that “Disneyland and the foreign parks are satellite shrines. Disney World is the seat of power. No Disney park fully replicates another and none of the others can rival Disney World in its wide-ranging themes and vast physical terrain. Disney World is where the company’s clout is most visible, accumulated in its most-concentrated form and implicitly consecrated by millions of loyal devotees. Walt spent the last years of his life planning for and fixated on Disney World; it represents not only his vision but also his heart.”

That is only one of several premises in the book that I feel are certainly open to debate. Another concern I have is the following premise.

Knight spends six pages near the end of the book intensively detailing a Keys to the Kingdom tour at the Magic Kingdom and finds it “refreshing” when the guide describes Walt as a “tremendous failure” saved only by his brother’s business savvy since Walt was only a dreamer but Roy was the do-er who made things happen.

I was also concerned that the book gives equal credence to Marc Eliot’s Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince as it does Bob Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original. Basically, as far as the author is concerned, all the books cited in the text are of equal accuracy.

Actually, despite some of the examples that I have shared, the author often states liking WDW and that it is a “whole dream” that delights the mind and heart. Those readers looking for new information may be disappointed since the familiar tales of Walt’s life story, his being influenced by World Fairs and more are once again trotted out with no original research or new insight.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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March 29, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Cranium Command in Wonders of Life

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

CRANIUM COMMAND

By Jim Korkis

Cranium Command opened at Epcot on October 19, 1989 as part of the new Wonders of Life pavilion, sponsored by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife). The premise of the attraction, directed by Jerry Rees, is that the guest is inside the head of a twelve year old boy (voiced by Scott Curtis) who is being piloted by a new, young, inexperienced recruit named Buzzy.

(C) Disney

Guests meet Buzzy as an animated character and learn his mission, and the consequences for failure in the pre-show directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. It was the very last project at Disney Feature Animation to be traditionally inked and painted on cels. Pete Docter was an animator on the project, and later admitted that it helped inspire his own Pixar feature film Inside Out.

The direction of the five minute pre- show animation segment was so impressive that Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg assigned the team of Wise and Trousdale to direct the animated feature Beauty and the Beast and later Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Wise, by the way, provides the monotone voice for the Hypothalamus after the guests entered the main 200 seat auditorium where Buzzy was now portrayed by an audio-animatronics figure.

On several screens, celebrity actors including Charles Grodin, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Meaney and George Wendt play various body functions like the left and right brain, the ventricles of the heart, adrenal gland and stomach. Their humorous responses to the various activities help explain the function of those organs.

In a seventeen minute show, Buzzy had to deal with a typical day of misadventures at school from missing the school bus to an accident in chemistry class to dealing with bullies and an infatuation with a female schoolmate. It was the hope that the show might be reprogrammed over the years to tell different stories dealing with how the body functions rather than just stress management.

MetLife ended its sponsorship of the Wonders of Life by June 2001. Although the MetLife logos disappeared from the pavilion, Cranium Command and most of the pavilion’s other attractions continued to operate normally through 2003. In 2004, the Wonders of Life pavilion became seasonal, and was open fewer days each year.

On New Year’s Day 2007, the Wonders of Life was officially closed. The domed pavilion became the Festival Center for Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival in fall and for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival in spring.

In February 2018, Disney announced that the location would become the PLAY! Pavilion, “a digital metropolis where guests will discover an interactive city bursting with games, activities and experiences that connect them with friends, family and beloved Disney characters—both real and virtual—like never before.”

A still unsolved mystery is what happened to the Buzzy audio-animatronics figure that disappeared from the closed attraction. The pressurized hydraulic lines were clumsily cut in order to remove the three hundred pound figure.

According to an Orlando police report, Patrick Allen Spikes was charged with burglary, grand theft, and dealing in stolen property of Buzzy’s bomber jacket, headset and green hat that he sold for $8,000 and ended up in the possession of NBA player Robin Lopez.

However Spikes denied taking the figure itself, which is still missing, despite some reports that a Disney department removed it without informing any other departments. The Orlando police still consider it missing.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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March 20, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Disney Inn

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE DISNEY INN

By Jim Korkis

The former Walt Disney World Golf Resort was originally a building located in the middle of the Palm and Magnolia golf courses. It was designed to look like a two story country club and did not have any guest rooms.

Guest wings were added in 1973 as part of Walt Disney World’s Phase 2 expansion. It retained the name The Golf Resort, and was not generally considered a Walt Disney World resort because of its small size and not being on the monorail loop, among other things.

In February 1986, Disney expanded the resort and renamed it The Disney Inn in hopes of attracting more than just golfers, promoting it as having the intimate and rustic charm of a quiet country inn. It was mildly re-themed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in hopes of reinforcing the Disney connection.

In 1996, the resort was purchased by the U.S. Department of Defense for $43 million for use in the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) program. This limited the resort to eligible active and retired military personnel (and others) although Disney still owns the land on which the resort sits. The resort was renamed Shades of Green because, at the time, all military fighting uniforms had some shade of green.

My friend Rich Cullen, who still works at Walt Disney World, worked the front desk of the Disney Inn during its last three years of existence and generously shared some of his memories of the resort before it became Shades of Green.

Rich Cullen: “It is my understanding that when people heard the name ‘Golf Resort’ they thought they had to be golfers to stay there.  The story goes that when the name was changed to The Disney Inn and a Snow White theme was created, occupancy went up significantly, [and] not just people who couldn’t get into the Contemporary or the Polynesian.

“From what I remember, at Christmas time Dopey and Snow White would make nightly appearances with the kids and I believe warm cider was served. I also remember that Mrs. Claus would make appearances to read a Christmas story.

“The rooms were large compared to other Disney resorts, a little less than 500 square feet as I recall. The newer rooms were brighter and the decor had a cottage charm with details like an oak headboard but nothing crazy in terms of a Snow White/Dwarfs theme.  There were just subtle touches that didn’t hit you over the head.  The wonderful sign at our entrance was a yawning Sleepy holding a candle as if he was going off to bed and that logo was on everything.

“Most of the remodeled rooms had a framed original muted color print that included some images of objects relating to the story of Snow White. The rooms had two queen beds and a pull out love seat as well as a small round table with two chairs. Some of the rooms had King beds which we commonly reserved for honeymooners.

“Three types of room view categories: Garden View, Golf Course View (both of which were roughly $185 during the regular season) and Pool View (that was $195 during the regular season).

“The Garden Gallery was the main restaurant right off of our lobby and it served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their specialty was “fried ice cream” which was similar to the fried ice cream that was popular at the Mexican chain restaurant called Chi-Chi’s.

“We still served a lot of golfers. There were actually three golf courses.  The Palm, The Magnolia and a great nine hole walking course called Oak Trails. There were two swimming pools at the Inn with the large family pool being in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head.

“I met a lot of celebrities who stayed there because it was quiet and more secluded, like actor Robert Conrad, Samuel E. Wright (voice of Sebastian the crab), the band Kansas, animator Bill Justice, the illusionist Franz Harary and so many more. I have so many fond memories of working there but the cast members I work with today don’t know it even existed!”

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Thanks, Jim! For more on Shades of Green, see this. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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March 14, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: the Mickey Mouse Revue

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE MICKEY MOUSE REVUE

By Jim Korkis

This week, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and is the first dark ride featuring the mouse that started it all. In the past, Imagineers proposed several different Mickey Mouse dark rides, including Mickey’s Mad House using a traditional Wild Mouse Coaster to experience the wild antics of early black-and-white Mickey Mouse animated cartoons.

However, the very first theme park attraction actually built with Mickey was a signature attraction at the Magic Kingdom in Florida when it opened in 197. It was a show featuring over eighty audio-animatronics Disney animated characters called The Mickey Mouse Revue, created primarily by Disney Legend Bill Justice.

“(Walt Disney Imagineering) had designed some imaginative shows for the parks, but we seemed to be getting away from our heritage. What we needed was a reminder of what Walt had accomplished. I pulled out a sheet of paper and got to work,” Justice told me in an interview. “Mickey Mouse would have to be the main figure.

“The show we had in mind was this: Mickey Mouse would lead an orchestra of Studio characters through a medley of Disney tunes. He had led orchestras in many of his cartoons so it seemed a natural fit. Then on the sides of the stage and behind the orchestra, scenes from our most popular animated features would appear one by one. Mickey and his orchestra would close the performance.

“One big problem surfaced: Mickey. With 33 functions crammed into a 42-inch body, he was the most complex audio-animatronics figure to date. He also became my biggest programming challenge because I had to do extreme movements so it would appear that Mickey was keeping up with the tempo.”

Imagineers John Hench and Blaine Gibson were also significantly involved in the show. There was an eight minute pre-show featuring an overview of Mickey’s animated career as well as the use of sound in animation.

There were a total of seventy-three different Disney animated characters who performed in the show, from the Fab Five to Humphrey the Bear, Timothy Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Baloo, Scrooge McDuck and many, many more that filled the 86-foot-long stage. However, there were a total of 81 figures since some characters appeared at different places on the stage, like the Three Caballeros, or in different costumes.

Justice said, “Roy O. Disney looked the finished model over, then paid me the best compliment I ever had in my career: ‘This is the kind of show we should spend our money on’.”

The attraction closed at Walt Disney World on September 14, 1980, and was moved to Tokyo Disneyland, where it was an opening day attraction in April 1983, and continued to operate until May 2009.

Justice recalled, “The theater seated 504 people, but the space available for the pre-show could only accommodate 300 because of a mistake that someone had made. Unfortunately, there was no time or money left to make further changes. It came as a shock when I was told my pride and joy was being moved to Tokyo Disneyland. ‘Because it never played to full capacity’. Of course not! How can you fill 504 seats with 300 people?

“Tokyo Disneyland wanted it because it was so cute. It saved the Disney Company money because it was the only attraction that was shipped directly to Japan rather than being replicated. It helped make the opening deadline on time. It would have been time consuming and expensive to build it from scratch in Tokyo. It was the first attraction closed at the Magic Kingdom.”

At the Magic Kingdom, the building eventually became the home to another Mickey attraction, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, that opened in 2003, where once again Mickey is leading an orchestra although he only appears briefly in the show.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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March 6, 2020   No Comments