For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.


By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Art of Disney Costuming

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

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (33)

By Jim Korkis

This month many readers are thinking about Halloween costumes, and some in particular of Disney Halloween costumes. Sometimes people will buy costumes, and other times try to use their own skills and cleverness to piece together an acceptable version of their favorite character for themselves or their children.

So, The Art of Disney Costuming is highly appropriate to review this month. When most Disney fans think of Disney costumes, they probably immediately think of the costumes that appeared in Disney movies (both live-action and animation) and television. Some of those costumes are iconic and are actually trademarked.

For instance, Snow White’s costume is trademarked not just for the actual colors but the proportion of those colors. Since the character is public domain, Disney does not want someone coming up with a character too reminiscent of the Disney version.

Some fans might even think of the costumes for audio-animatronics characters. I remember spending an hour listening to Alice Davis, who had costumed It’s A Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, regale a group of us with stories about the various challenges.

Because of how they move, different parts of a costume on an audio-animatronics character will wear out more quickly, like the elbows. Also the costume has to be designed so it can be removed since you can’t move the arms and legs to pull off a shirt or pants.

That situation, of course, relates to Walt Disney World but the reason I am doing this review is because this book also touches on cast member costumes. Walt Disney World has one of the largest working wardrobes in the world. Cast members are told that they are not wearing uniforms but are wearing costumes because they are “on stage” and are part of a larger story being told in their area.

I remember when I was a “friend” of Merlin, I actually had three of the exact same costume. One I was wearing as I performed. The second was in Wardrobe for back-up in case something happened when I was on stage. The third was in the wash and being checked for repairs. The three rotated during the week. That is just for one performer. Mickey Mouse has over a hundred different costumes because of special occasions, events and more.

Later, when I worked backstage at Epcot, I still checked out shirts, pants and more from Wardrobe just like the other people I worked with in that same area.

The Art of Disney Costuming is meant to be a companion to a D23 exhibit in 2019. It is 11 by 14 inches, so it is so large to showcase beautiful color photos and concept sketches, but only 176 pages long, so some of your favorites may be missing.

The abbreviated length prevents more information about each individual costume from being shared, and the book concentrates more on costumes created in the last two decades rather than some of the classic pieces. The book is divided into sections and has an extensive index, so it is fairy easy to find what is being shown. However, keep in mind that the book is more an overview than an in-depth study.

Author Jeff Kurti is one of my favorite Disney authors. Not only is he knowledgeable and accurate, but when he produces books for Disney Editions, he is very skillful in maneuvering through the many company restrictions to still provide interesting and unique information that cannot be found anywhere else.

I always enjoy that he includes sidebars, and in this book they focuse on some of the costumers who don’t usually get recognition, like Chuck Keehne who made the first Mouseketeer ears for the original television show among many other accomplishments.

Kurtti is the author of over two dozen books as well as being a writer-director of documentary content. He has worked for Walt Disney Imagineering and Corporate Special Projects. He recently co-authored a book on the Disney monorails.

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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 new Halloween-appropriate Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and soon-to-be-released Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.

 

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October 9, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Tower of Terror — The Movie

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

FLORIDA’S TOWER OF TERROR: THE MOVIE

By Jim Korkis

While it has been cited that the design of the architecture of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Florida was inspired by the Biltmore Hotel, Mission Inn and even elements from the Chateau Marmont in old Hollywood, there is another inspiration that is often missed.

The Hollywood Tower is a large apartment building on 6200 Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles that was built in 1929. It became “sophisticated living for film luminaries” during the Golden Age of Hollywood and was placed on the Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior in 1988.

Source: Abado.com

Its large neon “Hollywood Tower” sign from the side of the building can be seen clearly from the northbound lane of the Hollywood 101 Freeway. It has been cited with its sign and the ascending design of the central building (only seven stories high) as one of the inspirations for the exterior of Florida’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction. The building gets ample screen time in the Disney comedy Midnight Madness (1980) and was a well known Hollywood landmark.

Speaking of screen time, Tower of Terror shown on October 26, 1997 on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney weekly television program was the first film based on a Disney theme park attraction. While it was primarily filmed in Hollywood, some of it was filmed at the attraction in Orlando, Florida.

The roughly ninety-minute movie was written and directed by D.J. McHale who had previously worked as a writer for the Encyclopedia Brown television series as well as several After School Specials and was the co-creator (with Ned Kandel), writer and director on the Nickelodeon tv series Are You Afraid of the Dark?

“I was never a horror fan but I loved scary stories like the compilations of short stories supposedly written by Alfred Hitchcock,” said McHale. “I felt Tower of Terror was really normal people you might know and that you feel like you could relate to, who are caught up in a bigger-than-life adventure. That’s what comes out of my head, I don’t know why, but that’s what comes out.”

The story has only the slightest connection to the storyline of the actual attraction and no reference to the Twilight Zone.

Disgraced reporter Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg) was fired from the Los Angeles Banner newspaper for submitting a story that turned out to be false. He now works for a sleazy supermarket tabloid called The National Inquisitor assisted by his young niece Anna (a very young Kirsten Dunst).

An elderly woman named Abigail Gregory comes to Buzzy with a story about an incident she witnessed at a now abandoned luxury hotel back in 1939 where five hotel guests mysteriously disappeared. Gregory claims that the nanny of child film star Sally Shine was a witch who cast a curse that backfired. Buzzy feels that if the story is true he might be able to get a job on a legitimate newspaper.

The elevator has been repaired, and using items from the people who had disappeared, an attempt is made to free the ghosts from their curse. However, it turns out that Abigail is actually the jealous sister of Sally and is the one who cast the original curse. Fortunately the two reconcile before everyone is doomed for all eternity.

The other ghosts ascend to the Tip Top Club in all its former glory and then go on to Heaven along with the other party attendees who had also been trapped. With the curse broken, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is restored and re-opened.

It is not surprising that this made-for-television movie is little remembered but it is also another entry on the list of Walt Disney World appearances on film.

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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 soon-to-be released Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.

 

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October 2, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Wonderful World of Disney Television

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

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (32)

By Jim Korkis

Do you fondly remember the Walt Disney World Celebrity Circus show hosted by Tony Randall that ran on NBC in 1987? Or how about the 1993 syndicated Walt Disney World Journey Into Magic that took a look at many attractions at WDW? Or Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World’s 10th Anniversary that aired on CBS in 1982?

Some of these dozens and dozens of shows only ran once with perhaps one rerun that same year. Some weren’t even on one of the three major networks but were syndicated just in local markets.

After all, the shows presented things that no longer exist at the world’s most popular vacation destination or didn’t showcase popular new additions to WDW so they were quickly considered outdated. If you don’t know the shows even exist or their names and dates, then how can you even begin to try to find them on YouTube or elsewhere?

The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History is one of the valuable reference books I frequently use when writing articles. In fact, it is still the only resource for Disney television shows. It needs updating and expansion but no one has risen to the occasion to do so and probably never will.

Filled with little-known details, anecdotes, and vital statistics, the book has chapters that fully describe each of the Walt Disney television shows from the anthology series to the Mickey Mouse Club to Zorro to Mouse Factory to Touchstone series and much more. It includes complete schedules of aired episodes, seasonal highlights, production details, behind-the-scenes stories, full cast and crew listings, and plot synopses and much more including fascinating introductory essays for each chapter.

Cotter has his own website and on it, he explained about his book: “During the years I worked for Disney (1976 -1982) I put together a number of employee presentations on the company’s old television shows, using that as an excuse to get these shows out of the vault so I could see them again myself.

“I researched the history of the show to help in introducing them, often tracking down some of the original cast and crew. As time went by I got to be known as the ‘old TV show guy’ and got calls from across the company asking for information.

“The calls continued even after I left Disney making me think there just might be enough interest in the shows for a book. Happily I was eventually able to convince Disney that there was, and they gave me complete access to the Disney Archives.

“After literally years of watching all of the episodes, the result was The Wonderful World of Disney Television, which was released in 1997. When I started writing my book I had no idea what a herculean task it was going to be, or how many pages the book would be. When I finished it turned out I had a little problem. Disney was thinking about a 300 page book. I wrote 1,100 pages.”

Thankfully, that extra material was not lost but perhaps many people don’t know how to obtain it.

Cotter continued, “Thanks to a wonderful editor (Monique Peterson) we ended up with a reasonable compromise, 635 pages. While I would have loved to see all it in print, some of the text had to go to get the book to a salable size. Happily I retained the copyright to the unused material, and have included it in a CD.”

That CD has fifteen appendices covering a bibliography, shows that never were, publications, awards and more. In Adobe Acrobat PDF format, there’s a full 256 pages of material for less than twenty dollars including postage. Cotter is also willing to ship it electronically and save the purchaser postage cost. If you are interested, go here.

Because the information is timeless, even though the book has been around for over two decades, the material remains accurate and helpful. As I said, I consider it a valuable reference volume in my own personal library.

*  *  *  *  *

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.

 

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest!!

 

September 25, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Here Come the Muppets

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

HERE COME THE MUPPETS

By Jim Korkis

With the premiere of a new Muppets television show, it is important to remember that Disney’s association with producing shows featuring the Muppets goes back a couple of decades.

In the late 1980s, legendary puppeteer Jim Henson had tired of having so much of his time devoted to business matters. He was in final negotiations with The Walt Disney Company to sell the rights to his famous Muppet characters and become a creative consultant just before his untimely death.

It looked so much like a completed deal that Henson was already at work on a variety of projects for Disney, including theme park attractions featuring the Muppets. In fact, there were plans for an entire new land to be called Muppet Studios with attractions, a restaurant, shops and more at Disney’s MGM Studios.

(c) Disney

While work was still proceeding on the major Muppet*Vision 3-D attraction, to help introduce the characters into the park, the fifteen minute stage show Here Come the Muppets was quickly opened in May 1990 in the theater in the Animation Courtyard that later housed The Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

To save time and money, the characters were portrayed by full-sized costumed performers with moving mouths, rather than puppets, except for two video inserts during the production.

The pre-show featured a video of the dog Rowlf playing the piano and being interrupted by Sam the Eagle.

Kermit is onstage and concerned because the other Muppets are late for the show. He receives a call on a videophone from Mickey Mouse who is checking in to see how things are going and Kermit lies that everything is fine. The scene with Mickey features the same set and animation as the Mickey scene in The Muppets at Walt Disney World television special from May 1990, but with different dialog.

Kermit calls the WDW picture phone operator who turns out to be actress Lily Tomlin doing her Ernestine character from Laugh-In. He asks to be connected with Miss Piggy who is relaxing in a robe and with mud on her face. Informed that she is on a videophone, she panics and instantly gets ready.

Kermit phones Fozzie Bear who claims to be lost but Kermit directs him to a green door behind him and it leads him to the stage.

Fozzie tells Kermit that Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band will be arriving soon by monorail,l and the front of a WDW monorail crashes through on stage right and the characters disembark. That same mechanism was later used for Ariel sitting on a rock in The Voyage of The Little Mermaid, to move it on and off stage.

The show now starts with the Muppets performing the songs: Make ‘Em Laugh (Kermit/Fozzie), Personality (Miss Piggy), Bein’ Green (Kermit), The Heart of Rock & Roll and Shout!

The prerecorded voice track for the show uses all the main Muppeteers: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson and Steve Whitmire. In addition, there were two filmed video inserts of Frank Oz voicing and performing Fozzie and Miss Piggy. That video footage was reused in the PBS series Great Performances episode entitled The World of Jim Henson in 1994.

Two weeks after the show closed on September 2, 1991, another show using full sized Muppet costumed characters premiered on a loading dock stage near the exit of Muppet*Vision 3-D entitled Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses. The premise was that the Muppets were shooting a movie but take a break to interact with the audience by signing autographs and posing for photos. That show closed in 1994.

*  *  *  *  *

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, 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.

 

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest!!

 

September 18, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: CommuniCore at Epcot

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

COMMUNICORE

By Jim Korkis

Some of the announced changes for Epcot have been cancelled or will be delayed because of the losses of the 2020 closure of the parks.

Epcot has always been a park of things changing, including the disappearance of CommuniCore that debuted with the park in 1982.

(c) Disney

Disney described CommuniCore as “Future World’s global Main Street of ideas and inventions”. CommuniCore was located in two crescent-shaped, 100,000 square foot buildings (CommuniCore East and CommuniCore West) that faced a large fountain just beyond Spaceship Earth.

The name was a combination of the words “core” and “community,” not “communication” as many Disney guests believed. CommuniCore was meant to provide guests with an introduction and more information about the park’s major themes in a somewhat tranquil setting.

It was supposed to embody Walt Disney’s original plan for Epcot to be a community. The logo for CommuniCore was two crescent shapes facing each other divided into north and south quadrants.

The buildings housed rotating exhibits related to technology, and were replaced in 1994 by Innoventions which was a combination of the words “innovation” and “inventions”. The new area was louder and flashier with more upscale corporate-sponsored exhibits.

CommuniCore had a central, tall, winding corridor that ran though each of the buildings from end to end, with a number of entry/exit points to the outside.

CommuniCore officially included the largest shop in Epcot, the two-story 13,000 square foot Centorium (an Emporium for the 21st Century). It also included two restaurants, the Stargate Restaurant (that later became the Electric Umbrella) and Sunrise Terrace Restaurant (that later became Pasta Piazza and then Fountainview Expresso & Bakery) that were both open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

CommuniCore East showcased the Astuter Computer Revue (later Backstage Magic) demonstrating the use of computers at the park, and SMRT-1 (Smart One), a purple and chrome robot sitting on a revolving pedestal surrounded by telephones who played games using voice recognition technology with the guests–both exhibits sponsored by Sperry/UNISYS; Compute-A-Coaster where guests could assemble their own roller coaster on a video screen with assistance from an animated beaver;  American Express’ Travelport, a fourteen foot red sphere showing different vacation destinations as well as a Travel Service desk to make plans for a trip; Exxon’s Energy Exchange with games, demonstrations, films and interactive experiences like generating enough electricity for a light bulb and getting the optimum gas mileage from a car; and the Electronic Forum which had the Future Choice Theater registering guests’ opinions on a variety of topics.

CommuniCore West showcased a communications themed area sponsored by AT&T called FutureCom that predicted services that would later be provided by the internet; ExpoRobotics with exhibits on precision maneuvering like painting by industrial robot arms was first on display at the 1985 International Science Exposition in Takuba, Japan but purchased from the manufacturers by WDW; the EPCOT Discovery Center, a research center all about E.P.C.O.T. Center and Walt Disney World (later called “Ask EPCOT” and finally EPCOT Outreach); and a Teacher Center.

CommuniCore was packed with many other displays including the Population clock that displayed the rough population of the Earth and changed with every passing second, as well as the Manufactory where guests could assemble an American flag.

Just outside of CommuniCore were the WorldKey Information System kiosks, a digital information system created specifically for Epcot by Bell Laboratories and Western Electric. The main station was in the post-show area outside of Spaceship Earth until 1994. By accessing the touch screen, guests could learn about different attractions and connect with Guest Relations cast members via closed circuit video for assistance or making dining reservations.

Actor Dallas McKennon, known for providing the old prospector safety spiel on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the voice of Benjamin Franklin in the American Adventure, provided the host voice for the kiosks.

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Thanks, Jim!  More on CommuniCore is on the Disney Parks Blog here.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, 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.

 

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest!!

 

September 11, 2020   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

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

MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE AT MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

With Halloween right around the corner, some Disney fans may have forgotten that the original release of the classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was paired with another segment about a popular British character.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was a classic “C Ticket” dark ride in Fantasyland that originated at Disneyland on opening day. Its doppelganger was also an opening day attraction at Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland, but it closed in 1998 and was replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, despite guest protests.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’s story was a very loose adaptation from the Disney animated feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) focused primarily on Toad’s terrifying and irresponsible driving through London going “nowhere in particular”.

(c) Disney

The Latin motto on Mr. Toad’s coat of arms is “Toadi Acceleratio Semper Absurda” (A Speeding Toad is Always Absurd).

Guests boarded turn-of-the-last century motorcars individually named for characters in the story. Each vehicle had a quarter horsepower electrical motor drawing power from the rail beneath it.

The Disneyland version was so highly popular that the Imagineers wanted to increase the capacity for the attraction, so unlike the California ride, the Florida ride had two separate tracks and boarding areas. Each track featured some different scenes.

Track One took guests through a library, a rural English barnyard with animals, a courtroom and jail cells with convicts. Track Two allowed guests to view Toad’s trophy room, a kitchen, a gypsy camp, Ratty’s house and Winky’s Tavern.

Both tracks took a spin through the town’s plaza, circling a fountain and eventually ended on railroad tracks where an approaching train sends the vehicle to “Hell”. The guests are greeted by gleeful, little red demons having pitchforks and tails, which was a scene not in the film itself but was included because of Walt Disney’s personal feeling that reckless driving should have consequences. Officially, the scene was labeled the “Inferno Room” referencing Dante’s Inferno.

Maintenance costs were minimal. The attraction could accommodate all ages, sizes, and any health conditions. In addition, the attraction was what was known as a “push-button” ride that could be operated by any Fantasyland attraction cast member with minimal training. However, it was a slow loading attraction and the effects quickly became out-dated.

Winnie the Pooh and his friends were enjoying a huge surge of popularity while guests did not remember the film inspiration for the Mr. Toad attraction at all and there was no Toad merchandise being sold in the park. On the other hand, Pooh related merchandise was selling more than Mickey Mouse and with the addition of an attraction those sales would only increase. With the Toad’s attraction double space there was plenty of room for an attraction and a gift shop. In 1997, Disney announced that a Pooh attraction would replace Toad.

A fan campaign was launched to “Save Toad” headed by John Lefante who urged sending letters and e-mails to the Walt Disney Company by the thousands. That campaign led to actual demonstrations at the attraction called “Toad-Ins” reminiscent of the well-known “sit-ins,” and they garnered media attention. Those reports led to even more supporters, but the attraction still closed as announced.

In the new attraction on the left wall of the scene in Owl’s house, there is a painting of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to the building to Owl and there is also a picture of Mole tipping his hat to Pooh. In the Haunted Mansion pet cemetery, up near the top is the Kevin Kidney Big Fig of Mr. Toad painted to resemble an oxidized, rusting grave marker.

Disneyland Paris was originally meant to have a ride version that would have been truer to the actual film with a different final scene that would have had Toad in a plane. It was never built but a Toad Hall restaurant (with an exterior similar to Disneyland’s revised 1983 attraction) did open.

*  *  *  *  *

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, 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.

 

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest!!

 

September 4, 2020   No Comments