Halloween at the Walt Disney World Resort

Remembering Lauren Bacall at Disney Parks

posted on August 15th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


This week we learned of the passing of legendary actress Lauren Bacall. The award-winning star of stage and screen who rose to fame in the film noir dramas of the 1940s was reportedly one of the femme fatales from Hollywood’s golden age who inspired the creative team behind “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” in their design of Jessica Rabbit.

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Ms. Bacall visited Disneyland park in the summer of 1963 with her husband, actor Jason Robards, pictured here at Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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Twenty-six years later, Ms. Bacall was on-hand for the opening festivities of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (known then as Disney-MGM Studios), where she placed her handprints in cement in the courtyard outside The Great Movie Ride – an attraction inspired by the kind of movie magic she, herself, created.

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Celebrating 45 Years of Ghoulish Delight at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park

posted on August 8th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


“When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls … Whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight. Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion.”

As a six-year-old boy, hearing those words spoken by Disney Legend Paul Frees as the “ghost host” became an indelible Disney memory for me – and don’t get me started on the stretching room, Madame Leota or the ghost that was sitting next to me on the way home! For me, there was no turning back then – or now – from one of the most uniquely entertaining Disney Parks attractions ever created.

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The 999 happy haunts of the Haunted Mansion have been throwing a swinging wake for 45 delightfully frightful years, and they’ve received the sympathetic vibrations of millions of Disneyland park guests who have come out to socialize.

The disquieting tale of the Haunted Mansion actually began more than 50 years ago when Walt Disney approved the creation of a riverfront mansion even while he hadn’t yet decided exactly what would go inside. Walt insisted, however, that the house appear well kept on the outside and not look dilapidated.

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This rare concept drawing from Ken Anderson, courtesy of our friends at the Walt Disney Imagineering Art Library, was made in 1957.

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The library also provided this color artwork created by Sam McKim in 1958.

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In 1962, construction began on the beautiful southern plantation-inspired home, and in the years that followed, as Imagineers developed (sometimes competing) themes and stories of a Haunted Mansion attraction, a sign was placed in front of its closed gates to tease what was (possibly) to come.

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The idea for the sign was reportedly sparked by a comment Walt made upon returning from a trip to London when he remarked that he had been searching castles and old English countryside estates for ghosts looking for a new place to haunt. The sign would remain in place until the Haunted Mansion opened its gates more than six years later, in August of 1969.

During those years, with their combined talents, Imagineers, including Marc Davis, Claude Coats, X Atencio, Rolly Crump, Bill Justice, and Yale Gracey, Disney Legends all, developed the attraction we know today.

Near the time of its completion, some publicity photos were taken to help illustrate the attraction’s unique blend of macabre humor and to celebrate the artistry of those responsible for bringing it to … life.

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Here, special effects designer Yale Gracey tries to keep the lid on one of his latest creations.

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In this photo, Bill Justice tries to celebrate some of his technological accomplishments with a grim grinning ghost.

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Finally, cameras captured a sighting of the elusive Hatbox Ghost with Yale Gracey.

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“There’s a little matter I forgot to mention. Beware of hitchhiking ghosts!”

Whether your first “doom buggy” ride was today, or 45 years ago, the Haunted Mansion is what it has always been: a true original that’s pure Disney magic.

Hurry baaaaaack…

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Remembering James Garner at the Disneyland Resort

posted on July 21st, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Over the weekend we learned of the passing of Oscar-nominated actor James Garner. In an award-winning career that spanned six decades, his work with Disney included The Castaway Cowboy and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Today we’re looking back at a special memory Mr. Garner made at the Disneyland Resort.

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting James Garner a few times during his run on the ABC comedy “8 Simple Rules.” He was friendly, funny and obviously very much a grandfather figure to his younger co-stars.

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In September 2004 he appeared with the cast of the show at an event at Disney California Adventure park called ABC Primetime Preview Weekend.

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During this event, I gave Mr. Garner a copy of a photo we have in our archives of him with his wife, Lois, celebrating their daughter Gigi’s birthday at Disneyland in 1965. We believe the photo was taken at the Tahitian Terrace.

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When I handed him this photo backstage before a media appearance, Mr. Garner said, “Oh my, it’s my Gigi! Oh, I can’t wait to show this to Lois!” He had never seen the photo before, and he thanked me warmly before excitedly gathering the cast around him to see the picture.

What he surely couldn’t have known that afternoon was that while he was recalling a fond Disney memory from long ago, he had just made a brand new one for me.

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A Look Back at July 20, 1969: Apollo 11 Moon Landing Watched Live at Disneyland Park

posted on July 18th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


On the afternoon of July 20, 1969, just steps away from an attraction called “Flight to the Moon,” thousands of Disneyland park guests gathered at the Tomorrowland Stage to watch a seminal event in human history unfold on live television.

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Just last week, while researching another project, I came across this rare color image in our archives that shows the Apollo 11 Moon Landing being watched live at Disneyland park.

In the years that followed this momentous event, we were fortunate to welcome two members of the remarkable Apollo 11 crew to Disneyland park.

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In February 1989, Buzz Aldrin joined us for the Challenger Spirit Salute, an event to honor the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

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In July 2005, Neil Armstrong was on hand for the “re-launch” of Space Mountain. This photo was taken just above the exact spot where all those years earlier, Disneyland guests gathered in almost unimaginable anticipation to watch as he became the first man to step foot on the moon.

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John Rhys-Davies Returns to Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland Park

posted on June 26th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


You never know who you might encounter along the perilous pathways through the remote jungles of India’s lost delta while searching for the mysterious Temple of the Forbidden Eye. John Rhys-Davies, who of course portrayed Indy’s faithful friend, Sallah, in two Indiana Jones films, visited the Disneyland Resort recently, and together with his family and friends, we made our way to Indiana Jones Adventure.

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“Not to worry,” John said. “Sallah has the map!”

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During our expedition, John told me that despite his appearance inside the queue of our attraction for nearly 20 years, this would actually be the very first time he would ride it and that he was thrilled to be able to bring along his eight-year-old daughter, Maia (pictured here with a family friend) for her very first Disneyland visit. “The best way to see Disneyland, actually, is with children and through a child’s eyes,” John said. “It’s a joy to come here with my daughter, who’s come all the way from New Zealand.”

After riding the attraction – not once, but twice – John said, “It’s really wonderful, isn’t it? It’s a great rollicking adventure. It’s just the right side of scary.” Maia added, “It was absolutely petrifying! I quite liked the boulder where it drops down. Oh, and the snake!”

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As I mentioned, John appears as Sallah in the queue of Indiana Jones Adventure, so we set out on our own photo archive adventure. Our team of “top … men” was able to recover this rare artifact – a picture taken while filming the newsreel footage shown deep within the temple as guests prepare to board their transports.

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Jessica Alba Celebrates Her Daughter’s Birthday at the Disneyland Resort

posted on June 18th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Jessica Alba and her family visited the Disneyland Resort recently to celebrate a special occasion: daughter Honor’s sixth birthday!

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Here, Jessica, her husband Cash Warren and younger daughter Haven join the birthday girl for a special photo with Walt and Mickey at Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure park.

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A Look Back at June 14, 1959: Grand Opening of the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Submarine Voyage at Disneyland Park

posted on June 13th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


The first major expansion of Disneyland park included three brand-new attractions so special they helped usher in a brand-new era of something called an “E-Ticket.” As he had four years earlier, Walt Disney planned to share the celebration of this expansion with a national television audience during a television special hosted by Art Linkletter on ABC. Walt invited more than 2,000 members of the press, celebrities and dignitaries to attend, including Vice President Richard Nixon, his wife, Pat, and their daughters, Tricia and Julie, who sent us a special message you’ll read later in this post.

Walt Disney sent the following letters to the vice president in May of 1959 as he was finalizing his plans for the biggest event since he opened the park.

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With assistance from the Walt Disney Archives and the Nixon Presidential Library I was able to piece together details from this event as well as solve some lingering “mini-mysteries” from the festivities of Sunday, June 14, 1959, that might surprise you.

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Using the text of the actual itineraries, finalized just two days before this event, here’s how the day unfolded:

Itinerary for Sunday, June 14, 1959

  • 07:30am – ABC–TV personnel arrives to set up equipment and rehearse
  • 09:15am (approximate) – Vice President and family to meet with Walt Disney at the Monorail Station for press photographs on the dedication of the Monorail

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With this morning publicity photo shoot we have the answer to one of those “mini-mysteries” I mentioned. Fans may have noticed that the Nixon family is wearing different clothing in some of the Monorail dedication photos from this day. As it turns out, these early-morning pictures, which include Art Linkletter as the Monorail pilot, were taken to enable wire services and newspapers east of the Rockies to include the photography in their Monday morning editions. Press photographers and television cameras would capture the official dedication later in the afternoon.

  • 12:00pm – Parade starts forming. Lunch at Red Wagon Inn for celebrities
  • 12:15pm – On return from Church, the Vice President and family will be guests of Walt Disney at an informal luncheon at his apartment.
  • 01:15pm – Pre–parade steps off from gate by Fire Station. Vice President and party to parade in “horseless carriages” from City Hall to the official reviewing stand.

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The reviewing stand for this special parade was built at the central hub of the park with a clear view down Main Street, U.S.A. In this photo, Walt is seen talking with the vice president as Mrs. Nixon looks on. Seated behind the Nixon family you’ll also see Roy O. Disney, his wife, Edna, and Walt’s son-in-law, Ron Miller with two of Walt’s grandchildren on his lap.

  • 01:30pm – Parade steps-off from gate by Opera House

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This fun photo captures one of my favorite moments from this day. Look closely at this rare color picture and you’ll see Hayley Mills, Roy O. Disney and Diane Disney Miller in the background. The man pictured between Walt Disney and Vice President Nixon is Meredith Willson, composer of the smash hit musical, “The Music Man,” which was still in its first theatrical run on Broadway at the time. Mr. Willson was an invited guest of Walt’s who was seated behind the vice president. During the television taping of this special parade, host Art Linkletter says, “What do I see down there? Meredith Willson, would you come up here for a minute?” Mr. Willson then came to the front of the reviewing stand. Art continued, “I want to hear from an expert. You’re ‘Mr. Music Man,’ what do you see coming up the street?”

To Mr. Wilson’s apparent amazement, what he saw was an all-brass band including 76 trombones, marching down Main Street, U.S.A., playing his signature song from “The Music Man,” “Seventy Six Trombones!” Mr. Willson could be overheard saying, “I’ve been saying it all afternoon, but Walt Disney, when he does anything, he does it right, doesn’t he? Listen to that!”

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As this incredible band approached the reviewing stand, Art led Mr. Willson to a small platform in the middle of the street, telling him, “Come on up here Meredith!” The drum major handed his hat and baton to Mr. Willson who then conducted the band to the finale of the song as the crowd roared from one end of Main Street to the other.

  • 02:10pm (approximate) – Matterhorn Show
  • 02:15pm (approximate) – Vice President and family will be escorted from the reviewing stand to the rear of the Carnation Ice Cream store on Main Street for special photographs. Following these photos, the family will return to Walt Disney’s apartment.
  • 03:00pm – Matterhorn Bobsleds, Autopia, and Motor Boats open to the press
  • 03:15pm – The Vice President and his family will be taken to Monorail Station in Tomorrowland for press photography of the Monorail dedication
  • 03:30pm (approximate) – Submarine Dedication ceremony

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Following an introduction by Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Mildred Nelson, wife of the chief machinist on the the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, christens sub D-301, appropriately also named “Nautilus.”

  • 04:00pm (approximate) – Monorail Dedication ceremony. The Vice President and family will participate in the actual television dedication of the Monorail. Following the dedication, they will be returned to the apartment and the Vice President will be free to conduct any meetings that will be necessary, utilizing the office located adjacent to the patio of Walt Disney’s apartment.

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In these photos taken during the afternoon press photocall and official dedication of the Monorail, you can see the large scissors that Tricia and Julie Nixon used during the ceremony. What isn’t clear from these photos is that the scissors weren’t exactly cooperating. The stubborn dedication ribbon required Walt Disney, himself, to step in and help the Nixon daughters — just a little.

  • 04:15pm – Submarine and Monorail open to press guests
  • 05:00pm – 08:00pm – Press party at Holidayland with buffet and special entertainment

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  • 06:15pm (approximate) – Fireworks display
  • 06:30pm (approximate) – Walt Disney will meet Vice President Nixon and family and escort them to the informal press buffet and party in Holidayland

Walt invited the Nixon family back two years later when the Monorail track was expanded to include the Disneyland Hotel. In this letter, Walt also mentions those pesky scissors from the 1959 event.

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As you can see from the handwritten assistant’s note at the bottom of this letter, the Nixon family was unable to attend due to the former vice president’s travel schedule, but they did visit Disneyland again later that summer and at least one more time, in the late 1960s.

On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of this landmark day in Disneyland Resort history, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower sent the following message exclusively for Disney Parks Blog readers:

“We are pleased and excited to join Disney fans around the world in celebrating the 55th anniversary of the iconic Disneyland Monorail. When we cut the ribbon and took the very first Monorail ride on June 14, 1959, we could not have imagined what a popular icon it would become. For over five decades, it has provided countless families that special Disney experience – just as it did ours.

“Our family visited Disneyland as often as we could. It was then – as it is now – truly the ‘happiest place on earth,’ thanks to the visionary Walt Disney. Our parents cherished Walt’s years of friendship, not to mention his warmth, creativity and contagious sense of humor. He was, on that warm June day, charming as ever. His excitement for life has inspired millions across the globe.

“We send our best wishes on this special day of celebration. Congratulations to Disneyland, and may it continue to inspire joy and hope, as it has done for us for nearly 60 years.”

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Heidi Klum Meets Mickey Mouse at Disneyland Park

posted on June 4th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Heidi Klum and her family visited the Disneyland Resort last week, just a few days before her birthday, and we met up with her in Adventureland over at the Jungle Cruise.
Heidi Klum Meets Mickey Mouse Aboard Jungle Cruise at Disneyland Park

Mickey Mouse stopped by to surprise her and we got this fun picture just before the expedition began. No shortage of fun skippers here!

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A Look Back at Celebrated Disneyland Resort Guests: Laurence Olivier – 1976

posted on May 22nd, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Sir Laurence Olivier was born on this day in 1907. Widely regarded as the greatest actor of the 20th century, he was a prolific master of stage and screen who captivated audiences in both classical and modern works during his decades-long career.

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This photo with Mickey Mouse was taken inside Disneyland City Hall as Mr. Olivier signed our Guest book during his only known visit to Disneyland park in August 1976.

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A Look Back at Celebrated Disneyland Resort Guests: Don Rickles – 1974

posted on May 8th, 2014 by George Savvas, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort


Today is Don Rickles’ birthday and to celebrate this comedic legend’s special day I’m sharing some rarely seen photos of “Mr. Warmth” enjoying some Disney Parks magic.

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This 1974 picture features Don Rickles and his longtime pal, Bob Newhart, posing with Mickey Mouse in Tomorrowland. I can only imagine what Mickey overheard standing between these two funnymen.

Years later, of course, Mr. Rickles would become known to Disney fans as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Disney•PixarToy Story” films.

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This next photo was taken at Walt Disney Imagineering as the creative forces behind Toy Story Midway Mania! unveiled the Mr. Potato Head Audio-Animatronics figure to the man who gave him his distinctive voice. Mr. Rickles said they did a “magnificent job” bringing the character to life and he was especially happy to have his young grandchildren there to see it with him. It was on this day in February 2008 that I first met Mr. Rickles, quickly finding myself on the receiving end of his rapid-fire wit. I was thrilled, to say the least, and I still wear his playful insults as a badge of honor!

Happy Birthday, Don!

Mr. Potato Head is a registered trademark of Hasbro Toys.

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