As Entertainment Producer Vin Reilly stood in Town Square, welcoming guests back to Disneyland park the day we reopened, she couldn’t help but think about how her grandfather and parents must have felt as original cast members on the park’s original opening day 66 years ago, on July 17, 1955.
“When we opened this year, it was such an emotional day for guests and those of us who were working,” said Vin, recalling the April 30 reopening following the theme parks’ 13 ½-month closure due to the pandemic.
… how excited and anxious we were about having everything ready in time and the sense of pride in what we had accomplished. Back then, they said the whole world was watching. We didn’t have to build an entire theme park, but when we reopened, it felt like the world was watching us, too.”
When Vin joined the Parades department 46 years ago as a high school student, she was already a third-generation cast member, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Jack Reilly, who was chief engineer during construction of the park and wound up staying on into the 1960s. He had been recruited by his best friend, Joe Fowler, the retired Navy admiral who Walt Disney hired to oversee construction of Disneyland. It wasn’t long before Jack Reilly persuaded his son Bob, also an engineer, to also move down to Orange County from San Francisco to join the growing team.
“My father’s first reaction was, ‘I’m not going to work for a carnival! Are you crazy?’” Vin recalls. “People just didn’t understand what Disneyland was because there had never been anything like it.” Bob Reilly wound up joining the team before opening day and eventually became director of operations. Vin’s mother was hired on as one of the original tour guides and later, chaperoned Disney Ambassadors internationally. “My mother is from the South and can talk up a storm,” Vin laughed. “She had all these great stories to share with guests about how the park was built from listening to my father and grandfather.”
Over the years, all three of Vin’s siblings worked at the park, too, in Attractions, Parades and Costuming. In fact, since 1954, at least one member of the Reilly clan has worked at Disneyland — with more than 100 years of service between all seven. Vin’s grandfather even came out of retirement in the 1970s to help build Walt Disney World Resort. Vin holds the record, though, for the longest tenure.
But she didn’t always plan on building her career at the resort. In fact, while working part-time in the Parades department, first as a performer, then as a lead and foreman, she was studying to be a teacher. “I worked in all the parades — it was a blast,” she recalls, adding that she didn’t even realize how much she was learning as she worked in the various parts of the production. She had started teaching at Edison High School in Huntington Beach when she was offered a full-time position as manager of the Parades Department and left teaching, although she laughs at the irony. “I was still working with lots of high school students!” Eventually, she was asked to be a production manager to plan for future projects. “After all these years, I probably could teach a class on how to build a parade, including all aspects of finance and business operations, communications and media,” she said. “Disney is unique. You can’t get an education like this anywhere else.”
Vin’s historical connection to the early days of Disneyland park can be felt in her office, where she plans parades, fireworks spectaculars and theatrical shows. Behind her desk is a photo of her grandfather paddling one of the original canoes on the Rivers of America with passengers Walt Disney and Joe Fowler. One of her prized possessions is a notebook in which her grandfather logged daily progress during the park’s yearlong construction. “We talk about running around getting ready to reopen, but then you read a page and see he was trying to get the motorboat water going one minute and then the next, he was dealing with the chicken fryer over in New Orleans. It was pretty crazy.”
Vin and her teammates are making history in their own right with the reopening of Disneyland Resort. She’s excited that the team has begun reintroducing beloved entertainment, like the characters, “Mickey’s Mix Magic” and the Disneyland Band, and she looks forward to bringing back more entertainment offerings in the coming months. While she can’t give away details, Vin said the future is bright:
While Vin focuses on the future, she acknowledges that she wishes she had spent more time talking to her late father and grandfather about the past. But she treasures the vivid stories her mother continues to share — “like the one about the brassiere shop Walt opened on Main Street,” Vin said with a chuckle.
“I will always treasure my family’s history and I always try to uphold those traditions and values” — hard work and innovation with the goal of providing an unmatched experience for guests, she said. “This place is a big part of my family’s legacy. And it’s been a great journey, that’s for sure.”