Imagine, it’s 1965. Disneyland is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. “Mary Poppins” is a global phenomenon. There is talk of a mysterious Disney “Project X” going around. And you are asked to travel the world representing Walt Disney as “Disneyland’s Ambassador to the World.” This was the position Julie Reihm Casaletto found herself in prior to becoming the first Disney Ambassador. Since then, Disney Ambassadors have represented our parks and resorts around the world, for nearly 60 years of memories and stories. This year at D23 Expo you can hear these stories, first-hand, at The Walt Disney Archives Stage with Disney Parks Through the Decades: A Disney Ambassador Perspective. From receiving personal advice from Walt Disney to walking construction sites of our biggest parks and projects, Disney Ambassadors have had an exclusive front-row seat and inside track to all things Disney.
“D23 Expo is where pixie dust is happening,” Julie shared on returning to D23 Expo for the first time since being named a Disney Legend in 2015. While the Disney Ambassador program’s history all started with Julie, she originally turned down the role when it was first offered. Born in Galveston, Texas and moving to California at a young age, Long Beach became her home. After high school Julie went on to study English and Mass Communication at Cal State Long Beach while working weekends as a Disneyland Tour Guide. Those weekend tours led her to her first interaction with Walt Disney. While touring guests along Main Street, U.S.A., Walt had tagged along with her tour. As Julie says, “one lady was unhappy that a man who had not paid was enjoying the details of the tour.” Walt was not recognized by the guest or anyone else in the party and would continue to follow until rounding the corner in Adventureland when Walt winked to Julie and walked away. “It was my first of many occasions to witness Walt’s impish and boyish delight when observing others being in awe of his ‘baby,’ as Walt called Disneyland.”
After two years of leading tours, Julie was encouraged to apply for a new role. With Walt’s commitments continuing to increase and the upcoming “Tencennial” celebration of Disneyland, a new position was created to serve as a representative for Walt Disney and Disneyland to travel the world, speaking for Walt when he could not be there. While the opportunity was once-in-a-lifetime, Julie didn’t wish to lose a full semester of straight A’s in her junior year of college. But with a little convincing from Walt Disney himself, Julie accepted the job. “Walt was instrumental in convincing me the experience would prove to be educational too. He was right!”
The next year would be unforgettable for Julie from serving as Walt’s co-star for the “Wonderful World of Color” to getting to know Walt’s family and studio executives, every day was something new. At the end of the year, Julie would go back to school to finish her degree, but the Disney Ambassador program was officially established. The success of Julie in the role convinced leadership the program had a valuable part to play. Connie Swanson Lane was selected as the 1966 Disney Ambassador of Disneyland. In 1971 the Disney Ambassador program would expand to Walt Disney World with the selection of Debbie Dane Browne. Since then, the Disney Ambassador program has only grown with Disney Ambassadors now all around the world, making a Global Disney Ambassador Team. This D23 Expo you can hear from many of these iconic and historical Disney cast members.
“It’s an honor,” Connie Lane Swanson shared on taking to the D23 Expo stage. “It is both the guests and cast members that are the heart of Disney magic.”
Debby Dane Browne, who started as one of the original 14 hostesses of the Walt Disney World Preview Center, shared a similar feeling. “To be a part of D23 Expo and the Disney Ambassador panel is another dream come true and my cheers of joy will be heard from Sleeping Beauty Castle to Cinderella Castle!” This will be Debbie’s first return to Disneyland since her Disney Ambassador training in 1971 after being selected as Walt Disney World’s first Disney Ambassador.
Julie, Connie, Debby and other Disney Ambassador Alumni from Hawaii to Paris look forward to sharing their stories at Disney Parks Through the Decades: A Disney Ambassador Perspective on The Walt Disney Archives Stage at 4 p.m. Sunday, only at D23 Expo. We also have an exciting announcement and exclusive giveaway that involves our iconic Disney Parks trees! You will now be able to take the parks home with you like never before, and everyone attending will receive a numbered, collectible medallion.
Learn more at the upcoming panel and stay tuned to Disney Ambassador social channels for more: