“I never imagined this would happen,” Mike reflects as the lights on TRON Lightcycle / Run presented by Enterprise flicker from blue to green in anticipation of its opening just days away. “Once in a lifetime” is an overused phrase, but this moment was just that, as Video Producer Mike Stoops and his photographer son Bennett finally had the opportunity to work on the same team. For many cast members, working at Disney means joining a found family of sorts. But as Mike realized in this full-circle moment, Disney itself was the beginning of the Stoops family as we know it.
Boy Meets Girl
Mike has worked for The Walt Disney Company for 40 years in roles in Public Relations, audio-visual tech and Entertainment — but he began his story driving floats for the Show Services department at Disneyland Resort. His middle brother, who worked in Entertainment at the time, arranged the interview, and Mike was hired in 1982. “I didn’t find Disneyland,” he reflects. “Disneyland found me.”
In 1983, Mike transferred to the Entertainment department, where a few years later he met someone very special. Jody Fricker was new on the job and unsure where to go for her break at the Disneyland Hotel — so of course, Mike showed her. He took her to the cast café, recommended she enjoy a toasted ham and cheese and then, as Jody fondly recalls, said, “You know what, I think I will go ahead and just have my lunch with you, if you don’t mind.” The rest, one might say, was history.
Mike and Jody’s early days are sprinkled with funny anecdotes, and the couple laughs as they paint the picture. Their first unofficial date was at a Dodgers baseball game, where Jody fell asleep after coming straight from an early-morning shift. To this day, Mike defends that he had “literally asked everybody else” to the game and no one could go. For their first real date the pair went to dinner and to see “Weekend at Bernie’s” — and Jody noticed that “two couples kept looking at us, watching us have our first date. It was really awkward.” As it turns out, one of the couples were friends of Mike’s — and their future best man and matron of honor!
Mike jokes that he was “pretty oblivious” early in their relationship, when Jody would call him from a payphone backstage asking to hang out. “We’re a couple now,” she laughs. “It’s what you do.” But within 6 months, they both knew they’d found the one.
It had become a running joke that Mike wanted to propose but didn’t have the ring. So one day the couple drove to Disneyland, and Mike asked Jody to wait in Town Square while he bought a diamond ring on Main Street, U.S.A. (with, Jody mentions, their cast member merchandise discount). Main Street, U.S.A. was a little different back then — New Century Jewelry sold fine jewelry, and Jody had picked out 3 rings she liked. Mike proposed at the “romantic” exit of “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” and then it was time for the next generation of Stoops.
The Next Generation of Stoops
“I remember one day seeing Dad go through the backstage door. I’m like ‘Wow, that was so cool. He gets to go through the secret door that you don’t know is a door.'” – Bennett
Mike and Jody’s three kids grew up watching their dad work at Disney. And when their first child, Alex, graduated high school, it was only natural that he end up working there, too. In fact, he got his Disney start in Show Services just like his dad, thanks to a conversation Mike had on the Disneyland tram with his old Show Services boss. A few years later, younger brother Bennett followed in Alex’s footsteps. The two worked with some old colleagues of Mike’s that were still at Show Services three decades later — and became experts at maneuvering big box trucks through narrow backstage roads. After growing up around Disney, Alex reflects that the job felt “pretty familiar.” He shares, “A lot of people are like, ‘This is where the magic is going to get ruined for you.’” But both he and Bennett agreed the magic was still there. And a flurry of unique opportunities, like chauffeuring NFL players to local airports and setting up for events at Club 33, meant there was never a dull moment on the clock.
Youngest sibling Claire was the next to follow in her family’s footsteps. “I always knew I wanted to work for Disney,” she explains. “The second I turned 18, I started auditioning.” While waiting to hear back about Entertainment roles, she worked in Custodial in the parks. Bennett had transferred to the PhotoPass department at this time, and the pair would run into each other while working along Main Street, U.S.A. “I’d be like, ‘That’s my brother!’” Claire laughs.
Eventually, Claire transferred to Entertainment Costuming — where she had the opportunity to help open the “Magic Happens” Parade — and applied for a Disney College Program over at Walt Disney World Resort. And upon her acceptance, a whole new chapter of the Stoops family story began.
New Beginnings for the Stoops
Claire likes to joke that her family followed her to Florida. But it was all thanks to good timing that Claire’s College Program move coincided with a job opportunity for Mike, so the whole family — minus Alex! — chose to pack their bags together and head to Walt Disney World Resort. These days, the family’s decision to move to Florida gives them the chance to call a whole new resort home, with new opportunities in store.
While Jody and Alex no longer work for the company, Disney remains an integral part of the entire family. Jody reminisces that her first summer working in Entertainment was “the best time of my life.” For Alex, visiting the parks remains a family activity that reiterates how “Disney’s been a part of my life since day one.” As for Claire? Now in Entertainment Costuming at Magic Kingdom, she shares that she saw the writing on the wall. “I saw it all unfold,” she says of the Stoops becoming a “Disney family.” “It’s all I’ve ever known and seen.”
All three kids hope to carry on the Disney tradition. Bennett, now with the Disney Fine Art Photography team, says he would encourage his children to apply. He shares, “You feel like you’re a part of something — it’s just a unique opportunity.” He emphasizes that Disney is a great place to explore a variety of careers in one place, with exposure to “so many different avenues.” And in a moment of fate, Bennett’s journey brought him right back to his dad at the TRON Lightcycle / Run media event.
Mike frequently takes time to look back on the life he’s built through Disney. “Job, career, family, opportunity,” he says. “It’s meant everything to me.” From his and Jody’s early days on the West Coast to the legacy they’ve built for their children, the Stoops name is one that just may carry on in our cast members for generations.
Want to hear the Stoops family’s full story? Check out this look back in time — created by Mike and Bennett themselves!
For more stories celebrating our incredible cast members, stay tuned to the Disney Cast Life blog.