Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Story of Walt, WED, and WESTCOT: Part One

The series of events that led The Disney Project to host its first ever Disney fan event is a collection of comedic and not-so-comedic anecdotes, of which I will do my best to compile for you now. It all started back in the spring of 2013. My friend Jeff Heimbuch and I were full steam ahead on the bi-weekly column Dueling Disney, and our readers had remarked more than once as to the entertainment value of our banter. The chemistry was solid, so Jeff suggested I help him out with a little presentation he was planning to give at the upcoming Disneyana convention that summer in Anaheim. He was going to talk about the infamous (and failed) WESTCOT project, and I happily agreed. Not only did it sound like fun, but I’ve been a frequent Disneyland guest since birth, so I actually remember when WESTCOT was announced.

Photo © Disney

We created a Google doc and began organizing the slideshow. I am more of a writer than a PowerPoint guy (well, more than anything, really), so I focused on gathering literature. Jeff, ever resourceful, had obtained dozens of concept images of WESTCOT from a former Imagineer who was assigned to the project. The program was looking good, and we actually had a little bit of buzz going. But then, we were run over by a dog. And his blog.

Jeff received an email from the Disneyana organizers advising us that they had the opportunity to host a panel featuring the stars from the Disney Channel series “A Dog with a Blog”. I am not sure if the dog was going to be one of the panelists. The problem was, there were no more available spots by that point. So we got bumped, for a Dog with a Blog. Let me repeat: we got bumped, for a Dog with a Blog. We weren’t thrilled, but hey, we understood what the Disneyana folks were thinking. I believe more than a few people watch the Disney Channel, so in terms of promotion, it sort of made sense. Maybe not in terms of quality, since Jeff and I had planned on killing it in there, but alas, what was done was done. The mockery of the show began, however, if for nothing else to quell our bitterness.

"Fighting" over a souvenir at the D23 Expo, August 2013 

Then one fine day I made a joke to Jeff. “Maybe we should go to Disneyana anyway and give our presentation out in the hallway.” He laughed, I laughed, we moved on. Or, did we? At that point I said to myself, “Hey, why can’t we give that presentation somewhere?” There was no reason why we couldn’t. So we immediately began looking for other conventions to serve as venues for our highly (and by highly, I mean moderately) anticipated WESTCOT talk. The search proved fruitless, however, and it looked like we might just have to wait till the next Disneyana convention in the summer of 2014. Not long after that realization, I made yet another joke that once again didn’t remain a joke for long: “Why don’t we just have our own little expo?”

Another Google doc was born. Where would we have it? Anaheim, of course. Who else could we get to appear? We both know Bob Gurr. I am friends with Jeff Kurtti. Mister Heimbuch “kind of” knows Rolly Crump. Between the two of us we realized we had the amazing fortune to know/be friends with several prominent Disney personalities. It seemed doable. Jeff and I could do WESTCOT, and some other Disney folks could do presentations of their own. So before long the Google doc was filled with over a dozen possible Disney-related presentations. Our “little expo” had turned into a weekend-long event. And why not? Many of the other Disney fan conventions were that length. Disneyana goes on for 4 days, in fact. But, the Disneyana folks have done this before. Cue the reality check.

It was too much for us to plan. At the time we were both busier than ever, and the thought of making our very first event consist of two full days of programs seemed arduous at best. As much as I hated to do it, we had to cut it back down to one day. The search continued for a venue in Anaheim, but early on, nothing in our price range seemed appealing. Then one day I was hanging out in the back offices at the Walt Disney Family Museum here in San Francisco, talking to my friends who work there. “Hey,” I said to one of them. “How much does it cost to rent our theater?”

The WDFM's beautiful theater

It was affordable. Meaning, it was an amount I would comfortably be able to put on my credit card until we sold enough tickets to cover the fee. The Museum’s theater is gorgeous, so that was a huge plus. The lower lobby came with the price of the rental, so maybe we could do autographs for whichever Disney personality we brought along? And since the theater itself has a state-of-the-art audio/video system, maybe we could also do a short film or two for entertainment value? It all seemed plausible. The downside was that we could only book it for 4 hours. Jeff and I discussed the pros and cons, and decided that the shorter time block would work out to our advantage. With less time we could keep it to just two programs, one being WESTCOT, the other being hosted by our special guest(s).  In between programs we could do autographs, show a short film or two, etc. It was perfect.

I corresponded with the events coordinator at the Museum. I was given some paperwork to fill out, and contracts to sign. By this time it was fall of 2013, and the venue was secured. I asked Bob Gurr to be our special guest, and Jeff asked Rolly Crump. They both agreed. Jeff and I had a few ideas for some short films we could create specifically for the event. We were both very much looking forward to putting together the content for our first mini event, which for a while we had nicknamed “The HeimGluck Expo”. Since we booked the WDFM, however, the event quickly became known as, "A Night at the (Walt Disney Family) Museum". Everything was going along great.

That is, until, the wheels fell off.

part two coming soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 16: Muppet Mania

This month we're joined by Estelle Hallick from This Happy Place Blog, as she shares some of her Muppet love and expertise with us. Jeff Heimbuch got lost on his way home on the day of recording, so it's just Keith and Estelle chatting about the film Muppets Most Wanted, the excellent advertising campaigns the Muppets seem to find themselves in, and their current and future presence in the Disney Parks.

Your listening options are iTunes, direct download, or via the player window below. Enjoy!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 15: Disneyland part 1

Twitter darlings and all-around great guys @EPCOTExplorer and @Epcot_Prime return to join Keith and Jeff in discussing a little-known theme park in Anaheim, California. The four friends each have varying degrees of experience with Disneyland, from total newbie to "lifelong visitor". They have a blast sharing their viewpoints with one another, as well as you! Part 1 of 2.

Your listening options are iTunes, direct download, or via the player window below. Enjoy!

Friday, February 14, 2014

This Happy Place Blog: Love Meter Series

The Happy Place Blog’s Love Meter series looks at your favorite Disney couples, and analyzes their level of compatibility. When given the chance to contribute, my first thought was to try to stand out a bit. So instead of a single couple, I decided to talk about everyone's favorite duck, Donald, and pretty much all the women he meets in The Three Caballeros.

And he met a lot.

Check out the article via the link below!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 14: Escape From Tomorrow

A few months ago, when the film Escape From Tomorrow was still kind of relevant, four friends decided via Twitter to chat about the film in an episode of The Disney Project Podcast. Corralling said friends took a little longer than planned. Beloved Twitter celebrities and friends of The Disney Project @EPCOTExplorer and @Epcot_Prime join Keith and Jeff for a very fun discussion about the controversial "film", and even share their theories on just what the heck it was about.

Your listening options are iTunes, direct download, or via the player window below. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The WDFM Podcast - Episode 1: Diane Disney Miller and Don Hahn

Last month, on the 112th anniversary of Walt Disney's birthday, The Walt Disney Family Museum launched The WDFM Podcast. In the premiere episode, it is with both a heavy heart, and an honor, that we present the final interview from the museum's founder—and Walt Disney's daughter—Diane Disney Miller. We also chat with Disney Legend and acclaimed producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) about the holiday film he produced and directed exclusively for The Walt Disney Family Museum: Christmas with Walt.

Your listening options are iTunes, the direct podcast’s page, or via the window below. Enjoy!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Disney University Program Recap

On Saturday, November 16, I attended a presentation at The Walt Disney Family Museum titled: Disney University: Walt's Vision for the Happiest Employees on Earth. Former head of training at Disney’s corporate headquarters Doug Lipp was joined by Jim Cora, Disney retired chairman of Disneyland International (and a Disney Legend) to talk about the history of Disney University.

Doug Lipp

Just four months before the opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney hired a gentleman named Van Arsdale France to train the entire staff, and instill the values that the Disney name was known for. France founded the University of Disneyland training center, which was later renamed The Disney University.

Art Agnos, the 39th mayor of San Francisco (1988-1992), reached out to the Disney University in an effort to improve the conditions of the homeless population in San Francisco. Doug Lipp actually shared a video interview with the former mayor, and in it he reiterated his admiration for the way Disney trained its employees.

Throughout the presentation, Doug shared a few interesting quotes from Van France. In a 1962 memo to Disney, proposing the creation of University of Disneyland training center, Van France warned against the dangers of apathy: “The trouble with people is that we get hardening of the mental arteries, cirrhosis of the enthusiasm, and arthritis of the imagination.” Doug also shared a quote from his co-presenter, Jim Cora: “Marketing is the time and money you spend to get people in the door. Training is the investment you make to get guests to come back and cast members to stay; it creates loyalty.”

Van Arsdale France
Photo courtesy of D23.com

Van France actually hated the word “training”. He preferred to say that “they had to develop people”.

Jim then shared a fun story with us. It was actually thanks to Walt Disney that he met Van France. Jim bumped into Walt near the Matterhorn one day, and after a brief discussion, Walt directed him to go see Van France. “Tell him Walt sent you.”

Jim Cora hangin' out in Tokyo Disney Sea
Photo courtesy of D23.com

A few years later when the Tiki Room was opening, it was originally a part of Retlaw (Walt’s privately owned company), which Jim worked for. Walt would occasionally show up to watch the rehearsals. When he asked Jim what he thought of the Tiki Room’s floor, Jim joked, “It’s awfully shiny for having a room full of birds.” Imagineers later installed little white spots throughout the floor.

In 1971, Jim assisted in the opening of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and implemented the “Disney Way of Leadership” program. By 1979, Jim had become managing director of Operations for the soon-to-be-opened Tokyo Disneyland, and was in charge of operational planning and management training. In 1985, Jim was assigned to work on Euro Disney, and was promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer for Euro Disneyland Corporation two years later. Because of his outstanding global performance, he is one of the few Disney Legends to have a window on Main Street in multiple Disney Parks, and the only American besides Walt to have one in Tokyo Disneyland.

Jim's window in Tokyo Disneyland
Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Jim went on to tell more stories from his impressive 43-year Disney career. He recalled when Walt started and led “Good Show/Bad Show” tours, and would point out specific things that fell under both categories. The two presenters even shared a wonderful photo of Walt picking up trash in Disneyland. He certainly wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and set the example. Jim also mused about the time that the workers in Tokyo were a little too clean for their own good. At one point when maintenance saw the “aged” paint in Frontierland, they gave it a fresh coat. And when they saw the dust and cobwebs inside the Haunted Mansion, they cleaned them up! All of the aging work had to be re-done.

Van France’s lessons included "Four Circumstances", which were to: innovate, support, educate and entertain.

Towards the end of the program, Doug and Jim joked that the character Ludwig Von Drake could have been patterned after Van France, since Van France also had an affinity for chalkboards! The audience had a good chuckle.

Ludwig Von Drake

Doug shared one last Walt quote with us, which actually derives from some of his early drawings. “Develop your sense of humor and eventually it will develop you.”

In 1943, the personnel department for Walt Disney Productions distributed an employee handbook titled The Ropes at Disney's. Some of the topics it covered ranged from workplace accidents to tardiness. It’s a fun little booklet complete with drawings from Disney animators. Doug shared a few photos from the handbook with us.

What is that guy on the right looking at?
Photo courtesy of brainpickings.org

The last quote Doug shared with the audience came from Van France, and may seem particularly helpful to us right-brainers: “Budgets might be tight… creativity is free.”

After the program Jim and Doug took time out to sign autographs and pose for a few pictures. Doug had his book Disney U on hand as well. I haven’t read it yet, but I hear it’s very good. And as usual, I bugged the presenters for a photo.

Jim, Keith, Doug

Thank you Doug and Jim for a fun and informative presentation!

To learn more about Doug and the terrific work he does, please visit douglipp.com.