Columnist's note: In this article Jim Korkis wrote: "During the conversion (of the Main Street Theater), an attempt was made to save the mural, but was unsuccessful as reportedly the old paint crumbled when the canvas it was on was removed from the wall" regarding the character mural painted by Bill Justice that was originally in what is now the Main Street Theater. Jim used what he felt were reliable sources and the same information was reported elsewhere on other websites for the last year. Disney Archivist Steven Vagnini has just confirmed that most but not all of the WDW mural was saved and is in the Disney Archives.
I recently had my heart broken on a visit to Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom. I love Main Street USA and people forget that just because it doesn't have the suffix "land" in its title, it is still a land. While some people complain that there are no attractions (which wasn't true in the early years with a cinema that actually showed six films, a Penny Arcade filled with games, The Walt Disney Story exhibit, etc.), they don't realize that more than any other land, Main Street USA itself is the attraction.
Anyway, it saddened me listening to the new background music loop (that has been playing at Disneyland Park and Disneyland Paris since early this year) that eliminated all the songs from the Disney film Summer Magic. Certainly Dean Mora and his Orchestra have a prestigious pedigree but I have some concerns over the selection of songs.
I was saddened that the authentic barber chairs from Chicago in the Harmony Barber Shop had been replaced with modern ones. I was saddened that the Edison light bulb in the Car Barn was missing and no one knew if it would ever be replaced.
I mourn the loss of the two distinctive Bill Justice Disney character murals that were unique to the Magic Kingdom, but I also mourn the fact that so many Disney cast members and guests are unaware they even existed in the first place.
I've written extensively about Justice before.
Disney Legend Bill Justice was a terrifically nice, funny and talented fellow. He was an animator best known for his work on Chip and Dale. He was an Imagineer best known for his work programming Audio-Animatronics, including the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. He was a popular speaker at conventions and on cruises.
He was involved in a wide variety of Disney projects, from directing the animated "Mickey Mouse March" opening to the original Mickey Mouse Club television show, designing the first true character costumes for Disneyland, and stop-motion titles for live-action movies.
He also painted murals for the Disney theme parks. In 1976, Justice re-painted all three original Disneyland Fantasyland dark ride cast portraits (Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride) to update the "look" of the Disney characters. Currently, those attractions feature the work of the talented Kurt Raymond who referenced the original portraits, his reinterpretation and other artwork for his version.
At Walt Disney World on Main Street USA Justice painted two unique wall murals.
The Disney Company took more than four years to go through thousands of feet of taped interviews with Walt Disney to create a 23 minute tribute film titled The Walt Disney Story. Walt Disney World's version was connected to the Gulf Hospitality House in a building built expressly for the film. For the first five years, the film was sponsored by Gulf Oil Corporation.
The attraction debuted April 1973, with the dedication ceremony attended by Lillian and Edna Disney (the wives of the late Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney) on May 6.
The pre-show lobby area was filled with fascinating artifacts honoring Walt's long career. At the end of the hallway were the entrances to two 300 seat theaters. Between the entrances on a curved section of wall that jutted outward was a mural created especially for this WDW attraction by Bill Justice. It featured 170 Disney characters and used 1,200 separate colors.
Up until the mid-1980s, characters from more recent releases including The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, The Fox and the Hound, Pete's Dragon, and The Rescuers were added to the mural by artist Russell Schroeder.
Schroeder also painted an oval gold emblem with the following quote by Walt Disney. It was set in a space that was originally left purposely empty for a cast member to stand on a slightly raised platform, so it looked like they were surrounded by characters as they welcomed guests to the film.
"To translate the world's great fairy tales, thrilling legends, stirring folk tales into visual theatrical presentations and to get back the warm response of audiences in many lands has been for me an experience and a lifetime satisfaction beyond value. – Walt Disney."
Schroeder was hired at Walt Disney World in September 1971 to work in the boat marinas at the Contemporary and Polynesian Resort hotels. He approached Ralph Kent, who was the manager of the WDW art department, with his artwork. Kent offered Schroeder a position in his department in May 1972 and trained him in how to draw the Disney way. He designed figurines, posters, T-shirts, menus, pins, meal boxes and more. Along with Don "Ducky" Williams, he was heavily involved in the design for Mickey's Birthdayland. After 19 years in Orlando, he transferred to the Consumer Products area at the Disney Studios in California, becoming art director for the artists and writers in the Publishing division.
As an author, he wrote Walt Disney: His Life in Pictures, Mickey Mouse: His Life in Pictures, Disney: The Ultimate Visual Guide, as well as writing and picking the art for the "making of" editions for Tarzan and Mulan. I highly recommend two books Schroeder did after his retirement: Disney's Lost Chords and Disney's Lost Chords 2. These books are filled with never used songs from Disney animated films with previously unpublished artwork created at the time.
When The Walt Disney Story closed in 1992, guest access to view the mural became more limited. In 1998, the building became the Main Street Exposition Hall and the mural was placed off limits with the entrance to it concealed behind a curtain. In 2012, the interior was re-designed as the Main Street Town Square Theater for a Mickey Mouse meet-and-greet location.
During the conversion, an attempt was made to save the mural, but was unsuccessful as reportedly the old paint crumbled when the canvas it was on was removed from the wall.
Back in 1991, I talked with Justice about this mural's creation and this is what he shared:
"I was asked to design a mural with Disney characters for the large wall outside the entrance doors to the film The Walt Disney Story. They wanted something entertaining for this waiting area.
"I did a mural with 170 Disney characters and the final painted version was 24-feet long and 8.5-feet high. The company was worried about it getting dirty and fingerprints and mustard and ketchup and all that kind of stuff all over it. It turned out that people for some reason kind of respect it and it looks like it was freshly painted. It was done on canvas and then glued to the wall.
"I did a rendering that's five feet long and 24 inches high that was copied by Clem Hall and a couple of his assistants at the Disney Studio in what they call a "scene easel." That's a great big frame and there's a pit and you can raise and lower the final eight and a half foot canvas down into that pit and you can paint along the top of it. You can move it up a little bit until you get it up here and finally you are painting the bottom of it. Instead of being on a ladder and painting, this makes it real easy.
"They just stand on the floor and the image is always at eye level. They've got their paints over here and their brushes and everything and they project the thing on to this big canvas, make a line drawing and then they followed my color scheme for each figure and so forth. Basically, they traced my figures using the projector onto the canvas. The mural took almost four months to complete.
"All I had to do before the painting was shipped from the Studio to Florida was some minor touch-up work.
"Once it was all installed, I got a phone call. Somebody had complained that their favorite character was not on the mural. It was the Cheshire Cat. I guess I was feeling feisty or creative but I immediately responded that the cat was there. He is invisible like he is in the film and is in the upper right hand corner of the painting. He could only be seen on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 2 a.m. when the park was closed. After that, I didn't receive any more complaints.
"They have added some characters over the years.
"Most people don't realize we were going to put another one in at Disneyland that was 19 feet long. It would have been exactly the same mural, but they decided not to put it in Disneyland. They now have it in the Tokyo Building… where they did all the stuff for Tokyo Disneyland and now they're doing stuff for Euro Disneyland in that building."
I am sure many Disney fans mourn the loss of that artwork, even though the Imagineers included a tribute to it in the form of the artwork appearing on a rolled up piece of paper in Justice's mailbox slot in the new attraction.
However, I wonder how many people know of his other Main Street mural artwork that was in the Baby Care Center near Casey's Corner. Today, the interior of that location is striped wallpaper with some Plexiglas full-colored images of classic Disney characters overlaid in a handful of spots.
Certainly, the cast members that I talked to in November had no clue that the rooms ever looked any different than they do today. For nearly two decades, the location was the home to a very unique piece of Disney artwork.
For those who never saw that artwork, you can catch a glimpse of him creating it.
Here are Bill's memories of creating that mural from the same 1991 interview and he later used some of this discussion in his long out-of-print book, Justice for Disney (Tomart 1992):
"In January 1976, Walt Disney World built a Baby Station just around the corner from Main Street, but they were upset that it looked too much like a doctor's office. So I asked for a copy of the plans for the four rooms. I made a little model and made some line drawings of Disney characters for each of the walls. When I submitted my proposal, it was immediately approved and I found myself on a plane to Florida in March.
"I actually painted right on the wall. The wallpaper is a kind of a plastic with a little tooth in it and can be washed and stuff. That's the reason they chose it rather than regular wallpaper. I did it in a technique called of dry brush but it's wet paint on a brush, but it shows a little bit of texture through the line. I just did it in a brown line on the wall.
"It's a real nice baby station, much better than the one here at Disneyland because it has four rooms and a kitchen and a couple of ladies that work there that are in uniform, so they kind of look like maids. They can warm the baby's bottles in the kitchen and stuff and then they have a room where they change the diapers and they have little almost like small bunks.
"It's a real nice facility. And each wall in each room has a Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket and maybe a Gepetto on maybe one wall and a scene from Dumbo on another wall and maybe a scene from Fantasia on this wall. Each wall has a center picture that represents one of our films. As you enter, like a picture in a children's book that shows "Welcome to Baby Land," Goofy's painting it and Donald Duck's watching him and a couple of little Dalmatian puppies are looking into the paint and one puppy's running away leaving brown footprints. There are puppies all around every wall. Every wall has several puppies and footprints that go a certain height above the floor and puppies are running up the wall and sitting on top of the door and looking down like can't get down and things like this.
"There's a fire hose mounted in a wall cabinet with a door and one of the ladies that worked there said, "Can you do us something on this door? My husband works in the fire department." So I had Chip and Dale and the fire hose and Dale squirting Chip with the water. Dumb stuff like that.
"As you exit, on a wall that you pass, a small little jog in the wall, Mickey says "Have a Nice Day" and a couple of Dalmatian puppies down below. Somebody counted and there are 78 dalmatian puppies in these four rooms all together and there's something like 750 footprints. People that write, authors when they write an article or something, they've got to know statistics. I painted it all right on site.
"I'll never forget the day I finished. I was doing some drawings for people I have met while painting there and I was told that my mother had passed away. She had been recovering from a broken hip and had a heart attack at the age of 93. Disney had made a reservation for me to return home on the next flight even before I had been told the news."
According to a 1976 copy of EYES AND EARS: "A count of the mural components shows there are 74 Dalmatians with 1,268 spots on their backs leaving 186 footprints and meeting 34 other Disney characters."
Justice has a different set of numbers for the spots and footprints but I think the EYES AND EARS count is more reliable.
I have no idea when that artwork disappeared and I hope somewhere there is photo documentation of it. I suspect the new wallpaper was just placed over the existing artwork so perhaps someday, it can be rescued and restored.
Yes, I know that Walt never wanted his theme park to be a museum, but always encouraged it to be ever-changing. But Walt also never changed something without replacing it with something better. I question whether some of the changes that have been made over the years to Main Street are indeed for the better or just for the better of the bottom line when it comes to costs.
Don't forget that available right now as a holiday gift for you or your friends are two books written by me: Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories and The REVISED Vault of Walt from Theme Park Press.