My first formal interview with outgoing Imagineer Extraordinaire Tony Baxter came in January 1996. Two weeks prior, he had stopped by my table at the NFFC Disneyana show to say how much he had enjoyed my book Mouse Tales. He explained that during college he had worked at Disneyland, scooping ice cream at Carnation and later piloting submarines around the lagoon in Tomorrowland. He confirmed several of the wackier tales in the book and recalled the identities of a number of the unnamed cast members featured in the anecdotes.
I mentioned that I was writing a second Disney-related book, and asked if he would consent to an interview. I had begun work on Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks, a look at the making of Disney’s classic animated features and the park attractions they inspired. I couldn’t imagine anyone with more insight into—or greater storytelling ability—for the theme park sections. I was correct. To this day, I consider our three-plus-hour conversation at Granville’s at the Disneyland Hotel to be the most educational, valuable, and one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever conducted. (And, he graciously picked up the check, arguing that he received an employee discount.)
My first questions, however, initially surprised Tony. He thought I was working on a second Mouse Tales book and wanted to share his memories as an hourly cast member. I did record his tales and now, 17 years later, here they are, Tony Baxter’s Mouse Tales:
Working at Carnation, we had one girl who was a klutz. One day, a co-worker asked her for a dishrag. She tossed it right past him, and the wet, dirty rag landed on a female customer’s chest. Another time, she forgot to put the cover on the milk-shake machine and huge chunks of ice cream and milk and syrup went flying everywhere, re-coloring the walls and windows. Then, she forgot to put the pin on the end of the whipped cream dispenser, so when she hooked it up to the CO2, all the whipped cream sprayed out everywhere.
And another day she was pushing a giant 5-pound bucket of shrimp sauce across Main Street on a cart and hit a bump. The bucket fell, sauce sprayed everywhere. People were covered with sauce, screaming. I looked up and my first thought was that some terrible accident had happened. Then I realized, “Oh, thank goodness, it’s just (that particular cast member).”
One kid—Carmen—was hired at Carnation, who was at the high end of mentally challenged. He was selling ice cream cones and no one could understand why he was so popular with all the girls from around the park. They were so friendly with him. It turns out he was just giving away the cones without charging them. So Disneyland got an undercover agent to watch him and waited until it added up to grand theft—at 10-cents a scoop that’s like 3,000 cones! But this guy was so basic, all you had to do was tell him it was wrong and he would have stopped.
Cast members at Carnation would pull pranks on their last day of work. One sabotaged the whipped cream dispensers by filling them with water, so they would ruin the first banana split of the day. Another time, someone filled the freezer that we scooped ice cream out of with water and dishrags. We arrived the next morning to discover every bucket of ice cream encased in frozen water soaked with greasy rags.
A guest looking for "it’s a small World" once asked, “Excuse me, young man, can you tell me where the Valley of the Dolls is?”
There was a woman standing outside Monsanto (Adventure through Inner Space) who was getting more and more panicked. After some time I asked her what was the matter. And she said she’d told her son when he got to the small part to wave.
I overheard a young man say to his date as they were getting off Monsanto: “What do you mean? There’s plenty of time. Let’s go again.” I didn’t want to know.
A man was despondent when we replaced Monsanto with Star Tours because for years he’d been promising his son that when he got older he’d show him the place where he was conceived, and now they’d never be able to share that special experience together.
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.