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I figured that last politically incorrect interview was going to get me into trouble—but just how I never could have imagined.


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A few weeks ago, I received a call from a reporter at USA Today asking my thoughts on the Disneyland hostess who made a stink about not being allowed to wear her Muslim head-covering on stage.

I explained that Disneyland’s dress code originated 55 years ago as a way to make employees blend into his show. “Walt wanted people to be as friendly, clean-cut, and all-American as possible, and you couldn’t stand out in any way,” I related. “In the early days, there were few if any minorities...it was a Barbie-and-Ken mold.”

Some days later, I received an e-mail from a critic, taking me to task for my quote—not that my point was offensive, insensitive or inaccurate, just anachronistic. The person wrote:

Are you using common metrics? You mentioned Barbie and Ken, but:

  • Disneyland’s cast member dress code debuted in 1955.
  • There was a guest dress code, too—I’m uncertain of the date and have to defer to your research.
  • Barbie didn’t exist until 1959.
  • Ken didn’t exist until 1961 (dating an older woman, Ken?).
  • Many of Barbie’s outfits would have violated the guest dress codes during the late 1960s.

Common metrics is a good reason—Barbie is worldwide. Matter of fact, Barbie starred in two Pixar/Disney releases, and I have several Disneyland/Walt Disney World Barbies in my collection along with my Mickey Mouse ears.

Yes, you guessed it. The note was indeed from a nit-picky MENSA member. But, no, I didn’t mind the correction. You see, I’d expect nothing less from this critic, Alan Cranford of Carson City, Nevada, a regular reader since my first book in the mid-1990s and an electronic pen pal since the first days of MousePlanet in the early 2000s.

Over the years, Alan has sent me dozens of e-mails, always focusing on the trivial, but never less than fascinating.

Like TV detective Adrian Monk, Alan has a knack for spotting minute details the rest of us glance past. And Disneyland’s stuffed to the berm with captivating minutiae.

Did you know that there’s a brass plaque inside Club 33 stating the maximum capacity of one of its dining rooms as 33? Alan did.

Did you know that the big park map inside the Main Street Train Station is actually a telegraph, with lighted bars to show the track position of each train running? Yup, Alan noticed that, too.


Telegraph inside the Main Street Station’s terminal building lets guests know exactly where on the track each of the steam locomotives is. Photo by Alan Cranford.

One of Alan’s most fascinating finds was pointed out to him early one morning by a cast member. He’d entered the park before operating hours, on an early-bird pass, and while the other guests were hustling toward the rides in Toontown, Alan was snooping around Main Street.

“This was my chance to photograph all those areas on Main Street without blocking traffic, without photographing other people, and getting clear unobstructed photos,” he remembers. An employee noticed his emphasis on the seemingly insignificant and pointed out an example of Walt Disney’s similar attention to detail: a two-toned light bulb. There are alternating red and white bulbs above the entrance to Coke Corner. Because the section has an odd number of fixtures, at some point there would have to be either two red or two white bulbs next to each other. Evidently Walt instead insisted that, to maintain the pattern, one bulb be white on one side and red on the other.


Dilemma: How to alternate red and white lightbulbs above Coke Corner without having two of the same color in a row? Photo by Alan Cranford.


Walt's Solution: The two-toned lightbulb. Photo by Alan Cranford.

The 53-year-old has been a Disney fan all his life. But since his dad was in the Air Force and moved around a lot, Alan didn’t get the chance to visit Disneyland until May of 1972, after his family had settled in San Diego. The visit was a trip with his ninth grade class, and the multitude of details overwhelmed him with “sensory saturation.”

He began noticing the little things the moment he passed through the turnstiles. He was riveted by Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, "it’s a Small World." “Even the small dark rides in Fantasyland had so much detail—and were less than three minutes long—that it took several trips to see most of the things in there,” Alan recalls. “Then I began noticing the theming in detail. I had expected ‘set fronts’ and didn’t really expect close-ups The on-stage details were amazing.”

He fell in love with Tomorrowland and soaked in everything in Adventureland, though he couldn’t afford the dinner show at the Tahitian Terrace. “I felt fortunate to get in the gate,” he remembers. “When I ran out of tickets, I wandered around looking at things until it was time to get back on the bus and ride back home.” He recalls near every visit since, including trips to Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.

His proclivity for spotting odd details started off with accidental observations. “I think they were accidental,” he says. “I read everything I could get my hands on, and I caught teasing glimpses on television, in movies, and later on video. I started asking questions and taking guided tours. Authors wrote informative books. I was detail-oriented enough that my active duty Marine Corps career was avionics technician—I fixed aircraft radios. I had an Army career as a military intelligence analyst—more detail work involving a mass of information. After working as a contract security officer specializing in anti-terrorism in the Middle East, I wound up in the Nevada Army National Guard as a communications operator. I was also working as a logistician for the Nevada Army National Guard state headquarters for a full-time job. All these were detail-oriented work that benefits from being able to see the big picture and then fit the details into that larger puzzle.”

He attributes his noticing all these things to a combination of intense curiosity, high intelligence, and a little time on his hands. “I’ve always been curious,” Alan admits. “How things worked was a driving motivation to read a lot—that and boredom.”

Like the fictional Mr. Monk, Alan’s radar goes off when something’s not quite right. “Problem is that I read voraciously and have trouble suspending disbelief,” he admits. “Get the little things right, though, and big things can be halfway right and work. You have to be very careful with the little details (omission works—getting them wrong doesn’t), because we humans notice the little details. We notice those jarring little errors when those details are out of place—we’re just made that way. Great big things just overwhelm. Basically, we don’t notice the forest, because we are looking for fruit and nuts in the trees.”

Disneyland’s Guest Relations probably thought they were dealing with a nut when they received this letter from Alan earlier this summer: “I saw Mlle. Greenwell’s portrait during the New Year holiday period. When I visited Disneyland for the 55th Anniversary Mlle. Greenwell was AWOL. Did she take her fortune in pirate loot and settle someplace?”


Cranford's latest case was cracking the mystery of the missing pirate portrait, Mlle. Greenwell. Photo by Alan Cranford.

Disney replied, confused:

Dear Alan,

Thank you for your e-mail to the DISNEYLAND® Resort.

Unfortunately, we are unsure of what you are requesting. Please explain your request further so that we may respond appropriately.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write. We hope you will have the opportunity to visit the DISNEYLAND® Resort soon and trust your visit will be pleasant in all regards.

Sincerely,

Linda Trump

DISNEYLAND® Resort
Guest Communications

I suggested to Alan that Disney might have been blowing him off because he was asking a question they didn’t have a ready answer to. “That was my number two problem in school—I asked teachers questions that they had no canned answers for,” he replied. “My number one problem was being beaten up by the other school kids.”

Still, Alan pressed on, with a clearer letter to Guest Relations:

Guest Communications,

Mlle. Greenwell was one of the portraits in the pre-show area of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. I first saw the new pirate portrait about two years ago and inquired at City Hall because I couldn’t find any references in pirate histories of a Mlle. Greenwell. City Hall told me that she was a contest winner, a “real person,” and having her portrait on the wall of the Pirates of the Caribbean was her prize. I last saw and photographed Mlle. Greenwell’s portrait on New Year’s Day 2010. I’ve attached my photo.

When I visited Disneyland for the 55th Anniversary, the spot where Mlle. Greenwell’s portrait had been was painted over.

What happened? Was her moment of fame over?

Alan Cranford
Carson City, NV

A few days later, Alan’s persistence paid off:

Dear Alan,

Thank you for your e-mail to the DISNEYLAND® Resort.

The portrait of Mademoiselle Greenwell remained part of the attraction through June 2009.

Greenwell won the “Become a Disney Pirate” contest that the company ran to promote the home video version of the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Man’s Chest. As a result, a likeness of her in full pirate regalia now graces the walls that guests pass just before they board the popular ride.

When she was first informed by email that she had won the contest, Greenwell dismissed the notification as spam. But when a Disney representative contacted her by phone, she realized that her pirate plunder was real. To create the “Mademoiselle Greenwell” character, Disney flew the winner and some of her pals to Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California. There, she met artist Jim Crouch, whose drawings of legendary pirates line the walls of the attraction’s queue line. Greenwell donned a pirate costume, and Crouch sketched her.

Crouch and Greenwell reunited on January 29 to participate in a ceremonial unveiling of her portrait at Disneyland’s Pirates attraction. The two were dressed as pirates and were joined by some of the park’s pirates for a raucous skit that included a bit of comedy and some singing. While Crouch had been prepped for the event and remained in character, Greenwell had no idea what to expect. She was a great sport, and the friends who accompanied her got a big kick out of her antics.

Crouch, who also had sittings with the films’ stars Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow) and Geoffrey Rush (Barbarossa) to create portraits for the ride, says that he enjoyed painting Greenwell and turning her into a pirate. Like many Imagineers, Crouch is a lifelong park fan.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write. We hope you will have the opportunity to visit the DISNEYLAND® Resort soon and trust your visit will be pleasant in all regards.

Sincerely,

Linda Trump

DISNEYLAND® Resort
Guest Communications

Alan is hopeful that many more obscurities are awaiting his discovery during future park visits. “Fortunately,” he smiles, “I’m not going to be banned from Disneyland for life for thinking outside the box. Is it obvious? I never really entered the box.”


Erstwhile 'theme park detective' Alan Cranford has become his own detail at Disneyland. Photo by Alan Cranford.



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(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.