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Sheila Hagen, editor

David Mumford

Monday, January 27, 2003
by Sheila Hagen, MousePlanet staff writer

When envisioning which Disney artists I would profile for the Architects of Magic, I expected to write about those who had retired after a long and illustrious career – not about a key Imagineer still in his prime. Sadly, life has a way of throwing curve balls, and now I must write about the uniquely talented David Mumford.

PHOTO: David Mumford.
David Mumford. Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Company.

Mumford passed away Monday, January 20, 2003, of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, after struggling with the illness for the past year. He not only left behind his wife and family, longtime friends and co-workers, but he also left behind a multitude of fans who are grateful for his contributions to Disney entertainment.

Mumford spent his entire career working at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), rising through the ranks to the position of WDI Senior Principal Show Set Designer. He also wrote and produced (along with his longtime collaborator, Bruce Gordon) several books on Disney history, and was well known for his love of Disney lore and generosity in sharing his wealth of knowledge so freely.

PHOTO: David Mumford
David Mumford at an El Capitan Theater Mary Poppins special event in April 1999. MousePlanet file photo.

Born in Palo Alto, California, he lived there until the age of 5 when his family moved to Southern California. As a young child, he faithfully watched Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night. He was fascinated by the animatronics shown on the series and decided he wanted to work for Disney back then.

His first job was at Disneyland in 1974 as an attractions host on the now-closed Submarine Voyage. After attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and obtaining a degree in architecture in 1979, he applied for a job at Walt Disney's WED Enterprises and was promptly hired. His first official assignment was to work with the legendary John Hench on Epcot's Universe of Energy, followed by work on The Land.

PHOTO: David Mumford
David Mumford with design elements for Mermaid Lagoon. Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Company.

Another key assignment for Mumford was his set design work for the update of Disneyland's Alice in Wonderland attraction in 1983. Some of the highlights of his career include the designs for Aladdin's Oasis in Disneyland, Toontown, the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, the pre- and post-show areas for Star Tours at Tokyo Disneyland, The Living Seas at Epcot, and—what could be considered a culmination of his career—Mermaid Lagoon at Tokyo DisneySea. His final major assignment was returning the popular character, Figment, to the Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction at Epcot.

PHOTO: Mermaid Lagoon.
Mermaid Lagoon in Tokyo DisneySea. Photo by Todd Meigan.

In the early 1980s, he found a kindred spirit in Bruce Gordon when they discovered that they both collected Disneyland souvenir postcards. Interestingly, both men were born in Palo Alto and lived only a few blocks from each other during the same five-year period.

As they compared postcards, they started wondering about the stories behind each card and decided to collaborate on a book about Disney history. Collecting anecdotes and stories from longtime Disney employees, they put together what is considered one of the ultimate reference books, Disneyland: The Nickel Tour, published in 1995 (an updated second edition was released in 2000).

Continuing their collaboration, they wrote and produced Walt's Time in 1998, a history of Robert and Richard Sherman's long career with Disney, along with Walt Disney Imagineering (also in 1998), and A Brush With Disney (published in 2000), which featured the art of Herb Ryman along with Ryman's notes and thoughts on his life. In the last year, Mumford and Gordon were in the process of completing Ellenshaw Under Glass, a tribute to artist Peter Ellenshaw, and which is scheduled for a March 2003 release.

BOOK COVER: The Nickel Tour
The Nickel Tour.
BOOK COVER: Walt's Time
Walt's Time.

Branching out into other areas, Mumford co-produced the 1989 Disney Channel special, The Disneyland Story, and more notoriously, made frequent appearances with Bruce Gordon at NFFC Disneyana conventions and meetings (which were affectionately known as the "Bruce and Dave Show").

Mumford and Gordon would entertain appreciative audiences at the conventions with humorous presentations about Disney history and trivia, often marked by their throwing of Disney trinkets and even toilet paper into the audience. They would show video clips they put together about Disney theme parks and attractions, or hilarious "home movies" about their efforts to get their books published.

Mumford also contributed many articles to Disney Magazine, the Disneyland Line (official newsletter for Disneyland cast members) and the WDEye (WDI's in-house newsletter), covering everything from the back stories for the Haunted Mansion and Star Tours attractions to behind-the-scenes glimpses at the history of other Disney attractions like Adventures through Inner Space.

Although Mumford could be considered part of the next wave of Imagineering, his creativity, commitment to detail, and high standards of design certainly continued the tradition of quality and excellence as originated by Walt Disney himself. We will miss you, David.


MORE INFORMATION

Adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the lymph system.


David Mumford's family has set up a tribute site that includes photos and articles. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Ryman-Carroll Foundation, 315 West Ninth St., #806, Los Angeles, CA, 90015, in David Kent Mumford's name. The Foundation's number is (213) 629-2787.

ABOUT THE COLUMN

The Foundations of Magic (formerly Architects of Magic) column looks at the important building blocks that formed the basis of Walt Disney's dream, and includes a look at Disney history, Disney lore, and important Disney individuals—particularly Imagineers and artists—who made significant contributions to Walt Disney's dream.

Send your comments to Sheila here.

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