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A year ago, when the Merchandising division of Disneyland began their efforts at producing special events, they started off with a Haunted Mansion evening...
Hot and Cold Running Chills
30 Years of the Haunted Mansion
On the balmy summer evening of June 26, 1999, Haunted Mansion devotees packed the Fantasyland Theatre to listen to the Imagineers who created the attraction reminisce about their experiences bringing the Mansion "to life".
I went to the event with no expectations of what it would be. I only knew that I loved Haunted Mansion and needed to be there. I remember sitting in the theatre waiting for the event to start. Evidently there are legions of Mansion fans out there as the theatre was packed. There was a beverage reception beforehand with tables set up on either side of the stage. You could help yourself from what there was to offer. I had hot tea. The cups were black. I loved that. Itís the best color, you know.
There were cast members in the Haunted Mansion costume (Iíd work at Disneyland just for the chance to get my hands on one of those), the best of which was Cat. She was quite perfectly suited to the event, with her short dark hair and Betty Page- ish beauty. I remember her telling me how she worked on her makeup to make it suitable to Disney standards but still provide a death-like pallor to her skin, in the spirit of thing, donít you know? She did a perfect job and looked quite fabulous.
As the organist seated on the stage provided background atmosphere, playing popular Disney tunes all in funereal dirge keys (it was fun to play Recognize That Tune), Cat and other cast members posed for pictures. The queue for a picture with Cat was long.
Soon it was time to start, funeral bells rang and the curtain slowly rose to reveal a set shrouded in fog and decorated in early gothic splendor. Tall candelabras with candles flickering, heavily carved chairs upholstered in thick velvets and overhead, in the center of the stage, hung a giant medallion not unlike like those found on either side of the gates to the Mansion.
Again the funeral bells sounded and a sinister voice announced,
"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Executive Vice President of the Disneyland Resort, Cynthia Harriss."
The organist played Bachís Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, fog spewed forth, and up from the depths of the Fantasyland Theatre stage came Cynthia Harriss. She was wearing a beautiful black velvet cape sprinkled with tiny rhinestones and she held her arms outstretched so the effect was like some glorious shimmering bat immerging from below. The audience loved it and voiced their opinion with loud and boisterous applause.
"Howís that for an entrance?" Ms. Harriss asked when she reached the podium. More thunderous applause gave her the answer. Ms. Harriss spoke for several minutes expressing her delight in being there. I remember thinking that she needed a lesson in public speaking, as she was rather ill at ease. Perhaps she was nervous that night, she has, since then I am happy to report, greatly improved her public speaking skills. At any rate, she looked quite wonderful and seemed to be enjoying herself. For this Disneyland fan, it was a welcome sight to see the head of Disneyland participating with us "common" folks.
Cynthia continued to speak, announcing that five members of the Haunted Mansion creative team would be present to share their stories, but the sixth scheduled guest, Colin Campbell, would regretfully not be able to attend. Then she began to introduce those who were present,
"Please be deathly quiet and I will introduce our first very special guest, Disney artist..."
The tintinnabulation of a funeral bell interrupted Ms. Harriss and from the left of the stage fog began to billow forth. An elegant and willowy figure glided gently through the fog settling near the center of the stage. Entirely clad in white chiffon, which drifted in the air as though caught in a cool summerís breeze, the figure stood deathly still. As soon as the crowd realized who was before them, they erupted in applause for Madame Leota.
"Spirits grant us communication with those who have gone before us." Leota drifted toward Cynthia Harriss addressing her, "Madame Harriss, I will act as your familiar."
"Well, in that case," Cynthia replied, "please call me Cynthia. Madame Leota, please help us contact the creators of the Haunted Mansion."
Leota glided back toward center stage and slowly spoke in a singsong rhyming quality,
This oneís sketching
Leota looked to Cynthia who spoke, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Disney artist, Sam McKim."
As the audience welcomed him warmly with their applause, Sam blew a kiss to Leota and then took his place in one of the chairs on the stage. Leota glided over to him and hovered behind looking down on him.
Ding ding ding... the funeral bell sounded. Leota looked up.
Deep in slumber this one dreams
It was Cynthiaís turn again, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Walt Disney Imagineer Rolly Crum"
Leota glided to Rolly and stood behind him until once again... bells sounded.
He once helped a wooden boy
Cynthia introduced Haunted Mansion lyricist X. Atencio who took his chair on the stage as Leota glided to him.
Sheets of music by the scores
"Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome the music director, Buddy Baker."
Mr. Baker took his seat next to Rolly Crum and Leota continued on,
Call of Nature sound your cry
Leota held out her hand to Ms. Harriss who took her cue quite nicely, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome animator, designer, and Disney Legend... Marc Davis."
The applause for this man was so thunderous, it was quite clear he was much beloved by Disney fans, and rightly so. When one thinks of all he brought life to, it is clear how very special he was. And, as I reminisce about that Haunted Mansion night, I feel so fortunate that I was present and got to hear Marc Davis himself relate his experiences. It was ever so much better to hear him tell the story than to just read about it in some book.
Mr. Davis was assisted to his seat by two lovely Haunted Mansion hostesses and when the applause for him died down, Leota again took center stage. With a gently blown kiss, she announced, "Thank you Madame Cynthia. The trumpets are calling me back. I must depart. Farewell... until we meet again."
At this point, Ms. Harriss took a moment to introduce a member of the audience, Randy Webster, the Collections Manager of Information Research Library at Walt Disney Imagineering. The merchandise division of Disneyland was much in debt to Randy for his help in preparing the event and to express appreciation, Ms. Harriss presented him with the number one issue of Colin Campbellís lithograph, The Haunted Mansion Anniversary signed by Campbell and all the panelists.
With all the formalities out of the way, Cynthia started her introduction of the panelís moderator, but from somewhere up in the back of the crowd there came a noise. At first, it was hardly noticeable. Soon, it became evident that someone was calling a dog.
"Here boy, heeeeeere boy."
He was a tall thin man with a hunched over posture and he wore a little brown cap that he had pulled down tight on his head. His neck was draped in a woolen scarf as if bundled up to ward against chills. He carried a dimly lit lantern which he held up high to light his path as he made his way down the aisle to the stage, all the while whistling for his lost dog.
"Here boy," he called out again, whistling after he spoke the words. He climbed the stairs to the stage and addressed Cynthia Harriss, "Iím terribly sorry mum. Iím looking for my dog. Have you seen him? Heís quite bony and he has a terrible ca... ca... case of the sha... sha... shakes."
"No, I actually havenít seen your dog." Cynthia looked to the panel of Disney Imagineers, "Have you gentlemen seen his dog?"
A crypt to the left of the stage swung open and out stepped a tall, thin, transparent man.
"Yes, heís sniffed around here, but now heís turned tail." He gestured to another spirit, who suddenly materialized, a short, stout, transparent man with a top hat and transparent carpetbag, "Perhaps he knows."
"I saw him, I saw him. I saw the old bag of bones. He was hiding under a bridge."
At this point the crowd erupted in mass hysteria. Iím sure you can imagine Dear Readers how completely thrilling it was to see the Hitchhiking Ghosts come to "life" there on center stage at the Fantasyland Theatre. It was especially exciting when one considers that there were no expectations for this event what so ever. Iím sure everyone just thought theyíd hear a bunch of old guys wax poetic over days gone by, theyíd get a special midnight ride on the mansion and that would be it. No one expected this and to say it was grand would be a bit of an understatement.
Another transparent guy loped into view. He had longish hair and a big long beard. He and the other two loudly conferred as to the lost dogís whereabouts. As they did this, a huge chandelier dropped down from above. Clinging to the top of it was a fellow dressed in an old fashioned suit and wearing a top hat.
The first ghost looked up and addressed the man dropping in, "Youíve been hanging around for awhile. Perhaps you know where he is."
"I think I saw him beneath the old oak tree. You know, the one with the pitiful bark?" The man climbed down and the four of them further discussed the lost dog.
"Wait!" One of them shouted, "Maybe heís in the attic!"
Ta Dum... Ta Dum... Ta Dum...
The thumping of a heart loudly beating rang out. To the left of the stage stood a bride carrying a candle. Her chest heaved up and down with the thumping of the red heart that beat within. She stood patiently waiting.
The Hanging Man drew near the bride, dragging the Caretaker along with him, "Letís go on. Thereís a great party." He started to follow the bride who had now turned to exit. "Wouldnít you want to go to the mansion? Everyone we know is dying to get in."
Iím sure every eye in the theatre was on the two following the bride at that moment. I know mine were. I was so intent on watching them that I didnít see what was taking place center stage. Itís called misdirection.
"As long as youíre going.....can we hitch a ride?"
I do not think there was a person in attendance that night that didnít erupt in a squeal of pure pleasure when their eyes turned from the Caretaker and Hanging Man to the three hitchhiking ghosts who had assumed "that famous pose".
The crowd went crazy. And yet, there was more. They started to sing...
As the moon climbs high or the dead oak tree
And the Grim Grinning Ghosts were brought to life. I cannot, Dear Readers, find words to adequately do this moment justice. It was quite simply, pure Disney magic.
As the ghosts came to the end of the song, they all piled into a doom buggy that had materialized upon the stage. They were perfection in their poses, each turning their heads and holding their posture exactly as is done in the actual attraction. The doom buggy glided off stage and I thought to myself that I didnít need another thing. I had gotten my moneyís worth with that alone and all else was icing on the cake from there on in.
The panel moderator, Tim OíDay, Director of Synergy and Communications for Walt Disney Art Classics, took control and began the panel discussions addressing the crowd, "Iím your host..." To which the crowd responded, "Your ghost host." Then he addressed the panel asking if they had any idea when the ride opened if it would be a Disney classic. Rolly Crum modestly and confidently replied, "Yeah." This drew a good laugh from the audience. It seems that the Imagineers all knew that something special would eventually come from what they were working on. There was no modesty about it, just plain simple fact.
Tim OíDay turned his attention to Marc Davis who was in on the project from the beginning. Marc explained that, originally conceived as a walk-through, the Haunted Mansion building sat in New Orleans Square for over five years before the attraction eventually opened. He said his specific contributions to the Mansion were the ballroom scene, the graveyard, and the ghosts who join you, the rider, in your doombuggy at the conclusion of the ride. I personally think he was rather modest about his contribution. I hate to think what the attraction would have been without him.
Sam McKim spoke about working with Marvin Davis to come up with the first sketch that would show what the outside of the attraction would look like. He worked very hard to get the sketch just right. The night before the meeting that had been scheduled with Walt, he worked on the sketch a little more until he was satisfied with it, a few last minute finishing touches. The next day he was too tired to attend the meeting so Marvin Davis went without him. Mr. Davis returned and reported to Sam, "Your sketch was effective," not in the way Sam thought though. The result was that Walt didnít want his Haunted Mansion to look like that... spooky and decrepit. "Weíre going to let the ghosts do all this stuff on the inside. On the outside I want it to look like the rest of my park," declared Walt.
Referring again to the fact that the Mansion sat vacant at Disneyland for a long time, John Hench, in a video clip, remembered Walt using the excuse that they were recruiting ghosts. Evidently back in the early sixties on a BBC television program, Walt first leaked the idea of the Haunted Mansion to the public. Walt was concerned that ghosts whose homes had been torn down had no where else to go so he went on his television show and invited them to come to California. Like the old actors who had a place to retire with the Motion Picture Home, Disney would provide ghosts a place to retire. After all, ghosts need an audience and Walt would guarantee them the best audience in the world at Disneyland.
For a long time, there was a sign outside the mansion inviting ghosts to register. Mr. Hench also delighted in the terms Walt Disney cooked up to explain to the public what they wanted to do. The lines hot and cold running chills and wall to wall creeks and groans seemed particularly clever to Mr. Hench.
Two of my personal favorite stories of the night came next, Marc Davisí concept drawing tales and Rolly Crumís House of Illusions.
For the concept drawings, the audience was treated to visuals projected on a large screen over the stage. The first one projected was a ghost sitting in an old-fashioned claw foot tub with a scrub brush to his back. Marc Davis explained that the ghost was dirty and had to have a bath. Next was a drawing of a great white hunter in his game room. The gag was that the tiger skin rug ghost was attacking him. The drawing showed a plump stereotypical English hunter-type with his pith helmet, jodhpurs, and shotgun with a comically sinister, tiger rugís teeth firmly attached to the hunterís derriŤre.
Marc Davis clearly enjoyed sharing the next sketch with the crowd as he told how the old man in the sketch would get uglier and uglier until the devil finally set him on fire. The overhead screen showed an old man sitting in a chair and with each succeeding picture he did indeed get uglier until the flames consumed him and the last shot showed an empty chair left with a few remaining flames and a very wicked devil grinning down at his handiwork.
At the same time the Haunted Mansion was in development, Imagineers Rolly Crum and Yale Gracey were at work on a project named House of Illusions which never materialized but was responsible for most of the illusions found in the Mansion. Tim OíDay asked Rolly to tell a little about that. It was a treasure to listen to this man speak. It was clear he enjoyed that job very much and hearing his tales made me feel we should all be so lucky to have jobs that are such pure fun.
For a year Rolly and Yale did nothing much more than play. They spent their time reading ghost stories and going to the movies to see ghost movies. One afternoon they even got Walt to go with them to one of the ghost movies. Rolly loved working with Yale, "It was a hoot," he said.
Both Rolly and Yale grew up in animation. "And, in animation, you play gags on each other every day." The room the two men worked in was a large room filled with toys, gags and fun stuff. There was a monster that blew up when you shot him with an infrared gun and some ghosts that Rollyís wife had made that would fly up and shake wildly. Rolly spoke very animatedly about this and every time he mentioned the ghosts, he would raise his arms out Frankenstein-style and shake wildly.
One day, the two men got a call from personnel. Would they please leave the lights on when they left at the end of the day? It seemed that the janitors didnít want to come into the room at night unless the lights were on.
Well, Dear Readers, that is quite the wrong thing to say to a pair of prankster Imagineers. It only fueled their desire to think up more crazy things to terrorize the poor janitors. And that is just what they did. They went to work rigging the entire room.
The next day, they left the lights on, all right. They also installed an infrared beam that when broken, brought the lights down, black lighting came up, ghosts started shaking, and the monster blew up and his head flew around the room.
The following morning when Rolly and Yale came to work, they found the ghosts still shaking and the monster head dangling in the middle of the room. In the very center of the room lay a broom. Personnel called again, "Theyíre never coming back!"
It was also Yale Graceyís inventive playfulness that gave us Madame Leota. One day Yale had a little projector with Hans Conreidís face from the Mirror, Mirror on the wall sequences from the old television shows. He took the projector and walked around the room shining it on things. When Rolly came back from lunch that day, Yale had it lined up on a bust of Beethoven. Nothing was in sync or lined up, but Rolly remembered that it looked incredible, almost as if the little bust was alive.
At the conclusion of Rollyís wonderful stories, they showed a clip from the Tencennial show of Wonderful World of Color. It featured Walt taking Miss Disneyland Tencennial, Julie Green, on a tour of what was being planned for the new Haunted Mansion attraction. Marc Davis showed miniature versions of the stretching portraits and Rolly Crum shared his collection of the "weird and strange".
Walt was truly a kid in a candy shop as he guided Julie from bit to bit, taking pictures of her as she viewed what was to come. I donít think Julie was enjoying it nearly as much as Walt was though. It was fun to see him taking such pleasure in what he did. I imagine that is why the Disneyland of old was so magical, it wasnít based solely on profit margins, show was important, both to Walt and the men who worked for him.
An old TV clip of Kurt Russell with behind the scenes "making of" the Haunted Mansion was shown and a few more stories were told. Buddy Baker remembered trying to make the ballroom sequence a little more fun. He got the idea to have the organist play wrong cords all the way through, "And it worked."
X. Atencio shared that he was the voice in the coffin, "Let me outta here, let me outta here!"
Rolly Crum reiterated that Yale Gracey was the genius behind the illusions and working with him was marvelous.
X. said he has his version of the tombstones they were all given in his backyard. "Itís a conversation piece," he said. I do believe he enjoys that it gives some guests to his home pause. His wife sighs and explains, "Itís from Disneyland."
The last word came from Marc Davis who said that he was reminded that "These were my drawings, " and that it was all great fun. "I think itís a very outstanding attraction. I recommend that everyone go in....and be VERY careful."
As all good things must, it was time for the evening to end. Tim OíDay thanked the panelists, the audience roared their approval with thunderous applause and Leota returned once more to admonish...
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