Edward Prizer: Inside EPCOT Center 1981

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I am greatly appreciative of all those Disney historians out there today who are uncovering treasures weekly.

However, I am even more grateful for those people who had never even dreamed of the term "Disney historian" but recorded so much Disney history with a manual typewriter, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, pencil and paper and cameras with film that took less than two-dozen photos at a time and who did all that valuable documentation without any of today's convienent technology.

People like Edward Prizer.

That name may sound unfamiliar but when it comes to early Walt Disney World Resort history, he was a reliable source that, thanks to the work he did, still provides us with some amazing insights into the beginnings of Disney in Orlando.

In 1961, Prizer left his job at the Associated Press in New York. He saw that Orlando was on the verge of growth and, in 1962, he purchased for $17,000 a small, pocket-sized tourist guide (restaurants, churches, area attractions like Gatorland) with a readership of 1,700 called the Orlando-Winter Park Attraction.

He ran the publication from his home with his wife, Artice, and shifted the content to more news about the area development. His wife hated trivia and wanted substantial stories. The magazine quickly evolved to include lengthy feature stories, real estate news, tourist news, business news and development issues like Disney coming to Orlando.

Prizer changed the name of the magazine to Orlando-Land in 1969 and sold it in 1988 for $1.7 million with more than 30,000 dedicated readers. He remained as an adviser and wrote a column titled Inside Orlando for eight years until he officially retired in 1996.

He died at the age of 80 in 2003, roughly a year and a half after the death of his wife.

Prizer was in Orlando when it was all happening. He was in Orlando for Walt's press conference announcing the construction of Walt Disney World. He was in Orlando when the Magic Kingdom Park opened. He was in Orlando when EPCOT Center opened.

More importantly, he wrote about it. He interviewed the people involved, so the articles were not mere publicity puffery, but filled with information that still has not appeared anywhere else.

I have quoted Prizer in previous columns about the opening of the Magic Kingdom Park, but I recently stumbled across my October 1981 copy of Orlando-Land where he writes about EPCOT Center opening a year away in an article titled "Inside Epcot."

While many Disney fans might have an impressive collection of Disney-related books, few have magazine collections.

Magazines are more ephemeral. If you don't buy it, it is gone and almost impossible to locate, even on eBay, unlike a book that will usually eventually appear.

Many magazines were sacrifices to paper drives over the years. Many magazines that were hugely popular simply ceased to exist like Look, Collier's or The American Magazine that all had articles and photos that were Disney related.

Even today, I often run across a magazine I never heard of that has a really nice article about Disney.

So instead of telling you to go to your bookcase and pull out your copy of Orlando-Land magazine or tease you to try and hunt down a copy, I am simply going to reprint a few excerpts from Prizer's article so that you can enjoy them and increase your Disney knowledge.

As my friends know, I think it is important to share this type of specialized information so everyone has access to it.

In particular, I have tried to include some significant quotes from Imagineers so future researchers can use them in their work.

For this particular article, Prizer was flown out to WED (Walt Disney Imagineering) in Los Angeles where he saw concept art, models and heard pitches from legendary Imagineers. Here's a few gems:

Bits and Pieces

"A sound stage at 20th Century Fox has been leased for the painting of a mural 500 feet long for the Energy Pavilion."

When the EPCOT project started, WED had 600 people working on it. When Prizer visited in 1981, there were 1,200 and Joel Halberstadt, manager of concepts and communications told Prizer "We've been advertising over radio and in the newspapers for 600 more people for WED and our manufacturing and production arm, MAPO. We're getting many graduates of top art schools, younger men and women 20 to 35 years old. They work with veterans in the organization. It's an interesting combination of the old and the new learning from one another."

The model for EPCOT Center measured 44 feet by 32 feet.

"It is an exact 1/8 of an inch to one foot scale. Progressively, as elements of pavilions are completed in miniature, they are put in place."

Spaceship Earth and John Hench

Imagineer John Hench: "Spaceship Earth tells you you're not alone on this earth. It takes you back and shows you how you've come to this point. It will give people a lot more appreciation of who they are. Ray Bradbury took the metaphor of a wall. It touches on the first recorded primitive experiences. Information on wild animals was recorded in paintings on cave walls. It was a matter of survival for succeeding generations.

"They became more elaborate. The Egyptians transformed information into hieroglyphics. The Phonenicians broke the walls up into clay pottery. With Gutenberg's invention of printing, the wall became a library wall. Now, we have an electronic wall attached to the rest of the earth.

"Walt believed if people got the right information, they would take the right action. He envisioned a place where people could come and get the best information so they would have no trouble deciding on the best course of action. That was Walt's special ability. He could reach people. He had a deep understanding of people.

"We try to make choices as simple as possible. It's been found that anxieties are created at World's Fairs where people continually have to make decisions on where to go next."

Marty Sklar

Imagineer Marty Sklar: "Many people no longer trust government or industry, but they still believe in Mickey Mouse. Our messages are very short in the physical sense. We have to get across an idea in a few seconds. There can be no ambiguity. We're doing what I call ‘turn-ons,' encouraging them to find out more about a subject, providing the way.

"We have brought in experts from all over. We have advisory panels for the pavilions. Our function is to provide credibility, integrity and the ability to communicate through entertainment.

"Walt was a stickler. He didn't want to come around a corner and see a blank wall. There had to be a weenie down at the end of every street. We have to have a model on a scale where you can walk through, see everything you can see on a ride."

Century 3 and Claude Coats

Korkis note: The Horizons attraction in FutureWorld was originally called "Century 3," or, sometimes, "Century III." Just a few years after the United States Bicentennial in 1976, people were looking forward to the third century so that was the inspiration for the title of the attraction. However, objections were raised that the name would not resonate with foreign guests so the attraction was temporarily named "Futureprobe" which Disney quickly discovered called to mind some type of unpleasant medical procedure or instrument.
The name "Horizons" was chosen for the implication of always striving to reach the horizon and when you finally get there, there is another horizon in the distance, and another. The point of the pavilion was to show an achievable future based on existing technology. Prior to the start of construction, the budget was slashed by $10 million, the building size was reduced and the ride attraction was shrunk by about 35 percent .Horizons opened exactly one year after EPCOT Center opened. Prizer got a chance to talk with Imagineer Claude Coats in this 1981 article and Coats described the original "Century 3" attraction that was then in development.

Imagineer Claude Coats: "We're going to use a ride device with cars that hang from an overhead rail. It will move 1.8 feet per second. We'll make guests feel they're celebrating the nation's tri-centennial, looking back over the last 100 years.

"You will make a two-minute ascent to Future House through thoughts about the future from the past. Then you'll enter a theater for a probe of the future. The screen is more than eight-stories high—the biggest screen ever.

"It will curve over above the audience to give a planetarium effect. The audience will get views of outer space and inside the molecule. We're taking people to places they've never seen before. Like inside an electron microscope. Into living cells. Out to the rings of Saturn. Along the DNA life chain. There'll be many blowups of microscopic stuff.

"It's a celebration of the good times ahead of us. We'll show future urban development. A family celebrating their 100th wedding anniversary, which will be a common thing. We'll show a complete new lifestyle. And robot mining. An undersea habitat. Underground homes. Desert farming. Hobbies, cooking, music as they will be in the future.

"We'll end up going into a space habitat. We'll show work and health activity in space. Manufacturing. Mining of minerals from planets or asteroids.

"At the end of the experience, we'll tie the whole thing into the family unit."

Guests would have then left the show and still in their ride vehicles be taken into a polling area where lights would light up on the dashboard of their vehicle where they could push buttons to indicate their feelings about what they just saw. The results would be instantly tabulated so guests could compare their reactions against those of others who experienced the attraction.

American Adventure and Randy Bright

Imagineer Randy Bright commenting on the American Adventure show: "We have divided the story into three parts. Dreaming and doing. Pioneering. Meeting the challenge of the American adventure. We try to tell the story by maintaining the art techniques of the day."

I was interested in Bright commenting on a scene in the attraction that was later changed before opening.

"Next comes a river scene," Bright told Prizer. "The river is shot as if we're floating down it. Mark Twain comes out on stage on a raft. He talks with figures on the screen. People like Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Beecher Stowe."

World Showcase and Harper Goff

Imagineer Harper Goff: "When the Japanese looked at the design for their pavilion, they criticized us for using Chinese-style buildings. We had to change them to buildings that were distinctly Japanese, like the seventh-century Horyuji pagoda and the Shishinden Palace in Kyoto.

"We start with the lagoon. The front has to be a water element. The pub in the British pavilion has two aspects. On the lagoon side, it is a replica of a waterside pub on the Thames used by the boating population. On the street side, it resembles a pub in Soho."

There were plans soon after opening to have a British music hall in the pavilion. It would have been a live show with dinner.

Dave Barron, director of World Showcase development enthused about the Costa Rica pavilion that would be the smallest pavilion at the World Showcase.

Dave Barron: "We feel it's a jewel. The architecture is Spanish colonial. We've taken the liberty of creating a crystal palace containing tropical gardens of Costa Rica. There's an orchid show at the entrance. The conservatory covers a third of an acre. It has waterfalls, tropical birds—a very relaxing atmosphere. You'll exit through a tourism area. There'll be a snack bar serving seafoods and melons. Leather items, carved wood and that sort of thing will be sold in the craft and merchandise area."

World of Motion and Ward Kimball

Imagineer Ward Kimball talked about "The World of Motion" pavilion: "This is a tongue-in-cheek ride through tranportation history. There are 23 stage sets. Every conceivable type of transportation is shown."

Desert travelers with camel and oxen—animal power—arrived at a city gate to find themselves confronted with a toll booth. A magic carpet floated above them.

"I insisted we put that in," Ward said slyly.

There was a used chariot lot. To one side was a dazzling new golden chariot under an arch, and a Roman woman was urging her husband to buy it while he made an effort to ignore her.

"I came in here one day," Ward said, "and I found them making the most beautiufl perfect chariots. I told them that that wasn't right at all, that these were used chariots. They had to beat them with chains to make them look dilapidated."

Ward had added one other whimsical touch in this scene: a used Trojan horse.

Then came the westward movement in stage coaches and buckboards. These were drawn up in a circle while Indians and cavalry charged across the screen in the background.

"They move in an endless circle, each chasing each other," Ward said. "We didn't want to give the impression either one was getting the upper hand."

A primitive automobile has collided with a farm produce wagon at an intersection and all hell has broken loose. The wife of the driver is beating him over the head with an umbrella. Vegetables are strewn across the street. A bus driver honks his horn. The bell clangs aboard a trolley coming around a car barn.

"It's the largest set piece we've used, and has the most movement," Ward said. "It dramatizes the problems cities are faced with. It's the nation's first traffic jam."

Prizer wrote: "Ward Kimball has done his job well. He comes in now only once a week to oversee actual production."

If you enjoyed this glimpse into the development of Epcot one year before opening, then the thanks are due to Edward Prizer who felt it was important to get the facts and to lightly share his reaction to what he had seen and heard.

Back then before personal computers and the internet were a common tool for reporters, he did it the old fashioned way and we are lucky he did it at all.