Adventurers Club Final Farewell: Part Twoby Wade Sampson, staff writer
Finally, here is Part Two of the Final Farewell to the Adventurers Club. Even though I have many more untold tales to tell, it is time to move on to other Disney stories and share my other discoveries later.
The reason I spent the entire month of October on articles about the Adventurers Club was to make sure some of the information is documented for future researchers (you wouldn’t believe how difficult it was to find the information I did and how many gaps still exist) and also because the final fate of the Adventurers Club was still being debated at Disney.
At one point, the Disney Vacation Club was considering taking over the venue as an exclusive location for its members. That was just one of several proposals that unfortunately failed to materialize but since the Club is still honoring previous convention bookings through January anything could still happen. Hopefully, these columns may have helped young Disney executives better understand and appreciate why the Adventurers Club was so beloved and why the concept is deserving of preserving.
So, in the spirit of the Adventurers Club, instead of some stuffy final farewell and in the belief we shouldn’t shed a tear that it is gone but have a smile that it existed at all, here are a few fun facts and stories that you may not have known.
Frank Wells and the Adventurers
In 1990, Pleasure Island began celebrating New Year’s every night and the original concept was that New Year’s would also be celebrated inside the clubs, as well. It was a captive audience. Club owners tried to push to the powers that be that guests needed to be outside to celebrate since they didn’t gain anything by having a celebration inside the club.
For the Adventurers Club, show director and writer Chris Oyen eventually came up with a midnight exorcism. The show titled Fletcher’s New Discovery revolved around curator Fletcher Hodges opening an artifact and poor Emil Bleehall being possessed by the spirit of Goatha, Warrior Queen of Assyria. Eventually, the spirit then inhabits the Fingers Zambeii organ for a little supernatural hanky panky: “Sometimes the spirit consumes you. Sometimes you consume the spirit.”
In 1994, Frank Wells and an entourage of Disney executives saw this show.
By the way, on the wall to the left of Colonel Suchbench, and about halfway down, is the following plaque:
“F. Godfrey Wells. A Tribute. Best Friend of Merriweather Adam Pleasure. World Class Mountaineer, Alpinist and Cragsman. Borrowed an ice pick from the Zebra Bartender and used it to scale Everest, 1932. (Didn’t get the credit he deserved, despite being the only man to scale the world’s highest peak from the inside.)”
Wells when he was made a Disney Legend was described as a “born adventurer.”
According to the general manager at the time, who was sitting with them, Wells didn’t like anything about the show from the writing to the acting to the effects. However, since the word never came directly from Wells himself it was difficult to determine if these were actually his feelings or the knee-jerk reaction from a lower-middle management person who attended the performance with Wells.
After all, the Wonderful World sketch of Forbidden Disney at the Comedy Warehouse was killed because a midde-management person made the pronouncement that the sketch needed to be eliminated because the audience didn’t like it, immediately after he saw a show where the audience hooted, howled and displayed a great response.
At the end of the evening, it doesn’t matter what the Disney executives were basing their choices on. They made a decision and the shows went away. A week later, Wells died in a helicopter accident. Other shows were written to fill the slot at the Adventurers Club including a séance with an appearance by Houdini and these shows led to the creation of the night’s finale, the Hoopla, especially after the “interior” New Year’s Eve celebration concept disappeared.
Susan Cowan, Forgotten Adventurer
While it is my firm belief from my research that Imagineers Joe Rohde and Roger Cox developed the “core” of the Adventurers Club as we know it today. Many other people, some still unknown to me, contributed to that unique entertainment experience including Susie Cowan who was a WDI production designer, and who two different people who worked on the Adventurers Club referred to as “Joe Rohde’s right hand” when they talked with me about the early days of the club.
As mentioned in a previous column, she was in charge of the “look” of the organ in the Library. Susan recently wrote to me: “I do remember the creation of the debris pile you refer to. One of the crew on the install team artfully arranged the broken bits after I told him the story of how it might have gotten there. He was a tough old construction guy who got a kick out of what I was doing. This was not his typical assignment but he and his crew did great. They made my first major construction job a pretty cool memory.
“Thanks for profiling the Adventurers Club. It remains a favorite project of mine after all these years. As art director I production designed all the show elements including the illusions provided by the talented Rock and Monty of Technifex. I also bought about 95 percent of the 1500-plus props. It was a lot of fun. I am sure the finance department at Imagineering will never forget me. Lots of receipts scribbled on brown paper bags because many of the props were bought at Joe's and my favorite haunt, the Rose Bowl swap meet in Pasadena. By the way, Joe painted the artwork that hung in the library. He and I are rendered in both of the paintings and if memory serves, Roger Cox the show director and Rick Rothschild ,Pleasure Island's producer, are also featured.”
As I said, many others contributed to the development of the Adventurers Club, including Craig McNair Wilson in the early days and later Chris Oyen, who created the show structure that allowed the venue to survive while others changed or disappeared.
Who or what is Marcel? Marcel was a character who appeared in the early years of the Adventurers Club and has been described as a gorilla. Officially, Marcel is “the Missing Link” and according to the official WDW Entertainment description, he is “wearing the livery of an apprentice bar man. He moves about the Club silently doing his thousand and one chores. Marcel’s looks are much closer to Australopithecus man than to an ape.” His purpose was to help the male performers (and the early show was primarily male) to get from one side of the club to another in the days when they played more than one character a night. When the performing matrix changed and that was no longer necessary, Show Director Chris Oyen sent Marcel away and replaced him with his own creation, Samantha Sterling, an Amelia Earhart type adventuress who came from a good family but was “rough and tumble."
I have received many e-mails thanking me for revealing some of this previously unknown information about the Adventurers Club. Almost one-third of those e-mails have taken me to task that there is no apostrophe in the name Adventurers Club. While I did discover some early Disney documentation with the apostrophe, the official nomenclature for Adventurers Club has no apostrophe. The thing that most rankles me was the newly installed outdoor bar that was called The Adventure Club Juice Bar. Not “Adventurer” or “Adventurers” but “Adventure” so I understand how some of my regular readers were equally rankled when I wrote articles about the early days of the club and included the apostrophe.
One early concept in 1987 by independent consultant Michael Kennedy was a nighttime fireworks show on the water surrounding Pleasure Island to be called “Pleasure Island Pyrotechnical Exposition.” Supposedly, Merriweather Pleasure built another steamboat, the Pleasure Island Princess. This ship was blown up by greedy cousins who set alight fireworks (stolen supposedly from the Fireworks Factory) in the belief that Pleasure was misusing their eventual inheritance on such folly. The phantom ship piloted by a ghostly Merriweather Pleasure would re-appear each evening (or at least the sound of the steamship) and would vanish in a final flurry of showering fireworks.
The Flying Carpet
“Authentic Flying Carpet of Abu Dhabi. Acquired by Lord and Lady Reed and donated to the Club’s permanent collection following an unfortunate camel collision. Fortunately, Lord and Lady Reed walked away from the incident unscathed. ‘It pays to buckle up.’" There are two seat belts on the carpet that was displayed on the wall of the Zebra Mezzanine by the bar. This was the last artifact donation that was accepted from guests by the club. In the early years, the club would host “Membership Parties” and as part of the celebration, the club would accept submissions of artifacts: “Please bring any artifacts that you wish considered and be prepared to deliver an explanation of their origin, function, and how it came into your possession. For the purpose of this Club event, it must be an artifact that fits our aviation motif. It may be anything that is associated with flight, has flown, or is intricately connected to mankind’s attempt to conquer the skies. Remember, all artifacts are non-refundable.” After accepting two or three such artifacts, the practice was stopped by Disney Legal who had misgivings about taking and displaying such treasures from guests in fear of possible future litigation of some kind.
What's In A Name?
Armitage Campbell was an aviator from the Royal Air Force who spent time in the club attempting to auction off artifacts obtained on his last expedition to help finance his next adventure. Craig McNair Wilson renamed the character “Hamilton Beach” and eventually the character evolved into Hathaway Browne. Hathaway Brown is an exclusive all-girls school in Cleveland.
Professor Otis Wren was a burly rampager with an eye patch and a petrified pirhana clamped onto the side of his infantry lace up boots. Those boots and pirhana were hung just above the Zeus statue in the Main Salon. According to Wilson's description: “Whenever Otis Wren enters the Adventurers Club, he is heard from the outside. If there is a line to the club, he will probably select an attractive woman to pull out of line to enter the club with him. He comes in with great bravado.” He later evolved into the white linen clad ichthyologist who was desperate to win the Balderdash Cup.
Colonel Crumb was an Audio-Animatronic bust that evolved into the famous Colonel Suchbench puppet who was desperately in love with Babylonia. From one script in 1993, the Colonel revealed how he discovered Babs. “It was my final adventure…I was transversing Polynesia in search of rare tribal icons, when I saw the rarest of all on the peak of a dormant volcano. Babylonia. I was smitten by her visage. I went to retrieve her but as luck would have it, the volcano came to life, and I was able only to save her head and the rest of her rare form disappeared into the molten lava. You should have seen the rest of her! She was one hot piece of igneous rock! I had myself nailed to the floor just so I could be close to her.” Some of the sketches from this time revolved around the Colonel’s jealousy when Babylonia flirted with male guests and indicated that she had dated Zeus.
Fletcher Hodges name came from the very real Fletcher Hodges Junior who for over five decades was the curator in charge of preserving the memory of composer Stephen Foster. The collection eventually ended up at the University of Pittsburgh.
Pamelia Perkins was named after a classmate of Imagineer Roger Cox. The very first actress to perform the role was Emmy Award-winning actress Paula Pell, who currently is a writer on “Saturday Night Live.” She was responsible for the sketch where actor Alec Baldwin played Tony Bennett among many other accomplishments.
Arnie and Claude were originally to be named “Ned and Fred.” Their official WDI biography lists them as “lifetime partners.” What that means I don’t know. I never asked and no one ever told.
One character that never made it off the drawing board was a creation of Craig McNair Wilson's. The character was only identified as “The Sneaker.” According to the description from 1987: “During the evening in rooms throughout the club various characters show up quietly in a corner, or a great outburst running through the club stealing one of the items in the club. It might be a masked Turk or a pert little gentleman with a monocle, cutaway coat, bow tie and a little mustache. Another time it might be someone just back from the Arctic, or an English lieutenant with pith helmet, knee socks, Bermudas and riding crop, or a commando with length of rope thrown over his shoulder, flashlight and articles preparing him to be able to break into the top floor of an ancient museum.”
There is one secret of the Adventurers Club that is still accessible for photos. Remember that Merriweather Pleasure claimed to have won the plans for the Adventurers Club in a game of dominoes. Also, remember that the yacht that Pleasure was sailing when he disappeared was also named the “Dominoe.” Well, if you are facing the exterior of the club, walk to the left down the rampway for guests in wheelchairs, and look at the front of the building. You will see that the wall (with the library on the other side) is decorated with dominoes.
Guests loved the characters and frequently wrote to them at the club. Often, the performers would write back “in character.” Eventually, this became so overwhelming that show writer and director Chris Oyen created a four-page newsletter called Adventurers Almanac actually based on a turn-of-the-century newsletter from an Explorers Club called Adventurers Newsletter. Oyen wrote much of the material with the help of everyone from Stage Manager Reed Jones to the performers. The first issue was “Volume No. 54, Issue No. 1.” Oyen chose “Volume No. 54” to make it seem as if the almanac had been published forever. To keep that illusion, volume numbers for the next issues were picked at random, driving some guests crazy trying to get a complete set and fill in the gaps. I promised not to reveal how many issues were actually published and I do have some of the material for the never published final issue to share in the future. Oyen also created the pseudonym “Bernice Smythe-Fenton, personal assistant to Miss Pamelia Perkins” (in actuality a cast member from WDW Guest Communications department) to answer letters to guests although Oyen was often brought in to help with the more difficult answers. The Almanac disappeared because it was time consuming (this was in the days before computers and everything was done by hand including the paste ups), expensive and more importantly was not generating new attendance but was primarily used by regulars who would rip out the coupon for a complimentary buffet, drink special and free admission to Pleasure Island on “General Membership Meeting” nights. Members were either Associate Level (which came with a drink coupon and official Club membership badge) or Presidential Level (which came with the canteen or mug and official Club membership badge).
The Official Address
While over the years, letters and cards to the Adventurers Club was sent to the Walt Disney Walt official post office box, the actual address for the club is on a crate in a cage to the right of the entrance queue for the Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom. That crate has the following address: “Ship to: The Mary Henrietta Kingsley Collection, The Adventurers Club, 5189 Hill St., Lake Buena Vista, FL. 32830.” When Imagineering repaved the street in front of the club fairly recently, they discovered that the blueprints listed the street as “Hill Street.” Various other artifacts are in the queue line at the Jungle Cruise destined for the Adventurers Club. At one time, the FastPass machines had tags for Pamelia Perkins and Emil Bleehall but they disappeared, perhaps into the collection of a Disney fan.
The Official Adventurers Club Entertainment Goal
“Our guests may come in here as strangers, but they will exit as our friends. Our goal is to create the highest quality entertainment experience possible, in accordance with both Pleasure Island and Disney standards, values and principles, in order to captivate our guests imagination and capitalize on their senses of humor, so we can create an environment that makes each guest feel that they have not only experienced the Adventurers Club, they are welcome and valued members of the Club.”
While this is the final farewell for now, please don’t shed a tear, fellow Adventurers. Believe it or not, I have even more stories to share but those will wait to be scattered throughout the coming year while I unearth other Disney historical treasures. Hopefully, I may even be able to preface one of those columns with the news of the return of the Adventurers Club. Until then, other adventures await so “Jump up for Jinkies!” and “Hoopla!” to you all.