More Secrets of the Adventurers Club

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

I attended the final performance at the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island on Friday, September 25, 2009, as part of the Congaloosh convention. Festivities that weekend that included an extensive history of the club, some surprise gifts and a panel discussion with some of the cast members.

This announcement might come as a shock to all those fans who attended the final public performance about a year ago on September 27, 2008, where the Club was packed and, for the first time, the Club members could not raise the money through their RadioThon to pay their lease. Marcel the Missing Link showed up and, having accumulated a good deal of money through wise investments, marched all the members out of the club for a year-long safari, officially closing this location at Pleasure Island.

However, the very next week, the National Fantasy Fan Club had a performance and meeting at the Club. Disney had several groups pre-booked for private parties at the Club and offered to honor those bookings through the end of the year or to refund the money or offer another venue. It is not surprising that all of those groups preferred attending the Club.

What was surprising is that location still continued to function in that capacity until just a few weeks ago. On Thursday, September 24, Lou Mongello had a group party there with performances. On Friday, it was Congaloosh. Finally, on Saturday, Sept. 26, there was a special final farewell with some Disney executives.

The performers joked that the items were going to Property Control, a cast member-only outlet for damaged and discounted merchandise items, as well as material from the resorts when they get rehabbed. They also joked that the bulldozers would be coming soon since the building could not be “repurposed” (another Disney term) into a different venue.

The official announcement in September that Hong Kong Disneyland would have a new land called Mystic Point that would include a Mystic Manor (their version of the Haunted Mansion) and an Adventurers Club restaurant pretty much was the final nail in the coffin for the current Adventurers Club location at this time.

Judging by the outrageous prices for Adventurers Club merchandise on eBay and the flood of positive responses I get whenever I write a column about the Adventurers Club, I thought I might share just a few more secrets that I gathered while attending Congaloosh and preparing for the history presentation.

The House of Wong

The Adventurers Club must raise $2,000 to pay its mortgage so it holds a Radiothon to get the money. Unfortunately, the phone lines are crossed with an Asian restaurant, the House of Wong, that is a particular favorite dining location of Club President Pamelia Perkins who shares with the audience her passion for their mustard sauce and duck sauce. At the end of the skit, the club is rescued by a last-minute check from the House of Wong. Here is the information that was printed on that oversized parchment colored check:

Check# 2659 from the House of Wong:

Harry and Seymour Wong
7680 Republic Drive
Orlando, Florida 32819

Pay To the Order of “The Adventurer’s Club” (yes, it was misspelled…just another example of someone putting in an apostrophe in official documentation to confuse historians trying to research the correct spelling) $2,000.

Memo: Official Egg Roll

Why is the restaurant located on Republic Drive? More than a decade ago, WDW Entertainment leased offices at 7680 Republic Drive (now renamed Universal) in a building that is now available for lease, just below where the Sleuth Dinner Theater was, at a shopping mall that now houses a Flippers Pizza. By the way, there are several House of Wong restaurants scattered throughout North America—but not in Florida.

The Avigators

The Avigators were a group of native Floridian stunt pilots organized by Merriweather Adam Pleasure in 1939 to carry the mail to and from Pleasure Island. Eventually, they also transported visitors from all over the world to Pleasure Island—“if they knew the right people”. In addition, they operated a short-lived import/export business that lasted until 1951, four years before the Pleasure family declared bankruptcy.

Avigators Supply was originally known as the Pleasure Shipping and Receiving building, constructed in 1924 by Pleasure to facilitate his business refurbishing ships and yachts. Pleasure began using the building as a “clearinghouse and depot for the booty form his global adventures,” which led to him repurposing the building for the Avigators. The building was right next door to the Adventurers Club.

The mascot of the Avigators was a Florida alligator with flight goggles and wings and might have been related to the Lagoona Gator, who was the mascot of Typhoon Lagoon that opened the same year as the refurbished Pleasure Island.

The crashed plane in the front of the Adventurers Club was an Avigator who crashed but ejected his import cargo in a net and it hung, attached to a parachute on the obelisk outside the Adventurers Club, for many years. Originally, there was also a skeleton in a flight suit hanging just above the cargo, but it was removed because it communicated the wrong story about the festivities inside the Club and it received a few guest complaints. Many people mistakenly believed that the crashed plane was yet another example of Hathaway Browne’s eccentric flying.

Most of the logo is missing from the tail of the plane but it originally said: “Explore the Unknown. Discover the Impossible.”

Avigators Supply had a brand label designed exclusively for Pleasure Island. The whimsical winged alligator was emblazoned on a wide variety of merchandise, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, magnets, and tote bags. There was also a broad selection of aviation-related gifts, clothing, and accessories. Leather bomber jackets, heavy-duty duffle bags, airplane clocks and sculptures, and a variety of collectibles rounded out the offerings. There was also merchandise with the Adventurers Club logo.

Hidden Mickeys

I know many readers are passionate about finding Hidden Mickeys. While there were several that were reported that were questionable, perhaps in your collection of old photos of the club, you can go back and discover two of the Hidden Mickeys that were purposely put there by the Imagineers. The first is the most obvious. On every banner proclaiming the Open House for 1937, look directly above the word “Open” and just under the word “Club” and you will see a bluish vertical line. Dotting that line is the familiar three circles in proper proportion of Mickey Mouse’s silhouetted head. Since there were banners outside and inside, you have a good chance of spotting it in pictures you took.

Second, and this one disappeared before closing, in a picture frame at eye level to the left of the Main Salon bar, near the Mask Room, there was a framed artifact labeled “1,001 Puns for All Occasions” filled with several lines of hieroglyphics. Towards the bottom in the middle of a line was the old Disney Channel logo of a white silhouette of Mickey’s three-circled head inside a rectangular black box screen. Check it out at these two links: here and here.

Fun Facts

The maximum posted capacity for the Adventurers Club was 504 people.

Jim Roberts was the primary pianist doing the role of Fingers Zambezi for the last 13 years of the club, although others also filled in doing that role. By the way, one of the sheet music sheets on the organ in the library was the song Laughing Fingers.

Many celebrities attended the Adventurers Club over the years, including Bob Hope, Robin Williams, George Lucas, Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow, Jim Henson, Gilbert Gottfried, David Ogden Stiers, Leslie Nielsen, Liza Minelli, and a host of others.

The character of Samantha Sterling (based on Amelia Earhart) was created specifically for the talented and charming actress Sheila Smith Ward who continued to play the role until the Club’s closing. Previously, she had played the part of Mandora who was named that by one Imagineer who hoped that guests might sense that it could be a man impersonating a woman, basically Dora was a man or a “Mandora”. This concept was never explored in reality.

The talented Karl Anthony who performed at the Adventurers Club (and I always liked him as Hathaway Browne) had an equally talented wife who used to work for the Disney Design Group. She was the one who designed the limited Artists Collection pin set in March 2007 (in an edition of 750 that sold out quickly) with Mickey as Hathaway, Donald as Otis Wren, Daisy Duck as Pamelia Perkins, Minnie as Samatha Sterling, Goofy as Fletcher Hodges, Pete as Graves and Pluto as Emil. Check out Donald’s hat. The photo reference that Karl’s wife, Dawn Ockstadt, used had Otis in a fez which other performers wore as that character, but when Karl played the role, he used a different style hat and that is the one that adorns Donald on the pin. Dawn claimed she did not include the maid because “she was last seen dusting the Colonel.” You can see examples of all the Adventurers Club pins at this link.

Both of those paintings hanging on stage in the Library were painted by Joe Rohde and feature caricatures of the original Adventurers Club Imagineering team including Rohde himself, his right hand “man” Susan Cowan, writer Roger Cox, producer Rick Rotschild and more. If those paintings show up at Property Control, snatch them up as quickly as you can.

Merriam Pleasure

Merriam Pleasure, Merriweather’s only daughter and youngest child, was born in 1911 after he discovered Pleasure Island. One of the reasons we know this is because on the Zebra Mezzanine was a glassed in model of a Turkish Gallery with a plaque stating “Built by M. A. Pleasure as a gift for daughter Merriam’s 16th birthday. 1927.” So that means that she was 30 years old when she was lost at sea with her father in 1941. On the plaque in the Main Salon, Merriam is listed as one of the “Founder’s Circle” of the Adventurers Club. Other founding members were Otis Wren, Pamelia Perkins, Hathaway Browne and Colonel Critchlow Suchbench (misspelled on the brass plaque as “Sunchbench”). Since the Club was founded in 1932, Merriam was 21 years old when she helped found the club. Interestingly, there were no photos of any member of the Pleasure family in the Club nor were they portrayed by any performers over the years.

Donna Charles

One of the original performers at the Adventurers Club was Donna Charles. However, most Walt Disney World guests would know her better as Rosie, the cleaning lady who did the incredible one woman warm-up for the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Show for many years. Donna recently took early retirement from Disney and she briefly shared a few memories of those early days at the Adventurers Club.

Show writer and director Roger Cox went to Boardwalk and Baseball (a once-popular entertainment venue in Central Florida) and saw Michael Branson (singer/pianist) and Donna Charles do an act and loved them and wanted them for the Adventurers Club. Michael immediately took the offer, but Donna was going through some family problems and didn’t want to make the move. So Roger went to the head of entertainment at Boardwalk and Baseball and begged him to let them borrow Donna for an afternoon. He took her to the site with both of them wearing hard hats where the Adventurers Club was being built and convinced her she wanted to be a part of all of this. She eventually agreed.

A week before the Adventurers Club was to open, Disney management saw the three planned library shows at the time. They hated the third show and told Roger, “We don’t care what you do for the third show but you can’t do this.” So Roger told Michael and Donna they had to do their cabaret act that they had done at Boardwalk and Baseball. The difficulty was that since Michael played the keyboard he had to be where the Fingers Zambezi pianist was, which was hidden offstage stage right so Donna was all alone on the stage and they had to eliminate the banter that they did.

Donna did a bit similar to Jim Nabors where when she talked in a high, irritating Brooklynese accent, but when she sang it was smooth and professional (occasionally stopping the song to say in the annoying accent, “How do you like it so far?”).

The original Adventurers Club was not going to have music in the shows and this was the first time that concept was introduced.

Before opening, Roger came to Donna and said, “You have more talent in your little finger, but your hair is a disaster.”

So he took her down to a local hairdresser and spent a $100 having her hair done for the opening. She took the first official photo with Marcel the Gorilla and it was used on the pamphlet handed out to guests in the early days of the club. She no longer has a copy of that pamphlet and would love to have one for her scrapbook.

Disney leadership considered the Adventurers Club was like an attraction and that guests would come in, see a show and leave, so there would be about three cycles during the evening. So it was not uncommon for a performer to be scheduled for three different roles during the evening, playing a different character during each cycle. However, it only took about three weeks for management to realize that it was a bar and that guests might stay all night. (Actually, three bars with one on the Zebra Mezzanine, one in the Main Salon and one in the Library.)

Donna says that she was the first Pamelia and the first maid. Her maid’s name was “Gladys” as in “Glad to see ya” and then would flip up her skirt and laugh. Eventually, the maids were all named “Doreen” for a period of time but that stopped when repeat guests would come in and go “you’re not Doreen”. So it was determined that each maid would have their own individual name. The original maid’s costume was low cut, which proved to be a problem during one Hoopla event where one of the maids, who was very well-endowed ,bent over and when she sprang back up, her breasts popped out making it the “Best Hoopla Ever” joked actor Tim Goodwin who worked with Donna Charles as one of the original members.

Tim developed the hand wiggle and lifting the hand that goes with the Kungaloosh Salute. He remained with the show until the very final performance.

The maid’s dress was changed so that it went right up to the neck to give the performer more freedom of movement without surprise exposure. One maid had a costume that was a long black dress with a white apron looking a lot like the cartoon character Hazel. However, that costume, only worn by one actress disappeared as did other original costume items. For instance, Emil originally wore a plaid jacket. Later, when he was shifted into the pseudo Boy Scout outfit, the plaid jacket was sometimes worn by a short lived character called The Plaid Monkey, which was a combination of the jacket and the old Marcel the Monkey mask.

Pamelia Perkins outfit changed many times over the years. Some of the actresses didn’t like wearing the Samantha Sterling pants if it was a time of the month when they felt bloated. One actress playing Samantha in a library show wearing new pants, actually burst out of them when she struck a pose and one of the other cast members quickly found electric tape to patch her up in front of the audience.

Originally the club allowed smoking—and had ashtrays—and it was rough on the performers’ voices. Speaking of which, the role of Otis Wren was so rough on an actor’s voice and energy that usually an actor was scheduled to do it only once a week. At one point, the performers were typed into a “preferred role” meaning that was the role that management saw as ideal for them based on body image. For instance, Otis was considered a “large” person. That scheduling eventually went away but some performers could only perform one or two roles or only felt comfortable doing those roles. It was determined what the characteristics were for each character (eg. Otis was grumpy, Emil was endearing, etc.) but each actor was given leeway in how they achieved that stereotypical characteristic. Actress Sheila Smith Ward actually wore a different perfume for each of the characters she played which occasionally caused some discomfort when she would show up for work and find that she had to do a different role because someone had called in sick.

The actors tried to monitor each other to walk the line of appropriateness without stepping over it. It was determined that if they could say something as a double entendre (so that it could be interpreted different ways) that Disney Legal would back them because they could always say to a disgruntled guest, “We are sorry you interpreted it that way because it was meant this way.” To the best of most performers’ knowledge there was never an incident where they were “coached” about something inappropriate that happened on stage.

Over the years, there were many different directors and if a director took something out that the actors wanted in, they just waited until a new director came on board and slipped it back in.

South Park

Yes, the popular Comedy Central animated series South Park ran an episode titled “The Return of Chef” (March 22, 2006) where Chef had been brainwashed by a club called the ”Super Adventurers Club” composed of explorers who molested children around the world. The interior of the club includes many items familiar to those who visited the P.I. Adventurers Club, including the Main Salon with Babylonia on the wall and the Artemision Bronze (“Zeus with a Fishing Rod”). One of the co-creators and writers of the show, Trey Parker, spent his honeymoon at Walt Disney World and visited the Adventurers Club. You can see just the clip of the Main Salon of the Super Adventurers Club at this link.