Who was Pleasure Island's Raoul Manzanera?

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

You might think that after I have written a dozen columns about Pleasure Island, without repeating any information, that I wouldn’t have anything new to share about that now lamentably almost vacant location. Well, I would have thought so, too, after more than three years of researching and documenting the material.

We would both be wrong.

I continue to unearth new documents about the elaborate and unwieldy storyline. While Pleasure Island might no longer be the pleasure it once was for Walt Disney World guests, there is still such a nostalgic affection for its original design and story that I continue to write about it.

You can check out those previous 12 columns I wrote about Pleasure Island (link).

In those past columns, I discussed how convoluted the storyline was for Pleasure Island. Walt Disney Imagineers seemed to have forgotten that the classic Disney attractions could easily be explained in a sentence: “999 happy haunts have retired to an old mansion but are still looking for one more” or “A runaway mine train spirals wildly out of control through a haunted mountain”. Unfortunately, recent themed additions have massive back stories. The new storyline for Prince Charming Regal Carrousel at the Magic Kingdom is a hefty two paragraphs and still leaves major gaps in the story logic.

Unfortunately, sometimes those simpler storylines prompted cast and guests to “invent” stories about attractions. Master Gracey was never intended to be the owner of the Haunted Mansion, but, thanks to people (and the unfortunate live-action film that had beautiful art direction but a horrendous story), it is now “official” that it was Gracey’s mansion. Or that a ribbon around the tail of a carousel horse identified the horse as the personal steed for Cinderella. When it came to Pleasure Island, the Imagineers made sure that every moment and character was identified.

The storyline for Pleasure Island encompassed every building in excruciating detail. In addition, there were countless characters who influenced the history of the mythological Pleasure Island, including Guiseppe Rohde (yes, a tribute to Imagineer Joe Rohde who, among other responsibilities, art directed the Adventurers Club) and Raoul Manzanera. Those names are probably unfamiliar to even the most devout fans of Pleasure, but, according to new information I have uncovered, they were very much a part of the story—until around 1988 when they were edited out of the final two dozen plaques or so that were installed on the Island in 1989.

Parts of their story were shared orally by Imagineers with some of the opening day cast. Some of those bits and pieces miraculously survived orally for about five to six years before being totally forgotten, as I discovered when I interviewed people.

Fortunately, I recently found written documentation about those stories. People assume that the Disney Company must have huge files that include all these documents perfectly preserved, but after exploring several internal Disney libraries and other resources, that is sadly not the case. Sometimes there are file folders where items have been tossed in random order—often without dates or identification. Some documentation was destroyed to save storage costs when the attraction changed or closed.

Thankfully, some people who worked on various projects kept copies of some of this information for their own personal files and amusement. Occasionally, some of this material pops up on eBay or special sales or conventions. Recently, I was able to obtain a copy of the original text for the Pleasure Island plaques before they were edited for the final versions.

So, using that detailed document from 1988, here is the story of Guiseppe Rohde and Raoul Manzanera.

According to the official history of Pleasure Island, there was an Upholstery Shop that opened in 1923 (and in 1989 became Changing Attitudes, a trendy clothing and accessories shop that closed in 2006), six full-time seamstresses worked on the interiors of the custom yachts that M.A. Pleasure was building. However, the rest of the story written in 1988, and generally unknown to both cast and guests, was that the business “shut down in 1932. In 1934, this space was leased to Guiseppe Rohde, Furniture Re-Upholsterer and part-time Taxidermist (also an expert on Italian opera, and protégé of Isabella Pleasure, M.A. Pleasure’s wife who loved opera). Merriweather allowed Giuseppe to work on one of his trophies, the head of a Mongolian Yakoose and the results of his (dubious) efforts can be seen on the wall of the Adventurers Club Main Salon. A war time shortage of kapok put Rohde out of business, and this space was abandoned in 1943.”

The final plaque that was installed on the building in 1989 eliminated the name of Guiseppe Rohde entirely and was edited down to the following description:

“CHANGING ATTITUDES. Pleasure Perfect Upholstery. 1923. Six full-time seamstresses worked here to refurbish the interiors of the custom yachts in the Pleasure Island Dry Dock. In 1934, the shop was responsible for stuffing the head of a rare Mongolian Yakoose for the Adventurers Club. This profitable sideline ended in 1943 when a war time shortage of kapok put taxidermy on the endangered species list.”

Today, the plaque is long gone and the building now houses the Orlando Harley-Davidson shop offering genuine T-shirts, gifts and collectibles.

Another character who was strongly promoted in the early planning but disappeared when Pleasure Island officially opened was Raoul Manzanera.

From the official Imagineering storyline for Pleasure Island from 1989: “An elaborate wedding worthy of royalty is held when Pleasure’s daughter Merriam, on her 22 birthday, marries an ambitious tango composer from Argentina, Raoul Manzanera on July 4, 1933.”

Of course, it never occurred to any of the show writers to indicate whether Merriam met Manzanera on one of her many journeys with her father or if he was a special invited guest to the Island or what it was about this fellow that charmed the independent and adventuresome daughter of Merriweather Adam Pleasure. By the way, Merriam, along with her father, founded the infamous Adventurers Club the year before she was married so Manzanera might have had some connection with that location as well. Or was it the Argentine tango which includes a close embrace that thrilled Merriam? There are a lot of unanswered questions that might exist elsewhere or may be lost forever after two decades. I did contact two former Disney cast members who might have known and they had nothing to add.

Manzanera was involved with two of the buildings on Pleasure Island.

Did you ever wonder why Mannequins had a huge turntable on the floor? Well, it was because it assisted Manzanera in his work to create a new locomotive that was dubbed “Maxwell’s Demon”.

According to legend, the building was where Pleasure originally made the canvas that made him famous throughout the world. In 1922, he moved the Canvas Works to a much larger new facility at the other end of the Island, in a facility that would become the AMC Movie Theater complex in 1989. The Mannequins building re-dubbed Warehouse No. 3 was leased out to Invincible Pictures in 1931 for use as a soundstage. Two early talkies were supposedly filmed there: Fighting Devil Dogs of Orlando (based on the life of Pleasure’s poker pal and Adventurers Club regular, Hathaway Browne who was portrayed by Warner Oland) and The Blushing Bridegroom (a musical, starring Rod LaRoque, Conrad Nagel and Helen Twelvetrees, with M.A. Pleasure in a bit part as “The Train Conductor”).

The film company moved to Hollywood in 1932 and the place was once again used for storage. That was supposed to help explain why mannequins dressed in theatrical costumes hung throughout the building, since they were left-overs from the film company. Oh, and that Upholstery Shop that shut down in 1932 closed that year because it had been making costumes for the films in order to stay in business.

Got all of that? Good, because now it is going to get more complicated—so don’t drink that Kungaloosh just yet because you will need a clear head to connect all the rest of the dots.

The official plaque was going to include the following information: “In 1935, Pleasure remodeled the warehouse into a massive design studio for his son-in-law Raoul Manzanera, who was obsessed with a new system of locomotive propulsion combining thermodynamics and magnetism in what he called ‘Thermomagnetics’. A colossal turntable was installed to facilitate his work on ‘Maxwell’s Demon’, a gargantuan locomotive that would revolutionize world transportation. This project (funded by a secret government contract worth millions) became so huge in scope that Raoul had to move it to an even larger facility, in what is now the AMC Theater complex.”

Manzanera believed, according to other documentation about the original building that now houses the AMC Theaters, that the project would “restore the steam-powered locomotive to its rightful place in the forefront of American transportation. With a colossal government subsidy, he began the development of a mammoth train locomotive that utilized his controversial process of 'Thermomagnetics'—a process that reduced coal use to one-20th of the average steam engine. When the construction of this project became so massive it outgrew its island birthplace, Manzanera had to re-model this building (the largest in the area) to pursue his dream. In October 1940, just as he was getting ready to test the four-pipe magneto engine in his prototype, 'Maxwell’s Demon,' disaster struck. The government canceled his contract and the Securities and Exchange Commission sued him for fraud. They had discovered that Manzanera’s train wouldn’t be able to run on normal gauge train tracks. His locomotive would require an entirely new system of rails, three feet farther apart, to be constructed throughout America. When he heard about this treachery, Manzanera flew into a rage. He invited his former benefactors down from Washington to see the "Demon," but instead of taking them inside the building, Raoul, laughing hysterically, rammed down a nearby plunger and blew the facility sky high. All that remained was the super-structure in the middle of the factory, and some of the outer buildings. Re-built in 1988-89 by a joint effort of AMC Theaters and the Disney Company.”

Whew! Manzanera then disappears from the Pleasure Island storyline and chronology. Since this dynamite explosion of “Prototype Design Center” happened at the end of 1940, we might assume that Manzanera—to escape the consequences of his actions—joined his wife Merriam on the ill-fated Dominoe yacht. That ship, during an Antarctica Circumnavigation, was lost at sea with Merriam, her father and the entire crew in 1941.

If Raoul’s “Maxwell’s Demon” sounds familiar, it is a reference to Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell’s concept of an imaginary creature who is able to sort hot molecules from cold molecules without expending energy, thus bringing about a general decrease in entropy and violating the second law of thermodynamics.

See how clear the story of Pleasure Island was? I am sure guests immediately recognized the reference and had a good chuckle. Well, maybe not. I have a master's degree and graduated from Occidental College with honors but even I had to resort to the internet to decipher the reference.

If you are a fan of the Adventurers Club, check out this (link), because the second-annual Adventurers Club convention will be happening in Orlando in October with lots of interesting events.