Birth of Disney Fandom Part Two: The NFFCby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Last week, I wrote about the birth of organized Disney fandom as we know it today. A group of unorganized, diverse Disney enthusiasts and collectors joined together in the early 1980s through fanzines (self-published magazines) and two Disneyana collector groups: The Mouse Club and The National Fantasy Fan Club.
Last week, I wrote about the history of The Mouse Club, and this week is the story of the other organization that was the foundation of Disney fandom and it still exists today. In addition, I will discuss the first Disney Company-produced Disneyana convention that was inspired by the popularity and success of the conventions held by The Mouse Club and The National Fantasy Fan Club.
National Fantasy Fan Club
Louis Boish, an accounting and finance consultant, read about The Mouse Club in a collector’s newspaper. He attended the second convention held at the Jolly Roger Inn near Disneyland in August 1983. It was announced during that event that there would be no convention scheduled for 1984 because of the Olympics being held in Los Angeles that summer.
Boish didn’t want to go for such a long period of time without interacting with fellow Disney fans. Boish contacted Ed and Elaine Levin, the owners of the Mouse Club, to get permission to start a small, informal Mouse Club sub-chapter in Southern California. Twelve people showed up for the first meeting in early 1984 at Boish’s condo in Santa Ana, California. The group continued to meet and quickly grew to 50 people. The second meeting was held at the home of Marian Guiver in order to accommodate the larger group.
In the fall of 1984, control of the Mouse Club shifted to Kim and Julie McKuen, who were adamant that the convention still be held in the month of August to coincide with the Glendale Toy Show. However, 1985 was to be the 30th anniversary of Disneyland and many members felt it would be more appropriate to hold the next Mouse Club convention in July in connection with the Disneyland celebration.
Other philosophical disputes arose as well that could not be resolved. The Southern California group decided that they would set up their own organization to be called The National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC). It was to be a non-profit membership driven organization and not owned by one person. A volunteer board of directors would work for the members and they would publish their own newsletter and hold their own conventions. In addition, the organization would aggressively promote the formation of local chapters around the world. In addition to a yearly convention, there would be monthly meetings.
Boish edited the first preview newsletter, Ducktails and Mousemania, which came out in October/November 1984. The group was called the National Fantasy Fan Club to avoid any mention of “Disney” in the name to circumvent any legal issues. Not all of the members embraced that title, wanting some suggestion of Disneyana in the title.
The quarterly newsletter was renamed “Fantasy Line” for its first January 1985 issue (and then “Fantasy Line Express” starting in 1994). The internal newsletter for Disneyland cast members was called “Disneyland Line” and that title influenced the choice of the name of the newsletter.
Corky Lynch did much of the early artwork for the NFFC newsletter, as well as special artwork and logos for the club. For a short while, starting in April 1992, there was also a small monthly NFFC newsletter called “The Dispatch,” with up-to-date news to fill in between the quarterly issues of the regular newsletter.
The first NFFC three-day long convention was held at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim in July 1985, with roughly 250 attendees (and 400 non-members showing up for the open to the public Show and Sale on Sunday). At the time, the NFFC had 360 members in 24 states, in addition to Canada and Japan.
The group received a special mailgram from President Ronald Reagan sending his good wishes:
“For over 50 years, generations of Americans of all ages have been entertained and thrilled by the genius of Walt Disney. Today, almost 20 years after his death, his wondrous and enchanting creations serve as forces for responsible and moral films for children around the world. In collecting memoribilia from this great American’s works, you help to perpetuate his place in the life of our nation and to preserve the fine principles on which all his efforts were based. Nancy joins me in wishing you all the best for a happy and successful meeting."
Guest speakers included Ward Kimball (who gave the keynote speech), Bob Moore, Bill Justice, Wally Boag, Wayne Allwine, Les Perkins, Tommy Cole and Andreas Deja (along with animators from The Black Cauldron) among others. Disneyland Ambassador Melissa Tyler told of her around-the-world tour with Mickey Mouse to promote Disneyland’s 30th birthday. It was organized by David Wurts, Carole Kenyon Mumford and Al Halpern (Halpern would go on to be the sole convention coordinator for many years).
A second convention in 1986 included both Richard and Robert Sherman. When a bench could not be located for the piano, Richard ended up sitting on a phone book on a chair in order to play some of the songs. Other speakers included Herb Ryman, Tony Baxter (on new Disneyland attractions for 1986-1990), Les Perkins, Claude Coats, Dave Smith, Bob Moore, Tony Anselmo, Ron Stark (of S/R Laboratories), Sherri Alberoni, Tommy Cole, and Wally Boag.
An annual Strictly Disney Show and Sale one-day event was first held beginning January 1988 as a way of keeping the magic alive between annual July conventions. The Show and Sale was open to the general public.
The World Chapter, the Florida chapter of the NFFC, held its first “mini convention” from Sept. 29-Oct, 1, 1988. It had its own impressive newsletter, titled World Tales & Mouse Review that had started in 1987. “Prerequisite for World Chapter membership—a genuine love and enthusiasm for Disney” plus $10 yearly dues.
The group took the popular Disney University “Innovations in Action” tour visiting Central Shops, the Utilidor, the Tree Farm and more. Conventioneers from California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, South Carolina, as well as the local Florida members, listened to Ada Jo Miller talk about how computers controlled attractions and the parade at the Magic Kingdom; Don “Ducky” Williams and Russell Schroeder talked about doing art for the Disney Company and their contributions to Mickey’s Birthdayland; Lois Gail discussed repairing Audio-Animatronic figures; and Derric Johnson talked about the preparation involved in musical productions, like the Candlelight Processional and the Voices of Liberty.
The featured speaker was animator Harry Holt, who began his career on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and was then still doing sketching at the Hospitality House on Main Street. The Viscount Hotel in the Walt Disney World Village provided the setting for a variety of speakers, sales tables and even a miniature Main Street Cinema. Over the course of the event, there was a Magic Kingdom Treasure Hunt, auctions and more.
Throughout the decades, the NFFC has had nine presidents, beginning with Marian Guiver and continuing through Louis Boish, Nicolasa Nevarez, Donnie Lynch, Frank J. Pascale III, Jay Aldrich, Rebekah Moseley, Kendra Trahan and currently Gary Schaengold.
Beginning in January 1993, the NFFC instituted the NFFC Disney Legends Awards. The first group inducted were Marc Davis, Bill Justice, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Over 100 individuals have received the honor in the following years, including many that have never yet been recognized by the Disney Company.
In January 2010, the NFFC inaugurated another award, the NFFC-Disneyana Fan Club Heritage Award, honoring individuals outside the Walt Disney Company who have made significant contributions to promoting awareness of, as well as preservation of, Disney history. The first honoree was Leonard Maltin.
In 2009, the members voted to officially change the name to the Disneyana Fan Club, since many people didn’t make the connection between the name NFFC and Disney. President Gary Schaengold negotiated with the Disney Company for permission to use the word “Disneyana”. The club still operates today with more than two-dozen local chapters.
In the interests of full disclosure, I was a member of the NFFC when it started in 1984 and remain one today. In the early days, many of us continued to have memberships in both The Mouse Club and the NFFC. I have also had the pleasure and honor of being a guest speaker at both the National NFFC Convention in Anaheim and the World Chapter conventions in Orlando over the years, although I much prefer sitting in the audience listening to the other speakers and taking notes.
Many prestigious Disney fans have been members of the NFFC including Didier Ghez (who joined in 1986), Greg Ehrbar, Jim Hill and many, many others.
The NFFC has an audio cassette library (and later a video library) of its presentations. The Mouse Club videotaped speakers at its conventions and I hope those surface sometime and get transcribed.
The popularity (and the financial rewards) of the conventions held by the Mouse Club and the NFFC did not go unnoticed by the the Disney Company. In September 24-27, 1992, Disney held its first Disneyana convention at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort in Orlando.
The Disneyana convention was a major production with an elaborate attendee package (including a watch and a special medallion) as well as limited edition merchandise for sale.
Thursday evening was an Ice Cream Social at the Contemporary with original Mouseketeers Bobby, Sharon and Sherri autographing photographs at a façade of the Mouseketeer Clubhouse.
Friday had Dick Nunis (chairman of Walt Disney Attractions) driving up with Mickey Mouse in the LiMOUSEine. Guests attended the official opening session in the Fantasia Ballroom. Jack Wagner, the voice of Disney, was the emcee. The speakers were Nunis recalling his years at Disney, landscaper Bill Evans, Max Howard (about Feature Animation in Florida), and Ester Ewert of Disney Art Editions.
That was just the morning. The afternoon had a Limited Edition Sale and Artist Signing, a Disneyana Fair selling signs and props, a Disney Business Group Presentation (with displays from everyone from The Disney Channel to Disney Vacation Club to Disney Classics Collection), and a Disneyana trade show with independent dealers. The day finished with a Disneyana auction where an original individual Dumbo unit from Disneyland sold for $16,000).
On Saturday, Dave Smith and Robert Tieman were delivered to the convention in an armored truck for their presentation of 30 treasures of the Walt Disney Archives. In my opinion, both Dave and Robert should have counted as part of those treasures.
Imagineer Tony Baxter talked about Euro Disneyland and Admiral Joe Fowler enthralled the crowd even though he was in his 90s. That afternoon, the general public was allowed to join the conventioneers at various fairs and trade shows to spend their money. However, only the conventioneers got to attend that night’s banquet that finished with The Kids of the Kindgom performing “The Best of Disney.”
The 1993 convention was held in Anaheim, California. The Disneyana conventions hosted by Disney ended in 2003 and there is still speculation about the reasons for its demise. One Disney leader pointed out that while the convention made a healthy profit, it did not make an “obscene profit,” meaning that the time, labor, and resources could be re-allocated to something like pins and generate more income with less effort for the Disney Company.
The best Disney friend of both the Mouse Club and the NFFC was Disney Archivist Dave Smith, who gave presentations at conventions held by both groups, supplied moral support and also graciously answered questions about Disney history and Disneyana merchandise.
Most of us just think of Dave Smith as awesome and maybe that is enough. However, I hope some day someone will write all the amazing things he has done over the decades, including compiling a Disney family genealogy (at the request of Roy O. Disney), saved information files and documents that were in danger of extinction, helped save the Disney Company millions of dollars in lawsuits, rediscovered people like Virginia Davis, and established the official birthday of Mickey Mouse.
However, that is just the tip of the iceberg of his many accomplishments. I think one of the most amazing things he did was encourage and inspire countless Disney enthusiasts (myself included).
Imagineer Tony Baxter also gave presentations and encouragement to both groups. Disney Legends, like Bill Justice, Ward Kimball, Ken Anderson, Marc Davis, and more, were also highly visible and gave generously of their time, talent and knowledge.
By 1990, the focus for many Disneyana collectors was shifting to animation art, in particular cels, and there were dozens of dealers offering those items for sale. The history of Disney cel collecting, including the abuses in that hobby, is a topic for another column.
I am currently finishing up two more columns on the birth of Disney fandom. One will focus on the Disney fanzines and Disney-oriented magazines that also helped bring focus to a diverse group of Disney fans. The other column will bring some focus to some important names who were pioneers in Disney fandom, but whose names are generally forgotten today.
However, I realize that many readers are not as fascinated by this topic as I am so there will a wide variety of topics the next few weeks before I return to this story. I do believe this story needs to be documented before it is forgotten.