Disneyland's Last Space Girlby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
In the early years of Disneyland, there were live performers that were associated with particular areas of the park. In Frontierland, Sherrif Lucky (named after retired Los Angeles police officer Lucky Fauntz who originated the role) helped keep law and order even if it meant four gunfights a day with a crooked goateed gambler named Black Bart. Over those early years, several different performers played those roles.
Robin Hood and some of his Merry Men, inspired by the 1952 Disney live-action movie, sometimes hung around by Sleeping Beauty Castle, which at one time in the early planning stages of the park was going to be named Robin Hood Castle.In Tomorrowland, there was a Space Man and a Space Girl who greeted guests. Over the years, several different performers played those roles and the costumes changed, as well. One Space Man had “K-7” on his helmet; one Space Girl had leggings and a cape.
Carol Farris was the last performer to play Space Girl. Thanks to the graciousness of Matt Crandall, the No. 1 authority of all things about Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, I was able to connect with Carol and ask her a few questions about this little-known Disneyland character. She is the sister-in-law of Edie, the Disneyland Mermaid from 1966 that I interviewed.Farris was born on March 13, 1944 in Kansas City, Mo. Six months later, she and her family (including a brother who was three years older) moved to a tract home in Lakewood, Calif. When the parents separated, Carol and her brother stayed with her mother who found work as a seamstress and eventually managed a clothing manufacturer business.
“In the late '50s mom had a job offer from Disney Productions,” Farris wrote. “Worried it may not be a secure position as her current job, she declined the offer. My brother and I were so disappointed. Our mother working for Disney! How special was that? So yes, anything connected with Walt Disney had a special ring to it. A trip to Disneyland was top priority from any child growing up in the '50s and '60s.”The Farris children attended St. Bernard’s School in Bellflower and St. Anthony’s High School in Long Beach. For her senior year, Carol Farris transferred to public Mayfair High School and graduated from there in 1962. A year or so after graduating, she got the job as the final Space Girl in Tomorrowland.
Jim Korkis: How did you end up auditioning for the role of the Space Girl at Disneyland?
Carol Farris: Let’s go back to June 1962. I graduated from high school, with my last two years working part time at Domenico’s pizza restaurant. I realized that I needed to get a full-time job, but also hoped I might not find one immediately so I could enjoy summer at the beach. I was wrong and I was hired right away in the personnel department of North American Aviation (NNA). Within a few months, I realized this was not for me.
I enrolled at Cerritos City College and transferred to the night typing pool at NAA. When I was working in the typing pool at NAA, we were typing up rough drafts about the food, space suits, and all the needs for the astronauts on the next future space flight. Then, I became Space Girl at Disneyland and, today, my husband Fred, who is now retired is a physicist and worked in the astrophysics department at UCSD.
JK: So how did you move from the typing pool to Disneyland?
CF: While waiting to enter my next class, a friend came up to me to tell me of a job she thought I was totally suited for at Disneyland. The reason being that for the job, you had to be 6-feet-tall or more. I am just a little over 6-foot-1. It sounded like fun and I called for an appointment.
I wasn’t feeling keen that I would actually get the job, because I had heard many people had been turned away when applying for a job at Disneyland. At the time working at Disney felt like being part of Hollywood. When I arrived for the interview, three people were sitting around a desk, and began to ask me several questions about being the Space Girl. One of the questions was that if I was hired for the position, would I be willing to bleach my hair white. I declined and several questions later, they took my picture and I was escorted to wardrobe.
The short dress from the previous girl fit and the high heel boots were a fit, as well and I started two days later as Space Girl with no real exacting requirements as to what was expected of me. They explained that Pete (Space Man) would fill me in.
I was Space Girl at Disneyland for about a year and a half until late 1965 and, from what I remember, we were the last space couple. I think I was so readily hired, because they had been searching for quite a while, and wanted Pete to have a partner. Before I hired on, I was unaware there was such a position as Space Girl, so I had not seen the previous girls at Disneyland. I never even saw pictures. I don’t remember Pete talking about the other Space Girl, and wish I could remember his last name!
JK: What was Pete like?
CF: Pete was single, and I don’t think even had a girlfriend. He was definitely quite adventurous and would add creative events to our working days. He would sometimes find a conspicuous spot, pick a pose and freeze...then I would time him on how long he could hold position, gathering a large crowd in so doing. We were constantly asked to pose for pictures, but rarely asked for our autograph. I don’t think we were perceived with such recognition as the fantasy characters. We would regularly walk over to the submarine ride and see if we could spot the mermaids.
JK: So what were the instructions Pete gave you?
CF: Pete was great to work with if you could call it work. The job was just walking around pretending to be an astronaut, posing for pictures and visiting with various ride operators. Usually, it was an eight-hour shift, working about five-and-a-half hours on stage with several off-stage breaks in between to make sure we wouldn’t be overwhelmed from the sun on hot days. That was never a problem for us but the fantasy characters suffered greatly because of their confined costumes.
JK: Did you get to interact with the other Disney characters?
CF: Since we weren’t “supposed” to leave Tomorrowland, we didn’t get to interact with the other characters, except several times a week we met with the fantasy characters at the entrance when the park opened. We played around with the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Mickey himself and others. That was always a fun time.
JK: Was your costume uncomfortable?
CF: The dress I wore was silver and made of light breathable material, so it was never uncomfortable. We didn’t have another back up costume, or leggings for colder weather, but I don’t ever remember feeling a need for such. Our helmets could get uncomfortable on exceptionally hot days, but our breaks were so frequent, it was never a struggle.
JK: What was a typical workday like?
CF: On our workday, we were supposed to be in public view at all times, except on breaks. On hot days we would cruise through the Pac Bell exhibit for some cool air and the theatre in the round was always enjoyable to view. We also liked to hang out by the Submarine Voyage and visit with the crew there. As far as hourly wage, it must have been minimum wage or maybe a little more. Friends didn’t really come and visit while working at Disneyland, but when relatives came to visit, I became their tour guide.
JK: So there were no restrictions on the space couple as long as you didn’t leave Tomorrowland?
CF: One exhibit we weren’t allowed to enter was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Our space persona didn’t really fit with the theme of the exhibit. However, periodically, we would venture in. Midway in the exhibit, at an entry into a following room, we would appear as statues with our hands extended inviting the guests to shake. The lighting being dark, our costumes appeared almost as underwater suits. We were so tall that I don’t think the guests even looked at our helmets. They were so impressed with how “real” we looked. Guests would shake our hand and freak, calling over friends to explain how terrific Disney was in creating such realness to their exhibit characters. We towered over everyone so they never noticed us trying to hold back our laughter.
JK: In the photo I saw of the two of you, you and Pete seemed to be much taller than the little old ladies posing with you.
CF: Actually, because of our height, most people were somewhat intimidated, Pete was I think 6’9” with at least a two to three inch sole on his shoes, and then the helmet, and my heels were at least two to three inches high - we were pretty daunting in appearance. So our dialogue was usually minimal, some would even be afraid to ask to pose with us. They would just stand by us and hurriedly take a picture. Depending on how we felt on any given day, we would choose how much we wanted to interact as far as conversation.
JK: What did you do at the end of the day?
CF: At the end of the day, there was a changing room where we left our costumes. We didn’t have a backup costume, so Disney laundered and made sure all was in good condition for the next appearance. Sometimes in the changing room I would meet characters from Fantasyland and we discussed how our day went. As far as socializing with park employees, there were always invitations to parties, but at the time I was somewhat socially inept, so would rarely attend. Pete did and would tell me the next day about the party. We also didn’t have a substitute in case of illness, but I don’t remember either one of us not being there for our work days, which was usually about four days a week.
As far as I know Pete and I were the last space couple, which I think ended around late 1965. Not sure why Disney chose to end the space couple. My thought is that the space couple was not memorable characters as were the fantasy characters, and I assume those others were enough to represent the Disney spirit.
JK: Did you ever see Walt Disney when you were working?
CF: I only remember seeing Walt once when we passed him while walking in a holiday parade. There was always a thought of reverence when mentioning his name.
JK: What did you do after Disneyland?
CF: While working at Disney, within a few months, I quit school. Because of my dyslexia, I made a poor student. I entered Cosmetology school in Long Beach and became a hair stylist for a few years. Feeling this environment was not for me, I decided to fulfill my desire to travel in Europe. Years later, in 1972, I returned to the San Diego area and opened my own one-chair shop cutting men’s hair only, although I still do some traveling both overseas and domestically. Amusingly, a year after working at Disneyland, my brother began dating and eventually married Edie, who had been a mermaid at Disneyland in the Submarine Lagoon.
JK: Do you have a favorite memory of your time at Disneyland?
CF: When I think of my time at Disney not one particular thing stands out, it is all remembered as great fun.
In case there are any interested MousePlanet readers in the area: Disney voice artist Mark Silverman (the voice of Rod Serling in Tower of Terror) and I will be the guest speakers at the Dayton Disneyana Show at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Dayton, Ohio on June 30 and July 1. The event is open to the public. For further information, go to this link.