Sunday, September 18, 2011

People I've Met in the Past: Part Two

In Part One we explored what I think of as the "Cast of Characters" of early Walt Disney World souvenir guides, the people and pictures and places which are almost signposts on any pictorial trip back into the past. Walt Disney World has a memorable cast, as I'm sure does Disneyland, although my limited collection has really only ever indicated one memorable recurring character in their guides: Phone Girl. There is, however, another type of character we meet in the past, although these people don't generally come to us in one sitting with any one piece of paper, book or booklet.

We become familiar with these characters through collecting. One day you notice a slight difference between two photos you thought were identical in two different publications. You go looking for more of these discrepancies. Gradually more and more are revealed. Even at some remove and allowing for different cropping and printing of the various photos, it becomes possible to reconstruct a photo shoot.

Take this dapper quartet, for example.

They're sitting in the plush environs of the Magnolia Room at the Walt Disney World Golf Clubhouse. Actually, to be specific, they're in the Palm Lounge that adjoins the Magnolia Room on two of its four sides, as the lounge offered those large windows we see overlooking what I believe in the last hole of the Magnolia golf course. The distinctions between the two venues was hazy at best.

First, let's point out the obvious: the screaming colors. Not just that guy on the right's astonishingly orange blazer: even the table setting and glassware reflect that era's curious love of vibrant earthen tones and brazen textile patterns. The artificial splendor of potted trees and bushes is a hallmark of country clubs the world over but here reminds me of the "indoor forest" of the later Village Restaurant at Lake Buena Vista.

I've always been intrigued by Orange Jacket Guy's apparent annoyance at his glass of sweet tea. It's probably just an inopportune moment to have a picture taken, but he really seems sort of annoyed by it.

Hey, see that dinner roll sitting in the middle of the table at the front?

A mildly different angle of the same scene taken possibly immediately before or after the photo above. The lens has been changed and the photographer has moved slightly to the right. This is by far the more commonly printed version of this photo, despite being an arguably inferior one. It's possible it's been badly cropped, but I've yet to turn up a larger version. It's easy to see why it was more often chosen because Orange Jacket Guy doesn't look so annoyed. Notice the golf game progressing in the background?

That dinner roll is still sitting there.

Dinner roll is still sitting there. Apparently these people were not permitted to eat anything. Maybe the food was plastic?

Now the cocktails and soft drinks are gone and a bottle of wine has appeared. Also, Orange Jacket Guy is completely gone, and the stage belongs solely to his friend, who in fact looks remarkably like young Malcolm McDowell.

There's probably even more photos of the adventures of Orange Jacket Guy and Malcolm McDowell-lookalike, but it's sort of remarkable that any variants of the initial set of photos got printed in official publications at all. Disney tended to scrupulously avoid printing obvious variants of similarly staged scenes, so we have no record at all of, say, alternate takes of that couple dining in King Stephan's Banquet Hall.

That's one kind of game that can be played with early WDW publicity. This next example is even more diffuse in that these photos were printed over a very wide variety of brochures and leaflets and feature the same models in very different situations.

I call it the "Beard Guy" series : wherein he and his lady friend could be seen lounging at the Barefoot Bar at the Polynesian Village:

Or lurking at the beach:

Her super-prominent wedding ring here has always intrigued me. Was Disney concerned that their good intentions not be misunderstood or was that just something the model brought with her? Anyway it colors your perception of an otherwise unremarkable picture.

Following hi-jinx at the Polynesian, Beard Guy and Lady Friend leap time and space to the Village, where they may be seen investigating wares in the Candle Chalet:

This is the first example of Beard Guy performing his patented "dramatic reaching for something".

This photo irritates me to no end because it's a really good look at the interior of the Candle Chalet, possibly the only one in existence, and was invariably printed over the seam of two pages of various editions of World Magazine. To even stitch it together the way I've done here I had to undo those thirty year old staples and gently disassemble the book, then put it back together after scanning.

This one is a borderline case. It could be Beard Guy and Lady Friend (the telltale beard isn't visible to help), or it could be a similar couple who were photographed in and around the Lake Buena Vista Club and Treehouses. Whichever it is, it's a very rare look inside the original Flower Garden shop at the Village, so the era is correct, and nobody would likely have noticed the discrepancy had I not just pointed it out to you.

So there.

They've moved on to the Village Restaurant now, and I'd really like to know what Lady Friend is drinking, because if that's beer it's being served in a really unusual glass. It could be a mimosa or something. Notice also the hilariously over sized pepper mill. Massive pepper mills were a real trend there for a while, almost de rigueur to indicate a general shift away from the mid century tendency to use pre-ground pepper, as if the size of a mill made the difference more important. I wonder if she was allowed to eat any of that salad, or whether it was plastic too.

I call that one "Beard Guy Looms".

One thing I like about Beard Guy is that he has two modes: "Dramatically Reaching for Something":

...or: ZANY!

Look at that. Has anybody ever been happier to examine copper cookware than Beard Guy? They're in the middle of the Pottery Chalet, by the way, which besides offering pottery was an all-around housewares store. But seriously, Beard Guy, when he turned on whimsy, the fun never stopped:

"Wicker makes me act all zany!"

Here they are clowning around in Cane, Rattan, Wicker and Suns, a shop that was technically part of Port of Entry. I believe that's the shop's signature item, the wicker rickshaw. Back then, every shop at the Village was sure to stock items intended more for novel shopping than buying, and this was one of them. Not like Walt Disney World vacationers were likely to buy things like giant bamboo birdcages, anyway.

It's easy to make fun of photos like these and in the previous post, but you know what? They're still fun to look at, and not just from a historical perspective, either. We tend to look back with ambivalence at things like marketing from other eras because styles and fashions change; there's no way any of this could be used today to effectively "sell" Walt Disney World even if any of the things shown here still existed (hint: most of them don't).

But who really looks twice at the 2010-era marketing these days? The photos of gleaming pudgy-faced moppets cavorting with costumed characters or in princess dresses show a high degree of technical polish and sophistication, but as marketing has become more sophisticated, charm has been left behind. These photos shown unrehearsed, unretouched people behaving simply in places which were not treated like photo studios. These are real places and we respond to the simple "go out and take pictures" ethic of early Disney World promotion. It shows something far closer to what the actual experience of the place was rather than the MBA statistics-driven school of marketing now in vogue.

Me? I'll take Beard Guy or Sombrero Girl any day. I suspect you would, too.

ADDENDUM: September 22, 2011
Thanks to Mssrs. Jason and Alex, we now know the identity of "Beard Guy". And he is, surprisingly.... noted artist R. Tom Gilleon! No, seriously, look at his site. Tom, a Florida native, worked for WED for a time on EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland before moving out West to paint his familiar vivid canvases. I've also been sent along this recent photo:

Beard Guy, thankfully, still has a beard. This casts entirely new light on these nostalgic promotional photographs: how many of these "unrehearsed" models were actually culled from the talent pool Disney had cultivated in Florida? Tom was probably chosen for his unique expressions and beard, looking as he does not like a Cast Member, but many of the people we see in these photos are fairly well-dressed and trim, which certainly explains some of the unique qualities of many of these early souvenir guides and photographs.

Over at Walt Disney World: a History in Postcards, Brian Martsolf has already identified a number of photographs which likely show the Magic Kingdom during construction, which means that the bulk of the people in those photos were currently employed by Walt Disney World and many of those earliest photographs show the Magic Kingdom very much still in a state of becoming. Take a look again at the "Gene Hackman in a Teacup" photo:

First, obviously, this photograph is from the first eight months of the resort as the roof has not yet been added to the Mad Tea Party. But look in the background, over by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. See that irregularly shaped object? Doesn't it look like something with a tarp thrown quickly over it?

And maybe there aren't as many people walking around the park as you might expect? And look again at "Gene Hackman". Doesn't it look sort of like he's... wearing a name tag?

I'm willing to bet that everyone in this photo is a Cast Member or Contractor for Walt Disney World, that this was taken during a preview day in August or September 1971, and that the object in the background is covering the fact that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still under construction. The ride wouldn't open until December. Sort of puts a new - if you'll pardon the pun - spin on things, doesn't it?

Me? I'm very excited by this news. Now that we know Beard Guy is Tom Gilleon, who knows who Sombrero Girl is or who that kid facing off with one of the seven dwarfs grew up to be.

Maybe it could even be you, reading this blog, right now.

Monday, September 12, 2011

People I've Met in the Past: Part One

Ah, the mighty Walt Disney World Pictorial Souvenir. How many times I've leafed through those pages, researching, scanning, staring - how many of those images have been burned indelibly into my brain. It's true, the real Walt Disney World can disappoint - there's no longer a slow-moving journey through the history of transportation in that big shiny cylinder at EPCOT, but with just a few leaves of paper, twenty or forty years old, and all that history between then and now seems to collapse - the past is always today. This is, of course, the great pleasure of paper collecting. Ephemera becomes a way to relive history, make it seem like the present. It's fun to hold that C ticket in your hand and plot to spend it on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride next time you're at Magic Kingdom. Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

In a way, this sense of lost things being possible to reclaim is especially potent with those pictorial souvenirs of the 70s and 80s. I still have my original one, hardcover, and that book is probably why I became obsessed with Walt Disney World. It still has the texture of my youth bound into its pages. You can see the indentations in the page where I tried to trace the Haunted Mansion when I was eight. So, in a very real way, these books and booklets, which only ever served a short-term marketing purpose of reminding people of their trips and perhaps inspiring new ones, have become windows to the past. It's a trip we've all taken often.

A lot of those photos have become like old friends. And unlike the photographs of today's marketing blitz, they show people in the park how they often really are - unrehearsed, somewhat unglamorous and sort of dopey looking. So let's take a trip into the past and revisit some of the better dopey Walt Disney World denizens of her first ten years. Maybe you'll run into your favorite along the way.

I've often wondered if she's implacable or just embarrassed with her 50 gallon sombrero on. The hesitant tugging at the edges suggests she's seen the camera and is hiding her face. Or maybe there's just a wind and it's threatening to blow away.

Go ahead kid. Touch the mouse. I dare you.

No words can possibly do justice to the sort-of nerdy archer.

Yellow bell bottoms. Yellow and turquoise tile floors. You know you want to be there right now.

It's sort of hard to tell what the dynamic of this hug is. Whatever it is, the kid in the blue sailor outfit could care less about us and our darn pictorial souvenir. No matter how many times I see this, it's still good for my soul to know that Frontierland looks exactly like that today. Not even the signs have changed, nor should they.

Screaming. Whenever you meet Baloo. Screaming.


These people look genuinely terrified by that flambe. Is this some sort of statement about the regular quality of service at the Pueblo Room? And, oh yes. The white suited guy looks on, impassive to their plight.

The Duke shops at Kingdom Jewelers. Is that a Marquis cut or a Lozenge cut you've got there, pilgrim? Oh, come on, you always thought of it while looking at the book, admit it. By the way: I've color corrected this one and I'm shocked at how green that shop was. I always assumed it was a weird printing artifact but, no, it really is an all jade green jewelry store.

Okay, this guy cracks me up. First, he looks too cool, with his pomaded hair, jacket and shades both for that family and to be that lost. Secondly, he's using a wall map as a park map. Seriously, look at that, it's the 1972 original Magic Kingdom wall map folded in thirds, the one with the bugged-out colors. I call him "Genius Guy".

You didn't seriously think I'd let this one go, did you? Child Vs. Dwarf is still brilliant. Think of it: this face-off has been ongoing for forty years now. In another forty years it'll still be happening.

Gene Hackman in a teacup. Actually, this one is sort of disappointing, because this guy looks markedly less like Gene Hackman when scanned in huge and color-corrected, instead of while squinting at forty-year-old paper. You want to see Gene Hackman at Walt Disney World?? Here you go:

There it is. Gene Hackman versus the Salt Water Express. I think the drugs are hidden in the guitar.

It's Gondolier Day at the Haunted Mansion! If you don't believe me, look at the guy further on up the line from the guy in the red stripes; he's wearing blue stripes and a straw hat. See? Totally a Gondolier. By the way, this photograph is impossible to take today; it'd look like an explosion in a red canvas factory. It's pretty cool to see the way this looked before even the familiar green canopy was up. Can't have been fun to wait in the sun, though.

Another classic. Who doesn't remember Old Guy In The Window?

OLD GUY IN THE WINDOW POV!!! A rarely seen "backside of Traders of Timbuktu" shot. Check out that awesome bag the lady in the middle has. And of course, that freaky cow-horse creature in the front. They were all over the store:

See them up top? This store was called, depending on the era, either The Magic Carpet or the Brass Bazaar, and seemed to attract unusually high numbers of Blurry Old Folks. It was renovated into Elephant Tales in the late 80s and finally closed to make way for.... nothing. The Old Guy window still exists; it's behind a register in the "Agrabah" shop across from that awful Aladdin spinner. There are no window carpets, freaky horses, or blurry old guys there anymore. You really shouldn't go looking for it; you'll just get depressed.

I warned you!

I believe this is Papeete Bay Verandah. Wherever it is, it's very red. I seriously doubt anything this red would be allowed to be printed now.

Seating Area for the Sunshine Tree Terrace and, again, a picture you currently can't take because of the Aladdin spinner. It's hard to tell, but I think that's the Sunshine Tree / Floria Citrus Growers logo ringing the table. I really like how the yellow and green umbrellas put one in a citrus mindset without ever having to so much as show you an orange.

These come from a GAF Guide, specifically the "How To Take Pictures" section that came in all those early Magic Kingdom guidemaps. So these are obviously staged "family photos", but what's the deal with the children wearing ponchos??? Not only that, it's the same kids in each picture, but the ponchos are different! It can't have been fun to wear those in any sort of Florida heat, so it was probably a colder winter day (we get them in Florida, you know!) and the kids demanded them to stay warm. So some poor assistant had to high-tail it to Frontierland or wherever it was they got these things to borrow some ponchos. But why different ones? Did the kids fall in the sub lagoon after the second picture was taken??

The world will, likely, never know.

Hey! Guys! It's DST! I think! It stands for..... Something... something... Track! And they're at the Tomorrowland Terrace! And there's lots of backs of people's heads and stuff!

I'm 90% certain that this is The Space Port, Tomorrowland's original shop, which later became "Merchant of Venus" to funnel those happy happy kids leaving the new Alien Encounter attraction into a merchandise shop. My 1972 GAF Guide describes it as:
The Space Port - Contemporary Decorative Gifts
And I guess that describes what we see here pretty well. I love that polka dot dress! And what is that kid in the stroller reaching for, anyway? No shoplifting, kid!

Again, the inner Traders of Timbuktu courtyard. It kills me that this has been demolished. Old Guy Window is to the immediate right.

Possibly a nun? With a camera? Whatever, she's got an awesome bag and the first letter of "Frontierland" superimposed near her, so she's cooler than I am. She's in the middle of Liberty Square and the area right behind her near that tree is the current home of a speaker cleverly disguised as a birdhouse. Behind her is the future home of Thunder Mesa, I mean Splash Mountain. Before Big Thunder started construction in 1978, this area was known as "The Meadow" because...

....Yeah. All man made, however, which is pretty amazing. Show this to someone and dare them to identify it as Walt Disney World; it's fun.

Hey, watch out! You're gonna get squirted! Just kidding. This is thirty years before these guys would be made to squirt water, back when they were down in front of the Jungle Cruise and devoted to awesome drumming.

Hey! Yeah! Finally... some action!


Yow! Hot stuff! These demonstrate a beloved 'Pictorial Souvenir' motif... which things that don't really go fast... do.

And who could forget this handsome specimen:

"Listen, I'm awake, what else do you want from me?"

One could look at the kid grasping his face in the foreground there. Or the fact that there's a mob of people at The Lunching Pad there in the background. Or the fact that we can see the end of the Peoplemover track at the very top of the image; it wouldn't be finished until 1975 and just ended there in space. But you know what I love most? The rare on-the-ground view of the Great Construction Wall of Tomorrowland in the very back. Groovy.

I'll leave it up to you to decide what they're looking at. This is a blog about a family park, after all.

I'll end with one of my favorites. This captures everything wonderful and awkward about early Walt Disney World photographs. The staging, composition, Meadow in the background...

"Look happy! Look at it! Look at the bird!
Hey! Don't make it so obvious that you're holding him!
Look happy!"

...Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!