For many years, the public never knew the name of anyone else who worked at the Disney Studio. The first large official book written about the magic of the Disney Studio, THE ART OF WALT DISNEY by Robert Field (Macmillian 1942) spends a couple hundred pages describing the animation process at Disney in some detail without mentioning another artist's name besides Walt. For many years, voice artists weren't allowed to reveal that they did voices for Disney characters.
It was only after the death of Walt Disney and the diligent research and luck of a variety of Disney fans and researchers that certain names from Carl Barks to Bill Justice to Jack Hannah to more started to get some recognition.
However, while hundreds of thousands of people have worked for the Disney Company over the decades, there are many people who contributed to the magic who still remain unknown.
Eighty year old Paul Castle is a name that is unfamiliar to Disney fans and he has long since moved out of the Los Angeles area to a nice condo in Edmond, Oklahoma. Yet, he actually casts a very long shadow in Disney history even though in actuality he is only four feet, six inches tall.
Paul retired from the Walt Disney Company in 1986 after a quarter of a century of assisting in the portrayal of Mickey Mouse. He was the one who helped celebrate Mickey Mouse's Fiftieth birthday with the star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame in 1973. He was the one in the final picture taken of Walt Disney at Disneyland that graces the entrance of the ONE MAN'S DREAM attraction at Disney/MGM Studios. He was the one riding in the seat next to Walt for the Rose Parade where Walt was Grand Marshall.
A young girl once wrote to Walt Disney inquiring what the plural of Mickey Mouse was. Walt took the time to respond personally in a very nice letter where he gently explained that just like her, Mickey was a unique one-of-a-kind person. He went on to explain that while there may be another person with the same name as the little girl, there could only be one of her and thus only one Mickey Mouse. Walt thanked her for her letter and sent not only his best wishes but those of Mickey and Minnie as well.
It is that philosophy that resulted in the Disney character performers developing the term that they were not the character but "assisting in the portrayal" of the character or "a friend" of the character. After all, there is only one Mickey Mouse and he must always behave the same even though over the decades there have been many talented performers who have assisted in his portrayal.
At the age of seven, Paul entered his first ice skating competition which eventually led to him many years later becoming an ensemble skater with three-time Olympic gold medallist Sonja Henie and a decade long career with the Ice Capades.
He also had a movie and television career. His first movie role was in JUNGLE JIM AND THE MOON MEN in 1953 with Johnny Weissmuller. In addition, he made good money standing in for children in movies and television shows like DENNIS THE MENACE.
Paul's specialty in the Ice Capades was performing falls and rolls in animal character costumes. The rough and tumble activity often brought injury to his diminutive frame including a fractured leg. Jumping through a hoop over eight circus wagons (twenty-two inches high) and leaping over fifteen feet of suitcases had been a hallmark of part of his act.
While performing, he met his wife Anna whom he married in 1947. Three years later they were skating in the Ice Capades as two of Cinderella's mice.
Ice Capades had started featuring Disney characters a year earlier in 1949 with a SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS segment in which Paul also performed. For years, Ice Capades featured a Disney segment in their regular show. When Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt borrowed the Disney costumes from the Ice Capades and the costumes stayed in service at Disneyland for four or five years until the Disney Company began creating its own.
In my archives, I have a copy of the 1958 ICE CAPADES program and it lists the following description for Paul: "PAUL CASTLE...the mighty mite! Short but mighty, small but speedy. This in very few words describes the little man of the big show. Just a little over four feet in height, he is perfectly proportioned and his smooth, solid muscles stamp him as a miniature Hercules. Made a name for himself as the champion of the Silver Skates Derby. He actually jumps one foot higher than he is tall. Born in Cleveland, he is now a resident of Long Island, New York. Married, has one daughter. She is as big as Paul---so is his wife."
"It was wonderful. No two ways about it. It was fantastic. But nothing like working at Disneyland as Mickey Mouse, of course. That was my primary thing," stated Paul.
On several occasions, according to Paul, Walt Disney himself had watched as Castle performed in the various Ice Capades productions which featured Disney segments.
"Walt Disney saw how good I did and knew I was an amateur character because I'd met him when I did SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (when the Ice Capades did a version in 1958 where Paul is credited in the program as performing as Dopey)," said Paul who although eager to work for the Walt Disney Company balked at the minimum wage salary offered characters because he was making a nice sum of money already in the entertainment world.
However, Walt wanted a small Mickey beating a four foot drumstick on top of a huge drum for a new Disneyland parade so an acceptable salary was negotiated with Paul.
"I was the main mouse. We did everything. Walt Disney gave me the ball and we opened the Angels (Anaheim) stadium in 1966. (Paul has the ball as a keepsake today.) He was a wonderful man, a wonderful, wonderful man. He was the greatest," enthused Paul.
During the twenty-five years Paul worked at Disneyland, there were at least fifty other performers who assisted in the portrayal of Mickey Mouse. However, Paul really was the "main mouse" and was the official greeter at Disneyland's entrance. He was also known as the "small Mickey". (Paul's wife Alma also assisted in the portrayal of Mickey when Paul was on tour.)
"Walt said, 'Alma, you're pretty good. You can fit in Paul's costume, can't you?' And I said, 'Yeah, pretty close.' So I got in the costume and he said, 'Good, you'll be my Pinocchio.'," laughed Alma who assisted in the portrayal of Pinocchio for four summers. (In the earlier costumes, it was discovered that women had greater stamina inside the costumes than men.)
Alma, like Paul, remembered Walt Disney as a "wonderful person" and she was especially impressed that he knew both Paul and herself by their first names.
"He would come up to you and he'd look in the costume and say, 'Alma, is that you?' And I'd say, 'Yes, Walt.' He would then say, 'Where's Paul?' and I'd say 'On Main Street, Walt'. Everyone would call him 'Walt'."
One time Alma was standing backstage during the filming of BABES IN TOYLAND and watched a machine being blown up.
"I said, 'Oh, my goodness! Look at all that money going up.' And Walt said, 'All $50,000 worth.' And I turned around and said, 'Oh, Mr. Disney.' And he said, 'Just call me Walt.'"
However, sometimes fame comes at a price.
Abby Disney, the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, recalled this memorable experience when she was a child: "Just outside the employee's parking lot, there was a little cafeteria outside for the employees. I looked over and saw Mickey (Mouse) having a cup of coffee with Snow White. His head was on the table and he was smoking a big cigar. He was very short and old and had this gravelly deep voice. He came over to my grandmother and gave her a big hug. 'Edna! Edna! Glad to see ya!' That's how I remember Mickey Mouse; he's emblazoned on my brain that way."
Yep, that was Paul again.
Thank you, thank you so much for writing this wonderful story about my Uncle Paul! Except, his daughter( who past away many years ago, very tragic) was not the same height as he was, she grew up to be average height for a woman and his wife, my Aunt Alma not Anna..( 12th paragraph there is an error) is a bit taller than he is as well. Uncle Paul and Aunt Alma would visit her brothers (my grandfather and Great Uncle John) on many occasions ( they also lived in Florida for a short while as well). They took me to Disney and Epcot a few times when they visited. I remember the longest time we were the same height, but than I started to tower over him as I got older. He had the mouth of a sailor, but we was a lot of fun. I remember one New Years Eve, he had brought a mini cannon with him and placed it on my grandmothers bench outside, he proceeded to put Palm Tree Seeds in it with a fire cracker and accidentally shot it at his brother-in Laws car which caused a few small dents. I thought it was hilarious, he did too but we had to run back inside as if nothing happened. To many beers for him probably. I miss him, he past away not to long ago.