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Ken Anderson and the Haunted Mansion -- Part I

Ken Anderson and the Haunted Mansion -- Part I

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Hey, gang!

Jim Hill here. You know, a month and a half ago, we were wondering how we were ever going to replace that that Disney-history-lovin', comic-book-collectin' writing machine known as Jim Korkis. His unexpected departure back in September left a large void at JHM (not to mention a huge hole in our hearts).

Of course, who could have known that -- just five weeks later -- we'd have had so many great new writers suddenly come on board at JimHillMedia.com. Truly talented folks like Jackson "Pop Culture" King, Jean de Lut├Ęce, Larry Pontius, Monique Pryor and Matthew Springer. Who -- while they can never really replace the amazing Mr. Korkis -- do have some really great stories of their own to tell.

Well, today, I'm pleased to announce that we're adding another writer to the roster: Disney historian Wade Sampson. Who -- not-so-co-incidentally -- happens to be an old friend of Jim K. who -- when he heard that Mr. Korkis was leaving JHM -- volunteered to take over the Disney history side of the site.

Well -- given that I actually know a few stories about the Mouse House -- I wasn't entirely sure that JimHillMedia.com needed another Disney historian. But Jim K. (Who says "Hello," by the way) put in a good word for the guy. And then Wade delivered this absolutely killer two part story about Ken Anderson's conceptual contributions to Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion."

After reading both parts of this article, all reservations that I may have had about Mr. Sampson immediately evaporated. Which is why I'm pleased now to introduce to you Wade Sampson. Who -- while he's no Jim Korkis -- can still spin a pretty mean yarn about the Mouse.

Part I of Sampson's seasonal appropriate tale will run today. Part II -- which will actually go into great detail about what Anderson originally wanted to do with Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion" -- will run on Thursday.

Okay. Enough with the prolonged introductory comments. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Wade Sampson!


There are times when I wish I was in Florida and a cast member at Walt Disney World (and just as many times when I am grateful not to be) because in November there are several learning activities offered to those who work there including early morning behind the scenes tours of the Haunted Mansion with the lights on, a presentation on the various Haunted Mansions around the world and an intriguing presentation by Disney Historian Jim Korkis on "The Haunted Mansion That Never Was" which will explore some of the early concepts of the famous Disney attraction. (In fact on Halloween, Jim will be presenting to cast members his famous "Mickey Meets the Monsters" presentation about the horror influences in the early black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons.)

Many, many years ago, I attended a Mouse Club event where Jim was eloquently and passionately trying to convince some Disneyphiles that while Marc Davis and Yale Gracey and X. Atencio were well deserving of the attention they were getting for their contributions to the Haunted Mansion that the "forgotten" man in the story of the Haunted Mansion was Ken Anderson whose early work on the project strongly influenced some of the things we love best about that attraction.
Over my years of research, I have come to agree with that viewpoint and thought that the readers of this website might enjoy during this Halloween season a look at one of Ken's early concepts of the Haunted Mansion in particular.

And I strongly recommend to those interested in how Disney projects develop to purchase a copy of the recent book THE HAUNTED MANSION: FROM THE MAGIC KINGDOM TO THE MOVIES by Jason Surrell which is available at www.amazon.com . Jason did an outstanding job despite the fact that Disney Press severely limited his page count just as they did with John Canemaker on his recent book about Mary Blair. Both Jason and John had many more great stories to share. I was happy to see Jason devoting some pages to Ken Anderson's contributions.

Ken Anderson (1909-1993) had a Bachelor of Architecture degree and fully intended to pursue a career as an architect but kept getting sidetracked. He was employed at MGM Studios as a sketch artist (working on films like THE PAINTED VEIL and WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS). One day driving by the Disney Hyperion Studio in early 1934, he went in and applied on a whim even though he told his wife Polly that he didn't know how to draw cartoons.

Impressed with his portfolio, the Disney Studio hired him and Ken began his Disney career in 1934 contributing to many animated classics as art director beginning with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Since he had an architectural background, he came up with innovative perspective on such Silly Symphony cartoons as GODDESS OF SPRING and THREE ORPHAN KITTENS.

Disney Historian Paul Anderson once wrote that, "At Disney, he showed a versatility that has long since gone unmatched. He did so many different things for Disney, that it prompted Walt once to call him 'my jack-of-all-trades'."

In fact, Ken's official credits list such titles at Disney as art direction, art supervision, story, color, styling, layout, production, character development and more.

He worked on the classic scene of the dwarfs dancing with Snow White but it became apparent that his talents lay not in animation but in such areas as production design on such films as SLEEPING BEAUTY and 101 DALMATIANS. Ken, in fact, was the one who okayed the use of xeroxgraphy in the later film which led to a temporary rift with Walt Disney as well as Ken's first heart attack when he felt he had failed Walt.

Specializing in character design in later years, he designed such characters as Shere Khan in THE JUNGLE BOOK and Elliott the Dragon in PETE'S DRAGON. "I don't know how I came up with Elliott," Ken told the late Steve Fiott, "I like to think of him as an example of China's concept of the dragon as a symbol of luck and good will which come to them when they need him. He just came to me, and I sure needed him!"

It is Ken's innovative character design on the animated feature ROBIN HOOD (which basically was an animal head placed on a human body covered with fur) that inspired an entire generation of young artists including a group of character costume builders known as "furries".

Ken also designed many parts of Disneyland, including major portions of Fantasyland like the early dark rides of SNOW WHITE and MR. TOAD as well as designing the Storybook Land Canal Boat experience and others. He retired on March 31, 1978 but continued to consult at WED Enterprises. He was honored with the Disney Legends award in 1991. One of the last contributions Ken made to Disney was on CATFISH BEND, a proposed animated feature for which Ken made some preliminary sketches.

Ken was eighty-four years old when he passed away. Forty-four of those years had been spent in the service of the Disney company.

While it had always been part of Walt Disney's vision for Disneyland to include an old haunted house, he had originally considered having it located on a side street off of Main Street. By 1957, when Walt gave an interview to the BBC about his plans of a retirement home for ghosts, Walt envisioned it being located in an area of Frontierland that had a New Orleans theme. It was at this time that Ken had just moved over to WED (Imagineering) from the Disney Studio and Walt turned to his "jack of all trades" to research some possibilities.

As Paul Anderson told me, "We always hear about 'the group of Imagineers' that went out to research the Haunted Mansion. Actually, 'the group' was just Ken."

While Ken Anderson's initial sketch of a decaying mansion was apparently loosely based on the Evergreen House in Baltimore, Maryland and that is the sketch that Sam McKim transformed into the famous concept painting, it is also apparent that Ken's approach to a Disney "walk through" Haunted House was greatly influenced by his experiences at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

Sometimes called the "ghost mansion", this popular tourist attraction has doors and staircases that lead nowhere and a maze of rooms that were constantly being redone by the widow of the maker of the Winchester rifle. She was under the belief that the ghostly victims of the Winchester rifle had cursed her family and were haunting her to keep building more and more rooms for their earthbound spirits. It was even rumored that through "automatic writing", she received building directions which she passed along to the carpenters.

Ken Anderson had two pages of notes on the Winchester House from the size of the tour group (maximum of 20), the mix of adults and children (roughly four times the number of adults to children), the maximum/minimum entrance and exit time in each area (25 seconds to 60 seconds), the maximum/minimum time the guide spoke in each area (32 seconds to three and a half minutes), as well as a variety of notes like "average group well behaved" and "rooms are all empty-nothing to touch".

Ken strongly believed that a cohesive story was necessary to guide Disney guests through the Haunted Mansion. Not only was storytelling an important element of the Disney Brand and had positioned Disney's "dark rides" as different from carnival amusement park dark rides but storytelling would be necessary to move guests through the experience rather than have them dawdle in one area and clog up the flow of traffic. In 1957, Ken literally developed four story concepts, all of which feature elements reflected in the final version of the attraction that was eventually opened at Disneyland.

Perhaps the best known version was Ken's first attempt which featured the Legend of Captain Gore and was written in February of 1957. The mansion was the seaside manor of an old sea captain who had married a young woman named Priscilla. She discovers he is actually a notorious pirate. Gore killed his bride (and in one version tossed her bloody body into an outside well that still bubbles red) and she haunted him until he took his own life by hanging himself. This story would have been shared with guests by a butler or maid who worked in the mansion.

Another version was Bloodmere Manor, which was the lakeside estate of "the unfortunate Blood family. It was built about 1800 in the swampy bayous near New Orleans and was moved here (Disneyland) intact because it was an example of early architecture from that section of our country. It had not been occupied for some time and was badly in need of repair, so we started the work of restoration as soon as it arrived at Disneyland, but strangely enough...the work of each day was destroyed during the night...and the night watchman reported that when he had passed the house he'd heard eerie screams and seen weird lights... In fact, we are sorry to report that the latest tragedy of all occurred here in Disneyland...when one of our carpenters engaged in restoration work on the house disappeared completely from sight...and he has not been seen or heard from since. The house is now too dangerous to live in, but we have succeeded in making it safe enough for a visit...when accompanied by our trained and competent guide, a former butler of the household."

A third version had Walt himself as the narrator on tape as the guests wandered through the house to go to a ghostly wedding celebration. Still another version focused on the Headless Horseman from the Disney animated film about Ichabod Crane on Halloween night. This version also featured another wedding. This one was between Monsieur Bogeyman and Mlle. Vampire. The bride jilts the groom at the altar, sparking chaos and the need to quickly exit the mansion.

Let's take a closer look at Ken Anderson second revision of the "Bloodmere Manor" version of the Haunted Mansion which is dated September 17, 1957.

This twenty-four page, double spaced document is amazingly detailed as evidenced by this description from the first page:

"Guests will be admitted to the grounds through a large wrought iron pedestrian and vehicle gate typical of New Orleans, Circa 1800. The ticket booth (REMEMBER THIS IS 1957 WHERE EACH ATTRACTION REQUIRED A TICKET) will be located in the brick and plaster gatehouse which terminates the wrought iron fence. Posted conspicuously on the gatehouse are copies of the Times Picayune and Leslie's Magazine, with headlines about atrocities connected with the ghost house in the past. The approach to the house will be along paths lined with Azaleas and moss-festooned magnolias and southern oak trees. The garden shows evidence of a once well-planned symmetry and beauty, but is now overgrown and obviously out of control."

"Vines and moss combined in the tall trees shut out much of the sunlight, and lend mystery to the shadowy exterior of the house. Being set well back from the street behind the grove of trees, the house will be scarcely visible until close upon it. It appears to be in a state of dilapidation common to all ghost houses. First at one upstairs window and then another, a girl's face appears momentarily, screams and is throttled by a large hairy hand which draws her back into the darkness."

Notations on this revision also indicate that Ken had utilized his experience at the Winchester House in terms of audience flow. Ken estimated that a group of no more than forty guests would gather on the front porch to enter the house. He figured that at regularly spaced intervals of one and half minutes that roughly eight groups of forty guests each (320 guests total) could be in the house simultaneously or a possible 16,000 visitors in a ten hour schedule.

"If the show in each room lasts a minute, it would leave fifteen seconds to enter the room, and fifteen seconds to clear the room. We are conducting tests with groups of forty people, using the ZORRO sets, to determine the practicality of this timing. In room clearance tests so far, times ranged from fifteen seconds to twenty-five seconds for an average of twenty seconds. As soon as construction of the test mock-ups for optical illusions are completed, we will utilize them for further crowd capacity tests; which will include a one minute show of the illusions. A tour of the house should take an average of about twelve minutes to complete," wrote Ken.

So did you realize that on the Disney Studios backlot, the Zorro sets served as the first Haunted Mansion experience? The first episode of Disney's ZORRO appeared on ABC in October 1957 but workers had started building the sets in June 1955 and they were the Disney Studios' first permanent sets costing over $100,000. Do you recall the so-called Disney urban legend that one of the things causing the delays of the opening of the Haunted Mansion was that it was too scary for test audiences but other scholars aptly pointing out that the Mansion at Disneyland was just a hollow shell so test audiences couldn't have experienced the Mansion? Well, apparently there were test audiences going through the experience as early as 1957 on the backlot of the Disney Studios. I wonder if something unfortunate happened then which resulted in the birth of that Disney urban legend?

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